Youth Find Strength in Service to Community and Ancestors

May 23, 2015  - by 

In the San Antonio Texas West Stake, youth have experienced the truth of the scriptural promise that, as they serve others, they will discover and strengthen themselves (see Matthew 16:25). Service to their community and to their ancestors through active family history events has connected them as a ward, extended their influence into their larger communities, and increased the depth of individual testimonies. And, not unimportantly, their projects are fun.

On a breezy spring day, the youth of the Helotes Ward chose to spend time in a cemetery rather than involved in other more typical teenage pursuits. Aubrey Freckleton, Laurel class president, organized a BillionGraves cemetery documentation project—an active, outdoor, smartphone-based activity that quickly and easily digitizes headstones.

It’s family history, and it’s a natural fit for youth.

“BillionGraves is a perfect leadership opportunity for youth,” said Lance Bradford, bishop of the Helotes Ward. “We wanted a project that the youth themselves could pick up and run with. It was really satisfying to see the adults being led by the youth on this.”

Cemetery documentation is a vital part of the family history puzzle. It allows people searching for the final location of their ancestors to see precisely where they are buried, without having to travel, and preserves the information as an additional source. It also digitizes the information on the headstone itself, links online the information for relatives buried near one another, and provides exact GPS coordinates and images to posterity.

“As I participated in this project, I not only began to feel my Heavenly Father’s love for me, but the love of those I was serving,” said Aubrey. “Because of this project, I was able to find the site where my great-great-grandfather is buried. Even though I never knew this man, I had the distinct impression that I had found a soul that had long been awaiting my arrival.”

“There’s been more of a family history focus in our ward than ever before, and it can be tied back to the BillionGraves activity,” said Bishop Bradford. “It really engaged the youth in particular, and more broadly the whole ward, and it raised to the surface of our consciousness the importance of family history.”

Youth and other members of the Helotes Ward are feeling the spirit of Elijah—what Elder Russell M. Nelson called “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family. Hence, people throughout the world, regardless of religious affiliation, are gathering records of deceased relatives at an ever-increasing rate” (“A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34).

“I cannot imagine a better way to draw closer to God than through searching out those willing yet ‘lost’ souls,” said Aubrey. “I want to help others live with their families forever.”

San Antonio Texas Image 1
To that end, the Helotes Ward now staffs a booth at the city’s monthly Market Day, a cheerful event full of arts, crafts, live music—and family history.“We’ve set up computers and a WiFi hotspot, and we help people find their ancestors online. It’s very nondenominational; people of all faiths are interested in their history. Those who think they’re not interested at first become fascinated and engaged. They want to know how they can learn about and do more family history,” said Bishop Bradford.

The booth is staffed by ward mission leaders, family history consultants, and youth.

“The BillionGraves project opened my eyes to the fact that family history work is easy! This sort of service is no longer focused toward older people, but is perfect for the youth,” said Aubrey. “Instead of idling away time on meaningless social media sites, we have the opportunity to make a huge difference for the living and the dead—and in our own lives too. I’m so grateful to have been a part of this project.”

To host your own cemetery documentation event or learn more about BillionGraves, visit the FamilySearch/BillionGraves landing page.


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  1. I’m going to take pictures of gravestones. I’m not going to use billiongraves though I don’t think.

    1. If not billion graves, perhaps consider findagrave. It has been extremely useful to me personally and as a FH consultant.

  2. love to download many of your video but it has been so difficult,please teach me about your church and God, thanks a lot.

  3. Congratulations to the youth!!! They are outstanding!! I know your work will bless many and bring smiles to many as they are searching for their family members. Keep it up!!! You are amazing!!!

  4. Wish I still lived back East…would so do this with the youth! Hope youth in NH, Maine and Ma. get to do this as that’s where my family is buried, me too someday!

  5. I came across a small cemetery in the woods as I was hiking today. I was wondering about what would be involved in adding them to Billion Graves and then I found this story. Thanks!

  6. My son is planning to do his Eagle Scout project in the Billion Graves service. Thank you for sharing what was done in Texas.

  7. I did this for my eagle scout project it is so cool to see others out there serving just like I did. Together we can all make a huge difference

    1. I’m not suggesting duplication of what is on this site. I am merely suggesting an alternative if for whatever reason someone chooses to not use the billion graves. There are many cemeteries that still have very few pictures. Using either site will bless the person taking the pictures as well as the families looking for their ancestors.

  8. For so many of us that have moved across the country due to marriage, work, or assignment, what a true BLESSING this project is to us! We will be able to not only continue our family history, we will be able to show and share with our children and grandchildren our family, and share with them tender, sacred family stories inspired by these pictures! Bless the youth and their Leaders for this loving service!

  9. I was thinking that as the Home teachers and others go out, for church related contacts, the person could be informed of the availability of someone that could place information on the church data base of someone departed. This would make every church member have the opportunity to be part of the collection of names ,that be turned over to a person(s) that could then return and enter the name of the departed into the Data base . With the persons permission, some temple submissions could be done at the same time if correct protocols were followed. I will re-turn and enter the name of a relative of a member of her family , that is not a member of the church. She has asked if i would do so. She is unable to attend Sacrament service and we take it to her each Sunday Just a thought