Drawbacks to Find-a-grave’s “non-cemetery burials”

Already watched my Genealogy 201 video about Find-a-grave? Here’s a tip about how to assess the validity of Find-a-grave’s “non-cemetery” burial memorials, as well as an advanced technique to crack into Ancestry.com’s search indices.

There is one type of Find-a-grave memorial that I almost always reject: non-cemetery burials, which includes deaths at sea and cremations. Why? You’re completely reliant on the quality of the submitter’s research, and you almost never see supporting citations so you can verify the submitter’s research yourself.

I do have a few exceptions to this, though.

Take William Butten’s find-a-grave memorial. He died on 16 Nov 1620 aboard the Mayflower, a fact which you can easily validate with a Bing search.

Another example is Captain Samuel Chew, who died on 4 Mar 1778. He was the Captain of the brig Resistance during the Revolution and was killed in action at sea north of Barbados.

Generally speaking, there’s going to be some form of record when someone dies at sea in military action or drowns when a ship capsizes, whether it’s a newspaper article, military record, or book.

Another example is Joseph Patrick O’Neill, my father. We cremated his body, and over the past decade, have left small amounts of his ashes at various places that were important to him, or are important to us. In this case, the recent death and note of cremation are a good sign you can trust the information in the memorial.

Now let’s have some fun, and turn this around. If you’ve encountered an old genealogy mistake, you may notice how difficult it is to get people to change their view. I also suspect that new family historians will listen to the crowd, choosing the answers that everyone else picked, rather than taking a closer look at a contrary opinion.

Find-a-grave actually offers a way for you to get your alternative information into Ancestry.com’s search indexes. It’s not guaranteed to change people’s minds, but having your contrary information appear as a hint in someone else’s tree from a source that carries authority… well, that’s going to cause some people to look closer.

I did this a year ago for George Schlauch of Pelham, Ontario. Many of George’s descendants were resistant to acknowledging the blatantly obvious error in the accepted genealogy, let alone accepting of an alternate, evidence-based genealogy that Liz Tice and I painfully pieced together.

I spent close to two years researching the Schlauch/Slough family in colonial Pennsylvania, and I didn’t want to close out that work without doing my best to put it in front of future family researchers. So, since none of these Sloughs appeared to have been buried in a cemetery with a tombstone, I decided to add George Slough and his parents to Find-a-grave (as well as memorials for the George Slough of Northampton County with whom the Pelham George was confused) as non-cemetery burials. Now, when anyone searches for George Schlauch of Pelham Ontario, Ancestry.com returns an authoritative source. It looks like it the accepted genealogy vs. Find-a-grave & Ancestry.com. Even though it’s really just me.

Please don’t do this lightly. If you enter in wrong information and leave it live for more than a few months, your mistake will live on for years in the family trees of others, even if you correct your mistake.

If you do, it may take a few days for your memorial on Find-a-grave to appear in Ancestry.com’s indices.

Also, you should be aware of Find-a-grave’s policy about memorial ownership. If you are not a direct relative within four generations of the deceased, you can be forced to transfer ownership of a memorial to someone who is.

In summary, a good genealogist should give extra scrutiny to Find-a-Grave’s non-cemetery burials. At the same time, however, a good genealogist can help others out by taking advantage of non-cemetery burials by sneaking their high-quality research into Ancestry.com’s indices and hints system.

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