Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Problems With Find-A-Grave

Public service announcements:
1) Harold Henderson, certified genealogist, has a great blog poat on why you should always try and get the original marriage record and not rely on an index. I have talked about this before but Harold's post is a great reminder. Please take a look at Marriage Records and Indexes: Choose the Original.

2) When you send me a question I send a response via email right away. Your question will appear on the blog for all to see at a later time. Sometimes I hold questions and then bring them out in blogs on specific topics. I just wanted to let you know that you won't have to wait for your answer.

3) Today is Marian Pierre-Louis's much anticipated Legacy Webinar, Ten Brick Wall Tips for Intermediate Researchers. Marian's webinar last year on Ten Brick Wall Tips for Beginning Researchers was a smash hit. The webinar is at 2pm EST today (17 Oct 2012). It is free but you do have to register. There is a 2000 person limit for the webinar and I will tell you now that a lot more people than that will be trying to get in so you need to join the webinar early. If you don't get it don't worry, the webinar will be archived for free for 10 days and you can watch it whenever you want to. After that it will be put on CD and offered for sale. You don't want to miss this.


Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Someone posted something very disturbing on the Edgefield County, SC mailing list at Rootsweb. This is copied and pasted from the publicly available archives on Rootsweb:

"It came to my attention, at the last meeting of the Nevada State Genealogical Society that some tombstones found on Find-A-Grave, may not really exist. The wife of one of the Society members received a message through Ancestry that there was a tombstone at FAG for someone in her family tree. When she checked, there was a tombstone for her husband's great-grandfather. They had visited the grave in a San Francisco cemetery at Colma, and knew the grave had no tombstone. He called the cemetery, they confirmed the grave had no tombstone. He wrote to the submitter who was only willing to provide general information as to the location and finally stopped answering his e-mails. This individual has a website that offers find-a-tombstone service for a fee. The image did not correspond to the location of the grave, although the information on the fake tombstone was correct, it was incomplete. This and other clues indicate the tombstone itself was Photo Shopped.

Another member told about tombstones in FAG for a cemetery in Virginia City, Nevada, where someone has posted photos of actual graves, along with biographical information and photos of the dead person. The problem is the biography is fiction and the photos are those of other people and were copied from the collection in the local historical society. My advice is to be very careful of the information you find on Find-A-Grave, and give it the same kind of scrutiny you should give any other genealogical information you find on the web."

Call me naïve but I would have never suspected that people were photoshopping tombstone pictures for profit. I am sure that this is very isolated but still.

I thought I would point out a couple of other problems on Find-A-Grave that you should be aware of. Before I go into that, I want to say that I think Find-A-Grave is wonderful. I have been a volunteer photographer for almost 3 years. I have had many of my own requests fulfilled by other photographers. However, there are just a couple of things you need to watch out for.

Always look at the photograph. Blow it up if you need to. Sometimes the dates the person inputted into the memorial do not match what is actually on the marker. It is a simple data entry error. People will also add things that aren't on the marker like full dates when only the years are inscribed or full names when only initials are inscribed. If your ancestor has a memorial but no photo you need to request one. Seeing the marker yourself is more credible than relying on a cemetery surveyor.

Many times people will add extra info to the memorial including biographies, links to other family members, obituaries etc. Remember not to take this as gospel. If they transcribed the obituary you need to find it in the paper yourself or you will never know if the transcription is accurate. Don't believe the family links on face value either because they could easily be in error.


Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

17 comments:

  1. Unbelievable.... fraud in grave pictures. How low can you go? Apparently 6 feet. Sorry. Why do people use their brains for evil rather than good? It always baffles me.

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  2. When I read it I was stunned. I couldn't have even imagined it.

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  3. Actually Debbie B in MD, 6 feet is not low enough for these scum bags. I have another idea of how low they need to go.

    I have never heard of this fraud, am very sorry to hear of it, but, thank you Michele for posting this.

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  4. I really hate to have to report stuff like this :(

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  5. How crazy! But it doesn't surprise me one bit.

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  6. Like you, I've been a volunteer for years now. I've pulled research requests for remote cemeteries to take with me on my research trips. I would have never guessed Photoshopping was even done.

    Like you I love F-A-G. But they are EXTREMELY slow in responding to complaints. I have someone camping on 50+ relatives who won't respond to email. A complaint was sent to F-A-G months ago. I was told by someone else to expect 6 weeks response time. Now I think we're at 12. This current dust up, and their continued silence, isn't helping their cause any. My 2 cents.

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  7. I have had that problem too, Leslie. F-A-G is overwhelmed with trying to fix error. Mark does a good job fixing cemetery names, combining duplicate cemeteries and adding GPS coordinates but he is only one person and there can be as many as 50 requests a day! I don't know how many people work on the errors sent to edit@findagrave.com [that is where you send problems with individual memorials]. I am thinking they must get a hundred emails a day at least.

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  8. I have heard of people pilfering gravestone pics from other sources, such as the USGenWeb Tombstone project or family web sites. This is the first I've heard of a photo-shopped picture of a tombstone, or tampering with what's actually inscribed. Amazing! Not sure why people feel they have to make up stuff. A need to impress others, maybe? There's always a few who do something like this, and give a bad name to all who do good work. I do know that some will do research on the interred person, was contacted years ago by a distant cousin who asked for what information I had on my great grandmother. In truth, she had more information than I had at that time, and with her help I was able to trace that line back a couple more generations. Fortunately, the "good" contributors far outweigh the not-so-good ones.

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  9. It would have never even crossed my mind to take a photo from USGenWeb and post it on F-A-G as my own! Oh my!

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  10. Unfortunately it doesn't surprise me anymore. I had a request filled by someone who took a photo from another website. When I told them a permanent marker was up, not the temporary marker they posted, I received no response. I have also had people wanting me to post long bios that don't match facts but when I ask for their sources, no responses. So I don't post them.

    I still believe in F-A-G but have become a bit frustrated by the those folks who post just to have the high numbers and then won't respond despite going the F-A-G guidelines. And also by those who take your posted photos and post them on other sites.

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  11. I don't post bios and such on people that I haven't researched. If they are related to the person I will just transfer the memorial.

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  12. Thank you for the warning! Sounds like F-A-G needs more people to fix errors and deter fraud. It's sad when people resort to deception.

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  13. I agree with you. It would be nice if they did have more people working on this behind the scenes. I wonder if they have a limit on how many people they have working for F-A-G?

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  14. I love FAG but I have run into the problem of one person, LN, having listed almost all of St. Boniface graves with no photos. It is like she has found a book that she is copying the information from and not even going to the cemetery. She is not willing to transfer people, quoting the guidelines. She has become a "collector" trying to have high numbers.

    At the same time so many more are willing to transfer and are so helpful. Unfortunately whenever I look for my relatives or attempt to post the photos I have taken she has already entered the information.

    Response for problems I agree is too long. I have been waiting now for 11 months for a response and I have written twice.

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  15. I have seen those persons that have tens of thousands of memorials in their name. I am sure that they are adding memorials using cemetery books. I have seen some people put on the memorial WHERE they got that info which is a good thing. I know that most don't. I wonder though, is it a copyright violation to do this? I will ask my friend Judy Russell of the Legal Genealogist what she things about this and post an update on the blog. You can read Judy's blog at http://www.legalgenealogist.com/ I am posting another Find-A-Grave post today (10-29-12) that has some examples of errors.

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  16. This has become the norm vs the exception with any headstones I've had hints for. Very disappointing.

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  17. There is still a lot of good stuff on Find A Grave. You just have to overlook the bad :)

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