Find A Grave as a Source – Memorials and Photos

Isn’t Find A Grave a fabulous resource that we could not have fathomed 20 years ago? Do you think it would be safe to say that at this point, nearly all genealogists have used Find A Grave? It is a treasure trove of final disposition and sometimes biographical information for our ancestors and relatives. Thousands of contributors post photos of grave markers, attaching them to the online memorials for the corresponding individuals.

Find A Grave Terminology

Here is some terminology used on the Find A Grave website. These definitions are not meant to replace any official ones on either the website or the Find A Grave Forum. Any questions on the official definitions should be directed there, as I do not represent Find A Grave.

  • Final Disposition1 – The final location or state of bodily remains. The purpose of Find A Grave is to provide the final disposition information for each individual for which a memorial exists. Memorial creation starts from this information.
  • Memorial2 – The web page representing the final disposition of an individual. Usually, the memorial is connected to a cemetery and gives information on where the body was buried. A majority of memorials include a photograph of the gravestone. Entombment, cremation, centotaph, and other memorials also exist. A memorial page represents only one individual and there should not be duplicates.
  • Memorial Number3 – A unique number assigned to a memorial.
  • Contributor4 – A user of Find A Grave who creates, maintains, adds photos to, fulfills photo requests of, and/or sends edits for a memorial. You do not have to be a contributor in order to use Find A Grave.5
  • Contributor Number6 – A unique number assigned to a contributor.
  • Marker – A gravestone, monument, tomb, or other stationary artifact that identifies the final disposition location of the body of a deceased. On Find A Grave, a marker is represented by the generic term of “Grave.”7

Find A Grave as a Source

Find A Grave can be used as a source of evidence for genealogical research. It is my responsibility as a researcher to analyze what I find on a Find A Grave memorial and include this analysis in my text if I am using this as a source of evidence.

As I am using Find A Grave, I must consider questions such as the following:

  • Is Find A Grave the best possible source in this situation?
  • Should I use it as a hint to lead me to other, more sound, sources?
  • If necessary, can a better photograph be requested and obtained?
  • Do I have an older photograph that either I or somebody else took which shows the marker as less weathered or is of better quality?
  • Can I go see a gravestone myself?
  • Am I relying on contributor-entered birth and death information without seeking and using a better source for the same?

These questions and others can, and I would say should, be considered.

Find A Grave Problems

As a researcher, I want my information to be the highest quality I can find, and I want the evidence I present to support my arguments. As Elizabeth Shown Mills writes in Evidence Explained: “…to help ourselves and our readers evaluate the reliability of our evidence, we often need to discuss issues relating to a source’s quality and content, not just its identity and whereabouts.”8

I typically use Find A Grave to lead to other evidence unless I am reporting on the location of interment or on what is written on a monument. Regarding the interment location, while a Find A Grave memorial page can be a pretty good source for this, a photograph of a gravestone or plaque cannot be used for this purpose. I have seen situations where a Find A Grave memorial is attached to the wrong cemetery, or where a photo is posted for the wrong memorial. Unless I visit the cemetery myself, I cannot be certain where the marker is located.

If Find A Grave memorial data which is not on a photo of the marker is the only source that I can find of birth or death information of an individual after exhausting all available resources, I will say so most likely within my text to give this rare occurance added emphasis, with added comments in my citation. The information didn’t just pop up on Find A Grave at random, though. It had to come from somewhere. It is that “somewhere” that I must seek.

If I find information such as a burial location on a death certificate which contradicts what is on the individual’s memorial page, I analyze this and document the conflicting information in my records. I contact the memorial maintainer. I may request an additional photo from a Find A Grave contributor and include a message asking for verification of cemetery location and why I question it.

Sometimes a person’s body was not interred where a marker is located. Just one example is that a monument could have been made for the burial of a person to use in the future next to a spouse, but the death happened 25 years later, and burial is located next to a second spouse. I lean on the side of continued investigation in these situations. I need to track down that possible second spouse.

Find A Grave Citation Elements

The examples shown in this blog post are what I now use when I cite sources from Find A Grave and are based on standards and formats from the book Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, with my own tweeks. My formats are neither endorsed nor approved by the Evidence Explained author or forum administrators. Nor are they rejected by the same. They are simply my way of citing Find A Grave as a source.

I highly recommend that all who perform genealogical or historical research obtain a copy of the latest edition of Evidence Explained as well as join the forum on the Evidence Explained website, even if publication of the research is never intended. I have considered for quite some time that others could very well come along after me, including me, and need to be able to figure out what I was thinking or track down my original sources. They cannot do that if I haven’t documented from where the information came and what my thought processes were as I was analyzing the evidence.

I will be presenting the template that I have developed for citing Find A Grave information. The foundation of what you see here comes from Evidence Explained, Chapter 2: “Fundamentals of Citation”.

See Evidence Explained section 2.10 for explanations of the following five terms.9

  • First Reference Note
  • Subsequent Note
  • Source List
  • Master Source
  • Source List Entry

If you are interested, you can find the base format in Evidence Explained.10 Here is my detailed and elaborate twist in template format.

Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed [dd month yyyy]), memorial [unique memorial number], [name of deceased as shown on memorial], created <and maintained> by “[contributor pseudonym]” (contributor [contributor number])<, maintained by “[contributor pseudonym]” (contributor [contributor number])><; citing [name of cemetery<, location>, county, state, country]><; accompanying <{options: marker, family, portrait}> photo<s> by “[contributor pseudonym]” (contributor [contributor number]), added [dd month yyyy]><{, repeat with additional photos by different contributors, if applicable}><; [disposition information if a non-grave memorial]>[{semicolon OR period}] [Analytical comments].

Overwhelmed yet? Okay, let’s break this down and describe each section of the format. First, the following four points.

  1. Everything within greater than and less than symbols < > is optional, and a few things are optional with conditions.
  2. Everything in brackets [ ] is required and is to be replaced with the actual value from the citation, unless the brackets are within < > symbols, which then makes that information optional within a required section.
  3. Words in braces { } are instructions.
  4. Dates are always in dd month yyyy format, such as 13 August 2014.

Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed [dd month yyyy]),

    1. Italicize the website name.11
    2. The direct link to the memorial is not used because there is no guarantee by Find A Grave that it will not change.12
    3. Leave a space before and after the colon that comes prior to the accessed date.13
    4. Use the date the information was obtained from the memorial page for the accessed date — the date it was viewed on the website.14

memorial [unique memorial number],

  • The unique memorial number will (let’s hope) remain static and can be used to find the memorial in the event of a name, cemetery, or even link format change. This number can be found at the bottom of the text of the memorial directly below the “created by” contributor.

[name of deceased as shown on memorial],

  • This can be found at the very top of the memorial.

created <and maintained> by “[contributor pseudonym]” (contributor [contributor number])

  1. Created and maintained by — if the creator and maintainer are the same contributor, use this format and exclude the “maintained by” section, below.
  2. “Contributor pseudonym” is in double quotes because we don’t know if this is actually the name of the person. For example, contributor “mamaquilts” is clearly not truly named mamaquilts. Although I am named Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard and use that as my contributor name, it still goes in double quotes in my format design: “Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard.”15
  3. Contributor number goes in parentheses after the word “contributor”, the contributor pseudonym, and the closing double quote.

<, maintained by “[contributor pseudonym]” (contributor [contributor number])>

  1. Maintained by — section can be optional and is used if the contributor maintaining the memorial is different from the creator. In this case, “created and maintained by” is replaced by “created by”.
  2. “Contributor pseudonym” is in double quotes because we don’t know if this is actually the name of the person. For example, contributor “mamaquilts” is clearly not truly named mamaquilts. Although I am named Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard and use that also as my contributor name, it still goes in double quotes: “Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard.”16
  3. Contributor number goes in parentheses after the word “contributor”, the contributor pseudonym, and the closing double quote.

<; citing [name of cemetery<, location>, county, state, country]>

  1. This section is included if there is a cemetery or burial location.
  2. “Location” will be blank if there is not a town, city, or township listed.

<; accompanying <{options: marker, family, portrait}> photo<s> by “[contributor pseudonym]” (contributor [contributor number]), added [dd month yyyy]>

  1. If any photograph from the memorial is used, use this format for adding the information to the citation.
  2. If information in a caption of a photo is used, include this section and include an explanation of the value of the citation within the analytical comments.
  3. <{options: marker, family, portrait}> choice is optional, but it could be used for clarity.
  4. Using the date the photo was added to the memorial can help to separate it from other similar photos by the same contributor. Memorial photos can be removed or replaced.

<{, repeat with additional photos by different contributors, if applicable}>

  • One could also argue that a different citation could be used in this case, depending on the situation.

<; [disposition information if a non-grave memorial]>

Some possibilities are

  1. cremation;
  2. body lost or destroyed;
  3. non-cemetery burial; and,
  4. cemetery unknown.

In the examples that I give, you will see how important using analytical comments becomes in these situations.

[{use a semicolon or a period}]

  • At this point, we end the citation information with a semicolon or period before adding the analytical comments. If the analytical comment is quite short, a semicolon is fine. Otherwise, we use a period.17

[Analytical comments]

  • Issues relating to a source’s quality and content are discussed within the analytical comments of a citation.18
  • I consider analytical comments as a requirement for Find A Grave citations. Because the website consists of probably hundreds of millions of pieces of undocumented data, analysis of the quality of that data cannot be left out.

end with a period

  • Now, we end the entire thing with a period. We may have used other punctuation, including periods, within the analytical comments.

Find A Grave Citation Format Examples

This article presents examples of citations for the following situations:

  1. one marker photo;
  2. only the memorial;
  3. a memorial by one contributor and one or more marker photos posted by a different contributor;
  4. memorials without attached cemeteries; and,
  5. a captioned photo where caption information is used.

Source List Entry

The Source List Entry for a Find A Grave source is the same regardless of what memorials on the website are used.

Find A Grave. Database with images. http://www.findagrave.com : 2017.


Example 1: One marker photo.

In this situation, we want to use a death date and age at death from the marker photo. Analytical comments describe the condition and usability of the photograph.

First (Full) Reference Note

224. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 September 2016), memorial 20894944, George W Judge, created and maintained by “Brenda Shanafelt” (contributor 46531309); citing Collier Cemetery, Markleville, Madison County, Indiana; accompanying marker photo from “Colleen Sanders Broyles” (contributor 46875999), added 10 January 2013. Photograph, although a little fuzzy with some glare, is mostly clear, clean, and readable, and stone is modern.

Subsequent (Short) Note

245. Find A Grave, memorial 20894944, George W Judge; accompanying marker photo from “Colleen Sanders Broyles” (contributor 46875999).


Example 2: Only the memorial.

Here, we use this source citation for the birth date, death date, and burial location of Sarah Judge Wink from the memorial only. In our anaytical comments, we note that although there is a photograph of the stone, its inscription isn’t readable in the photo.

First (Full) Reference Note

217. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 September 2016), memorial 35817433, Sarah Judge Wink, created and maintained by “susan clemons” (contributor 46940011); citing Pioneer Baptist Cemetery, Knightstown, Henry County, Indiana. Birthdate calculated from inscription as shown on the memorial because although there is a photo of the stone, its carving is not readable.

Subsequent (Short) Note

227. Find A Grave, memorial 35817433, Sarah Judge Wink.


Example 3: The memorial by one contributor and one or more marker photos posted by a different contributor.

Source citation for the husband, birth date, death date, and burial location of Caroline Hughes in which the first three come from the marker photos, and the burial location comes from the Find A Grave memorial itself.

First (Full) Reference Note

221. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 September 2016), memorial 36274204, Caroline Judge Hughes, created and maintained by “Kathy Price Leonard” (contributor 46504572); citing South Grove Cemetery, Mills County, Iowa; accompanying marker photos from “Marty & Harley” (contributor 47240226), added 29 August 2012. The first name of Caroline, the name of her husband (James Hughes) and her age at death are partially overgrown by grass in these two photos, but they are still discernable. The age at death is readable as 35ys, 2ms, 5; thus, the birthdate can be calculated from the photographs of the stone itself.

Subsequent (Short) Note

222. Find A Grave, memorial 36274204, Caroline Judge Hughes; two accompanying marker photos by “Marty & Harley” (contributor 47240226).


Example 4: Memorials without attached cemeteries.

Cremation (ashes scattered, location unknown, etc.)

Source citation for the final disposition information of James Joseph Wilson.

First (Full) Reference Note

237. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 March 2017), memorial 125203443, James Joseph Wilson, created and maintained by “Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard” (contributor 47892738); cremation. This memorial reports a cremation and the following chain of knowledge of this evidence as quoted: “Info on disposition (cremation and where the ashes were scattered) is provided by creator of memorial who is the daughter of the deceased. Although she did not witness this, her mother spoke to his widow who gave her this information.”

Subsequent (Short) Note

297. Find A Grave, memorial 125203443, James Joseph Wilson.

Body lost or destroyed (with or without specifics)

Source citation for some biographical information and the final disposition of John Judge.

First (Full) Reference Note

238. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 March 2017), memorial 155561682, John Judge, created and maintained by “Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard” (contributor 47892738); body lost or destroyed, specifically drowned in the Des Moines River in Iowa. Memorial states the source of the disposition information as a biography of John’s grandson Lewis H. Judge.

Subsequent (Short) Note

239. Find A Grave, memorial 155561682, John Judge.

Non-cemetery burial

Source citation for Cattron Van Meter Blue.

First (Full) Reference Note

249. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 March 2017), memorial 50794371, Cattron Van Meter Blue, created and maintained by “Sue McDuffe:)” (contributor 47122067); non-cemetery burial. No details or evidence are provided as to why this is classified as a non-cemetery burial.

Subsequent (Short) Note

257. Find A Grave, memorial 50794371, Cattron Van Meter Blue.


Example 5: A captioned photo where caption information is used.

Source citation for information provided in the labels and caption of a four generations photograph which includes Nova Edna Couger Cones.

First (Full) Reference Note

349. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 20 March 2017), memorial 20923833, Nova Edna Couger Cones, created and maintained by “Marc Doty” (contributor 20923833); citing Maple Lawn Cemetery, Thorntown, Boone County, Indiana, USA; accompanying family photo from “Elizabeth (Wilson) Ballard” (contributor 47892738), added 2 September 2016, labels and caption. The labels on this photograph give names and ages of the individuals, and the caption gives the relationships of the photo owner and the photo contributor to the oldest person in the photo. They are great-granddaughter and 2nd-great-granddaughter of Sarah (Johnson) Kuhn, respectively.

Subsequent (Short) Note

399. Find A Grave, memorial 20923833, Nova Edna Couger Cones.


Whew! This article took awhile for me to finish. I hope you have found it helpful. I know that I will refer to it when I cite information from Find A Grave. It will be nice to have the format and examples in one place. I hope you will comment if you use what you find here, or perhaps if you have your own way of citing Find A Grave information. Thank you for reading.


Citations

   1. Find A Grave, “Help with Find a Grave,” Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 8 February 2017), topic “What is Find A Grave?” Also search for “final disposition” on Find A Grave Forum (http://www.findagraveforums.com : accessed 8 February 2017).

   2Find A Grave has no formal written definition for “memorial,” but the definition is implied by usage of the word throughout the site.

   3. Find A Grave has no formal written definition for “memorial number,” but a memorial number resides at the bottom of each memorial page. On the Find A Grave search page, an option for searching by memorial number is given; this search would only be effective if the memorial number were unique.

   4. Find A Grave has no formal written definition for “contributor.” It does, however, present a page called “Contributor Tools” for each registered account.

   5. Find A Grave, “Help with Find a Grave,” Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 11 April 2017), topic “Why do I have to register and become a member? I’m worried about my privacy.”

   6. Find A Grave has no formal written definition for “contributor number,” but a unique number resides at the top of each contributor’s profile page.

   7. Find A Grave uses the terms “marker,” “gravestone,” “headstone,” and others throughout its site. They all represent similar things, so I have chosen here to use “marker,” as it could be seen as encompassing most meanings.

   8. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), 43; download from Amazon.com.

   9. Mills, Evidence Explained, 46-47.

   10. Mills, Evidence Explained, 216.

   11. Mills, Evidence Explained, 52.

   12. “EE,” “Find A Grave,” discussion list message, 18 September 2016 14:12 EST, Evidence Explained, Evidence Explained (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/find-a-grave : accessed 17 March 2017).

   13. Mills, Evidence Explained, 60.

   14. “EE,” “When to use a short footnote,” discussion list message, 24 March 2014 11:04 EST, Evidence Explained, Evidence Explained (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/when-use-short-footnote : accessed 11 April 2017).

   15. “EE,” “Find A Grave,” discussion list message, 18 September 2016 14:12 EST, Evidence Explained, Evidence Explained (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/find-a-grave : accessed 17 March 2017).

   16. “EE,” “Find A Grave,” discussion list message, 18 September 2016 14:12 EST, Evidence Explained, Evidence Explained (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/find-a-grave : accessed 17 March 2017).

   17. [Elizabeth Shown Mills], “QuickLesson 19: Layered Citations Work Like Layered Clothing,” Evidence Explained, Evidence Explained (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-19-layered-citations-work-layered-clothing : accessed 11 April 2017).

   18. Mills, Evidence Explained, 45-46.

 

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