At RootsTech 2017 Peter Drinkwater showed off a late-alpha prototype for a new Find A Grave website. Fearing the worst, he was quite happy when the presentation didn’t devolve into a lynching. Find A Grave diehards are that passionate. Peter asked for a show of hands of those who use Find A Grave. Every hand went up except for one older gentleman who had, apparently, fallen asleep. He asked for a show of hands of those who have contributed to Find A Grave. I think up to half of the attendees raised a hand. This was a crowd to be feared.
Peter Drinkwater is the general manager for Find A Grave, a website owned by Ancestry. While the session was titled “Getting to Know the New Find A Grave,” Peter first helped us get to know the old Find A Grave. Find A Grave was created in 1995 by Jim Tipton. “Jim Tipton lived here in Salt Lake and he had a hobby of collecting dirt from famous people’s graves,” Peter said. “He created Find A Grave as a place to document that and let other people share the locations of [famous] graves.” In 2000 he added the ability to document the graves of ordinary people. In January 2017 there were 157 million graves. For all those years, the website looked almost the same.
“It is with great trepidation that I even think about touching this,” he said. Why would we make a change, he asked? The code is quite old and there aren’t many developers who are comfortable in it. Modernizing the code will make it more secure, easier to work on, and make it possible to use new tools to improve the site.
The second reason to change it is to make it usable via a mobile device. More than 30% of visits to the site are on a tablet or phone. The ability of a webpage to adapt to smaller screen sizes is called responsive design.
The third reason to change the site is to internationalize it, making it available in a variety of languages.
The goal of the initial project is to convert Find A Grave to new code, not to add new features. That effort is well along and Peter showed off the new site to us. Peter expressed gratitude that there were no pitchforks and flames.
It can be found at www.gravestage.com, although a password is required to see it. Peter shared the password with us, but I didn’t get permission to share it with you. What say you, Peter? Can I share it with people?
The biggest change is immediately obvious: the search form is available on the home page. I think that is a great change. Entering the location has been simplified. Rather than selecting state then county, you start typing the name of the location (cemetery, city, county, state, or country) and select it from the list.
Search results look as shown below and can be sorted in various ways.
An individual result looks like this:
Peter told us the rollout plan is to follow these stages:
- Let people play with the beta of the new website. It operates like a sandbox. You can do anything you want, but everything you do will be thrown away. Nothing you do will effect the real Find A Grave website.
- Once it is ready, launch the new website as an option. Users can choose which one to use. FindAGrave.com will take you to the old website. Both show the same data and changes in one appear in the other.
- Once users are ready, switch and make FindAGrave.com take you to the new website. The goal is to be to this point by the end of April.
- I can’t remember what he said about end-of-life for the old website. Perhaps it will be kept online for a little while after the new website becomes the main site.
Any bookmarks or copies of URLs (website addresses) to the old website will still work with the new. However, going forward all new URLs will be simpler.