For those unfamiliar with Find A Grave, as I was until recently, it is an online grave registry. The name makes it sound a little ghoulish but it isn’t. Volunteers enter information from cemetery, obituary, or other death records to create online “memorials”; more than 90 million to date. Volunteers also take photos of cemeteries, headstones and grave markers and upload them to the memorials. A contributor can also add other photos, birth & death certificates, obituaries; pretty much anything that can be uploaded as an image or entered as text. There are rules defining appropriate content and people, generally, seem to follow them. There is also functionality that allows one to leave virtual flowers, visit memorials of “famous” people and create virtual cemeteries of related memorials. The registry is useful for those seeking to share memorials of their ancestors and loved ones. document local history, and can be a valuable source of information for genealogists.
Memorials are created by entering information about a deceased person into the site. This may be detailed information with photos and biographical information or it may be as little as a last name and a cemetery location. Once it exists, a memorial is “managed” by its creator unless/until it is transferred to another contributor; more about transfers shortly. A memorial, then, is the result of input from three distinct sources; its creator; its manager; and photo contributors. These may be all the same person or may be several people as there can be more than one photo contributor. The contributor-source information is part of the memorial and each contributor’s totals for all these activities is visible in their profile. I have come to understand these totals are a point of serious ego-involvement for some contributors.
I have yet to explore much of the functionality but some elements have captured my attention. For any memorial in the system, any contributor can request a photo of the grave. The site generates email notifications to volunteers who live near the cemetery where the person is buried. A volunteer who wishes to take the photo “claims” the request and has 14 days to “fulfill” it by taking the picture and uploading it to the appropriate memorial. I have found this can be fairly competitive.
A second element of the site that interests me is the ‘management’ of memorials. Management seems to involve two functions; control of the right-to-manage and data integrity. If a contributor wishes to give up management of the memorial they do so by transferring it to another contributor. If a contributor wishes to manage a memorial they did not create they can ask the current manager to transfer it to them. For example, I became aware of Find A Grave when a another blogger forwarded me a picture of a great-aunt’s grave. A Find A Grave contributor had created memorials for everyone in the cemetery in Kentucky where she is buried. When I joined, I asked the person who managed that memorial; its creator in this case; to transfer it to me. Since that contributor had no relationship to her I was a family member, he transferred it. Poof! I became a memorial manager. Anyone can request a transfer of any memorial. There are guidelines outlining when transfer requests should be approved; basically if the requesting contributor is a family member. I have found some contributors are very flexible in honoring transfer requests and other are very possessive about the memorials they manage and will only transfer them when pressed to do so.
Aside from the transfer process, the management function seems to be editing the memorials as additional information becomes available. A memorial may have been created by uploading a spreadsheet of all the records from a cemetery. By doing so, the contributor may create thousands of memorials. Some Find A Grave contributor have created hundreds of thousands of them. When a photo volunteer takes a photo of a headstone they may capture information not in the online memorial; dates of birth and or death; names of spouses or parents; marriage dates, etc. Headstones also often have inscriptions which were, presumably, meaningful to the deceased. All of this info can be sent to the manager as a request to make the memorial more complete. It is their role to verify the information received and make proper changes. For those managing a lot of memorials this can be a significant clerical task.
The last function that seems to have captured my interest is adding photos. Given the size of the database, the number of photos requested is relatively small. I have fulfilled about 90 requests in the 6 weeks since joining. When I visit of cemetery to fulfill a request, I also take photos of nearby graves. When I go online to upload the requested picture, I check to see whether the nearby graves have memorials and whether those memorials have grave photos. If the memorial exists without a photo I upload the photo. If the memorial does not exist I create one and upload the photo. If a memorial already exists and already has a photo I take no action on the site and discard the photo I took. In this way I have created more than 500 memorials and added more than 1250 photos so far. What was I saying about ego-involvement with the totals?
Most of the contributors I have encountered are terrific people. They enjoy this activity as a hobby. Some take pride in documenting their family history. Others see it as a contribution to their community by helping to document history at a personal level. For other folks, however, it seems to be all about the numbers.
I understand taking pride in the number of memorials created. It is a primary goal of the site and represents real work a contributor did to further that goal. On a human level, each of those memorials is a real person who was once living and now. through that contributor’s efforts, may be remembered in some small way. I like that thought.
I don’t understand ego-involvement in the number of memorials managed. The contribution is clerical, at best, and the subject of the memorials may be people in whom I have no specific interest. If another user has sufficient interest in a memorial, for whatever reason, to request a transfer why would I not want that memorial to be managed by someone who wanted to do so? To any readers who are involved in Find A Grave, this is a sincere question. What am I missing? Why wouldn’t executing a transfer for anyone who asked be almost automatic in the absence of some compelling reason not to? The record continues to show the creator as the original contributor. What is the rational for wanting to maximize the number of memorials managed?
As for the competitiveness of claiming photo requests; I can understand that one; plain-old, human-nature, competitiveness. I live near one of the V.A. National Cemeteries. When a request hits the email there are many volunteers who race to snag it. Requests rarely stay unclaimed more than a minute or two and there is a feeling of accomplishment to claim one. I usually fulfill those in less than 48 hours. I grumble about the people who have a dozen claims outstanding and who sit on them until day #12 before fulfilling them. That seems like hoarding to me but the fact is they are working within the system and honoring the commitment to complete them within the allowed time. I don’t really have a legitimate complaint. Claiming is a first-come, first-serve process and they got there first. I just need to be quicker on the draw with my iPhone.