The Volunteers of

Most people who use Find a Grave seem to be doing so as part of genealogy projects. “If you can get a picture of the headstone you know exactly when grandad died because there are very few mistakes on gravestones,” Kenney says. But beyond building family trees, the website is also a place for people to reconnect with, research, and leave tributes to their loved ones. One grave request that came into my inbox reads: “I'm a Belgian soldier and I'm a free historian. I look after all infos about WW2 US airborne. This grave is maybe one of these heroes. Thanks for your help.” The site also lets people leave virtual flowers—including ones animated with sparkly GIFs—on the gravestones of a loved one. Gene Phillips has uploaded 22,825 photos and fulfilled over 4,000 requests since 2007. In 2011, when his wife died, he added her memorial to the site

Find a Grave highlights particularly interesting success stories, too, like this one:

I recently received an email from someone in my home state who had sold their house and were moving to Florida. When packing they found an old photo [album] they had bought at a garage sale in another town and forgotten. In looking through it, they found a picture of my husband's grandparent's headstone. They typed in the names on Google and came up with my name and Find A Grave. They got my email from my bio and contacted me. In an act of extreme kindness they sent the album which is probably 50 years old and seems to have been put together by my mother-in-law's cousin. Everyone in it is gone. To me, this is an amazing story, and I'm thankful that I joined this site.

And this one:

I just wanted to let you know that the Find A Grave site yielded some important personal closure for a veteran of my generation, our war on Vietnam. Long story short - I replaced a guy who was killed by a rocket in 1971. One of the guys I worked with survived that attack but never was able to find the grave of the guy who died. A friend told me about your site so I just plugged in the guy's name and there it was. I forwarded the information to my old buddy who survived the attack & he appreciates this information beyond belief.

Find A Grave isn't a beautiful website. Its odd fonts and liberal use of clipart don't exactly scream, "welcome to the future." But in lots of ways Find A Grave represents future of how we will interact with our family histories. It lets us reach out across space to strangers to ask them for something that is digital to replace something that is physical. Where we once visited graves in person with real steadily wilting flowers, today we can load up a digital memorial—a photograph of a grave and a pile of pixel based flowers and tributes. 

Rose Eveleth

In the end, I am pretty confident that I found Rose Victor. Or at least the person who Jason Victor was looking for. There was no Rose Victor in Section 2, Block 6, Gate 24. But there was an Eva Victor. And while Jason Victor listed her death date as August 30, 1921, Eva Victor’s gravestone says she died on August 29th of the same year. 

Mount Judah has an online tool to look up relatives. I searched for Eva Victor, and got nothing, even with photographic proof that an Eva Victor headstone lives in Section 2, Block 6, Gate 24. Her grave stone is on the left, in the seventh row, which is what I think L07 means. But a Rose Victor is listed on the Mount Judah site, with the same details Jason Victor gave to Find a Grave. I tried to reach Jason to see if perhaps Rose Victor’s first name was really Eva, but I haven’t heard back. It can be very difficult,” Kenney says. “We’ve gone out many days and come back empty-handed.” 

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Rose Eveleth is a writer, producer, and designer based in New York.

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