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Cemetery Photos: Tombstones by E-mail

by Steve Paul Johnson, August 20, 1999

The Cemetery Column connects with Paula Easton, List-owner and Coordinator of Cemetery Photos, for an interview about this exciting new project that's taking genealogy by storm.

Paula Easton was like many genealogists, eager to collect photographs of her ancestors' tombstones.  However, those tombstones were thousands of miles away.  Thus began her quest to find a photographer near the cemetery who would be willing to snap some photos.  What came out of it was "Cemetery Photos", a network of photographers willing to help genealogists the world over.

Paula, a resident of British Columbia, a mother and wife, had been involved with genealogy for seven years until she started Cemetery Photos.  With the help of her coordinators, she operates the Cemetery Photos website and mailing list.  She also assists with the British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aid (BCCFA) and the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid (OCFA).

Steve: What is "Cemetery Photos"?
Paula: Cemetery-Photos is a project designed to help people obtain photos of family headstones, monuments, etc. in places that they can not get to themselves.

Steve: How long has Cemetery- Photos been in operation?
Paula: Cemetery-Photos started on May 22, 1999.  Within 3 days of announcing the list I had over 850 people.

Steve: 850 people in three days?  Where did you announce Cemetery- Photos to get that kind of response?
Paula:  I announced it on Ontario-L, yorksgen-l@rootsweb.com (Yorkshire, England), QC-ETANGLO-L@rootsweb.com (Quebec - Eastern Twps.), and the main Roots-L lists.  Then it seems people on those lists just kept spreading it to other lists.

I had never been a list-owner before, so I did not know anything about running a list.  I had checked with other new list-owners and they all said that they had gotten about 50 to 100 people in about 6 months.  So, I thought I would get a chance to slowly learn what I had to do.  Boy was I wrong!  Everyday is still a learning experience.

Steve: How did Cemetery-Photos get started?
Paula: It was started because there were a lot of tombstones I wanted photos of, and could not find anyone to photograph them.  This is why this project's popularity surprised me.  I never thought that I would get so many people so fast since I had such a hard time finding people to take photographs for me.  I soon found out that their were a lot of people out there wanting the same thing and having the same problem.

Steve: If I need a photograph of a grave, how do I find a volunteer?
Paula: You would use the link, "Search for a Volunteer" on the main page of our website.  That link will take you to a page that lists all of the locations that we currently have volunteers for.  You then click on the Country you need photos in.  The Canadian link will take you to a page that then lists all the Provinces and the USA link will take you to a page that lists all the States.  The rest of the links take you right into the country.

To make it easier we try to keep the pages sorted by city and then county.  So you would look down the list for the for the city/town you need.  If the city is not listed then you go down further and see if anyone is covering the county that the city is in.

Steve: Is the field limited to just Canada and the United States?
Paula: No, we have Australia including Norfolk Island, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, UK -England, Scotland, Wales.  We still need some volunteers in Ireland! And we list Puerto Rico separate from the US under Caribbean.

Steve: With volunteers in several countries, is there ever a language barrier problem?
Paula: Not yet.  But I think only English speaking people have signed up for the project.  I would like to be able to expand beyond that someday.

Steve: How do the website and mailing list work together?
Paula: You really could not have one without the other.  It was quite obvious from the start that a website was going to be needed.  We were putting out about 200 to 300 messages a day in the first week or so.  No one could keep up with the mail.   It was crazy!  There was just no way that we could have kept up that kind of mail and kept people on the list.

Now that things are on a more even tempo the list is more of an aid to the website.  If you can't find a volunteer on the site it is suggested that you send a message to the list.  Not everyone on the list volunteers on a full time basis, so they are not on the website.  They just watch the list for people who may need help in their area.

Steve: Do volunteers work for free, or do they charge fees?
Paula: Some ask to be reimbursed for their costs.  Others do it for free.  The only thing we allow the volunteers to charge for is the film, film developing and postage.  If they do some extra research at a library or something then we also allow for photocopies.  We do not allow people to charge for gas, mileage, wear and tear on camera etc.  These things are just part of volunteering.

The reason we allow for reimbursement is some people are on fixed incomes and don't have the extra money to spend on film etc.  Most people don't mind paying a little to have photos done as if they had done it themselves it would have cost them the money anyway.

Also, this way I feel we get coverage in areas we may otherwise not.

Steve: Are volunteers ever unsuccessful in locating a cemetery or grave?
Paula: Yes.  Sometimes stones have just been neglected to long.  Sometimes they have been the victim of vandals and sometimes the cemetery has been moved and the stones have not been replaced. 

Vandalism is one of the biggest reasons that this project is probably getting so much attention from people right now.  It is fine to be able to read a transcript that was done a few years ago but it is not the same as a photo.  There has been so much lately on the destruction of headstones that I think a lot of people want to get photos before something happens to a loved ones stone.  It is very sad!

Steve:  Who are the people that assist you with Cemetery-Photos?
Paula:  Belinda Savadge came forward to build the website.  She put in a lot of long hours.  We have had many compliments on the site and I must agree.  She has done a great job!  Plus, it was done in a very short time. 

Belinda and another person, Bill Covey, were also collecting all the names of people who were volunteering.  Making time for me to deal with the day to day things of running such a fast growing list.

I also now have three coordinators: Lynn Bailey, Karen Dyer, and Margie Glenn.  They take all the new volunteers and get their information ready for me to upload it to the website.  They are also kept quite busy.  In just the past month there has been just over 400 new volunteers and we have also been doing updates to the database which has kept them busy.  They are really the backbone of the whole database.  I would not be able to do this alone, that is for sure!

Steve: What are the "day to day things" you do?
Paula:  I deal with bounces, people who need help subscribing and unsubscribing from the mail list, send thank you letters to new volunteers, send any new volunteers information out to the coordinators, then update the database when I get the files back from the coordinators, I make corrections to the database as they come in.  If there are too many corrections, I send them out to the coordinators.  I answer general inquiries about the site and lately I have also been creating the new pages that have been needed for the website.

Steve: How difficult was it to get the project going?
Paula: The whole project has not been easy from day one.  Belinda had just completed the website when GeoCities and Yahoo merged.  We somehow got locked out of that site and it also became damaged in that merger.  We tried for about a week to contact GeoCities to help us but finally had to just move the site.  There are about 80 pages plus graphics, etc.  We were not very happy when we had to move the site but we did it.  That took about a week of working everyday on the site, correcting links etc.

I must say for the most part our coordinators have been wonderful.  They have been through a lot and have stuck by us all the way.

Steve: How did you recruit your coordinators?
Paula: I put out a plea for help! LOL  I just asked on the list if there was anyone on the list that would be interested in being a coordinator.  I was lucky enough to get the three I mentioned.

Steve: What future do you see for Cemetery-Photos by next May?  Next five years?
Paula: By next May I would like to see a few new Countries added and more volunteers in areas we don't have many right now.  Ireland comes to mind.  So many of us want photos from Ireland but we can't seem to find any volunteers.

Within the next five years, I would like to see us carry a database of photos in which people are willing to share.  What I mean is like an online index of photos taken and where you can get a copy.  This can't be done until we can build a search engine.  Neither myself or Belinda know how to do this.  So until we can learn or find a kind person to do it for us this will have to wait.

Steve: Earlier you said you had had a hard time finding someone to take some photographs for you.  Did you ever find someone?
Paula: I have used 4 volunteers from the list so far.  But I still have areas of Ontario, the Shetland Islands, England and Ireland that I would like some photos, but we have not had any volunteers come forward from those areas.  So, to answer the question - sort of! 

- Steve Paul Johnson [steve@cleardigitalmedia.com]

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

Visit the Cemetery Photos website at: [http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pines/2318/]

Paula Easton can be reached at: [gentech@uniserve.com].

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