I often read comments from other researchers who lament that in the future, our ancestors won’t have the same access to genealogy-related data because everything is digital: photos are posted to Instagram or Facebook, details of an individual’s life might be on Twitter, etc. While it’s true the we don’t leave the same paper trail that some ancestors may have left, there is still a trail, and it’s accessible to a savvy researcher.
When my brother died nearly 5 years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was memorialize him on Findagrave. A kind volunteer had already added a memorial and he transferred it to me so I could manage the information, photo order, etc. That was a great start, but I wanted to preserve some of my brother’s digital footprint.
He was a regular Facebook user who posted lots of photos. I decided I wanted to have copies of all of them, and viewing each one to save to my computer would have been incredibly tedious.
Instead, I used a Chrome extension to quickly export all of his photos from his public album to a folder on my computer. Simply install the extension and then select it to begin an export of available content. You can use this pretty much anywhere there are photos on social media, including Twitter and Pinterest. It does not need to be your account, just images that are publicly available.
I was able to save 5+ years of my brother’s photos in less than 10 minutes. If his profile ever goes away, I still have the photos and this slice of his life is preserved.
Today I visited the Friends Southwestern Burial Ground in Upper Darby, PA. I’d been there once before, years ago, but I don’t recall taking many photos. Today I tried to take as many as possible, and managed around 1,000 images in an hour. The high volume was largely do to the very orderly rows and similarly sized/shaped stones that are common at Quaker cemeteries.
I was intrigued to learn that Friends Southwestern began allowing Muslim burials around 2013, two years after Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia & Yeadon closed. Mount Moriah was the only place in Southeastern Pennsylvania which allowed Muslim burials, so it’s nice to know there’s another local cemetery filling this need. The nice caretaker I spoke with today indicated they’ve had about 800 Muslim burials in the last 5 years.
Of all the photos I took, this one for Abigail Scull, who died in 1867 struck me the most. It has been nearly consumed by this large tree that was likely just a small sapling when she died.
Lillian was just 17 years old when she died in 1925. I love finding stones with these old porcelain portraits, and the Jewish cemetery I visited last weekend had a bunch of them. This one stood out to me – both her pose and her outfit. I’m not related, just came across it while fulfilling request for findagrave.
At the end of November 2017 I had the privilege of visiting Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA for a whirlwind 3 day trip. This cemetery opened in 1831 and is still in operation today. My colleagues and I were fortunate to arrive on the same day a Gravestone Girls presentation on colonial headstone art, which we attended after a few hours of walking around the cemetery. The next day we returned to Mount Auburn for a tour and many more hours of cemetery walking. I managed to take about 2,500 photos—many of which were uploaded to Findagrave, but also a number of photos of the landscape and scenery as this is a truly stunning cemetery.
Mount Auburn has a handy burial search and mapping tool for those seeking interment information.
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.