Find A Grave as a Source – Or, Where is Cousin Ed?

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.

Public Domain from

Image is Public Domain from

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.

Ed and Hayes VanDuyn gravestone, Harlan Cemetery, Brown Township, Hancock County, Indiana. Taken 4 October 2016 by Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard. Copyright Notice: You do not have permission to download or copy this photo without obtaining it from me. Thank you.


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9 Responses to Find A Grave as a Source – Or, Where is Cousin Ed?

  1. Christie Logan says:

    Thank you for the article. My frustration with Ancestry importing data from FAG (which I really like (and for which it is actually easier to get things corrected)), is that when corrections are made in FAG the corrected information is not updated in records already attached in Ancestry. Nor, do the users get an alert that the record has an update. BAD!! Ancestry needs to fix that. This is a scenario for one of my family members. There is no telling how many times that erroroneous record is attached in Ancestry but my know he appears in 1,924 trees!! I only know this because I corrected a wrong cemetery and city only to realize there was no update to the Ancestry record. I had to delete the original record and atttach the corrected record. It concerns and saddens me.


  2. Melissa Middleswart says:

    We had quite a time with getting a correction to my gr-gr-grandmother’s FAG entry from the man who entered it. Finally when I’d emailed him a scan of the family bible, he accepted that I might know her maiden name (he’d found a similar name in county records and thought he had the right woman, but he did not). I understand how the error happened, and I certainly appreciate all the time he took to do all the FAG entries that he did, as I will certainly never be able to make the long car drive to that cemetery, but it was so frustrating when I knew I was correct and he just didn’t want to change it. What he did put is not the definite change I’d requested, but another cousin attached the bible page, I think, somehow or other, so hopefully future researchers will figure out the truth. I sure do love being able to “travel” all over to graves and find my family without ever leaving home, thanks to Findagrave, though!


    • I would certainly be frustrated in that situation, too. How lucky you are to have the family Bible pages. Find-A-Grave is beneficial for the reasons you say, and it can be a problem for the reasons you say. A mixed bag of tricks and treats. 🙂


      • Melissa Middleswart says:

        I don’t have the actual family bible, but I do have photocopies of those particular pages that I need–in that branch of the family, and one other, only, though, alas. Having the info in a family member’s handwriting that you recognize surely is a wonderful treasurer for a family historian.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Greta says:

    Someone from Find A Grave reads your blog. Cousin Ed was moved to Harlan Cemetery this afternoon. How many more of this woman’s memorials are wrong?


  4. Craig Smith says:

    Another reason people end up in the wrong cemetery on FAG is when one local authority manages more than one cemetery and someone does a bulk upload – the deceased tends to end up in the first cemetery on the list, or both if someone else creates a new record rather than correcting the existing one.

    The commercial site Deceased Online isn’t completely without fault either – I’ve had to convince them a newly discovered 4th cousin was buried with her daughter and husband rather than a complete stranger buried on the same day as her, and that the complete stranger listed as being buried with my great-grandmother and her infant daughter was probably with his own relatives in their well-marked family plot.


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