LINKING AND UNLINKING
Q. What do you mean by "linking"? Do you mean, connecting Grandpa Joe's record in Baltimore with his son Mike's grave in Chicago? I think I read that somewhere or other in BG I can do that.
A. You can do that, but it's called Relationships, and it's a separate feature of BG which I will deal with in another Transcription FAQs post. It's not what I'm talking about here.
On this page, when I use the word linking, I'm talking about joining together multiple photos of the same grave into a single set. It doesn't have to be the same person - you can have more than one person buried in the grave - but it must be the same grave in the same cemetery.
Q. What does a linked set of photos look like?
A. You know how when you're transcribing, you sometimes see a row of two or more thumbnails on top of the large one? And as you transcribe, you have to click on each one and look at it and rate it? That's a linked set. The photographer took more than one photo of the same grave, and linked them to make a single set. You transcribe each person who's buried there only once for the whole set, rather than once per photo.
Q. Why do photographers do that? Why don't they take just one photo per grave? It would make my life a whole lot easier.
A. Firstly, they do it because BG's highest priority is to build up a repository of the best quality data, the best possible memorial to each deceased person. It's not about making your life easier, or mine, or the photographer's. (I mean, it's nice if they can, but not at the expense of good quality data.) Photographers often take more than one photo of a grave because they're trying to show it from multiple distances and angles, to give family members who live too far away to visit it a good sense of what it would be like to stand there in front of it. See the linked set above? There are close-ups and there are long shots. You get a really good sense of the overall setting in a way that you might not if there had just been one photo.
And secondly, be careful what you wish for. Some graves in BG have only had one photo taken of them, and they're just crying out for a second photo, because the first is too hard to read. Many a time I have wrestled with a headstone that would have been easier to read if the photographer had moved in closer and taken a second shot. So don't grumble at the photographer for taking more than one photo. They may have done you a favour.
Q. Fair enough, but why should I care about linking? It's obviously the photographer's job, and I'm a transcriber, not a photographer!
A. You need to know about linking because sometimes photographers forget to link photos, or they get it wrong. You need to know when to step in and do what they should have done, and you need to know how.
In fairness, I must point out that not every BG photographer is happy about the fact that transcribers have the ability to link and unlink photos. It was only made available a year or two ago, and I recall reading a discussion from back then where one photographer was vehemently opposed to it. I can't find that discussion right now - I'll link to it if I do find it - but what they said, from memory, was that the photographer who took the photos is standing right there at the grave, and they and only they are in a position to know whether two images are of the same grave and should be linked, not someone sitting at their computer who has never been to the cemetery.
Now, I don't completely agree with that. Often the transcriber can tell whether two images are clearly of the same headstone. Moreover, photographers are not infallible. They can forget to link, or link wrongly. Other people need the ability to fix what the photographer got wrong.
But even so, that BG member had a point, and we should take their objections seriously. They're concerned that someone is going to barge in and mess up their carefully linked (or non-linked) photos. They're right to be concerned. Linking and unlinking are not things a transcriber should be doing frivolously or carelessly. You have a responsibility as a transcriber to be careful and to do your best to get it right.
Q. So when should two photos be linked?
A. Assuming you're looking at two photos which the photographer has not already linked together...
You should link two photos if they are very clearly the same headstone - which is usually easy to determine, because it's very obviously the same stone or plaque photographed a bit further away or at a different angle - or very clearly the same grave - which is not quite so easy.
You need more than a common family name to link two photos together and call it the same grave. If you can clearly see from a long shot photo that two graves have some physical feature in common - a shared headstone extending across two slabs, or a shared slab, or a fence or border enclosing them both, or they are different sides of the same obelisk - then quite clearly they are related, and should be linked.
If the inscriptions on two or more adjacent graves indicate they are husband and wife, or parent and child, or siblings, or connected in some other way - e.g. a cremation plaque with "William Andrew Bloggs, husband of Ethel Marie", and right next to it, another plaque with "Ethel Marie Bloggs, wife of William Andrew" - then clearly they are one family, so it's OK to link them too. (Not essential, but OK.) And if there's any one photo which has both of these related plaques in it, definitely link it to the individual photos.
If the cemetery has an online index (outside of BG), and you've looked up the deceased people in it and discovered from the plot location that it's the same grave, then it's OK to link them.
Beyond that, proceed with caution. If the people whose names appear in the different photos do not overlap, then it is better to err on the side of NOT linking them, and leave it up to the family to decide which images should be linked. Remember: linking images effectively means they end up in the same virtual "grave". There are some people, related or not, who do not want to be in the same grave.
Q. And when should two photos NOT be linked?
A. If you see a set of photos you strongly suspect contain unrelated people (i.e. there is NOTHING that they have in common - no common surname, no common surviving family members, different styles of headstone, photos not taken consecutively), then I urge you to consider unlinking them before you transcribe. This is especially important if the number of photos is large, because it suggests the photographer really doesn't know what they're doing and is using the Link button randomly.
I once discovered a cemetery where the photographer linked images for about a dozen graves in at least two separate rows, possibly three, into the same "grave" purely because they have the same surname. It's easy to see from the pictures that these are not the same grave - there's a great variety of headstone styles, and the long shots make it clear that they're not all in the same row. And the photographer has done that for at least three different families.
This is a very bad idea. For one thing, it makes a mockery of the GPS location if graves so far apart are lumped together as a single grave.
For another thing, unless he or she is related to them, the photographer cannot know, for instance, whether Great-Aunt Agnes in grave F3 had an abiding hatred of Cousin Harold in grave G11 and wants no more to do with him in death than she did in life. Linking the images means she's now sharing a grave with him. She may have hated that idea. Her family may hate that. Unless you're related to them, you don't know.
Another transcriber brought to my attention a set of 73 linked photos of totally unrelated people That is truly ridiculous. "Stupidity", she called it. I have to agree. Even a war memorial is not going to have that many linked images. Clearly it was done by a photographer who had no idea what they were doing.
So please don't do this. If they're separate graves, unlink the images, transcribe them separately, and then a family member who comes across these images can decide whether to call them one grave or not. And I'm guessing most family members will decide against it, especially because BG offers a Relationships function which allows you to link up the people without trying to pretend they're all in one grave.
Q. I'm worried. I'm looking at a large set of linked photos that don't seem to have anything at all in common, but there might be some relationship there that's not obvious. I'm worried that if I unlink them before I start transcribing, some family member will be upset that I unlinked Grandpa from his daughter or whatever, and I just didn't recognise them as a family because they have different names.
A. Your concern for the families of the deceased is commendable, but I wouldn't worry too much if I were you. Unlinking is never irrevocable, so if you're fairly sure they are not the same grave, I'd go ahead and unlink them. Unless the photographer is a family member, no one in that family is ever going to know they were ever linked. (And if the photographer IS a family member and the linking is important to them, then they should have done the transcribing themselves, and not left this puzzling set of photos for some poor stranger to wrestle with!)
If you make the wrong call and the people really are related after all, they can be relinked fairly easily. But if you leave them linked when they shouldn't be, they can't be easily unlinked after they are transcribed. (It's possible, but complicated.) What's more, you risk causing great offence to one or both families if you leave them linked and a family member comes across them. So in my opinion, the lesser of two evils is to unlink them.
Q. But if I unlink them, where do they go? Does the photo I unlinked get thrown away?
A. Not at all. It just goes back in the queue. You can even transcribe it yourself if you want to! Just make a note of its image number before you unlink it, then after you finish transcribing the current image, go to the URL box in your browser, replace the current image's number with the number of the image you unlinked, and hit Return. Assuming no one else got to it in the meantime, the photo you want will be displayed with a set of blank fields, all ready for you to transcribe.