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About an Eagle Scout Project

My oldest - a self portraite on the day we photographed the cemetery.  Would someone take that boy in for a haircut already?  ;)
My oldest – a self portrait on the day we photographed the cemetery. Would someone take that boy in for a haircut already? 😉

In October, my oldest son started his Eagle Scout Project.  Guess what?!  He chose to photograph a local cemetery and upload the photos to findagrave.  Does that just make your genealogy-loving-heart swoon or what?

We chose a very close cemetery.  His plan was pretty simple.  Hold two separate events – one to photograph the cemetery and a second to work on uploading the photos to findagrave.  We knew there would be more photos left over so we made plans for those as well.

It was GREAT!

The day we started our project, the stats for the cemetery on findagrave were 10,568 memorials, 74% photographed.

The day we compiled our data, we could report:

We were able to take 6,173 photos.  We were able to go through 3,832 photos.
Of those photos:
1,090 were added to existing memorial pages.
175 new memorial pages were created and photos added.
132 duplicate photos were added because the photo on the page was hard to read and ours was better.
5 photos were needed but couldn’t be added because there were already five photos on that memorial page.
2,430 photos were not needed.

167.25 total hours

After we turned in his completed paperwork, many individual volunteers have continued to go through the photos.  Many more photos have been added and memorials created.  We still have a few hundred photos to go, but those are being cared for by volunteers.

The day his project was approved, the cemetery stats on findagrave were 10,755 interments, 81% photographed.  We are so happy to have helped bump up both of those numbers.

Shortly before Christmas, my son went before the Eagle Scout Board and his project and application to be an Eagle Scout were approved.  So exciting!

It was a great project and one very close to my own heart.



For those who may come across this and want more details to help other future Eagle Scouters, I will elaborate on each phase of the project and share a few tips.


  • We selected our cemetery by proximity, it was the closest to our home.  We could see that much of it was photographed but we chose it anyway knowing that adding more photos and memorial pages would still be valuable and that a cemetery close by would be easier for us to manage.
  • We chose a “photograph everything possible” approach for the photographing day as there is no simple way to determine what needs to be photographed.  I would definitely do it this way again.
  • My son wrote his project proposal and it was approved.  He didn’t specify any numbers except for a total number of hours.  Unfortunately, he typo-ed or something and the number that was approved was 150 hours!  Holy cow.  Somehow I missed that until we were about to type up the final project workbook.  Thankfully we were almost there anyway and got some volunteers to do some more uploading to push us over the 150 mark.  My advice here?  Don’t commit to a number of hours, photos, or uploads because they hold you to what you propose.  Do commit to a number of events – i.e. one session of photographing, one session of uploading or something like that.
  • My son drove through the cemetery and familiarized himself with the different sections, roughly how many rows per section and headstones per row.  He noticed which sections had mostly flat stones etc.
  • We planned one day for photographing and a second day for uploading.
  • We made a flyer for our photographing day.
  • We scheduled our church building for our uploading day and arranged for adult volunteer helpers who could bring laptops.
  • We tried MANY times to contact the sexton of the cemetery to ask permission to complete our project.  We were unsuccessful.  It wasn’t a problem for us, but each area is different so be sure to get approval if you can.  The sexton was actually working in the cemetery that day and asked us how it was going and was delighted we were working on it.

Photographing Day

  • This day was announced in church, with my son’s scout group, and at the local family history center.  We had volunteers from each of these efforts.
  • We planned for a 3 hour window and explained on the flyer that volunteers could arrive anytime during that window.  The back of the flyer had a map of the cemetery.  The front explained the project, the date and time and included this information:
    • Arrive anytime during those hours and help out for any length of time that works for your schedule.
      Find (my kiddo’s name here) in the center of the cemetery (see map on back) to sign in and receive instructions.
      Please bring something to take pictures with.
      If you bring a camera with an SD card, we will download the photos to our computer before you leave the cemetery.
      If you bring another type of device to take pictures, it needs to have the ability to email the photos to (my kiddo’s name here) at (my son’s just-for-this-project email address).
      If you would like to help but don’t have a camera or device that will work, let (my kiddo’s name here) know ahead of time and he will have a device for you to use that day.
      All helpers welcome & appreciated!
  • My son and I arrived 40 minutes early.  We drove the cemetery and looked for signs of a funeral and saw none.  We set up a table in the center of the cemetery with four chairs.  We had a clipboard for volunteers to sign-in, sign-out, record their total time spent, number of photos taken, email address and camera type.  We had pens, extra maps, water bottles, snacks, and a first aid kit.  My son selected the first four sections of the cemetery we would photograph and placed sprinkler flags at the end of each row in those sections.  The flags were laying on their side to be posted when the row was photographed.  This turned out to be such a great help throughout the day.  It made communication and completion a snap.  We bought 100 flags from a local sprinkler company for about $11 – worth every penny.
  • When volunteers arrived, my son had them sign in and gave the following instructions:
    • He thanked them for supporting his project.  He directed them to the area of the cemetery in which we were currently working.  He asked them to photograph all sides of every memorial.  He explained that photos should be close up with minimal white space.  He asked that volunteers be respectful of any items placed on or near headstones.  If they needed to be moved to take the photo to be sure to then put them back just as they were.  He explained that gently brushing off grass clippings or other yard waste was fine, but please use your hands.  Volunteers were asked to start at the south end of a row that hadn’t yet been photographed, photograph everything in that row including any headstones in between rows (better twice than not at all) and then when they reached the north end of the row they would post the sprinkler flag that was laying there.  The flags indicated to volunteers that the row was completely photographed.  He also explained that when an entire section was complete, a boy scout would remove the flags from the ends of the rows and post a group of three flags in the northwest corner indicating the entire section was complete.  His last request was that the volunteer return and sign out when they were finished.
  • I was tech support that day.  I had my laptop and downloaded photos from SD cards and idevices before volunteers left the cemetery.  We had a scout leader donate 7 iphone 5s for use that day.  He is the VP at a local company and had access to the phones because the company had just replaced them for iphone 6s with a handful of employees.  The phones were charged and empty.  We checked them out to volunteers who didn’t have a device or camera.  If I were to repeat this project in the future, I would do this again and try to round up even more devices.  This made downloading so much easier as I was able to take them home and do it later that day.  We had three volunteers who chose to share their photos after the event; three volunteers who used devices I could not download from and we had to work that out later; the remaining volunteers were easy to work with and we got the photos that day before they left.  The best photos came from actual digital cameras but they were often too big and had to be cropped during the uploading portion of our project.  The idevice photos would often turn the wrong direction and had to be manipulated before uploading so neither was perfect.
  • My son had one additional job that morning that he shared with his younger boy scout brother.  They used their long-boards to travel the cemetery quickly to check on volunteers, track progress, and move flags from a completed section to the next section we would be photographing.  I was not at all comfortable with their idea of traveling this way as I felt it wasn’t very respectful.  But we talked through their idea and I reminded them to ride very respectfully – straight line, no wild tricks or antics, no loudness, this was all about quick travel, not fun.  I’m so glad I supported their idea, it made the day much better that they could travel around so quickly.  They were able to get back to the center and communicate, check on volunteers, get answers to questions, provide needed supplies, all in a very timely manner.  It made the day better for everyone.
  • We had a nice stream of volunteers throughout our 3 hour window.  I would definitely recommend this method.  Some volunteers had only 40 minutes to give, others had up to 3 hours.  In all he had 51.3 hours and 29 volunteers arriving and leaving at times that worked for them and 6,173 photos taken.
  • My son and I took turns being at the table.  One of us was there at all times while the other was photographing a row within sight of the table, moving flags, helping volunteers and so on.

Uploading/Downloading/Preparing Photos

  • My son asked me to tackle this aspect of his project.  It was definitely the most challenging.  I downloaded everything to my computer and then backed it up on my external hard drive.  I had one main folder and then sub folders that I named based on who took the photos.  This wasn’t to give them credit but to help me and the way I think.  I also created a folder on flickr as a second back up.  Then I broke the photos into groups of 100 or 200 to be burned to CDs or DVDs for the uploading activity.  I also created about 10 digital groups of photos on a thumb drive.  That turned out to be really important as many volunteers brought smaller chromebooks that don’t take a disc.

One More Thing

  • My son does not like making announcements, speaking in front of large groups, giving directions or anything like that.  We knew it was important that he provide the instructions at our Uploading night so we created a video with all the instructions our volunteers would need.

Uploading Night

  • This was planned for the Wednesday night following our Saturday morning photographing day.  We scheduled our local church building and it was the activity for the Young Men aged 12-18 that week.  We provided pizza and skittles.  The activity started at 6:30.  Once enough boys had arrived, we served pizza and played the video.  They ate and watched.  The timing was pretty perfect.  We met in a large room very close to the restrooms so the boys could wash their hands before starting.
  • A few things to note:
    • We once again had sign-in sheets to track our volunteers and the time they spent.  This is needed for the finalized workbook.
    • We had pens and half-sheet forms for our volunteers to tally the number of photos they went through and if they were: 1- not needed, 2- added to an existing memorial page, 3- a memorial page was created and the photo was added, 4- a duplicate photo added because ours was significantly better.
    • Not all volunteers produce alike.  Some catch on quickly and get a lot done, others barely accomplish anything.  However, their hours count exactly the same and it’s a good experience for everyone.  Just don’t expect a lot and be grateful for what you get.  🙂
    • Having CDs, DVDs, and digital files on a thumb drive met every computer need we had.
    • We had a few more boys than computers and many boys handled this well and worked in teams, a few did not and were a bit of a distraction.  We had a much larger turn-out than we anticipated.  We had 30 volunteers who spent 47.6 hours going through photos.  I can’t find the tally sheets from that night but I remember thinking that I was able to go through more photos in 2 hours than all 30 volunteers combined were able to go through in 2 hours.

The Remaining Photos

  • The remaining photos have been worked on by myself and several other genealogist volunteers from our local family history center.  We are still working through the last few hundred photos.  My son was still demonstrating leadership in this part of the project because he included his instructional video on each disc, communicated with these volunteers and delivered/picked up the discs.

A Few Last Thoughts

  • Project approval in each phase went well.  I have heard that where we live, any project that supports Family History or Genealogy seems to be pretty easily approved.
  • The trickiest part of planning was figuring out who to have sign as the beneficiary.  The true beneficiary is whomever comes across the photos and needs them in their genealogical research.  We tried to get the signature of the sexton of the cemetery but couldn’t ever track him down.  We settled on getting the signature of a local LDS Bishop as the project benefits genealogy researchers and the LDS church encourages it’s members to learn about their ancestors and work on their family history.  This worked for us.
  • We didn’t have volunteers sign any kind of release to use their photos.  This should probably be done but since we were very clear on our intent to post all needed photos to findagrave we didn’t worry about having a release form.  You may want to consider using one.
  • If one of my younger sons were to choose this project in the future, I would make one big change.  I would seek out a local historical society or family history center that was willing to deal with going through the photos and uploading them.  I would have my son plan to photograph the cemetery and organize the photos afterward onto whatever media item the next group of volunteers preferred and then call it good.  The scouts helped on the uploading night.  We got through some photos.  They had a good experience.  I think any time spent on Family History is great for our youth.  However, it was a lot of continuing work to keep getting photos to volunteers and track their work.  Far beyond what is required for an Eagle Project.  Plus, it’s a bit outside of the skill set of most young men of this age and more of the end parts fell to me to support more heavily than I would have liked.  The photographing portion is very boy scout friendly.  They can understand, explain, direct, and help with every part of that.  The photo organization and tracking of which photos are complete, who has discs, what is left and so on, is a bit beyond most boys scouts way of thinking.

24 thoughts on “About an Eagle Scout Project”

  1. Thank you (your kiddo’s name here) for choosing to photograph a local cemetery and upload the photos to findagrave for your Eagle Scout Project. From everything your Mom wrote it must have been a gigantic project. You made her proud!

  2. This is great, good job for him! I love it when all of the hard work of parenting shows up and you can see you’re doing something so right!! Excellent post and thank you for the “how to” as well:)

  3. As a FndAGrave member I extend heartfelt thanks to you, your son and all the volunteers. Thanks to people like you who created memorials and provided photos, my own interest in genealogy started. BTW, I think your son’s hairstyle is cute! Maybe a trim but it’s a popular style I see in my area, too!

    1. Thank you EmilyAnn. It was a great project to participate with. I love sharing my time with others but this was one gift of my time that felt especially worthwhile. I’ll have to tell my son you approve of his hair – he loves it to be nice an tall. 🙂

  4. Great project. Big thanks to your son. Find A Grave is a fantastic resource. The work you and your son have done will be a great help to many in their family history research.

  5. My son is only starting his 2nd year in boy scouts, so he has some time to decide on his project if he gets there. I actually thought I might suggest just this kind of project when the time came – what a wonderful amount of detail in your post! *saving for later*

    Thanks – and congratulations to your son!

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