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A waiting period, please…

It absolutely breaks The Legal Genealogist‘s heart.

Of all the aspects of this bitter pandemic, the one that hurts the most is the inability to properly grieve those we are losing.

We cannot be with them at the end to hold their hands as they slip away.

We cannot fill a church or a chapel or a synagogue or any gathering place with all those who knew them and loved them and want to pay their respects.

We cannot hug those who mourn.

And so, now more than ever, it’s time and past time for Ancestry to exercise its authority over its Find a Grave wing and impose a waiting period between a death and the time a stranger wholly unconnected to the family posts the loss in a public place the family has not chosen.

Find a grave

Yes, it’s happened again. An anguished family member who has dealt with all the blows — a death of a loved one, alone, from this terrible virus, the inability to have a full celebration of the loved one’s life, an abbreviated graveside service all socially distanced — finally surfaced enough to want to choose to memorialize that loved one on Find a Grave.

Only to find that some stranger utterly unknown to the family had already done so. Complete with photo and full obituary lovingly crafted by the family member.

I won’t even mention the copyright violation of posting the obituary in full. It’s the human violation of taking away this one final chance to remember the loved one the way the family wants that is intolerable.

It was intolerable when people started complaining years ago and my friend and colleague Amy Johnson Crow first proposed a brief waiting period to allow the families of the deceased time to choose how to make any memorial they wanted to appear online at the website.1

It was intolerable more than a year ago when this space added its voice to those clamoring for a waiting period.2

But now — in the midst of the worst pandemic in more than 100 years — with 300,000 already dead in the United States alone and one American dying from the virus every minute — now more than ever it’s time for Ancestry to act.

There needs to be a moratorium on non-family-members posting memorials for the recently-deceased on Find a Grave for at least some time to give the families of those involved a chance to deal with a loved one’s death before some stranger spreads the information into a space on the ethernet that the family hadn’t yet occupied.

It can be 90 days as I suggested — others have suggested 30 days, even a couple of weeks3 — but long enough to give the families of the recently deceased time to come to terms with their loss before an utter stranger is allowed to invade their space by adding a memorial to that website.

There is no excuse for not waiting. None.

To those Find a Grave apologists who insist that they wouldn’t mind if some stranger created a memorial for one of their loved ones, let me remind you that this is not about you. You — the stranger to the deceased — have no place in this equation. It won’t hurt you one bit to wait a short time before posting. It is hurting real people to find that their loved ones are being used to rack up posting numbers by a stranger.

Don’t start in with the nonsense about the “families shouldn’t allow the death to be announced if they don’t want us to post it on Find a Grave.” That’s so tone-deaf to the reality of human loss and suffering that I can’t even.

Don’t repeat the ridiculous theme that “families shouldn’t make the obit public if they don’t want it copied on Find a Grave.” Crafting that obit — today — is one of the few things a family can do in this horrible time to share their grief with loved ones and friends. That doesn’t make the death a public event, for strangers to “get credit” for posting.

And don’t — just don’t — with the whole “the memorial can be transferred” shtick. It’s the body blow of finding that someone else has gotten involved in the family’s loss at all that should be avoided as a simple human courtesy — and it can be, easily and simply, by nothing more than imposing a brief waiting period.

This is an ethical imperative.

It’s a matter of common decency.

Ancestry, it’s time.

Now more than ever.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Now more than ever,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 15 Dec 2020).


  1. See Amy Johnson Crow, “How FindAGrave Could – and Should – Be Made Better,”, posted 21 Oct 2016 ( : accessed 15 Dec 2020).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “A modest proposal,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 Aug 2019 ( : accessed 15 Dec 2020). Also, “Hey, Find a Grave…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Oct 2019.
  3. See Crow, “How FindAGrave Could – and Should – Be Made Better.”
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