Evaluating Find-a-grave memorials by their creators

Here’s an advanced tip to determine the quality of data from a Find-a-grave memorial by examining the memorial’s creator.

In my Find-a-grave Genealogy 201 video, I recommended you only consider information inscribed on a gravestone as fact, since you can’t know the source of any of the other information on the memorial.

Unfortunately, a lot of Find-a-grave memorials don’t have pictures of a gravestone. But there is a way to assess the reliability of such a record, and that’s by taking a hard look at how data is added to Find-a-grave.

Find-a-grave is probably the largest, crowd-sourced genealogy tool out there. What do I mean by crowd-sourced? It means a huge crowd of people contributed to its creation—in this case as volunteers. Of course, every crowd is made up of individuals, and when you encounter a record without a gravestone, you can try to assess the validity of the memorial by looking at person who created it.

Think about who Find-a-grave users are.

The simplest are family researchers, looking for information about their ancestors. These users leave no footprint on Findagrave.

There are also casual contributors, who update the memorials of people in their family tree.

Finally, there are the cemetery transcribers. These Find-a-Grave power users—who consider it an enjoyable hobby to transcribe all the graves from cemeteries close to them—are what make Find-a-Grave such an amazing resource.

If I find a user who has made so many contributions from a particular cemetery, I begin to believe they weren’t documenting their family, they were documenting the cemetery. And that means all they know about each deceased is what was written there.

Take Bernard Joseph Dougherty, who is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery just outside Philadelphia. There’s no photo of a tombstone, and the information is pretty basic: name, date of death, and cemetery. Bernard’s memorial was created by the user F. Priam and when I look at this user’s profile, I can see a whopping 43,000 memorials added. Wow. That’s a lot. There’s no way F. Priam is related to all of those memorials. This user must have a passion for transcribing gravestones. A note they added to their profile professes a love for genealogy, and shows that F. Priam is an active and passionate member of the find-a-grave community.

This all makes me feel pretty confident that F. Priam recording just the facts on Bernard’s memorial, and that I can rely on what’s there.

That said, other users can contribute additional information to these entries, and there’s no way to look at what’s changed.

Consider Ellen Haggerty nee Humphreys, created by the user So Little Time. This user has added nearly 8,000 memorials, most from Chicago- and Philadelphia-area cemeteries. But someone (me) suggested changes to the memorial, including listing Ellen’s mother’s maiden name, Meehan. I speak from experience when saying that Mary Humphreys’ maiden name didn’t appear in any records relating to Ellen’s death—it took me months to figure that out. But… just looking at Find-a-grave, you would have no idea of my source, and whether it was reliable.

In other words, a simple memorial created by a find-a-grave power user is a safe bet.

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