Israel becomes first country to list all cemetery tombstones online

MyHeritage, the company known for its online family tree maker has digitized every cemetery in the Jewish State.

March 14, 2019 05:21
2 minute read.
Hebron cemetery

Descendants of Menucha Rochel Slonim at her grave in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. (photo credit: JEWISH COMMUNITY OF HEBRON)


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Finding a relative's grave can be a tedious experience. But now paying respects to a loved one can be done using an online app. Israel has become the first country in the world to have all its cemetery plots listed on the Internet. The wide-ranging project to document all cemeteries in Israel was created in a joint effort by the MyHeritage online genealogy platform and the BillionGraves database.

The NIS 4 million project included photographing more than 1.5 million tombstones in 638 cemeteries and placing them in an online searchable database, including GPS pins to be able to locate graves using a smartphone.
MyHeritage noted the project was a race against time since many tombstone inscriptions can deteriorate over the years. Hundreds of thousands of ancient graves throughout the country may be unidentifiable for this reason. For example, the Mount of Olives cemetery near Jerusalem's Old City is the oldest Jewish burial site in the world. Many tombstones were removed during the Jordanian period of pf the Old City from 1948 to 1967. 

In Hebron, the ancient cemetery contained many unmarked graves due to a tradition not to carve inscription on the stone, however, modern researchers have been able to identify and refurbish many of the final resting places of historic figures.

In an ironic twist, MyHeritage researchers photographing the cemetery in Holon found members of their own family.

"This is an important tool for preserving the memory of the deceased and enriching the family trees with relatives who are no longer with us," stated Ofir Abeslander, a spokesperson for MyHeritage. "Family members can be discovered several generations back, whose existence is forgotten and can be the first time to recite Kaddish for their graves."

The database is currently in Hebrew but MyHeritage, which has offices in the United States and Ukraine, hopes to continue its partnership with BillionGraves to digitize every cemetery in the world.

Founded in 2003, the MyHeritage online genealogy platform can help users create a family tree and research their roots.
Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO said, "gravestones are among the most valuable information sources for family history research, and although there are many thousands of cemeteries worldwide, most of them have never been documented, and their information is not available online. Time is chipping away at the gravestones and many are becoming unreadable over the years, so it’s up to our generation to preserve them.” 

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