Find a Grave® Volunteer of the Month

Congratulations to, Brandon W., the Find a Grave® featured volunteer of the month for February 2023! The cemeteries he has photographed in California have helped others around the world.

Brandon was born and raised in California’s Central Valley and has been living in the San Fransisco Bay area for the past twelve years. He lives near Colma, which is also known as the City of Souls or the City of the Silent, due to the many cemeteries established in the town. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million burials in Colma while those who live in town are numbered at about 1,600. Brandon has explored and photographed in all the cemeteries located in Colma, which was officially founded as a necropolis in 1924.

I became interested in genealogy and then cemeteries at a very young age. When visiting Oklahoma with my maternal grandparents, we visited Center Cemetery with my grandma’s older brother, Millard Henry. I was amazed that 6 generations of their family were buried in the small country cemetery from two of their great-grandmothers, all four of their grandparents, many of their parents’ siblings, their baby sisters and many cousins, down to children and grandchildren of their cousins. My Uncle Millard, who had personally dug many of the graves in his younger years, took me through the cemetery describing the relation of everyone in the community. I was so fascinated that I became hooked

As a young teen I joined Find a Grave (with the support/guidance of my mom and grandparents) and started adding family graves. This evolved into adding graves from local cemeteries in my hometown area. Back then I discovered there was a lack of information on graves of immigrants, particularly Asian American immigrants. My paternal grandfather was an immigrant from the Philippines so I felt a particular desire to help bridge this gap. This began by documenting the Chinese Cemetery of Stockton (French Camp, California) and the Asian sections of other cemeteries. When I moved to the SF Bay Area, I ended up photographing countless Asian American cemeteries and sections of cemeteries. Because of this I’ve been contacted by numerous organizations, including the a project to document Chinese American graves in California. I was also asked to speak for the California Genealogical Society about my experience with Asian American graves. Most of my photography has been here in California and in Oklahoma, though I have some random photos across other states. 

Here are a few of his favorites cemeteries:

Japanese Cemetery, Colma (unique and beautiful monuments showing great Japanese culture, one of the only cemeteries like it on the West Coast)

Hoy Sun Ning Yung Cemetery, Daly City (second largest Chinese cemetery in the Bay Area, on a hillside with views of the bay, I photographed the entire cemetery of 6,000 by myself which was an adventure)

Chinese Christian Cemetery, Daly City, (perched on a steep hill and somewhat hidden next to the above it has some of the oldest marked Chinese graves in the SF area)

It has been humbling because I have been contacted by so many people, particularly descendants of early Asian American immigrants, who have searched for years for their ancestor’s grave and were able to find it from my Find a Grave photos. I’ve even been contacted by people from around the world who were able to find the graves of their long lost immigrant relatives who left their home country and had family members who never knew what happened to them. There are so many stories and all are special and amazing to me.

He specifically remembers the story of a grave he photographed in 2019, when he was contacted by a member named Susan. Brandon reached out to her and she shared her story of Choy Sing Lee’s grave:

Susan remembers visiting the grave of her grandfather when she was a young child in the 1950s. She was with other family members “standing on a hilly wind-swept slope surrounded by lots of older headstones with concrete or stone surrounded plots and a marvelous view of the San Fransisco Bay.” In high school she obtained a grainy, 2×3, black and white photo of her grandfather’s headstone. She was always curious about the inscription on his headstone as it wasn’t all readable in the photo. She carried the headstone photo with her to college, a move to Rhode Island, and back to California. She searched but couldn’t find where the grave was located.

Fast forward to 2016, the search was still on. Susan had the small headstone photo enlarged and cropped so the name and dates for Choy Sing Lee could more easily be seen. She posted the photo on a Facebook group about San Fransisco history, looking for possible locations for the stone. There were many suggestions and comments with the most promising being the Chinese Cemetery on Callan Boulevard in Daly City. Her cousin helped and “hiked through this cemetery and several others, but no grave location was found.” Susan tried another route and attended Chinese American genealogy workshops where local speakers were presenting on searching for your family history. She shared the photo with others there, but they didn’t know the location. She sent letters and called cemetery offices, but to no avail.

The year 2019 marked 100 years since her grandfather’s death. She was “feeling disheartened as she hadn’t found the grave” and worried that the grave could possibly be gone. Regardless, she kept trying and joined the Bay Area Chinese Genealogy Group asking for help. They had many suggestions and comments, which she followed up on only to reach the same conclusion, no known location for the grave.

In 2020, Covid hit and Susan signed up for Out of curiosity she typed in Choy Sing Lee and got a hit! There was a link to a memorial on Find a Grave that included a headstone which looked very similar to the small photo that she had been carrying with her all these years. The grave was located in the Chinese Christian Cemetery. This cemetery lies on a small strip of land between the Russian Sectarian Cemetery and the Hoy Sun Ning Young Cemetery (nearly blending together), which is why it was so hard to find! The inscription couldn’t quite be read so she contacted the contributor, Brandon. He lived near the cemetery and offered to take a new photo. Brandon cleaned the dirt and lichen off the headstone and sent her new photos that same day! The inscription was clear and with the help of friends who translated it, the ancestral village on Choy Sing Lee’s headstone was revealed.

Susan’s fifty-year plus journey was finally over.

In October 2021, Susan and other family members went to Daly City and met up with Brandon at the Chinese Christian Cemetery. They visited the grave and while talking found their families were already connected. Brandon’s grandparents were regular patrons of the drugstore that Susan’s father owned. Brandon’s grandpa, who is 97, still remembers them and was thrilled to hear about all that happened!

Cemetery photography is one of Brandon’s greatest passions. He feels it is a way to give back to ancestors and others who have passed on before us, ensuring that their places of rest are known and remembered.

We are appreciative of your efforts and the efforts of all Find a Grave volunteers. This work connects us as a community as we help one another and also allows people everywhere to discover information about those that have passed on.

Do you know a Find a Grave member who would make a good Volunteer of the Month? We welcome your suggestions. Please send an email with details of their work to


  1. A very interesting story. How the work of one person can touch the lives of families around the world. Wonderful work and story.

  2. .Thanks so much to Brandon for his valuable gifts to all of us there who are searchers. This story warms my heart to know that someone out there cares. Mimi in Georgia

  3. Brandon – my family and I are so very happy and thankful for your contribution to finding our family’s history. I have saved this article to be a part of our family story. Thank you so much!

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