Writer: Dr. Mariah Smith Morgan, MSU Extension Service
Memorial Day is when many Americans take a step back to remember those who died in service to our country. Technology can bring us closer to those brave souls who died on the shores of Normandy or those laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, even if time and distance separate us.
Don’t let lengthy to-do lists or holiday activities such as family picnics and long weekend getaways cause you to forget the reason we observe Memorial Day.
Websites like http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/ hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs keeps records of those interred at national cemeteries. Arlington National Cemetery maintains its records at http://tinyurl.com/arlingtongraves.
The American Battle Monuments Commission also maintains information on all service men and women who died while serving overseas. Its collection of names and gravesites can be located at http://www.abmc.gov/home.php. Left-click on the war your loved one died in to search the cemeteries associated with that war.
You could have a service member like my grandfather, Sgt. Max C. Kirkpatrick. When he finally made it back to French Camp, Miss., from the Pacific Theatre after World War II, he kindly told the U.S. Army he had no intentions of ever leaving the red hills of Attala County again. So, he was buried in the cemetery of the church he had attended as a child, less than half a mile from where he grew up. His name is not recorded in any of the national cemetery databases, but a photo of his tombstone and the cemetery where he is buried can be found at http://www.findagrave.com.
Findagrave allows users to upload photos and request photos. For example, if you have family members buried in Illinois or South Carolina, you could look for their cemeteries online and quite possibly view their headstones from your computer. Furthermore, you can request a photo of a particular tombstone; if someone in that area is agreeable, he or she can go out to the cemetery, snap a photo for you and upload it to the site.
Another site – http://billiongraves.com – also contains records, but it doesn’t seem to have gotten to the small cemetery where my grandfather is buried. Both of these sites allow searches either by the person’s name or by the cemetery.
Billiongraves.com takes a bit of a different approach. It has a mobile app available for iPhone and Android smartphones. The app uses your phone’s built-in GPS abilities and camera to enable you to map out cemeteries and upload the information to the site. This service is free, but you will need to create an account. Once the account is created, you can take photos with GPS tags, add a new cemetery to the database and transcribe the headstones. The site’s goal is to make it easy to record information for genealogists.
There is another app in the works called LegacyTec, but it is still under review and not available for the public yet. You can preview this app on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/legacytec.
Wouldn’t our loved ones be amazed by what technology enables us to do as we remember their contributions to us and to this country? This Memorial Day, as tiny American flags are placed on fallen service members’ headstones, remember their sacrifice and use technology to connect you to your family’s past.