Huge Cemetery Project in the New England States!
There was a huge cemetery project in the New England states this spring! Volunteers showed up with rakes in one hand and cell phones in the other. They cleaned and they took photos of the gravestones with the BillionGraves app on their smartphones to keep the legacies of their ancestors alive.
Six states were involved in the project: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont.
The project was initiated by Area Seventy Elder Richard S. Hutchins of the North American Northeast Area (NANE) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Community members were invited and the media was notified.
Number of BillionGraves Photos Taken
The cemetery project in the New England states resulted in a lot of photos! Here are the number of BillionGraves photos uploaded between March 15th and May 15th:
Rhode Island – 5,998
Connecticut – 12,670
Massachusetts – 23,085
New Hampshire – 11,449
Vermont – 3,705
Maine – 1,663
The cemetery project in the New England states was started as a surprise for a visiting church leader and apostle, Elder Russell M. Ballard.
Ballard was scheduled to visit the northeast on May 15th for the dedication of a Smith Family Memorial at Pine Grove Cemetery in Topsfield, Massachusetts.
So the NANE area began planning in January by asking each of the 136 church wards and branches to choose a project from the JustServe website and carry it out between mid-March and early May.
Many of the church units chose to do BillionGraves cemetery projects. And so with that inspiration, the entire NANE area was also invited to work in unity to document cemeteries on April 16th.
Getting the Word Out
Zana Hatch, JustServe specialist for the Manchester, New Hampshire coordinating council, and Karen Zeiner, JustServe specialist for the Boston, Massachusetts coordinating council, were instrumental in getting the word out to volunteers throughout the New England states.
The projects were promoted across the six New England states by posting them on JustServe.org and on Facebook, as well as announcing them in church sacrament meetings. Volunteers were encouraged to sign-up through the JustServe website.
JustServe is a website dedicated to connecting organizations that need volunteers to people searching to find volunteer opportunities.
JustServe specialists throughout New England posted cemetery projects on the site with guidelines on where to meet and what to do at each cemetery.
Many of the cemetery projects included gravestone cleaning along with taking photos of the gravestones.
In the Springfield, Massachusetts area, more than 140 men, women, and children turned out to clean up winter debris and add to the BillionGraves database by documenting gravestone information at three cemeteries.
At the Pittsfield Cemetery, the focus was mainly on adding to the BillionGraves database. Using their cell phones and the Billion Graves app, the volunteers added data from more than 2,000 gravestones.
Working in small teams, the volunteers gently cleaned the gravestones of debris and used their spray bottles of water to moisten the lettering for better legibility.
One of the participants worked with three of his grandchildren, ages 7, 5, and 3 years old. The little ones cleaned the tombstones as he took photos.
Grand-Dad said, “We felt a great kinship with those whose graves we work working on. There was such excitement when we started to clean the stones of one of their family members and were able to discover a child’s name, date of birth, or date of death. Without our efforts, that information would be forever limited to the locale of the cemetery itself.”
He went on to say, “It was such a privilege and honor for us to serve alongside so many neighbors from many surrounding communities as we helped to preserve the heritage and history of many individuals laid to rest at the Pittsfield Cemetery.”
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, entire families turned out to help take photos of gravestones.
Parents helped little ones learn to take a gravestone photo.
Youth were quick to take photos – having lots of experience with their cell phones!
Young and old raked leaves, clearing the way for photos to be taken.
Doughnut breaks helped keep the volunteers going.
Blackstone Valley, Rhode Island
In the Blackstone Valley area of Rhode Island, the day also started off with doughnuts.
More than 90 volunteers took photos of gravestones with the BillionGraves app, pulled weeds, and placed flags on Veteran’s gravesites. Cemetery lawns were mowed and trimmed.
Pastor Ken Postle gave a presentation titled “What it Means to be a Veteran” at several cemeteries including the Mineral Spring Historic Cemetery and at the St. Francis Catholic Cemetery.
People from all walks of life came together to help. There were fire and police retirees, Scouts, historical society members, and church groups.
There were specific gravestones that inspired moments of remembrance.
Honor was given to fallen heros.
Some of the women honored Henrietta Drummond, a Pawtucket, Rhode Island nurse who died in France during World War I while nursing the wounded.
There was a Circle of Honor ceremony where a Veteran read the Gettysburg address.
The flags on the gravestones will show respect for a season and the photos taken with the BillionGraves app will be a lasting legacy for generations to come.
The families of Danbury, Connecticut donned Helping Hands vests to carry out their BillionGraves service project. They cleaned the Great Plain Cemetery and took photos of the gravestones with the BillionGraves app.
Many of the gravestones at Great Plains Cemetery are old. Some are beginning to flake and decay. Photographing them will help preserve the memories and history of those who are buried there.
It was a beautiful spring day when about 55 people gathered to help clean the winter’s debris from the historic 25-acre Pine Grove Cemetery in Warren, Massachusetts.
All had signed up via JustServe.org . In addition to raking and gathering twigs and branches, photos of gravestones were uploaded into the BillionGraves database through which families can access information about their kindred dead from long ago.
There are so many benefits from serving together with old friends and new, and JustServe.org provides a great way to find such wonderful opportunities.
Cindy Baxter, organizer of the event said, “My day was enriched by the people I served with. I saw lots of smiles and people committed to the errand of service that they were on.
“It didn’t feel like work, it was clearly an act of love, one for another. I could not imagine a finer place to be or a better group of people to be with on that beautiful sunny spring morning.”
“So appreciate the opportunity to serve!”, said a Kim Curtis of Warren, a small quaint town in Massachusetts.
Derick Veliz, the father of a family from one of four participating congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “It was truly beautiful; I am so glad to be here with my family serving other families”.
Jeff Burdick, at the cemetery with his daughter Emily and three of his grandchildren was particularly touched by the connection, through the gravestone information, to other families long passed from this world.
He said, “We noticed that the hillside where we were working was covered with small spring flowers … Forget-me-nots. We felt our service for the deceased ancestors and early New England pioneers on that beautiful spring morning in April let each of them know that they had not been forgotten.”
He continued, “We noticed that many family members were buried together or next to one another and this gave me the opportunity to discuss with my small grandchildren the importance and significance of families and how the family is part of God’s eternal plan.”
One project leader from southeastern Massachusetts said, “It was great to see so many people, young and old, coming together to serve. We cleaned up piles of leaves and beautified the cemetery as much as we could. There were couples taking photos of headstones with the BillionGraves app.
“It warmed our hearts to see young children and youth working so hard with their families. The cemetery was different when we left, we were forever changed through service as well.”
Planning a Large Group Cemetery Project
Planning cemetery projects for groups is easy with BillionGraves.
BillionGraves is the world’s largest GPS-linked cemetery data resource. As volunteers take photos with the BillionGraves app, each gravestone is automatically marked with a GPS location. The data is then transcribed by volunteers, plotted on cemetery maps, made readily available at BillionGraves.com for free for millions of families around the globe for generations to come.
The GPS-marked cemetery maps not only allow families to find their ancestor’s gravestones, but they also allow future volunteers to see exactly what has already been photographed and what still remains to be done.
When selecting cemeteries, it is important to consider their size so you will have enough work for your group to do.
Below is a chart that can help you set a goal for the number of photos to be taken during your project depending on how many volunteers you expect to participate.
Number of images taken by new volunteers with the BillionGraves app at a rate of 1 image every 15 seconds
|2 hour project
|3 hour project
|4 hour project
Beginners can usually take about 250 photos per hour. That is about 1 photo every 15 seconds. You will want to try to have your volunteers move along at that pace to help your project reach its goal!
Here are the steps to find cemeteries that still needed to be photographed:
- Click HERE to go to the volunteer page to find a cemetery to document.
- Click on the cemetery you are interested in. A map will appear.
- The orange dots on the map indicate where GPS-linked photos have already been taken. If there are areas with gravestones that have no pins, then your service is needed to photograph that section of the cemetery.
- If you happen to duplicate any of the gravestones photos that have already been taken, don’t worry about it because they will be easily merged during the transcription process.
Contact the Cemetery Managers
One of the first things you should do when planning a group project is to contact the cemetery manager.
You don’t have to follow all these steps below, just use the suggestions that work best for you.
If it is a private cemetery, permission is required. Ask if you may take photos of the headstones. In a public cemetery, you are not legally required to have permission to take photos but it is polite to let the cemetery manager know what you will be doing.
Explain what BillionGraves is and that you will be taking photos of headstones to digitally preserve the records for genealogists around the world.
Let them know that the information will be preserved on BillionGraves.com and that both the cemetery and the public will have free access to the information online.
Share the date and time you selected for the event. Make sure the cemetery will be open and accessible on the date of your event. Find out if there are hours or restrictions that may impact your project. For example, are they closed on holidays or Sundays? Ask if there are any services scheduled for the day and time you would like to come.
Indicate that you will not disrupt any ceremonies and that your group will be respectful in the cemetery. Let them know that if a graveside service is taking place, you will work in a different area and return later to complete the photography.
You might ask them to share some history about the cemetery. And of course, thank them!
Create Maps & Gather Supplies
If your group plans to document large cemeteries, you will want to assign specific sections to each individual or family.
You could print out a satellite map of the cemetery from the BillionGraves website or get a map from the cemetery manager or from the cemetery’s website.
Make copies of the map, divide it into sections, and number them. A simple way to divide the cemetery is to use the pre-existing boundaries that are built into the cemetery, such as roads or walking trails.
Give copies of the maps to volunteers with their assigned sections at the cemetery on the day of the event.
When a volunteer completes a section, they can turn in the completed map and get another section to work on. This ensures that all of the gravestones are photographed and it also avoids duplication.
If your group is documenting only small cemeteries, you won’t need maps. Just assign each family one cemetery.
The most important thing you will need at the cemetery is your smartphone. Below are some other helpful – but optional – supplies. You could provide these items for your group or encourage them to bring their own.
- Portable phone chargers
- Cemetery maps divided into sections
- Instruction sheets on how to upload photos
- Soft-bristled brushes or old toothbrushes to remove lichen and moss
- Cleaning cloths to wipe off dirt or dried grass
- Drinking water
Make Your Event FUN!
- Divide into pairs. One person photographs a row and then leapfrogs over the other person’s row to start a new row. That makes it easy to talk to one another while you are working.
- Have each person choose a partner. Race each other down the row, taking photos (they still need to be good quality though). The first person to get to the end of the row gets a point and helps the other person finish their row. Then they move to two new rows.
- To include young children or those without smartphones, give them a towel or brush to remove grass clippings and dirt from gravestones as they work in front of someone else who is taking photos.
Teams and Large Groups
- Divide into two teams. Whichever team takes the most photos at the cemetery by the end of the event wins. The losers prepare dinner for the winners the following week. Or the losers sing a song or do a dance for the winners.
- Make a weekend of it! Hold a meeting on a Friday evening to help your group download the app and show them how to use it. On Saturday morning, take photos at the cemetery. Have lunch. On Saturday afternoon, take more photos or transcribe the data. On Sunday afternoon, hold a meeting to share your experiences with one another.
Event Day Checklist
Set-up: If you plan to have a welcome station, arrive early to set up equipment such as awnings, signs, table, chairs, maps, drinking water, cleaning rags, and brushes. Encourage helpers to arrive early as well.
Respect at the cemetery: If the cemetery manager has told you about any services taking place at the cemetery that day, make a note of this on the cemetery maps and tell people to stay clear of that area until it is over.
Parking: As volunteers arrive direct them where to park. If you are using signs for parking, set them up.
Teach about the BillionGraves App: If needed, have volunteers download the BillionGraves app and quickly demonstrate to them how to take pictures. Encourage them to keep moving at a quick pace and to try to take about 1 photo every 15 seconds.
Handouts: Click HERE for handouts that you could have printed to teach volunteers how to take photos and how to upload photos.
Maps: Give volunteers a cemetery map with their assigned section marked. Remind them that if they finish their assigned section, and still have more time to serve, to come back to you to receive another assignment.
Clean-up: Leave the cemetery looking better when you leave than when you arrived. Collect all trash and take it with you. Don’t fill the cemetery’s trash bins. Remove awnings, signs, and other equipment that you brought to the cemetery.
Remind Volunteers to Upload their Photos!
For additional ideas for planning large cemetery projects, click HERE.
Volunteer to Take Gravestone Photos
We need your help to take photos of gravestones! It is easy and done completely with your smartphone! Click HERE to get started.
Taking photos of gravestones with the BillionGraves app helps to preserve history!
You are welcome to do this at your own convenience, no permission from us is needed. If you still have questions after you have clicked on the link to get started, you can email us at Volunteer@BillionGraves.com. We’ll be happy to help you!
Are you planning a group service project? Email us at Volunteer@BillionGraves.com for more resources. We will help you find a cemetery that still needs to have photos taken.
Happy Cemetery Hopping!
Cathy Wallace and The BillionGraves Team
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