By now you may have noticed from the list in Chapter 4 [of the book ABCs of Family Research] that I’ve snuck in what appears to be a new topic without any notice or fanfare, and that is the subject of FindaGrave.
FindaGrave is a relatively large online database of about 190 million cemetery burial records (or more) in the USA, Canada, and other countries in Europe and elsewhere. FindaGrave is supported by thousands of individual volunteer genealogists and photographers who accept requests for grave photos, and then bumble around cemeteries taking gravestone photos (I suggest that term ‘bumble’ because as a FindaGrave photographer, that’s what I find myself doing more often than not while wandering around a cemetery, especially a cemetery that is new to me). But, for me, bumbling is fun.
Interestingly enough, FindaGrave is now owned and controlled by Ancestry.com and is therefore now considered a legitimate genealogical data source. So, good news all around, eh. If you have a camera and would consider wandering around local cemeteries looking for gravestone monuments to photograph as a hobby, maybe being a FindaGrave photographer is a good fit for you.
If you choose to join FindaGrave, remember, the photos you take may be the last photos ever taken for any given gravesite, and so I suggest that you try to make the photos as clear and the grave marker images as readable as possible. You are contributing to historical evidence with your photos.
As a reward for being a FindaGrave photographer, you get to meet others similarly involved. Also you now get to learn firsthand the history of grave markers and can notice how large and detailed some of the older memorials are, when compared to modern gravestones (the average American, and maybe like people everywhere, simply doesn’t have as much wealth as he had in prior decades and centuries). We can thank bankers and governments for that loss in wealth.
FindaGrave photo requests are initiated by other FindaGrave family researchers, who usually live a long way away from where you live. You become one of perhaps several people who get notified (I think the maximum number of e-mail photo requests sent out by FindaGrave is 20) of a photo request in your area.
You look up the FindaGrave cemetery and memorial and question the idea of you claiming that photo request. In the beginning, the photo requests may seem awkward at figuring out what is needed to find the specific grave site, etc. Every cemetery and their grave mapping schema is different. Some are much better than others. You’ll see.
Because gravestones suffer environmental damage through the passage of time, I often try to clean up the stones before taking a photo, simply so that my photo will be as clear and readable as possible. For flat grave markers, this usually means trimming the grass from the marker’s edges, and cleaning off the bugs and the debris. For vertical gravestones, depending on the area you live in, you may have to deal with lichen, bird poop, mineral deposits, etc.
My standard FindaGrave cemetery cleaning tool kit includes a soft nylon brush, some rags, and a spray bottle of distilled water (I don’t want to damage or contaminate an older stone with minerals or other crap from a cleaning fluid). Cemeteries that perform maintenance, maintain only the lawns – they consider the gravestones to be family property, and therefore the gravestones will be maintained by the family, not by them. Most families don’t know that.
Some cemeteries are very restrictive about letting non-family members enter and take photos, and they can get inquisitive if they see you cleaning a gravestone. I usually tell them I am doing the cleaning on behalf of the family and thank them for their attention to other maintenance matters.
As an aside, it turns out that there are people who have an actual business of professionally cleaning old gravestones, and you can find videos on the Internet that discuss the best techniques for cleaning old, cruddy, gravestones without damaging them.
If you want to explore more about FindaGrave, this link takes you to their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page, and this page should answer most of your questions.
The FindaGrave database is of value to you because it will often add to, confirm, or correct what you already know about an individual. But, like cemetery databases and government databases, sometimes the FindaGrave information is missing or just plain wrong. That’s where the FindaGrave ‘edit’ function comes in so handy – if you know for a fact that certain data on a particular FindaGrave memorial is incorrect, you can request of the memorial owner that a change be inserted. I do this all the time. It’s a closed-loop feedback mechanism that is extremely valuable for assuring accurate record keeping on FindaGrave.