In the eagle’s nest: Boy Scout helps catalog graves
Eighth grader Kerst Meibos at the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, the site of his Eagle Scout project. Meibos directed 130 volunteers in an effort to photograph and catalog all the gravesites in the cemetery.
By Lisa Crockett; photos courtesy of the Meibos family
Thirteen-year-old Kerst Meibos spent a lot of his summer vacation in a cemetery. The unusual location, the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Littleton, was the site of Meibos’ Eagle Scout project. As part of the “Billion Graves” project, he coordinated 130 volunteers in a massive effort to photograph and then transcribe information on headstones in the cemetery. In all, volunteers spent 500 hours putting vital information from headstones into a database format that is easily searchable online.
“When information from cemeteries is online like this, families can easily determine which cemeteries to travel to to learn more about their own family history,” said Meibos. “Family history is important to me, and this makes research easier for a lot of people.”
Meibos, who lives in Castle Pines Village and is an eighth grader at Rocky Heights Middle School, dedicated time and effort to finding and recording gravesite information at five cemeteries, including the Fort Logan National Cemetery, where family friend and beloved neighbor James Tutchton is buried.
On a family trip to Alaska, Meibos worked in the Sitka National Cemetery, but the bulk of his efforts were concentrated at Chapel Hill. The site of a memorial for the tragedy at Columbine High School, graves at the cemetery were largely uncataloged before Meibos began his project. Now, all the graves are documented and easy for family historians worldwide to access.
“I had a lot of friends and family helping with my project,” said Meibos. “I had to coordinate volunteers as they took photos of graves on their cell phones, then uploaded the photos to the Billon Graves website, then transcribed the information.”
As with any project involving complicated logistics, Meibos quickly determined that he needed to develop a system to stay organized. To ensure that all the graves in the cemetery were documented, while also making sure volunteers weren’t duplicating each other’s efforts, he affixed red and green ribbon to hundreds of wooden skewers to create tiny flags. A green flag on a gravesite meant it needed documentation, after volunteers completed their work, they swapped a green flag for a red one to signal that work had been done.
“At first it was kind of hard to direct people, but I learned a lot about delegation,” said Meibos. “I also had to think about other details like providing water bottles for volunteers and thinking about ways to effectively communicate with others. I learned a lot.”
Meibos conducted his project in five, two-hour sessions, overseeing volunteer helpers ranging in age from 2 to 85. Fellow scouts from his troop, Troop 365 chartered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Castle Pines Ward, provided a lot of manpower.
“We had to deal with rain and lightning,” he said. “Some of the graves were underwater because it was so wet this summer but we had fun learning how to deal with those challenges. I also enjoyed spending time in the cemetery and seeing the Columbine Memorial. It was sweet and peaceful.”
In addition to completing his project, Meibos has completed 40 merit badges in pursuit of his Eagle award, learning about subjects ranging from camping to basket weaving.
“I love to earn merit badges because I like to learn about new things,” he said. “Finishing all those badges and my project is awesome. It feels nice to accomplish something.”
For more information about Billion Graves, visit www.billiongraves.com.