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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 I also now manage his memorial as the lady who originally made his memorial transferred him over to me.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!

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