Monday, July 18, 2016

A Call to Action: Finding the Fallen

Quantico National Cemetery 2016

On July 30, 2016, in honor of the veterans of the Armed Forces, BillionGraves and the Boy Scouts of America will host the nationwide service project, Finding the Fallen.  We are asking for everyone’s help to make this project a success!  By joining the project, you will serve these heroes by photographing and logging the GPS locations of the headstones and markers in our national cemeteries and uploading them to the website.

To organize this commemorative event in your area, visit Easy step by step instructions will guide you in selection of a National cemetery in your area and allow you to invite others to take part in this amazing project with you.

You will need to download the free Billiongraves app on your smart phone.

When you visit the cemetery, select the photo icon on the Billiongraves app.  You will notice the name of the cemetery appear on the camera screen.  From there just click and go!  Point the camera at each individual headstone.  Avoid wide shots that include other graves. Point and click! It is as easy as that!  Once you have taken pictures, return to the app homepage.  Click on the Photos icon and upload your images.  With just a few hours of your time and the use of a cell phone, you can help preserve the memory of a soldier.  

We need you to help make this service project a success!  BillionGraves and the Boy Scouts of America thank you for taking the time to honor our service men and women by taking part in Finding the Fallen.

For more information about Finding the Fallen visit

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pokemon NO! Gamers Asked to Steer Clear of Cemeteries

The recent release of Pokemon Go has brought an increase of people out walking, heads down, iphones on, in search of Pokemon.  The newest craze has fans of all ages out and about trying to “catch them all!”  Here’s the thing.  There are some places you should stay clear of: dark alleys, private property and, need we say it … Cemeteries!

Today my husband was photographing for BillionGraves at a cemetery in Colorado. Now, during our years volunteering with BillionGraves, we have been asked a lot of things, but never “Are you here to catch Pokemon?  Excuse me?  Yes!  Believe it or not, there has been an influx of people wandering cemeteries looking for those little creatures.

Let this be a PSA, if you will.  Stay clear of the cemeteries.  This is hallowed ground to many people and the visitors there are paying their respects to loved ones they have lost.  There is a time and place for everything, and playing Pokemon at the local cemetery just isn’t right.  

My son, who is a fan of Pokemon, informed me that Pokemon Go randomly generates locations of the Pokemon.  Keep in mind these locations change day by day, so any creatures you missed out on at the cemetery will be available elsewhere on another day.  Be patient.  If you must play, seek out a local park or other public venue.  Avoid private property and dark secluded places.  And, if anything, out of sheer respect, don’t play in the cemetery.

The cemetery security was pleased to learn that my husband was not out capturing Pokemon, but instead capturing images of headstones.  BillionGraves is a volunteer worldwide initiative with the purpose of preserving the information found on gravestones.  Each photograph is tagged with a GPS coordinate so that family looking to find an ancestor’s resting place will be lead to the exact location of the headstone.

To learn more about BillionGraves, visit  To learn more about Pokemon Go, visit

Friday, July 8, 2016

Reflections of a GraveFinder -- They Were The Dash.

It is no secret that I love volunteering for BillionGraves.  I love that with so little effort and just a donation of my time, I can provide a resource for thousands of people searching for a record for their ancestor or loved one.  Pure and simple.  It’s me, my iPhone and a cemetery.   Step.  Point.  Click.  Move to the next headstone.  Step.  Point. Click.  And yet, it is not as simple as that.  There is the dash.

What do I mean by “the dash?”  I am sure by now you have heard it said that we all have two dates and a dash, and we better make that dash count.  What about those dashes I pass moment by moment as I individually photograph each grave?  Those dashes meant something to a lot of people.  What happened in those dashes affected the lives of others and should be remembered.

Over the past years I have photographed over 150 thousand headstones.  That is a lot of memorials.  Do I stop and think of each person as I move along?  Truthfully, no.  I sometimes zone out because the repetition of the process over a two to five hour timeframe can lead to one’s mind wandering.  But I do try to focus.  To me, it’s a matter of respect.

Each headstone has a name.  Sometimes, as I pass by, I state the name aloud and say hello.  I notice the religious symbol on the stone.  I read the epitaph. Sometimes there is a spouse buried there, as well.  Two feet to the left may be an infant child.  My heart melts and I get emotional as though suddenly this is my family and I am sharing in the loss.

There are the feelings of pride, too.  I have photographed in Arlington, Quantico and Gettysburg.  I have passed soldiers of all ranks and station.  Purple Heart recipients.  Some who died in war and others who lived very long lives.  In my heart, I thank them all for their service.  I say a silent prayer.

I see mementoes on or beside the headstones.  A case of beer and a pack of cigarettes.  Teddy bears.  Matchbox cars.  A rock.  A dime.  Sometimes even a black box, holding who knows what?  I don’t look inside.  It’s sacred.  All memories relating to the dash.

And sometimes I meet the families.  Typically, when I photograph a cemetery and mourners come to pay their respects, I will stop photographing.  I move away or go somewhere else in the cemetery so as to give the visitors privacy.  Sometimes I am so focused I don’t see the family members walk towards me, curious as to what I am doing here.  Did I lose a loved one, as well?  Did I know their father?  Mother?  Friend?  No.  I am here for record preservation purposes only.  After a brief explanation of why I am in the cemetery, the real interaction begins.  The family members want to share their experiences about their loved ones.  They want the stories told.  I’m here to preserve the dates.  They are here to remember the dash.

What I do is easy.  It’s just me, the iPhone and a cemetery.  Step. Point. Click.  Move to the next headstone.  But as volunteers for any genealogical project, may we pause to remember for whom we are doing this work?  What we do goes beyond record preservation.  May our work reflect our respect for the name engraved on the stone.  They are more than just a name and two dates.  They were the dash.