As part of their youth conference service project, youths visited 38 cemeteries in Cobb and Cherokee counties to take pictures of headstones.
Collectively, more than 12,580 pictures of headstones were taken and uploaded to a website called BillionGraves.com.
“One of our main objectives is to show the youth of today there are some very high tech ways to participate in what many perceive as a hobby for older people,” said Aaron Vickery, the LDS youth leader in charge of the service project. “Family history work can be fun and rewarding for any age group. The website uses GPS enabled mobile devices to capture location and photo information so online users can easily find their ancestors.”
The youths ranging in ages 14 to 18 met Saturday morning in the LDS Woodstock church building to receive instructions on how to use the BillionGraves smartphone and tablet app.
Then they were divided into groups where one or two adult leaders drove them to the various cemeteries. Some cemeteries were small with only a few headstones and others were much larger with several hundreds or thousands of headstones. Later that day, the youths transcribed the writings on the headstone for easier search-ability on the website.
“I think the service project is cool,” said Taylor Cribb, one of the youth who traveled from Ellijay to participate. “It allows people who may not know who their family members are to see where they are (buried).”
Many of the youths had never participated in any type of family history work before this service project. And after participating in the service project, many wanted to learn about how they can do more genealogy work.
“I am learning a lot too,” said Katie Whitlow, another youth from Woodstock. “Every time we see a grave, I look at the dates (birth and death dates) to figure out how old they were. You learn in certain time periods people only live to a certain age. It makes me want to do family history more.”
The youths discovered that a lot can be learned about the deceased by seeing the headstone — birth and death dates, if they served in the military and which branch, other family members because of who was buried around them. Some headstones showed images of the deceased’s hobbies, a favorite quote, or a scripture reference. A few headstones even had a picture of the deceased. Other headstones had objects placed on the headstone that were perhaps once their favorite things.
“I wish other people from Kentucky, because that is where the rest of my family lives, would do this there so I can go online and find pictures of my family graves,” said Whitlow.
Vickery found the BillionGraves website while doing his own genealogy work.
“A few months ago I was researching some personal family names in north Georgia, the Rev. William James Vickery,” Vickery said. “My 8-year-old daughter came across a gravestone photo taken of Asa Chandler Fortson, his father-in-law. I discussed our find with my wife who then came across the BillionGraves website while she was researching ways to get the kids involved in family history work.”
Vickery thought the service project turned out to be a success in helping the youths gain an appreciation for genealogy work.
“Serving others who can’t do things for themselves is very important to us,” Vickery said. “We hope to provide an experience where our youth can feel good about helping people from all over the United States who may have ancestors at these grave sites.”