More Confessions of a Grave Robber

I’m gobsmacked by the popularity of “Confessions of a Grave Robber,” my first blog piece on my experiences with Find a Grave. After a little more than a week, the piece has been clicked on over 450 times. I didn’t expect such a huge response, but I am ecstatic about it nonetheless. Several of the Facebook shares have sparked lively conversations about Find a Grave, and I’ve tried to participate in as many of them as I can.

stoneFind a Grave has also participated in some of these discussions, and brought understanding, compassion, explanation, and resolution into the conversation. Since the posts are scattered among different pages, I wanted to do something to help other newbies, and offer a little insight for prospective members.

But first, my disclaimer: I don’t work for Find a Grave. They don’t pay me, endorse me, or otherwise encourage me. I’m just a girl who likes to research and write about it. That’s it. I also like to help people with their research. That’s my goal in Part II. (However, if Find a Grave would like to send me a big fat check for no reason, I am sure I could make some room in my bank account to accommodate it!)

A Little About FaG

This is Jim Tipton in his Find a Grave bio pic. I didn’t take this picture, I just snagged it off their website so you’d see he’s just a normal dude with a cool idea.

Find a Grave was created by Jim Tipton, a regular guy with a cool hobby. Like millions of people out there, Jim enjoyed visiting the graves of famous people. See, I get his hobby because when I was a kid, my mom and I would explore cemeteries all the time. It’s a love I’ve passed down to my own kids. (“Moooom! It’s a cemetery! Let’s go explore!” isn’t something most moms with kids under ten usually hear.) As a photographer, I’ve shot thousands of headstones over the years. But then, what do you do with all those images? It’s a quandary Jim found a solution for—one that has benefitted tens of thousands worldwide.

In 1995, he created the first Find a Grave website where he catalogued and posted photos and burial information for famous people. But, as great ideas deserve, Jim’s little site attracted a LOT more traffic than he anticipated. By 1998, FaG launched as a commercial enterprise, and was incorporated in 2000 when it expanded to include non-famous people.

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Screen shot from the Find a Grave homepage. No, you didn’t read that wrong. It actually does say “search 121 million” grave records.”

Over the next 13 years, millions of memorials were added to the database. Families and friends could easily find their loved ones’ final resting places. Enthusiasts had a purpose for their pictures. You could even casually drop by to “visit” a loved one, gather and share valuable family history information, and you could even leave flowers and a note—FOR FREE!


For the most part, is a fantastic site. I just wish EVERYONE would verify their information before posting it! But that’s another story, huh? members were increasing traffic to Find a Grave in their research. So much so that in 2013, the popular research site acquired FaG, linking a whole new—and excited—group of enthusiasts to millions of gravesite records. By 2015, FaG had more than 121,000,000 memorials. That’s a LOT of dead people, and a LOT of information.

The Find a Grave Experience

For most users and members, FaG has been a genuinely rewarding experience. “Virtually reuniting” with family members, ancestors, friends, and loved ones can be amazing and emotional. For others, it can be something else entirely.

I’m not going to rehash the circumstances that led me to write “Confessions of a Grave Robber” last week. You can scroll down or click on it to read about it if you choose. What I am going to do is “decode” some of the intricacies of the FaG experience in the hope that we can all have a better understanding of the process—and in the hopes that some of the frustration and tears that I encountered can be avoided. So, without further ado…

Julie’s Find a Grave Glossary

  • Contributor : aka Member. Membership is free, but requires a simple, painless, non-invasive registration that takes seconds. I don’t recall seeing much, if any, communication (ie: spam) from them. Registration isn’t necessary to look, but registration IS necessary to touch.This is an example of a Memorial.
  • Memorial: aka Page. Memorials are the individual listings within the site. Each person has his or her own memorial, even if they share a headstone.
  • Manager: aka: Creator, Owner. (Used interchangeably.) When you create a Memorial, you’re responsible for it. It’s more than a glamorous title. You make updates, corrections, changes, edits, etc. No one else can make changes but you. You are the gatekeeper until you die, or until you transfer it to another Manager. If you manage a memorial, you’ve assumed the responsibility for its upkeep and accuracy. People are dependent on you for accuracy, so do your job.
  • Edits: aka Corrections, Updates, etc. If you find a memorial with incorrect information, no information, or if you have additional/contributing information, you can request edits from the manager. Each manager has their own system, so you need to see how they handle edits.
  • Transfer. This is where feelings get hurt and tempers get riled. If you’ve found a memorial you’d like to manage, you must ask the Manager to transfer it. FaG recommends that you ONLY request a transfer if you have significant and extensive changes to a memorial. Simply sharing DNA with the deceased is not enough. FaG will only force a transfer in certain circumstances, so check that out before you freak out.
  • Photographs. You can submit photographs of anything pertaining to the person being memorialized. (Check on copyright information first—obtaining permission is your responsibility). There are a bunch of guidelines, so please check before posting.
  • Sponsor: aka: “Want to remove the ads from this page?” When you sponsor a memorial, you are giving FaG five bucks to cover the advertising on that page. Sponsorship adds a little heart to the listing and increases the number of pictures allowed. Sponsorship is NOT the same as management or ownership. You don’t get editorial control. You DO get credit as the sponsor, but nothing else.
  • Flowers and Messages: aka don’t come empty-handed. You don’t have to be sappy or sentimental. Just leave a little something. Personally, I LOVE the Jewish tradition of leaving rocks on headstones. It’s something tangible that says you were there. You can leave all kinds of cool things—check it out.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but those were some of the little technicalities that confused me. Find a Grave has posted answers to many specific questions in their FAQs section. Please read it through before posting. I’m still figuring out how it all works, and I’m trying to keep it organized, but I can get easily distracted and go chasing leaves sometimes….

On the Subject of Memorial Collecting Trolls (or MCTs)

trollThrough my own experience, I heard about an unorganized group of FaG enthusiasts that I call the Memorial Collecting Trolls, or MCT’s. These guys come in all shapes and sizes—and can even live in your own tree. The day before publishing Confessions, I heard numerous tales of the elusive MCTs and their despicable antics. Some MCTs equate their number of managed memorials with self-importance. Some have “heritage collections.” One nightmare involved an MCT who’d staked claim on a cemetery and bullied anyone who dared to encroach on said sovereign territory. Another involved a manager who declined transfers unless the recipients created and transferred FIVE new memorials to him. Mine involved a distant cousin who claimed all generations (and spouses) of her great grandfather (my 2X great grandfather). MCT’s are NOT encouraged on FaG. If you encounter someone who won’t transfer a memorial (within the FaG guidelines) or you are being harassed, contact FaG immediately.

So Whaddaya Do?questions-vector-66976

Well, for me, genealogical research is very emotional. I dive into a life story, and it becomes incredibly personal and present to me, especially in the moment. Personally, I don’t care to manage hundreds of thousands of memorials. (No joke. The Top FaG Contributor is credited with over 1.1 million Memorials—CRAZY!) All I want is to have the opportunity to manage the Memorials of those I have heavily researched and written about so that I can add their stories to their Memorials. When I request a transfer, I don’t do so whimsically. I honestly want to memorialize a family member.

Not all contributors with high management numbers are MCTs, so don’t go spoiling for a fight. Not everyone is a Graveyard Bully, intent on making trophies of everyone’s families. Not everyone gets angry and requires the intervention of FaG curators.

Just Remember

EVERYONE on FaG is human. And as such, everyone deserves to be remembered and respected—and all the contributors deserve to be thanked for their hard work and effort. If you have a problem with an MCTs, please contact FaG for support. As human beings with feelings and emotions, we all have different needs. Just remember that on the other side of every communication is another person.