By: Zane Ermine
Hello everyone! My name is Zane Ermine and I’m a second year graduate student of the Applied Archaeology program. Gen had originally asked me to write a post about what I had done this summer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get away from work for a long enough period, so I didn’t really have time for anything archaeology related. So, I’ve decided to share a hobby of mine – something related to historic preservation in which my dad and I have been volunteering our time for the last 5 or so years.
My dad and I take pictures of tombstones. It sounds weird when you put it bluntly like that, but there’s a legitimate reason for it – genealogy. The pictures are taken for a group called BillionGraves; their purpose is to allow individuals to easily find their loved one’s headstones and graves through the internet. It has the secondary (but in my opinion, significantly more important) function of recording cemetery data for the longevity and digitalization of cemetery records.
BillionGraves has a model similar to Find-A-Grave, the popular cemetery search engine that’s been around for years. Where they differ is that BillionGraves is trying to document entire cemeteries with GPS coordinates, as well as a photo for each individual burial. After the photos are uploaded, other volunteers transcribe the information carved onto the stone so that it becomes searchable.
It can be hard to understand the importance of this kind of documentation until you are in a cemetery where most of the headstones are unreadable from the wear of time. Headstones have been particularly affected in SW PA due to industrialization and acid rain. Losing a headstone is akin to losing an entire person – but somehow it happens all the time. Cemeteries overgrow, stones weather, and people forget. It’s a sad truth, but with photographs and written records, some of the loss can be mitigated.
Since I’ve started photographing for the site, I’ve taken 59,954 pictures in 401 cemeteries across 9 states. I don’t know how many entire cemeteries we’ve taken, but it’s definitely over 100 at this point.
My family has been in the monument industry for over 100 years – I grew up in cemeteries, and through the family business, I spend a lot of time in cemeteries. It’s amazing to see all the different levels of craftsmanship, the different stone materials, and how the styles have evolved over the years – and through a process like this, I can experience every stone in a cemetery individually. It’s something I thoroughly enjoy while also taking comfort in knowing that the information can be genuinely useful in the long run.
I’m going to leave you with some of the most famous headstones I’ve personally taken for the site. If anyone has any questions, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.