Volunteers digitally record thousands of graves at Kentucky national cemetery

Published 5:38 am Thursday, May 13, 2021

“The cemetery itself was immaculate. [The cemetery staff] went beyond … you could tell they had spent extra time and care getting ready for us.”

When volunteers learned that the day’s forecast suggested hours of rainfall, many arrived as early as 8 a.m. to ensure they had extra time to complete their service. Even when the rain did arrive, it didn’t deter those present from their mission.

“Many of us went home soaking wet, but it was fun,” Shawna Wachs said. “There was a lot of positive energy in doing something good. We’ve needed that with all that’s gone on [in the past year].”

Tim Baxter shared that as the last volunteers left and it began to rain in earnest, he drove through Camp Nelson to make sure no one was left behind.

“Way back in the corner of the cemetery, I saw a lone man still down taking photographs, and it was raining pretty well,” Baxter said.

With 300 grave markers left to go, Baxter got out in the rain and helped photograph the remaining graves with his fellow volunteer.

“What impressed me was that this person was there — he was going to finish after everyone else was gone. It wasn’t a social thing for him. He had a work ethic and a level of commitment, and he thought ‘I’m gonna get this done no matter the weather.’”

After uploading photos to the BillionGraves app, volunteers plan to spend even more time going through the entire photo collection to make sure each headstone image gets correctly transcribed to text on the Billion Graves website. This makes it possible for family, friends and genealogists around the country to see the information online, along with the accompanying GPS coordinates, so that they can pinpoint the exact location of ancestors or historical figures they might be researching.