A traditional summertime rite for genealogists means fighting weeds, mosquitoes, snakes and an array of other undesirables.
I'm talking about tramping through cemeteries, of course.
Immediately behind the critter issue is the frustration of finding the right cemetery only to discover there is no sexton or other office to assist a researcher in finding the desired graves.
One good thing about today's technology is that sooner or later someone is going to develop a mobile app for what ails us. In this case, it's the BillionGraves Project.
Using a mobile app — this one is free —volunteers can walk through any cemetery and click GPS-tagged photographs of every tombstone there. The next steps include uploading the images to the website and transcribing them so others can search by names.
BillionGraves has partnered with FamilySearch, the LDS Church website, which most genealogists use regularly. In the near future when someone conducts a name search on FamilySearch.org, they will get a hit from BillionGraves if a tombstone with that name has been photographed and entered into that system.
I treasure the memories of all the old country cemeteries I've explored — never sure I'd find an actual tombstone and feeling exhilarated when I did. Then there were the trips where I wondered why I couldn't find a tombstone a distant cousin told me he found "25 steps from the left rear corner of the main old church building." As BillionGraves says on its website: "No more counting trees, memorizing certain fence posts, or documenting the number of paces to find your loved one."
If you find the tombstone on BillionGraves.com you'll find GPS information that you can take to the cemetery. Using the GPS on your smart phone you'll be able to walk right to the tombstone.
If you're like me, though, you won't look at the GPS until you've surveyed the cemetery the old-fashioned way and tried your cousin's directions. I don't want to take the fun out of exploring and the sense of adventure.
On the other hand, I guess there are enough other mysteries out there for us genealogists to solve.
This system isn't a perfect set-up, and time will tell if designers get the bugs out and address concerns users have. Like so many genealogy projects, this one will succeed only if site creators stay on their toes and if volunteers contribute. Before you head out for your summer trips, check it out at Billiongraves.com. You'll see what a powerful tool your smart phone can be and what a contribution you might make to the research world.
I am continually amazed at how much history we learn during our genealogical pursuits. Did you know that for a period in American history, women actually raised small birds so they could be stuffed and used to decorate hats? I'm not sure I want to find an ancestor who did that, but it is fascinating detail.
It's just one of the amazing tidbits that photo detective Maureen Taylor explores in her latest book, "Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900." This and other Taylor books are on her website at maureentaylor.com/publications.