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BillionGraves.com - big competition for Find A Grave

Find a Grave - the Internet's most valuable resource?

Imagine a world-wide index to every marker/stone/etc. for every cemetery on earth - fully transcribed - with pictures - and free. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Find A Grave appears to have this potential.

From the founder's perspective, Find A Grave's:

  • primary purpose is a graves registration website
  • secondary purpose is a memorialization/remembrance site
  • tertiary purpose is a genealogical resource

They state that "Find A Grave is a resource for finding the final resting place of family, friends, and 'famous' individuals."

I don't know if they know it, but I believe Find A Grave has the potential of being the most valuable website for genealogists. Let me explain. I've been searching for Dorothy Alice GEKELER (my 1st cousin 3 times removed):

  • born June 27, 1904
  • died January 9, 1919

I first searched for Dorothy Gekeler with a birth year of 1904 and did not find anything. Since Gekeler isn't that common of a surname, I then did a search for all Gekelers born in 1904.

Findagrave1

It found one possible match:

Findagrave2

Here is her memorial page:

Findagrave3

Thanks to volunteers Cathy Osburn and Charlie Horn, I now know the final resting place for Dorothy AND I have a picture of her stone.

Before finding Dorothy, I searched for 15 other ancestors where all I knew was their birth date. Find A Grave returned no matches. After their childhood years, I lost them. Sound familiar? Too many of my ancestors were "movers" - they were born and then just couldn't stay put. My ancestor Asa Brown was born in Connecticut, moved to Massachusetts, then to Pennsylvania, and died in Minnesota. His children and grandchildren have been difficult to trace for the same reason. If Find A Grave were more complete, I should be able to search for nearly any ancestor and learn where they ended up.

Thank you to all the volunteers

Don't get me wrong - Find A Grave is off to a great start. In its 16 years of existence, volunteers (over 800,000 of them) have published over 71 million memorials and I'm certain it has helped thousands of researchers break down their brick walls.

How complete is Find A Grave?

But it begs the question - what percentage of Earth's cemeteries are included, and how complete is it? If it were complete, we could find any ancestor throughout the entire world whose marker exists in a cemetery. Think of how much easier research could be!

My vision of Find A Grave's future

I'm pretty new to working with Find A Grave and so I do not claim to know everything about it. But here is where I think Find A Grave could be improved to match my vision:

  1. Let it be the one central repository for information about any cemetery - anywhere - a master cemetery registry. As this gets developed, provide a progress meter of how complete the cemetery registry is for any location. For example, in my home state of Arizona, does Find A Grave have a separate listing for every cemetery, or 50%, 75%, or 100% of all cemeteries?
    1. Upgrade the ability for other countries to browse by smaller jurisdictions just like we can for the United States. Trying to browse the Canadian cemeteries returns a message that there are too many records - I'd like to browse by Province and even smaller jurisdictions.
  2. When the registry is complete, volunteers (genealogy societies, individuals, etc.) work with each cemetery to identify the total number of known burials in the cemetery and visually compare this with the total number of entries in the Find A Grave database for that cemetery. Display an active progress meter.
  3. For any cemetery not already at 100% complete, volunteers work to photograph, transcribe, and publish the missing memorials.

When these steps are complete (which will take many more years) Find A Grave then becomes the single most valuable resource online. Maybe the developers already have this in mind and I've missed it somewhere. Maybe this is outside the realm of their vision for their site. If not, I'd love to figure out how to help make it happen.

Get started today

My recent serendipitous experiences in the Maine cemeteries have enthused me about supporting and volunteering to help contribute to Find A Grave. I've noticed that thousands of volunteers have dedicated their lives to doing the same thing. I've now taken my first "volunteer photograph," have uploaded 10 others, and manage 4 memorials. And later today, Dave Berdan (my boss and Legacy Family Tree's president) and I will begin photographing our very first cemetery. I think we're catching a new bug - the cemetery bug.

What do you think?

So what do you think? What ideas do you have? Am I wrong, or could this really provide us with a world-wide index to cemeteries and their existing tombstones/markers/etc.? Should we pursue this together? I'd especially love to hear from current Find A Grave volunteers. I'd also love to schedule a webinar on the topic - has anyone heard anyone speak about Find A Grave that we could invite?

The next time you're at the cemetery, just be sure that you are the one taking the picture...

Comments

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Hi,
I got involved on Find A Grave to help other researches do their linkage and family history. In posting my family history I have received wonderful, positive feedback. Has been fun in working with other Graver's in posting information to this website.
Keep up the good work. Hope to hear from you soon!
Craig.

Your vision for findagrave is basically the mission statement for http://billiongraves.com.

The primary difference is that biliongraves uses smartphone apps to take the photo, GPS tag it, and upload it to a the billiongraves website. Once it is there, billiongraves knows the cemetery because of the GPS coordinates, and volunteers read the stones and do cataloging and indexing.

I have been a contributor of F.A.G. for a little over two years and have less than a thousand memorials posted. It IS addictive!
I have many Cemetery Listings done by local genealogy groups and find that it is tempting to post these lists to F.A.G., Knowing that some of these local societies have gone to considerable work to do the readings and publish the listings, and use those publications as a fund raiser, I have not plagiarized their efforts, but post ONLY what I have seen myself.
It does get to be a can of worms, in trying to help F.A.G. complete its project.

Hi! I've been a F.A.G. contributor for over 6 years and a family genealogist for about 40 years. I initially added my own family and went out to take my pictures.. Yes, addictive. I'm working on a few local cemeteries. I'm a bit slower than some because I try to do a short genealogy search for each as well as searching fag for relatives to link. "Linking' is a great feature for genealogists...

Geoff,

I have been a contributor to Find-A-Grave, have given several presentations to genealogists and to two historical societies. To the family researchers, how to use the website and what you can learn. To the historical societies what they can do to help preserve the cemeteries in their area. I have some pretty bad examples of cemeteries that I have tried to take pictures of.

I wanted the historical societies understand how a Family Historian uses information found in cemeteries and on the Find-A-Grave website.

I also had several examples of "just because it's written in stone, doesn't make it right.

For the family historian's I hope that they see that links are added to the Memorial to help show relationships. Stories, obituaries, pictures are all to help tell the story of the person whose tombstone may be in the memorial.

I have posted a couple of pictures taken 10 years ago, because the current stone can not be read, or has been destroyed.

Find-A-Grave is another great resource.

Russ

I was part of a group of people who on Memorial Day photographed Canemah Cemetery here in Oregon City. Memorial Day is one of the few days the cemtery is open. It was a lot of fun.
When we visited Germany in September we got a big surprise. The graves there are only there 15 to 30 years by lease. After the time is up relatives renw the lease or the grave is removed and given to someone new. Only famous people last forever. That was quite a shock, but I did shoot pictures of the few I could.

Geoff,
Listening to the excitement in your voice as you told about your recent cemetery searches made it very obvious that you've caught the findagrave bug. Good for you! It is such an important site for the documentation and preservation of the information we can find in cemeteries. Too many times grave markers are no longer legible or have been destroyed - reminders of one of the reasons we volunteer to add to the site. Cemetery transcriptions have been done for years, but the amount of information and the ease with which it can be added to a free, central site such as findagrave has given us an enormous advantage in our research.

I agree with your vision for findagrave and ways to improve it. I have often wished there was a way to add a blurb to the main page of a cemetery stating all legible markers had been added as of a certain date. Many memorial pages are added based on cemetery records, death certificates, and obituaries; whether a marker exists isn't always known. When a photo volunteer lets me know a marker was not found, I place that information on the memorial page (or ask the manager to place it there).

Since you are new to findagrave, I want to mention that memorial pages may be added even when you are not certain of the final resting place of someone. An example is my great great grandfather who was shot and killed in 1899 in Oklahoma Indian Territory. I have copies of articles that appeared in newspapers, but have no way of knowing where he was buried unless some volunteer happens to find a marker some day. By adding a page for him, I am able to link him to his spouse and parents and have his descendants linked to him as well.
BettyF

I have been doing genealogical research for over thirty years, but only discovered FindAGrave within the past few years. I have added memorials for many of my own relatives, complete with personal and gravestone photos, and either obituaries or a short biography. You can request photos for your ancestors' graves from other areas, and volunteer to take photos in your area.

I had not heard about Billiongraves, which sounds like a much smoother upload process, but I don't have a smart phone.

I agree that this is a great resource for preserving burial records.

I too am a Find-A-Grave conributor and it has been a wonderful resource. I wish that other sites would not try and compete because instead of having everything in one location we will soon have to check multiple sites.

I have used find a grave as a resource for some time and finally realized it was time for payback so I became a volunteer contributor.
It is really very gratifying to help others with photo requests and I am also beginning to survey the local cemeteries as there is much of that needs doing as well.

Good Morning,
Interesting array of comments. There is one glaring problem with FAG, there is no oversight! Posters go on their merry way and add photos of headstones, many of which contain the names of living individuals. This is not acceptable and is an invasion of privacy.

There are also many unscrupulous persons who take photos off of other sites, then upload them to FAG and claim credit for the work of photographing a particular Cemetery.

Martha A Crosley Graham
Project & Publications Chair
San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society
San Luis Obispo County, California

I started using find a grave this year and have answered a number of requests. While in the cemetery I look for military graves, photograph them and create a memorial on the site for them. On a few small cemeteries I have photographed all the stones there and put up memorials for all of them. I have made a few requests of my own and got a fairly good response so the process works both ways quite well.

I sense your enthusiasm, and Find-a-Grave is mostly great, but I have to caution you about a big problem that many researchers have encountered with Find-a-Grave. As the site and the community of contributors has developed over the years, a distinct competition has grown among many of the contributors to manage as many memorials as possible. This has become a sad development as these folks often upload huge spreadsheets with basic, often incomplete, names and dates. If they are the first to do so for that individual, they then "own" the memorial to that individual, according to Find-a-Grave, and a duplicate memorial is not allowed.

This would not be a problem if the owners of the memorials were willing to fix errors and/or add genealogical information when asked to do so by family members and/or researchers. Some do and the system works - but many others refuse to and the incorrect/incomplete information stays put.

If you appeal to Find-a-Grave directly in this situation, they quote their mission statement and say that they are a grave registry first and managers of memorials are not required to fix or add anything. Some of these name collectors are downright rude and will tell you that they do not have time to correct or add anything themselves and that they will not transfer ownership to someone who would.

I have been a contributor on Find A Grave for over 8 1/2 years and find it an extremely satisfying endeavor and addictive. It is also a very valuable resource, realizing that it is not 100% accurate. This is the most inclusive graves registration site I have found and the added relationship information is invaluable. It would make a good webinar presentation at some future date.
So far as BillionGraves, I don't do smartphones and a search for names of interest on their database turned up no results.
While I agree that posting photos of gravestones of living persons is inappropriate, I don't believe there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, once it is placed in a public cemetery. Neither is posting of photos taken by someone else, appropriate.

I have been a findagrave enthusiast for 3 years and have found it very useful in my genealogy pursuit. I have tried to estimate the number of grave sites in the USA and here is my thinking. The US population by some key years are:

1800 5 million
1850 23 mil
1900 76 mil
1920 106 mil
1950 150 mil

I reason all 1850 and 1900 residents have died giving a total of about 100 mil. Granted there would be some living people in 1900 that lived in 1850 as well but when adding the few that would have died before 1800, 100 mil seems like a reasonable estimate. To consider the number born after 1900 and dying since I reason most of those born after 1900 and before 1920 (106 mil minus 76 mil or 30 mil) likely have died. So to make a rough estimate I come up with 100 mil dying after 1900 or a crude total estimate of 200 US grave sites. With findagrave having 71 burials which includes some outside the US I think one could say about 1/3 have been recorded. I would be curious to see if any other people have tried to estimate the total.
Gene

About 5 weeks ago, I made a request at find a grave for a photo of an uncle's grave marker in another state. A week later I was surprised to get an email that someone had fulfilled my request! Then I wondered if there were any photo requests near me that I could fill. A quick search showed there were 64 request within about 5 miles of me! Most are in one cemetery, with an office and records(bonus). The cemetery staff has been patient and helpful and I have taken about 18 photos so far. I plan to continue until the snow covers them, eventually filling all the requests. It is addictive and fun to help others with their research!

Geoff --
I have been a Findagrave contributor for a couple of years and at first did only family. Then as I was passing an interesting stone I would stop for a picture and began adding MORE!
But ... a couple of other problems have shown up because not everyone has been good at updating date. I now find when I stop at a cemetery office to ask directions/a map for a specific person, an actual relative though far removed, more cemetery office staff have been giving me a gruff look and the question "are you doing this for Findagrave?"
And I've found too many contributors who insert full text of copyrighted newspaper obituaries rather than simply citations and abstracts; and one Oregon contributor has been adding photocopies of death certificates as a photo -- sort of a nice idea, but I think that also is a copyright infringement.
On the positive side: I really like the "virtual cemetery" provisions and the ability to output a spreadsheet file of my contributions. For the latter, I then can add more columns to my downloaded file and use the spreadsheet as a worksheet to remind me of dates needing verified, whether I have completed linking the person with parents, or notes of other documentation I need to work on.

The one thing I find most exciting about find a grave, is the ability to link individuals. You can link husbands to wives and children to parents, creating a virtual family tree. It is an excellent way to connect with other researchers working on the same family.

I have been a Find-A-Grave contributor for a couple of years. It is fun to photograph a cemetery and enter all the memorials. I have worked with a few town historians who have embraced Find-A-Grave and worked with me to get all of their cemeteries on line. All of the cemetery managers I have encountered have been helpful. I even had one pull three gravestones out of shed for me to photograph. (They were there when he started and had no idea were they should be. His records showed they were buried in the cemetery somewhere.)

If you are interested in photographing a cemetery but don't know the closest, there is 'beta' tool that Find-A-Grave has that shows all of the cemeteries in county on a map if the GPS location has been entered. It also lists those that don't have the location. FAG County Cemeteries

Don't start a cemetery unless you want to get addicted. It is enjoyable when the weather is good.

Paul

Does anyone ever ask the surviving spouse if they want information posted? It was a shock to find someone had copied my husband's photo and obituary from either the newspaper or the funeral home website. In either case, it is copyrighted material.

Also, I have worked with several local cemeteries who have requested the information not be posted on the internet. And I have honored those requests.

My biggest gripe about Find A Grave is that it is mostly Find An Obituary. Fewer people post information or photos about graves and just copy online obituaries into it for what I suspect to jack up their number of submissions. As another person mentioned, I have also found personal information posted from obituaries for my own family where living person's names were listed. I know it is easily available online through other sources, but usually that takes a subscription and more work.

I complained to whoever runs it and they turned a deaf ear to my question about why there are more obituaries posted than graves. I, too, have contributed to it and have done photos for others. I think the focus should be more on the graves and not the obituaries because many times obits have wrong or misleading information. I know tombstones do as well.

Anyone can copy and paste online obituaries. It takes the dedicated cemetery surfers to take the time to photograph and transcribe inscriptions.

I am in the process of adding all stones in one cemetery in our town.

Have seen comments on living people: Well I add them if they are on the stone and do a seperate memorial and connect with the other person if I am fairly sure they are married. I debated with myself on what to do with these names, but if a spouse adds their name when they do a stone for the other spouse, I think the name should be added...but I do add that no death date is there.

I am not interested in credit for memorials or pictures just getting them posted. I have pros and cons on someone adding all the listings on a cemetery from a list prepared by someone else or say a historical soc. but it is nice to have a list to use when posting and I like to add plots. But some cemeteries don't have a map so that you know where the plots are.

Have enjoyed the postings here about findagrave.com as I find it very helpful. I requested one from the Military cemetery in Houston, TX, and got a picture the next day..and have to admit I am not as quick to add one for others.

Working with this has made me realize that you really need to think about what you do or do not put on a tombstone. One of the ladies that helped me do pictures told me she is now telling her children and family that they need to be sure and put the complete names and also a woman's maiden name on the stone.

If a complete obituary is used and the source is given with the copyright added, I would think that would be suffient. But don't know the legal issue here.

Luayne

I love Find A Grave! It is one of my favorite websites! I came upon the website about 4 1/2 years ago. Many volunteers have helped me find lost relatives and find new information about my ancestors. I have had most of my photo requests fulfilled. Some volunteers even posted obituaries or articles about my ancestors. They really went above and beyond the request! It is awesome! I decided to give back and have become a volunteer, taking photos for requests and also entering information about local cemeteries. I hope that more and more people will get involved!

I too am a fan and a contributor (family members only) to Find-A-Grave. I commend the efforts of all the volunteer contributors to this site. It has become a very valuable resource for the genealogy community, but I also agree with Ken Hess’ comments above. Some of these volunteers also create negative feelings because they will not transfer management rights to people who ask. Here is another type of problem that this creates. Party A finds a family member on Find-A-Grave. They request management rights be transferred to them. The original contributor says no or just never responds. A couple of months down the road, this same family member is found by Party B. They contact the contributor and ask how they are related. They are told, “I am not related. I am a volunteer.” Communication is over. Party A and Party B do not know about each other and a family connection is lost. If the volunteer had turned over management rights to Party A, the outcome would have been a lot different.

It would be nice if Find-A-Grave could add an icon button that says something like “Others Interested in this Person”. You could click on it and have a list of names and email addresses of people also interested in this person appear. From this screen you would also have an option to add/remove your name to/from the list. If they had this, than Party A and Party B above would have found each other and another “genealogy dance” would have been done.

I do understand that this site was not created as a “genealogy” website to connect people, but why not build on it and expand its usefulness.

Hello!
I joined Find A Grave as a volunteer after I discovered several photos of my ancestors. I realized the potential of the site and decided I'd like to help others find their ancestors, too. I have photographed about three dozen cemeteries now, and yes, it is addictive, but what better way to spend a nice day in a peaceful place. You are also learning about the customs of the area re: cemetery planning, resources, data management, as well as the families that lived in the area.

It would be great if genealogical societies would "get on board" with a site like FAG and somehow get their contributions noted. They worked hard and should get credit. After all, aren't we ALL doing this work for the benefit of others and our future generations? Even better - wouldn't it be great if the cemetery took a photo of the tombstone when it was placed (many do and give it to the family) and entered it on the fag website with plot info?

As for entering a living spouse: my feelings are that if they are on public property, it is public information. Many people include their children's names on their stones, too. Again: public information. Same for obituaries. Giving credit to the newspaper, I think it is all right to post them. People think it is an invasion of privacy, not realizing how much of their information is already public and easily found. If you don't want to be found, you'd have to be without a phone, address, credit cards, social security card, etc. Let's get real.

My kudos for the many volunteers who have worked at FAG for many more years than I have - and THANK YOU.

I don't see how posting a obit containing the names of living people can be a problem considering that it was printed in a newspaper that is read by thousands. I think once it is in the public it is fair game (for lack of a better word).

I have added 76 cemeteries to Find A Grave and I avoid the 'living' person by not adding a person if they do not have a death date and they were born less than 100 years ago. I will even 'paint over' their birth date for privacy. This doesn't eliminate the possibility of posting a 'live' person but it greatly cuts down on it. I also would immediately delete a memorial if someone told me the person was still living. This 'standard' also introduces the possibility of not adding a deceased person. I have talked with a few cemetery managers who say that there are quite a few who don't add the death date when the second person on the stone dies.

As for the obituaries. There are quite a few newspapers online these days so they are available already. There is a person who is working on posting as many New York State newspapers on his website that he can. He has over 450 newspapers with 17+ million pages. He has them back to the 19th century and are a great NY resource. Thus the Obituaries are already available online.

FindAGrave is a great volunteer-added site where I can combine my photography hobby and genealogy addiction. I've met some wonderful people through this site, both virtually and in-person. The Forums are an excellent resource for information - or a cool place to just hang out.

The biggest detriment, IMHO, is people's pettiness:
• those who won't update memorials or who are only in it for the numbers (I'd like a nickel for every transferred memorial that never gets updated again by the new owner);
• people who create duplicate memorials/cemeteries (and then won't fix their mistakes);
• those who lack the manners to send a simple 'thank you';
• people who want to use FindAGrave as their own private sandbox, etc.

The majority, however, are good-natured people and it's a pleasure working with them. The ability to link family members together is a great feature. And you can't beat the price.

A webinar about FindAGrave is an excellent idea!

I have used find a grave for many years. I have also photographed several small rural Texas cemeteries. I understand that photos of grave markers can not be larger than a certain dpi. How can I compress an image to meet find a graves' requirements.

Geoff,

I read your article about Find A Grave and I felt I needed to comment.
Your vision of what the site "could be" was once a vision of mine.
Now I no longer feel that way and I DO NOT consider it a "most valuable resource".
Here is my story.

When I first found Find A Grave, I started out with excitement and passion and jumped headlong into it.
I took the time ... visited family cemeteries...took photos...added them to the site.
As a couple months passed everything was fine...so I thought.
My family has a cemetery in Mineral County, WV.(Abe Cemetery)(over 400 graves)
I had just spent a couple months doing a complete and detailed inventory of the cemetery with photos of every marker.
All readable information was also recorded.
As I reviewed graves already listed on Find A Grave I started finding errors.
Names and dates were misspelled or wrong.
Several graves listed on the Find A Grave site WERE NOT even in the cemetery.
When I tried contacting the "manager" I received no reply.
At one point during the next month the "manager" removed all "contact" information for themselves.
I immediately tried contacting Find A Grave about the problem. NO REPLY!!!
The "manager" finally does reply, after a month, to my email and removes the graves that were not in the cemetery.
In the meantime I had decided to start a separate web site of my own for the Abe Cemetery and other family burials.
This would be a way to accurately put my information out there for others since I was losing faith in Find A Grave.
Now here is where everything I ever felt about Find A Grave went quickly downhill.
This "manager" found my web site with the cemetery information and from my index, started copying all the information over to Find A Grave.
They never even asked my permission to publish the information elswhere.
This person had, over the previous year, entered over 10,000 names to Find A Grave.
Almost all without verification. No photos to prove a visit.
I have taken the time to accurately enter graves to Find A Grave so I know the work and time required.
There is no way 10,000 graves could be VERIFIED in one year.
I now knew first hand how they were doing it.
They raided other peoples work to do it. They scour the internet for any reference to a grave and in turn use it on Find A Grave.
We all know that there is a lot of inaccurate information on the internet.
So a lot of incorrect information is getting added to Find A Grave because anyone can add any name to any cemetery without any verification.
That is why there were incorrect entries to the Abe Cemetery.
About a month later, another "so called manager" picked up where the other left off and continued down my index list.
The pattern of information usage was unmistakable.
This person also had multitudes of entries with no verification.
In the end they are not managing, just inflating their number of entries.
By the way...a second email to Find A Grave also went unanswered.
They can't even acknowledge my complaint. Apparently they don't care.

Now...how does this make you feel about the the reputation that Find A Grave is establishing for themselves.

Please don't misunderstand me. There are multitudes of dedicated members working on Find A Grave.
I am not trying to diminish their work.
I have used Find A Grave successfully to to find a couple graves of family members that I had and may not have found otherwise.
Find A grave ...CAN...be an excelent tool, but strong caution shoud be exercised on using entries.
You may be traveling a great distance on a wild goose chase.
I feel once more researchers start finding more and more wrong information on Find A Grave, the downhill slide for the site will begin.
FInd A Grave MUST make changes to REQUIRE verification by at least a photo.
Except for the graves that I do and will continue to manage, for as long as possible, I have basically severed myself from the site.

Michael

Claudia - in your photo editing software, you can adjust the resolution and compression so it is 750kb or lower.

I think your idea is great, BUT if you take on this task Please don't let Ancestry take over your project. I'm so sick and tired of Ancestry taking over OUR records and yes they do run a business But not eveyone has a high paying job, Genealogy is not just a hobby for some it has become our life.

I have managed a cemetery for over twenty years and found recently that someone had added pictures and information about this cemetery to find a grave. Unfortunately a lot of wrong information was published which makes genealogy research more difficult. No one ever came to me to ask permission or to ask for information or if I had research documents on this cemetery. The misinformation should concern everyone involved in genealogy research. In addition pictures of stones of living persons were included. Very Wrong to do that.

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