Find My Ancestor Blog
31May/114

Billion Graves – Taking High Quality Photos

Yesterday I posted quite a lengthy review on the new app and website Billion Graves. I had so much more to say about the app and I didn't want to write a whole novel in one posting, so I decided to break it up into small segments. Today I want to talk about some of the issues I have already seen with the new app and website having to do with the photos that are taken and possibly some suggestions on how both us as genealogists and photo takers can improve the photos uploaded to the website as well as some suggestions for the developers to help create a better product for us users. As most of you know, the new app and website Billion Graves is a way for users with iPhones (and Android devices soon) can travel to cemeteries, take photos of the headstones, and upload them to the website which can then be transcribed and made searchable to users. On Sunday when I was playing around with the website I was scrolling through the images that had not yet been transcribed and I ran into a few that I thought were perfect examples of some of the issues we are going to see with this new site. Let me first start out by saying I am not meaning to point out particular people with the photos or anything like that. I don't know who took these photos, nor does anyone else. I just want to give some good examples of headstones that cannot be transcribed either because of lighting on the headstone, objects covering the headstone, photos that are the back of headstones with no apparent names, and other similar problems. Phillip Trauring of the Blood and Frogs blog mentioned the other day about the issue with the website not supporting multiple languages. This may be a feature that will be added later, but for now headstones like these aren't able to be transcribed and therefor sit in the transcribing que for a long time. There are quite a few photos I saw where it is obvious the photographers did not read the instructions on taking photos. Yes, there are instructions on taking photos on the website. They are located here. Please read them! Also, when you are taking the photos, image if you were taking the photo for yourself and it was your ancestor's headstone you were taking. Would you want this picture for your scrapbook or research report? Can you read all the information on here? This is not a headstone, but a plaque talking about the cemetery its self. Right now there is no option to add photos of the cemetery its self like there is on Find A Grave. I am sure this person who took the picture had good intentions of uploading this to the website, but until there is an option to  add additional pictures about the cemetery, I say we just stick to regular headstones with names on them. What do you thing? Comments? Suggestions? Okay, I am sure this picture was not meant to be uploaded to the website. To me this looks like an accidental photo or the person thought they would be funny and upload the lawn mowing guy. While I am on the topic of accidental photos, because there are a few more below, I think the developers need to take the "Auto Upload" feature off and make the default setting so you have to upload the photos by pressing "Upload" yourself. For those of you who have not used the app, when taking a photo, afterwards it shows you the photo you just took and asks you whether the picture is good or not. Obviously if you take a picture you did not mean to you say no, other wise when you say yes it will automatically upload it to the website. I don't want to see "oops" pictures on the website and I know you don't either. So, while the developers fix this (because it really does need to be fixed!) how about you go into your settings on the app and turn OFF the "Auto Upload" feature! This headstone overall looks really good. The lighting is fine, you can read all the words, but it is cut off. I know this isn't the end of the world, but I know there are many people like me who use the photos of headstones more than just for the information on them, but I use them when creating reports, scrapbooks, etc. People want the entire headstone in the picture. They don't want to use a headstone picture that is cut off to put in their family history book they have been working so hard on for many years. They want the best quality they can get. So please, make sure you get the whole headstone in the photo for the best picture! Did I mention there are instructions for you on the website? Here is the link (again). I cannot read the husband's full name. Can you? Photos like this the grass should have been swept off and what ever was blocking the headstone that created the shadow should have been moved. If objects can't be moved, get the photo from a different angle or a different time of day. I think I see someone's finger in the corner... Make sure your fingers and other objects to do get in the way of the camera. Also, I cannot read what this headstone says at all. The photo was taken from too far away. Get as close as you can to the headstone, but still making it so you get the whole thing in there. Of course there are going to be headstones where time has worn it away and photos cannot get the best picture. Here are a couple suggestions my dad and I came up with:
  • Have a card that you can write the name on and have it beside the headstone in the picture. This will let others know what it says when they see the picture.
  • Talk to the cemetery and see the name that used to be on the headstone.
  PLEASE clean off the headstones before you take the picture. No one wants stuff covering the headstone! Again, imagine if this was your ancestor's headstone. Do you want that grass covering it? Also, your white shoes look very nice in contrast with the green grass, but be sure not to get other objects (fingers, hands, shoes, etc) in the pictures. It makes them look less professional. Is this an accident picture? Or did the person taking it want her shoes, flowers, and headstone all in the same shot? If this is not an accident picture, sorry, but I cannot read the headstone at all! And this is my favorite picture so far I have seen on the site! Not really, but can you guess what it is? I think it looks like a close-up of a couch or a wool suite jacket. Either way, this is clearly not a headstone and I am assuming it was yet another accidental upload. This is why the "Auto Upload" should be turned off! Here is a screenshot of the settings screen where you disable this: Again, I don't mean to point fingers by showing these few photos, but it is important for others to know and to see what some of the issues with uploading photos and taking photos are. I have said this a few times already, but when you go out there doing such a great service to all of us taking these photos, images they are all your ancestors and they are pictures you are going to be using in a scrapbook or a family history book. I know you would want the best quality photos, so please, provide us with the best quality photos! And be sure to READ and FOLLOW the instructions given on their website - also just use common sense on whether a picture is readable or not.

30May/115

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 BillionGraves.com 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 BillionGraves.com. 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 FindAGrave.com 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 BillionGraves.com. 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

27May/114

Billion Graves – New iPhone App for Cemeteries

I am really excited about the following announcement of a new iPhone app for taking pictures in cemeteries! I already downloaded the app and am going to try it out tomorrow! I'm sure this will also be the app I feature on Monday's Mobile Monday post. This announcement is just in time for Memorial Day here in the U.S. The following announcement was written by AppTime:
PROVO, Utah – May 26, 2011 – Memorial Day is coming soon, and AppTime (http://www.apptime.com), the group behind the family history app MobileTree (http://www.mobiletree.me), has a new project they’re thrilled to share. It’s calledBillionGraves.com, it’s as ambitious a project as the word “billion” makes it sound, and they want you to take it with you to the cemetery this Memorial Day.
“It’s a huge opportunity for everyone in family history,” says Rob Moncur, the head developer for the BillionGraves.com website. “We want people from all over the world to be able work together and pool resources so everyone can find the ancestors they’re looking for.”
BillionGraves.com aims to be the largest repository of headstone records, images, and locations in the world. This will give family historians access to previously undocumented information that can further their genealogical research. The site is built with these researchers in mind, and its structure is inherently collaborative. The first step in the BillionGraves process is to have iPhone users download the BillionGraves camera app and take it with them to local cemeteries—hopefully at times when they would already be going, like on Memorial Day. Those people snap quick pictures of the cemetery’s headstones, and the app uploads the photos to BillionGraves.com. The photos are tagged using the iPhone’s location services so the exact location of each grave is recorded. Once the photos are on BillionGraves.com, anyone with a BillionGraves account—whether they have an iPhone or not—can transcribe the records on the headstones and make them easily searchable. Then anyone can search for their ancestors and find not only the information recorded on headstones, but also see the headstones and the exact locations of ancestors’ final resting places. Those records, formerly undocumented and hard to access, open up to family historians worldwide. “This is something anyone in the world can access and participate in,” says Curtis Tirrell, AppTime’s CEO. “Everyone has unique access to their local cemeteries. You have access to someone’s ancestor, access they may not be able to get alone. We’re creating a way for everyone to help other family history researchers and remove problems of distance.” The BillionGraves crew is excited about the prospects for BillionGraves.com, but they all know that they need the family history community to back them in their endeavor. “We don’t know where all the cemeteries in the world are,” says Moncur. “There are cemeteries that aren’t plotted on any maps, and we can’t go out and find those. But people know where they are. All those people need to do is let us know and snap as many pictures as they can. We want to make that process simple and easy, which is why we’re releasing the app and launching the website right before Memorial Day. Lots of people will be going to cemeteries anyway. We just want them to do a little something extra while they’re telling stories about great-grandpa, and that extra will help people all over the place.” To learn more about the BillionGraves.com project and what you can do to help, visit http://BillionGraves.com or http://billiongraves.blogspot.com (the project’s blog) and, if you have an iPhone, download the BillionGraves Camera app. The app is free May 25-June 1. After that it will cost $1.99 to ensure only responsible users download it.

3Mar/111

Skeletons in Your Genealogical Closet – M. Bridget Cook

As mentioned in my earlier post about the St. George Family History Expo, which can be found here St. George FHExpo 2011 - Day 1 I mentioned briefly about the Friday evening event with author and speaker M. Bridget Cook. In this post I would like to go in a little further about this amazing night and some of the things Bridget talked about.

Handling and Healing the Skeletons in Your Genealogical Closet

During Bridget's speech she talked about her recent book she co-authored, Shattered Silence, the Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter as well as her other co-authored book, Skinhead Confessions: From Hate to Hope. Each of these books talk about real-life individuals that have had life changing effects because of the power of forgiveness, love and hope.

One of the main points from Bridget's speech is the point that we all have skeletons in our genealogical closet. We all have at least one ancestor that when we are researching we find a document or find an event that made our ancestor a criminal, infamous or something else that our first instincts wants to hide. She explains how these ancestors and the events in their lives are important for us to learn and are chances for growth and learning. As we learn and grow, hopefully our descendants will learn and grow too.

Do you keep a journal? Are you honest when writing in your journal? Do you only write about the good days you have and the fun events in your life? Bridget emphasized the importance of writing about all aspects of your life. The ups and downs make your life interesting. If you were to read a journal of an ancestor and all it contained were their accomplishments, good days and happy times, it might seem like they were "perfect" or it might seem to you like you could never "live the life they did".

By including the trials and heartache in your own history, along with how you were able to overcome them will give hope to your descendants. Maybe one of your descendants will suffer from the same physical, mental or emotional challenges you have to overcome everyday. Your words and testimony can be a great benefit for thousands of people. Write what you know, what you don't know, how you feel, your accomplishments, your shortfalls and everything in between.

Friday night was such an amazing experience to be able to hear from Bridget and how she herself has overcome challenges and trials in her life. She gave much hope and encouragement for us to do the same. I highly recommend reading more about Bridget and her books. The stories told in these books are very motivating and personal. You can learn more about Bridget by visiting her website http://www.mbridgetcook.com/

M. Bridget Cook is an author, speaker, and life coach who has been writing stories of transformation since she was young. Always curious and awed by the extremes of human behavior, she co-authored Shattered Silence, the Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter(Sweetwater Books, Cedar Fort 2009) with Melissa G. Moore, daughter of the infamous Happy Face serial murderer. She also co-authored Skinhead Confessions: From Hate to Hope(Sweetwater Books, Cedar Fort 2009) with former high-ranking white power leader TJ Leyden. In her writing, Bridget loves to inspire and be inspired by people from all walks of life.