“BillionGraves” Webinar to Highlight New Genealogy Technology

  • 15 November 2011

“BillionGraves” combines GPS location data with pictures of grave markers to make family history work more accessible to people whose ancestors' headstones and even names were previously inaccessible.

Article Highlights

  • BillionGraves is an app that connects with FamilySearch to allow users to upload GPS-tagged photos of headstones that are mapped, transcribed, and catalogued online.
  • The BillionGraves app is being highlighted in a Utah Genealogical Association webinar at www.infouga.org on Thursday, November 17, at 7:00 p.m. mountain standard time.
  • Watching the webinar live is free; however, a UGA membership will be required to watch the event as a recording after it ends.

“The spirit of family history work is turning to that of providing service for others. It’s important to identify your own ancestors, but it’s also important to help others.” —Tim Cross, FamilySearch Product Manager

A new mobile device app called “BillionGraves,” which combines GPS location data with the pictures users take of gravestones, will be highlighted by FamilySearch presenter Tim Cross at this month’s Utah Genealogical Association webinar on Thursday, November 17, at 7:00 p.m. mountain standard time.

Those interested may watch the live webinar—a virtual meeting broadcast on the Internet—free of charge at the UGA website. After the presentation is over, a UGA membership is required to access the recording.

The BillionGraves app, which is available free of charge on Google Android and Apple iOS devices, enables users to upload photos of headstones they take with their phones to an online database, where they are mapped, transcribed, and linked to FamilySearch.

“This app helps everyone identify where his or her ancestors are buried,” said Tim Cross, product manager for FamilySearch and presenter for the webinar. “A trip to the cemetery won’t be the same.”

The photographing and transcribing effort, performed by volunteers, has already generated 250,000 headstone transcriptions in six months, Brother Cross said, making family history more accessible to researchers whose ancestors' graves and names were previously inaccessible.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently reminded members of the Church—especially young people—to participate in such family history work.

“Many of you may think family history work is to be performed primarily by older people,” he said in his October 2011 conference address. “The youth can offer much to older individuals who are uncomfortable with or intimidated by technology.”

The headstone-mapping movement is possible through a technology called “geocode tagging,” which embeds GPS coordinate data directly into picture files snapped with GPS-enabled devices.

The idea is that a combined effort to photograph markers in cemeteries around the world is easier—and faster—when volunteers participate by capturing the photos in bulk at their local cemeteries.

Once users snap photos using the app, they can upload the geocoded images to BillionGraves, where they and other users may participate by transcribing the engravings on the captured headstones.

“It’s about introducing anyone in the world to their ancestors,” Brother Cross said.

He said that the BillionGraves app and its corresponding website are useful for Church members, but the app is only half of the excitement surrounding the technology.

“What makes it more exciting is extending the app’s capability through FamilySearch,” he said. “FamilySearch and BillionGraves will lead patrons to see exactly where their ancestors are buried.”

Since BillionGraves is an affiliate program of FamilySearch, it not only gives FamilySearch patrons the ability to see information beyond what is provided on a headstone, it also identifies the relationships to others buried in a particular cemetery by linking to their records online.

So far, most of the photo-capturing participation has been in North America and Europe, Brother Cross said, emphasizing that there is a greater need for volunteer photographers than volunteer transcribers.

“The spirit of family history work is turning to that of providing service for others,” he said. “It’s important to identify your own ancestors, but it’s also important to help others.”

More information about using new technologies to assist in genealogical research can be found at the FamilySearch TechTips blog. The FamilySearch website also identifies other affiliate products like BillionGraves.