Find-A-Grave Ups and Downs

richards-plot-kearney-cemeteryI have found tons of useful, accurate and even highly unexpected information on Find-A-Grave memorials.  Just yesterday, I found memorial photos posted by Tamara Truette Peterson that not only showed the gravestones, but were labeled, so I could see my family’s physical burial relations to one another.  Considering it is unlikely I’ll make it to Nebraska in the next few years, having these photos is invaluable to me.

Tamara is one of hundreds of meticulous archivers, who donate their time to uploading photos and creating memorials, for which I am truly, truly grateful.  Because I have thousands of Find-A-Grave records in my tree, those records have provided me with not only death and burial information for my ancestors, but information on their spouses, parents, and children.  Some have obituaries or short biographies posted directly on the memorials themselves.

And because I’m a curious person, I often go to see who created the memorials I’m using for my records.  I’m awed by how many of them have not only created hundreds, but thousands of memorials completely voluntarily and in their own limited free time.  I’m so very grateful.

However, as wonderful as these memorials are, they are not always accurate.  How can they be?  No matter how hard a single person works to put forth the facts as they know them, those facts may actually be spurious.  The gravestone may have been carved long after a loved one passed and a date on it gotten wrong, or in one case I know of the stone carver simply misspelled the last name of an immigrant relative.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve run into some “facts” that required many hours of additional research (detective work) to chase down, in order to confirm my ancestor’s profiles.

In one Find-A-Grave memorial, my great aunt’s middle name was given as Linden instead of Lilles.  The only record I could find with the name on it, was this Find-A-Grave profile, but there were no actual documents with the name Lilles either.  My only proof Ida L. Stucker’s middle name was Lilles was the fact my grandmother had been named after her (and I had been named after her).  I spent hours looking for a record with the name on it, but couldn’t find any.  I did find profiles created by Stuckers and Dows (her married name) alike of direct descendants who named her Ida Lillis, but nothing with an actual document.  Finally, last week, my aunt found a family genealogy document created by Ida Lilles’ brother in 1954 naming her Ida Lilles.  I have since contacted the memorial creator and he’s very graciously updated the memorial.  I think we may even be related, so that’s a pretty neat outcome.

In another memorial, the creator had a death certificate from another state that said my ancestor had died more than two decades before he did (despite what the gravestone said), and a couple of years before the birth of his youngest daughter.  However, I found multiple census records showing him alive with his wife after this supposed death as well living in a different state than the one the death certificate was issued in.  I also found his will that confirmed the date on the grave marker.  I think the death certificate she found was for another man by the same name living in the state of my ancestor’s birth, whom I found census records for up to the date of the  death certificate.  I’ll never know, because this contributor has passed on.

Another contributor did something quite different.  She took a photo posted 7 years previously to and attributed to the obscure granddaughter of a quite popular ancestor, she then posted it to the Find-a-Grave memorial of the woman’s grandmother by the same name.  Soon, the photo started populating profiles all over despite the fact that the woman in it looked far too young to be the age the ancestor would have been when photography as a technology came into existence, much less made its way to where she would have been living at the time.  When it came up as a hint to my tree, at first I accepted it, but then I started to wonder because the woman just looked too young.  Eventually I tracked down the original posting and where all the others had sprung from.  Frustrating!

And yet, the contributor clearly gets a great deal out of her work on Find-a-Grave and there is no way, I would be the one to write her and ask, “Why did you post this picture?”  That’s just not my way.  I did remove the photo from my ancestor’s profile and make sure the original was linked to the right one. 🙂

For all the hours I’ve spent chasing down incongruities raised by Find-a-Grave memorials, they have saved me thousands of hours in research, so I’m not complaining.  I am cautioning, however.  Do not simply import any record into your tree without checking it against what you know to be true first and if something looks fishy, wait to add it until you’ve found something to support it later.  At least that’s my motto. 🙂

I’m sure there are errors in my tree.  I spend time double checking my work on a daily, but I don’t live under the misapprehension that I’ve got it all right.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be done investigating, and isn’t that really the fun of it all?


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