Episode 13 – Jim Tipton, Founder of Find-A-Grave, On Its Beginnings

podcast episode Oct 16, 2013

Fisher reviews his research trip to New York City, including a visit to the set of David Letterman’s Late Show, where Fisher’s father worked for the Ed Sullivan Show from 1948-1971.  He speaks of the discovery of a new photograph of his great grandfather in a highly unusual place! Guest Jim Tipton, founder of Find-A-Grave, explains how the highly helpful site got started... and it wasn't the way you thought! Then, Tom Perry talks preservation.

Transcript of Episode 13

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 13

Fisher: Welcome back genies! It is Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and last week you may have heard our very first show replay and that’s because well, number one you probably weren’t there to hear it the first time through. It included our great interview with Sue Richards about researching cemeteries and number two, I was in New York researching and having an overall good time. Saw Wicked on Broadway, went to a Mets game. They lost, which is what the Mets typically do, so it felt so right and had the coolest experience of all. I was given a personal tour of the David Letterman set at the Ed Sullivan Theater moments after shooting The Late Show episode with Steve Martin visiting. I even got to sit at Letterman’s desk with my wife in the guest chair and shoot some pictures and to visit with Paul Shaffer from the CBS Orchestra and Allen Coulter the Announcer. This was especially fun for me because my Dad used to take me to the Ed Sullivan Theater for rehearsals at the Ed Sullivan Show when I was a boy because he was the music arranger for the program for the entire run. So, being on that set was indeed a family history experience. You can check out the picture from the set on ExtremeGenes.com. It’s brought to you by TMC, The Multimedia Centers preserving your memories for over forty years. And this segment is brought to you by Heritage Consulting Genealogy Services your family history resource. Call 877 537 2000. I’ve got to give a shoutout to my half second cousin Jim and his wife Jenny who were kind enough to host this for a day at their home in Pawcatuck, Connecticut on the Rhode Island border. And going through his pictures and trinkets we found a pocket watch with a photo of my great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Fisher on the face of it. It was a gift to Jim’s great grandmother and only a third picture of him that we found. On another day in Fairfield, Connecticut at the Historical Society there, I was given the opportunity to photograph and be photographed with the Bible brought from England in the early 1600s by one of my ninth great grandfathers Humphrey Hyde. Also, in their collection on the family was an 18th century sword, so you can see that photo gallery also at ExtremeGenes.com. I tell you what, if you ever have a research trip half as fun as this one was, you are doing well. 

Today, on the show very excited to have on the founder of FindAGrave.com, Jim Tipton. It was recently announced that Find A Grave was purchased by Ancestry.com. And you’ve got to ask the question what does this mean to you and me? Well, we’ll ask Jim about that and find out the behind the scenes story about how his amazing site began. It wasn’t originally meant to be a family history site. A couple of weeks ago we talked about six family names that may mean you’re descended from a famous English pirate. And if you missed it, listen to the podcast of Episode 12 on ExtremeGenes.com or on iTunes. So we asked the question, “Do you know if you descend from a pirate?” I can actually say yes to that, though he was not particularly famous. Several of you also answered yes, so that combined with the answer “argh” tells me [Laughs] we may have a pretty fair number of descendents who listen to the show. This week our survey is on Find A Grave of course since we’re going to be talking to its founder John Tipton in a few minutes. Have you ever made a great discovery using Find A Grave? I’m sure many people have. I have. And we’ll have the results for you next week. Cast your vote at ExtremeGenes.com. All right, this week’s featured news, actress Mariel Hemingway is coming out with a documentary on her family history. And you probably realized that her grandfather was the great Author Ernest Hemingway. The documentary is called “Running from Crazy.” It’s framed around the challenges of mental illness, anxiety and depression that her family has dealt with leading to several suicides including that of her sister Margaux Hemingway back in 1996. Mariel said it was a tough project to do because she had to face it head on. So many of these demons in the creation of this film, but it was ultimately uplifting and she hopes helpful to people who have similar struggles. Great for her and hopefully will help a lot of people. Read the whole story on ExtremeGenes.com. A study of the naming of recent babies shows a new “old trend.” Grandma names are making a comeback. Yeah, these are names that may make you think of an elderly woman in a hoop skirt. Thestir.cafemom.com says that this is a kind of a response to the celebrity names that have made news lately like Apple and North. So the article gives a list of thirty grandma names that includes Gertrude, Esther, Lottie, Nanny, Beulah, [Laughs] Flossie, Gladys, Mildred, Mamie, Myrtle, Bertha, Dixie, I like Dixie, Trixie, Kitty, Winifred, Edith, Erma, Ruth, Ethel, Hattie, Fannie, Agnes, Golda, Delia and Bessie. All grandma names I think we would agree. The question is, would you be brave enough to give your daughter one of these names? And I’m talking by the way as a first name, not just as a middle name to honor your grandmother or great grandmother. The article is linked at ExtremeGenes.com.

Also on the website, we often think of New Orleans. Montreal and Quebec in general as French settlements, rarely Detroit, the motor city but it was. A great story in the Detroit News tells us about some descendents of the original French Settlers who are upset that Detroit hasn’t embraced its French heritage, particularly as Montreal and New Orleans have for the benefit of tourism. Kevin Lucy who is one of these descendents says he feels a sense of responsibility to Detroit and honors his ancestors by promoting old traditions. He says he participates in a few groups and works to promote and restore the city and he’s proud of what he’s doing, some great stories in there by the way on these founders. Did you know for instance that the Cadillac was not originally the name of a car? Come on. No, it was the family name of the French founder of Detroit. [Laughs] And if you check out this article linked at ExtremeGenes.com I hope your French is good because here’s a sample. Jacob L’Omnesprou de Marsac was a Sergeant in the French army and accompanied Antoine Laumet de la Mothe sieur de Cadillac to Detroit in 1701. You get the idea. I mean, it’s tough. I know many of you by the way, catch the show by podcast perhaps long after the original airing of the show on radio. So, if you’re looking for a story we’re talking about some time later and don’t see it on ExtremeGenes.com, use keywords. Each story has them. For instance, in the story we just talked about, keywords like Detroit and French will get you there. Just plug them in the Search area. Speaking of Michigan, thank you to Nicole Leech who listens to the podcast for the kind email, she lives there. Great comment from Jeannette by the way from North Carolina about our visit with caller Robbie a few weeks ago who called our Extreme Genes “Find Line” at 1-234-56 Genes and shared her great story about the discovery of her African American Revolutionary soldier. One of the best calls we’ve ever had. Jeanette says, “It inspires me to hear other people’s stories and successes like Robbie’s. I was about to give up on one of my lines but am now more determined than ever to crack through that wall.” Good luck on that Jeanette. There are so many tools coming out all the time, and so many new records digitized. I’ve taken thirty years on a couple of lines and finally broke in the last two or three. And remember once again the Extreme Genes “Find Line” number 1-234-56 Genes. That’s 1-234-56 Genes. I don’t know how we got it but I’m glad we did. Well, we’re only on the air an hour a week. The “Find Line” is open 24/7 for your stories, comments or questions and we’re happy to get back to you if you leave your contact information. We love having great finds on the show. This segment was brought to you by Heritage Consulting Genealogy Services, your family history resource. Call 877 537 2000. All right, coming up next, the founder of Find A Grave Jim Tipton on how it all started, the purchase by Ancestry.com and where it goes from here on Extreme Genes Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.        

Segment 2 Episode 13

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jim Tipton

Fisher: Hey welcome back to Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com brought to you by TMC the Multimedia Centers preserving your memories for over forty years. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth Fisher and very excited to have Jim Tipton on the line, the founder of FindAGrave.com. Welcome to the show Jim.

Jim: Thanks. Good to be here.

Fisher: Now you know, looking at your profile here I think I like you already because I am a huge fan of The Godfather and Godfather II. 

Jim: [Laughs]

Fisher: It was on AMC the other night and it still rocks, you know? [Laughs]

Jim: It does yeah.

Fisher: So tell us about how you started this whole Find A Grave thing. Because you did it in 1995 with a whole different idea in mind than what it became.  

Jim: Yes, exactly. I’ll give you kind of a nutshell history. First of all, 95 is you know, the infancy of the web so that was a long time ago.

Fisher: Right. You were very early on this. 

Jim: Yes very early and I was kind of a nerdy insomniac and looking for outlets for my nerdy insomniac ways, and I put up a webpage like some people were doing in those early days of the internet and I was into visiting famous graves. So, speaking of the Godfather, I went up and visited Al Capone’s grave, was one of the first famous ones I visited. And I just had you know maybe a hundred listings I had kind of gotten from reading biographies and things and it was just something interesting to put up. Again, it was just something about learning HTML. As soon as that went online, there really weren’t that much websites so people were kind of checking out any new websites that came online at the time.

Fisher: Sure.

Jim: And people started sending me like, “You’d got to have Elvis on that list.” and they started sending me, “Oh you know, Marilyn Monroe needs to be on there.” Again this was just famous names initially and it just literally kind of snowballed from there you know. Our famous database expanded very quickly. Again, all users submitted content. This was before user submitted content was really a phrase that anyone used.

Fisher: So this was a hobby then?

Jim: Yeah it was a total hobby. I didn’t set out to start it as a business or anything like that. And I ran it as a hobby for years and it just grew and grew and you know maybe fifteen years ago I removed the fame criteria and just said you know some of these people are kind of marginally famous let’s just get rid of that whole fame barrier. And that really opened the floodgates for these massive amounts of submissions to flow in. And so, I just started creating interfaces where people could add their relatives, add their friends, and so on, and like I said, it’s just snowballed from there to the point where now we’re at 106 million names.

Fisher: [Laughs] 

Jim: And almost 90 million photos. Of course the advent of the digital camera massively increased the hobby used to shoot film and then have to scan it, and that was kind of a painful process.

Fisher: Sure. You know, it gives me a picture in my mind of standing on a piece of ground and suddenly the ground starts rising and you’re just on it. [Laughs] It just keeps going.

Jim: It has essentially been that. I’m just trying to stay perched on top of that rising mountain. But that’s a very good description because I never in a million years thought it would kind of turn into what it has. Again, it’s just been this kind of grass roots, slow build. I mean it’s been around for eighteen years so it took a while to get to where we are but it’s been just a slow and steady growth and this incredible community has emerged of volunteers and people who care about their local history or their own family and it’s been terrific to see.

Fisher: Now let me ask you, Jim, were you a family history fan before all this came along?

Jim: Yeah I was not really. I did not come to this from the family history angle. Like I said, it just kind of started as famous graves. I liked doing research and kind of the thrill of the hunt. So I loved getting out into a cemetery and trying to find you know, a certain name or whatever. Before the internet existed or before Find A Grave existed, it was hard to go figure out where Marilyn Monroe was buried or whatever.

Fisher: Sure.

Jim: So yeah, I did not come to it from a family history angle but I certainly recognised that’s largely what the site is used for now a days. And that’s been terrific and it’s been great for me to kind of see that and get accustomed with that community and see the site used for all these different purposes and family research is certainly one of the biggest ones.

Fisher: Well Jim we have to kind of get you into this community. It sounds like you still kind of an outlier. [Laughs]

Jim: Well, [Laughs] I don’t know if I’m an outlier at this point but I think I’m pretty well in that community and  you know people, like I said it’s the most common use for the site so I’m used to a lot of the issues that go around with that community.

Fisher: So, when people started doing their families and the like, you obviously had to start getting some stories that really got you excited or touched your heart. Why don’t you share a few of those with us? 

Jim: Yeah. Well, we get a ton of great stories. In fact, there’s a section on the site called Success Stories where we post a handful of them. But the best stories frankly are these family stories where someone will find maybe a long lost cousin, a living one, because they’re both contributors on the site. And one will leave flowers on someone’s memorial and they might have the same last name or whatever and they’ll get a hold of each other and they’ll write in and say, “I found some long lost family member” there’s also of course people who find relatives on the site, a headstone or something and that provides some closure or fills in a gap in their family research that they’re trying to do. We hear that all the time.

Fisher: Oh yeah. It sure has for me on many occasions.

Jim: It exhausted kind of like the online sources but you know the cemeteries are this incredible treasure trove of information and the whole point of Find A Grave is to get those in an accessible format where you can, you know, browse the nation’s cemeteries from your armchair. And other fun stories, not fun necessarily, but different sorts of stories, there’s been cases where police have found missing headstones and they’ve used Find A Grave to reunite the headstone to the proper plot, like you know where vandals have stole them.

Fisher: Hmm.

Jim: Even we had a diver found a class ring from like 1913 or something when he was underwater diving and he used Find A Grave to find out. He found a family member who it had belonged to and was able to reunite the ring with the original owner or the descendents of the original owner.

Fisher: Wow!

Jim: So there’s been a ton of great stories like that and we love hearing them. You know that’s a big part of what I’m proud of at Find A Grave

Fisher: We’re talking to Find A Grave Founder Jim Tipton, and Jim, of course you were just purchased by Ancestry.com Congratulations on that. That’s got to blow your mind as well from where it’s started to that. 

Jim: It has yeah. Thank you. Thanks for the congratulations.   

Fisher: And we’ll talk more about that coming up in the next segment. I did want to ask you about how do you manage because I am sure it must happen, phony biographies or phony gravesites you know is part of your growing pains. You had to have run into a few of those somewhere along the way. 

Jim: Yeah, you know the site’s open to the public. It’s free, always has been, always will be. And anytime you have a site like that you will of course get some you know, kids or vandals who get in there and try to be you know whatever, give bogus names. We have enough eyeballs on the site now you know visitors every day, millions of them. Usually that stuff gets reported to us pretty quick and you know we’ve got facilities built into the site where we can just shut down their account quickly and remove all their content. So, they usually give themselves up you know, pretty easily. So it’s not a huge problem to be honest. And I’m sure we certainly have errors anytime you have 106 million names.

Fisher: Sure.

Jim: We certainly have some errors out there.

Fisher: Well, some of the stones themselves have errors.

Jim: Yeah, exactly. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: It sounds ironic, but we are kind of a living site and we are constantly, you know, making corrections to the data. Again, when there’s so many people visiting the site that we’ve got a pretty set of proofreaders and they’re constantly submitting corrections and the site gets better and better every day.

Fisher: Now, when you started you said it was just a hobby and so you obviously were doing some other kind of work. What point did you go fulltime to this? 

Jim: Yeah, I used to work for the Huntsman Cancer Institute up there in Salt Lake. And I think it was probably about ten years ago or maybe eight years ago that I quit doing that. Yeah, I kind of tapered my hours off up there because Find A Grave was taking more and more of my time. And like I said, I think it was about eight years ago that I started doing it fulltime.

Fisher: And how many people do you have working for you?

Jim: We have a pretty skeletal staff. We have mostly this terrific set of volunteers that have been with us for years. Anyone who uses the site a lot will probably know these kinds of senior administrator guys who have been so helpful, volunteering for the site for years. And we have some people who help out this crush of email, basically doing support that comes in every day.

Fisher: Isn’t that great? You know, I have a friend in my neighborhood who is a volunteer who goes out and takes pictures in the cemetery nearby. And I guess you’ve got it set up where if somebody requests something because of those stones are not posted yet, these volunteers will go out and do that. How many people do you have like that around the world and around the country?     

Jim: Yeah, we’ve got over a million registered contributors. I think it’s about 1.5 million.

Fisher: Wow!

Jim: Not all of them are active in that photo request program. But just to explain what that is briefly.  Basically what you said, you might find your long lost aunt in Upstate, New York and you’re not planning to travel there any time soon, but you push a button that says I’d like to see a photo of the headstone if it’s not already there. An email goes out to all of our contributors that live near that cemetery and usually within a day or maybe a week you’ll get an email back saying that photo’s been taken and posted to Find A Grave. And it’s one of the most successful parts of Find A Grave and it’s really one of the ones I’m most proud of because it helps people make kind of personal connections. You know, seeing that name edged in stone has a lot more gravity to it than just simply seeing the name typed out on the screen. And it works tremendously well. It’s got like an 82% overall success rate which is pretty phenomenal I think.

Fisher: It is. You’re right.

Jim: It’s only due to the fact that we have tens of hundreds of thousands of these volunteers who have said, “I’ll go do this.” And they do. And it’s now worldwide so we were starting to see people all over the world sign up to be a volunteer. 

Fisher: Any problems with cemeteries when this thing first started when the volunteers started showing up taking pictures? Because I know some places they supposedly don’t even allow you to take photographs of stones.

Jim: Yeah, I’ve never understood that policy in a cemetery.

Fisher: Me either.

Jim: I don’t know who it’s damaging. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: But some cemeteries have that. The bigger thing we’ve heard from cemeteries is that it’s happening so much which we just kind of see it as it means Find A Grave is successful. But it’s happening so much that their office is having to handle too many requests for plot numbers. 

Fisher: [Laughs] 

Jim: And some of them have grumbled at that, but by and large most cemeteries they know that people are there to help other people, or filling you know, a family tree spot or whatever. So mostly what we hear are positive things from cemeteries saying, “We’re happy to help.”

Fisher: I would think at this point most all of them know what you do, know who you are, know who they are, the volunteers and what you’re trying to accomplish with that. That’s pretty fun though. You must have seen an education process over the years till it reached that point.

Jim: We did, yeah. [Laughs] And in many of the cemeteries, not many but there are several cemeteries that have, you know, you have signed up some kind of cemetery account with Find A Grave and they will kind of manage their own names within their cemetery. And we’ve seen them be cooperative with the volunteers too where they’ll print out you know, maybe their list of names so you don’t have to go to the office. You can reference it yourself and go find the photo. So, it’s been a good relationship with cemeteries for the most part.

Fisher: Sounds like it. And have you seen some of them actually change their policy as a result of Find A Grave?

Jim: Not that I know of. I’ve never heard of that. I’ve heard of a few cemeteries as saying that you have to be a family member if you’re going to request a plaque or whatever.

Fisher: I mean, in terms of the photographing of the stones.

Jim: Oh, no, I’ve never heard them reversing policy. That’s again I find it such an odd policy, really a minority of cemeteries that have that. And I mean, you know, we encourage people to obviously respect the rules of a cemetery.

Fisher: But if it’s your family member you know, which is the greater, I mean that’s the issue in my mind I guess.

Jim: Yeah, I agree. I would certainly hate for a cemetery to tell someone that they couldn’t go photograph my grandmother’s headstone 

Fisher: Yeah.

Jim: Because I kind of feel I don’t own that headstone but I have the right to say that. 

Fisher: Yeah, I think that’s the case, absolutely.

Jim: You know, conversely I also understand that some people find it jarring to get online and see a family member’s headstone. And we hear that. We hear that side of it too sometimes and know they’ll be outraged initially. And if they write to us and politely say you know, please take this down or whatever, we generally respect that request too.

Fisher: Interesting.

Tim: But a lot of people see it. They find it a little jarring. Then they’ll look around and they’ll say, “I just spent three hours surfing through Find A Grave, and at first I thought it’s this odd, quirky site that came up in a Google Search result or something, but after poking around I signed up and now I’m also a volunteer.

Fisher: [Laughs] Isn’t that great? 

Jim: It is great, yeah.

Fisher: All right Jim, you’ve been bought by Ancestry.com. We want to hear what that means for Find A Grave. We’ll get into that coming up next on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.  

Segment 3 Episode 13

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jim Tipton

Fisher: We are back, Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com, brought to you by TMC the Multimedia Centers, preserving your memories for over forty years. Fisher here with Jim Tipton, the founder of FindAGrave.com, just bought by Ancestry.com. So many exciting things happening with Ancestry Jim, ever since their purchase last year, and you are the latest beneficiary of that. First of all, obviously we’re not going to get into the details of the deal itself, but how does that come down in terms of, you had to have some concerns with what would happen now with your baby after all these years. 

Jim: Yeah absolutely. One does not make that decision lightly, and what happened basically was as we said in the first segment, FindAGrave had grown so big and we’ve got this incredible community of millions of people and then really these really incredible set of administrators that have been working on the site. But when it came to actually building out the site, it was still just me. It was just way too big to keep going in that manner and I realized that really the site was falling behind because I basically couldn’t keep up.

Fisher: Sure. 

Jim: So to try and kind of find a solution, I realized that it had to get bigger and one way to do that was to work with Ancestry. They approached me, I’ve had a relationship with Ancestry for years and you know initially it was kind of just a notion that I tossed around in my head and then I realized, “Wow that really would help me move the site forward in the ways that I’ve wanted to for years but I just haven’t been able to.” With many more resources at my disposal or whatever and you know obviously I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was the right move for FindAGrave.

Fisher: Sure. 

Jim: It wasn’t about this like a personal decision for me, this was about, how can we move the site forward? Again, like I said in ways that I’ve wanted to for years. I’ve had terrific ideas for years, contributors have sent in terrific ideas for years and I just haven’t been able to implement them. And now I think Find A Grave users will if they stick around you know, just wait out, it’s going to take a few months before they start seeing changes but there’s a whole bunch of good changes, great changes really that they’ll start to notice because of this new arrangement. I think it’s going to be a great move for the site long term. Again, like I said, we’ve got a few months to get the ball rolling here but I’m exciting about where we’re moving.

Fisher: Well, it’s going to remain a free site first of all which is very important to the community. [Laughs]

Jim: That’s everyone’s question. Will it remain a free site?     

Fisher: Yes.

Jim: Absolutely. It will remain a free site from now moving forward. I understand there’s a lot of concerns when there’s any change. I’m a skeptical guy myself. 

Fisher: Sure.

Jim: But again, like you said, this is my baby.  I would not have made this move if I didn’t think my baby was going to be treated in the right way. [Laughs]      

Fisher: Right. You’re giving away your baby at the altar but you’re still in the family. I get this. [Laughs]

Jim: Yeah, exactly. So I’m here. I’m going to keep steering the site in a ways that I have for years. All of our existing policies are remaining in terms of you know, users retaining copyrights of their photos and all of that stuff. Nothing really is changing. If you’re a Find A Grave user you won’t notice any big change right away. What you will notice is steady improvements to the site, to the support, to all of those things.        

Fisher: Well, I was looking at most of your graves, most of them are right here in the United States.

Jim: Yes.            

Fisher: And I know you have access in your dropdown menus for pretty much any country but not a lot of action there yet. Do you see that this is part of that movement to start filling in those other nations?

Jim: Yeah, absolutely. Find A Grave has always been an English speaking site and again, part of that is because I don’t have any resources to translate it into all these different languages. [Laughs] But Ancestry does and they’ve done this already with their own site, and absolutely one of the early places we’d like to get on the road map is to get it in other countries because there’s a ton of volunteers in other countries who would love to start doing this too. We’ve just got to give it to them in the right language form.  So that’s definitely something we’re planning on. Also, a mobile app is an absolute no brainer that we should have had years ago.

Fisher: Oh yes.

Jim: And I started working on one and it just didn’t ever materialize. So that’s one of the early things we would really love to get out of the door too.       

Fisher: What country would you say is number one on your hit list? Would it be Canada? Would it be England? Mexico?

Jim: England and Canada are taken care of already. They speak English. [Laughs]             

Fisher: Right, right, but there’s still not as much action there as there is say here.

Jim: Yeah there isn’t. You’re right. I’d like to get Spanish up there, German, French.

Fisher: So you’re not thinking in terms of countries as much as you are languages?

Jim: Yeah, we’re there in terms of support for the country. You can go add a grave in South Africa if you want and there are some there. But you’re right it’s a minority of our content, but yeah we are looking forward to expanding beyond the U.S and really making a push into the rest of the world. 

Fisher: Jim, this is exciting. Any other areas of improvement that you think we should know about that’s going to be coming, in the coming months?

Jim: I just think it’s going to be more stable, there’s going to be better support, again with the skeleton crew we’ve been running on. Our support frankly hasn’t always been the best over the years and that may be understating it. So that’s going to get better and again just really improvements to the site is what I think most people will notice and what I’m most excited about. Again as I said, I’m an ideas guy and I’ve had all these ideas sketched down on this big to do list and I’ve just had to watch them kind of rot away there, whatever.  

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: And now to see some of these move forward is exciting for me and I think it’s going to be exciting for the users of the site.

Fisher: Have you had any other ideas that might affect researchers for their family that you might get into in the future?

Jim: There’s tons of ideas. I don’t know that I’d go down a list because I don’t know wich ones will actually materialize. [Laughs]

Fisher: Would really work, yeah. 

Jim: So I don’t want to promise anything, but there’s ton and tons of ideas that I’ve had and like I said other people have submitted that I would love to get up there. Things like notifications when you know, on the anniversary of their death or their birthday where you might get an email that says, “How about making a virtual visit to their grave and coming and leaving some flowers for them.” That’s not really a research one but yeah there’s tons of ideas. 

Fisher: To tie in. Okay, and finally I’ve got to hear about the antique coffin screwdriver.

Jim: Ah, the antique coffin screwdriver. [Laughs] 

Fisher: Yes!

Jim: Well, when you run a site like Find A Grave people give you weird things. [Laughs]

Fisher: They do. They send these things to you? 

Jim: Well this was a gift from a family member. 

Fisher: Okay.

Jim: From my mother or my sister I think. 

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: But I have several little odd trinkets like that on a shelf in the sort of Find A Grave shrine in my home. 

Fisher: Okay. 

Jim: And that’s kind of the crowning piece. This antique coffin screwdriver and it’s a ratcheting screwdriver, it’s really old, its like from 1850 or something. 

Fisher: Wow, so it’s an antique in itself, all right. 

Jim: Yeah and it only screws in which is all you would need in a coffin. But I just love that there’s no reverse to let you unscrew it. So it’s just this ratcheting, this old heavy screwdriver that only screws in, which is this funny little thing to own. 

Fisher: You know I pictured something entirely different. I was picturing an antique coffin that was a screwdriver. 

Jim: Ah! 

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: This was made by a dictator coffin company out of Illinois.

Fisher: Right. 

Jim: And it was literally made to screw the lids onto coffins.

Fisher: On to coffins. I get it now. Okay, what were some of the other things people have sent you?

Jim: Oh I’ve got an antique embalming fluid jar. 

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: I have a more modern coffin crank to screw down. These are just the weird things.

Fisher: No this is great.

Jim: Find A Grave was listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. It was one of those you know, it was like believe it or not this site exists and someone sent me a little clipping of that, that’s up on that shelf. Yeah, just like oddball stuff like that.

Fisher: So I can understand then why one of your favorite books is, “Stealing Lincoln's Body, by Thomas Craughwell.” 

Jim: [Laughs] Yeah it was an interesting read. 

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Jim: It was amazing what happened to Lincoln’s body, I mean it’s enough to fill a book.

Fisher: Do you regret Jim that you didn’t become an embalmer or a mortician? 

Jim: No, absolutely not. 

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: I’m not one to work in that industry. I’m much happier being the guy who founded Find A Grave.

Fisher: Jim Tipton founder of FindAGrave.com. Congratulations on your new associating with Ancestry.com, and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here. 

Jim: Thanks! Yeah I’m excited. Now that we have a true Find A Grave team, we’re all pretty excited about it. 

Fisher: Thanks Jim, we look forward to having you back again in the future. And coming up next, Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com talking about preserving your tapes, believe it or not there’s a certain way you need to store them to make sure they don’t break down. Tom will have the whole thing for you coming up next on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com

Segment 4 Episode 13

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Its Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com brought to you by TMC, The Multimedia Centers, preserving your memories for over forty years. And this segment is brought to you by Heritage Consulting Genealogy Services, your family history resource, call 877 537 2000. Fisher here with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he's our authority on preservation of all things family history. And you always give us such a great education, Tom. Glad to have you here. By the way, if you ever have any questions for him, you can email him at [email protected]. He'd be happy to help you out. Tom, you know, I've had people ask me about leaving film, pictures, recordings, all kinds of personal items at stores like yours anywhere in the country. Is there a standard for keeping track of this because obviously they're often, mostly one of a kind items? And there's always that possibility of loss within a store, you know, you'd hate to see something like that. How do stores in your industry keep track of the stuff and make sure that it doesn't disappear?

Tom: That's actually a great question. Unfortunately the industry isn't standardized, and that's one thing you should ask whenever you are shipping stuff to a store or you're physically bringing them in, ask them, "How do you keep track of this? What do you do once I hand you my memories?" Like you said, most of them are one of a kind. We had a lady in just the other day that brought in some DVDs of her family and she says, "I have no copies of these. These are the only things I have. Can I wait for them?" And you know, once in a while if the machine's open, we can do that, but usually that's impractical to do something like that. And so what we do and most of the people in the industry do this, they use barcodes. So we, you know, put a barcode on every single item that she has, then we number them. So basically, if somebody's using the barcode system like we are, we could actually take our whole store, put everybody's stuff in a big drum, roll it around, mix it all up, and we could take out every roll of film, every cassette, everything and know exactly who it goes to, because everything has a barcode before it ever exits your tub.

Fisher: And I know that when you've returned things to me, those barcodes are on my original pieces of media so that if I wanted to do it again, you can actually go back and look up the records of it and what you've done before, what machine you worked on, right?

Tom: Oh exactly! In fact, we had somebody just last week brought in ten video cassettes and I'm going through them, barcoding them as I'm talking to her and three of them already had our barcodes on. I go, "Now these ones we've already done before. Did you need them done again? Did you lose your DVD?" And she goes, "I did? I don't remember bringing those in." I shot the barcode, instantly brought up what day she brought them in, what day she picked them up all this kind of information about it. Then she goes, "Oh, you know what, let me go check." And sometimes they're lost them, sometimes they just forgot that they had done those ones.

Fisher: And so, is this typical? You say there's no industry standard, but is this typical of a lot of stores to keep track in this method?

Tom: Oh absolutely! Any professional store out there is going to do this kind of stuff. If somebody's working out of their house, I'd be real scared. I've heard so many horror stories about things happening that's little Sally spilt her orange juice on something that you had dropped off at a place like that.

Fisher: because they're working out of the basement.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: Ooh!

Tom: But anybody in the industry, most of your Big Box retailers, places like that, they use the barcode system as well. Just, you know, check, ask questions, you know. You ask a question and they don't want to answer it that should be a red flag, because anybody that wants to help you should be able to do everything they can to answer your questions to put you at ease. In fact, another good question is, we had somebody call from back east the other day that wants to send some stuff in and they're just really scared about, you know, UPS is tracked, FedEx is tracked, but they're still a little bit, you know disconcerted.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: That something might happen to it.

Fisher: Well, sure. They're sending something through the mail, so it’s not in their hands. It’s not even in your hands.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: To keep track of that. So what is the answer?

Tom: The answer that we have is two options. We have these little GPS trackers. They can order a box from us that we send them the box, the packing materials, everything. And then they just put it all in, close it up, flip the on switch on the GPS navigator, drop it off at, you know one of our drop off locations across America. And then they are able to track it on their computer 24/7. They can see it’s in the tarmac at Dothan, Alabama, its driving down highway 89.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: And they can actually physically track it 24/7.

Fisher: So you're not about typical of the postal service that says, “Hey, it’s in this facility now. And now it’s in this facility. Now it’s at the airport." you're saying that it will tell you every foot of the trip where it is by GPS.

Tom: Oh yeah! It’s actually a navigator. Just like the navigator in your car, except that navigator's in this box. And you can go on and through the satellites, it pinpoints exactly where it is and it will tell you absolutely where it is. Like you mentioned a post office and UPS, when they scan it, it sends a thing to their computer saying, "It is such and such a place. It has gone through the scanner." But when it goes from that scanner to the next scanner, nobody knows for sure where it is. They know it was supposed to have been loaded on this truck. This way, if it gets loaded on the wrong truck, you still know what truck it’s on.

Fisher: If the truck's stolen, you know that it’s heading off to Canada or whatever it is.

Tom: That's right, that's right.

Fisher: Wow!

Tom: If you know that truck's supposed to be on its way to Salt Lake City or Orlando, Florida and you see it heading towards New York.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: You can call 911 and say, "There has been a UPS truck, you know, commandeered."

Fisher: [Laughs] “And my 19th century ancestor's photo is in it.”

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: “You must rescue it!”

Tom: Give them the longitude, the latitude and they can apprehend them.

Fisher: [Laughs] So what happens when you get that back? You obviously have the device.

Tom: Uh huh.

Fisher: You're able to turn it off and use it again in the future?

Tom: Oh yeah, oh yeah! Oh absolutely. We turn it off, put it on a charger then we do the job, because they know it’s in our building now.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: We do the job. Then when we send it back, we put the tracker back in the box. It goes back to them. They can track it coming back to them. Then once they get it, they just mail it back to us in a prepaid little box.

Fisher: Is that an expensive service? Is that an additional thing? How does that work?

Tom: No. Generally, most of the people that do this service that usually runs about fifty dollars. If somebody has a certain size order, they usually just throw it in at no charge.

Fisher: So it can be an added value from the business.

Tom: Exactly, exactly. Generally, it’s included in the service. If, you know, somebody wants it for something smaller, there might be a little charge. But the most I've even seen anybody usually charge for something like this is like fifty dollars.

Fisher: So Tom, here's another thought that would concern me. Say I'm bringing down an old home movie, 1950s, '40s, '60s whatever it is and I'm going to be leaving it with you for awhile, maybe I'm dealing with somebody who's like you say is dealing out of their basement at home. Is there a concern about the climate, the temperatures that they're dealing with at the store or is that something I should be more worried about how I stored it at home?

Tom: The answer to that is yes.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: You should be interested in both. The same thing somebody working out of their house, you don't know the climate control they have in their building is, you don't know if they've got it in a closet, they've got it in their basement that's too cold, too damp, too hot, you have no idea. They could be storing it out in their barn or their garage, you have no idea. When you bring it to a legitimate business, a warehouse store, a small independent store like us, you know, we've got a climate control. We have the right temperatures. We have the right humidity, all that kind of stuff to keep it safe. And so once it leaves our place, we tell people, "This is how you need to store your stuff." If you're in a place that's high humidity like the deep south or something like that, get some uncooked rice, put it in a little cheesecloth, tie it up with a rubber band, put it in a ziploc bag with your film or other things you have and then that will absorb the water and you know, the humidity if there's too much humidity. But usually you've got to be careful with film and stuff like that. Water is the worst thing for film. We've had stuff that's gone through a fire that we've been able to recover. So that's not the big thing. But you want to make sure it’s somewhat climate controlled. Don't put it out in your barn especially 16mm film, because it has such a large surface, the heat will basically make it break down. So if you're opening a can of old film and it smells like vinegar, your film is breaking down. You need to get that transferred ASAP.

Fisher: And so what about in attics?

Tom: Attics are really bad, because they go from extreme hot to extreme cold. It’s better to be a little bit on the warm side constantly or a little bit on the cold constantly than hot and cold and hot and cold, because its expanding, contracting, expanding, contracting. So you need to be very, very careful with that. We had a customer that brought in, they had, oh probably about ten tins of film that was up in their closet and they brought them in and hadn't opened them for probably thirty, forty years. And I could smell something.

Fisher: Uh oh!

Tom: I started opening them and the ones that were on the bottom of the shelf almost just disintegrated, because they didn't realize it, but there was a heating duct that went right along the bottom of that shelf.

Fisher: Ohh.

Tom: So the top part of the heating duct was that shelf. And so it basically just turned them into dust. And the higher up it got, the better preserved they were, because they were kind of insulated from it. So be careful just putting it in your closet. Make sure you don't have a heating duct there. Don't put it by floor vents that are going to be blowing on it. If you put stuff under your bed, be careful there's no vents there that's going to make it hot or cold or things like this. And another thing that a lot of people don't understand is videotapes. You want to stand them on their ends. Do not stand them flat, because on most videotapes, the control track is on the end of the tape. If something happens to one of the springs inside of a tape and that spindle kind of drops down and crushes your control track. that can make it so we can't get anything off your tape.

Fisher: Ooh!

Tom: But if you're storing it on its end, the wheels, even if the springs break, they're kind of suspended in air. So make sure you don't stack your tapes on top of each other, you make them standing on the ends, either the long end or the short end so the tape's kind of free. And another thing that people have been educated incorrectly, in the old days, when you rented a videotape, it says, "Please rewind." The reason it says that is so that the next customer can pop it in and play it. The worst way to keep your tapes is rewound, because when they rewind, they rewind fast and they rewind tight. But when they play, they're kind of loose on the other end and they're not so tight which can cause print through or what somebody would understand as an echo. So when they're watching a tape, they're hearing almost an echo before they hear the original audio. So always store them like when I worked at the TV stations, we always stored everything what we call "tails out" so we played it all the way forward and then stored it like that till we needed it, then we rewound it and then played it. So the video stores are doing that as a convenience, not as a way to preserve tape.

Fisher: Wow, that's why you're the authority. Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, ask him questions at [email protected]. And we'll talk to you next week.

Tom: Sounds good. We'll see you then.

Fisher: Well, there goes another fast hour. We want to once again thank Jim Tipton, founder of FindAGrave.com for joining us on the show today. Great information! Amazing how he started and what it has turned into. We also want to remind you that we got a great poll up on FindAGrave. If you've made some great discoveries it, cast your vote at ExtremeGenes.com. And remember to use our Find Line, 1-234-56-GENES. You can leave your stories, ask questions. We'd be happy to hear from you. This segment was brought to you by Heritage Consulting Genealogy Services, your family history resource, call 877 537 2000. Talk to again next week on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. This has been a Fisher Voice Works Production!

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