Wednesday, June 1, 2011 Review

Dad's gravestone,
Grove Cemetery, Holden, Massachusetts
as seen on
I had heard about this new app,, for the iPhone via Dick Eastman’s Genealogy Newsletter and on Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy BlogTalk Radio Show. On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, on the way to Holden, Massachusetts from Londonderry, New Hampshire, I decided to download the app and try it out. We were on the way to decorate Dad’s grave at the Grove Cemetery in Holden.

At a gas station near our house the app finished downloading and I was able to peruse the map of the local area. I was happy to see that two tiny family burial grounds, the Boyd Cemetery right behind my house, and the Senter Family Cemetery in Hudson both popped right up. At the bottom of the screen there was an “add a cemetery” button, but I didn’t need to use it because these very obscure, small burial grounds were already listed. I could see from my phone how to drive or walk to both cemeteries. Things were looking up for BillionGraves!

At the cemetery I snapped front and back photos of Dad’s stone. I could see Grove Cemetery, and the other two colonial era cemeteries in the center of Holden on the maps, but I couldn’t get the photo to sync up with the cemetery listing. I liked the interactive maps that showed where the cemeteries were located versus where the phone was located- this isn’t possible from FindAGrave. The GPS functions merged with gravestone photography and a database sounded like such an excellent idea. I decided to wait until I got home to continue exploring BillionGraves.

Later that night at home my enthusiasm bubble burst. I couldn’t log into the website on my home computer at all. “Rob” at Customer support sent me three emails over the next three days, and finally I was able to get onto the website. However, I could do nothing. No transcribing, no looking at maps, and the photos wouldn’t upload to my account. I was online at Facebook with Midge Frazel and Amy Johnson Crow trying to sort this all out, and they both have also blogged about this problem at these links:

Thank goodness for Twitter, because that’s where I saw that the transcription page was up and running on Wednesday after Memorial Day. I was finally able to access it, but it wasn’t what I thought. I thought I’d be able to transcribe Dad’s gravestone and enter more information (like at FindAGrave) but instead I had to “next” through 550 photos to look for it. What will happen when there are hundreds or thousands of photos? Why can’t I access “my photos”?

Clicking on my one photo didn’t work to transcribe it. I couldn’t attach a name or cemetery to it. I thought that Grove Cemetery would be automatically attached to this photo since I used my iPhone. Apparently I was mistaken. I didn’t know how to attach Dad’s name to this piece of data.

Suddenly, by Wednesday night, the photograph appeared with the cemetery name, Dad’s name and his dates. I entered the epitaph information. Who did the name entry? When I click on “my photos” and click on this one gravestone photo, I don’t see this information, which is odd. I can only find it by putting the surname WILKINSON into the search and looking through all the WILKINSONS. There appears to be no way to add any additional information, obituaries, genealogy, additional photography, etc.

There appears to be no way to enter photos from my home computer. Too bad, BillionGraves, because I have several hundred photographs of gravestones, and all the pertinent genealogical information to go with each one.

I’m not sure I will add anymore gravestones to this app. I think I’ll see how the website progresses over the next few weeks before I make any final decisions. The only useful feature will be the ability to find nearby cemeteries from my iPhone when I am driving around. Right now, I am less than thrilled.

For more information:  The BillionGraves blog, with posts about their debugging process

@BillionGraves on Twitter

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. It’s glad to see good information being convey. Its a very nice written, and i really like these blog. Thanks for the info.

  2. You have some interesting thoughts! Perhaps we should contemplate about attempting this myself.

  3. Heather - I work at BillionGraves, and I wanted to thank you for your feedback. I'm sorry you had so much trouble with the site: we'd been unable to test it with the volume of input we received during the launch, which was a shortcoming on our part, but we've got traffic control functioning better now. Good comments about not being able to see transcriptions while viewing your photos--I'll pass that information on to our developers. Again, I'm sorry your first experience was so poor; hopefully in the future we'll be able to provide services that are of use to you personally.

  4. I always learn something new from your post!Great article. I wish I could write so well.

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  6. Just a quick note to let you know as a new users=, the glitches no longer seem to be there. I am having a GREAT time photography and transcribing my local cemeteries! In fact, many cemeteries are involving the Scouts. It's great to see kids involved in history!!