Review of BillionGraves Tree

Introducing BillionGraves Tree

BillionGraves made a splash on the genealogy scene 5 years ago with their goal to photograph, geotag, and index 1 billion headstones or more. I would argue that they are one of the relative newcomers that has staying power in the industry. (See my earlier review of their BillionGraves Plus features.) At RootsTech last month, BillionGraves introduced a beta version of a brand new service called “BillionGraves Tree!” BillionGraves Tree leverages their partnership with FamilySearch.org to automatically match headstone records with people in your FamilySearch Family Tree!

Let’s review how it works.

Login to FamilySearch

First you login with your FamilySearch account.  BillionGraves will soon link with other online services including FindMyPast and MyHeritage as well.

BillionGraves Looks For Potential Matches

After a few seconds a fan chart appears with gray magnifying glass icons on all the individuals in the chart. The system then quickly goes through each name attempting to find a match in the BillionGraves database. You can track progress above the fan chart as in the image below. Here, I am nearly done with the four generations back from me as the starting person.

Explore the Fan Chart

Once it has analyzed your tree it displays various icons indicating the status of matches for each person. There are 4 possible icons.

  1. Green checkmark = “Complete”
  2. Orange camera = “Waiting for a picture”
  3. Red question mark = “Possible Matches”
  4. Gray magnifying glass = “Needs Research”

You can click on a question mark to look at possible matches. When you do, text appears that says “Our record finder will guide you through a step by step guide to find the final resting place of [person].”

Matching Process

Click the green “Get Started” button and you will be taken to a new screen. Here you are presented side-by-side with information from FamilySearch and BillionGraves. Below the data comparison are two easy-to-read buttons that say “Reject Match” and “Accept Match.” I never used the “Reject Match” button, so I don’t know what that does. However, accepting a match links the two together and automatically adds the BillionGraves record as a Source to your FamilySearch Family Tree! In addition, once people are connected, BillionGraves “syncs automatically in both places.” So, you can make a change in either place (FamilySearch or BillionGraves), and the change will be updated on the partner site.

When you are done you can easily continue to “Match other ancestors” which takes you back to the fan chart view.

The new BillionGraves Tree feature appears to be an extension of the earlier feature they called “Tree Connect” which allowed users to connect the headstone image with the FamilySearch individual and store it as a Source. The advancement here is that it automatically finds the potential matches for you saving you time. Now you can focus just on those that BillionGraves thinks is already a match!

Other features

Just a few bullet points of some other interesting user features:

  • Hover over an individual in the fan chart and a small fan chart icon appears. Click this to make this the “root” person of the fan chart. The chart will refresh and BillionGraves will go and try to find matches for 4 generations back from that individual
  • It also keeps a history of the “starting people” and you can choose them from the droplist in the upper left corner.
  • Stars rate the confidence of each possible match. My grandfather had 4 stars, my great-grandmother had 2.5 stars.
  • Zoom controls: In the lower right corner you can zoom in or out on the fan chart
  • Request a photograph

Maiden Names

At least one blogger reported that BillionGraves was unable to find a match for his grandmother. He assumed it was because the name on the headstone is her married name, and not her maiden name. In my experience, BillionGraves found a match in a similar case but the confidence was lower. I don’t know if they have improved their matching algorithm since his review or not. However, I did not experience a problem with this. I was able to successfully match the three female ancestors I tried.

 

No Match – Request Photograph

An interesting thing happened when I attempted to match my grandfather, E. Robert Jarman. BillionGraves couldn’t find a match. I did this seconds after matching his wife, R. Louise (Crouse) Jarman. They share a headstone, but apparently his information is not indexed properly with that headstone. BillionGraves immediately took me to a new page where I could automatically request that a photo be taken of the headstone. It also allows you to enter notes that might be helpful to the volunteer that will go out and take the photo.

However, it didn’t give me an easy way to simply edit the transcription information on the earlier headstone. The system doesn’t seem to have any connection with the headstone record of his wife. This seems like a good enhancement for BillionGraves to make. The likelihood of his headstone being near his wife’s or other family members is high. This could be an opportunity for BillionGraves to encourage users of the free service to upgrade to BillionGraves Plus and try out the “Nearby Graves” and “Family Plots” features.

For me, I just went back to the fan chart view, clicked on my grandmother’s name again, and opened here headstone record. Once there I clicked “Edit” to add the information about my grandfather. To my surprise, as I scrolled down there under “Nearby Graves” was my grandfather! The record is transcribed correctly! The image is there! Why couldn’t BillionGraves Tree find a match? This is a puzzle I hope BG can answer for me.

Needs Research

I had a few people on my fan chart with the gray “Needs Research” icon. These generally lacked enough information to provide a confident match. One example is my GG-Grandmother, Artie Mullins. FamilySearch has a death date without a location, and no burial information. When I click this individual the message box tells me “We were not able to connect Artie to the BillionGraves database with the information currently available on FamilySearch. Below are records from other partners that may help identify their burial cemetery. Once you find the cemetery, enter it below and we will work to get the photo of the headstone for you.”

It gives me 3 options:

  1. Review the MyHeritage records to find a matching death record
  2. Get help by making a research request on AncestorCloud
  3. Add the burial location

It was somewhat annoying that when I clicked on the “MyHeritage” link that it did not open it in a new tab or window. Instead I left the BG site completely. I would have preferred a new tab, so I could easily come back and make more matches. I did not click the option to make a request on AncestorCloud at this time.

Instead I spent some time researching on my own, because I was genuinely surprised that we didn’t have death or burial location for my great-great grandmother. I found a death certificate on Ancestry.com indicating she died in San Diego, California. However, I don’t yet know why she was there. About 15 minutes of searching the most likely genealogy sites turned up nothing. So, I contact family members to see if anyone has any information about her burial site.

This is already a benefit for me. The service identified missing information in my tree that is fairly recent (she died in 1972). I will definitely keep an eye on this and see what else comes from their auto-matching technology.

Comment below and tell us how you think BillionGraves Tree will help in your research.

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