Call me crazy if you’d like, but I have found a very rewarding hobby. Find A Grave: Millions of Cemetery Records, has a database full of memorials and photos of graves and they encourage folks to add to the database. They have a large volunteer base, and I have recently signed up to be a Photo Volunteer.
I stumbled across this opportunity as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. Jane had posted pictures of flowers she had come across as she was doing her volunteer photography of graves for the FindaGrave.com website. I asked her to tell me more about what she was doing and she explained. She says she goes out and takes photos of graves (in her area) for people that are requesting them. I was immediately interested in doing this for a few reasons.
1. Get outside. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions placed on us, social distancing was preventing me from fully enjoying the things I used to do. “Stay at home” was the message we were getting, but it was okay for us to go outside for a walk. Spending time outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine is something I was up for – especially now that it’s spring and the weather is turning. Most graves are found outdoors, so this was a perfect opportunity.
2. Family tree hobby. One of the hobbies I have taken up during the pandemic is researching my family tree. Online resources such as Ancestry and FamilySearch can only get you so far. Talking to my parents about their family history has created many opportunities for discussion. Family history can only be fully understood by talking to people and researching different avenues, such as obituaries and online records. FindaGrave offers links to ancestral knowledge and helps people fill in some missing pieces. Or, it can help people request information, such as a grave marker, which may help solidify the facts. Providing photos of graves to those who are searching for them is a way to enhance my genealogy and ancestry hobby. I have even requested a photo of my grandmother’s grave in Gravenhurst, Ontario (still waiting for this request to be fulfilled). I have also added photos of some of my loved ones’ markers.
3. I love photography. If I can combine my interest in taking photos with helping people, I am all in!
4. I need the exercise. Two months of sheltering at home (except for going to work and going for walks) has made me a bit lazy. Searching for a grave gets me out walking and it even takes a little bit of effort to clean up the grave and brush it off before a photo can be taken. And this can all be done within a safe distance from others!
5. Volunteer work can be very rewarding. I love helping others, so this has been a way I can help others from afar.
There are a few steps involved in helping someone find a grave. Many of these people live far away, so this is the only way they can get to see the grave (traveling is restricted right now, anyway).
First, you need to set up a free account on Findagrave.com. Then you have to review the listing of photo requests (under the tab “Contribute”; then “Photo Requests”) from cemeteries that are nearby. I had 131 requests in my area!
I started by choosing a cemetery that was closest to me (Waverley Memorial). I had a plot address that was provided by the “requestor.” I went out to search and I could not find the grave. I emailed the cemetery and they said I couldn’t find it because there was no marker! They offered to put a little yellow flag out to where the person was buried. I communicated this to the requestor, and she was appreciative that I was doing this for her. I went out again and took the photo with the little yellow flag. I uploaded it onto the FindaGrave. The requestor was very thankful.
I have done a few more of these requests since then, and the response I am getting from the requestors varies. One woman, I will call Betty, is in her 80s and lives out west. She had asked for a photo of her brother’s grave. I went out to the “Create-a-Forest” section of the Thomson in the Park Cemetery, and I was told that he was in “Pad B.” I looked all over that section, and I couldn’t find his marker anywhere. I emailed the cemetery and they forgot to tell me that this man’s ashes were spread around the section. I told Betty what I had learned and she was interested in getting a photo of the section.
“Hi Angela. You are such a blessing to me this morning. That would be so great to have two different pictures of the spot, but I don’t want you to go to any extra trouble. You are so appreciated. FYI: David was one of five older brothers, 10 1/2 years my senior. I am almost 82 and live in BC and traveling for me, even under normal conditions, is becoming difficult. Thank you so much, and may God bless you! Betty”
I went back out and took lots of photos. I uploaded two photos of the area where his ashes were sprinkled, and she was very appreciative.
“Angela, I cannot thank you enough for the beautiful pictures. They are so much better than I imagined. Thanks again. Warmest regards, Betty”
Another interesting find I came across on FindaGrave was the memorial of one of my ancestors who was born 200 years ago! It is quite a rush when you find historical information about your own heritage.
Check out FindaGrave and see if there is anything for you to explore! And if you are up for it, become a Photo Volunteer like me.
Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW