My first experiences as an active gravehunter

Whenever I find the time I open billiongraves.com and help to transcribe the headstones. I am more active on other crowdsourcing projects but whenever I need a break of “awful ancient” handwriting, I turn to this one.

For those of you who are not familiar with billiongraves.com there is also a request board where you can place a search on a particular cemetary.

The first time I saw a request for a cemetary in my area, just 11 km away. And I thought “well, why not?”.

I put the information requested in my notes, grabbed my iPhone and headed to the cemetary of Frankfurt Zeilsheim.

I looked for a parking space when I arrived at the cemetary and after taking a long walk into the wrong direction, I finally found the entry.

At first I thought about just walking up and down the aisles to find the graves but after checking the cemetary website and seeing that there are 2300 graves I quickly decided otherwise.

At the pinboard I found the contact details for the administration and I called the given number. I reached a very nice and very helpful gentleman from the city administration. On the phone he saw me through the cemetary (“okay, you have the big stone crucifix in your back, now walk right and it should be the 9th grave on the left”).

I didn’t expect him to be so helpful and almost enthusiastic. When we couldn’t find the second grave immediately, he didn’t want to give up. He went on looking and searching until we found it!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t fulfill the request 100%. I found the family names but not the exact given names. And one grave wasn’t even present anymore – in Germany, the standard period for a grave is 20 years after the last corps has been buried. It can be prolongued but this has to be done actively. It doesn’t happen automatically.

I asked him if it would be okay if I took pictures of the graves on the cemetary. He sounded a bit puzzled as if he couldn’t understand why someone would do a thing like that. But when I explained the idea of the project, he said “yes sure, go on”. So I started at the entry, got out the smartphone and started taking pictures.

It felt a bit odd, I have to admit. The idea to use tombstones for genealogy is not that common in Germany yet. It was a bit like invading private space.

There were quite a few visitors this afternoon and they were giving me some piqued looks. I just waited for one of them coming up to me requesting to know what I am doing there. But nobody did.

I took pictures until the daylight faded, uploaded them to the site and headed back home. And those definetly won’t be my last one’s.

So, since today I am an ACTIVE contributor ;)

 

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