Find My Ancestor Blog

Mobile Monday – Billion Graves

billiongravesFriday afternoon I was pretty excited when I received an email from AppTime, the same developers of MobileTree for iPhone and Android devices. AppTime announced a new app to help people take photos of headstones in cemeteries, automatically record the GPS data, and upload it to to be added to a searchable database. In their press release they talked about it being Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S. and I am sure they were wanting to release the app just in time for all those who would be visiting cemeteries over the weekend. Even though the app has only been out for a few days there have been quite the chatter about it on many blogs. Taneya from Taneya's Genealogy Blog wrote a great article on her thoughts and impressions of the app. Phillip Trauring from Blood and Frogs also posted a great article on his thoughts and impressions. Here in this post I am going to talk about some of the comments, concerns, suggestions and other chatter that people have been saying over the past few days. Let me first say, I do not believe the developers have completely gotten all the bugs out of the website and the app! This is very important to keep in mind because I have come across a LOT of things the past few days that have been very frustrating and confusing. I believe the developers wanted to get the app out Memorial Day weekend even though I do not believe they are working 100%. I want to give an overview of the app and how it works with the website, before I get too far, I first want to say that the developers are working on an Android version of the app for those of you out there wondering if they have plans for it. You can also read their blog post about the Android app. The app and website have a very simple concept. Those people with an iPhone (and soon Android) can visit a cemetery, take photos of the headstones and then upload them to Once uploaded, the individual who took the photos or anyone else who wants to contribute can go online to the website and transcribe the information on the headstone. If you are familiar with the concept is very similar - create a database of headstones in cemeteries for genealogists to find. Some of you at this point might be wondering why you are required to use and iPhone to take the photos rather than just any digital camera. One of the main points that sets this new website apart from FindAGrave is the ability to see on a map exactly where in the cemetery the headstone is. By using an iPhone (or Android when available) the phone records the GPS location of where the photo was taken. So, the main concept of this app and website is to see where a headstone is located in a cemetery. Now, into more detail about how the apps works, its pros and cons, and some suggestions I have already heard from fellow users and critics. When first downloading the app is asks you to enter your login information. You can either register directly on the app or you can register on the website After registration and logging into the app a popup window will ask you if the app can Once logged in, the app takes you to your dashboard, showing your profile picture, which you can set on the website, and your stats on how many cemeteries you have visited and headstones you have uploaded. As you can see from the screenshot below I have visited one cemetery and have uploaded 9 headstone photos. To view cemeteries near you, click on the cemeteries button on the bottom. This will show you the top 3 cemeteries near your current location. It appears you can also view other cemeteries within about 25 miles of your location by clicking on the More... button below the cemeteries shown. If there also a cemetery you know of that is not in the list you can add it directly from the app.  

In your settings you can change your options of whether the app saves the photos to you camera's camera roll or not. You can also change settings to have the app delete the photos after they are uploaded. The default setting are set to not save the images to your phone. Also the default settings automatically upload the photos after they are taken to the website and to preview the photo before uploading. This is a great feature so you can make sure you upload quality images that aren't blurry or otherwise have defects in them. You can view all the photos you have previously taken by clicking on the Photos button on the bottom of the screen. It will list the cemeteries you have visited and once you click the cemetery it will show you all the photos. There are three different view options on this screen on how you want to view the headstones - list view with little thumbnail, thumbnails view, and map view. The far left button on the bottom is the camera. Once you click that the camera screen comes up with a very simple interface. There is a button to actually take the photo and a button to go back to the previous screen. There is also a little indicator by the back button, but I am not sure exactly what this is. The indicator has said anywhere between Great with five little bars to Poor with two little bars. Again, I am not sure exactly what this is because you can't click it at all. I am assuming it is an indicator on the light quality or something similar. You can take photos either in portrait or landscape mode. You can rotate images you have taken yourself on the app and you can rotate any images that are on the website whether you took them or not. Those are the features and overview of the app, now onto using the website to transcribe, search, and learn more about BillionGraves. The website has been one of the most frustrating things about this whole thing for me. I know I am not the only one who has had problems with it because I have heard from a number of others who have had the same issues. First, once you register it tells you to check your email for a confirmation email. It was about 4 or 5 hours after I registered that I finally received the email. I was still able to log into the website without clicking the confirmation link, but I know others have not had the same luck. I emailed the developers about this and they said they would look onto the delay of the confirmation emails. I also had an issue with not being able to log in Saturday morning. It was telling me my email and password did not match, which I knew that not to be the case, but either way I clicked the Login Help link and had an email sent to me to change my password. This email again took about 4-5 hours to finally get to me, so in the meantime I could not log into the website - very frustrating! When the email finally came through it was actually in my spam box, so if some of you are not seeing your confirmation or password change emails, check your spam box! My sister in-law also had the same issue yesterday afternoon when she tried to log in at my house. - developers, please fix this!! - Alas, Sunday as I tried to log in, I put in my email and password and clicked Login and nothing happened - no error, no message. Nothing. I then tried to log in using Firefox rather than Google Chrome and it worked... Yesterday Chrome worked for me and now today it isn't? What's up with that? So, if any of you are having troubles logging into the website using Chrome, try using Firefox. Also take note I am using a Mac - this shouldn't be an issue, but you never know. One of the issues I have heard multiple times from people is the issue of uploading multiple images that are for one person. There are many headstones that have writing on more than one side. Many headstones have the individuals names on the front and spouses or children on the back. Genealogists want anything and everything on a headstone that can give us hints and clues towards a person's life. Knowing spouses and children are incredibly important. How is Billion Graves going to address this issue? On Find A Grave you are able to upload multiple photos for one person. This is something Billion Graves needs to figure out. Any ideas? What about the issue of duplicate headstones? There is currently no way of knowing if a headstone in a cemetery has already been photographed unless you go onto the website and check first. But, what if you are at the cemetery already? You can't search the database using the app. Search feature for individuals is only available on the website. This is a feature I would like to see on the app - search for individuals. Phillip from Blood and Frogs suggested that they might use the GPS coordinates to help prevent duplicates, but I don't think this could work. The iPhone (and I'm sure Android) don't have that accurate of GPS in order to do that. One example of the GPS issue I found while taking pictures on Saturday - When I went to the cemetery just a few blocks away I wanted to quickly test out the app. All the headstones I took are not related to me, but rather I wanted to get a good feeling for the app. To view the photos I am going to talk about and the issues I found you can visit the Taylorsville Memorial Park Cemetery I visited. All the photos currently there were taken by me. When I took the photos I wanted a good variety of locations around the cemetery rather than just taking a bunch of them in a line. By looking at the map below it appears these headstones were in the backyard of the person who lives next to the cemetery. The little blue icon shows supposed location of the headstones. I was NOT in the backyard of that person taking photos. Why did my phone record that location of ALL the photos I took? Is this an issue with the app? Is this an issue with me phone? Below is an image of the approximate locations of all 9 photos I took. Again, these aren't the exact locations, but they are very close (compared to the one location the app recorded). The red dots are the locations of the headstones. As you can see from the image, I got quite a variation on headstone locations to test out the app, but it apparently did not work too well. Again, is this an app issue? Phone issue? Could it even be an issue with cell phone service provider? I ask about the cell phone provider because in the U.S. AT&T and Verizon are the two carriers who carry the iPhone. Having been on each service in the past I know that one service tends to have better service and reception and so I am wondering if the service provider might provide better GPS coordinates when taking pictures than the other. Here is another example of this: When the app was originally announced, the only cemeteries that actually had photos in them were the Alpine Cemetery and Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Utah. I am assuming that these are the cemeteries that the developers live by and used them for tests. Their photos seemed to geocode the photos just fine. Then, I noticed on Sunday that there were more photos in Riverton Cemetery in the south end of Salt Lake Valley. Obvious someone in the area learned about the app and used it on Saturday/Sunday. Their photos seemed to work with the geocoding as well. What if these three people who took the photos in these cemeteries were on one service provider (with better reception/service for geocoding) and I am on the other? I don't know if this could be a factor, but it makes sense to me. Other then my scenario above, I am not sure why my photos didn't geocode like they were supposed to and others did. Has anyone else had any problems like this when trying to take photos using the app? This post is already quite long and I apologize to those of you who don't like reading extremely long posts. I have much more to talk about this new app and website, but I will break the rest of it out into a number of days throughout the week. Hopefully this will make it so I don't loose interest of people because the articles are too long. I am hoping people will comment on these issues, but more importantly, contact the developers and let them know issues you find and suggestions you have. The more ideas and feedback they get, the better the app can be! I really do believe this app could be great, but I realize there are many bugs and additions that could be added. Hopefully the developers can get a good idea of what its user want and be able to accomodate. I totally understand that programming and developing is not something you do overnight, so while these changes and suggestions are taken into consideration, it is best for us all to be patient and continue to give them great feedback! Look forward to more posts on this topic throughout the week! Billion Graves - AppTime, LLC

Comments (5) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Very informative article, A.C. As a long-time volunteer and user of Find-A-Grave, I was intrigued. So I headed over to the website to check it out. My comment actually turned into a very lengthy analysis, so I’ll be posting it on my blog shortly. :)

  2. Great post. Made me download the app and walk up to the cemetery next to me to try it out (at 6.45 am..). I registerd within the app and I got an email right away.. for password recovery.. Had to start with to add the cemetery, Sweden isnt in the list at all. Took some pics from different parts of the place, uploaded got back home and tried to log in on the webpage which failed. Used the password recovery email and resetted the password and got in. Transcribed my pics. Searched on the cemetery.. not found (Kropp). Searched on one of the names, that worked fine. Filled out some comments in the contact us form and got Could not send email. Please Try again later. I will. Love the idea!

  3. A couple of thoughts on the issue of the location being off. I use the GPS from my phone for other activities, and it occassionally is off 1/2 block or more (although not on a regular basis). RunKeeper is an app I use, and it takes a bit of time before it locates your location precisely – so if you just turned on the app the GPS may be off slightly for 15 or 30 seconds, as it takes a bit for the GPS to register the location precisely (as generally the GPS isn’t “always” on – just on as needed by the apps). Addittionally if I turn on my RunKeeper GPS in a building (or near a tall structure) sometimes it’s off because of interference from the buildings. For example in my office I’m always register about 1/2 block from where I actually am. I love the concept – but I have a feeling there are going to be a fair amount of pictures where the GPS cooridintes will get you in the vicinity plus or minus 50 or 100 yards, but not to the exact stone. It will probably work better in areas in which it is fairly flat terrain, with few tall strucutures around. If I had to guess the issues you encountered were more related to your phone’s GPS, then anything of the developers (how they correct for that I’m not sure).

  4. Duplicated photos are a problem. I was transcribing this morning and was presented with a picture that I was sure that I had already transcribed. I completed the transcription and then searched for the individual (Gordon Jamieson). I found where the headstone has now been transcribed three times!

    • Thanks Dan for your comment. I too have found some duplication like this. I think it will become more of a problem as more people get involved. There needs to be a way to stop duplicate images being uploaded to the website.

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