Mount Shasta youth volunteers photograph more than 1,000 gravestones for 'BillionGraves'

Bill Choy
Mount Shasta Herald
Seth Bleazard photographs a grave stone at the Mount Shasta Memorial Park Cemetery on Saturday.

A group of Siskiyou County youth from the Mount Shasta ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints spent several hours Saturday taking photos of grave stones at Mount Shasta Memorial Park cemetery. The group used the app BillionGraves, which is billed as "the world's largest resource for searchable GPS cemetery data, and is growing bigger ... every day."

The activity was designed to teach the youth about family history and to serve others, said Kirk Andrus, bishop of the local organization, noting it was the perfect activity for a pandemic, since the young adults were able to "work outside, stay safe and perform a valuable service."

The BillionGraves website invites people to help discover and honor ancestors by volunteering in three ways: taking photos, transcribing photos, and researching records, Andrus explained.

As they took the photographs, it was clear to those in the group that many markers were worn down and difficult to read. Some were cleaned in order to read them, Andrus said. Many were brushed off so that they could be recorded.  

The group took and uploaded almost 1,000 photographs, or about a quarter of the sprawling cemetery's gravestones. They plan to return to finish the project, which will be made easier now that they know what they're doing and have developed an organized system.

Leighton Morley and her father Jeff photographed grave stones at the Mount Shasta Memorial Park Cemetery on Saturday.

Mount Shasta High School sophomore Seth Bleazard, along with his siblings, has done regular family history research with their grandmother during the pandemic. He said photographing gravestones was "an amazing way to connect to these people."

Leighton Morley and Lexi Lowry found a way to connect to the people whose graves they recorded by calculating how old they were when they died, Andrus said.  

Andrus said the project was a powerful and made him think about the lives of the people memorialized in the park.  

“Many were saddened by noting the many lives that had been cut short, “Andrus said. 

First Counselor Ed Stokes observed that through this work, “families can connect to their ancestors. It connects us to our past and helps us understand ourselves. Our past becomes more tangible.” 

The idea for the project was generated by Cecilia Pearson, who coordinates the church’s local “Just Serve” campaign, Andrus said. The purpose of the program to coordinate community service activities. JustServe.org is a website where the volunteer needs of organizations may be posted, and volunteers may search for places to serve in the community, providing opportunities to help those in need and enhancing the quality of life in the community.  

According to Pearson, “The Just Serve program can enhance our quality of life here in Mount Shasta and can also be a fun way to work side-by-side with members of our own community.” 

Andrus said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a strong connection to family history work. The local church building at 214 N. Adams Drive in Mount Shasta has a Family History Library.  It is open to the public for anybody to come and do family history research. Currently, the library is open on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

The church also sponsors the FamilySearch.org website and associated apps, containing over a billion unique profiles and billions of historical records, for free family history research in order to connect people to their forbearers.  

“For us the connection to family is very strong,” Andrus said, "and families are eternal. Despite being separated temporarily by death, we know that this is not the end.”

Graves that have been cataloged through the program can be found at https://billiongraves.com/.