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.
We have also seen some of the most beautiful sights and interesting cemeteries along the way.
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!
After all of the “main” record types I mentioned in previous posts, I also looked at my favorite newspaper websites such as GenealogyBank, Newspapers.com, and Chronicling America. I did not find anything relevant in the time I had allotted to work on this project.
Another favorite online database is FindAGrave.com. This is a collection of tombstone photographs and cemetery listings. I did find several relevant entries for Dimick and Scroggins family members:
There are several entries, including Sarah Scroggin(s) and Franklin Dimick in “Dimick Cemetery.” However, there are no photographs for either of them. Further research indicates that there are no tombstones or they are quite weathered and that this is a cemetery on private property, at one time being owned by the Dimick family. It is located near the town of Rosiclare, Illinois.
So, EVERYTHING is NOT on the Internet. At some point we have to put on clothes other than jammies and slippers and go to some repositories to further our research. However, there are still things you can do from home before you step outside and blink at the sun, that will be covered in the next post.
I am a mom with two children still at home. When I began this genealogy journey my son was just 5 months old. He’s almost 13 now and my daughter is 10. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to be involved and not grumpy when the car takes a side trip to visit a cemetery or library. When I take a research trip to Wood County, Ohio I am usually there to visit my family and often our trips are too short. I like to combine the research with the visiting to maximize the time we have together: “Hey grandma, let’s go to the cemetery and you can tell me about your great-grandparents and their families.” Taking your family along on research expeditions can be a fun way to get them talking about your ancestors and getting them more interested in what you are doing.
I’m not above bribery. When I take my children to a cemetery I offer them a small fee (25¢ for even looking) and a prize for who finds the tombstone (50¢). It motivates them and makes it easier for me to have little energetic legs tromping around the cemetery. My son is especially good at finding the tombstones. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken him to the cemetery, given him the name we are looking for and he’s off in a flash, zig-zag across the cemetery. In no time at all I hear “found it!” sometimes even before I’ve had a chance to get started! (By the way, he is for hire.)
With the older family members it is sometimes just nice to get them out of the house and to a place they probably haven’t been in a long time. My grandma especially likes to drive around out in the country reminiscing about times gone by, who lived on which farm, who she went to school with, and the fun (and not so fun) times she had. My dad seems to like the thrill of the chase, like finding items on a scavenger hunt. If you have reluctant relatives, you might offer to buy them lunch if they come along.
Combine your research trips with visiting with relatives. Take notes (well, not if you are the one driving) or record conversations on your phone or with a digital recorder. Or have an able person in the car take notes while you’re driving. At any rate, conversation will tend to revolve around what you are looking for. Memories will be triggered when you are looking for Great-Aunt Martha’s grave. You’ll want to be sure to get those memories down on paper.
Involving your family members in your research jaunts can be very rewarding and fun. It might give you the opportunity to connect with some relatives you don’t get to see very often. Whatever you do have fun and enjoy the journey!
Once you have identified your research goals, you will need to make a plan to reach those goals. It is not enough to have a goal, a goal needs an action plan. This plan might consist of a list of steps, an inventory of sources, a map and itinerary of repositories to visit, and so forth. When planning a research trip, a research plan is vital to staying focused, being efficient and getting the most out of your time.
Your plan should cover these elements:
where you plan to visit
what records you plan to look at
what/who you expect to find in those records
brief biographical information on the ancestor to help you id the right person or other information such as a cemetery section to help you locate what you’re looking for
A plan can be expanded to also become your research log (see the next post for more details on the research log).
When traveling, I tend to drive if I have the time. I like being able to go to cemeteries, local libraries, history museums and courthouses that are on the way (or only slightly out of the way). I enjoy seeing the areas where my ancestors lived, walking on land they used to own, and seeing the documents they wrote with their own hands. You can’t really get a good idea of what our great country is like if you are in a plane 30,000 feet up. I do love a good road trip.
When planning your trip, use your genealogy software and locate target areas along the way. Seek out which cemeteries you could reasonably visit. Print out maps and directions to get you there. Planning ahead with a map is easy using tools like Google Maps. In 2011, I was on a very short trip visiting my relatives in Ohio. I planned a day’s tour through 4 cemeteries using Google Maps “My Places” feature. You can view the map here: Google Map of Cemetery Tour. Using this feature, I can locate the cemeteries, see the quickest route between them, make notes of the graves I am looking for – this was my research plan for that trip. [Tip: You can print these out in case there is a poor cell signal on your journey. There’s nothing worse than getting to a remote cemetery and not being able to access your research plan, trust me!]
The process of planning ahead can be fun, will give you the opportunity to be more efficient and will allow you to do some research you might have missed if you hadn’t planned ahead.
I recently returned from a two week vacation. My family and I had the pleasure of spending a week on a lake with my husband’s folks. It was beautiful. The weather was great! Not too hot, not too cool. Of course there were the mosquitoes but when we were on the boat (which was a large part of the time) they didn’t bother us. I turned off my cell phone, there was no internet and no cable TV, and it was glorious! I felt little to no stress or worry the entire week.
Fishing isn’t something I just go do. I will fish when the opportunity arises however, and I kept up with the “boys” and caught my fair share. We had a big fish fry one night and ate a lot of our catch. I was not involved at all in the cleaning of the fish (nor in the unhooking of them for that matter), I left
that up to those with stronger stomachs! My kids had a great time catching the fish also. But one of the coolest things we got to see were turtles laying eggs! Ellie, my daughter, had the best time watching the turtles climb the hill behind our cabin, dig holes and lay eggs. We also encountered many other wild animals: herons, loons, bald eagles, osprey, bowfin (very large fish) with swarms of their babies (fishlets?), deer, and a pair of mallard ducks that hung out in our little bay every night.
After our week at the lake, the grandparents took the kids back to Kansas with them and Seth and I were FREE to do some roaming on our own. We took the slow way home through North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. We visited historical sites, wineries, and took only back-road highways, no interstates. We did visit one cemetery on our trip (I have no ancestors that I know of yet across these states). We visited historic Mount Moriah Cemtery in Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. The entire way we saw the most beautiful scenery and ended our trip by watching fireworks at Devil’s Tower.
What does all of this have to do with genealogy? Maybe not much, however, it was a great time cultivating relationships with LIVING family members. But also, it was a great time to just relax, enjoy the beautiful scenery that makes up our country.