Finding death records and even visiting cemeteries to learn about our ancestors can be an important piece to genealogy research.
Sometimes visiting a cemetery just isn’t possible because of travel or other limitations.
Here’s a website that has a mission to document every headstone from every cemetery in the world in their searchable online database with an image and geographic location that is accessible to anyone, everywhere.
What is BillionGraves?
Headquartered in Lehi, Utah and established in 2011, BillionGraves is a website repository for gravesites and cemeteries all over the world. Gravesite images can be provided by any user with the image of a headstone and its geographic (longitude and latitude) location.
It’s estimated that around 50,000 headstone images are added to the database daily.
Overall, there are approximately 25 million GPS + full resolution picture headstones and 125 million total searchable cemetery records.
- There is a group of people who have documented 80% of headstones at cemeteries in Israel. Their goal is to have every headstone in the entire country of Israel in the BillionGraves database by the end of 2017.
- Cheryl York has transcribed over 625,071 headstones since she joined as a member of BillionGraves in 2012.
How It Works
Do you visit cemeteries, either for fun or for research? Do you have a mobile device that has a camera? You can download the BillionGraves app, visit a cemetery, start taking pictures and upload them to the database. It’s that easy and it’s free. Best of all, you’re helping others at the same time. You don’t need any special skills or experience to be a contributor.
Can’t visit a cemetery but still want to help? Try transcription. BillionGraves has a database full of headstones in every language from all over the world that need to be transcribed. They have a fantastic filter where you can select headstones by location, language, and cemetery.
If You’re Working From a Computer
The is core to the mission of BillionGraves is to ensure that each document has the GPS to back up the picture that proves, without a doubt that is where the photo originated from, while providing the exact location for someone to verify the existence of the record so it’s preferred that photos are uploaded via the mobile app.
However, people can upload records to BillionGraves from their computer that do not come from our app. It’s very simple to do, just navigate to the cemetery on BillionGraves where the photos belong. Click on the “Add record” button and drag and drop your photos from your computer onto the website. Those records will immediately upload and be available to be transcribed on the BillionGraves website.
Using the BillionGraves Mobile Device App
The BillionGraves App is available for free from both the Google Play and the Apple App Store.
When building BillionGraves, they didn’t want someone to have to have a data plan in order to participate. Requiring a data plan would restrict them in many countries and rural areas around the world where cell phone reception is not available at the cemetery. Yes, there are still places that lack suitable cellphone reception.
So the app was built to use the GPS on the device and store the information locally in the app. When you go home and connect to Wi-Fi, the data is uploaded, for free, without using data.
Disclaimer: You do need to have a device that is capable of being connected to a cellular phone provider. It doesn’t need to be activated on a network such as Verizon, AT&T, etc.; they just need to be able to.
These devices have “stand alone” GPS hardware that has the capability to capture the GPS with each picture taken. Regular Wi-Fi only devices that cannot connect to your cellular data plan service does not have the necessary GPS hardware installed.
How is the Information Provided Checked for Accuracy?
BillionGraves has internal and external processes that help ensure the highest quality data possible.
Issues such as duplicates are handled by internal systems but they also rely on users to help manage photos that are not caught by the computers.
They are constantly working on new features and programs to provide volunteers with the best tools at their disposal to ensure the data is correct.
Some of these new features include:
- Transcription assistance where the computer will be able to assist with determining letters and symbols on an image and provide hints for what a headstone might say
- Correct readability issues and bad transcriptions from hard to read headstones
- Working with cemeteries and their records to locate and find unmarked graves
What’s Next for BillionGraves?
BillionGraves recently released BillionGraves Tree which connects to your family tree that is on FamilySearch.org. This connects records to your family tree, provide additional insights into the records you are looking at, and help you find more family faster!
By connecting your tree to BillionGraves, it allows them to find the burial place of your ancestors and enlist their volunteers to capture the headstone information, often times even before you started looking for them!
Their goal is not just to document every cemetery, but to figure out how every headstone is connected to one another; creating a worldwide “tree” of cemetery information. By connecting each record to one another, we can then show users how to better find the family they are looking for from their first visit to BillionGraves.
About Hudson Gunn
Hudson Gunn is the President of BillionGraves since shortly after it was established in 2011.
With a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Entrepreneurship and Technology Commercialization from Utah Valley University, he is a small business consultant, an Entrepreneur in Residence until 2016 and was Utah Valley Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012.
While Hudson doesn’t do his own genealogy research, he has been fortunate enough to have professional genealogists in the family that has spent decades working on his family history. He’s taken pleasure with the great opportunity to be able to assist and give back in small projects and brick walls through discoveries found on BillionGraves and partner sites.
Do you use cemetery records in your genealogy research? Does helping take headstone images for BillionGraves sound exciting and fun? BillionGraves has suggestions on how to create events to record headstone images at cemeteries not yet in their system. Check out their Creating an Event page.