Saturday, January 24, 2015

Does this couple in Missouri own your relatives on Find a Grave, too?

Finding this was accidental, I swear!
One of my favorite actors is David Tennant, and during an interview he once told the story of a man who asked him for his autograph... in the shower. David Tennant signed the autograph simply to get back to what was left of his shower in peace, but not before making a point I have always remembered.

If you have to explain to someone why their behavior is inappropriate, are they really going to understand it?

Nevertheless, I'm going to go ahead with what I'm hoping can be a moment of constructive reflection for everyone who reads this. And if you're guilty of anything like what I'm about to describe, I want you to take an honest look at yourself. Realize that you are no different than the guy asking for someone's autograph while they're in the shower, and you simply don't know it yet.

A Disturbing Discovery

My husband's father just passed away, and we returned to our neighboring hometowns to visit with family and participate in the funeral. We are both genealogists, and we take what we do seriously. In the grand southern tradition from whence we both descend, we didn't bat an eye at taking a picture of the body in the casket. I made sure I got two shots of the pall bearers, so we could see all six of them. I kept extra programs and funeral cards. Suffice it to say, we need no assistance when it comes to remembering our dead.

His funeral was on Monday. I asked my husband if he wanted me to create the Find a Grave memorial on Tuesday. I created it on Wednesday after we arrived home--only to discover that one had already been created for him last week.

I couldn't believe it. I showed the memorial to my husband. He told me he didn't like the picture, and I recognized it instantly as the one his mother had given to the newspaper. He didn't need to tell me. I watched him tear our house apart looking for the perfect pictures to bring to the funeral. I watched him edit family photos for more than two hours to bring as a perfect offering of his father's memory.

I had to be the one to tell him that his father's memorial page was owned by Lyle & Marsha, a couple in Missouri he has never met. I watched the anger spell out in unspoken words across his face, as it dawned on him that total strangers had taken one of his father's most public memorials away from his family. I had to explain that we would have to ask them--ask them!--to transfer the memorial to us, and they would be under no obligation to cooperate. As his wife, I saw his anger smolder into quiet disgust with the human race. It was the last thing on earth I wanted him to feel after losing his father.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that Lyle and Marsha created the memorial with the information published online in my father-in-law's obituary. Someone else then came along with the copied image from the newspaper, and added it to the memorial. The obituary is posted in its entirety on the memorial, which I have never liked for aesthetic reasons. The end result is a memorial that neither of us had any control over, and is in no way what we would have wanted. Which is ironic, given that Lyle and Marsha's stated goal is to "present a memorial that will please the family."

I would ask how they could ever hope to do that, given that they don't even know us. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Why should this couple be allowed to create memorials for people based on what is printed in obituaries, before the body is even buried? From a genealogical standpoint, this is unadulterated sloppiness on their part. How can they know what was printed in the obituary was accurate? I have half a dozen obituaries that have incorrect burial information on them, and I shudder to think what someone like Lyle and Marsha could have done with them.

How many memorials have they created with false information on them--simply because they have never met the family, they do not live in the area, and have no clue what they're talking about?

And more to the point, the last time I checked the website was called Find a Grave--not Find an Obituary.

So who are Lyle and Marsha?

I've been watching this couple very closely. I've watched their number of memorials created/managed continue to skyrocket. Find a Grave publishes their user statistics on their public profile. In 3 years, 11 months, and 3 days they have created 71,106 memorials. That's roughly 18,186 a year, more than 1,500 a month. This translates into 50 memorials created each day.

I want to draw attention to a few elements of their public Find a Grave contributor profile. They reveal so much more about themselves through their own words than I could ever hope to do with mine.

"If we have done a memorial for one of your loved ones, feel free to request their memorial. However, we transfer according to FAG guidelines. Please be kind when requesting. We will not reply to hateful, demanding requests. This is a hobby that we enjoy, and we will not allow anyone to add stress or aggravation to something we enjoy."

Clearly, Lyle and Marsha have been this intrusive, offensive, and disrespectful to other people's grief before. It isn't in the nature of sane, rational people to be angry with strangers. If this is an experience they find themselves having frequently, it means they're doing something that needs to be corrected. The appropriate response is NOT to minimize the the feelings of people they've hurt by accusing them of being "hateful" or "demanding." By saying they refuse to feel "stress or aggravation" over the pain they cause, they're pretending like they've done nothing wrong. They're saying their feelings matter, and those of others simply do not.

They demand respect, but they give none.

Let's talk for a minute about the Find a Grave guidelines they say they strive to uphold. This is the policy Find a Grave follows in these disputes over memorials.

If the memorial in question is a direct relative within four generations (siblings, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents) to you and the original submitter is not direct family, then they must transfer the memorial. If they refuse to transfer your relative to you, and we will work on it for you.

Lyle and Marsha are not direct relatives of my father-in-law. According to the guidelines, they are required to transfer the memorial to me and my husband. Seeing as they manage almost 80,000 profiles, I don't see them getting around to my transfer request any time soon. Maybe they'd have a little more time for courtesy if they weren't trying to inflate their statistics fake internet points so aggressively. So I've already escalated the matter to Find a Grave. They've transferred my case over to their partners at, and I'm *in the process of working together with them to have the memorial deleted.

By putting us into a situation where we have to reach out to them, on their terms, Lyle and Marsha intruded on our peace of mind. They are no less oblivious and selfish than David Tennant's naked autograph seeker. They could not have imposed on us more--even if they showed up to our hotel room, walked in on my husband in the shower, and asked for his autograph. The result is identical. To invade on someone's private, vulnerable space, for the sake of a record that doesn't even belong to them--that's what they've done to our family. Whether they will acknowledge their wrong or not, that is how they have made us feel.

While there is no law or user agreement that may forbid what they're doing, it's certainly against common sense and basic human decency. If nothing else, I hope they will ponder on the immense joy they clearly feel using Find a Grave, and recognize that they have taken that away from my husband. That may be the only way for them to comprehend their actions, because reason and user agreements certainly cannot help them.

What I Have Learned

Because of this entire situation, I've come up with some personal guidelines for how I'm going to create Find a Grave memorials from now on. I went through all of my created profiles and saw I had the presence of mind never to do any of these things. But I will still treat them as my personal policy from now on.

I will not create profiles for adults who have been deceased less than a year. For infants, children, and minors, I will not create a memorial until they have been deceased at least five years. I want to give ample time for families to grieve, and hopefully create the memorial themselves.
Wherever possible, I will not create memorials for my family based solely on information provided from obituaries or death records. I will find the testimony of someone who has been to the cemetery, seen or photographed the headstone, was present for the funeral, or visit the grave myself before creating the memorial. 
Any memorial I create for someone else's family will be from a visit I made to a cemetery, not from printed records. 
If an obituary names living people, I will not post it to a memorial. Just because someone's name was included in an obituary does not mean they want their names associated with the deceased. While this wasn't the case with my father-in-law, it definitely was with my own father. Some people are also concerned for their privacy, and it's no one's place but theirs to decide how their name is used on the internet.
I will not withhold memorials from living family members for any reason.  
I will remove a memorial if they ask me to do so, without argument or requiring an explanation.
I will respond to any requests made of me by living family within 24 hours, wherever possible.  
I will not copy photos from other websites to publish to Find a Grave, unless I have permission or they are public domain images.

Have you had any crazy experiences with Find a Grave volunteers? What are your personal policies on how you contribute to Find a Grave? Let us know in comments!

*UPDATE: Thanks to the fine folks at Find a Grave/, Lyle and Marsha's memorial has been deleted. I said on Twitter this morning that Find a Grave staff are so awesome, they deserve costumes and a theme song. This was what immediately came to mind...

When Marsha and Lyle
tryna cramp yo' style
Who you gonna call?
 Find a Grave!

When they swipe yo' dad
 Make you really mad
 Who you gonna call?

Find a Grave!


  1. Excellent post Heather - I don't use Find A Grave but will certainly look at it closely in the future

  2. What a nightmare! I could see someone creating a memorial for a stranger a few years after a death, but right away? Nervy! And I agree with you about their audacious write-up about themselves, it's rude. I created a memorial for my uncle a few years after his death not even realizing that a friend of his adult children had done the same, using his obituary. A year or so later I got an email from that person asking me to delete mine as it was a duplicate. I just ignored it. I figure if my cousins ask me to delete mine, I will. It's still there.

  3. I too was outraged when my father's FAG memorial was created by a stranger who had only read the obit. Thankfully, he was very willing to transfer. I have had trouble with a person who has been requesting transfers of people she is not related to (but I am), and she does nothing with the memorial. I requested a transfer from her and she didn't even know who the person was! Her stats keep growing when unsuspecting people kindly transfer to her. I am not related within the guidelines, so she is not required to transfer, but it would seem that any blood relationship would be more desirable than a stranger who knows nothing about the family.

    I am so glad that got this resolved for you, but so sad that what started as a kind community has ended up with so many trophy hunters- in it just for the stats. Thankfully, there ARE still a lot of good folks on FAG. Excellent post!

  4. Excellent post!! I couldn't agree more. The first time I encountered this was while creating memorials for my parents and grandparents I discovered my first cousin had a memorial created by a complete stranger with the full obituary displayed. I contacted the person and it was transferred to me. Today after reading your post I thought I'd check on my first cousin's sister who was just buried 2 weeks ago, sure enough some created a memorial off the obituary. GRRR!
    My 3 incident was a photo of my wife's gggrand-uncle a casualty of the civil war. I had given a copy to a friend who was writing about the Battle of Antietam in his civil war blog. Someone took it and posted it to the memorial I had created with no credits as to where it was from. I wrote him a strongly worded message that he broke the FAG rules by posting a photo that was not in his possession. He removed it that night. I feel if you post personal photos you should have some knowledge of the person. I have no problem sharing info if they show a relationship to a memorial that I have created .

  5. Great post. This happened to me, too. A memorial was created for my grandmother before she was even buried. I didn't know about until I received an email about the transfer. The obituary was posted along with the memorial. Luckily, I was able to delete the obituary and later added the marker photos. But I felt the same way; why created memorials from obituaries? Why not allow the family to create their own?

  6. My husband's grandfather died a year and a half ago and I hadn't even thought about setting up a memorial on FindAGrave. I'll have to see if someone else has already!

    And, I've had an annoying problem with FindAGrave, too. Someone posted a photo of a great grandparent's headstone but then, under it, wrote it was "copyrighted" by them. (By the way, the Genealogy Guys podcast says they believe these headstone photos cannot be copyrighted as they aren't creative works of art but rather trying to produce an accurate photo for records.) Anyway, not only did this person put that it was "copyrighted", she also made a note that people shouldn't post other photos of the headstone on the memorial page! My only thought is some other people have done that as they didn't want her "copyrighted" image to be the only one there - they wanted an image people could use freely - and she got upset about it.

    I did kindly email her asking permission to use the photo and she granted it, but I still find it entirely irritating. The purpose of FAG is to share photos of headstones, so if you're going to volunteer and post a photo of a headstone, I think you should be pleased if someone uses it!

    Also, I always give credit to the photographer which I think is the nice & right thing to do!

    1. As far as I know, she can't ask you not to submit another headstone photo. While it isn't an efficient use of's server space, if it's the only way to deal with someone's pet copyright monster, so be it. Especially if she's telling you not to add headstones of your family, I'd just ignore her if I were you. But that's just me :)

  7. I've heard so many stories like this before. There are many FindAGrave number seekers. Some don't even have a public profile and there is no way to contact them. Which, in my opinion, should not be allowed. I'm so very sorry you and your husband had to go through this experience at such a time. I wonder where people get the nerve to go through obituaries and post them all on the FAG site before the family even has a chance? I am a long time FindAGrave member and have benefited from the site. I contribute when I can, but in my nearly 9 years, I manage only 500 memorials and nearly all are family. Those that aren't will be transferred to any family member who asks, inside or outside "the rules."
    Thank you for posting this very important issue.

  8. A couple of years ago I came across a memorial of a relative that gave incorrect information about a direct ancestor. As I recall they spelled my grandmother's name wrong which made her seem like a different person, or suggested she might be a twin. I contacted the person who posted the info, never heard from them and forgot about it. I was new to all this and figured it was no big deal. Now I realize it is a big deal and I need to correct that information. I'll track down that memorial and make another contact.
    I've always used Find a Grave in a historical context and hadn't thought to check on more recent events. I'm going to make a list and start checking Find a Grave for all my deceased family members and request a transfer if a memorial has been set up by a stranger.
    And about the obituaries... seems like Find a Grave should add another tab which would be for obituaries. I'd like to see scan of the printed version, a transcript, a citation of the source, either a newspaper or the funeral home, AND the user name and contact info of the person who submitted it. It also would be helpful to have space for multiple obits. Frequently the local hometown paper will run a more detailed obituary while the "big city" newspaper will run an abbreviated version either due to lack of space or because they charge so much the family can't afford to print the whole thing. Sometimes the only complete version is the one printed in the program for the funeral.
    Find a Grave should clearly separate an obituary from a memorial written by a family member. I don't mind some stranger going to the trouble of scanning, transcribing and uploading a printed obituary of a loved one, but a memorial can only be written by someone who remembers. The person who writes the memorial can clarify any printed mistakes or misleading information which may have been printed in the obit.
    That's my 2 cents. Thanks for the post and letting us all know more about how Find A Grave works. I'm glad to hear they were so responsive and quick to act on this situation.

    1. I would really, REALLY enjoy having obituaries in a separate tab. In face, it would be really nice if users had to specify what the source of their information is, and it adds that information as a separate tab on top of the memorial. It would eliminate a lot of confusion I've had about what source someone is using (and reveal if they simply aren't using one at all.)

      Great idea!

  9. I like the idea of posting photos of grave markers as it is helpful; but often the information is incorrect when information is given and it is very difficult to change. So much in fact, that I have stopped trying -- Genealogists Beware! Three close incidents involved my parents with incorrect information written (obit was incorrect and later corrected). My wife family set up a memorial but is not related and has not answered request to turn it over. And a family cemetery on a farm where I have photographed the tombstones each year for past 23 years - someone went to the middle of the field and although not a relative photographed (and made a point of copyright!!), and wrote a short history that had a number of errors. They responded to an email thanking me but saying they set it up and are keeping it. Something is wrong with a good idea gone bad.

  10. I loved this post so much (and the policy) that I posted it on my Friday News post on my website (which you can see here: ). I enjoy your blog!

    1. Thanks! Glad you stopped by. Always great to run into a fellow Whovian!

  11. If it weren't for someone else making memorials at findagrave I would have had no clue who my ancestors were or where they were buried. I have asked for the nearest ones to be transferred to me and they were. I have transferred memorials to others who've asked. When I do a photo request I take a photo of every stone in the plot. I offer the rest of the photos to the original requestor. Sometimes they make the memorial and sometimes they ask me to make it. Would it be better to not have a memorial at all since I am not related by blood? Who cares who made it? The question of WHEN to make it and by WHOM is an individual decision. If there is no one in the family interested in findagrave, who will take an obit from the newspaper and make a memorial? Who will photograph the stone? The volunteer should stockpile obits and wait long?.......before they make a memorial? Isn't the object of findagrave to make the memorials public so that others can find them? If you are truly upset that someone else beat you to it, make one of your own and refuse to delete it when you are notified it's a duplicate. OR you can upload your own photo to the memorial made by someone else. The photo will show your name as contributor. Or just ask to have it transferred or taken down before you go ballistic. There are contributors who are deceased. It hasn't always been possible to leave those memorials to someone else to maintain. That's when you contact the powers that be at findagrave for assistance.

    I have photographed entire cemeteries near me and made the memorials. Sometimes the stone is so worn it's nearly impossible to read it. Would it be better to leave that stone to weather away and never be put on findagrave? Then someday if/when a family member becomes interested in their ancestors they can hunt for a grave that will never be found.

    It is against the rules to upload a scan of an obituary printed in the newspaper. Copyright laws prohibit.

    Now that owns findagrave, your photos will show up there. If you don't want them used all over the internet, don't post them to findagrave. I've had photos that I've taken later downloaded to stranger's computers and uploaded as theirs. It's beyond annoying, I agree. BUT when I took the photo, what was my motivation? To help others who don't live here? To collect photo credits? If I'm truly doing it to help, then I have no reason to complain when they're used by someone else. Two of my grandmothers' birthdates are wrong. I made note of that on the memorial page. I can't re-chisel the stone but I can add the information right there where my contact information is so others can contact me.

    This blog post is much ado about nothing.

    1. If the photos were saved and uploaded to Ancestry (rather than the thumbnail preview from Ancestry's index of FAG) without your permission, that violates Ancestry's Terms & Conditions. You can get them removed by filing a DMCA letter to Ancestry's Copyright Department. The photos are being "shared" on Find A Grave where Ancestry users can see and link to them.

    2. To be clear, I don't resent people who create memorials for people who aren't their family. Being willing to do that while you're already making a trip, especially if the cemetery is remote, is an awesome thing to do. I rely on people doing this for me for my relatives in Canada, and I appreciate the work that volunteers do to share the love.

      What I'm suggesting is that each of us need to do self checks from time to time to make sure we're being considerate to living family members and other users on the site. Are we invading their privacy and vulnerable space? Are there some basic questions we can/should be asking ourselves before we submit information about someone else's family--like whether we even have the right settings enabled to make it possible for family members to contact us? These questions are important because it makes Find a Grave a better website for all of us.

      If you're not being a jerk, and you're doing your due diligence as a volunteer, this post isn't about you. I commend you for your work, and I'm glad there are people like you around.

      I will take issue with the image you used of people stockpiling obituaries. As I mentioned above, the name of the website is Find a Grave, not Find an Obituary. The level of confusion it creates when we start bringing other sources like that onto this site is irresponsible, because the site is not geared to help us communicate the sources that we're using. It was designed to represent visits to a cemetery, and cemetery indexes. When we start adding information from other sources, it devalues the site because we all stop and question where the information came from. We have to ask ourselves if we can take it seriously, and that shouldn't be our goal.

      If people want to create a Find an Obituary website, I'm all for it--because then at least we know where we stand with the information we're seeing. But creating Find a Grave memorials based on obituaries is not helpful.

  12. While I am not excusing any of the actual policy violations by the contributors, how do you justify breaking the rules yourself? You "already escalated the matter to Find a Grave" instead of giving the contributors the 30 days FAG allows for addressing SACs. Silly Rabbit. Trix are for kids.

    1. If they had time to add another 150 memorials in the time it took me to write this post, they had time to check and respond to their messages. They chose not to do so. As far as I'm concerned, I don't owe them 30 days of my time.

      If managing 80,000 memorials (and who knows how many transfer requests) is too much for them, perhaps they should consider scaling back on relative snatching so they can deal with the backlog.

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  14. I had the same experience! My dear grandmother died less than two months ago, and because I had recently joined FindAGrave, the day after her funeral I decided to create a memorial for her. I found out that someone had already created one using her obituary the very morning that it appeared in the newspaper! Fortunately, the person did transfer it to me, but their name is forever listed as the "creator" on the page, and it seems wrong that I cannot fully own a memorial of someone so near and dear to me. In the future, I may delete it and create my own new memorial for her.

    On a different note, I am fighting a different user to transfer my grandfather's parents to me. It seems that some FAG users enjoy having the mass numbers of memorials that they control and don't take into account that there may be real family members who wish to manage their family's memorials. I may be new to the community, but I would still like to be able to create and manage my own family's memorials.

    Just my experience so far with the site. It has been a wonderful resource but is just now causing frustrations.

  15. I can't even describe how wonderful this article is to me!!! I have been a member for 4 years, 11 months, 19 days - I have been asking Lyle & Marsha for my family members for 4 years, 11 months, 19 days!!!! At first I thought, wow they "own" every memorial I'm related to, perhaps we are distant family....? Bullshit, they 'own' all of Southwest Missouri's online memorials! I can't stand when a member refuses to transfer family or answer emails. It makes me bonkers! I'm talking about 4x great grand aunts - I'm talking living breathing memories I have with people (family) "No Transfer" i guess they are afraid it will hurts their 'numbers'. I always want to respond to these idiots with...

    "I'm pretty sure you copied the funeral home death announcement. Did you know I spent the last 33 Christmases with him. Did you know we went camping every summer together as children?"

    This is a copy/paste of their page (it's growing)....

    Lyle and Marsha
    • 76,858 Memorials Added
    • 85,811 Memorials Managed
    • 314 Memorials/Week
    I guess I am suppose to believe they can't transfer ANY of those 80,000+ memorials because they are personally related to each one of them.

    1. You really should contact Find A Grave/Ancestry directly. They will handle this for you promptly. It was less than 48 hours that the thing was done and over with for us. Lyle and Marsha were a hiss and byword in our house after that. You deserve the same.

  16. Just a few days ago I received an email from findagrave suggesting that I consolidate a memorial I had made for my great grandmother with another one someone had created using the picture I had taken and the information I had provided. The difference was that they had a different name for the cemetery. I tried to respond to the email but it was rejected.
    I have a family tree amassed with more that 75,000 names but the only people I have added memorials to are my direct ancestors and only those that I personally gone to their graves and took pictures and copied inscriptions from the stones. Now my own pictures and information are being questioned. I am disgusted! I wish I had never heard of findagrave! How do I withdraw all I have added?

  17. I just recently learned about this being done..and am horrified beyond belief. I will be going through each of my family members and requesting all of them to be transferred to me. The guidelines apparently for FAG are 4 generations..which gets me back into 1870s...if I am counted as the 4th..but if it is 4th before me? Then will be back into 1840s or so.

    I have taken some photos, don't get out much but would NEVER try to deny family members the usage of the photos, and always message them to let them know the cemetery is a nice one, taken care of, and peaceful.

  18. As well as, who is to say the "mine mine ALL mine" people are actually taking photos to begin with. Could well be they are finding photos and taking them and then slapping a copyright across them.

    1. That's exactly what someone did with the memorial that Marsha and Lyle created. My mother-in-law paid a small fortune to have an obituary printed online and in the newspaper. Part of that gargantuan cost is to print a photo. Some schmo then took that photo and attached it to Marsha and Lyle's memorial for my father-in-law. Fortunately, it got deleted when their memorial did. My husband was then able to choose the photo he wanted on the memorial.