I visited a friend in New York State over the weekend and had the pleasure of introducing him to findagrave.com. We visited a number of old cemeteries, both small and mid-sized, and he experienced the thrill of fulfilling a photo request.
I found that cemeteries dot the landscape with surprising frequency for such a rural area. We were able to make a dent in a number of photo requests and increased the overall percentage of stones photographed for a number of locations. Even better, I think my friend may have caught the findagrave bug!
One of my favorite stones was this bronze marker indicating the relationship between everyone in a large family plot. If only everyone had these!
Everywhere I look, findagrave members are talking about the the completely revamped site that will soon replace the site users have known and apparently loved. Change is hard—though perhaps even harder for a group of people generally interested in history and genealogy.
The complaints most often tossed about are: “I don’t like the look”, “Don’t change what isn’t broken”, “There’s too much white space”, “I can’t find [insert name of function, tool, etc.”, “I don’t like to scroll”, and “I can’t print everything the way I used to.”
As a web professional myself, I know all too well that when it comes to aesthetics, you can’t please most people. Someone will always complain about color choices, for instance. In most instances, the new site increases the contrast ratio, which means for most people the text is easier to read. This new site also actually has white space, instead of unused space. This also enhances readability and the ease with which one can scan a page. Scrolling and auto-loading of content as you move down the page isn’t some new fangled thing—it’s the norm in most cases. Most website statistics show that people do indeed scroll. All of the tools are still there, they have just been moved into different groupings. And printing—oh my! Websites are not meant to be printed. That doesn’t mean you can’t, but web design is not print design. Not all digital mediums are meant to be printed to paper, and there are a ton of ways to access the things you might want to print. Try printfriendly.com or export data to excel.
The old site is indeed “broken”. It uses outdated code that has most likely become a burden to manage. The site isn’t responsive and is so slow that it can take an inordinate amount of time to upload a photo. Add onto that having to upload one image at a time, over and over.
So, what do I like about the new site? That’s easy!
- The use of actual white space to increase readability.
- The ability to upload more than one photo to a memorial at one time.
- The fact that the new site is responsive—it doesn’t matter what device I’m using. If I’m on my phone I don’t have to utilize an app to access the site and I don’t have to zoom to see anything. If I’m on a laptop or desktop, I can resize the window and it adjusts to my screen. This allows me to have two things open side-by-side, even on a laptop.
- The duplicate memorial check that occurs when creating a new memorial. If the software detects a similar or same name already in the cemetery you’re adding to, you’re alerted and given the option to double check before proceeding.
- The revised edit processing system, including the ability to see a note from the memorial manager when they’ve declined an edit.
- A better way to search my own memorials other than by first and last name only.
- Clear naming conventions for urls throughout the site, such as /memorial/123456/name-of-person instead of /cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=abar&GSmid=47041892&GRid=153022832&
And, I’m sure the more time I spend working with the new site the more things I’ll find. Unfortunately, I’m hearing from people that they plan to stop contributing because the site is changing. It seems like such a shame to stop participating in a volunteer activity that you enjoy because you think a website has too much white space or won’t print the way you’d prefer. I really hope those having a negative reaction will at least spend a fair bit of time working with the new site. Who knows, you might just find something you really like about it!
Many findagrave.com members have heard that a new version of the website was forthcoming. The beta version has arrived and members have been testing it out and sending in feedback about the site. I had taken a cursory look a few weeks ago, but I came across a recent Facebook post bemoaning the design of the new site complete with plenty of gang-on comments complaining about the design and features and I had to take a second, more in-depth look.
One of the cemeteries I visited while in Vermont this past September was Lakeside. The cemetery is situated on the downward slope of a hill that looks out over a beautiful lake. It seemed many of the oldest burials were at the top closest to the road, with newer sections laid out below.
Before I began photographing, the findagrave.com stats were:
After I finished uploading all of the photos, the stats were:
While I didn’t end up adding too many new memorials—thanks to other volunteers who had already created many of them—I’m pleased to have increased the total photographed memorials from 10% to 30%. Not bad for a few hours of work!
Earlier this year, my husband and I visited a cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia so I could fulfill some findagrave.com photo requests. It was a beautiful, mid-sized cemetery that is still in active use. The place was filled with more azaleas than I’ve ever seen in one place—it was absolutely beautiful.
As we left, we drove past the entrance to another NE Philly cemetery called Greenwood. I didn’t know much about it, so I spent some time researching and then planned a visit with a friend to check it out.
Greenwood, also known as Knights of Pythias, opened in 1869. In more recent years, the cemetery became quite overgrown—a plight many of Philadelphia’s historic cemeteries have faced. Despite this, burials were still happening and the cemetery was bought in the early 2000s by a company wishing to build a crematorium on the grounds. A Friends group of concerned citizens was formed around this time.
Fast forwarding to 2008, a majority share of the cemetery was bought by a holding company of the hospital which is situated past the back end of the property. This entity has worked to restore the cemetery—removing trash and debris, righting fallen headstones, refinishing metal markers, etc. However, they also relocated well over 2,000 burials from the back of the cemetery to the front in a mass grave. There is now a large memorial featuring granite slabs carved with the names of those moved.
Most of the names are preserved, but most of the original headstones are gone. There are some lined up behind the memorial and still others left lined up in the overgrowth at the back of the cemetery. For genealogists and others seeking information on their ancestors, the lack of stones is a detriment—gone are full birth dates, place of birth or death, and familial connections. I understand what a burden it can be to try and care for a cemetery that has been neglected, but I still fill the sting for those with family buried here.
There are still many stones covered with bamboo, small trees, and vines. Perhaps a second visit in winter is in order.
This week I visited Lyndon Center Cemetery in Lyndon, Vermont. From findagrave.com, I knew there were at least several thousand burials here (likely more).
I made a quick visit to get an idea of the scope and figure out how much I might be able to photograph on subsequent visits. I brought my dog with me as the cemetery rules allow leashed dogs. I struggled to take many pictures with an excited dog in tow, but I took a few snaps that gave the general lay of the land.
Lydon Center Cemetery begins at the bottom of a hill and gently slopes upward before reaching a small plateau. From there, the cemetery landscape rises at a sharper angle, with small terraced plots. I have no idea how they keep it mowed, but it’s a beautiful place.
I was excited to be interviewed for this Philadelphia Inquirer article about Findagrave.com, along with a few other members of the Philadelphia Area Findagrave Meetup Group. If you are a findagrave member local to Philadelphia, come join us!