Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

#RootTech 2014 -- #BillionGraves adds supporting records

For a while, I will be catching up with all the marvelous things I learned at RootsTech 2014. I think this year far outdid all of the three proceeding Conferences in the huge amount of new information and development announced by different entities. As I noted, I have a lot to talk about. 

My family has been very much involved with Part of this involvement began before we even knew about the program. This began with the tragic loss of my dear granddaughter, Allison Bowers, who was killed in an accident not far from our home. As a direct result of that tragedy, I became very much involved with records at the Mesa City Cemetery. As my daughter and her husband were arranging for a cemetery plot, I was looking around the small Mesa City Cemetery office, at the Cemetery, and noticed some old records displayed in a case by the door. As we were leaving the office, I asked the young lady who had been helping us wether or not the records stored in the Cemetery Office had ever been digitized. She responded that they had not been and that she had become very worried about all the records stored in this somewhat isolated location and had been praying that they could be preserved someway. I impulsively told her that I would make sure that they were digitized.

I contacted FamilySearch to see if there was a way that I could help get those records digitized. Ultimately, I was put in contact with the Image Acquisition section of FamilySearch. Just before I was leaving for my first RootsTech conference four years ago, I got a call from FamilySearch telling me to talk to David Harding at RootsTech. Yeah. Well, as Bloggers, we were taken on the now traditional tour of the Exhibit Floor. One of the very first people I met on that tour was David Harding. That meeting started a three year project with FamilySearch to digitize the records in the Mesa City Cemetery Office. It turned out that FamilySearch was starting a pilot program to create a way to digitize smaller collections of records through volunteers. It was my privilege to participate in that program as the "test guinea pig" and help to get a program going that is now being used all over the world. The end product, after a lot of days and hundreds of hours spent at the Mesa City Cemetery, were records that were uploaded to the FamilySearch Historical Record Collection. You can see the records in the Catalog (the catalog is down as I write this and I couldn't put in a link).

The digitized records consisted primarily of Permits for Burial which in the early years contained more information than a death certificate. These records including some City of Mesa tax records and Funeral programs dating back into the 1800s.

Meanwhile, I attended last year's RootsTech and talked to Brian Moncur, Chief Technology Officer at I had become excited about the idea of the program, that the gravemarkers in cemeteries around the world could be photographed with an iPhone or iPad and the GPS coordinates added automatically to the photo which could then be uploaded directly to the database online. I told Brian about my experience with the Mesa City Cemetery and suggested that these types of records existed all over the United States and had seldom been digitized and even more, seldom been recognized for their value. He immediately saw the need for adding this type of record to a record of the grave.

Meanwhile, my daughter and her family, partially as a memorial to their lost daughter and partially as an Eagle Project for my grandson provided by, took on the task of photographing all of the gravemarkers in the Mesa City Cemetery. This family personally took over 23,000 photographs and with the help of the members of their Ward and others such as our extended family, they finished taking the rest of the photographs of that entire cemetery for My daughter an her family went on to photograph many other cemeteries around the State of Arizona.

Now, at RootsTech 2014, with that small seed planted almost a year ago, has taken this idea way beyond my suggestion. Here is their announcement, in part:

After months of work in response to hundreds of user requests, BillionGraves has added several new features designed to validate and enhance the headstone records found on BillionGraves.

The Supporting Record Feature now allows users to upload evidence-based documents that support the BillionGraves records that have been collected through our mobile Apps. This means that users are now able to upload headstones, birth/death, burial, marriage, cremation, and many other types of records WITHOUT NEEDING A SMART PHONE!

Thousands of records are being uploaded every day and are breaking down genealogy brick walls and making connections that once seemed impossible. While working closely with our users and genealogists we found that there were many headstones and burials that just couldn't be accounted for with our current systems; including unmarked graves, cremation scatterings, destroyed stones, and so on.
Our Supporting Records features eliminate this problem while maintaining the validity and accuracy of the BillionGraves database.
Now, you can see how all of what we do as genealogists is interrelated. There are many threads that come together to weave the fabric of preserving the lives and times of our ancestors. Thanks to for all their work and thanks to all of you who have taken time to photograph grave markers. Our family is particularly thankful for and their efforts to preserve these valuable records. 

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