Wielding smartphones, and mostly unprepared for temperatures that dropped into the 30s, 240 teens recently converged on Oakwood Cemetery in Denton to document headstone information that can be used by people all over the world.
It’s an usual way for a group of young people to spend a Saturday afternoon, but volunteers had a good attitude despite the cold and rain. “It was really cool to see all the different graves and how each grave kind of told you about the kind of person they were,” said Emma Evans,16, of Shady Shores.
The activity was part of a conference organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The youth, ages 14-18, used the BillionGraves app to take photos and upload them to BillionGraves.com, a free website where the information is transcribed and made available for online family history research.
“We chose this cemetery because there were over 1,000 headstones that still needed to be transcribed,” said youth committee member Hunter Smith, 17, of Highland Village.
In under two hours the group photographed 1,280 graves. “I think it’s cool we could bring such a big group of people to accomplish such a large task in a short amount of time,” said Emma Thornock, 15, of Flower Mound.
Similar efforts by individuals and groups around the world contribute to the expanding database for searching and viewing records online. The photos also help people locate graves they’d like to personally visit.
“What makes BillionGraves unique is the ability to geotag each headstone,” said Young Women President Linda Bird, of Flower Mound. “Not only can someone track down which cemetery their relative is buried in, but they can visit the cemetery and walk right up to it because of the GPS capability.”
Just before the group headed to the cemetery, they were instructed about the technology and proper cemetery etiquette. They heard how documenting headstones helps people gather family history information, and by the end of the day they’d experienced it themselves.
“I thought it was neat to see other people’s ancestors, even though I don’t know them personally,” said Hannah Brown, 15, of Corinth, “I feel a better connection to what the world used to be.”
Prior to the activity, consultants from the Lewisville Texas Family History Center researched the lives of people buried in the Oakwood Cemetery. While at the cemetery, youth visited several “capsules” highlighting the notable achievements or unique situations in those people’s lives.
“It was something I wasn’t originally interested in, but by planning and doing it, it seemed more profound,” said youth committee member Chloe Bikman, 17, of Flower Mound. “And having the capsules, learning about the people was interesting.”
Written by Sharon Cliff