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Save our Graves Weekend!

Posted by Sean Daly on May 24, 2024
A photographer in a churchyard cemetery

This weekend, Save our Graves! We invite all our members to visit a nearby cemetery and photograph graves. Upload them to Geneanet with our GeneaGraves app on your iOS or Android smartphone, or take photos with your digital camera and upload them on the Geneanet site — other genealogists will index them!

Did you know that at Geneanet, over 6 million graves from Europe and around the world have been uploaded and indexed by members? This weekend, we are raising awareness of our Save our Graves project which includes special tools and services to make contributing easy. Consider uploading photos of your local cemetery; your contributions are always free, never behind a paywall. Instructions [PDF] are here!

Can’t make it to a cemetery? Index cemetery photos taken by other Geneanet members!

Over the past ten years, Geneanet volunteers have uploaded over 6 million grave photos!

Why Save our Graves?

Every genealogist knows that gravestones (and cemetery burial registers as well) can be goldmines for genealogy: birth and death dates, previously unknown family members, perhaps even a town or county of origin. In North America, where land was plentiful for European colonists (and, of course, progressively less so for Natives), cemeteries organized in the 19th century tended to be large and spacious, with perpetual care leases on the plots. In other words, at the time of burial, a single payment was made and the cemetery was permanently responsible for the upkeep of the grounds and access to the reserved grave plot. However, this is very often not the case in Europe, with cemeteries often being enclosed churchyards or smallish, enclosed parcels of land outside a village. European cemeteries (managed by parishes, dioceses, or municipalities) solve the space issue by granting temporary leases, often only 15, 20, or 30 years. When a lease expires, the cemetery posts a notice on the gravestone and often (but not always) sends a letter to the address of record of the leaseholder; a grace period of 24 months is common, but could be less and is rarely more. If no one from the family steps up to pay for the lease renewal, the gravestone will be recycled and the grave dug up with any remains going to an ossuary or a potter’s field corner. Many genealogists in Europe have arrived at a cemetery only to learn to their shock that a family plot is gone!

Save our Graves is a documentation project, meant to capture and preserve the information on gravestones before they disappear. There are other grave photo sites, but what sets Save our Graves apart is our advanced uploading and indexing tools. It’s already a great contribution to photograph a cemetery; other Geneanet members step up when photos go online and index the graves with our easy-to-use indexing screens. Contributions and collaboration are what the Geneanet community is all about! And if you can’t travel to a faraway cemetery, we have a collaborative assistance program too, see below!

We often publish a list of new or updated cemeteries and tell you about them in our newsletter; for example, here is April’s announcement.

Before taking photos, check if a cemetery has been partially or completely photographed already! Our dynamic, zoomable map will help you. Geneanet members are very active in Flanders! Access the map through the Save our Graves page.

Check if a cemetery has been started (or finished!)

The first step is to check if a cemetery has been partially or completely photographed already. From the Save our Graves page available in the Projects menu, scroll down and take a moment to load our dynamic, zoomable map which is updated directly from our database. Or, drill down into the list by country here.

It’s OK to rephotograph graves that someone else has documented; sometimes, this is useful if graves have changed over the past decade, or if existing photos are old and in low resolution. But no one wants to duplicate work, which is why we suggest checking first before traveling to a nearby cemetery — it’s best to work on a new cemetery!

At Geneanet, we ask that photographers respect the privacy and dignity of mourners, both in the cemetery on the day, or online and experiencing the recent loss of a loved one. We therefore discourage photographing recent burials or uploading recent death announcements. There is no shortage of deceased older generations to document! When photographing graves, show respect for the deceased by avoiding walking over graves.

If you have a digital camera, use our website when you return home to batch upload the images. Just be sure to regroup multiple photos of the same grave, the screen will prompt you about that.

Perhaps you have already taken a number of grave photos over the years? This was the case of member Susan Doyle in Australia, who had been working with a local website when she realized Geneanet was a better fit for ease of use and making available her photos worldwide, in 10 languages. Read our interview from last week with Susan!

The GeneaGraves app for iOS and Android makes taking & uploading photos easy. This cemetery needs some TLC!

The GeneaGraves app

If you don’t have a digital camera — it’s true that these days, a recent smartphone has a high-quality camera in it — our GeneaGraves app, available for iOS and Android platforms through their stores, can greatly simplify the task. It’s best to verify before heading out to a cemetery that it exists in our system: although it is possible to create a cemetery through the app, if there is any conflict with an existing cemetery, the app may not work as intended. Any member can create a new cemetery, but please don’t wait until you are in the cemetery to think about it! We can help you create a cemetery if you get stuck, just post a message in our forum or send an e-mail to archivalrecords [at] geneanet.org.

The app is intuitive and will guide you. Log in with your Geneanet username and start with a photo of a whole grave. Is the lettering readable? Next grave! If not, zoom in to photograph that, and indicate that the current photo is of the same grave. When done, move to the next grave!

The app is designed to upload your photos after your visit, when you have a higher-bandwidth wifi connection available — so don’t worry if your phone has a weak connection at the cemetery. Images are posted one-by-one to Geneanet, so if you take a thousand photos in a day, it may take a couple of attempts to upload all the photos!

Once online, your photos will be indexed by other members who will enter the names and dates visible in the photos. Any genealogist searching on a name will be able to view the photo and even attach it to the individual in their tree.

Ask for a grave photo, take a photo for a fellow genealogist — this is the spirit of the Geneanet community!

A few grave photos from our database

The Marquis de Lafayette is buried in the tiny Picpus cemetery in Paris. On July 4, 1917, General Pershing laid a wreath here as the United States joined the Allies in World War I. Thank you to member ctriger for the photo!
The tomb of Oscar Wilde, sculpted by New Yorker Jacob Epstein. The monument has been repeatedly damaged over the decades by well-wishers who kiss it with bright red lipstick! This photo from member jose75017 is from before 2011, when a glass barrier was installed to protect the stone.
Edith Piaf is buried in the Gassion family plot; her grave is often festooned with flowers laid by visitors to Paris. Thank you to member mumudu62 for the several photos of the grave!
Save our Graves is not just about the famous, it’s also about soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. This photo uploaded by Geneanet member ussel24 is of particular interest to the author: it is his great uncle Louis Loir, who died in the final weeks of World War I. Geneanet members in Belgium and northern France have extensively photographed war graves there.
Geneanet member aami uploaded this photo of Frank P. Peregory, an American GI who fell during the Battle of Normandy 80 years ago.

Ask the Geneanet community for help!

Have you learned about a grave in a cemetery far from you, which hasn’t been photographed yet? Put in a request for a local Geneanet member to take the photo for you! This is a two-way street: to make requests you have to accept requests too, for cemeteries near you. Mutual assistance like this can be a great solution to get that gravestone image and perhaps break a brick wall! Try to be as specific as possible where a grave is located in a cemetery, to save time for your fellow genealogist. A cemetery office may be able to give you precise information. Do keep in mind that sometimes, there are unmarked graves — not every family could afford a tombstone to memorialize their loved ones.

What if there is no Geneanet member available near the cemetery, or you are in a rush? There’s another way to possibly get that gravestone photo: ordering flowers to be placed there by a local florist, who will know the nearby cemeteries. A cemetery office can usually recommend a florist who knows the rules, for example no pots (to reduce mosquitoes). Ask the florist to send you a photo of the flowers on the gravestone! Just be sure they don’t cover up all the lettering with their wreath or arrangement.

Access the Collaborative Assistance service from the Community menu, or from the Projects -> Save our Graves page.

Questions? Ask them in our forums!

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