The Find A Grave user database website has recently become a popular resource tool for genealogists all over the world hoping to find long lost ancestors by searching for a record of their final resting spot. Hundreds of volunteers world wide donate their time and effort into walking old cemeteries, searching for lost tombstones and burial records to post online for others to use. Many go out of their way to take pictures of the grave sites and do some rudimentary research on the deceased and their families in hopes to reconnect these lost loved ones with their descendents. While most of the records found here are in the United States, records can be found from all corners of the world.
How much information can be gleaned from a memorial listed on Find A Grave? Well that depends on who posts the memorial. Some volunteers are strictly visitors to a cemetery and find some of the stones interesting or are interested in the history of the area and feel that documenting local burials will help preserve this history. Many contributors have no familial connection to the memorials they post on line at all. Some will do extra research, they may know something of the history of the area and a part of what the deceased may have played in it. Some will include available census records or genealogy records found online from various public family trees. Some contributors adhere only to the basic rules for submission to the website, a record of the deceased, possibly birth or death dates and if a user is lucky, a picture of the stone which reflects this information. Others will add additional information as they have time to compile it or as it is sent to them from other contributors who know more about the person.
What are some of the advantages of using Find A Grave as a genealogy resource? Plenty. Finding an actual record of a burial location helps enormously when searching for long lost ancestors on your family tree, especially when you’ve reached a “brick wall” so to speak, with no other information available. Using an easy to use search interface, users can search from a wide variety of angles for their relatives including unknown birth or death dates, and from wide location ranges such as country, state and county wide or can narrow the search to a specific cemetery name. Sometimes the memorials will be linked to other family members, helping in the search for relatives.
Discovery of leads is a main advantage for this website. For any genealogy researcher, lead generation is a great boon to their work. Links can lead to other family members buried in other locations, help track family migration patterns and even find previously unknown relatives. Sometimes memorials will include things like transcriptions of death records or obituaries for the deceased which add even more information to genealogy records, verifying family relationships. Finding the name a person is buried under also helps generate leads for census records searches, since sometimes people are buried with the name they are most known by on their tombstone rather than their formal name. If that name is previously unknown, they can be difficult to find in a census record or tax list. They might be listed by a middle name or even a nickname. Some additional information that may be included on a memorial are things like marriage dates and locations, children’s names and birth dates, parents names, middle names, maiden names and the deceased persons birth location. Even inscriptions on tombstones can give insight into the deceased persons life and additional leads to finding more information about them and other places to look for data about them. Finding where they are buried is a bonus because this can be a clue to their religious affiliation giving a researcher more avenues for searching for records, or may help a researcher define around what time period they moved to the area. Pioneering cemeteries are helpful in narrowing in on migration dates for founding settlers of an area.
What is the downside to using Find A Grave memorials as a genealogy tool? Well you would think with all the great advantages listed above there wouldn’t be any right? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, no research tool can be perfect. The downfall to this site is that some contributors take their genealogy a little overboard. While most mean well, some contributors will add “place markers” rather than death records in cases where they know some of the relatives of the deceased persons or even an entire list of genealogy markers that have genealogy information on them but no positive proof of burial location. This leads to confusion and misinformation between researchers. One family researcher may have totally different information than another on a specific person with neither having verified information. While the website frowns upon this type of memorial and administrators do their best to prevent them, they do occur.
Other downsides include the possibility of duplicates. Even the most vigilant of contributors may add a duplicate memorial to a deceased person due to things as simple as a slight misspelling of a name on a death record or tombstone, or due to a record placing someone in the wrong cemetery. While most contributors are willing to correct these types of errors, they are sometimes difficult to weed out because researchers may not find them unless they type in just the right formula into the user interface. Another difficulty with the website is the fact that both names and dates, especially among older records can be just plain wrong. For instance, you may know that great grandpa Jones was born in 1843, but the person who was responsible for burying him may not have known. Due to various reasons, many tombstones have been found to have a misprint of both dates and names on them, or they may not match up to the burial record or death record which makes verification more difficult. Death records can also be confused when all the contributor has to go by is a birth or death year and a burial location. There is most likely more than one John Smith born in Kentucky in 1861 and died in Ohio in 1910, buried in the city cemetery. Without careful verification, errors can be made as to which John Smith this is and he can be linked to the wrong family,
Sometimes unknowingly, contributors may add a cemetery to the memorial site by its more common local name rather than the official cemetery name. This often happens with older cemeteries that are no longer in use. This can make it difficult for researchers that are not familiar with the area but may happen to have the official name of the cemetery. The opposite can also happen, a cemetery may be listed by its official name but not have any notations or tags with the other commonly used local names which makes it hard to find cemeteries mentioned on older death certificates often noted by their commonly used name.
Despite some of the drawbacks mentioned above, the positives much outweigh the negatives when using this site as a genealogical tool. With proper vigilance and dedication, it can be an excellent resource and valuable research tool for the diligent researcher.