Friday, June 19, 2015

I was wrong (it happens)

Several people sent me a message telling me that Find A Grave wants you to put full names on the entries even if the information isn’t on the marker. I don’t agree with Find A Grave’s policy but my readers are correct. Here is what the Find A Grave FAQ says:

First Name
First name of the deceased. Put the entire first name (if known), even if the grave marker is only an initial. Do not include titles or other prefixes in the First Name field.

Middle Name
Middle name of deceased. Put the entire middle name (if known), even if the grave marker is only an initial.

A familiar name of the deceased, if known; the nickname is automatically placed in quotes. A nickname is different from the real name (first or middle).

Maiden Name
Maiden name of a married individual, if known (otherwise leave blank); the maiden name is automatically italicized and is only used if the individual was married and took the spouse's last name as their new last name. If the deceased was never married, then the last name is placed in the "Last Name" field, NOT in the "Maiden Name" field.

Last Name
Last Name as you would find it on the tombstone, if the interred had more than one marriage or other possible spellings please place this information in the bio and use the family links. Do not include honorary or other suffixes in the Last Name field.

I disagree with how Find A Grave handles this.  They want you to add information to the first, middle, nickname and maiden name but for the last name they want you to put what is on the marker and then any additional information in the bio.  That’s a bit inconsistent.

If they want you to add information that isn’t on the marker then they need a box you can check that states the information is NOT on the marker.  AGAIN, this is a moot point if there is a clear photo.  If there is a photograph everyone can see what is on the marker themselves so it doesn’t matter that you have added information.  I am talking about memorials that don’t have photographs. 

I think that people are confused about what the SOURCE of the information is.  If I go to a cemetery in person the source of my evidence is the GRAVE MARKER.  It is no different with Find A Grave.  The source of the information is the GRAVE MARKER.  If there is no grave marker photo then the evidence presented on the Find A Grave memorial is nothing more than an index/database which is a dubious source at best.

Indexes are FINDING AIDS.  They assist you in locating records.  For example, the information on a Find a Grave memorial that does not have a marker photograph can lead you to things like a actual photo of the marker (you put in a request for it), a death certificate (you order it based on the information on FAG) or an obituary (you search newspapers using the information provided).  Those things become your source. 

I will give you an example.  This isn’t a name example, it is more a date and additional information example:

John Lewis FAG Memorial

I have done A LOT of research on John Lewis and I can tell you that he isn’t buried at Grove First Baptist Church.  He doesn’t have marker at Grove Baptist and they have no record of his burial but that is not the only reason I believe that he is not there. He was a member of Lewis Memorial United Methodist Church (named after his son) which is several miles away. At the time it was Sardis Methodist Church.  His homeplace was near this church. Hard to believe that John would have not only been buried at a church he didn’t belong to but at a church of a different denomination not to mention this church was not near where he lived.

Where did the exact birth and death dates come from?  I have his exact birth and death dates and I have a source for them but there is no mention on this memorial where the dates (or the birth and death locations came from).

Husband of Mary C. Sims.  John had four known marriages which I have fully documented that span his life from age 22 until his death at age 79 none of them being Mary C. Sims.  I am not sure when he could have squeezed another marriage in but if he did I would like to see a source for this.

So, someone comes along and sees all this great information and they add it to their file.  They dutifully add Find A Grave as the source.  Can you see the problem with this?  People look at this memorial and assume that the information was taken from a marker or maybe from Sexton records. 

There needs to be a way to show that this information was not from a marker like a checkbox or something.  The way I handle it is that I use the bio section to write up any explanations that I need but not everyone does this.  Here is an example of one without a marker photograph.  This was from a cemetery survey I did in 2003 before I started taking photos of markers. I DID update the full name on this one and I will continue to do so now that I see that this is what Find A Grave wants but I will also continue to put an explanation in the bio section.

Mrs. Elizabeth McGlamery Montgomery Memorial


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


  1. It sounds like you should contact Find A Grave and ask them to revise their policy. Your point of view and explanation seems sound.

  2. For a cemetery survey, I agree the name should be what is on the marker. However, Find A Grave isn't purely a cemetery survey so they provide the Transcription field where the exact transcription of the marker should be entered. Too few use it.
    It would behoove all Find A Grave users to read and understand the FAQs.

  3. Since Find A Grave was established to document final disposition (whether it be burial, cremation, body donated to science, or lost at sea) and not as a genealogy site complete with sources and citations I doubt they will change to meet the desires of the genealogy community. In my humble opinion instead of people giving out information that contradicts what the rules say and what Findagrave admins have said in the discussion forum, we should be focusing on making sure people understand that the information on Find A Grave is a record of final disposition (whether it be from cemetery surveys of markers, cemetery records, death certificates, or obituaries) and a clue for further genealogical research. (And as Lillianne said above, all users should read the FAQ's . It is expected that we follow them just like we follow the terms of service on any other site we use)

  4. Michele, regarding the John Lewis memorial. Different wife + different cemetery + commonality of names = possibly a different John Lewis than you researched. Have you tried corresponding with the contributor of that memorial?

    1. Oh yeah, several times, no response. The date of birth and date of death is the same as my John.

  5. For Billion Graves you only put what is on the grave. There is an option for notes and adding supporting documents such as birth/death/marriage certificates to support your information.