News Release

Over 100 Mormon Youth in Manila Capture Gravestones for Family History


Families and individuals looking for gravestones of deceased ancestors for family history can now benefit from the Cemetery Documentation Activity conducted by the Makati Philippines Stake (Diocese) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held on Saturday, 28 April 2018. This is a pilot program launched in collaboration with FamilySearch Philippines.

More than 100 youth, family history enthusiasts, and Church leaders donned in their Mormon Helping Hands yellow vests flocked the Manila South Cemetery, each equipped with selfie sticks, camera phones, spray bottles, broomsticks and cleaning cloths to take photos of headstones as well as to clean and weed out burial vaults.

Using a third-party app called BillionGraves, participants were able to take pictures of headstones, upload them to the system and transcribe the information so it’s searchable online.

In addition to gravestone capturing, youth, leaders, and adults cleaned and weeded burial vaults as part of their volunteer service.

Stephen F. Notarte, the second counselor of the Makati Philippines Stake Presidency, explained that priesthood leaders, youth leaders as well as stake family history consultants conceptualized the activity to help young men and young women become involved in family history. Additionally, they organized the activity to prepare the youth for their upcoming For the Strength of Youth Conference.

“We hope that the youth of the Makati Philippines Stake will increase their desire to search for the [the names] of their ancestors… We also hope that they will develop their dedication to connecting families across generations.”

Despite the sight of delightful faces of the participants ecstatically taking photos and marking graves, the family history activity went smoothly not without setbacks. Mr. Notarte said that they encountered challenges during the preliminary stages of their event planning. “The first request was denied by the Officer in Charge of the cemetery.”

“We counseled together and prayed that our second request will be granted. We also asked the help of a [Church] member who has a connection with the Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada,” Mr. Notarte explained as to how they overcame the challenge.

The pilot activity was a huge success as evident through the 133 participants, both old and young, who were present.

As the stake counselor assigned to temple and family history work, President Notarte shared how this experience helped him. “I learned the importance of involving the youth in this kind of work. They need to feel that they are involved and are useful. Their efforts and their technical skills are of great help in hastening the work of the Lord.”

When asked if the Makati Stake plans to do a repeat of the cemetery documentation activity, Mr. Notarte gladly affirmed. “Our next activity will be on Friday, 1 June 2018 and it will still be at the Manila South Cemetery.”

Cemetery Documentation Activity

Felvir D. Ordinario, Area Manager of FamilySearch Philippines, expressed his gratitude for having an agreement, for the first time, with the Manila local government to help the city capture cemetery records for family history work

“We all know that in the Philippines, medyo dahil sa kakulangan ng space, a lot of our graves would have to be replaced. Year on year, talagang napapalitan sila ng mga bago. So in the process, nawawala yung mga records of our ancestors and family members records.”

[We all know that in the Philippines, due to the lack of space, a lot of our graves would have to be replaced. Year on year, they are replaced with new ones. So in the process, the records of our [deceased] ancestors and family members are lost.]

“This effort will help the city preserve family information na meron sa libingan na ito,” said Mr. Ordinario.

[This effort will help the city preserve family information found in graves.]

In relation to the third-party mobile the participants used, Mr. Ordinario explained that FamilySearch is in partnership with BillionGraves and another third-party web-based app called Find a Grave to help users find cemetery records of ancestors.

“People can connect with their families and find information about the people who were buried in this cemetery,” he said. “And hopefully, magamit nila ‘yun in their search, in building their family history, and in connecting with other relatives na maaring makapagunify sa mga families across the world, not just in the Philippines.”

[And hopefully, they can use the information in their search, in building their family history, and in connecting with other relatives that will families to unify across the world not just in the Philippines.”

Privacy Data Act

For some who may be concerned that this family history activity would be a breach of privacy, Mr. Ordinario explained that cemetery records are public records and are accessible by anyone looking for names of deceased family members. For this activity, however, Mormon Helping Hands volunteers were not allowed to go inside mausoleums or gated graves to take pictures.

FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world. Since 1894, FamilySearch has worked with archives, libraries, and churches in over 100 countries to facilitate economical access to records that help people find their ancestors.

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