The usability of gravestones and memorial markers

October 5, 2015

Not something perhaps you’d think about… But none of us is getting out of here alive!

A bit of back story… In some of my spare time, I transcribe information for various genealogical projects and digitized newspapers. I do this from my computer, so it’s easy to volunteer a few minutes here and there, and thus help add to the wealth of information available to the world.

Recently, I found a website — BillionGraves — that has the lofty aim of photographing, mapping, and transcribing the headstones and memorials from graves throughout the world. Although some cemeteries have their records online and are searchable, many don’t, particularly those cemeteries that are no longer used and are rotting away. BillionGraves uses the power of crowdsourcing to gather and process this information. In addition to their website where you can transcribe information on headstones, BillionGraves also has an app you can download to your phone or tablet so that when you’re out and about you can visit an uncatalogued cemetery, take photos of the headstones, and upload them to the site (the geographic coordinates upload with the photos). Then you can either transcribe them yourself via the app or website, or leave them for others to do.

What a cool idea for going for a weekend drive and picnic, and having a purpose for that drive! (yes, I’m weird like that…) BillionGraves has the locations of long-lost cemeteries on its website, so you can plan to visit one that hasn’t been catalogued and that you may not even know exists because it hasn’t been used in decades. For example, in Western Australia where I live, we have many bush areas that are peppered with graves from the early settlers. The houses and settlements have long gone, but some of the graves remain.

So what has all this got to do with usability?

Remember I said that none of us is getting out of here alive? Well, most of us (at least, most of us in the ‘developed world’), will be either buried or cremated and will have either a headstone or memorial plaque made in our honor and placed in a cemetery somewhere. A little bit of forethought as to how that memorial is designed and what goes on it could make it VERY usable for future generations researching your family tree.

What’s become evident to me while transcribing other people’s information is that so much of that information is not complete, is insular (making assumptions that readers of the memorial will be reading it in the same country and century it was made, for example), and/or is unreadable.


Here are some things I recommend (in no particular order) based on what I’ve discovered while transcribing headstones etc. and based on what genealogical researchers need to know. If you have any say in what goes on a loved one’s memorial (or your own), then consider these recommendations — future generations hunting you down will love you for it!

  • Good contrast is essential. Pink granite is an awful carrier for carvings and most colors used for text — much text is unreadable, and the color and mottled nature of the granite makes it hard to photograph. Gray granite with just carved letters and no color is nearly as bad, as are gold letters on mottled gray granite (see the unreadable images below).
  • List a date of birth AND death — you don’t need ‘died aged xx years’. A date of death is usually given on a memorial, and sometimes an age at death, but rarely is a date of birth given. Genealogists put a lot of store in dates of birth AND death, and an age is just not good enough. If you state that the person died on 15 June 1985 aged 76 years, were they born in 1909 or 1908? Depending on the birth month it could be either. A date of birth is likely fewer characters to pay for than a ‘died aged xx years’ statement, AND confirms to future generations that they have the right person AND provides a date of birth if it is missing from other records.
  • List the maiden (or birth) name of a married female. Maiden names (awful term…) of females are rarely given, yet they are crucial to genealogical research. So many women in family trees get ‘lost’ when they marry as their married surname is not known. And if they marry more than once, they are even harder to find. Including the maiden name helps identify if that person is part of your family tree.
  • Use four-digit years. Two-digit years are useless. Does 15 June 85 mean 1885 or 1985? Or some other year? Memorials can last for several centuries, so make sure there is no confusion as to which one. Don’t assume that a future reader will be from the same century.
  • Write months in letters, even if abbreviated. Numeric dates only are problematic for researchers and transcribers from other countries. Does 4-5-1962 mean 4 May 1962 or April 5 1962? Depending on where you went to school, it could be either! Better to use 4 May 1962 or 5 Apr 1962 to remove any possible confusion. Using a three-letter abbreviated month is fine.
  • Use the full name of the deceased, including any middle names. Middle names are important in helping distinguish many individuals in a family tree with the same name.




Mottled gray granite with gold carved text — impossible to read from a photograph.


Pink stone of some sort (likely a sandstone not granite, but I’ve seen plenty of pink granite ones as bad), with carving but no colour used in the carved text (or it has worn off). Impossible to read from a photograph.


Good contrast, full name of deceased, has first name of wife (a bonus), dates of birth AND death, but uses numerals for the months (not too much of an issue in this case as they can be figured out by someone with a North American background and can’t be confused), and only two-digit years.


Great contrast, has dates of birth and death (with abbreviated months in letters and full years), has names of parents and siblings, has middle name.


Great contrast, has dates of birth and death (but only numerals for months so potentially confusing for a transcriber from a different country), full years, full names of both people (but no maiden name for the female), and then there’s some information that has no meaning or connection to anyone outside the family (i.e. who is ‘Pat’? a son, daughter, relation, friend??)


Even though I can’t read the language of this one (Russian?) and couldn’t transcribe it, it has great contrast, lists dates of birth and death (but months are in numerals), and uses full 4-digit years.


Handy feature for presentations

October 2, 2015

My new laptop has Windows 8.1 installed. I’m still navigating my way around it…

However, one thing I found looks like it would be very useful when I’m giving a presentation from the laptop, or if I want to work uninterrupted, and that’s a quick and easy way to turn off notifications for a period of time for 1, 3, or 8 hours.

You point to the far top right of the desktop until the slider opens, then click the settings icon (the cog), then Notifications, then choose your ‘quiet time’.

Alternatively, search for Notifications, then either select Hide Notifications Temporarily or Notifications to specify a specific time range and notifications from specific apps.


Starting a sentence with a conjunction

October 1, 2015

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues.


One of the authors asked me about starting a sentence with Because:

I was curious about a change you made. The original paragraph started with “As the trunkline fluids….” and you changed it to “Because the trunkline fluids……”

As Because the trunkline fluids will spread and weather rapidly due to wind and weather, containing/booming the fluids to the required thickness to start and maintain a controlled burn is not…

I was under the impression that you shouldn’t begin a sentence with “Because.”

Can you shed any light on this for me?

Great question!

You can start a sentence with a conjunction – and, but, because etc. Typically, that ‘rule’ about not starting with a conjunction is a hangover from early school days and teachers who had it inculcated into them in their school days, possibly back to when Latin was the lingua franca.

I changed it to because because as has so many possible meanings (24, according to [Australian] Macquarie Dictionary). Because only has four meanings in Macquarie, two of which are colloquial and irrelevant to the context, and the other two are basically the same – ‘for the reason that’.

As far as business report writing goes, starting a sentence with And or But may be too casual. However, in our reports we start sentences with However (a good substitute for But), Although, While, Since, Therefore, etc. all the time – I put Because in the same category. I always check sentences starting with As, because that word has so many possible meanings, and will substitute something more appropriate to the context if necessary.

The Australian Style Manual (which, along with Macquarie, is one of our authorities) says this (p72-73):

‘Because’ and other subordinators to start a sentence

The idea that words like because, although, since and while cannot be used at the start of a sentence seems to arise out of a mistaken assumption that, because conjunctions join phrases or clauses together, they must have words on either side of them. This does not happen at the start of a sentence, hence this odd prescription. The reality is that a subordinating conjunction goes with the subordinate clause, wherever it is placed:

We notified the secretary because he is the person responsible.

Because he is responsible, we notified the secretary.

These perfectly grammatical sentences show the subordinating conjunction at two different points in the sentence, prefacing the explanatory clause (‘he is the person responsible’). Explanatory and other subordinate clauses (such as those with if and when) can certainly be used at the front of a sentence, and the conjunction will then be the first word.

Other discussions on this:


[Links last checked October 2015]


PowerPoint: Not all AutoCorrect entries are listed

September 30, 2015

This is a strange one that’s easily fixed, but only once you know how!

I set up Office 2013 on my new laptop and transferred all my ACL files from my PC to the laptop — ACL files are the AutoCorrect entries, and I have an extensive list. When I checked in Word, Excel, and Publisher, they were all listed. Outlook doesn’t list any AutoCorrects, but they still work with Outlook. However, PowerPoint only listed the ones that were just letters; it didn’t list those I had prefixed with a period. (See this post for why I use a period in front of many of my AutoCorrect entries: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/word-use-the-power-of-autocorrect-to-save-heaps-of-time/)

I thought this was a bug in PowerPoint 2013, but when I checked another computer with PowerPoint 2010 on it, I saw the same thing. Hmmmm…

I was about to post to the Microsoft Answers forum to see if anyone knew why, and how I could get my extensive collection of AutoCorrects back without re-entering them. But before I did that I figured it cost nothing to just try one and see if it worked anyway — and it did!

Not only did the AutoCorrect work, but when I looked at the list after using one, they were ALL listed.

So the solution is to type one of your AutoCorrects in your PowerPoint presentation. It will work and all those with period prefixes will now be listed (under File > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options).



Word: Draft view icon missing in Word 2013

September 28, 2015

More on the Microsoft giveth and taketh away theme…

This time, the Draft View icon on the status bar. It’s completely gone in Word 2013. Sometimes I wonder if Microsoft ever polls its users, particularly its power users and those who work in the program all day, every day.

I used the Draft View icon regularly, especially when checking the styles used in a document (see https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/word-display-styles-for-each-paragraph/).

You can get to Draft view now only via the View tab.

Of course, if you use the Quick Access Toolbar, you could always add the Draft icon to that (see: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/microsoft-office-quick-access-toolbar-productivity-benefits-how-to-customize-it/)

[Links last checked September 2015]


Word: Browse Object icon missing in Word 2013

September 25, 2015

One of the annoyances I’ve discovered in Word 2013 is the complete absence of the Browse Object icon. Microsoft giveth and Microsoft taketh away! Any power user of Word was likely familiar with the Browse Object button — it was very handy for quickly jumping to places within your document. (See this blog post for how it worked prior to Word 2013: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/word-jumping-to-next-table-graphic-or-field/)

Sure, you can use F5 to jump to certain places, but that Browse Object button was quicker and easier to use.

Despite its loss, there’s another way you can browse certain objects, and that’s from the Navigation pane that you open using Ctrl+F (or View > Navigation Pane).

When you’re on the Navigation pane, click the magnifying glass icon to display other Find options such as Graphics, Tables, Equations, Footnotes and Endnotes, and Comments.

Navigation pane has an option under the magnifying glass for finding types of objects in your document

Use the up/down arrow icons to go to the next/previous object for the Find type you selected, or click the yellow highlighted section to go to the section where the next object of that type is located.

Use the up/down arrows to go to the next object, or click to sections with the yellow highlight

[Links last checked September 2015]


Word: Track Changes settings

September 24, 2015

The track changes settings in Word 2013 have changed in several ways. This blog post describes some of those changes, and some recommended best practices. All track changes options are on the Review tab.

Track Changes button

This button is now divided in two, though it’s not obvious as there’s no dividing line. Click the top half of this big button to turn track changes on and off; click the lower half to open a submenu for turning track changes on and off (again!) and for locking track changes so that others can’t delete them.

Display for Review options

In previous versions of Word, the view markup options were Final: Show Markup (now Simple Markup and All Markup — see below for differences); Final (now No Markup); Original: Show Markup (no longer available); and Original (same).

From my testing, the difference between Simple and All Markup is whether or not the changes are shown:

  • With Simple Markup, you just get a vertical line to the side of the text (on the left for a left page; on the right for a right page if you have different left and right page layout) that tells you there’s one or more changes on that line or lines. In my testing this line was red. You don’t know what the changes are — you just know that there are some insertions, deletions, or moves. The text shown is with the changes applied.

How Simple Markup lines are shown

  • With All Markup, you get a vertical line on the side (gray for the same document), plus you can see the change that’s been made. This is the same as the previous Final: Show Markup, but with a thicker (more obvious) vertical line.

How All Markup lines are shown, as well as the change

Show Markup and Reviewing Pane options

Seem to be the same as in previous versions of Word; however, Reviewers under Show markup is now Specific people.

Track Changes settings

In earlier versions of Word, you clicked the little drop-down arrow on the big Track Changes button to open the submenu that got you to the settings. That’s gone. In its place is a dialog launcher button at the bottom right corner of the Tracking group.

Dialog launcher in tracking group takes you to the track changes settings

Clicking the dialog launcher opens the Track Changes Options window. Be careful with this window — it does what it says but NOT what you might assume it does. The check boxes on this window function the same as the Show Markup options on the ribbon. Don’t assume that turning off Formatting here, for example, turns off track formatting — it doesn’t (yes, I got caught with this…). It only stops formatting changes from showing. Formatting is still tracked! To turn off track formatting and adjust other settings, you have to go a step further…
Track Changes Options window

To turn off track formatting and adjust other settings, click Advanced options on the Track Changes Options window. The Advanced Track Changes Options window opens, showing the familiar window you probably know from previous versions of Word. It’s here that you turn off track formatting, etc. All these settings seem to be the same as in previous versions, though arranged slightly differently.

Advanced Track Changes Options window


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