8 Outstanding Eagle Scouts Serving in Cemeteries
There are some outstanding Eagle Scouts serving in cemeteries, taking hundreds of thousands of gravestone photographs to help others find their ancestors and expand their family trees. We would like to give a shout-out to a few of them.
The rank of Eagle is Boy Scouting’s highest honor. It culminates with a significant project, allowing the Eagle Scout candidate to exhibit the leadership skills he has developed. BillionGraves has been the beneficiary for hundreds of Eagle Scout projects.
As the Eagle Scouts and their group of volunteers use the BillionGraves app to photograph these gravestones, each one is automatically tagged with the GPS location. Then the gravestones are plotted on a map of the cemetery and made readily available for families around the globe for generations to come.
Outstanding Eagle Scouts #1: Robert McPhie
Boy Scouts have until they are age 18 to earn the rank of Eagle. But one of BillionGraves’ recent outstanding Eagle scouts, Robert McPhie, was just 12 when he earned his award a few weeks ago.
A Global Eagle Scout Project
Robert led volunteers in documenting more than 10,000 gravestones with the BillionGraves app around the world – nine cemeteries in the United States and eight cemeteries in Europe.
He said, “I received a ton of support from family, friends, fellow scouts, troop leaders, and community members.”
Robert’s project included portions of two California cemeteries, three Utah cemeteries, four Colorado cemeteries, Oeiras Cemetery in Portugal; Reformierte Kirche Flaach, Reformierte Kirche Berg am Irchel, and Friedhof Dorf Cemeteries in Switzerland; Illenschwang and Bitzfeld Cemeteries in Germany; and Pfarrkirche Sankt Jakob Cemetery in Austria.”
Robert did not travel to all of these locations personally, but he gave his volunteers virtual training and on-going encouragement. As Robert was planning his Eagle Scout project he created a video to teach others what to do.
Going the Extra Mile
All Eagle Scouts are required to complete forms in their Eagle Scout workbook to describe their project and formulate a plan to carry it out. They gather signatures from their Scout leaders and from a BillionGraves representative as the beneficiary.
Robert did all of this, but he also went above and beyond these requirements. He set up an online sign-up and reporting system for volunteers since his project would span over several weeks.
Robert also sent BillionGraves regular updates about his progress. The photo below shows one day’s work during his Eagle Scout project in an aerial view of the cemetery.
As volunteers take photos with the BillionGraves app each one is automatically tagged with GPS coordinates and plotted on a map. The oranges dots represent gravestone photos for which transcribers have already recorded the names and dates. The green dots on Robert’s map represent gravestones that his group had photographed that day but that had not been transcribed yet.
Volunteers are at the heart of any Eagle Scout project and Robert did a great job of connecting with his volunteers.
Robert said that his former 5th-grade teacher had told him that if he ever tried to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout that Robert should let him know and he would support him. So when Robert contacted him, asking for help taking gravestone photos, his teacher kept his promise!
As he progressed through his Eagle Scout project, Robert continued to take videos of the work that was being accomplished by his group of volunteers.
BillionGraves offers to send a mass email to all the BillionGraves subscribers within a 40-mile radius of a cemetery project to invite the subscribers to attend. Robert took BillionGraves up on that offer and some wonderful volunteers responded. Robert said, “The lady on the motorcycle in my video is a volunteer who came and helped at my project. I had never met her before. Her name is Angela and she took more than 800 photos!”
For Robert, hearing everyone’s stories was very rewarding. “One of my scout leaders wrote to me and said that a gravestone photograph helped him solve a family history problem he’d been working on for two decades.”
Following Up After the Project
After volunteers came to each of Robert’s Eagle Scout project work days at a cemetery, he did a great job following up with them.
First, he sent them instructions on how to upload their photos. He wrote, “If you haven’t had a chance to upload all of your photos yet, please follow these directions to do so now:
#1. Open the BillionGraves app. Click on “Photos” (halfway down on the right side).
#2. Click on the little UP ARROW at the TOP RIGHT of the screen.
#3. Click on “Upload All” (at the top of the list).
#4. After all of your images are uploaded, you can click on the home button to take you to your dashboard. It will show how many images you uploaded:
Then Robert thanked each volunteer by name and posted a list of how many photos each person had uploaded. He also noted who had won a prize for the most photos taken in one day and thanked a volunteer who brought treats for everyone.
Following his BillionGraves project, Robert said, “My grandmother told me that she was proud of me for creating a project that will last since these records will be permanent.”
Points of Light Award
BillionGraves is not the only organization that recognizes that Robert McPhie as one of the world’s outstanding Eagle Scouts. On September 17, 2020 Robert was recognized for his BillionGraves Eagle Scout project with a national award from the Points of Light Foundation.
Points of Light is an international nonprofit organization that is dedicated to encouraging volunteerism. The organization’s foundation was laid in the United States by President George W. Bush who established a “Daily Points of Light Award” in 1989 to recognize individuals from all walks of life who are exemplary volunteers.
Each day since then, one person has been honored as a Point of Light. Robert was Point of Light #6,866. Click HERE to learn more about Robert’s recognition as a Point of Light award recipient.
Outstanding Eagle Scouts #2: Loren Teancum Allen
Outstanding Eagle Scout Loren Teancum Allen, of Idaho, led a group of volunteers in taking 10,553 photos during his Eagle Scout project.
It was Loren’s ability to rally a large number of volunteers that make him an outstanding Eagle Scout. Seventy-one people volunteered for his Eagle Scout project! They ranged in age from toddlers to elders.
The group documented gravestones in 4 cemeteries: Dry Creek, Idaho Veterans, Meridian, and Morris Hill.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the project was spread out over a few weeks. Loren said, “Everybody could go on their own time and have a great experience to connect and find memories with some gravestones they had never seen before.”
It was a personal experience that motivated Loren to choose cemetery documentation for his Eagle project. He said, “A few years ago, my father passed away and his gravestone had not been photographed yet. So, being a family history guy, I set out to do this for his headstone and for many others. My dad now has his own memorial, another record of him.”
Outstanding Eagle Scouts #3: Andrew Wilson
Congratulations to Andrew Wilson on earning Boy Scout’s highest rank of Eagle Scout! His Eagle Scout project involved leading a group to take 17,930 gravestone photos at Golden Gate National Cemetery with the BillionGraves app.
This outstanding Eagle Scout appreciated being able to get out during the coronavirus lockdowns for a meaningful purpose. Andrew said, “I had a lot of fun with this project, it was nice to get out every now and again to get some fresh air during this cooped up period of time.”
As Andrew took photos he noticed coins on some of the gravestones. This is a tradition that became popular in the United States during the Vietnam War. It is a way to show respect to the fallen and to let their family members know that someone cares.
Andrew said, “There were a couple of graves that had quarters on top of it. That meant that there were people who were with the dead person when they died in combat. Those were pretty meaningful to me.”
Outstanding Eagle Scouts #4 and #5: Jake and Tate Fuller
Jake and Tate Fuller are brothers and both are outstanding Eagle Scouts. They each earned Boy Scout’s highest rank of Eagle Scout as they completed their Eagle Scout Projects at Los Angeles National Cemetery.
The Fullers are a patriotic family and so they wanted to show their appreciation for Veterans by photographing at a national cemetery.
The groups Jake and Tate led included 54 people and together they documented more than 22,000 gravestones!
When asked what he liked about his Eagle Scout project, Jake said, “Everyone loved helping Veterans. It was a project that people of all ages could do and it brought families together.”
Outstanding Eagle Scouts #6: Jay Connelly
Outstanding Eagle Scout Jay Connelly led 20 volunteers in taking about 10,000 gravestone photos at El Camino Cemetery in San Diego, California
Jay said, “I wanted to help people with family history and decided this would be great for my Eagle Project.”
When asked if anything funny happened during his event, Jay said, “One of my volunteers stepped on a red ant hill and got bit! I guess not too funny, haha. He was ok!”
Jay saw the more serious and sensitive side of this work as well. He said, “It was neat to look at the gravestones and imagine the lives the people lived. I saw some that were for children and it made me think of my own life and how sad it was that theirs were cut short.”
Even after completing his Eagle project with 10,000 gravestone photos, Jay wants to keep going. He said, “It was cool to all work together to do something important. This was a great experience and I want to go do more!”
Outstanding Eagle Scouts #7: Landon Gibbs
Landon Gibbs is a young man who is going places!
For his Eagle Scout project, Landon set a goal to document 11,000 gravestones with the BillionGraves app at Miramar National Cemetery in Riverside, California.
Then, not only did he reach his goal, but in spite of some setbacks, he went right on past his target and led his group in photographing more than 23,000 gravestones!
Landon expected that many of his volunteers would be people he knew, but instead, the biggest group of volunteers came from other BillionGraves fans in his area, who responded to an email notification from BillionGraves.
On the day of Landon’s event, temperatures soared. “I didn’t want to keep my volunteers through the heat of the day, so I released them just before noon,” he said. “It was nearing 90 degrees by that time.”
But Landon’s family pressed on in the heat and, in addition, they continued to contribute gravestone images over the new few weeks. His grandmother, who lives in Kansas, even helped take photos there.“I liked the positive, friendly attitudes of all the volunteers,”
Landon said. “It felt good when we were finished knowing that I had accomplished what I set out to do – even though it didn’t go exactly as expected.”
- Miramar National Cemetery – 13,600+ photos
- Riverside National Cemetery – 5,424 photos
- Conway Springs/Prairie Lawn/Saint Boniface/Calvary – 4,020 photos
Landon’s work has already made a difference for people who have been searching for their ancestors. He said, “I have received a few messages in the past couple of days from BillionGraves users who have already benefitted from my project. I thought that was awesome and was glad that I was able to help and get positive feedback as a result.”
Outstanding Eagle Scouts #8: Ethan Hansen
Ethan Hansen completed his Eagle Scout project by leading a group of 64 people in completely photographing Nashville National Cemetery! In just 4 hours, the group photographed more than 31,000 gravestones!
As Ethan put it, “There were so many graves!” Once the names and dates were transcribed – often with more than one on a gravestone – there were a total of 52,460 records! Now that is the result of an outstanding Eagle Scout!
When asked if he had any advice for others who might like to lead a group project Ethan said, “Make sure people charge their batteries and bring battery packs.”
The tract of land for the Nashville National Cemetery was acquired in July 1866 and it spans over 46 acres.
After the event was over, Ethan and his family drove through the cemetery, passing tens of thousands of gravestones. Ethan said, “It was incredible to see how much work we finished. I felt both glad and relieved that I got it done. I’ve been working on it nonstop for about a month.”
Planning an Eagle Scout Project
What is BillionGraves?
If headstones could talk, they would have a lot of stories to tell. But they can’t, so BillionGraves is the next best thing.
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.
Take Photos of Gravestones with Your Smartphone!
Download the BillionGraves app to your smartphone from your app store.
Create a free account on the app or at BillionGraves.com.
Open the BillionGraves app as soon as you arrive at the cemetery. The GPS feature will work best if the app has about 5 minutes to connect before you begin taking photos, especially if you are taking photos in a remote area.
From the main screen of the app, click on “take pictures” to begin taking photos in your local cemetery. The GPS coordinates will be recorded automatically.
Go up and down the rows, taking pictures of each gravestone until you have completed an entire section or the entire cemetery. Keep moving at a quick pace. If you take 1 photo every 15 seconds you will have taken almost 250 photos in an hour!
If you are working with another person, leap-frog over each other’s rows until you have completed a section.
When you are finished, connect to Wi-Fi and tap on the “X” in the corner of your screen.
When the orange button that says “upload” appears, tap on it to submit your gravestone photos.
Stand to the side to avoid casting a shadow.
Remove weeds, grass, or other debris that may block gravestone information.
Be sure the names and dates are inside the photo frame.
Linking Photos with the BillionGraves App
If a gravestone has data on more than one side (for example, parents on one side and children on the other side) there is a way to link them together. Just click on the chain icon in the corner of your screen between each photo that you would like to link (front side, chain icon, backside).
You can use this linking feature for obelisks that have data on four sides. You can also use it to link a large gravestone with a family surname on it to nearby smaller gravestones with the family member’s first names on them.
Set a Goal
When you are selecting a cemetery, it is important to consider its size so you will have enough work for your group to do.
Here 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 Typical Beginners with the BillionGraves App (250) at a Rate of 1 image every 15 Seconds
|2 hour project||3 hour project||4 hour project|
|5 volunteers||2,500 photos||3,750 photos||5,000 photos|
|10 volunteers||5,000 photos||7,500 photos||10,000 photos|
|20 volunteers||10,000 photos||15,000 photos||20,000 photos|
|30 volunteers||15,000 photos||22,500 photos||30,000 photos|
|40 volunteers||20,000 photos||30,000 photos||40,000 photos|
|50 volunteers||25,000 photos||37,500 photos||50,000 photos|
|100 volunteers||50,000 photos||75,000 photos||100,000 photos|
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! _________________________________
Find a Cemetery to Document
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.
Contacting the Cemetery Manager
One of the first things you should do is contact the cemetery manager to let them know about your project. 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 FamilySearch.org 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!
Upload Your Photos
When you are finished taking photos for the day, you can upload your photos right at the cemetery, if you have unlimited data. Or you can wait until you connect to Wi-Fi to upload them.
From the app’s camera screen, click on the “X” in the corner of your phone screen. An orange button that says “upload” will appear. Tap on it. (If you have already closed the app’s camera screen, you can get to the “upload” button by tapping on “Photos” from the main screen of the app.)
Option to Transcribe
After you tap the orange upload button a pop-up will appear that says, “Would you like to transcribe your own images?” You can select “yes” or “no”. If you select “yes,” you will have 14 days to transcribe the names and dates from your own images using the BillionGraves website before they are released to the public queue. If you select “no,” then other volunteers will transcribe the data from your photos. If you really want to transcribe your own records, go ahead and do it, but if you have the option, we would rather have you take more photos. We already have many transcribers just waiting for new pictures.
The number of photos you took will start to go down. Leave the app open until all the photos upload. If the upload is interrupted by a phone call or other event, the app may stop. To restart the uploading process, just tap “cancel” and then tap “upload” again. Your photos will be sent to the BillionGraves database to help families find their ancestors and bless generations to come!
Click HERE to watch a video about BillionGraves.
Anyone is welcome to do take gravestone photos at your own convenience, no permission from us is needed. If you still have questions after you have clicked on this link to get started, please email us at Volunteer@BillionGraves.com.
If you are planning an Eagle Scout project, email us at Eagle@BillionGraves.com. We would be especially happy to help you!
If you know of outstanding Eagle Scouts who have documented a cemetery with the BillionGraves app, we would like to hear about it! Contact us at Eagle@BillionGraves.com.
Check out these blog posts about Eagle Scouts and BillionGraves:
Here’s to outstanding Eagle Scouts and outstanding volunteers!