Monday, April 3, 2017

Monday Mailbox: Find A Grave

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

Many of you had strong feelings about Ancestry’s new design of Find A Grave. You can see it at

Here are some representative samples:

This new format sucks!!! … So disappointed! … I absolutely HATE IT. … Another website ruined by people who don't use it. … Do.. Not.. Like.. It … New and improved??? It's absolutely horrible, isn't it??? …

From Irene Sheridan:

The new site would not take my email and password. Is it a separate registration to try the test site? I don't want to mess with my "real" login info. :)

Dear Irene,

If I understand correctly, the account systems are currently separate. Your email address and real password won’t work on the staging site and vice versa. You have to register again to try some of the functionality of the staging site.

Angela and others found that the information is messed up:

I just looked at my great grandfather's memorial on the new site. It doesn't have his wife, children and parents attached to him like it does on the old site. It says there are no family members currently associated with this memorial. So that is not right and did not flow over to the new site like it should have. I also now manage his memorial as the lady who originally made his memorial transferred him over to me. It does not list me as being the person managing his memorial. The new site also says that there is no bio information on him but I added his obituary to the old site so it is not on the new site. I also left a flower on his memorial for the old site but he does not have any flowers on the new site. I don't like the new site at all.

I forgot to warn you that the data isn’t always real. Don’t worry about that. It is just test data. A corollary is that any changes you make on this staging site is thrown away! Don’t do any real work on it.

Diane Gould Hall commented that the layout is a step backward:

Everything should still be nicely located on one page, as it is now. Now made so you have to click, click, click to find things. The photos are put into that little box, just like on the new and horrible Ancestry site. I understand updating code. I don't understand a complete new format that makes this beloved website more difficult to navigate and ugly to look at.

Toot echoed that theme:

Just from what I see here, the grey with white text is difficult to read, hard on the eyes. The pleasant colors on the "old" site with black text was very easy on the eyes, and pleasant to look at (why the ugly colors of death needed?). Understand the need for new code, but don't understand the need to change to ugly colors, hard to read text, and reformat of the page. Hopefully, the attached spouse, children, Bio, etc., will flow over in the "new." And hopefully, the name and date will continue to be on the photo's contributed, as well as Flowers contributed. Photo size needs to be large enough to see the text on the Headstones (as it is now,) not some little Thumbnail you can barely see. Name of person (with link) who manages the Memorial is important, unless FaG is going to "manage" all Memorials, which I don't forsee. The current page format is easy to use, easy on the eyes, and does NOT need to be changed. As someone else stated in their comment, it is obvious that the persons coding, and changing the platform/format, are NOT users of FaG!

As did Anna:

The new site is not a pleasant one to use, at least in this beta version. Too much wasted space, too much scrolling, the photos look funny, and too much clicking around to see what used to be one tidy page with everything instantly visible.

It has caused me great wonder that design experts mess up websites when they get involved. Designers think that poorly utilizing screen space and decreasing contract is somehow a good thing. (Do a Google search for [graphic design white space] and [design "never use black"] . After the designers have been paid and move on, websites and relent to user demand and switch back to black text on white. Unfortunately, they never seem to fix the “whitespace is good” problem that results in so many extra clicks scrolling or switching tabs.

Michael Dorsey Iams stole my thunder and preached my usual sermon:

I work in the software industry although not for any of the genealogy companies. I thought it would be useful to talk about how users can most effectively provide actionable feedback to software developers.

First of all, I applaud the Find A Grave team for publishing a public beta site. Developers are reluctant to show work they know is not complete, but it is in everyone’s best interest to get direct user feedback early and often during the development process. Second, we all need to acknowledge that user interfaces need to change over time although the benefits of those changes are not often immediately apparent. And finally, recognize their job is to make money. On a free site, that means they need to increase traffic. Concepts such as internationalization and mobile support are significant to them.

1) Generally, don’t focus on colors and fonts. Everyone has difficulty accepting the unfamiliar, and everyone adjusts with time. Although Google is an extreme example (, major companies employ experts and detailed processes for deciding these things.

2) One exception to this I believe is handicapped people. Although there are tools and guidelines for accessibility, real-world feedback is still encouraged in this area.

3) Mobile support is about providing a good user experience a variety of resolutions. Try this experiment. Pick up a corner of your browser displaying the Gravestage site. Adjust it bigger and smaller. The elements change to accommodate. A good design finds ways to continue to show the most important information as the screen size drops. This is called responsive design and it takes a lot of effort to do it well. Pick a resolution that matches your mobile screen resolution and provide feedback in this context.

4) Developers aren’t genealogists so it is all too easy for them to make false assumptions. Help them understand with specific, actionable insights into what you want to accomplish and how you go about it. If there are enough people like you, they will surely try to accommodate.

5) It is generally accepted that reducing number of clicks is important, and I think this is a very fair criticism.

6) Provide your feedback with context describing what type of user you are and how you use the site. Even a specialized site such as Find A Grave has dozens of different types of users that use the site in different ways. They need to be able to all these constituencies.

7) It is safe to assume they are familiar with similar sites in the industry, but the internet is a very big place and I find it helpful when someone says "I like to do X with the site, and I find that Y site does this particular function very well".

As they finish the site, they will fix all the bugs like photo cropping and stuff. But, they need help with understanding the many diverse use cases that ultimately affect the broad structure and design of the site.

Mander asked:

Is there a link we can use to send our feedback and suggestions to Find a Grave?

Lisa replied:

Yes, when you are on the page, there is a feedback link in the bottom right corner of the page.

So, good readers, go use it!


  1. Thank you for sharing some of the feedback on the FindAGrave beta site. I hope, with all my heart, that they listen to us. Such a beautifully designed site. It's special. The designers don't care about that. This site means a lot to many of us, in more than just a documentation way. It's a memory of our loved ones, those close to us and those who've come before. They are special, the site is special. This must be understood before changes are made.

  2. It's obvious the same bunch that does the site re-did this site. Same basic design, which means it's easier for them to maintain because their programmers are already familiar with the design. I'm betting they started from scratch, rather than figure out the existing code. Lazy programming and analytical skills.

    1. Oh, and they put in a bunch of "advertising" for newspapers and Ancestry taking up space

    2. Just leave Find A Grave website alone....we dont need new and improved / the old one did the job. When you feel like you have to redo something, take a walk around the block....just chill ... Sally Bishop, Find A Grave member

    3. Been a member over 16 years. Went through computer changes at my last job. I will repeat: Change for the sake of change is not a good plan and don't fix what ain't broke.

  3. Ancestry, why are you trying to fix something that isn't broken? Please leave the find a grave site alone. As it is, my husband was very upset when you took it over. Again, please leave it the way it is. -Jeanne F-A-G Member since 2010

  4. I do hope the maintainers of the memorials will be able to change the photos that come up in the search. I get the idea of mirroring but don't think it works.

  5. Dear Ancestry Insider: Pardon this comment not on the content of this particular blog. You have a Monday Mailbox, but I've searched high and low for how to submit a question and can't find any way. Is there a mail link somewhere (other than closed shops such as Facebook)? Maybe when you do your mailbox you can tell people the apparently secret access code.

    1. The secret access code is AncestryInsider followed by an at-sign followed by

      Posting one's email address on an open website will get you all sorts of inappropriate spam. Sorry to be obscure.


  6. I gave it a spin and found everything worked pretty much as before. I liked the way they populated the cemetery search field with suggestions as you typed in the cemetery name. Everything was nicely laid out and I didn't have trouble finding all the functions. I was also pleased that I was still able to cut & paste a memorial into my research note file. A few extraneous lines to edit out but something I can live with. I'd like to see fuzzy searching on birth and death dates that allows a range of years in the search. I suppose you can do this already if you use the Ancestry search engine. The existing mobile app addresses my other enhancement for bulk photo uploads.

  7. I did several searches using the the same name, county and state on both the beta Find A Grave site and the present site. Each time the beta site gave me less results than the present site. Several graves listed on the beta site had incorrect dates listed. None of the Memorials that were missing were newly added.

    If they want to add a cemetery search it should be separate from the city/state search. The present drop down box for location is much easier to use.

    The header photo with moving objects is unnecessary and annoying to anyone with visual issues.

    Is bandwidth still an issue? When a search is done, having multiple, repetitive ads within the list ie: and a small image of an unreadable headstone make the searches longer to load.

    The only good thing on the beta site so far was the lack of all of the urls added in the lower left hand corner.

    Donna Kauffman H

  8. Oh, the new design is dreadful!

    It looks like any generic WordPress theme you've ever seen. Way too much white space. Page down, page down, page down, eventually you'll get to the data you came there for in the first place. Putting the main photo next to the memorial text is nice, but why not scale the picture so the WHOLE THING fits into its box? My great-great grandfather is only visible from the eyes up. Makes him look like he's lurking in a dark alley.

    My suggestions:
    1) leave the memorial pages alone. They're fine.
    2) clean up the main index/landing page a bit. It's confusing for newbies. But no big redesign.
    3) in the name of all that's holy, give us a fuzzy name search. And the ability to search a range of dates.

    Maybe I like the design the way it is because it's old fashioned and quirky, like me.

  9. Here's what needs fixed: 1) you have a powerful lot of data and only a handful of ways to search it. Deepen and broaden the search engine: fuzzy names, dates instead of names, countries of origin, birth dates, months of deaths, etc. At that point, Find a Grave starts becoming useful for historians. Imagine being able to search for deaths in 1918, during the pandemic, for a specific state, say. That would be great. 2) some nifty programming fixes might make the ads load faster and get out of the way of research. Honestly, the only thing I dread about the current website is that the horrifying ads load slowly and sometimes crash my web page. You might offer a membership that gets rid of all ads for the user. Takes way too long to upload memorials and photos due to the unhealthy way that the ads load. 3) Find a Grave has nothing without its membership out there doing free work for it. Make things easier on us. Loading multiple photos in one fell swoop through a browsing feature could speed things up.

    In short, the changes should be aimed at making things easier on the people who are loading your content, and for researchers. Anything else, such as just making it look more "modern" is a waste of time and money. If you really can't stop yourself from making this mistake, do it only to the cemetery front page. It might actually look better if the white space under the cemetery name and location was filled with photos of the cemetery instead, but for God's sake, leave the memorial pages alone. Add that advanced search feature, which is where the really good work for this powerful load of fantastic data lies.

    cynthia mullens, member

  10. Also, a search for a person in a group of states would be really helpful. Lots of people have family in one state that originated in a nearby state. Trying to find family members would be easier if you could, as an example, search for a person who might have been buried in West Virginia because he or she lived in a town near the border with Maryland, or in Maryland, where his or her family was concentrated. This would enable you to search in Maryland and West Virginia, as an example, in one search. Same with cemetery names. Is that cemetery in Maryland or West Virginia, as an example. YOu might want to know if you're looking for the cemetery ahead of creating a new entry for a cemetery. Also, searching on more than one county at a time might cut down on duplicate cemeteries. Choose a state and then search for the cemetery in two counties at once.

    To reiterate, broadening and deepening the search engine is where you'll find the best cost- benefit comparison for Find a Grave! cynthia mullens, member

  11. I think many family historians, like me, just want data from genealogy websites. Provided the data is well organised, we're not interested in fancy design. All web designers working on genealogical websites and software need to understand this.

  12. Michael Dorsey mentioned remembering "handicapped" people. I guess I am?? However, I would imagine that there are a good many older people who are doing research in genealogy and would appreciate the colors that are easiest to read. I think everyone's eyesight goes downhill a little as they age. So that is a factor.
    I have not tested the beta version but having all the information right on the same page with pictures you can see well has been one of the best parts of Find a Grave to me.
    Websites where you have to keep clicking and searching to find the information you want are frustrating and not enjoyable at all.
    I hope they can adjust their plans and keep the information easily available.

  13. It's not awful and they will improve it. I just wish there were less video ads and that they would get rid of that "I'M NOT A ROBOT" Captcha.

    Find A Grave Member 48529350. - David Mayo

  14. About fonts and value contrast between background and text, all website designers should think about the ADA guidelines for people with visual impairments: they require a lot of contrast between the color of the background and the color of the text. Sure older folks like that contrast too, but many people require it. Some years ago a research project looked at a lot of websites (in that particular case it was library websites) and the vast majority did not meet guidelines for those with visual impairments.

  15. I entered my late wife's information and it says nothing found. Not exactly what I wanted to find.

  16. If it ain't broke, DON'T FIX IT!! Find A Grave has been one of the really good websites with a minimum of fussing. It figured that when ancestry took over they would eventually have to muck things up. Some change OK, but the current "new" website is just AWFUL. As mentioned above more than one click for basic info is unnecessary. Info is spread across the page instead of being compact and most information is missing. Try again guys, or better yet, leave well enough Alone!!


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