Jun 30, 2010

Tips On Using The Find A Grave Site

It has been relatively recent that I discovered the benefits of the website Find A Grave.   I came across it a few times before but never really took the time to look at it in depth.  Then one day I was doing a Google search on the family name Lammay (my brick walls) and up popped one of my ancestors at Prospect Cemetery on Find a Grave.  I decided to investigate the site in more detail.  I discovered I could search for all Lammays at Prospect Cemetery.  I nearly fell out of my chair when my grandmother's sister showed up in the list.  There she was:  Lizzy Lammay, died 1897, died at 10 years old.  I had checked with the office at Prospect for Lammay's years ago and she was not on the list they gave me.  I had given up hope of finding her place of burial some time ago.  This information does not give me any great research leads but is more a personal thing.  I often thought of this child who was completely lost to history.  Born and died before PA kept birth and death records.  The only census where she would have been included was 1890, which was also destroyed.  Now I can visit her grave and have documentation of her existence.

About the Site
Find a Grave is a web site to list burials, record information and pictures, and leave memorials.    It covers cemeteries from all over the world.  The names, dates and sometimes grave locations are listed for burials.  You can include text such as obituaries, memorials, and even pictures for people listed.  There is a feature to add virtual flowers but I have not investigated the specifics of that function.  The site is free but there are certain paid features like having all ads removed from a person's burial information and I suspect there is a fee for leaving flowers.  You can sign up to become a member which is free.  You do not need to be a member to view all the information but to post on their boards or post data requires membership.

Source of the Data
The data comes from volunteers who wish to add to the site.  This means anyone can add burial information.  The data added is not monitored in any way.  While this allows a huge amount of burial information to be posted on the site it leads to a big CAUTION in using the data.  Also only data submitted by volunteers is included, not any official cemetery records.  Meaning not all burials for all cemeteries listed are included.

Caution About the Data
Because anyone can add information DO NOT assume everything you find there is correct.  There are also many duplicate listings for the same burial.  The site asks that you check for your person before submitting new data but obviously many people to not.  The same person may be found under different names.  For example Elizabeth Smith may be listed under Elizabeth Smith, Lizzy Smith, Elizabeth Smithe, etc.  This is especially true if no grave stone photo is attached to the burial.  People do not necessarily visit the grave and actually view it before posting which can lead to errors in names, birth and death years.

An example of misinformation is my 3rd great grandfather Martin Orth.  I was elated to find him listed in Allegheny Cemetery, died 1916.  Joyfully I thought "I can get a death certificate for him maybe finding his parents names, place of birth, etc!!!"  Then I calmed down and took a step back to analyze the data.  Hmmmm....1916, that would mean he died at age 110.  Possible?  Yes.  Likely? No.  Turns out there are three Martin Orths from this family buried  in Allegheny which caused confusion (I believe) on the part of the contributors.  In reality my 3rd great grandfather is not even buried in Allegheny and he died in 1882.  I am still searching for his place of burial.  So the lesson here is treat this site like any other site that has user submitted data.  Use the information as a guide and verify it on your own.  (As a side note I sadly found at least 3 family trees on Ancestry.com using this incorrect death date and burial information for Martin.)

With the cautions stated I can gladly say that I have found Find A Grave to be very beneficial.  I have found the burial place of an enormous number of ancestors that would have been very difficult to locate without this site.  It is particularly helpful for out of state burials and if you have no idea of where to begin to look.  The other "gems" I have found are obituaries and pictures of ancestors posted.  Many times people will even list other family members with links to their graves.  Some listings have pictures of the gravestones, some do not.  But I have been able to view the tombstones of several of my Revolutionary War veterans who are buried in other states that I may never get to visit.

Searching Tips
Here are a few of the things I have learned from using the site that you may find useful.  You can find the main search page for Find A Grave here Search Page.

  • Ways To Search
  1.  By Name and Location.  You have to include the surname in every search.  But you can search on partial name, omit first names, include middle names and the most beneficial include maiden names. I have found numerous female ancestors by checking the include maiden name box.  You can search the surname by specific location.  Include the whole world, a country, a state, or down to county level.
  2. By Cemetery.  You can search one cemetery at a time by surname.  When you click on a person it gives you the option to search that particular cemetery by that person's surname.  Good for finding other relatives and even one you did not know about.
  3. By Date.  You can include birth and death years in your surname search.  Be careful including dates.  Even if you are 100% sure great grandma died in 1910 her tombstone could have incorrect years.  This is especially true for birth years.
  • Contributors
  1. For each listing the Find A Grave Username is listed for the person who posted the data.  If you click on their name you can sometimes find a little more info on the person if they have included a bio.  You can post a question to contributors on the site if you wish also.  But keep in mind they may or may not be related to your ancestor.  Many contributors submit data of people they are not related to and have no further information.
  • Making Requests
  1. Request Photos.  There is a section where you can post a request for a grave photo of a specific person in a specific cemetery.  You must be a member to do so. 
  • Click on the Listing - Photo or Not!
  1.  I learned this by accident.  Even if there is no little tombstone noting a grave photo be sure to click on the listing.  You never know what else might be included.  Things I have found by doing so:
  • Obituaries
  • Photos of the deceased
  • Listing of additional family members
  • Bio of the deceased
  •  Enlarge the Grave Stone Photo
  1. If you are lucky to find a grave photo for your ancestor most times it can be enlarged.  I have found additional information written on the tombstone itself.  Sometimes the dates are not entered in the listing but I have have been able to find and read them from the enlarged photo.  Spouses or other family may be listed on the tombstone but not entered into the Find A Grave Site.
Hopefully you will have success with this site as I did as long as you use caution and verify the data.  Happy Hunting!


    1. I love Find A Grave and have used it for about three years now. You do not have to pay to leave flowers for someone.

      On the memorial I did for my Mom, my sisters all left flowers and a message for free. It is really nice.

      Thanks for your wonderful report.


    2. Thanks for the information on leaving flowers Mary. No fees for leaving flowers probably encourages more people to do so. Which is nice because it is a very lovely feature I think.

    3. AnonymousJuly 02, 2014

      Love Find A Grave but really dislike the cartoon flowers left on the site esp. by non-family members, it contributes nothing. Thanks, E