Posts Tagged ‘Genealogical Crowdsourcing’

Tombstone Tuesday and The Power of Genealogical Crowdsourcing

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010


Once in a while a blog post shows up in my feed reader or my Twitter-stream that is so well-crafted and uplifting that I feel compelled to share it. Michael Cassara’s “Easter, 2010” post is a perfect example.

A Paean to Find A Grave

Michael starts out by exploring the delights of Find A Grave. I’ve praised their site myself in previous posts, but Michael manages to craft a highly-nuanced view of what makes the site so cool. Here’s how he explains what I like to call “The Power of Genealogical Crowdsourcing”:

There’s a wonderful website called “Find A Grave”, which… is one of the most interesting and powerful concepts among digital genealogical repositories. The idea is, quite simply, to record information for all of the world’s cemeteries. It is a constantly-growing, user-driven compilation of information. One of the most useful features of Find A Grave, is that it lets the general public collaborate to build the largest shared database of burial information in the world…With this website, members of the community-at-large can pool their resources and knowledge for the better good – creating a stronger, searchable resource for everyone.

An Aside: How Else Could This Power Be Used?

What would happen if someone built something similar to Find A Grave, only for wills? Or vital records? Could a business be built around it, or would any serious attempt at monetization kill the volunteer / karma / pay-it-forward vibe that Michael describes so well? How would it (whether free, freemium or otherwise) affect existing subscription sites, assuming it grew to have traffic comparable to theirs?

Michael’s Take on Genealogical Serendipity

Even if he’d stopped with the quote above, this post would have been an automatic reblog / retweet. But it gets better! Michael describes his efforts to fulfill two cemetery photo requests from Find A Grave for Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens. One he’s unable to track down, the other he’s successful on. As he turns to head home, he suddenly finds himself face to face with his great-grandfather’s grave:

Of my eight great grandparents, he’s the only one for whom I was never able to find a cemetery location. As a matter of fact, before I left the house today, I even searched through Find A Grave. I took a look for other Cassara listings – and I searched Calvary Cemetery, just to see if there were any occurrences of Cassara burials among the over 7,000 they have listed. None came up. I thought nothing of it, and moved on.

But here I was – shaking and awestruck – face to face with the headstone of my great-grandfather. Without his courage, our family would not be residing on this continent, let alone even be in existence. He led a hard life, with the hope that mine wouldn’t be as hard. And here he was, where he’s been for the last 60 years: 9 blocks from my apartment.

…there he was. There he is. Less than a minute’s walk from the headstone that I volunteered to photograph for a stranger from the internet.

It Could Happen to You

Many of us have had experiences similar to the one Michael so lovingly depicts here. Yet each such encounter represents something unique and important. Call it serendipity, call it “turning the hearts of the fathers”, call it karma, call it mere coincidence… whatever you’re comfortable with. My point is, this is why we do what we do. Why we spend untold (and told!) hours in front of microfilm readers, at county courthouses, and yes, walking amidst rows of tombstones. Because when we do, it somehow seems to matter to someone besides just us.