As a genealogist, I know it is important to give back. Although I do not live near any of my ancestral cemeteries, I have benefited from the kindness of others who have taken pictures of family plots. These acts of kindness are special and have made me happy. Although it is hard to repay these favors directly, one way is by doing the same for others.
Over the years, I have uploaded more than 3,000 photos to websites. Researchers who find the pictures are appreciative, and I realize that is what it is all about -- making others happy. So please get started, and make someone happy by taking photos in your own community. (And they can always be sent to the Banbury Website!)
Here are my ten tips for taking a cemetery survey:
- Set a reasonable goal and start with a small cemetery or a small section within a larger one. Don't set goals you cannot achieve. Many cemeteries seem small but actually contain thousands of burials.
- Do background research. Look for official records and previous surveys. Use them to determine if there are persons buried without stone markers, or if markers are missing. Note changes and corrections, and when you're done, make your own original record.
- Introduce yourself to the management staff and explain your mission. If the cemetery is private, you will need permission. And for all cemeteries, know the rules. Laws can vary by state, county, and country. Carry credentials such as a letter of introduction.
- Before starting, take a small sampling in a well-defined area and create a system. Work in a logical order and decide if it is easier to transcribe at the cemetery, or to read images on the computer.
- Pick a reasonable schedule. Weekends are busy days at cemeteries and you will need to be respectful of ongoing funerals. Avoid the heat of the day and days after rain when the ground may be soft and muddy.
- Be flexible. Avoid areas where the grass needs mowing, and if possible learn the maintenance schedule. Your pictures will look better if the lawn looks trimmed.
- Wear proper attire. Take along a hat, gloves, windbreaker, and comfortable walking shoes. You may prefer long pants to avoid sunburn and bugs or be more comfortable in shorts.
- Don't forget the digital camera and extra batteries. Erase or format your memory card so pictures will appear in order. It is best to include only one section on a card, and if working in a group, a laptop will be useful for downloading at the site.
- Make a supply list. Sunscreen, bug spray, paper towels, a notebook, and a clipboard with an attached pencil are useful. Do not disturb tombstones, but if possible take along a small broom to brush away debris.
- Not everyone in your team will be an accomplished photographer. Some will take crooked pictures or cut off parts of stones.
Explain techniques to get better results.
These are some of my favorites:
- Take the entire stone with the surrounding area and if difficult to read, also take a close-up.
- If a family plot is defined, take a group shot as well. And if two stones are of similar style, but have different names, treat them as a family.
- Look at the back of the stone. You may find additional information there.
- Use your camera to note landmarks, sections, and rows.
- Choose the proper resolution. Low settings allow for more photographs, but higher settings are preferred for hard-to-read stones.
- Higher resolution photos are time-consuming to resize. Some websites require sizes no larger than 250 KB.
- Avoid taking photos with the sun directly behind you. The shadow will be unattractive and you may recognize your own image in the photo. However, if this is the only option, take the photo and return at a later time for retakes.
- Plan your camera position. Stones that are flat to the ground need to be taken from above. However, stones that are positioned vertically will produce better results if taken from a low position. Put your camera at waist level or kneel down.
- Keep your camera in the same horizontal (or vertical) position for each shot. Rotating photos in your software can be time-consuming.
- Make backups before processing your photos and give copies to a team member. If you cannot read a resized one, you will need to return to your original, and if you lose your photos, all of your time will be wasted.