SYCAMORE – Unlike most 14-year-olds, Sycamore Boy Scout John Lerohl plans to spend the morning at a cemetery.
Ohio Grove Cemetery in Sycamore, to be exact.
As part of Lerohl’s Eagle Scout project, he and a group of volunteers expect to spend more than two hours today cleaning and photographing gravestones. The photographs eventually will be submitted to an international genealogical research website, billiongraves.com.
Lerohl is coordinating the event as a way to help others who are interested in genealogy.
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “It makes me feel good, because I know I’m making a difference for people to search for genealogy.”
Searching for gravestones is relatively easy on billiongraves.com. Visitors can click on the “search” option on the homepage and look for ancestors from all across the world. The database is even searchable by cemetery.
Lerohl will photograph gravestones with a smartphone using the free BillionGraves app. Once the picture is taken, its GPS location is tracked on the phone, and the photo automatically is uploaded to the website.
Lerohl will then transcribe information about the deceased person, including date of birth, date of death and the name of the cemetery, next to the picture of the headstone.
The idea to post the genealogical information to BillionGraves came from Lerohl’s fellow churchgoer, Victoria Malley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Church members talked about becoming involved with BillionGraves as part of a community service project, Malley said. That’s when she asked Lerohl to become involved.
“It’s a matter of helping people in the future searching and finding ancestors to be able to connect with grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles,” she said.
Lerohl said he isn’t sure how big of a long-term commitment he will make to BillionGraves, but for now, he hopes the information he gathers will spread beyond Sycamore.
“Not only does this benefit our small community, but it helps anyone nationally seeking genealogy,” he said. “Eventually, theoretically, we can get all the cemeteries in the world mapped out so people are able to find their ancestors.”
Anyone can submit information to the BillionGraves website. All they need to do is take a picture of a headstone using the BillionGraves app and transcribe the information written on the headstone onto the website.