By Alyson Johnson
“I found one!” was heard repeatedly at the Valley of the Sun Mortuary and Cemetery in Chandler on an evening last summer as youth and adults from the Grove 3rd Ward, Chandler South Stake, looked for grave markers and headstones for people buried on the premises.
The purpose of the activity was to help relatives of the deceased connect to their ancestors by providing photos of their headstones or markers online through the website FindAGrave.com.
“Being able to view actual photographs of the headstones of your ancestors may seem like a strange concept, but it is actually a really impactful experience,” says the ward Young Women’s president, Becky Fillerup. “As I have looked through the photos on the Find A Grave site and utilized other genealogical sites such as FamilySearch and Ancestry, my ancestors have become more than just names on a page—they have become real to me.”
FindAGrave.com is the world’s largest gravesite collection, boasting over 170 million online memorials in 481,021 cemeteries in 240 different countries. Anyone can create a memorial for their loved ones and add photos and other information to it. With so many memorials already online, a quick check to see if a memorial has already been created for an ancestor is a good idea. However, many memorials don’t have a photo of the headstone, and that’s where this community service project fills a need.
“By doing Find A Grave, we can give the opportunity to others to know more about their ancestors,” says Basha High School senior Sydney Fuller. “As people learn more about their ancestors they can connect with them emotionally.”
7,751 online memorials have been created for the deceased at Valley of the Sun, with over 800 of those needing marker photos.
“The picture makes it [a connection to ancestors] real,” says Fuller, “because not everyone can go to the places loved ones are buried and take pictures in person and be connected to them.” Seeing the headstone in a photo is the next best thing to visiting in person. It’s a bonus when there is additional information, like an obituary, in the online memorial.
Thirty ward members scoured one section of the cemetery looking for those people whose memorials were missing a headstone photo. If ward members found one, they used the Find A Grave app to take and upload the photo directly to the already existing online memorial. That evening, photos were added to the memorials for 33 people.
The group plans to go back as many times as it takes to walk the whole cemetery and photograph the headstones for all the memorials that need them. Ward members are also going as families to help complete the project.
“Family history is really a community effort of people helping each other,” says Fillerup. “Our efforts to photograph headstones and markers was one way that we could help someone else. It’s all about connecting families together and helping others do the same.”
To learn more, visit FindAGrave.com online.