Friday, May 13, 2016

Do QR Codes Have A Place In Cemeteries?

In the late 1970s, there was a cemetery my school bus passed every day.  One of the headstones that faced the street displayed a photograph of the child buried there.  At the time, I found the image unsettling and would avoid looking at the grave when we passed by.  I’m not sure why it bothered me.  I had spent many hours in cemeteries doing research with my genealogist parents, but as a 12 year old, it was beyond my understanding of why a picture would be put on a headstone. 

Today, I am a volunteer with an online records preservation site called BillionGraves.  As a volunteer, I visit cemeteries throughout the world and photograph headstones which later are transcribed and made available with GPS coordinates for individuals searching for their ancestors.  Every once in a while I come across a headstone that displays a picture of the deceased.  It no longer unsettles me as it did when I was a youth.  It is a wonderful reminder that the individual buried there is more than a name and two dates etched in stone.  But, just as I have adjusted to seeing the faces of the deceased on headstones, a new technology has emerged providing information beyond the imagery and inscription. And while we live in the age of ever advancing technology, not everyone is comfortable with this new addition to the headstones -- the QR code. 

If you are not familiar with the term QR code, it is a digital square box that can be scanned to obtain information regarding the item it is attached to.  So why place a QR code on a headstone?  Who is doing the scanning and how? 

QR Codes on Headstones

QR codes on headstones began to make their appearance within the last decade.  Who started the process is debatable.  There are a variety companies in the United States that claim they were the first, however, the earliest reference I was able to come across is Quiring Monuments, a Seattle based company who placed their codes on headstones in 2011. The idea was to provide additional information regarding the deceased, such as an obituary, family stories, and any other documentation of historical importance.  A virtual records repository, if you will.  Anyone researching the individual would simply scan the QR code with a smart phone, and the photographs and documents pertaining to that person would be made available through a site the family or cemetery administration managed.  

Anyone who has researched family history will tell you that courthouses burn, documents fade with time, and often information is misplaced, mislabeled or lost.  A stone with an etched QR code would provide an opportunity to have access to those documents even after the original records can no longer be found.  For genealogical purposes this seems like a wonderful idea if you know who the individual is, where they are buried, and know the QR code is there.  

Breaking Away From Tradition

Cemeteries have long been a place where people go to pay their respects to a loved one.  Genealogists visit cemeteries to locate ancestors and retrieve vital information etched on the stone.  It’s all about the family and preserving the memory of those who have gone before.  The expectation is that the cemetery be peaceful, if not sacred.  Have we lost sight of what the intent of those visits are, or have we advanced the opportunity to keep the memory of our ancestors alive and in greater detail?

There was a time when placing an image on a gravestone was considered controversial.  Jewish law and Christianity prohibit idol worship, and so many people rejected the idea of adding a photograph to their loved one’s grave fearing that the prayers said at the grave site might be misconstrued and seen as praying to the deceased. 

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

                                                                                    Exodus 20:3-4

But while some people rejected the idea of adding images citing religious beliefs, others begged the question, “Are we visiting the cemetery to visit our dead or to pray to God?”  If the intent is to visit and keep the memory of the loved one alive, then why not a photograph?  And if not a photograph, why not a QR code?

I recently asked a group of friends what they thought of QR codes on cemetery headstones.  While some people felt it would be a wonderful way to learn about people buried in a cemetery, others felt that bringing technology into the cemetery would be "tacky."  Most agreed that tying information regarding the individual and the headstone to some sort of database would be sufficient.  But we have that already, don’t we?  Sites such as BillionGraves and FindAGrave do just that.  They have taken the image of the headstone and attached with it further documentation regarding the deceased. 

So what to do with the QR codes?  One individual suggested that QR codes be allowed if the family members request one.  When sites such as BillionGraves or FindAGrave digitize the headstone, the QR code could be attached, providing the viewer with additional information on their ancestor.

And what about photographs displayed on headstones?  While some people felt it was a nice idea, many others did not, pointing out that too often the images etched into the stone do not turn out well, and that the digital photographs inserted in the stones fade and are destroyed by the elements of nature.

 Let me hear from you! 

What are your thoughts regarding cemetery headstones?  Should headstones only display names and dates, or should we allow technology to take a place within the graveyard?

Monday, May 2, 2016

American Flag Retirement Ceremony

This past Saturday, I attended my first ever American Flag Retirement Ceremony hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I had often wondered about what to do with an American flag when it is no longer serviceable.  Since many other Americans may also wonder, I thought I would share how Saturday's ceremony went.

When we fly an American flag, it should be clean and without wear and tear.  Once the flag shows sign of weathering or is soiled, it should be respectfully retired by burning.  But how is a flag prepared for retirement?


Reminder: At no time should the American flag touch the ground.

1. Using scissors, remove the star field from the flag.

2. Continue to cut each stripe one by one.  Each stripe may represent one of the original 13 colonies.

3. Each stripe should be taken and placed respectfully on the fire.

4. Once each of the stripes has been placed in the fire, the field of stars is added.

No fire should be left unattended.  Our ceremony took place at the local fire department.


Saturday's Flag Retirement Ceremony began with the DAR Regent recognizing the local Boy Scout Troop acting as Color Guard.  After we sang the National Anthem, the colors were posted by the Boy Scouts.

The DAR Regent reminded those in attendance that the flag ceremony is not a celebration but a solemn ritual held in respect for out Nation's flag and the service she performs.  "The Flag of the United States of America is our Nation's symbol of liberty... It speaks our sense of pride as proud Americans."

On a nearby table were several donated flags prepared for retirement.  As described above, each of the flags had been disassembled and their matching colors were placed together.  The Regent read the names and admission dates of the original 13 states as each stripe was placed on the fire.

Stripe 1:   Delaware - December 7, 1787
Stripe 2:   Pennsylvania - December 12, 1787
Stripe 3:   New Jersey - December 18, 1787
Stripe 4:   Georgia - January 2, 1788
Stripe 5:   Connecticut - January 9, 1788
Stripe 6:   Massachusetts - February 6, 1788
Stripe 7:   Maryland - April 28, 1788
Stripe 8:   South Carolina - May 23, 1788
Stripe 9:   New Hampshire - June 21, 1788
Stripe 10: Virginia  - June 25, 1788
Stripe 11: New York - July 26, 1788
Stripe 12: North Carolina - November 21, 1788
Stripe 13: Rhode Island - May 29, 1790

One flag remained in tact and was disassembled as the ceremony continued with each stripe making its way to the fire with the matching stripes being presented.

The DAR Regent continued, "Old Glory, we give you to the flames, and to the ground from which you came... We look at last on stars once pure and pray their spirit long endures.  To keep our children forever free, to light within Fire's Liberty!"

With the final field of stars placed in the fire, the Regent stated, "Nothing is really ended until it is forgotten.  Our Flag, the symbol of freedom for millions of citizens of our great land and the banner under which countless numbers have given their last measure of devotion in wars to protect our freedom, will never be forgotten."

Before the colors were retired, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited by all in attendance.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

We concluded the meeting by singing God Bless America.

The meeting was less than an hour and was a very solemn experience.  I was raised in a very patriotic home, and to this day I tear up hearing the national anthem.  I went to this Flag Retirement Ceremony curious as to how our nation's flag is treated when her journey comes to an end.  It was dignified and extremely respectful.  We must remember that when the flag is disassembled, it is no longer a flag.  So, we should not look upon this as a disrespectful act of flag burning, but instead, a moment in which we can pay our respects to a symbol of our freedom as she is retired from her term of service.