MyHeritage Family Digitizes an Entire Cemetery

Posted March 13, 2014 by Amanda | No Comment

Geni and our parent company, MyHeritage, recently announced a global initiative with BillionGraves to digitally preserve the world’s cemeteries. This past Sunday, our good friends at MyHeritage headquarters headed out to the Segula Cemetery in Petah Tikva, Israel to digitize gravestones using the BillionGraves mobile app. With 80 eager MyHeritage employees out in full force, the team got a real hands-on experience using the app and came away from the experience with some great ideas to improve the app and create best practices to help further efforts to digitize cemeteries around the world.

The MyHeritage team at Segula Cemetery

Gravestones play a key role in genealogy research and helps to provide insight into our family history. Unfortunately, as time passes, the gravestones will begin to wear with age, endangering the valuable information found on them. This is why it is vital to digitally preserve these headstones now. However, most of the world’s cemeteries have not been systematically documented, nor has their information been made available online. This global initiative will not only help preserve this information for generations to come, but also give people all around the world access to gravestones that they may not be able to ever reach in person.

The Segula Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Israel. It was established in 1888, only ten years after the founding of Petah Tikva itself. Many founders of the state of Israel are buried there, making it very special to the history of the country. Due to the size and age of the cemetery, a large portion of the Israeli population will have an ancestor in Segula.

The team started with a group practice session, led by Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage Founder and CEO, to make sure that everyone was proficient with the app.

The group then split into pairs and headed to their assigned areas or “zones” in the cemetery. Maps were distributed so everyone knew exactly where they were going.

Satellite map of the Segula Cemetery divided into zones

With their smart phones in hand, the 80 MyHeritage employees set off on the fun-filled excursion to systematically photograph the headstones of the Segula Cemetery.

The gravestones contained remarkable information about the deceased, including dates of birth and death, the names of parents and the place of origin. Some even had photos, handwritten poems and other physical objects attached to them.

Everyone did their best to take the highest quality photos and it was of no surprise that some graves needed a little clean up. At times they had to move some branches, temporarily move stones, clean dirty surfaces and ensure proper lighting to get the best possible shot. They found that sometimes it was not always easy to capture the entire gravestone and still have the text legible. To fix this, the team used the very important image-linking feature in the BillionGraves app, which makes it easy to take multiple photos and link them together within the same record. This is especially helpful when there is text on both the standing stone and the bottom stone, and where a husband and wife have graves together.

MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet photographing gravestones

In the 3 hours spent at the cemetery, the team was able to capture 51,000 gravestone photos. Each employee averaged 700 photos, approximately 280 photos per hour. Some employees took over 1000 photos! The team covered more than 72% of the entire Segula Cemetery and marked the remaining parts to be photographed on a later date.

The MyHeritage team found this to be an incredibly rewarding experience and had a great time working together. With excellent motivation and energy, the team helped digitize gravestone records for hundreds of thousands of people in Israel and around the world who have ancestors buried in the Segula Cemetery. The project was an incredible success and everyone felt fortunate to be able to help preserve this information for future generations.

Here’s a selection of photos from the team in action:

Using the BillionGraves app, anyone can easily photograph and document gravestones. And the best part, the app preserves the exact GPS coordinates of every gravestone! This helpful feature allows others to locate and visit or re-photograph the gravestone. Remember, photographing gravestones is only half the battle. Volunteers can also transcribe the gravestones so others can search them for their relatives. All of these records will be available for free on BillionGraves’ website, and SuperSearch™, MyHeritage’s search engine for historical records. You will be automatically notified of new Record Matches whenever these gravestone records match the profiles in your family tree. They can also be easily accessed through the “Research this Person” link found on your Geni profiles.

We invite you to participate in this global project and help us digitally preserve the world’s cemeteries for generations to come. Click here to join our global initiative, then visit the BillionGraves Team Portal on Geni to collaborate with other Geni volunteers, ask questions and share your tips and experiences. You too can organize your own cemetery field day with your family, friends and other local volunteers. Don’t have a smartphone and still want to help? You can play a vital role in connecting the world to these gravestones. Register for free now and start transcribing gravestones to help others find them.

This is truly an exciting global, non-profit venture and another great way the Geni community can contribute to the preservation of our shared family heritage. Good luck and have fun!

Click here to join the BillionGraves global initiative now

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

See all posts by