Preserving the Memories of A Billion Graves

May 16, 2012  - by 

This is the time of year when people around the world are focusing their attention toward remembering and honoring their loved ones who have died. Many of us are making preparations to take the family to local cemeteries to visit the graves of beloved family members. This often includes cleaning up family burial plots and placing flowers on the graves of close family members. In addition to these activities, there is one more great activity that families can do that is in keeping with the spirit of this activity. As you visit the gravesites of your ancestors, why not bring your smart phone along and capture images of your loved one’s tombstones. Through the use of a smart phone App from, you can now preserve images of and information from these tombstones and make it possible for anyone around the world to see your ancestor’s gravesite through GPS navigation.

BillionGraves is a website that is dedicated to photographing and transcribing information from gravestones in cemeteries around the world. It has created a free downloadable App which enables anyone with an Apple iPhone or Google Android smartphone to use their phone to capture images of gravestones and upload those images to the BillionGraves website via the internet. These images are then transcribed by those who took the images or by others who want to help build this valuable database. This information is used to provide an extensive family history database for grave stone images from the world’s cemeteries. Soon, you will be able to view and search the index for free at

Through the use of GPS coordinates and satellite technology, BillionGraves makes it possible to locate any gravestone that has been photographed and indexed. With an Apple iPhone or Android smartphone in hand, finding a person’s gravestone is a breeze.  

So how do you get started?  Simply follow the steps below:

Go to and find the cemetery you want to visit.

  1. Using this site, see if your loved one’s tombstone has been photographed and indexed. If it hasn’t, go to Step 3.
  2. From the BillionGraves website, download the free App that will allow you to start capturing images.
  3. Using your iPhone or smartphone, take a picture of your ancestor’s tombstone. While you’re at it, it’s easy to capture a whole row or two of tombstones. In 10 minutes you can capture 20 to 30 tombstone images. Doing this will make it easier for others to find the graves of their ancestors.
  4. Using instructions from the BillionGraves website, upload the images to the website.
  5. When you get home, you can quickly go to the BillionGraves site and extract the information from the tombstone images, or you can leave it for someone else to extract.

All extracted information will be searchable through the BillionGraves’ website database, and will soon be accessible at .

That’s all there is to making sure that the images and identifying information of your ancestor’s gravesite is preserved and made available for others to find. Other family members who might be interested in visiting your ancestors can simply get the GPS coordinates from the website or from and quickly and easily find where the gravesite is located. No more lost gravesites. What better way to honor those who have died than to help bring their gravesite back to the remembrance of the living.

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  1. I have found many photos of tombstones on You can entry marker information and upload photos without having to have a smart phone and you can request someone in the area take and upload a photo for you if you live far away.

    1. Amen to your comment, Michael – thousands of Latter-day Saints and others interested in family history already use to locate, memorialize, and link their ancestors as well as to find relatives they didn’t know they had. Reading this article, it’s hard to see how this effort is not largely redundant. (Lovely, touching, but redundant.)

      1. I disagree. There is NOTHING on Findagrave for anyone in my family, and I have ancestors that were living in the United States dating back to before the Revolutionary War. Several of them, I KNOW where they were buried (but haven’t happened to make it to the cemetery to wander around aimlessly over hundreds of acres of land myself).

        I really like the GPS data on the photo. That’s SUPREMELY helpful.

        There’s a smallish cemetery within a mile of where I grew up. I have ancestors buried there, but by no means at all are my ancestors the ONLY ones buried there. I would be perfectly happy to walk up and down rows of that cemetery taking pictures of headstones…even of people I’ve no relation to.

  2. Both Findagrave and BillionGraves have their pros and cons. The biggest failure with BillionGraves is it adds photos first and then asks people to index them (when indexes may already exist—wasting people’s time). This exceedingly fails when we know the sheer number of unmarked graves that are out there. Simply photographing and indexing what you can see versus what is actually there is quite misleading.

    1. I agree comepletely. I tried to help a friend out of state index photo’s of headstones he had taken to put on findagrave, and sometimes it’s not the smartest or best thing because you cant actually see it upclose when there may be a lot of wear and tear. I agree they should have a way to check for duplicates and the person uploading it should be responsible for adding the information as well. It’s not too hard as long as you are dedicated to doing this.

      1. I have been able to look for duplicates just starting from the cemetery search page and put in the one that I want to know about, name or just surname and don’t forget to check for other spellings. Then hit search.

    2. You may be overlooking the main advantage of billion even though the photos have to be uploaded using an app from a smart phone is that the GPS location is stored along with the grave – the grave photos are then indexed and they will be available on in the future so there are many advantages to this very useful web site and what they are doing! This technology is fantastic!

    3. I have been a contributor to finagrave for some time and recently started to contribute to billiongraves as well. The GPS technology aspect of billiongraves is very attractive letting you know the exact location of the grave as well as those nearby. That being said, starting the indexing project from scratch is a sheer waste of time! There already exist multiple databases (take US veteran’s graves for example). The better option is to take these existing databases and match them with photos having indexers match the data rather than key in from scratch. I recently visited a local cemetery that has 36K internments, all already indexed on the cemetery website. Why should this information be re-created? I will continue to support both projects, but do believe the best of both could be merged with better results.

  3. What a great way to play a small part in geneology! I love the idea! Makes me excited to see what I can find there. Thanks for sharing!!!

  4. What a great way to play a small part in geneology! I love the idea! Makes me excited to see what I can find there. Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. The ‘con’ that was mentioned about the photos being immediately available is actually a plus, in that you can then see if the photo is already there, or if other headstones nearby are associated.

    But then, once they are indexed, and depending on how many photos need to be indexed that can take a couple of weeks, all the info is there. But having the headstone photo available before indexing is no different than having scanned microfilm available before FamilySearch Indexing has indexed the same film.

    Also, you may notice that about 90 percent of the cemeteries where photos have been taken at so far, are in the US. There are hundreds of thousands of cemeteries out there throughout the world to take photos of headstones in. Including some very large ones like Cemiterio da Vila Formosa in Sao Paulo, which has 1.5 million burials in it. So if you are out of the US, or simply live outside the US, grab some cemetery photos wherever you are or you go to, the GPS network is worldwide, so it will work as intended virtually anywhere.

    So even if you can’t use your data plan because you are outside its boundaries or country, shoot the photos wherever you are anyway, and just upload them when you get to a Wifi hotspot, heck, all you need is an iPhone (3GS or newer) or Android that has a good GPS) even without any service active at all, just load the app from your home wifi, then take pictures, then find a wifi hotspot or home wifi and upload them.

  6. I’m a photo contributer to There is a cemetery in Magna UT that I have to search another site called to get a grave location map. It’s a cemetery that isn’t taken care of real well so having GPS for the stones would be great, especially for those who have loved ones buried there. I have also found a few unmarked graves that having the GPS would be great for those family members that might want to get together & purchase a stone. They wouldn’t have to go through the process I have to to fufill the photo requests for this cemetery on findagrave.

    I don’t have a smart phone so I couldn’t download the app but I do have a DSLR camera.

    These changes are so exciting! Technology has made family history so much easier! I look forward to seeing what’s next!

  7. Look at it this way!!! Find A Grave is very interesting but they only take soom of the picture of headstone and not all. If this site would take all the picture in a cemetery people might find some thing they need that is why indexing is so inportant to it all. The best part it will be free to use to anyone that is the best part.

    1. I am also a Find a Grave volunteer. I am working to take pictures of all the stones in all the cemeteries in Greene County, Tennessee where I live. I’ve done 13,000+ so far. It takes a heck of a lot of time to take photos of all the stones in a cemetery! I agree that it would be great if all the stones were photoed, but Whew! I just finished a cemetery with 3,000+ stones in it, and am half way through another with 4,000+. I think what Find a Grave needs is more volunteers (like me) to take photos of every stone, instead of just the one’s requested.

    2. “They” are the host of Find a Grave volunteers who have given countless hours over many years to build this resource. I have been a Find a Grave volunteer for about 10 years and primarily photograph stones by request of interested descendants. It is a fun and gratifying activity.

  8. what about saving graveyards from being sold and built on!!!!!. this is happening all over the uk , the churches should,nt sell the graveyards, only the church. they can now desicrate [ exume bodies ] after 25 years. At Chapel st,. Wibsey, Bradford, West yorkshire,new owner raped 5000,500 graves of their headstones in 1987 against protests, the graves are still there like atip !!!!! because we keep objecting to planning applications to build houses.ministry of justice and council don,nt enforce law, one has to take private action if one can afford to .Respect has gone , greed is rife !!!,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    1. Not just on your side of the pond! I live in a rural area of East Tennessee, USA and I’ve heard of farmers plowing up the cemeteries and using the gravestones as foundation stones for the barn!! What are these people thinking? You are correct about the greed thing, but in some cases it’s just selfishness. “Them stones was in my way, so I dug ’em up.” Ignorant, too.

      1. I agree! Just the other day, we saw a graveyard with cows in it… I told my hubby that was really great, I would do the same thing and let my grandchildren have the cows doodoo all over me too (NOT!) Why do people not respect anything anymore? I also volunteer for Find A Grave and LDS Family Search. It would be great to have a grave locator on the site for people looking to visit their family graves!

    2. I worry about things like that, at least in most cases there are records that can be used and our church has photgraphed a great many of them and that is where indexing is a good thing.

  9. We need to Honer Nancy Louise Protzman Hulett November 12,1951-April 14, 2012. She was sick for 10 years. She worship currently with her husband at First United Methodist Church of Peaeland. She excepted Jesus in her heart and she is in heaven. Me and my family believes Jesus is God and it’s true.

  10. We all need to write to prime minister David Cameran to change the law to preserve the graveyards and our family history from being wiped out. in some cases all information is lost for good.

    1. I m disgusted by this treatment of the desecration of cemeteries and graves, what’s more disgusting are the governments that allow this.

  11. I would love to see the best of FindAGrave and BillionGraves combined into one resource. It would be a great effort towards minimizing duplicative efforts and ensuring a cleaner data experience.

    1. Debi,
      That is a wonderful idea! I also volunteer for Find A Grave and combing the two would be great. I GPS of Billiongraves added with Photos and information especially for those researchers not able to get out or they dont live close by to those loved ones long since gone..

    2. I agree, I have done a little bit on
      find-A-Grave with bringing the local small cemetery as up to date as I could. There are others who also did a lot with it and there are several who are keeping it up. I think some who are in charge of the cemetery. So that is a good thing. I have put some of my own family on Find-A-Grave and sponsered some of those. I am transribing on billion graves now and when I do them in Utah and Idaho where I think there is a pretty good chance that they are on Family Search I do look it up and add that. It is a lot of work. I don’t mind, it is just that I want to have a life outside of indexing and such.

    3. I have never heard of until I was reading through some of the comments posted here.

      If it is duplicating the efforts of FindAGrave, that seems redundant to me; as said they should make an effort to combine the two operations, which would make it simpler for us novice users.

      I have been to the same as several cemeteries in Louisiana and have taken pictures of some graves because their surname is the same as mine.

      I used a Digital SLR camera. I do not know how to get this information into FindAGrave and I know nothing about

      Hope someone can help me!



  12. As an avid family researcher living in NZ, I am truly grateful for any assistance from ‘us’ volunteers who will go out and pay it forward by trying to find information for someone who can’t get to the area I live in.

    I volunteer to both FindAGrave and BillionGraves and think there’s room for them both. The hard part for me, are the many other sites which have information but which are not well known/well promoted and therefore it’s impossible to know if the relative you seek, has been located and noted there so from my point of view, any site which shares the information their volunteers have garnered and is widely known, is a bonus.

    I understand that BillionGraves has the functionality to extract the GDS locator information from DSLR photos uploaded to the site, as well as the their smartphone app so that could come in handy.

    What I would love to see personally, are more cemetery searches like the fantastic resource provided by the City Of Niagara Falls — for anyone who hasn’t seen what they’ve done – take a look here – my Relatives are ‘Rysdale’ and I found not only photos of their headstones, but an interactive map showing exactly where their grave is located — fantastic indeed.

    Regardless, thank heavens for volunteers! 🙂

    1. That sounds like a great site and I know of aother one, the Ogden City Cemetery Page. It is maintained by the Ogden City Cemetery staff in Ogden Utah and while it does not supply a photo, it does give all of the information that the cemetery has on every burial, together with a map that makes locating the grave pretty simple. I would like to see all of the free sites get together under one and have sort of one stop shopping for information and all the rest of it.

  13. I volunteer for both FindAGrave and BillionGraves because when I started with FindAGrave I spent a lot of my time repeating searches in the same cemeteries. I bought a smart phone and started to photograph and index each cemetery. Then I stumbled upon Billion Graves and because I don’t like indexing (carpal tunnel syndrome) I thought it was great. This is a win win situation, they get photos, I lose weight and stay in shape and I don’t have to type.

    What I’m really hoping for is for both groups to start looking at all the transcripts that were painstakingly put together by all the great folks who walked and transcribed the gravestones, some even have the plot location which can be cross referenced with the GPS with that information we will be able to put name and dates with all the stones that are weathered beyond recognition. Did I tell you I photograph ALL headstones?

    What a wonderful world!