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Ancestor Gravesite Project

by Steve Paul Johnson, March 22, 2000

Photobases are increasingly becoming popular as they combine photographic information with textual data. The Ancestor Gravesite Project is among the first of such web sites to reach genealogists.

The Ancestor Gravesite Project [http://www.ancestorgraves.com] is a web site where people can enter the name of someone who has since passed away and view their tombstone or grave marker along with identifying information, and the name of the cemetery. Photographs and information are provided by visitors to the site. Access is free.

I visited the site and ran some test searches. I entered some common surnames into their search engine and got back results very quickly. The results show all the persons in the database with a matching surname, along with the cemetery location and country.

Screenshot of a photo record. Click to enlarge

I clicked on one of the names and the photograph and information came up very quickly. The photographs are stored in JPEG format and tend to range from 20K to 60K in file size, so they should load in fast for most people. Information presented includes the name and location of the cemetery, the tombstone inscription, and the name and e-mail of the submitter.

In addition to searching by surname, the site allows you to filter by state or country, which will become necessary when thousands of records of the same surname are in the database. As of this writing, the database contains just over 2,000 records with about 5 to 10 records being added each week.

People wishing to submit a photo can do so by filling out the submission form. The form asks for the full name of the interred, along with the name and location of the cemetery, military info, tombstone inscription, and the submitter's name and e-mail. Once the information is entered, a second page is displayed providing instructions on how to send the photo. You are instructed to attach the photo to an e-mail. You are also given a tracking number and asked to enter the number into the subject line. I entered a record and photo for Earl C. Kelso, a tombstone I found at Calico Cemetery in California.

Screen shot of the submission form. Click to enlarge.

Photos are accepted for all cemeteries worldwide, though the form limits you to the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany. The form also provides a drop-down list for the states and provinces, and requires you to select from the list. Apparently other countries will be added on a per-request basis.

The project started in August of 1999 by Sandy Landrum-Kelly. Prior to then, she had maintained a book of tombstone photographs that she collected from her years of cemetery visits and came up with the idea of publishing those photos on the Internet so that others can sort through them and find out if they are related to her. She created the web site and her husband did all the back-end programming. Since then, Sandy was able to obtain tombstone photos from her cousins and added them to the site. Word of the web site spread around, and people asked Sandy if she could publish their photos too.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Sandy and her husband are the sole owners of the Ancestor Graves Project. Sandy designs the web site, edits the photos, and enters the data, while her husband does all the programming. Jim Elsenbeck at Fastlanta, Inc. provided them with all tools they needed to get the site up and running. The Project is not part of any other parent organization.

Before there was a submission form, the photos and information were e-mailed to her. But the volume of information coming in was increasing so fast that she had to come up with better way to handle it. Replies Sandy, "At first everyone was just sending both data and photos where I would then type in the gravesite information and edit the grave photo. It was a good method at first, but we soon realized that we would have to come up with a better way to accommodate the increasing amount that we were getting. Since adding the form, it has become much quicker for everyone."

The Project is also a "sister-site" to Cemetery Photos. Paula Easton of Cemetery Photos learned of the web site and contacted Sandy. The two web sites now cross promote each other's services. Paula had received requests from her visitors to publish actual photographs, while Sandy received requests to publish information without photographs. They now refer these requests to one another.

Since it's inception, the Project has grown quickly. "Funny thing was I was not prepared for all of the photos that started coming my way after the word spread!" says Sandy. "It was overwhelming at first, but I still wanted to make it work so I stuck to it, making changes along the way to accommodate everyone who wanted to contribute."

The popularity of photobases (photograph databases) has been growing. With diskspace getting cheaper by the month, it is becoming more feasible to build databases that store hundreds of thousands of photos. In February 2000, Genealogy.com jumped on the bandwagon with its Virtual Cemetery, very much like the Ancestor Graves Project. Other organizations are photographing census pages and making the images available online.

When asked what plans she has for the Ancestor Graves Project, Sandy replies, "To just keep our site available for researchers and hopefully help them find a long lost ancestor and even some living relatives. We enjoy feedback from visitors and it's their suggestions and opinions that shape the web site. We want it to be something that is going to be helpful to genealogists so if they tell us that something needs to be done to make the site easier to navigate we try to accommodate them. We originally had a message board on the site when we first started, so we would like to make that available again this year."

- Steve Paul Johnson

Steve is the editor of The Cemetery Column, and is webmaster of Cemetery Records Online.

Visit the Ancestor Gravesite Project at [http://www.ancestorgraves.com]

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