BEWARE of findagrave.com

I gave up my career almost nine years ago to care full time for my disabled sister. That gives me a lot of time with nothing to do as I can’t leave her alone to go out and do anything. So this past year I started working on my family tree and have really become hooked on it. In doing so, I discovered the website findagrave.com, which catalogs obituaries and burial places of the deceased. I know, it sounds a little morbid, but for genealogists, it’s a useful resource.

The last couple of months I’ve dedicated a lot of time to the findagrave website. I offered myself up as a volunteer to take photos of headstones at local cemeteries and in fact have taken quite a few photos for people. I have also entered over 300 memorials into the database, some of which are my family, others being people I’ve worked with in show business and also alumni from my high school (I also run an alumni website for my high school).

The other day I heard about the passing of actor, Steve Landesberg and decided to create a memorial for him. As per the findagrave rules, I did a search to see if anyone else had already posted a memorial for him….they had not, so I did. Later that day I noticed a member by the screen name of katzizkidz posted an awful photo of the actor onto the memorial. That’s something anyone can do there, is post any photo they like onto a memorial and the creator of the memorial has no recourse to remove it themselves. Many of the photos of “famous” people are stolen from other websites on the internet, a violation of the findagrave rules, but one that does not seem to ever be enforced. It’s also a breach of copyright laws.

The next morning I got up and found that this katzizkidz had removed the picture of the actor, and had created her own memorial, a violation of the rules. It was a clear violation in that I knew she knew mine existed because she had posted a photo to it. So I wrote to her and told her she had created a duplicate. She decided to be cutesy and play word games and say that she hadn’t created a “duplicate” of my memorial, she had created her own. She then went on to tell me the information I had included in the bio was erroneous, yet all the same information appeared in her bio. We had a couple of messages back and forth and I could see that I was getting nowhere with her so I wrote to the administration through the forums and told them about the duplicate.

Now usually what happens when there are duplicates (and often more), is that management will combine them all into one, but the creator of the first memorial gets the credit for the memorial. On famous memorials, findagrave takes over the management and you can no longer make additions or changes to it yourself, you have to submit it to the website for approval.

So the next morning I get up and see that the memorial has indeed been combined, but this katzizkidz has been given credit for the memorial! So I wrote to the admins and got this reply:

You never submitted your memorial for famous. That’s a required step. Before posting a page you’ll see an option reading “Was this person famous?”; clicking “Yes” will forward the memorial for admin review. Otherwise it won’t be considered.

Being first out the gate with a memorial is no guarantee that it’ll be accepted. Find A Grave’s famous listings aren’t (or shouldn’t be) a competition. In fact, if we chose famous memorials on a first-come-first-served basis, that section would be crammed with obituaries, copy-pastes from Wikipedia and other sources, false burial info, and every conceivable error of form and grammar. (Not saying your bio was any of these, but that’s what we often get). We choose the bios that best meet the needs of the site and any others become the “duplicates” and are deleted, regardless of the order in which they were submitted.

The virtual flowers on your page for Landesberg were merged into the approved memorial, so those were not lost.

Robert Edwards, Find A Grave Administration aka “bobnoxious”

I replied:

1. I know. I didn’t have all the pertinent information to complete the memorial, NOR DID THE PERSON YOU GAVE IT TO! In fact, she copied the information she had (dates) from ME! She posted a photo on MY memorial the day before and then deleted it and created her own.

FindAGrave rules state that she’s to do a search FIRST and if a grave already exists, she’s to send the info to that  person, NOT create another.

2. No it’s not about a competition, it’s about people following the rules! She blatantly created a duplicate memorial, which is against the rules, and you have now rewarded her for it.

He then responded:

It’s clear now that the time for diplomacy has passed. I’m well aware of your guns-a-blazing entrance into Find A Grave’s forums last month, and your present disrespectful conduct towards contributor and administration alike has made your membership here no long tenable.

Katzizkidz – who has had a good deal more experience with the site’s famous section than you – was well within her rights in posting a Steve Landesberg memorial for famous consideration. She explained why in her public messages to you and I did the same in email – to no avail, as can be read below. You were out of line, and you are not going to treat other members in like fashion.

It has been my experience that members who start off as you’ve done – with self-serving ideas of how Find A Grave should work and a rude, browbeating attitude – only continue to cause problems on the site and are eventually banned. So I’ll save a lot of headaches and ban your main site and forums accounts now. You will be barred from further participation in Find A Grave.

Robert Edwards, Find A Grave Administration

The “guns-a-blazing” entrance into the forums he’s talking about was a post I put on the forums with my concern over people’s insensitive use of the websites acronym FAG. As a gay man who was teased all through school and called “fag,” I was hoping to get some help in finding a different set of letters to use and suggested just FG. Well, that set the forum cronies on a rampage and I was accused of being the “newbie” coming in and wanting to change everything about the website!

So I go online and check my account and sure enough I cannot access any of my information. I check my mother’s memorial and it’s gone! I check to see if any of my other memorials are intact, and they are ALL GONE! Over 300 memorials that I had worked hours and hours entering, were now gone.  I was shocked and heart-broken.

I then set out to search the internet and started googling “findagrave problems.” I found that I was not alone…that there were other people who had been treated identically and had their accounts banned and memorials deleted. It turns out that findagrave even has an official “C” rating with the Better Business Bureau of  Salt Lake City, Utah, where they are located. I filed my own complaint against them. Here’s a couple of places you can read other people’s experiences:

http://find-a-grave.pissedconsumer.com/ and

http://deathreferencedesk.org/2010/03/15/crowd-sourcing-genealogy-at-find-a-grave/

I didn’t sleep well last night thinking about all that work I had put in, gone to waste and wondered how I was going to fix all the memorial links on my alumni website. I got up at 4 AM and started contacting every genealogy website I could find that listed findagrave anywhere on their site. I knew of a woman (Lisa Burks) out here who was documenting all the graves at the Grand View Cemetery in Glendale California. I had volunteered to help out there, but never heard back from her. So I sent her a copy of my complaint and got this response back from her:

“Please remove me from your list, I am not interested in your ridiculous vendetta against Findagrave.”

My list?! Did she think I was a telemarketing firm?

I wrote back:

“I don’t have a list, I was sending you some information as a concerned genealogist.  If you think my “vendetta” is ridiculous after reading my complaint, then you madam, are ridiculous and deserve to be aligned with such hateful people.”

She went on to accuse me of being unstable, having “typical hater responses,” and continually capitalized FAG in her responses, knowing how insensitive that was.

So that’s it. I’ve sent notes out to a couple of TV reporters and newspapers. I guess I’ll spend my time trying to expose findagrave’s childish tactics instead of helping genealogists by contributing memorials.

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