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.
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.
- How did you discover Find A Grave?
- What motivates you to contribute?
- 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]
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:
- On average, how much time per week do you devote to Find A Grave-related activities?
- What do your family/friends/co-workers think of your passion for Find A Grave?
- 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.