Becoming an Eagle Scout opens doors.

When my husband, Dave, was a pre-med undergraduate student in his junior year at Michigan State University his mentor advised him to apply for medical school a year early at Michigan State. This would give him practice filling out applications and interviewing without a lot of pressure. The mentor then suggested that he apply to dozens of medical schools the following year, as a senior, since this would give him many opportunities to get into one of them. Applying for medical schools is very expensive, so the fact that Dave would apply early to one school as a trial run seemed like sound advice.

To our great surprise, Dave was accepted to Michigan State University’s medical school on this “trial run” without completing his senior year of undergraduate school. The interviewers told him that one of the factors in that decision was that he was an Eagle Scout.

So, young men, if you are contemplating whether or not it is worth the time and effort to finish your Eagle Scout award, do it!

Even if you are short on time, a cemetery documentation project can be planned and carried out quickly and easily with BillionGraves. And it will bless the lives of your community members and people throughout the world who are looking for their ancestors.

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Are you looking for an Eagle Scout project idea? This step-by-step guide will help you easily carry out a meaningful Eagle Scout cemetery documentation project.

Eagle Scout candidates provide leadership for volunteers who take photos of headstones with their smartphones using the BillionGraves app. It’s as easy as walking through the cemetery snapping pictures and each headstone is automatically embedded with a GPS location.

After the photos are uploaded, the names and dates from the headstones may be transcribed by your volunteers or by BillionGraves’ volunteers.

The data is then made available to the public for free to find loved ones, for genealogy, and to honor ancestors. The GPS marker makes it easy for people who are searching for the grave to walk straight to it, even in a very large cemetery. 

Once it has been transcribed the free data can be viewed on BillionGraves, FamilySearch, or MyHeritage.

EAGLE SCOUT CEMETERY DOCUMENTATION PROJECT IN 12 EASY STEPS

  1. SET YOUR GOAL
  2. DOWNLOAD THE EAGLE SERVICE PROJECT WORKBOOK
  3. CHOOSE A CEMETERY TO DOCUMENT
  4. FILL OUT PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND BENEFICIARY
  5. GATHER APPROVAL SIGNATURES
  6. CONTACT THE CEMETERY MANAGER OR SEXTON
  7. INVITE VOLUNTEERS
  8. EXPERIENCE THE APP YOURSELF
  9. DIVIDE INTO TEAMS AT THE CEMETERY
  10. TAKE PHOTOS OF THE HEADSTONES & UPLOAD
  11. WRITE YOUR SERVICE PROJECT REPORT AND GET SIGNATURES
  12. SCHEDULE YOUR BOARD OF REVIEW

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Eagle Scout Nathaniel E. Brandon at his cemetery documentation project

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #1: SET YOUR GOAL

You could set your goal by the number of headstones you plan to photograph or choose complete an entire cemetery.

Eagle Scout James Smith, of Troop 711 in Rockledge, Florida, set a goal to capture 10,000 gravestone pictures. He completed most of his project his own area at the Florida Memorial Gardens Cemetery. But James also had volunteers taking photos in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

So if you have family and friends that live far away who would like to help you with your Eagle Scout project you could ask them, as James Smith did, to take photos in their own area.

Fifteen-year-old Hunter Boyer set a goal to recruit enough volunteers to take photos of over 50,000 graves using the smartphone app BillionGraves the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

You can read more about these Eagle Scouts and their projects here.

This Eagle Scout project information packet will provide additional help if needed.

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Eagle Scout paperwork may seem mundane, but it is one step on your way to flying like an Eagle.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #2: DOWNLOAD THE EAGLE SERVICE PROJECT WORKBOOK

Download the Eagle Scout service project workbook here: Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook

It will be easiest if you start organizing your project right from the beginning. After you download the workbook, put it in a binder where you can add notes and forms as you progress through the project. Add a pen and some notebook pages to record information when you are making phone calls. Always keep the binder in the same place – such as on a desk or in a particular drawer – so you don’t have to hunt for it each time you need to update the information or meet with advisors.

This helpful Eagle Scout BillionGraves project guide sheet would be helpful to print for your binder.

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You can choose a cemetery that holds special meaning to your family.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #3: CHOOSE A CEMETERY TO DOCUMENT

When choosing a cemetery you may want to select one that is special to your family. Eagle Scout Michael Morgan planned to carry out his Eagle Scout project in Lyman, Wyoming where his family was holding a reunion. He had lots of help from his grandmother’s descendants since she came from a family of 17 children. Michael said it was a “cool experience being able to be back in Lyman, Wyoming where my grandmother was raised and to be able to photograph some of her family’s graves.”

Another alternative would be to choose a cemetery that is close to your home. This would eliminate travel time and expense for you and any volunteers that live in your area.

A third option is to ask volunteers from different parts of the world to take photos in their own areas on behalf of your Eagle Scout project. Nicolas and Liam Birch worked on their Eagle Scout cemetery documentation projects together. They had volunteers take photos with the BillionGraves app in Arizona, Virginia, Texas, Nebraska, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and even in Germany.

During the Birch’s Eagle Scout project, the headstones of some pretty famous people documented. They said, “Our uncle and aunt went to Virginia and took pictures at the gravesites of Patrick Henry (‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!’), Ralph Waldo Emerson’s mother, and Pocahontas.”

CONSIDER THE NUMBER OF VOLUNTEERS

Select a cemetery that is large enough to accommodate all your volunteers. It is important to help your volunteers have a fun, positive experience. If the cemetery you choose is too small it may be difficult to keep all your volunteers busy and they may get in other’s way when taking photos.

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CONSIDER THE LAYOUT OF THE CEMETERY

Cemeteries with long straight rows are easiest for beginners and large groups. Cemeteries with unusual layouts such as circles or curves or those that have randomly placed gravesites are better for small or more experienced groups. They will be better able to keep track of which headstones have already been photographed.

If your volunteers are older it may be easier for them to walk if you choose a cemetery with level ground. Flat gravestones that are on the ground can be easier to photograph than headstones, which may have multiple sides to photograph. Military cemeteries have headstones of uniform shape and size with no inscriptions on the back and are placed in straight rows, so they are easier.

Younger volunteers can tackle cemeteries with large spaces of land between sections, those with hills, or gravestones that may need to have grass or other debris brushed out of the way.

ADOPT THE CEMETERY

Once you have decided on a cemetery, go to Adopt a Cemetery on the BillionGraves website where you will see a map with GPS location pins. The orange pins indicate the cemeteries that are available for adoption.

Left-click and slide the map until you can see the area where you will be holding your cemetery service project. Or you can enter a zip code if it is far from your own location.

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Next, select an orange pin to choose a cemetery near you that needs to have photographs taken.

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f you already have a BillionGraves account, follow the steps outlined to log in. If you don’t have one yet, sign-up for a free BillionGraves account.

After you have chosen a cemetery to adopt you will see a screen like this one:

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If you would like more details on adopting a cemetery see this BillionGraves blog post.

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BillionGraves, a cemetery sexton, or your community could be the beneficiary for your Eagle Scout cemetery documentation project.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #4: FILL OUT PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND BENEFICIARY

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT DESCRIPTION

Begin by writing a summary of the overall project. It should be about 2 paragraphs long. Fill in a time, date, and place for your Eagle Scout project.

Decide who you will use as volunteers. The Boy Scout organization emphasizes that if you choose to use adults as volunteers you may need to remind them that one of the purposes of the project is for you to exercise your leadership skills. You need to be in charge of the project.

BENEFICIARY

Your beneficiary may be:

    • A cemetery sexton or manager
    • A city council member
    • An employee in charge of the cemetery

BillionGraves’ guidelines for Eagle Scout projects answers the question:

Does BillionGraves qualify for use in an Eagle Project?

“Absolutely – On page 4 of the Eagle workbook it says: ‘Some aspect of a business operation provided as a community service may also be considered—for example, a park open to the public that happens to be owned by a business, but primarily benefits the community.’ While BillionGraves isn’t a park it is a FREE service to the community that benefits thousands of people researching their family history, and cemetery sextons who spend too much time helping people find graves instead of taking care of the cemetery. 

“Technically BillionGraves itself is not the project. The Eagle project should focus on documenting a cemetery and preserving the historical records found there. BillionGraves is a tool that can be used to facilitate the project, store the information and make it freely available to everyone. Ultimately, the local council or district is responsible for determining if an Eagle project is approved.”

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Signatures on a Scout application are a critical step along the path to becoming an Eagle.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #5: GATHER APPROVAL SIGNATURES

You will need signatures from the unit leader, unit committee, beneficiary, and council or district leaders. Leave yourself enough time to gather these signatures. They are essential. You may not be able to catch everyone on the first call. Keep trying. One of our sons had trouble contacting a district leader because the post was in transition as someone was retiring. Persistence paid off in the end and he got the signature.

To obtain a signature from BillionGraves click here: contact us

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Cemetery managers are usually very happy and grateful to have their headstones documented.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #6: CONTACT THE CEMETERY MANAGER OR SEXTON

Some large cemeteries have offices on-site. If there is not an office at the cemetery try calling the city offices and ask who the cemetery manager or sexton is for the cemetery you have chosen.

Once you are able to contact the cemetery manager or sexton let them know that you are interested in documenting your chosen cemetery by taking photos. Indicate that it will be for an Eagle Scout project. Tell them about how many volunteers you expect to participate. They will usually be very happy to have someone performing this service for the community. They may even offer to help.

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Using BillionGraves.com “Adopt a Cemetery” page makes contacting volunteers easy.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #7: INVITE VOLUNTEERS

Depending on the size of your group you could invite volunteers by:

  • sending emails through BillionGraves adopt a cemetery page
  • calling them on the phone
  • sending a group email
  • post a mass text
  • put a notice in your local newspaper
  • call local organizations to ask them to join you
  • mail invitations
  • INSTRUCTION YOUR VOLUNTEERS TO LOAD THE BILLIONGRAVES APP TO THEIR SMARTPHONES BEFORE COMING TO THE CEMETERY

OFFER

***THE FIRST 10 PEOPLE THAT EMAIL ME AT cwallace@BillionGraves.com WILL RECEIVE A FREE PRINTABLE CUSTOM EAGLE SCOUT INVITATION FOR A BILLIONGRAVES CEMETERY DOCUMENTATION PROJECT.***

BE SURE TO INCLUDE THE NAME OF THE EAGLE SCOUT CANDIDATE, DATE AND TIME OF THE PROJECT, AND THE CEMETERY ADDRESS. THE INVITATION WILL BE EMAILED TO YOU AND MAY BE PRINTED ON YOUR OWN PRINTER OR AT YOUR LOCAL PRINT SHOP. 

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The app is so easy to use. After you have used it once you will be able to help others.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #8: EXPERIENCE THE APP YOURSELF

It is a good idea to try out the app before the day of your project. Then if others have questions you will be able to help them.

Begin by downloading the free BillionGraves app to your smartphone. You can find it in your App Store for iOS phones or GooglePlay for Androids.

Open the app and start clicking photos!

Wondering what to take with you when you go to the cemetery? This free printable checklist for a 15 Item Grab-N-Go Cemetery Bag will give you ideas!

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Friends can work in pairs to photograph each row of headstones in the cemetery.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #9: DIVIDE INTO TEAMS AT THE CEMETERY

Your group can pair-off. As one person takes photos in a row, their partner takes them in the next row. Leap-frog over your partner’s row when you complete your own.

You could set up a competition to win a candy bar for those who take the most photos (of good quality).

Here is a FREE printable candy bar wrapper for the chocolate bar prize.

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The BillionGraves app is so easy to use that you can take hundreds of photos in an hour.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #10: TAKE PHOTOS OF THE HEADSTONES & UPLOAD

Now for the fun part! Taking photos with the BillionGraves app is so fast and easy. Beginners can take about 250 photos per hour and those who are more experienced can take 500 or more in an hour.

Photo-taking Tips:

  • Make sure all the names and dates are in the frame.
  • If your shadow casts over the gravestone, stand off to the side.
  • Clear away grass clippings and weeds that block information.
  • Hold living plants and floral arrangements aside while you take the photo.
  • Those without smartphones can help others by clearing debris away from the headstones.
  • If a gravestone is difficult to read, you can try spraying it with water
  • If the headstone has information on more than one side, use the link icon in the corner of the screen to link them together.
  • You can use the pencil icon in the other corner of the screen to transcribe photos that may be difficult for transcribers to read in a photo.

Here is a quick reference guide for taking photos.

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It is important for everyone to upload their photos when your project is complete.

Instruct your volunteers to upload their photos right at the cemetery if they have unlimited data and their battery is still well-charged. Otherwise, they can upload them from home with Wi-fi.

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Wrapping up the paperwork details is one of the final steps of your Eagle Scout cemetery documentation project.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #11: WRITE YOUR SERVICE PROJECT REPORT AND GET SIGNATURES

If you have kept good records along the way your final report will be easy.

Tips:

  • Emphasize your role as a leader (use statements like “I decided” and “I said”)
  • Summarize your project
  • Include what you set out to accomplish
  • List steps you took to prepare
  • Indicate why you chose this specific project
  • Tell who your beneficiary is and how this project has helped them
  • If you had a leader-mentor that instructed you technically mention them by name
  • Describe any problems you encountered and how you resolved them
  • Photos may be included
  • If you have a cemetery map you could add it to your report
  • Include your feelings about the project

Gather your final signatures as required on the Eagle Scout project form.

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Earning the rank of Eagle Scout increases the chance of getting into high ranking colleges and obtaining favorable careers.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT STEP #12: SCHEDULE YOUR BOARD OF REVIEW

When all of the gravestones have been photographed, go to the BillionGraves site to declare that your adopted cemetery has been completed.

Send your group one last message to thank them. To do this, click on the “Communicate” field just below the map of your adopted cemetery. You could also encourage them to adopt a cemetery themselves, now that they know how to use the easy BillionGraves app.

Consider getting together to transcribe the information on the gravestones from your photos. Go to BillionGraves.com to transcribe.

Families throughout the world are grateful for people like you who take photos that allow them to find their ancestor’s graves and help preserve the memories of their loved ones.

Schedule your board of review. Wear your uniform to the meeting and behave professionally. Since you took the lead in this project you will be well prepared to speak about it and you should be well on your way to being the next Eagle Scout!

Congratulations!

Cathy Wallace (guest-blogger) and the BillionGraves Team

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