So! Just WHO Owns Your Family History?

This is a question I have been asking myself, especially in the light of a recent experience.

I had started using the app for Find-a-Grave to locate any family members listed, and to add family that I have details of. I became a member of the group, but after finding that someone had added death details and pictures of the memorial for my Pickhills grandparents, and finding I couldn’t edit it to add birth details I enquired why. These two people are, after all, my family. A reply to my enquiry informed me “Hello Tim, Thank you for contacting Find A Grave. In order to update a memorial, please go to the memorial on the website, Click on the edit tab located in the upper right of the memorial page. Choose an option to update the memorial. The update will be sent to the manager of the memorial page. If you are related within transfer guidelines, you may ask for a transfer with the edit tab under “suggest any other correction or addition”.Sincerely, (name withheld)”. 

In othe words, someone who is not a member of my family, and doesn’t know them from a bar of soap, currently has the management of grave details for my family in this app/web site! Okay, I can request that management be transferred to me, but the point is…if I hadn’t wanted to edit the details, and request the teansfer as a relative of the deceased, this person would have had control of my grandparents details at this sire permanently! 

These are the guidelines for requesting a teansfer “How do I get a relative’s memorial transferred to me? First, Determine if you really need the memorial transferred to you for management. Only request transferring of management if you have extensive changes to make to a memorial. You can add photos and suggest corrections without having to request management. Simply having someone in your family tree is not grounds for a management transfer request. With hundreds of thousands of contributors, we have many overlapping family trees and it would be impossible for all contributors to manage their entire tree. 

Second, Transfer requests will be for direct relatives within four generations. This would be your siblings, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 
Third, If you have extensive additions/changes to make to a memorial, please contact the Find A Grave member who created the memorial via the “Suggest a Correction” link under the “Edit” tab on the memorial in question with your request to have the memorial management transferred to you. This will send an email request to the contributor, even if there is not an email address listed on their contributor page.
Fourth, Explain your relationship in the request! Any non-direct relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) are not required to be transferred. Keep in mind that the original contributor may also be related to the memorial and may not make the transfer. Again, always include your relationship to the memorial on a transfer request, in order for it to be considered. You may also want to include your specific interest in the memorial. Bulk surname requests must not be made. Be advised that memorials listed as famous or maintained by Find A Grave will not be transferred. 
Fifth, The “Suggest a correction” feature may also be used to submit corrections, an original biography, and family links to memorials that do not fall under the above definition. (Be sure to include the memorial ID#s for the family links and how they are related, father, mother or spouse. The original contributor will make any corrections and add any additional information you have for that memorial, such as links to parents and spouses, provided the information is accurate. 
Sixth, Please note that it is not appropriate to request a transfer and then, after receiving the transfer, delete that page and substitute it with a new memorial that you have created. This practice denies credit to the original contributor. Please use the original memorial page to make updates and add information.
NOTE: If you are unable to edit a memorial after it has been transferred to your account, try logging out of Find A Grave then logging back in.” 

The same applies to a memorial for one of my mother’s brothers. Personally, I find this a bit distressing. I have, needless to say, requested the memorials be transferred to my name.

The second incident involved a photograph of my great grandparents headstone. Yes, I did request through Find-a-Grave that someone photograph the memorial for me – though in the future I’ll organise it myself – and a photographer snapped it for me. When checking out the shot, I noticed that to the right, and in shot, another Barron memorial. I cropped the picture, and added the edited photograph to his memorial on the site. Naturally, within the hour, the photographer contacted me, reminding me that the photo was hers, and I was in breach of the apps photographs policy. I apologised, and removed the “offending” photo’s. But then I started thinking about it. I am the first to acknowledge the intellectual property rights of artists, and perhaps that is what niggles me! It s not as though she had photographed her own families graves. Again, this was a memorial with no connection to her whatsoever, total strangers who are nothing more than hames carved into stone. In a just world, the copyright on these types of ohotographs would be turned over – lock, stock & barrel – to the family of the graves photographed. I feel it is only just to do so, instead of blithly crying thief, and grasping control of the material.

Everybody involved in the distribution of family history information and documents greedily has their hands out these days. Anything advertised as “free” will only give you the bare bones. If you want the body and soul…fork out the money, honey!  Even to look and see if there is any material pertaining to your family will cop you a fee on some sites. If there are records being held, it will cost you even more. Subscriptions to genealogy sites like Ancestry don’t come cheap, and often come with a catch 22. I subscribe to record collections of Australia and United Kngdom on Ancestry. Very little of my family history resides in America, and to add America to my subscription adds a lot to its cost, with little value, in my view. So I get my records from Australa and the UK within my monthly fee, but for any of the rest of the world I pay per record – which can be anything from $1.49 to $2.49 per record. In the meantime, Ancestry has access to all the information that goes onto my tree – for which they pay…zilch! 

So, it would appear that we don’t own any of our family history, except that that can be added from personal or family recollection. It would appear that our families are owned by bureaucrats, big business, ancestry sights, photographers, apps, and just about anyone else who can make a quid out of it. There are even people with family tree’s who think that those accessing information from it should pay! For the record – if you want information from mine…help yourself. If others can benefit from my research, then good!

In many respects, it us appalling that others can lay claim to our family name, our family history. It is appalling that we often have to say “no” to accessing a snippet of information, as the cost is too high. Unfortunately, we live in a greedy, grasping world. Our relatives would literally “turn in their graves” if they knew. Just as well they don’t!

Tim Alderman (C 2016)

PS I am not the only person to have had bad experiences with Find-a-Grave. Read Julie’s story hear


3 thoughts on “So! Just WHO Owns Your Family History?

  1. I had a horrible experience with this awhile back ( and it really shook me up. I endured all kinds of name calling and harassment and threats from this crazy person because I’d sponsored (i.e. PAID to remove ads) from my grandparents’ and great grandparents’ pages. That site is a great resource, but it’s sad that there are some people who don’t understand the emotions behind the intentions that some of us genealogy buffs have— how PETTY to make you remove a photo for something like that. Shameful. The experience I had really drove me away from that particular site, and although I use it as a resource, I don’t contribute anymore and I don’t donate to remove ads anymore. It’s a shame that a few bullies can taint something that could be so great. So sorry you had a bad experience too!!! Check out my experience at the link. Now, I just call myself a Grave Robber! —Julie

  2. Wow Julie – that is quite a story. What a horrendous experience. These memorial collectors remind me of people who collect “friends” on Facebook…it’s a bit of a sickness. I have also decided to “step back” from Find a Grave, and not get as involved in it as I originally intended to. That strangers can take possession of your families graves is just appalling – in every sense of the word. I am pleased that it was sorted out in your favour in the interim. This is such a sacrosanct area. This is YOUR family, YOUR families history and just out of sheer respect and empathy, strangers should not only keep their noses out of it, but should allow you ownership of any records and information regarding your family.
    Do you mind if I add the link to your story to the end of mine? Regards. Tim

  3. Please do. I think that the more people who know about what goes on in these circles, the better. I actually thought I was doing something good, something positive. I was excited and ready to sponsor all kinds of memorials, and then that happened. She was relentless in sending me these hateful emails. And the worst part was that it was over a weekend, so I had to wait until Monday to get it sorted out. It made me feel physically sick. After I posted the story on my blog, I had some comments (thankfully I got to moderate and delete them) that actually called ME a troll from collecting my FAMILY. I simply wanted my grandparents and my great grandparents! I am so sad to hear that this happened to someone else, and I think that if our stories can keep it from happening to anyone else, then the sick feeling I had in the pit of my stomach will have been worth it.
    I agree with you that the ownership of family records and family histories is sacred, and that it shouldn’t be hoarded by these trolls.
    I’ve got your back!

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