Discovering Roadside Cemeteries in Autumn
Discovering roadside cemeteries in autumn can be like finding hidden treasure!
Fall is one of the best times to take your BillionGraves photo app on the road. The leaves are changing to breathtaking reds and golds, the weather is cooler, and there is less traffic on the road. Combine your love of beautiful fall foliage with taking photos at roadside cemeteries and it will be an autumn to remember.
Each time you pass a roadside cemetery, you could stop to help others by taking photos of the gravestones with the BillionGraves app. As you do, each picture will automatically be tagged with GPS coordinates.
Then when the photos are uploaded, the data will be transcribed and each gravestone will be marked on a map. Thanks to you, this will make it easy for families to find the final resting places of their ancestors.
How to Add a Cemetery to the BillionGraves Database
As a BillionGraves user named Emma traveled along a country road under a canopy of trees blazing with golden leaves, she noticed a few gravestones at the edge of the road.
Being an avid BillionGraves fan, she immediately pulled over and took out her smartphone to take photos with the BillionGraves app.
First Emma tapped on the icon labeled “find cemeteries” on the main screen of the BillionGraves app to see if the cemetery had already been photographed by someone else. To her surprise, the cemetery wasn’t in the BillionGraves database!
She quickly added the cemetery and started taking pictures.
Here are 3 ways to add a cemetery to the BillionGraves database:
Click HERE to use the BillionGraves app on your Android smartphone to add a cemetery.
Click HERE to use the BillionGraves app on your iPhone to add a cemetery.
Click HERE to use the BillionGraves website on your computer to add a cemetery.
Thanks to Emma, the people who were buried in this previously lost cemetery will never be forgotten again!
Discovering Roadside Cemeteries on a Family Road Trip
If your family takes a color tour road trip, you could work together to take photos of gravestones along the way.
One family decided that on their trip they would stop at every cemetery they passed. The whole family jumped out of the car and took pictures with the BillionGraves app on their smartphones.
If the cemetery was small, they finished the entire cemetery. If it was larger, then they just photographed a few rows.
Since the GPS feature was marking each gravestone automatically, other volunteers who came there later would easily be able to tell what had already been finished.
Discovering Roadside Cemeteries in the Woods
If you find a cemetery in the woods that has been abandoned, not only will it be very exciting, it is a great opportunity to serve those who have passed on and their descendants.
In past generations, cemeteries were sometimes established on farms or in the countryside and then the owners of the property relocated.
Over the years, nature took back the land. Trees grew from seeds dropped by birds. Ivy sprawled over the ground and up onto the gravestones. Weeds grew to be waist-high.
Eagle Scout, JP Freeman, led a group of volunteers in taking gravestone photos with the BillionGraves app at Pleasant Gardens Cemetery in the woods near Chattanooga, Tennessee for his Eagle Scout project.
They used brooms, brushes, and clippers to clear away the overgrowth so that the names and dates could be seen.
Pleasant Gardens is a historic African-American cemetery and there are some pretty famous people buried there.
Among them is one of Chattanooga’s first black surgeons, Dr. Thomas William Haigler, and another is Chattanooga’s first black music teacher, Lula F. Kennedy.
And then there’s musician Lionel Richie’s great-grandfather, John Louis Brown, who worked in a pharmacy and was also a cemetery caretaker.
Discovering Roadside Cemeteries with Hidden Graves
What if you find a roadside cemetery where the gravestones are covered in moss, lichen, or mold?
Clean them! Gravestone cleaning can turn back the wheels of time to make your ancestor’s final resting place nearly as beautiful as the day their family members gathered there to wish them farewell.
The first step you should take is to get permission to clean the headstones. Can I just repeat that? Get. Permission.
The second step is to research safe cleaning methods. Click HERE to learn more about how to safely clean gravestones.
The third step is to do the actual cleaning so that the names and dates can be seen.
And finally, remember to take a photo of the gravestone with the BillionGraves app.
By cleaning and caring for historic resting places you can provide an opportunity for future generations to glimpse the past. Then burial grounds will become treasures of information that would otherwise have been forgotten or lost.
Transcribing Gravestones that are Hard to Read
When a gravestone is legible, the names and dates will typically be transcribed on a computer from a photo and the names and dates will be recorded on a form. Click HERE to learn more about how you can volunteer as a transcriber.
Discovering roadside cemeteries can lead you to find some gravestones that are pretty hard to read. They may be worn with time or erosion.
See that little pencil icon in the photo above? MOST of the time, you do not need to touch it! But there are some cases where it can be incredibly useful!
Anna Young has a lot of experience taking photos in cemeteries with the BillionGraves app and she shared her insider secrets about how to use the pencil icon. Each summer Anna takes a cross-country trip on an adventure to find the gravestones of her “kin” (family members) in Kentucky and Virginia.
Since she has traveled thousands of miles, she wants to be sure she gathers as much information at the cemetery as possible. Most of her kin are buried in small family plots in people’s backyards. So Anna knocks on the door, gets permission, and then take photos with the BillionGraves app on her smartphone.
But many of the gravestones are old and barely readable. Sometimes Anna can feel the letters with her hand to tell what they say. Other times she can read them at just the right angles, but either way, if she is sure that transcribers will not be able to read the names and dates from a photo on the app she taps on the pencil icon.
The pencil icon opens a screen where the names and dates can be entered using the keyboard on her phone.
There is also an option for her to enter the information by recording her own voice as she reads the inscription. This is done by tapping on the button at the bottom left side of the screen that says, “magic.”
Pretty slick, huh? But, please remember that this magic is ONLY to be used when the gravestone is so worn that you think a transcriber will not be able to read it from a photo. (Besides everyone knows that if you use magic incorrectly you might turn into a frog, right?)
Discovering Roadside Cemeteries that Inspire Faith
Many roadside cemeteries are family plots. And family members often belong to the same religion. So you may encounter some gravestones with religious statues or symbols.
Understanding cemetery crosses can help us understand the faith of our ancestors. It can sometimes even help us discover their heritage and country of origin.
Roadside Cemeteries with Gravestone Symbols
Understanding cemetery symbols can give you clues to your ancestors’ lives and it will make your trips to the cemetery amazing!
Do you remember when you learned to read? As a child, it was fun to look at pictures in books as someone older read the words. But, oh, that magical moment when you realized you could read the words yourself! It opened a whole new world!
Would you like to learn to “read” a cemetery? It’s a genealogical adventure!
On many older gravestones, there are pictures and symbols that tell stories about your loved ones and ancestors. If you can’t read “gravestone-language” you are missing part of the story.
There is an interesting symbol at the top of the gravestone in this image. It is a winged hourglass. An hourglass is a symbol of time. The wings symbolize flying or fleeting. So a winged hourglass is a symbol of fleeting time. In other words, “How time flies!”
The winged hourglass was a common gravestone symbol in 18th-century England when the life expectancy was only about 35 years, in large part due to high infant and child mortality rates.
Those who lived in the early colony of Virginia in seventeenth-century New England could expect to live less than 25 years – with about 40 percent dying before reaching adulthood.
With such short life spans, it made sense for gravestones to have hourglasses on them to indicate the quick passage of time. The sand passes quickly through the hourglass, just as this person passed quickly through mortality.
The winged hourglass was meant to remind passersby that life was short and to use every moment wisely.
Discovering Roadside Cemeteries on Battleground Hillsides
If you were a military commander, it would make sense for you to position your troops on a hillside where you could keep an eye out for approaching enemies.
Thus, battles sometimes took place on hillsides. If soldiers died in large numbers, they were often buried right where they fell.
So if you find a roadside-hillside cemetery, you may have a special opportunity to use your BillionGraves app to honor those who fought for freedom.
Click HERE to learn more about gravestone military flag markers.
Discovering Roadside Cemeteries with Unmarked Graves
Unmarked graves are burial sites without visible markers. How will those who have been buried in graves without headstones be remembered?
Thanks to the BillionGraves app, there is an easy solution!
Family members, death certificates, and county records may have information about who is buried in unmarked graves.
Once you know who is buried in an unmarked grave, write the information on a whiteboard or piece of paper. Then take a picture of it with the BillionGraves app.
It will automatically be tagged with GPS coordinates – just as if it was a beautiful gravestone.
Click HERE to learn more about documenting unmarked graves.
Discovering Roadside Cemeteries with Angels
You may pass a roadside angel on your journey. They may mark the spot where someone died in a car crash or they may be part of roadside cemeteries.
Some of the most touching graveside monuments are cemetery angels. The angels appear in many forms. There are angels dressed in flowing robes with feathery wings and joyful smiles. Others are serious guardians of the deceased, bearing swords. Some carry crosses or flowers. Some angels sit in front of scrolls with pens poised in their hands as they keep a written record of all we do and say.
Click HERE to learn more about cemetery angel statues.
Roadside Cemeteries that Guard Against Grave Robbers
If you pass a roadside cemetery with individual fences around the graves, you may be puzzled as to why anyone would do that.
Grave robbers were a common problem in Victorian-era cemeteries. They stole everything from rings and necklaces to the bodies themselves. The bodies were used for medical research.
“Rest in Peace” is a common epitaph on older gravestones but this wasn’t just a trite phrase in the 1800s. Family members were genuinely concerned about their loved ones’ bodies resting in peace.
So families often went to great lengths to protect their loved one’s remains after burial. Victorian families who could afford it bought metal caskets and erected iron fences.
The graves in this photo are securely covered and those in the background are surrounded by individual fences.
Click HERE to learn more about grave robbers.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Those who have been buried in roadside cemeteries may be more likely to be forgotten than those who were buried in traditional cemeteries.
A common epitaph on gravestones is “gone but not forgotten”. When you document a gravestone with the BillionGraves app you are doing just that . . . creating a legacy to make sure that person is not forgotten.
So take a road trip with the best of both worlds – gorgeous fall colors and genealogical records for families around the globe!
Volunteer to Take Photos of Gravestones
We need your help with taking gravestone photos to help preserve history! When photos are taken with the BillionGraves mobile app, each picture is automatically tagged with GPS coordinates.
This allows families to easily find their ancestor’s final resting place at the cemetery so they can grow their family tree. It also allows future volunteers to see exactly what has already been photographed and what still needs to be done.
If you would like to volunteer to take gravestone photos with your smartphone click HERE to get started. You are welcome to take photos of gravestones at your own convenience, no permission from us is needed.
If you still have questions after you have checked out the resources above, you can email us at Volunteer@BillionGraves.com.
Would you like to lead a group in documenting a cemetery? Email us at Volunteer@billiongraves.com and we’ll be happy to send you some great tips!
Happy Cemetery Hopping!
Cathy Wallace and the BillionGraves Team