Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tech Tuesday: BillionGraves or FindaGrave?

The World Wide Web is an amazing genealogical resource.  The amount of data that has been digitized in the past five years alone is astounding.  True, what can be found online only scratches the surface of the available historical and genealogical source materials all over the world, but the Internet has become an excellent place to start an ancestral search.  Personal and professional blogs, subscription databases, free records through digital libraries, and other online resources are becoming plentiful.  An online surname search that yielded no results in one week might be instrumental in breaking down a seemingly insurmountable brick wall with the same online search month later.

One recent newcomer to online research is BillionGraves.com, which utilizes the smartphone as a genealogical tool.  The site's goal is "[T]o provide an expansive family history database for records and images from the world’s cemeteries, all tagged with GPS locations."  After downloading the free application onto either an Android (Google) or iPhone (Apple) phone, a user would then take their device to a cemetery and begin recording the headstones using the app and the phone's built in camera.  The photos can then be uploaded to the BillionGraves site, where they will be tagged with the GPS location.  Don't have a smartphone?  The site is also looking for volunteers to transcribe photos that others have uploaded.  This searchable index of names will eventually be made available on both BillionGraves and Familysearch.org.

My first thought upon learning about the BillionGraves project was, "But what about FindaGrave.com?"  It, too, is a website devoted to indexing cemeteries and gravesites, with a free searchable database on FindaGrave.com as well as  Ancestry.com.  FindaGrave's mission "[I]s to find, record and present final disposition information from around the world as a virtual cemetery experience" and has been online since at least as early as 2000.  Like BillionGraves, it is dependent upon volunteers to expand their database.

So which site is better?  There are pros and cons to both.


1) A smartphone is required to create a "record" on the site.  Users are not able to create records or upload photos onto the site via computer, which begs the question -- How do you document an unmarked grave? 

2) Headstones are tagged with the GPS coordinates when uploaded to the site, making it simple for future visitors to locate the grave.

3) Currently, neither the smartphone application nor the website can warn a volunteer that they have just taken a duplicate photo of a headstone already recorded by another user.  The site recommends checking their website before taking a photograph to prevent duplication, which can be a tedious proposition when in a large cemetery.

4) Unmarked graves cannot be indexed.  No headstone, no record.

5)  Any site member can edit a BillionGraves record.


1) Records can be created via computer, without the necessity of a photograph.  Because of this, unmarked graves can be documented via obituaries, burial records, etc.  Photos can be uploaded from a computer and are not limited to the headstone. 

2)  FindaGrave does not have a smartphone application.  Records need to be added/updated via a computer and an internet connection.

3) When creating a new memorial, a search of the database is necessary to detect if there is a duplicate record.  There is no easy, "automatic" way to do so.

4) Individual records can only be changed by the member who created it; however, there is an easy way to notify the author of any changes/corrections.

I have been a FindaGrave volunteer for approximately four years but I have also downloaded the BillionGraves application to give it a spin.  No matter which site you prefer, they are both fee-free (for the moment) and excellent editions to the online genealogical toolkit.

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