Why Is There So Much Drama On Find A Grave?

Why Is There So Much Drama On Find A Grave?

by Kerry Scott on 13 April 2011

Post image for Why Is There So Much Drama On Find A Grave?

Find A Grave is one of those tools that appeared while I was away from my research for ten years. I’ve used it to find graves (and even living descendants who have posted memorials), but I haven’t actually contributed anything, and don’t really understand how it works. I get that volunteers enter information and photos, and that other people can post memorials and stuff, but there seems to be an ownership component that I don’t get. From what I’ve seen lately, the ownership of the online graves or memorials and some of the other features seem to cause some occasional drama.

So I’m curious. Do you use Find A Grave? Do you contribute? Have your good experiences outweighed the bad? What advice would you give to someone who is new to the site and wants to begin contributing?

Photo by kyle simourd

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Stumbleupon Email

Other posts you might like:


Nancy Shively April 13, 2011 at 9:24 am

Ok, I’m curious…what drama?
I’ve used findagrave quite a bit and found it very helpful. I’ve only contributed once and that was a photo of my mother’s grave. Occasionally I’ll check for photo requests for cemeteries in my area.

Leslie Lawson April 13, 2011 at 9:25 am

Kerry, I do use Find-A-Grave. It’s a wonderful site. I avoid the drama however. I’ve posted only photos of my own family, and I do link them. Years ago I posted photos where possible on those state sites. When I make time at some point in the future I’ll go back and put those same photos on Find-A-Grave. I’ll do this because I want the family members linked and Find-A-Grave site can do that. I also appreciate that I can submit a request for a photo in a cemetery I’m not likely to ever get to visit. I’ve had great experience with the volunteers I’ve been in touch with. I just don’t do drama. Not my thing.

Fran April 13, 2011 at 9:26 am

I have contributed, created, and requested. I have also sponsered 3 of my ancient ancestors. I had one person say I had uploaded an incorrect gravestone, but when I went back it was correct, when I sent back an email that I could not find the error, they never responded. I have be very grateful to those that have have found gravestones in Chicago for me. It looks like I may never make it up there. I have found desired gravestones in awkward places (almost imbeded in a tree trunk) . The receipent was grateful for the picture. Most contributors are from the area of the grave yards and are usually helpful in changing information or giving the rights to the site to you if desired.
It is a usually friendly community. Of course, family are dynamic and never follow a predicted course. I have 6 children… they don’t always cooperate.

Dev April 13, 2011 at 9:34 am

I love Find-a-Grave. I contribute, create, and request. I really haven’t ran into any drama there. It’s a great tool for finding relatives, both living and dead.

GrannyPam April 13, 2011 at 9:40 am

I am a contributor, and I have tripped out to a local cemetery and taken photos for those who could not visit. It is nearly painless on a nice day,and I don’t go on bad days. I like the feeling that I have done something for someone, so that is enough to keep me at it. I also posted many graves for my family, it seems like a nice, permanent remembrance.

Oh yes, you asked about the dark side? A few of our cousins created memorials for our immediate family, and therefore have “ownership” of those memorials. As far as I can tell, they consider the number of memorials they “own” a weird type of status symbol, and won’t turn over control to me, although I am more closely related. [According to the "rules", they should do so.] Since I am not a control freak, I am not too bothered by that, but I wish they would fix the mistakes or typos they have posted.

Denise Coughlin April 13, 2011 at 10:03 am

I use Find-A-Grave too. Since all my folks are out of the area, I do request photos. Had one lady question why I had the “nerve” to request a photo in winter. Didn’t I know it was winter in upstate NY? I quickly wrote back that yes I was aware of the seasons but wanted to request it WHILE I was thinking about it. Had to laugh after venting!!

I do take local photos here in Maryland. Usually folks are very appreciative. Some just want the memorials to add to their totals. For those folks, I refer them back to FAG guidelines about direct descendants and stay away from their drama and issues. Lots of “collectors” out there but most people are just like the rest of us and trying to find those missing details.

For a newbie, I would say take a look at the requests at your nearest cemetery and just go out and search. It’s amazing what little things you start noticing in cemeteries and what clues symbols can give you.

Daniel Dillman April 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

I’ve been a user and contributor to Find A Grave for several years. My family is scattered all over the country, making it impossible to visit all of the cemeteries for gravesite pictures. I’ve been pleased to receive pictures from other contributors nearer my family. I’ve also done some nearby sites for distant folks who request.

I agree with GrannyPam about the drama, some people see it as a status symbol that they have so many contributions and graves managed. I don’t need the extra work, so if anyone asks, I happily turn them over. I have had people send me corrections and extra data to add to individual pages, which was nice in that I also got the benefit of the extra data!

Debi April 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

I’ve used findagrave for a few years in all ways. When I finally find where a relative is buried, it feels like it closes the loop when I add a memorial there. And then when I can request a photo and poof it’s there, it really completes the circle. I’ve also found some interesting stuff when someone adds the photo like extra kids I knew nothing about until I saw their stone with their parents.

I connected with a very helpful woman who is a descendant of my husband’s great grandfather so I guess it worked as a “cousin magnet” for us, too.

On the down side, when I first started out I didn’t think about actually searching for the person before I added the memorial. I got sort of a snippy e-mail from someone telling me I’d duplicated his memorial and “if I’d asked he would have just transferred the memorial to me”. I deleted my memorial, he transferred his to me, and when I sent him an apology e-mail explaining that I was new, I never heard back from him.

I agree that some people feel like the number of memorials they’ve added and/or managed are sort of a status symbol. What’s up with that?

Oh, and I do love adding photos for people. We were in Juneau, Alaska last fall and I was able to photograph about 10 graves. The people were thrilled as they’d been waiting for quite awhile – not too many people out photographing graves in Juneau. :-)

Carol April 13, 2011 at 10:25 am

What is with the status symbol of most memorials entered at Find A Grave, you might have a look at their page on Top Contributors, Find A Grave acknowledges their accomplishments. Not sure how all of these fine folks feel about this, human nature being what it is.

here is a link:


Some contributors take huge exception to their photos being stolen, err, used on other web sites like Ancestry.com. Ask and you may receive permission.

It is good ole boundary issues and good manners.

And, much much more, we are complicated beings afterall.

Michelle Goodrum April 13, 2011 at 10:34 am


My experience with Find-A-Grave has been very limited but extremely rewarding. So much so that I plan on contributing myself, once I get a certain high school student graduated and have more time, just as a way of “paying it forward”.

I stumbled across a translation for my great great grandmother on Find-A-Grave. You can read about it in my two posts:

Can You Stumble Over Someone On Find-A-Grave? I Did and
An Adventure In The Cemetery

The volunteer who posted it is of absolutely no relation, turned the memorial over for me to manage it and has been going out of her way to get back to the cemetery, find the gravesite and take a photo. She didn’t have a camera when she originally did the translation and it’s a huge cemetery with records that are a mess or non-existant in the case of the older burials. Talk about a kind hearted volunteer! If that doesn’t make you want to pay it forward, I don’t know what will!

Cheryl Rothwell April 13, 2011 at 10:35 am

I don’t get the ownership either. Some people seem to think they “own” a cemetery. The most complaints I hear are those who post stone photos to another site and find them copied on Find A Grave contributed by someone else. I have no doubt that works in reverse too.

I have found incorrect information. That happens but emails with correct information are ignored or bounce. Emails to FAG “owner” are also ignored. As a result I suggest the written info there is iffy.

Bottom line: probably a good resource but it has problems.

Margie April 13, 2011 at 10:49 am

I use FAG and have recently started contributing but so far just my own family. I searched 20+ years for my grandmother’s sister grave and found her on FAG (after that cemetery’s office said she was not there!). I would not have found many of my ancestors without it. I contribute for my family because I like the fact there is a record/memorial out there for ancestors who have died long ago (and probably not known to anyone but me).

I agree there seems to be issues with “ownership” but like a previous poster said I just stay away from that. I have come across at least two members who download the data from the website Web Cemeteries, then upload a spreadsheet for entire cemeteries. This seems to bother some people for whatever reason.

For someone who is new I would say it is a wonderful tool to find people and get to see pictures of graves you may never be able to visit. But proceed with caution meaning don’t assume everything you find is correct. I use it as a lead, than verify the information. I have found people listed in the wrong cemetery and incorrect family links. Someone has entered 3 generations of part of my family and has them all linked incorrectly. When I first found them I was so excited—my third great father died in 1916, I can get a death certificate! Until I did a reality check. Wow that would make him 116 when he died, possible but not likely. I have since found his obit (died in 1882) and he is not even buried at that cemetery.

Deanna Dailey April 13, 2011 at 11:59 am

I have checked out the website a few times, but haven’t had the time to really use it to it’s potential yet. Recently, my grandmother had passed and my mother suggested that we start adding the photos that I have taken of our family. I knew about the issue of duplicate memorials so I checked for my grandmother and my mother’s father just on a whim (as my grandfather had not been on before). I found my grandfather’s and sent a request to the “owner” asking if I would be able to take it over as my mother wanted to add my grandmother and other family members. I was told that they would not transfer it and that I could give them the information and they would link them together. This upset my mother as we had read that family (especially immediate family) was to have the first right for ownership. I have not sent an email to FAG yet as it is too soon after my grandmother’s passing and my mother is too upset at the comment. I will wait until my mother is ready to deal with the issue, but I think that a child should have the right of “ownership” over someone who is just randomly uploading photos.

GrannyPam April 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

@Deanna, of course they should. You can see that the FAQ, that Find-a-Grave will try to help. [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=listFaqs#149] But I believe there are one or two volunteers who run the website, making response slow.

Deanna Dailey April 13, 2011 at 2:02 pm

@GrannyPam, Thanks for the reply, but I am going to wait awhile before doing anything as it upset my mom and she said to hold off for now.

Cheryl Rothwell April 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I think Deanna’s post points out the “ownership” problem. One you have “ownership” and people collecting cemeteries and stones you get problems. If they went back to the original where pictures are posted and people help other people, nothing more, it would be a better place IMO.

As for volunteer response, I’ve never seen it but I would guess they are totally overwhelmed all the time.

Sandy April 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm

It’s interesting..however their idea of who is a celebrity/well known [especially if they don't have an American component] is quite limiting and i don’t suggest going in to the message boards. The cliques in there are horrendous, with people downright owning the conversation threads or telling you what you can and can’t write. Some got quite abusive in my experience.

They do not like me putting surnames in capitals. This is standard practice amongst most of those in genealogical circles and can save confusion when certain surnames can also be used as forenames. Apart from that… i enjoy browsing now and then and have contributed hundreds of photos…i don’t now though…specifically due to the points above. I use Flickr.com

New Zealand

Gina April 13, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I love Find-a-Grave, too. I contribute, create, and request and have only had very positive experiences.

I have one extraordinary story of a gentleman in Arkansas who drove 120 miles roundtrip to get a photo for me, but couldn’t find the grave. He later got in contact with an elderly woman who knew the cemetery very well, so he drove the 120 miles AGAIN to meet her at the cemetery, so she could show him the grave. Amazing.

I occasionally fill requests, and I love the responses I get; folks are always very grateful and often tell me a little about the person who grave I photographed.

Deborah April 27, 2011 at 10:33 am

Gina, I share your experiences with Findagrave. I search, create, and volunteer. My biggest bone to pick has only been with well-meaning folks who make up cemeteries! These people are usually intering info from obits or indexed death records and are guessing at the cemetery or if it’s not mentioned in the obit, they make it up!
I must say that when I have contacted the creators and pointed out that there is no cemetery in the county by that name or that it is in a different county than the one in which the person died, most have complied with corrections.
Folks should not be so eager to boost their contributions that they create “dupes” or make up cemeteries.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze April 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I think their FAQ explains their site policy very well. Not everyone might agree with it but it’s the site owners right to set whatever rules they want!
“What if a member will not transfer my relative to me?
If the memorial in question is a direct relative within four generations (siblings, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents) to you and the original submitter is not family, then your wishes supersede theirs under our “Family First” policy. If they refuse to transfer your relative to you, contact the administration and we will work on it for you.
Please remember that there are thousands of contributors to Find A Grave, and it is highly likely that some of those contributors will actually be part of your family tree and share some of your ancestors.
Also, the goal is not to “own” every memorial of those to whom you are related. The ultimate goal should be to have meaningful, accurate memorials that honor those who have passed away, regardless of who created the memorial or who maintains it”

Deanna Dailey April 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm

@Lorine, I had read the FAQ policy and that is why my mother had gotten upset that the person would not transfer “her father” to us. The person who “owns” it is not a relative. I will wait awhile and once my mother is ready we will contact the administration.

Kerry Scott April 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm

This is fascinating. I should have asked sooner.

What is the advantage to “owning” a grave? What can you do that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise?

Debi April 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm

The person who manages the memorial is not always the same person who added the memorial (in the case of a transfer). The memorial manager is the only one who can edit the information or link family members to each other.

I understand completely that someone else may have added the memorial and I applaud them for doing that. But if they are not a relative I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be all too happy to transfer management to someone else. Some of these people are managing thousands of memorials which must take a considerable amount of time to make changes, etc. Why they would want to continue doing that when someone else wants to do it is beyond me.

Doesn’t this kind of remind you of “posting levels” in the old hrman days? :-)

Kerry Scott April 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm


It sounds like a lot of the drama is caused by people achieving some sort of visible status from managing lots of graves, regardless of whether they manage them well or not. That sounds…well, it wouldn’t be my choice.

Sarndra April 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I guess transferring the ‘ownership’ of the memorial can be problematic as many photographers might feel this is allowing strangers to have control over their photo which is copyright to them unless specifically stated otherwise.

You might find some photographers would rather delete the photo than for it to be used unknowingly everywhere without permission. Yes the internet does allow people to do this anyway – however it is illegal to use copyright material and if caught…that is their risk.


GrannyPam April 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Kerry, when you “own” it, you have control of the text which is printed there, in other words, you can edit and/or correct what is written.

Kerry Scott April 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm

If the info is incorrect, can you use that “leave flowers and a note” thing to say, “I’m the granddaughter of John Smith, and he was married to Mary, not Jane?” Or is that not done?

Dee April 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Oh, you dare not put biographical information in flowers, Kerry.

Very bad girl if you do. Against *the Rules.*

Yvonne April 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Uh Oh! I shoulda read those rules, I guess.

Kerry Scott April 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Well now I have an overwhelming desire to go put some biographical information in flowers, just because it will make me a Bad Girl. I never smoked in the girls’ bathroom in junior high, so now’s my chance.

Kerry Scott April 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm

So this entire operation is run by volunteers, correct? I mean, I know the content is entered by volunteers, but it sounds like even the disputes between members are answered by volunteers as well, right?

And this is all supported by donations and “sponsorships” for $5/grave, right?

How long before a for-profit company buys this thing, then? Because that seems like a whole lot of work and expense in exchange for some $5 donations and the occasional t-shirt sale.

Shaz April 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I am both a user and contributor and have never run into any drama. I have requested transfers of several graves to my ‘ownership’ with no problems. Just want to let everyone know that there is a similar site in The Netherlands and I have been finding dozens of extended family tombstones there. Granted, most are from the last 50 years, but they something I didn’t have. Some of the birth and death dates are new to me since those recent records are not yet available due to privacy laws. It is in Dutch, but if you are doing Dutch research you can probably figure it out. The site: Begraafplaatsen%3b%20Ruim%20200.000%20grafmonumenten%20on-line.htm Or you can Google Online Begraafplaatzen and get there.

Joseph Hay April 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Two clarifications: Find A Grave is a for-profit business. And there is a difference between claiming “ownership” of a grave or cemetery listing and claiming ownership of a photograph. The latter is a matter of copyright, the former a matter of etiquette.

Kerry Scott April 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

The FAQ says they are not a not-for-profit (i.e.you can’t deduct your donation on your taxes). That’s true of lots of websites out there that have a “donate” button up and never make any money…but aren’t technically a not-for-profit.

If they’re a real business that is making real money for people, I’d be surprised (and impressed). However, if they sold it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all…and I’d wonder what the reaction would be of the people who apparently have a very strong sense of ownership over the memorials they “own.”

Kerry Scott April 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Oh, and I couldn’t agree more about the photos. If you took the photo, you own the copyright. Period.

Kathryn Doyle April 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Like anything involving humans (!) there may be drama. I choose to try and fly above the fray. I’ve been a “member” of Find A Grave for 10 years, 4 months, 24 days (yes, they keep track!) and I’ve put up far more memorials than photographs. I always try to include an obituary if I have it. Over the years the owners have made many improvements and overall I find it a nice way to share genealogical information. I’ve been contacted by far-flung cousins who have been grateful for the information I’ve provided and I have met some amazingly generous “strangers” who have made repeated trips to cemeteries to take photos of entire plots of family stones. Put me down as a fan. You can find my profile under
Kathryn Doyle.

Linda McCauley April 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I’ve mostly had good luck with Find A Grave. Volunteers have made pictures for me in several states and I try to fill requests near me as often as I can. That’s really a nice service. I’ve also added pictures I’ve taken for my own research but not anything near all of them.

It does seem that anytime something is counted there are people who want to “win.” I’ve had one odd experience with an owner. It was right after they added the ability to link memorials for spouses, parents and children together but you have to be the owner in order to add the links. I contacted someone who owned the memorials for a lot of my relatives. (I’m not sure he didn’t take a local cemetery book and add everyone in it to Find A Grave but that’s a whole other issue.) Anyway I explained what I wanted to do and ask for a number of memorials to be transferred. The response I received was very brief and to the effect that his wife was also related to all of these people, no offer to add the links. Well, I was still excited, thought I found a new cousin, so I immediately responded with how I was related, asking where she fit into the family and referred him to my website. Next thing I know I’m getting notices that everything I requested had been transferred to me but not another word from the former owner.

Debi April 13, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I hope someone from findagrave shows up here to see this honest feedback. I’m guessing that the vast majority of members have their heart in the right place but a few people who want to win (love that term) might be spoiling it for others.

I forgot one other piece of information. When my dad died in 2005, long before I was into this stuff, I added a memorial there for him anonymously. Fast forward to 2010 and it became very important for me to have “ownership” of his memorial so that I could start linking things and because he was my dad and I felt it belonged to me. I sent a message to the findagrave people (via a link, if I recall) and explained the situation. A few days later that memorial was included with the memorials I’d added. I never heard a thing from anyone it just showed up. And it added about 5 years to my “been a member since” stats.

Susan April 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I also love FindAGrave! It has been valuable in actually seeing photographs of graves in faraway states that I might never seen in person. I have also set up several memorials (about 350) on family members whose graves I’ve photographed or as I come across obituaries in my research. I’ve taken a few volunteer photos also.

There’s a little pioneer cemetery in the area where my ancestors lived and it did not have a listing on the site. So I set up the site and have added about 65 of the interments. I’ve turned over a few of those memorials to family members who have requested so.

I have also requested that the memorials of several family members be turned over to me to manage – so I can add biographies and link up family members with one another. The other volunteers complied EXCEPT FOR ONE. Here comes the drama. As someone else commented, transfers are only supposed to be granted to direct line descendants within 4 generations (the FindAGrave law). So I happened to request a transfer on a collateral branch of my tree and this person told me in no uncertain terms that requesting that transfer was out of the question and broke FindAGrave’s rules.

What’s interesting is that this possessiveness comes from someone who had something like 300,000 memorials. Bravo to her for entering all of those, but does she really have any interest at all in telling the stories of the people on the memorial?

Most of the time people have been more than willing to transfer the “ownership” of the memorial to me when I asked. I’ve also transferred some memorials that I created to people who were more closely related.

There’s nothing to prevent anyone from doing a duplicate memorial should you run into a cranky pants like I did. I haven’t done that, but it’s been tempting.

Anymore, EVERY time I locate a newspaper obituary that has a cemetery listing, I check FindaGrave. If there is no memorial for the person I add it.

I’ve also found that the photo volunteers are extremely helpful. I had someone in a cemetery in the wrong county, so things started to make sense once someone wrote and let me know. I got the memorial change and other relationships fell into place. Another time, I had mis-read the surname on a death certificate. A volunteer who specialized in the cemeteries in that area couldn’t figure out who MY person was. So we exchanged a few emails, certificates, etc. and found the woman was buried under her 1st husband’s name rather than her 2nd husband (my relative). The floodgates opened up after making the proper connection.

Did I say that I Love FindAGrave? Yep. Essential part of my family history research.

Deanna Dailey April 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm

After coming back and reading other’s comments, I wanted to clarify why I was upset about the issue regarding my grandfather. There is a photo on FAG, but with no relevant information other than what is on the headstone.

I understand that the photo has a copyright to it and I would prefer to put one of my own photos up especially since I want the photo to now show my grandmother’s date of death. I have newer picture with flowers that my mother wants to be seen in the recent photo.

My grandmother’s obituary has been added as a memorial, but the person (a different person from my grandfather’s memorial) has not included her previous married name so people would not make the connection to him. She was married a second time and this memorial doesn’t make the connection to my grandfather (although my grandmother had her second husband’s name added to the headstone a few years ago). She is buried with my grandfather so the headstone shows my grandfather’s name (the first husband) with the second husband’s name near her name. There is no photo of the headstone connected to her memorial.

I have thought of adding duplicate memorials for them with my own photos, but I have heard that FAG will delete duplicate ones and keep the older one. Not sure what I will do right now, but it is a very personal thing for our family and it is unsettling to think that a stranger has control over part of our memory of our loved ones.

Kerry Scott April 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

One of the things I’d seen recently that prompted me to write this post was the story of a woman who found that a stranger had posted a copy of the obit for a close relative…before they’d even buried the person.

I can definitely see where things like this are unsettling. It’s one thing to look at Find A Grave to find long-dead ancestors, but quite another to be looking up people who you’re still mourning. Technology has changed much faster than our mourning customs and etiquette have, I guess.

Carol April 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Deanna, anyone can add photos to ANY Find A Grave memorial. You do not have to “own” or “manage” the memorial to add a photo. There can be more than one photo of a headstone per memorial, there can be a number of photos per memorial. Believe it is 5?? You can check that in the FAQ’s.

And, when you add a photo there is a place to place a caption, and I would add something like, Photo of my grandparents headstone, give the info, briefly about her second marriage, etc.

Then the info is there.

Just a thought – -

Yvonne April 14, 2011 at 6:26 am

Ahhhh, not even peace after death :). I guess I’m fortunate. My family is so bad that NO ONE wants to fight over their graves or headstones :). Who would’ve there’d be a positive side to all my meanies! :)

Yvonne April 14, 2011 at 6:29 am

**Who would’ve ***thought there’d be a positive side to all my meanies!

Lauren Mahieu April 14, 2011 at 7:11 am

Find-a-Grave is superb – not only have I found many dead relatives there, I’ve had the best fortune finding cousins through the site. The sponsorship makes it a bit easier to spot them! Even better, I’ve come to recognize those that take the time to contribute to Find-a-Grave like to freely share their genealogical information. One recent cousin I found on Find-A-
Grave had some invaluable documents that I wouldn’t have otherwise found, and he spent a considerable amount of time scanning and preparing them to share with me. In addition to posting to Ancestry.com and having my own family history web site for my ancestors, I’ve also posted on Find-A-Grave, hoping to make more cousin connections. As for the drama – that’s everywhere in life; however, I’ve never experienced it with Find-A-Grave.

Brandt Gibson April 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I’ve only used Findagrave.com a little bit, but when I have used it, it’s been very helpful. I found a listing for a friend of mine very quickly, with lots of helpful info on the cemetery.

Susan April 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Not long ago I made a comment to a fellow blogger that I didn’t quite grasp why anyone would want to claim copyright for a basic snapshot of a tombstone. Copyright is designed to protect artistic works. I don’t quite get why a photograph of something created by someone else should be copyrighted. Sure, I get it if it’s a creative photo with spectacular lighting, clouds looming overhead or something like that, but just a snapshot of a tombstone? Someone else created the tombstone, not me, so why would I want to claim copyright for that? Just curious ….

Martha Mitchem Graham April 14, 2011 at 5:17 pm

To answer your question about why there is so much drama on FindAGrave … it is, to be rather simplistic, because people are just human. Some are selfish. Others more giving. I am learning to TRY to ignore those who think they own the world. It isn’t easy. ha ha But, the good far outweighs the bad. F.A.G. is a wonderful resource for genealogists, but one must ALWAYS be aware that mistakes are made, even by those with the very best of intentions. I have looked at death certificates in my hand while standing before a grave … and the words and dates engraved in stone on the cemetery markers were DIFFERENT in some respects from the death certificate. And, I knew it was the same person for many reasons, including the fact that they were buried beside their spouse (or other good clues). We just do the best we can and keep on keeping on. Don’t let others deter you from having fun on the F.A.G. site. Just do the best you can.
Hope this is helpful.
Martha Mitchem Graham North Carolina

Hillary April 14, 2011 at 7:33 pm

For the most part my experience at FAG has been great. I have only encountered two “owners” who would not transfer memorials to me. One I was fine with, it’s a military cemetery and added by an employee of the cemetery, fine. The other was just someone who had added the photos of a cemetery and down-right refused my request…rudely, stating she had taken the photo and the memorial belonged to her.??

I read over the transfer “rules” which state transfer only to imediate family..parents, child, grandparent and nothing more. In my opinion if a transfer request is made by a person related to the memorial individual in any capacity, it should be transfered.

I have created several family memorials, some being my 2x and 3x great grandparents. If someone who had a closer relationship to the individual then myself I wouldn’t hesitate to transfer it.

Laura April 15, 2011 at 8:04 am

Hi Kerry ~ thanks for bringing up this subject. Here’s my 2 cents: The Find A Grave community is just like every other group of people. Sadly, there always seems to be someone in the mix who doesn’t live by the Golden Rule. My husband and I are both active on FAG. We think of our contributions as genealogy Pay it Forwards. We’re more than willing to transfer “ownership” to family members. I appreciate FAG contributors who feel the same way. If we all did unto others as we’d have them do unto us, the genealogical world would be an even better sandbox in which to play.

Lisa April 15, 2011 at 8:48 am

I, too , am a member of Find A Grave and read the above comments with interest.

My advise to anyone new to FAG is to read the FAQ’s before getting involved. There are guidelines put in place by the owner of the site that everyone should be aware of. He sets the rules and everyone must play by them.

Some big No,NOs include:

1. Duplicating a memorial. Be sure and search throughly before adding a memorial. Duping memorials will get you a hand slap and may get you banned.

2. If you want add information to a memorial you don’t manage then click on the edit tab on the memorial and select “Suggest a Correction”. By sending your changes this way the manager of the memorial has all the links needed to add the information.

3. There is a guideline for transfers. Be sure and read those before requesting a transfer. Once again these are “guidelines” and many volunteers on FAG will transfer outside these. (I for one would rather the memorials be with family members).

4. Please stop before accusing someone of trying to pad their “numbers”. Someone who post 300,000 memorials has made it possible for 300,000 people to be found. I am grateful to everyone for the time they took to enter memorials that allow me to find my ancestors.

5. If you feel like it is necessary to “own” everyone in your family tree who has a memorial on FAG may I suggest you create your own Virtual Cemetery for them? You can create by surname, cemetery, etc. without having to ask for all those transfers outside of the guidelines.

6. Before you check I will let you know that I have added 344 memorials. I manage 424, and I’ve taken 568 photos. Feel free to bash away!

Kathy April 15, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I get more upset with people who make FAG entries and then refuse to maintain them–even when suggested corrections are asked for by the use of the edit tab.

I have had members ask for transfers of their ancestors and then they lose interest and never do anything with them, which if I maintain them, at least I will make additions, correcctions and links to them and when I lose interest, I will transfer my entries to someone younger and willing to keep up my memorials.

Some people only want to “own” them and not maintain them.

Jenny Lanctot April 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm


I also use, request, and contribute on FindAGrave. Anytime I’m photographing a grave marker at a cemetery, I always photograph the surrounding graves as well. When I get back home, I check to see if there are memorials for them, and if there are, I will add the photos. If not, I add the memorial and the photo. I have had several requests to transfer ownership of those memorials to someone who is in the family, and have been happy to do it. Personally, it’s one less thing for me to remember to update.

BDM April 15, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I had NO idea of the machiavellian subtext on a site I never use. So why did I get here to the comments? Kerry, that’s one fantastic awesome image leading your post and I want to know what-where-when :-+

Kerry Scott April 15, 2011 at 11:05 pm

You mean the photo at the top? There’s a link to the photographer’s Flickr page at the very bottom of the post. I believe it’s from a Jewish cemetery in eastern Europe.

Occasionally I use stock photos, but most of them come from Flickr. There are lots of Creative Commons photos there (i.e. photos you are allowed to use for free provided to provide a link back to the photographer’s page…it’s always at the bottom of the posts).

BDM April 15, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Thanks! You always have striking images.

Kerry Scott April 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Thank you. One of my favorite parts of putting together a blog post is finding a photo to go with it. I have zero photography skills, so I admire people who actually know what they’re doing.

Dee April 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

The drama (mostly) occurs in the forums. If I want an instant headache, I go read there. (So as you might guess, I rarely read there – just keep my head down and keep entering my data on the main site.)

That’s not to say you can’t get drama on the main site, too. I apparently have pissed off a few of the record collectors by saying on my profile page that if you’re related to the deceased and I am not, I’ll transfer the record. I also say that if I’ve photographed one of your relative’s graves and you want the photo, right click and copy it. You don’t have to send me an email asking my permission.

I got quite a few emails from other contributors, telling me that I should have more pride of ownership over my “work,” and that by my saying what I did in print, folks might expect them to also let people have copies of photos of their relatives’ gravestones.

Puhlease, spare me…the tight photo of the gravestone to make it as legible as possible is not something I consider my photos of cemetery art, and those pics are stored and backed up separately from the cemetery photos over which I do exercise copyright.

Why in world should I want to keep someone from having a photo of a relative’s gravestone, or jump through a bunch of hoops to get it?

It’s one of the reasons I also blog – I like sharing.

Cissy Currie April 16, 2011 at 6:54 pm

I am a contributor to FindAGrave, and have found it to be very rewarding. Due to other volunteers, I’ve found the majority of two of my Currie lines and can’t tell you how much it meant to me.

As a contributor, I’ve had a number of emails from people in other states thanking me for adding a memorial or photo, because they had no idea where “so and so” were buried. That makes the trekking across cemeteries worth every step.

As far as ownership, I’ve transferred to cousins, if they’ve asked. If I’m not related, why would I need to manage the memorial? Certainly they would have more information to add/edit than I’d ever have as a stranger! I have no desire to rack up numbers…my goal is for the memorials to be as accurate as possible. Some people may have no other resource for dates, etc..

I don’t add lots of memorials. I think my tally with them is about 16 per week. That’s because before I add one, I’m liable to try and research the person as extensively as I can before I add them. So…I’m like a turtle I guess. I’d rather be recognized for my accuracy than numbers!

Judy April 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm

The only real advantage to managing a memorial is that it is tremendously easier to add or correct information and link entire families. I’ve used F.A.G. extensively and am so surprised to read many of these comments. I’ve never had anyone refuse to transfer management, but I always go through Edit on the memorial page. Some people with many memorials will only respond to that type of request–otherwise they’re bombarded with emails.

Last year a relative who was a very active genealogist passed away. None of his immediate family is interested in family history so I emailed his wife and asked if they would like for me to be the “guardian” of his memorials until one of his children reaches an age to be interested. (At that point I’ll transfer the memorials back to them.) I contacted the administrator of the website who responded very quickly and was able to transfer all of his memorials at one time.

I don’t use the forums so that may be the reason I’ve missed problems. Actually, all of my drama has been with users on Ancestry.com who also “collect” records of strangers and then refuse to correct errors. As wonderful as the Internet is, it allows inaccurate information to replicate at lightning speed–I don’t trust any user data until I have documentation. Human nature being what it is, there will always be people who think more is better. ;-)

The people at F.A.G. have truly been wonderful to me–adding to my information, photos and documents. A young soldier in Belgium even took pictures of the cemetery near Bastogne where my father and many other casualties were temporarily buried after the Battle of the Bulge. He mailed high-res photos to me and asked if there was any research he could do or other photos he could take. We’ve become good friends via email.

That type of kindness is not at all unusual on Find a Grave. In my mind the actions of volunteers like the young soldier from Belgium far outweigh a few people who are merely collectors of graves and recorders of numbers. ;-)

Deanna, I’m so sorry for what has happened to your mother and you. I would suggest sending an email to info@findagrave.com. I think you will receive and empathetic and helpful response.

Mavis April 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Like you I was away from my research for awhile and Find-A-Grave is one of those things that happened while I was away. I’ve not had any really bad experiences. Most of the folks that have volunteered to take photos for me have often gone above and beyond to try to find a tombstone. Lots of my direct and collateral relatives are not interred near me so volunteers have been a big help. I hope to start paying it forward soon by taking photos in my area for those who need and want them.

I think my only complaint is from the folks who scour the obits and post things. A great example, is my dad recently passed. I set up a memorial for him before we even had the funeral or before the obit came out just because I knew there was a busy body somewhere near my hometown. As soon as the obit came out in the paper he was sending it to me and even posted dad’s pic from the newspaper on the memorial that I set up. That angered me just a tad. I was and still am grieving the loss of dad and wanted to do something a just a tad different than what we had put in the paper. If the busy body had taken the time to read the obit, he would have realized it was my father given that my given name is not that common and it’s what I use for my ID on Find-A-Grave.

Francine M. April 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm

FindAGrave is great, and because it is free I forgive it for any problems I encounter. I have never chafed at “ownership”, as it seems others have. I have input thousands of entries, taken a few volunteer photos, made some friends, filled in some gaps in my family tree, and even learned some geography and history. But, I’m gonna spin off on what may be a touchy subject here – but there seems to be a bit of a “Founders Club” mentality when it comes to entering famous people, and some members are jumping on the “Famous Person” entries as if it is a contest. When I first started out as an enthusiastic newbie, I tried to check the “Famous” box whenever I found an obviously important individual, relative or otherwise. My entries were not accepted. I was told to read the instructions. I did. I rewrote entries, and was told they were too focused on genealogical info. I shortened and distilled. I was then told by a another FindAGrave gatekeeper that my entries were too short and lacked a feeling for the person. From henceforth, they would only accept “Famous” entries that met a set of higher standards. Hmm. Browse the site. Many of the “famous” entries are for sports, entertainment, political and Christian individuals. Many of the entries for philosophers, non-Christian religious figures, etc. are for individuals from Europe. Many of the more recent entries are very brief, lacking a true feel for the people described, and some even read like they were cribbed from other sources. I gave up. Too much un-needed unhappiness and pointless frustration. Now, even when I enter someone who is very, very important I just check the “Not Famous” box. I don’t really fret about it anymore, but it used to really steam my cookies. Maybe that is some of the drama to which others refer?

Cathy Champion April 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm

My sister-in-law’s husband went to Find a Grave and added our mother-in-law and father-in-law after their deaths, and various family members would go there and add thoughts and prayers. I added pictures and thought it would be nice to take the advertisements off their profiles so I paid the small fee to do so. Now the family won’t post to their pages!

I don’t get it. I wish I hadn’t tried to make things nicer on their pages.

Linda McCauley April 17, 2011 at 7:17 pm

I just had a great Find A Grave experience! Someone found the cemetery where my 3rd g-grandfather is buried and posted a photo of his headstone. And I didn’t even request it. My brother, two cousins & I tried to find that cemetery last summer when we were in Georgia researching. We were in the right place but the growth was so heavy we couldn’t find an opening (road) to get to the cemetery. I really thought it was no longer accessible so I’m extremely grateful to see the pictures. This sure makes a lot of drama tolerable.

Except, I would still be bothered by Mavis’ situation. Can you not delete or edit when you are the owner of a memorial?

Mavis April 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm

@ Linda,

He added the picture we used for the obit and the funeral program. I don’t think I can remove it. At least I didn’t see a way to remove it.

I probably would have used that picture but…based on the times that I’ve dealt with him on find-a-grave, it just feels like he’s just sitting there scouring the obits so he can post and add to the 5000+ graves he already manages. He did something similar last year when one of my first cousins died and I set up a memorial for her.

Kerry Scott April 18, 2011 at 8:28 am

I can definitely see why that would be upsetting.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith April 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I’ve been reading your comments over on Joan’s post about blogging, genealogy, making money – or not, etc. I would hope you write more about how we can more effectively use the affiliate links. I think it is ‘a part of’ the effective business model we need to build. Again, I hope you (along with Thomas) will keep after this important aspect of what we do. ;-)

Kerry Scott April 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I have a post on that here: http://www.cluewagon.com/2011/04/in-which-we-finally-discuss-taboo-stuff/

It includes a link to a post I wrote last fall about how affiliate links work (along with some other FAQ), which is here:

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: