“Help us find the ending to every family story.” This is the sentiment behind Find A Grave Community Days, an event in which genealogists and taphophiles everywhere are encouraged to “Help preserve your local cemetery.”
I hope you’ll join the cause! It’s an amazing way to pay it forward for any help you’ve received researching your family history.
Here are 10 steps to take better headstone pictures for Find A Grave Community Days:
1.) Choose a cemetery that calls to you in some way and one in which you feel safe. There are garden cemeteries, military cemeteries, family cemeteries, rural or urban cemeteries, and cemeteries desperately in need of tender loving care. My favorites tend to be historic with rolling hills, old architecture and mature trees like Rosehill and Oak Woods in Chicago, Bluff City in Elgin, and Fort Snelling, St Mary’s and Lakewood in Minneapolis.
2.) Check the Find A Grave stats. What percentage of the memorials are already photographed? You’ll also want to match the number of memorials (called interments on Find A Grave) to the number of interments (actual burials in the cemetery).
You can find the number of interments on the cemetery’s web site or by calling the cemetery office. Remember the % photographed is of the memorials added to Find A Grave, not the number of actual interments (burials) at the cemetery.
3.) Prepare for your visit before you head out the door. Consider putting a cemetery kit together. Do you have extra batteries? Is your phone fully charged? Be sure to pack water so you stay hydrated. And don’t forget to print a list of photo requests at Find A Grave. Hint – requests that include burial location information will be the easiest to fill.
4.) Arrive early or go late – when the sun isn’t directly overhead. To avoid casting shadows, photograph west facing headstones in the morning and east facing headstones in the afternoon. Head for shaded areas in the middle of the day.
5.) Park nearby but out of the way. You’ll want to be close to your vehicle to retrieve forgotten items or re-hydrate, but you don’t want your car to sneak into your pictures.
6.) Take pictures of the cemetery entrance signs and any signs marking the sections you visit.
7.) Plot your route around the section so you don’t retrace your steps and duplicate your efforts. I like to start at a corner and walk back and forth along the rows.
8.) Step back before shooting to see the bigger picture. Are there large family markers nears the individual stones? Family photos are particularly helpful to genealogists searching Find A Grave for missing ancestors.
9.) Look through your viewfinder or at your digital screen. Have you captured the entire headstone? It’s easy to lop off a corner or miss a spire on the top.
Is your angle the best for capturing all the information provided on each headstone? Sometimes straight-on shots are best, other times slightly-off to the side is better.
Rinse and repeat that last step. Do you see yourself reflected in the headstone? Are your feet showing at the bottom of the picture? Some things are easy to photo-shop out, others are impossible to correct.
10.) Use Windows 10, Photoshop, or the free editing program Pixlr (I like Pixlr Express) to straighten, crop or enhance your images. I love the “retouch” feature on Windows 10; it can be an effective tool for removing goose droppings.
Now that you’ve got some great shots – it’s time to upload your headstone pictures to Find A Grave.
PS. It’s super easy to add pictures to Find A Grave, just follow the instructions on the link above. But if you find you need a hand, please let me know. I’m always happy to help!