A Glimpse at BillionGraves.com

Today I learned of a new iPhone app and service called BillionGraves.com.  I don’t have an iPhone, but I am excited by the potential.  My first reaction was “oh no – we already have Find-A-Grave. Why would they compete with them?”  But, in looking at the BillionGraves site, the function is quite different and is really meant to cater to smartphone users – something that Find-A-Grave has not yet aggressively done.

Almost a year ago I blogged a wishlist for what I wanted in a potential Find-A-Grave smartphone app. And, there is already an independently developed app to access Find-A-Grave data.  From the looks of it, BillionGraves is meant to make it easy to take a picture when in a cemetery and upload it.  Find-A-Grave does not support this and the app is okay, but doesn’t quite meet my interests.

What I like about BillionGraves:

  • even w/o the app, I can go online and transcribe photos that others have uploaded. can you say crowdsourcing?  the transcription process is very easy
  • each tombstone picture can be edited by anyone. i like this though I can also see potential problems.
  • automatic GPS integration from phone coordinates.  my problem is my Samsung Fascinate phone is notorious for incorrect GPS.
  • the interface is simple – easy to click around

What could be better:

  • looks like you have to physically be in a cemetery to upload pics; can’t upload pics you already have or someone else may send you for posting
  • because the images can be edited by anyone a revision history and the ability to see who worked on a record would be nice
  • a dashboard is offered for you when you login, but no one else can see your dashboard
  • info is JUST the picture. can’t add supplemental info like you can at Find-A-Grave or link family relationships
  • search options should be enhanced to provide more refined combinations (like person + location)
  • city names are provided for cemetery info, but not the counties – major omission if you ask me. In a Search you can specify county, but if you end up on the cemetery page in another way you won’t immediately know the county
  • it’s not clear to me how they will avoid duplicate entries. this will be important to do.
  • the company does not have a social media presence? they do have a blog, but it’s not linked to the BillionGraves site — both of these issues need to be remedied soon
  • they could take a few more suggestions from my blog post aforementioned about features in incorporate :-)

This endeavor is of course new so I do expect they will continue to develop it.   However, even as is, it will be a useful complement to Find-A-Grave and I can see myself using both on a regular basis.   Very cool.

A.C. Ivory posted on his blog about it and mentioned he would post more for his Mobile Monday posts. I hope he shares his experience actually using the app in the field!

 

Tombstone Tuesday: 1,000 Photos!

This weekend I reached a milestone on Find-A-Grave.  Since joining in 2007 I have added over 1,000 photos to the site!  I know there are contributors that do a lot more, but I was pleased to reach this milestone :-)  Let’s see how long it takes me to get to 2,000.

In addition to the photos I have also contributed 1200 memorials, yet only fulfilled 2 photo requests. Admittedly, I have a hard time with photo requests.  I’m much less inclined to seek out a specific headstone as opposed to taking random pictures of headstones – this is why I greatly appreciate those that do.  However, I am hopeful that someone stumbles across one of the photos I’ve added and it is meaningful to them.

As an active FindAGrave user, I love the site, but sure wish they would make some enhancements. Here’s to hoping.  Meanwhile, I continue to cemetery hop and take as many photos as I can.

 

Tombstone Tuesday: Domenico Aita

On Saturday afternoon, the hubby kidnapped us and decided that we were going to drive around aimlessly for awhile before getting something to eat.  Our driving led us north of Nashville and in nearby Joelton.   Well,  guess what we saw along the way? A church cemetery!   Being the good genealogist that I am, I of course felt compelled to stop and take pictures.

The church is St. Lawrence Catholic Church and as I looked at the tombstones, I saw several with Italian names.  Many of the headstones were beautifully done and dated back to the early-mid 1800s. We were at the cemetery for about 20 minutes, during which time I took about 100 photos! I’m still in the process of transcribing them all to submit to the Davidson County, TNGenWeb site, as well as Find-A-Grave.

However, I wanted to post today about one tombstone in particular – that of Domenico Aita.  There were several Aita family tombstones in the cemetery and he looks to be the progenitor?  Further research will need to be done, but I liked his headstone for it had the name of the city in which he was born – Buja, Italy.  Buja is in the Udine Province region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Domenico Aita (1869-1921) of Buja, Italy

I wonder if his family descendants know where he is buried and/or are familiar with their homeland?  I wonder if he has remaining family over in Italy?

Kaleya In the Cemetery

Over the holiday weekend,  I made DH take me to two local cemeteries so I could take a few pictures for Find-A-Grave.  We didn’t stay long – about an hour combined, but during that time I got many pictures for uploading.  Perhaps my favorite part of the whole experience was how involved Kaleya (who will soon be 6) got in the process!  She and/or Jihad have been to the cemetery with me before, but this was the first time she declared that she was going to take pictures too.   It was by chance because I asked her to hold my phone while I got my digital camera ready and off she went with the phone while I used the camera!

She had a ball.  From getting in close to take good pictures….

to brushing leaves off the headstones so that the names could be “read” (or in her case since she’s still learning to read.. “seen”)

she was such a great helper and enjoyed it.

Now, of course she still has a thing or two to learn about taking pictures :-)  Comments heard in the cemetery,

“Mommy — my shadow got in that one!”

or – “Ha, ha! my fingers were in the way!”

But, she did quite often get pictures that were excellent.

She’s definitely going back with me next time I go :-)  I was truly amazed.

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy – Week 22 (Part II) – Find-A-Grave

In my last post, I expressed my desire for a Find-A-Grave app for my smartphone and outlined several specific features I wished to see in the app.  After posting and sharing the link, I learned from Thomas that there was an ongoing discussion on the Find-A-Grave forums, and then someone posted a link to a beta version of an app in the Android Market. Sweet! I have an Android phone.

Eager to see how it works, I quickly installed it.   The app’s page has several screenshots that will allow you to see how it currently works and I see much promise.   It was released May 11, 2010 so is a very early version.  So far, it provides basic access to the data at the Find-A-Grave website, but it does not have any of the 7 functions I listed in my post.  To be fair though, it is clear from the current menus that many of these are planned, and I am excited!

Overall, the usability of the site is aligned with what I envisioned. It is fast, easy to use and instructions are clear.  I believe the developer is definitely heading in the right direction.  Now I just need to figure out a way to let the developer know of my blog post!

52 Weeks To Better Genealogy – Week 22 (Find-A-Grave)

A couple of months ago I read an article about a Vanderbilt Engineering student named Ben Gotow and his work developing iPhone apps.  He developed an iPhone app for artists that has sold more than 20,000 units to date, an app for a Vanderbilt informatics group that allows anesthesiologists to view what’s going on in various operating rooms from their iPhones, and considered another app that immediately caught my attention and sparked my thoughts on the topic of this blog post.  It’ s a blog post I’ve been bouncing around for a couple of months and this week’s prompt for Find-A-Grave gives me the perfect opportunity to present the idea.

What was that other app? The app that was mentioned that particularly caught my eye was described in the following manner in the article I read about him

Gotow hopes to develop an app that would allow users to point their phones at a building anywhere on Vanderbilt’s campus and receive information about what is going on inside as well as the building’s history.

When I read this sentence, I had an immediate realization at how cool something like this could be for a genealogical/historical researcher! Not only for Vanderbilt buildings, but if it were crowdsourced somehow or drew from Wikipedia for use from any location.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  Then, as I thought about its potential for use from any location, I realized that something like this could be useful for Find-A-Grave.  Imaging pointing your smartphone towards any cemetery and getting information about that cemetery?

I’m tweaking the original 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy prompt’s objective, but here are my thoughts on how a FindAGrave app could work:

  • it would use GPS coordinates and map data to show you what cemeteries are near you (a la FourSquare)
  • from the app, you’d retrieve the list of burials as noted in Find-A-Grave an easy-to-visualize method of knowing which ones have pictures or not.  The Find-A-Grave site uses a tombstone marker image to designate the availability of a tombstone photo so this could be the case as well for the app.
  • if there is not a tombstone marker for the grave it would allow you to click on a camera icon to launch your smartphone camera, take a picture and upload that pic to FindAGrave right away.   Find-A-Grave currently has a photo size restriction so ideally, the app would resize your photo since it will probably be much larger than the maximum image allowed
  • if there is not an entry for that burial, have a simple version of the form to add a new entry and then as above, add the picture of the tombstone.
  • Sign-in should be required to use the app so then it could keep track of the graves you added and/or took photos for so you can go back and enhance the data later if needed (ideally,  it would work in tandem w/ the Find-A-Grave website so you could manage the info online)
  • integration w/ other social sites — wouldn’t it be fun if you were in a cemetery and could tweet/Facebook  something like, “I just found my great-grandmother’s tombstone @ XYZ Cemetery!”  along w/ the picture?
  • a “check-in” feature (again, a la FourSquare or Waymarking) that would let you know what other people may have visited the cemetery (and or grave)?  this could possibly lead to connecting with other researchers with familial ties?
  • in June 2009 I posted my wish-list for the Find-A-Grave website — maybe the app could incorporate some of them?

Using an app like this while surveying, viewing a cemetery would be interesting.  It may extend the time needed to survey a cemetery, but with all the steps combined of taking a picture and uploading it to the site, it may in the end save time.  I’d love to try something like this out.   The argument could be made that since smartphones can render websites, the regular Find-A-Grave site could be used, but I personally find usability issues when using the regular site on my Android.  Either a specifically designed mobile version of the site or an app would be better from a  usability perspective.  It is time like these that I wish I were a programmer, or at least had enough money to hire a programmer.

Thanks for the inspiration Ben! Maybe I can get someone at Find-A-Grave, or someone with programming expertise to take this on.  I’d need a Droid version though.  :-)

Update 5/31 — Thomas tweeted a link to a forum discussion on an iPhone app for Find-A-Grave and I posted a comment there.  Also, I had another idea. Here’s the scenario:

Today I am visiting family in Indiana and I’m planning to go visit a cemetery.  Maybe a potential function of the app would be to provide me a % of tombstones photographed at cemeteries around me. I could target some of the cemeteries with fewer percentage of tombstones photographed to start with.  Recognizing that there may not be headstones for everyone listed at a particular cemetery, it would still be an interesting way to know how to best focus my efforts to help contribute to the site.

I also learned that there is a beta version of the app that was just released a couple of weeks ago. The site to learn more about it is here and you can see comments here.  I will do a blog post about it later.

Tombstone Tuesday: Balthazaar “Balthus” Faith

This Tombstone Tuesday post is not for someone in my family, but rather that of a co-worker.  The furthest back I’ve traced her Faith lineage is to the mother of this ancestor, Balthazaar “Balthus” Faith.

This image of his tombstone is courtesy of an upload from a FindAGrave volunteer at his gravesite in the Calvary Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.   Balthazaar was born in April 11, 1811 in Germany, emigrating to this country from Berne, Bavaria.   His father died in Germany, but his mother, Mary, came over to this county with him and they settled in Maryland.  While in Maryland, Balthus married Emily Gordon and together they would have at least 5 children (that I know of).  My coworker is descended from their son Joseph Faith.    The family moved to Springfield in 1867.

Tombstone Tuesday: Kemp Plummer Battle Sr.

This is my first Tombstone Tuesday post and since I had the perfect opportunity to do one, I thought I would.  This is the tombstone of Kemp Plummer Battle Sr.   Kemp was what you would call a “prominent” North Carolinian; he was highly active and involved in many matters of the state, including serving as President of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Kemp is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina next to his wife and other family members.  Last month I created his FindAGrave entry, which was surprising to me that he did not already have one given his social position, and two days ago, my picture request was fulfilled by a FindAGrave volunteer!

Now, why would I interested in Kemp?  I am interested in him and his family because he was the last slaveowner of a branch of my family.   My third great-grandmother, Mariah Wimberly McNair was the daughter of Della Battle and Allen Wimberly.   Della and at least one of her children, were slaves of Kemp’s plantation in Edgecomebe County, North Carolina, that he inherited from his father-in-law,  James S. Battle.  I know that Della was his slave from the wonderful resource of Dr. Barnetta McGhee -White on cohabitation records from North Carolina, Somebody Knows My Name.

I have not yet gotten to the point where I’ve begun to examine family estate and court records (which Robyn describes a perfect example to do so in her recent blog post), but when I do have that opportunity, I want to be clear on all the family members.  Creating a Battle family tree, allows me to do so in order that I am adequately prepared.

Hmmm… would you call it ironic that I went to the University of the man who enslaved my ancestors?  I personally don’t have any misfeelings about this – history was what it was, but at the same time, I do feel connected in a way, to this family.