August 23, 2019
If Find a Grave isn’t on your list of go-to websites for genealogy research, it probably should be. Find a Grave was started back in 1995 by Jim Tipton as part of his hobby of visiting burial sites of celebrities. At first, it only memorialized celebrities but was later expanded to allow non-celebrities to be memorialized by their families and friends.
In 2013, Ancestry.com took over the website, and it presently has nearly 200 million burial records and over 75 million photos. That huge database of cemetery records means that there is a good chance that you will find information on your own ancestors. It does not necessarily mean that the information will be totally accurate, however. All memorials are created by volunteers, and the information in them is only as accurate as the person who posted it. Over the years cemeteries have been “walked” by various groups such as local historical societies and local chapters of the DAR who took photos of headstones and posted them on FAG. Other memorials were made by genealogists seeking to honor their ancestors; these memorials often have much more information than the memorials made by groups and can be a real find for a genealogist. Some memorials link families, listing parents, siblings and children, and can cover several generations of a family. These expanded memorials can be a great way to connect with distant cousins since the person who placed the memorial often makes his/her email address available on the memorial. I have written to several posters from Find a Grave and have had good success in getting responses. In one case, I was able to connect with a distant cousin who had a number of never-seen-by-me photos which he shared.
Like most things, Find a Grave is not perfect. Judy Russell in her blog The Legal Genealogist wrote last week of one issue that has plagued the site. While many of the memorials placed on FAG are made by genealogists or family members to celebrate deceased loved ones, there is a group of volunteers on Find a Grave who have taken the idea of memorializing departed folks to extremes. Apparently, these folks do nothing but comb through newspaper and funeral home obit pages and use the information to create memorials. In some cases, these “gravers”, as they’re referred to, have created hundreds of thousands of memorials. Obviously, they can’t possibly be related to, or even have known, the people they’ve memorialized. There is even competition to see who can make the most memorials.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with making all of these memorials, but genealogists have begun to complain that these hardcore “gravers” have dashed in to make memorials for people whose own family would like to have had the opportunity. The death of a loved one is traumatic, and for some genealogists, making a memorial for their departed family member is one last way of honoring them. It can be jarring to go onto Find a Grave and find that someone else, not even a relative, has already made the memorial, in some cases even before the funeral has been held. In a time of grief, it can feel like just one more loss. It happened to me when my sister died, and it was upsetting, especially when I wrote to complain to the person who’d made the memorial, and she responded that the dead have no expectation of privacy so she was within her rights to make the memorial, and I’d just have to get over it. She did eventually transfer the memorial to me (a Find a Grave policy requires that non-family transfer memorials to immediate family, if requested), but it certainly did nothing to help me cope with the grief I felt over my sister’s loss. In fact, it felt almost like another, albeit small, loss.
Judy Russell in her column suggested that Find a Grave might want to impose a ninety-day moratorium after someone’s death on posting memorials by anyone other than immediate family. This sounds like a good idea, and I would love to see something like this be enacted. Whether it’s feasible or not to expect Find a Grave to monitor who is or is not an immediate relative remains to be seen.
Hopefully, most Find a Grave users will not run into this problem. Even if they, like I did, do have some issues with those “gravers” who seem to have lost touch with what a memorial really is, Find a Grave is still a wonderful resource for genealogists, and I’d recommend that anyone who has ancestors who are not already memorialized on the site make memorials for them. It’s easy, free and a great way to share some of the family history you’ve accumulated in a simple way.
Researcher/Director at Large