Friday, August 29, 2008

WARNING about scam

I feel like an absolute fool. I'm sharing what just happened so you don't fall into the same trap.

Most immediate warning: DO NOT SUBSCRIBE TO!!!!!

The rest of this warning could apply to any similar situation.

Here's the story.

An anonymous blog visitor posted a comment on one of our posts giving high praise to as godsend for getting death records and such.

Warning #1: Don't accept anything that an anonymous commenter, e-mailer or whatever tells you.

I knew that. Honestly, I knew that. But for the last several weeks I've been looking for obituaries or any other records of death for members of my high school graduating class who reportedly are deceased. And I've also developed a renewed desire to know more about my genealogy.

My fervent desire to believe that this anonymously recommended search engine would readily help me clouded my judgement.

Warning #2: If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

At the Web site, you enter a way-too-simple search - only the first name and last name of the person whose records you seek - to get started. If this were a useful Web site, supposedly searcing death and obituary records around the world for hundreds of years, you'd at least need a middle initial, wouldn't you?

I entered a search anyway, fool that I am, for "Nancy Walters." I graduated from high school with Nancy Charlene Wilson, who by all accounts married some guy named Walters.

Her name is so common that I've had difficulty finding anything definite on her via the Internet. I found a Nancy Walters in SSDI who was a year younger than most of my classmates and who is listed as dying in October 1979. No specific date of death. I believe that's my Nancy, unless my Nancy's surname changed again before she died.

The recommended Web site boasted marriage records too. You get the picture.

Warning #3: Be wary if you have to pay without getting a free sample.

My search for Nancy Walters resulted in a "You must be registered" prompt. Okay. Saying who you are makes sense. But the various levels of registration all included making a payment for periods of time ranging from 3 days to 5 years.

Yep. Yours truly paid up.

Warning #4: Read the terms of the agreement. Don't simply print it out and click "I accept."

If I had read this very last item, I would have retreated immediately:

This website is for your own personal use only. You may NOT send automated queries to our system, republishing or redistributing any data on this website is strictly prohibited. Usage of this website and all information contained within is subject to West Bengal, India law. By accessing, you also certify and attest that you are NOT affiliated with any local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. If you are, you are NOT permitted to proceed past this page and must leave this website immediately.

Warning #5: Don't read offers like that before you're fully awake.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Whoops a daisies!

Bloomberg published an obituary for Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Aug. 27. The problem? Jobs is still alive.

The news organization blames an electronic error for the release of the advance obit and later issued a retraction. But the mistake provides a lesson for all obituary writers working in the Information Age. If you write advancers, be sure to store the articles on a different server than the one that runs your live site.

On the plus side, Jobs is still alive. Plus, he got a sneak peek at what one media outlet plans to say about him when he eventually dies. Who wouldn't want to read that?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mysterious motives

This essay on fiction editors has much of interest to obit fans:

No service, no prayers and no closure

By now, this has apparently become of the buzz of Google, but it just sailed into my inbox today. For anyone else who hasn't seen...

"Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another unlikely obit-writing casualty of newspaper reorganization

Obitland got a kick in the teeth yesterday (Aug. 18, 2008) when award-winning obituary writer Kay Powell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution informed colleagues and Fobits (obit fans) around the world that she would no longer be the obit diva of the AJC. (Clarification: Her colleagues are also her fans.)

Kay wrote:
As of Sept. 2, I'll no longer be writing obits for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In the AJC's second reorganization in a year, I'm moving to the Cobb County bureau to report on communities.

Many journalists would consider this is a nod to Kay's extraordinary interviewing, researching and storytelling talents. She's such a fabulous reporter and writer that her editors want to reward her by moving her out of obits and into "live" news.

But Kay relished her role as obit writer, obits editor and mentor of other obit writers, both at the AJC and worldwide.

In her note to us she wrote: The happiest part of my journalism career has been writing obits and developing friendships with each of you.

We mourn her "passing" from obits to community news.

As the death of a sibling makes one rethink one's own mortality, the inconceivable departure of Kay (and of Gerry Hostetler, who took a buyout from the Charlotte Observer in July) from the death beat prompts those of us who write obits for newspaper editorial departments to wonder, "Will I be next?"

I'm too stunned to say much more than that.