Why Do People Contribute to Find A Grave?

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you may already know I’m a Find A Grave contributor.

In fact, last year my love of cemeteries and headstone photography upstaged my family history research! I believe Find A Grave plays an important role in the preservation of history, art and architecture. And the people laid to rest under each headstone should not be forgotten.

A beautiful headstone on a beautiful day in St. Adalbert's Cemetery in Niles Illinois.

A beautiful headstone on a beautiful day at St. Adalbert’s in Niles Illinois.

For me, adding information to Find A Grave is a way to pay it forward and thank all the people who helped in my family history research. It’s one small thing I can do to help others in search of their ancestors.

I recently started wondering about the hundreds of thousands of other Find A Grave contributors.

Why do they do what they do?

So I posed three questions to a dozen fellow contributors whose virtual preservation work I admire. And then I posed the same three questions to the genealogical community at large.

I asked:2016 01-01 Find A Grave 2

  1. How did you discover Find A Grave?
  2. What motivates you to contribute?
  3. What is your favorite way to contribute (i.e. photos, vital information, obits etc.)?

The answers I got were interesting, informative and inspiring.

How did you discover Find A Grave?

Most of the respondents didn’t remember how they stumbled upon Find A Grave. Several said they thought friends may have introduced them to the site.  Newer contributor Chris in Maryland said, “I think I found FAG while doing research on Ancestry.com…”. A recurring theme among those who wagered a guess was “working on my family tree”.

Dave in Illinois sought out Find A Grave after he “had done a lot of work at an alternate website, Interment.net, but after I found out about Find A Grave’s new mission, I added my earlier transcriptions and then continued to do my work at Find A Grave.”

What motivates you to contribute?

“The joy and gratitude that people express – when I have photographed / created the memorial  of someone they have been “looking for” for years and years. …having the ability to help someone with something so simple as a photograph. Creating that goose-bump moment that makes you shout eureka – in the genealogy world.” [Jaci in Minnesota]

“Preservation of history.  I have always been interested in cemeteries but it was probably my first trip to Rosehill that really got me hooked.  There is the beauty of the Victorian monuments along with all the history.  Everywhere you turn in Rosehill you experience history.  The first strangers’ graves I photographed were headstones with the porcelain photos of the deceased set into the stone.  I saw that so many of them are gone either because of vandalism or the harsh Chicago weather that I realized if we don’t get these photographed they will be lost – and in many cases the gravestone photo is the only photo of the deceased that still exists.” [Jim in Illinois]

“I enjoy the discovery aspects of genealogy and therefore enjoy enabling others to discover.” [Chris in Maryland]

“While doing genealogical research on my families around the country, I would occasionally find where someone had “read’ a cemetery and captured information that was helpful in piecing together my family history…. I was using the site frequently enough that I wanted to “give back”.  I first started reading smaller cemeteries before I realized other people had already done it back in the 70s and 80s.  Then I saw it as a mission to update that information.  I got very involved in my local Historical Society, and while researching my wife’s family (where we live) I found that I needed to revisit a number of those readings, so I decided to revisit, photograph and update the 30-year old reading.  I took on the larger of our town’s cemeteries, but still need to do the one on the other side of town.” [Gary in Illinois]

“A big part of my motivation is what I call “giving back” to other contributors whose memorials have helped me in doing genealogy research for my family and friends. Being a librarian I also felt that this was part of my professional mission — to make information available freely to the public.” [Dave in Illinois]

“…In the spring of 2012 as I was sitting at my dad’s grave – under the tree, reading a book (very peaceful) I looked around and thought to myself “so many many folks and not many visitors”… It was at that point I thought of using my spare time and photographing the graves in the hopes that descendants who did not know where their ancestors were, would now know.  And so it began.” [Jaci in Minnesota]

My moment of "so many many folks and not many visitors" at Acacia Park in Chicago.

Like Jaci, I had a “so many many folks…” moment. Mine was at a Chicago cemetery where thousands of headstones are waiting to be photographed.

What is your favorite way to contribute (i.e. photos, vital information, obits etc.)?

“I love finding and adding lost old photographs. My interests at Find A Grave are many. I enjoy researching cemeteries and adding missing memorials. I enjoy researching and linking families together. I work with the outstanding administrators at Find A Grave correcting duplicated memorials and cemeteries. I just…celebrated my eleventh year as an active member of Find A Grave.” [Mike in Maryland]

“My favorite way to contribute for my own family is the whole package. For people I don’t know personally I only do photographs and the occasional editing if the opportunity presents itself.” [Chris in Baltimore]

“My favorite way to contribute is by pictures of gravestones, but I also like to do some research, especially when the person memorialized is not buried with family. I will sometimes try to connect them to family members who may be buried elsewhere.” [Dave in Illinois]

“I like to take an existing reading of a cemetery… Then I walk the cemetery, sketching each lot and plot and photographing each monument, trying to clean up the monument (trimming grass, removing leaves, etc.) along the way.  Unfortunately, I have found that memorials have disappeared in the intervening years, and all that remains is the notation in the cemetery records that someone is there…  As another project, I am in the process of indexing the the town’s newspaper which started in 1893. I capture and index all the mentions of townspeople with what I believe family historians would like to find. In the process, I transcribe the obituaries and then l add them to the appropriate F.A.G. memorials if they are in the local cemetery.  This portion goes a lot slower than the photography step, but is still exciting… [Gary in Illinois]

“Photos. To date I have posted almost 22,000 photos, with more to come.  In the nice weather I am in the cemeteries every weekend taking photos – either fulfilling Find a Grave photo requests or just photographing graves to post.  I was a history major in college – the preservation of history has always been important to me…” [Jim in Illinois]

“I’m what they call a “row mower”. I feel I can do more good by doing them all, then waiting for a photo request. If you don’t know where someone is buried, you can’t request a photo…I feel it is enough from me to create the basic memorial with the information available on the stone. Sometimes a little bit of research is done to link up the family that is buried next to each other. My goal is to get the information “out there” so that family, no matter how distantly related, can “find” the memorial.” [Jaci in Minnesota]

As for me…

Like many of the folks who responded, I’ve forgotten how I first found Find A Grave but can’t imagine life without it. I’m motivated to contribute by the same things Mike, Chris, Dave, Gary, Jim and Jaci find motivating. I too want to save images of headstones that may not be around much longer. I too want to memorialize people who might otherwise be forgotten. And it brings me great joy when my efforts help a family member locate an ancestor or a loved one.

As Jim in Illinois said, “I consider my Find a Grave work about the most important thing that I do on an ongoing basis.”

Of course not everyone understands or agrees with our dedication to cemetery indexing, obituary transcriptions and headstone photography. Which brings me to three questions for the next post in my 2016 Find A Grave series:

  1. On average, how much time per week do you devote to Find A Grave-related activities?
  2. What do your family/friends/co-workers think of your passion for Find A Grave?
  3. Have you ever been approached (or reproached) by someone while taking photos in a cemetery? What happened?

Many many thanks to everyone who contributed to this first in a series of posts about Find A Grave. Your time and your thoughtful answers are very much appreciated!

The invitation to participate in future posts in this series is open to everyone, so please share your thoughts! Send your answers to the questions above via email to where 2 look 4 ancestors AT gmail DOT com, with no spaces and punctuation symbols for AT and DOT.


10 thoughts on “Why Do People Contribute to Find A Grave?

  1. 1. How did you discover Find A Grave?
    I started with FindAGrave about eight and a half years ago. (Wow! Has it been that long?)

    2. What motivates you to contribute?
    Since I live nowhere close to where my own family members are interred, I must rely on the kindness of others to document their graves for me. I am just paying it forward. Also, I don’t think anyone should be forgotten. Everyone should be remembered. Finally, I want to do my part to capture the carvings on the older stones before they fade away.

    3. What is your favorite way to contribute?
    I enjoy creating the memorials and posting photos and military records or death certificates. I try to transcribe cemeteries that are not listed at FindAGrave or those that are not well documented.

    4. On average, how much time per week do you devote to Find A Grave-related activities?
    Only a hour or so per week anymore… although, years ago, I would spend way too much time at cemeteries… (See answer below…)

    5. What do your family/friends/co-workers think of your passion for FindAGrave?
    They think I am crazy… off my rocker… bonkers… You get the gist… 🙂

    6. Have you ever been approached (or reproached) by someone while taking photos in a cemetery? What happened?
    Only once has a person inquired as to what I was doing. When I told her that I was finding missing relatives for others, she seemed impressed that anyone would something like that for other. (Of course, she could have thought I was a little wacky… just like my family does…) 😉


  2. Hi Laura,
    First of all I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to you and all the other Find A Grave contributors. I find it an excellent resource for family history research. I do find it moving to see the final resting places that I know I will probably never have a chance to visit. I have only contributed in a very small way by adding some photographs of my own ancestors and family members. In 2016 I hope to add many more.


    • Hello – and thanks for stopping by!

      Most of the contributors to my “survey” feel as I do – it’s a labor of love. It’s wonderful to hear how people are using the site to make connections with far-flung ancestors and others. There is no small way to contribute – every photo adds value to Find A Grave. Sounds like you have a goal for 2016 – maybe I’ll see you in the cemetery! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have never contributed to Find A Grave–but I have definitely looked at it and found photos of ancestors’ grave sites. Thank you (and all of the other contributors) for all that you do to make Find A Grave such a wonderful resource. It is greatly appreciated.


    • Hi Sheryl,

      Thank you for your comments! It’s wonderful that you were able to see photos of your ancestors’ grave sites on Find A Grave. I use the site that way too – a volunteer took pictures of my 2nd great-grandfather’s headstone on the east coast. Seeing the pictures was the next best thing to being there.



  4. How did I find “Find A Grave?” I have no idea! All I can tell you that my first memorial was posted in October of 2000. Since then, I’ve uploaded several thousand on my own and in collaboration with a project at the Springfield, Massachusetts Museum of Springfield History and Archives. (A fantastic genealogical resource!) Why is a much broader question. The woman who contacted me that her elderly mother cried when she saw a picture of her older sister in a local cemetery. She lived in California and was stunned with the opportunity to see a memorial from Massachusetts. Or the hundreds of suggestions from other family members offering to edit or add to the data provided. My own family aside, the work has recognized hundreds, maybe thousands of families with as much information that can reasonably be sourced. Military records, public service, connections of large extended families….the goals are many. With all the other research work I’m involved in, I haven’t had the time to devote to Find A Grave. My collaborator at the Archives just celebrated his 83rd birthday and is slowly transferring to me all the memorials we put up in his name. I also administer a Facebook page “Find A Grave Genealogy Discussion” which I thought would attract 100-200 people. After a little over a year, the membership is approaching 7,000! All with interest in genealogy in general or Find A Grave specifically. So in a way, I’m still an active contributor, especially with responding to edits or transfers.


    • Wow Dave, that’s so interesting! The variety of ways people contribute to memorializing the dead never ceases to amaze me. You’ll REALLY have your hands full once those memorials are transferred to you! Thanks so much for sharing. And of course thank you for all you do for those who lived before us.



  5. I’ve been contributing to FindAGrave.com for a little over six years. I just like to contribute to help others. I use the time taking pictures as an opportunity to go out walking. I enter obits and other information from local media and from funerals from area churches and funeral homes. James (Jim) F. Kelly (#47210433)

    Date: Fri, 1 Jan 2016 14:03:20 +0000 To: jkelly1939@live.com


    • Hi Jim,

      Thanks first for being a Find A Grave contributor! And thank you for sharing how and why you do what you do. I love your walking/photographing multi-tasking. I often walk the lanes between cemetery sections to “get my steps” on Fitbit. 🙂

      Thank you again and I hope you’ll follow this Find A Grave blog series – the answers have been so interesting!



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