Friday, June 4, 2010

52 Weeks To Better Genealogy - Challenge #22

Not being a writer, participation in the Genea-Blogger Challenges are few and far between. However, this one caught my eye and I said "I can do this one". Here is the Challenge:

Week 22: Spend some time at Find-a-Grave. Most of you have probably heard of Find-a-Grave ( and probably used it in your own research as well. The challenge this week is to simply browse this web site. Just click links. Look at the different ways the information is sorted. Study the tributes of others and see if there are ways you can improve your own entries. Don’t do any research of your own, simply study the efforts of others. If you have a genealogy blog, share your impressions of Find-a-Grave and any interesting entries you found at the web site.

Earlier this year, I visited a local genealogy group presentation on Find-A-Grave. Actually, it turned out to be a journey that the presenter had in various cemeteries locating his ancestors. Hit presentation did not say too much about how to use Find-A-Grave.

As I do take pictures for Find-A-Grave, I have learned how to use this website as "A" Genealogy Research Tool. Certainly not THE tool, but a nice tool to have "in the bag of tricks".

With some encouragement, I have even created and have given a presentation on this topic and have been asked to give it two more times this fall. Me, doing presentations, No Way. But, you have to start somewhere.

For this challenge, a couple of observations of what you might or might not find on Find-A-Grave.

  1. Names
  2. Dates
  3. Relationships
  4. Inscriptions of what is on the headstone
What I have observed on Find-A-Grave is that "just because it's written in stone" doesn't mean that it is accurate. The best example that I can think of, is a military headstone that has a different birthdate then the headstone itself. Which one is right?

I had an interesting phone call on that posting, which I blogged about here, from the son of the person whose headstone I had posted. The military is correcting the mistake. I only bring this up, as that some of the information on a headstone may not be accurate. However, it is a tool to further research. In looking at this specific stone, there is another name. As it turns out, that name is the name of the person who called me.

What can be helpful, but not always done, it linking families together to reflect the relationships. I have one family where three generations of headstones are linked together. Three different states and cemeteries are included. In the Find-A-Grave page, you can click on a link to see the other family members. I have been trying to make sure that my family links are up to date. This helps show the relationships.

Looking at the symbols on the headstone, on Find-A-Grave, may help tell some more of the story about the person. There are books around that help describe what these symbols mean. A couple that come to mind, was one that had a surname with a farm view inscribed on the stone. It was the name of a local farm. Another headstones with a firefighter's tag on a stake. Not to mention the military symbols and other markers that can be seen on Find-A-Grave.

As a contributor, visiting a number of local cemeteries, I see the same surname showing up. Are they related, I don't know, but I have taken a number of pictures of that surname from other cemeteries. In wondering around these cemeteries, local street names, village names, community names show up. No wonder that street name is down the street, that family is all over the place. A little local history may be found.

Using some searching techniques for Family History research can be used on Find-A-Grave. An example: What was known was the Name and general area of a family of interest. Searching on Find-A-Grave for any cemetery in this one county, I found 27 entries for the surname in question in 3 cemeteries. Found the name I wanted, went to that cemetery. Found the first headstone grouping, but not the one I was looking for. And only 4 headstones. Walking around the cemetery, there was a very large group of headstones that was loaded with genealogy information on the family I was looking for. The monument in the center of the plot had dates and relationships on all four sides of the monument. A look at the Census Records confirmed the family groupings.

But, it also left a couple of questions. What was the relationship between the two family plots, especially since there was one name but different people, in both plots.

Reading some of the inscriptions, hopefully recorded in Find-A-Grave, can be interesting as well. Looking at a number of burial grounds associated with a church are sometimes interesting, when looking at inscriptions. For the most part, based on what I have seen on Find-A-Grave, there may be a scripture passage reference. But, in one very old cemetery, whole passages were recorded on the headstone. Unfortunately they weren't very clear in photographs, but the question was, Why entire passages in this one cemetery?

One of the research tricks that I have learned, is looking sideways or looking at your neighbors. This includes at a Cemetery on Find-A-Grave. When submitting a request for a picture, it's helpful to include other surnames that might be related to the person who the pictures is being requested. One request that I received was for a name, went to the cemetery and could not find that name anywhere. But, the request had another surname in the request. That 2nd surname was on a headstone and right next to it was the one I was looking for. The plot had family members for the two surnames. This helped the requester put the family together.

One other example of Find-A-Grave and searching. Was looking for a cousin. He was not buried in any family cemetery that I had visited or was not on Find-A-Grave. Why not? Doing a search, but backing away from the details in the search, the cousin was located, but in a cemetery not close to the rest of the family. Went to the cemetery to take a picture, was the answer to the question "why was he buried there". He was buried with his in-laws. The cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident, was young, and the family didn't have any preparation for his death but his in-laws has space in their plot. Mystery solved.

Find-A-Grave isn't THE answer, but it can be a tool, in your genealogy tool kit.

For the most part, I have been doing a similar thing on this Blog. What has become important to me, is that people doing Family Research use various tools in their research. I figure that IF I take a picture of a headstone, some one might be looking for it. But, I don't know how or where they might find it. So, I double post the pictures.

There have been two cemeteries that I have visited, based on Photo Requests where the cemetery is in a state of dis-repair, but some of the headstones are still readable (for the most part) but they need to be captured. I have taken pictures of all of the headstones and have posted them.

Thanks to Amy Coffin of We Tree ( for the inspiration!

© 2010, Copyright H R Worthington


  1. Enjoyed your post! I have been a member of F.A.G. for almost 9 years. I've only done family in all that time except for a handful of people. I did one whole family "burying ground" but nearly all those were family. When I first started F.A.G. was not all that great, but now it's become HUGE and is an awesome tool in the tool box!

  2. Great post. And, yes, we have to start somewhere. As we learn we need to in turn share. Each contribution to Find-A-Grave, your blog, etc. helps preserve data that someone may be looking for today or tomorrow. Keep up the great work!

  3. Lisa and Gale,

    Thank you for your comments.