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GREEN VALLEY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY

From the Green Valley News, Sunday November 21 2010, page C3


Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Talking Tombstones, What Next?

Imagine what it would be like to walk through a cemetery and listen to your ancestor's tombstone tell you the story of his life? Sounds like science fiction? No, today's reality.

Glenn Toothman, a Waynesburg, Penn. resident has devised an electronic tool called the Memory Medallion that utilizes computer technology to audibly speak from a tombstone. When he first conceived the idea, it was beyond the realm of possibility. After waiting a few years, however, technology made it possible. Funeral industry executives were skeptical at first, but no longer.

In 1999 Toothman's father, a retired judge, commented to his son, ". . . I hate to think that life comes down to this dash between the birth and death dates on a tombstone." He urged his son, then the district attorney for Greene County and a frustrated electronical engineer, to think of a way to honor the deceased.

Toothman says the solution came to him in a dream. He saw himself walking through a cemetery holding a device that touched the tombstones and displayed photos of his family. Now all he had to do find a way to replace the dash with a high-tech dot that could direct a cell phone to websites and video about the deceased.

He spent about a month in his basement every evening tinkering with the idea until he had his first prototype. In 2001, he applied for and secured a $300,000 grant from Innovation Works, a nonprofit venture capital firm that provides funding for startups.

While users formerly had to lug a laptop to the cemetery to download the information, the recent invention of the smart phone has been a godsend. With a USB connection users can now link to online genealogy sources and customized links, such as a personal Facebook page. A fourth link was introduced recently and is available for corporate sponsorship.

A standard Memory Medallion remembrance package costs $225 and includes a barcode medallion for the grave site, a website of eight photos with a 1,000-word story and a printed biography. Family members can even record a video about the deceased to play on a smart phone by scanning a barcode (QR code.) Candice Buchanan, a certified genealogist on staff, sets up the page up for a family.

When you purchase the product you receive a username and password to access the online tools and begin building your medallion story. A model template is provided to help you. The information can be edited by the user at any time, and only the user decides what to display or say on the medallion. You can even link to your family tree on Ancestry.com.

During its first year Memory Medallion made about 50 sales. Last year saw a record 5,000 sales with 200% growth expected in the coming year. To find out more about the Memory Medallion call the company's toll free number, (877) 418-8107.or visit their website at http://www.memorymedallion.com/.

Toothman, resigned his job as district attorney in 2001 to devote his time to the Memory Medallion, and expects to make more money in his new job than in his old one by 2011. He views the project as a chance to help his depressed community economically and his fellow man spiritually. His father died in 2001 but not before he had seen the first Memory Medallion.

After completing this article, I became aware of another similar product, the Memorial Footprint by Timeless Footprints, www.timelessfootsteps.com. If interested you may compare the features of both products on their websites. Cemeteries may one day be as noisy as libraries have become today. What is the world coming to?


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