We're happy to announce that we've completed 50% of our goal to digitize every cemetery in Israel — aiming to make it the first country in the world to have all of its gravestones preserved online and searchable, and we're making all of this data available on MyHeritage for free.
Cemeteries play a vital role in family history research and society in general. Most of the world's cemeteries have never been systematically documented nor has their information made available online. Also, age and exposure to the elements are rendering gravestones illegible, making this project even more urgent.
In 2014, we launched a global initiative with BillionGraves to digitally preserve the world’s cemeteries. The MyHeritage team even went out and digitized an entire cemetery, taking more than 50,000 photos in a single day.
When photographing and documenting gravestones using the excellent BillionGraves mobile application, the precise GPS coordinates of every gravestone are preserved. This makes it easy for others to locate and visit graves of family members and also allows volunteers to see which areas of a cemetery have already been photographed, avoiding duplication and maximizing productivity.
We have extended that original initiative, pledging to photograph all cemeteries and gravestones in Israel and to transcribe all the information on each and every gravestone.
As part of the global initiative we launched with BillionGraves earlier this year, the MyHeritage team recruited a group of enthusiastic volunteers to continue our efforts to digitize cemeteries.
After successfully digitizing a medium sized cemetery of historical significance earlier this year (see video), we decided to undertake our biggest challenge yet - to digitize Israel's largest cemetery - with over 200,000 graves. So earlier this week, we embarked on a one-of-a-kind project to photograph all headstones of the huge Holon cemetery in central Israel.
This was one of largest events of its kind ever organized - in the world!
The best aspect of the event was the true collaboration between MyHeritage and all leading genealogy organizations in Israel, in addition to MyHeritage power users. In total, some 120 people joined our initiative and participated, and approximately 150,000 gravestone photos were taken throughout the day! It was heart warming to see such collaboration among so many people who care about genealogy, from all ages, and all groups, working together to create an incredible resource that is free for all to use.
The day began at 8:30am - with MyHeritage employees and volunteers arriving at our offices - and ended at 6:30pm.
Have you tried out the Virtual Cemetery feature in Family Tree Builder?
The Virtual Cemetery is a place to memorialize your ancestors. It is automatically created whenever an uploaded media file is associated to an individual's burial fact.
Gravestones contain important information of relatives such as birth and death dates, names, spouses' information and more. The Virtual Cemetery feature is a great way to enrich your family tree with a wealth of information such as gravestone images linked to family tree profiles.
The Virtual Cemetery compiles all burial-related media, making it easy to access information from these important sources, without crowding other photo albums in Family Tree Builder. It is kept separate from regular photo albums, as it is just associated with burial facts. This way, you will not see cemetery photos when looking at your images of living people.
Earlier this month, the employees of MyHeritage's Israel headquarters visited a cemetery to digitize gravestones using the BillionGraves app.
We documented over 70% of the entire cemetery, over 50,000 images of gravestones, and it was the single largest event of its kind ever held in Israel. Read more about the event here.
We're now releasing a video about this project with footage from our trip to the cemetery. It includes an explanation from MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet, who participated in the trip and who personally digitized some 1,000 gravestones.
He explains the tremendous importance of this global initiative and the value of gravestones for genealogy. Our generation has the necessary tools, and it's our responsibility to get the world's gravestones online before their inscriptions erode. It's a race against time. You can see how easy it is for anyone to get involved and help to preserve these important pieces of family history for future generations.
Watch the video below:
We're excited to announce that MyHeritage has teamed up with BillionGraves to launch a global crowdsourcing initiative to digitally preserve the world’s cemeteries.