Jul 18, 2013

Find A Grave Website: Using Virtual Cemeteries

The Find a Grave website (FAG) is very helpful in finding the burial place as well as death dates of your ancestors.  You can sometimes also find birth dates, obituaries, pictures, and other pertinent data.  I have even connected with others researching my ancestors.

 I have recently found another great feature of the site that has helped me organize my burial data called Virtual Cemeteries.  I love knowing where my ancestors are buried.  Partly because I love cemeteries and visiting my ancestor's graves.  But also burial information can lead to discoveries of genealogical data that is contained in cemetery records.  If you know the cemetery you can contact them directly for more information.

The Virtual Cemetery feature lets you "create" your own cemetery.  You can use what ever criteria that suits your research needs.  Here are some examples of criteria you can use to create a Virtual Cemetery.
1.  Your ancestors buried in a specific cemetery
2.  All ancestors with a specific last name
3.  All ancestors in a specific line, such as your mother's or father's line of ancestors
4.  Ancestors by country, state, county, city or specific area
5.  Ancestors with military service

I wanted to be able to easily print a report that lists everyone buried in a specific cemetery with the location of the graves. I also wanted to easily see which ancestors are buried in a specific state and county.  Unfortunately the report function in my genealogical software was not letting me easily print out this information without a lot editing every time I wanted a report.  These reports would be a great time saver for trips to cemeteries.  Plus seeing who is buried where and with who else can provide clues in your research.

The Virtual Cemeteries feature has made this possible for me.  A few words of caution however, it is not a perfect system (doesn't exist in genealogy does it?).  FAG is very helpful but you have to use caution.  The data is NOT official cemetery records.  Each listing is entered by members of FAG.  There can be errors and I have found numerous in my research.  Not every listing has the exact location (plot section, grave number) of the burial.  But if you have the cemetery, you can call for the exact location of the grave.

How To Set Up A Virtual Cemetery
To use the Virtual Cemeteries you must be a member of Find A Grave.  It is free to join and use. Once you are logged in go to your profile (under Actions in the left column of the page).  Click on Virtual Cemeteries and at the top choose Add New.  Here you can name your cemetery anything you choose.  You can also add a description  or any notes for yourself.  You can also choose to make the "cemetery" public or private (only you can see it).

To add people to your "cemetery" go to the FAG search and bring up their record.  Near the bottom you will see the option Edit Virtual Cemetery Info.  Click on this and it will take you to your own list of Virtual Cemeteries.  Click on the box (you can choose more than one) of the cemetery you want, go to the bottom of the page and hit Save.
 Organization Tips
Think about how you want to organize your data before you start.  My original intention was to have a Virtual Cemetery for every individual cemetery in my genealogy database.  That proved difficult to navigate and I discovered you can only create 150 virtual cemeteries per user name.  I have ancestors spread out over much more than 150 cemeteries! So I have set mine up by location.  I have them by state and where necessary by state/county or state/city.  Here is a screen shot of mine.
Since most of my ancestors to date are in Allegheny County, PA I have the county broken down by city/borough.  For a few cemeteries where I have over 100 ancestors I created a Virtual Cemetery for just that "real" cemetery.  You have to think about your own data and how you want to use the data to determine the best organization.  You can always change it also, the Virtual Cemeteries can be edited and deleted.

Download Your Data
Once you have created your Virtual Cemeteries go to Contributor Tools (under Actions in the left column of the page).  You will see the option to Download Your Data.  Select the Virtual Cemetery from the white box you wish to download.  This will give you the option to Open or Save the downloaded file in Notepad.  I just open the the file, Select All, then copy.  I then past it into an Excel File.  It pastes neatly organized into columns for each data fact.  You can then keep or delete what ever facts you want and easily sort by last name, cemetery, etc.

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