Find-A-Grave as a Source – Or, Where is Cousin Ed?
Find-A-Grave can be helpful. It can also be a genealogist’s nightmare. It is a misused and misunderstood website. Like gravestones themselves, Find-A-Grave memorials are only as good as the information provided to or by the memorial maker. But Find-A-Grave can be much worse.
Find-A-Grave allows very simple entry of very incorrect data. We (or a lot of us) are used to that with family trees on Ancestry or Family Search. But, be honest, how many of us have been guilty of taking information on Find-A-Grave at face value? How many of us have gone to it, pulled the data off, found conflicting information, and questioned the validity of the conflicting information rather than the validity of what was on Find-A-Grave? How many of us have been guilty of entering data on Find-A-Grave in order to build a family tree on Find-A-Grave? How many of us really understand what Find-A-Grave is all about?
Here is an example of a careless entry on Find-A-Grave. It is one I am pretty sure I know the answer to, but that I haven’t solved yet because it will require a trip to a cemetery, and I keep forgetting to stop when I’m down in that area. In January, one of my first cousins sent me an email letting me know that he had recently been to Harlan Cemetery in Hancock County, Indiana, and saw that our cousin Ed had died. I did not know that. I looked it up on Ancestry and found a record for him in their “U.S. Cemetery and Funeral Home Collection.” He had died in May, 2014. I clicked on “Go to website” and saw that the information had come from a funeral home, not a cemetery. I also found a Find-A-Grave record for him at a cemetery in east Indianapolis.
But according to my cousin, Ed is buried at Harlan Cemetery in Brown Township, Hancock County, Indiana. So why is there a Find-A-Grave record for him at Washington Park Cemetery in Indy? I have requested that a volunteer find a photograph of a stone at Washington Park for Cousin Ed, and two volunteers returned information that the cemetery has no record of this person. Paul is his first name, and that is how he is listed on Find-A-Grave (Paul VanDuyn).
He is not buried at Washington Park. I would bet the whole $12 in my purse on it.
I have been planning to go to Harlan Cemetery and find his grave next to his father’s, but like I said, I keep forgetting. The point is this: my cousin was there and he saw the marked grave. I suspect that Rita Osborne, who added and manages this memorial, made the incorrect assumption that his body is buried at Washington Park because the funeral home that made his arrangements is at the same location of that cemetery. She has added 194,203 memorials and manages 177,665. It’s not possible to validate your Find-A-Grave entries before you make them when you are doing an average of 1,075 memorials per week.
So there you have it. On Find-A-Grave, he is buried at Washington Park. In Ancestry’s Find-A-Grave data, he is buried at Washington Park (because Ancestry has what Find-A-Grave has), but in reality, he is not buried at Washington Park.
So where is Cousin Ed? I’ll let you know when I see it for sure. If I don’t find his body, at least I might be able to find his stone. I’m kidding about the body thing.
And then, I will correct Find-A-Grave.
I wonder how many trees on Ancestry have him buried at Washington Park?
Find-A-Grave is not gospel. It’s not a built-in family tree. In my opinion, it is not for “memorial collectors.” And it is definitely not always right. I do not believe that it should be consulted first during genealogical research. Oh, and by all means, correct it when you find something on the site that is wrong. Because you will find problems. In my opinion, since this is a “crowd-sourced” website, if I come across an incorrect memorial, or incorrect family links a-plenty, I am responsible for requesting the corrections even though I didn’t make the errors.
The safety of the world depends on us being responsible with our Find-A-Grave usage. I think that we must protect ourselves and others from incorrect Find-A-Grave information, and we must protect Find-A-Grave from itself.
UPDATE: In October 2016, I went to Harlan Cemetery and took a photo of Cousin Ed’s gravestone. Toldya.