Show your corporate ethics, do the right thing
The Legal Genealogist has run out of words.
I could give you the list from the thesaurus: aghast, appalled, confounded, disgusted, dismayed, horror-struck, nauseated, repelled, repulsed, revolted, scandalized, shocked.
None of them comes close to the feeling I had — and still have — knowing that the ghouls of Find a Grave couldn’t even wait until the blood had congealed in Uvalde before upping their stats by adding the deaths of nineteen fourth graders and two teachers. And not even until the headline ink was dry before adding the husband of the one teacher who died of a heart attack after his wife perished in the latest of our seemingly-unending string of mass school shootings.
Here’s an example — screen-captured by a Twitter user and posted there — edited to blur out the personal info about the deceased:
And this one, Ancestry, is on you.
Your corporate morality. Or lack thereof.
Your corporate ethics. Or lack thereof.
Your decisions on how you are — or are not — willing to play nice with the genealogical community and uphold its highest ethical standards.
This one, Ancestry, results solely from your corporate choices.
And you need to do better.
For years now — literally years — members of the genealogical community have demanded that Find a Grave close the door on strangers who haunt the news sites and online obituaries to create memorials for people who have just died.1
For years, we have asked Ancestry to stop incentivizing this behavior by reporting the statistics: the numbers of memorials created by total strangers, not reporting on actual graves of genealogical interest, but the obits that hit the online news sites at midnight.2 In other words, making a game out of the deaths of people whose families haven’t even come to terms with the deaths yet… and haven’t had time to even think about a site like Find a Grave, assuming they even know about it.
Earlier this year, Find a Grave initiated a new system that was supposed to ameliorate some of this. Under the new system for the posting of memorials for the “recently deceased” (defined as anyone who has died within the past year), anyone — including the total strangers who haunt the funeral home and newspaper websites at midnight each night waiting for new death notices to be posted — could still create a memorial for a person recently deceased. Only limited information was to be displayed for three months if the person creating the memorial wasn’t a family member.
Some of us — like yours truly — didn’t think it went nearly far enough.3 I for one thought there were holes in the policy.
I didn’t know about the biggest one.
Turns out that Find a Grave only made that rule effective on the web-browser-based platform. People using the mobile app could get around the rule entirely.
And they did. Adding those 19 babies, their teachers, and the husband of one of those teachers. Even adding the shooter.
Full information. And even photos from news articles and/or social media. (And yes that’s a copyright violation.)
Racking up their personal stats, with no connection to these families whatsoever.
It hit the genealogical community like a gut punch. As I said, I ran out of words: aghast, appalled, confounded, disgusted, dismayed, horror-struck, nauseated, repelled, repulsed, revolted, scandalized, shocked. I used every one of those words, and some that can’t be repeated, in a private meeting with some Ancestry folks at the National Genealogical Society conference in Sacramento. And all we knew then — all the Ancestry folks could tell me — was that those in charge of Find a Grave were considering what to do.
We soon found out. An email came out several hours after that meeting signed “Katrina, Senior Manager, findagrave.com”:
We appreciate your comments and feedback regarding the memorials created for the victims of this senseless tragedy in Uvalde. We thank you for your time and are following up with this response.
Our hearts go out to the grieving families and community of Uvalde. In the face of this senseless tragedy, we are especially sensitive to the role our platform – and our community – plays in memorializing and honoring those who have passed.
Our Find a Grave community has created more than 200 million memorial pages and each comes from a place of caring and the desire to be of service at a time of deep sorrow.
We are committed to listening to our users and proactively engaging the community to continuously improve our experience. We did that recently and updated our site to limit the information shown on a recently deceased memorial for three months. We are working to extend this same experience to our mobile app.
As a community-driven site, Find a Grave will continue to strive to balance the diverse perspectives of our users.
In other words, “Thoughts and prayers.” Or, “Nope, we’re not gonna do anything, really.”
Yes, these particular memorials have now been marked as covered by that policy. But they’re still there in that “limited” form: name, age, date and place of birth, date and place of death. There’s no reason for that information to be on a genealogical website today. Added in each case by a stranger who knows nothing about the family and what the family might want — or not want.
Making those subject to the policy isn’t going to stop it from happening again. Not in the next mass shooting. And not in the individual case of the individual death where an individual grieving family isn’t given the time to make its own decision on how, when and where it wants that death reported.
It has to stop.
There is no question that Ancestry could stop this, right now:
• It could close that mobile app back door this minute.
• It could refuse to allow anything to be posted for 30-60-90 days unless the poster is family.
• It could refuse to allow anything to be posted about a child’s death for at least a year unless the poster is close family.
• And it could stop rewarding the ghouls by letting them play the numbers game. Showing how many memorials someone has created does nothing but feed the frenzy to up the stats and beat out everyone else — no matter who gets hurt in the process.
The fact that Ancestry has thus far refused to do it means we’re not being heard the way we need to be heard.
So let’s try some different way.
Let’s go to the top.
Deborah Liu is the CEO of Ancestry. Her LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborahliu. Her Instagram account is https://www.instagram.com/debliu_/. She can be reached by regular mail at Ancestry’s corporate headquarters at 1300 West Traverse Parkway, Lehi, Utah 84043.
If you think Find a Grave can do better, let her hear from you.
Politely but firmly.
If that doesn’t work, well, Ancestry has a Board of Directors. And investors. And…
Understand clearly, Ancestry.
We will not be silenced.
This is entirely on you.
We’re going to speak up until, somehow, you can hear us.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Ancestry, this one’s on you,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 31 May 2022).
With permission, image credit to Amy Dunn.
- See e.g. See e.g. Amy Johnson Crow, “How FindAGrave Could – and Should – Be Made Better,” Amyjohnsoncrow.com, posted 21 Oct 2016 (https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/ : accessed 30 May 2022). ↩
- See ibid. ↩
- See Judy G. Russell, “Change at Find A Grave,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 11 Jan 2022 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 30 May 2022). ↩