Giving Back – Part 1 – Cemetery Photography

One of my favorite ways to “give back” is through cemetery photography. You are likely familiar with the websites Find-A-Grave or Billion Graves. These sites are collections of cemeteries, tombstones, transcriptions, and photographs that are available to researchers far and wide. These sites didn’t create themselves, however. They are the product of thousands of volunteers all over the world. I know I use the site all of the time, especially for those ancestors in Ohio or Missouri or Illinois in far-flung places that I will probably never get to. Thanks to all of those volunteers, I can see their tombstones with a few clicks of a mouse.

I won’t go into all of the ways you can use these sites for your research; that’s a whole different set of blog posts. I will tell you how I use them to “give back” to the genealogical community. I’m going to focus on Find-A-Grave although similar things can be done with Billion Graves, you’ll just need to check into it if that’s your app/site of choice. I find myself using Find-A-Grave a lot more often, but that doesn’t make one any better or worse than the other. Also, you don’t have to use one of the apps at all, you can use a digital camera and upload the photos from home. Or you can do this with a local genealogical society.


Find-A-Grave and Billion Graves both have apps for your smart phone or tablet. I use them almost every time I take a road trip. On the Find-A-Grave app, you can tell it to find cemeteries near you and it will indicate if there are any with open photo requests. An open request means that someone far away would like to have a photograph of a tombstone added to the site. You can access these request right from your phone, head to the cemetery and take a photo all in one app.

This is an excellent way to get out of the car and stretch your legs if you are on a long road trip. When we have time to take side roads, my husband and I like to visit the cemeteries that are more out of the way. Those are probably the more neglected cemeteries that don’t get photographed as often. Plus we have so much fun! Once we almost got stuck in the mud, even though we drive an all-wheel-drive Subaru. Another time, a thunderstorm whipped up so fast we got drenched. We’ve also encountered very tall weeds, trees engulfing the stones, angry birds guarding their nests, friendly ducks, tiny toads, turtles, snakes and evidence of wild boar.

Sign at a cemetery in Texas, photo by author ©2014

We have also seen some of the most beautiful sights and interesting cemeteries along the way.

Friendly ducks at a cemetery in Texas, photo by author © 2014

Since we just moved, we have begun driving around the rural areas near us, to visit the cemeteries nearby and learn more about our new surroundings. Sometimes it’s a great reason to get out of the house and out into nature.

Some tips that we have discovered along the way to help your time in the cemetery be more fun or productive:

  • Many of these rural cemeteries are away from good cell phone reception. I often take a screen shot of the map and the page with the photo requests so that even if I can’t get cell reception, I still know where I’m going and who I’m looking for. (You’ll have to check with your personal phone model on how to do this, but it can be done.) Another option would be to print these at home and take the paper copies with you.
  • Wear pants and close-toed shoes, especially in the overgrown, weedy cemeteries. I am a fan of flip-flops, however, I have found myself in the weeds with possible ticks, snakes and burrs far too often. I know throw a pair of shoes to change into in the car. It can be very hot if you do this in the summer, but wearing pants rather than shorts is also recommended.
  • Stop at a gas station or rest area and use the facilities before you head out too far. It’s not cool to have to squat behind a bush or have to leave altogether to use the bathroom.
  • Take water and snacks. Like the above, it’s no fun to have to leave early because you are hungry or thirsty.

Exploring cemeteries has been one of the most fun and fulfilling activities that I have done to “give back.” You never know what you are going to find. Have fun out there!

High weed road to a rural cemetery in South Dakota, photo by author ©2014
Cemetery overgrown with weeds in rural South Dakota, photo by author ©2014
Cemetery turtle, rural cemetery in New England, photo by author ©2008
Deer in a cemetery in rural Missouri, photo by author ©2010

5 thoughts on “Giving Back – Part 1 – Cemetery Photography

  1. Nice post. I like trampling cemeteries too. I cringe every time we don’t have time to stop at a cemetery along the way, even though I know my husband and kids would be bored.

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