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.
Here is her memorial page:
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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...