Tag Archives: Find-A-Grave

Find-A-Grave Project – BIG Project

At the November meeting of the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society (WMGS), we listened to a presentation titled, “CSI Gravestones: Causes of Death.” Although that may sound a bit on the morbid side, one of the details that most genealogists look for is the cause of death. The intriguing nature of this presentation was the highlighting of the propensities of our ancestors to “broadcast” those causes through the epitaphs carved in stone on grave markers all over New England. It’s not seen very much these days, if at all.

Mr. Nathaniel Parks Elmwood Cemetery Holyoke, Massachusetts

Mr. Nathaniel Parks
Elmwood Cemetery
Holyoke, Massachusetts

The most interesting, or rather, the most tragic gravestone I’ve ever photographed is the memorial to Mr. Nathaniel Parks who was 19 years old on the 19th of March 1794 when he was shot to death by Mr. Luther Frink. Considering the length of time between the shooting and the burial, it’s safe to assume that Mr. Frink admitted the cause of young Nathaniel’s demise. See his memorial at Find-A-Grave here.

What’s the BIG project I was talking about? Let’s get back to the WMGS meeting. Al and Betsy McKee of Longmeadow, Massachusetts have been photographing gravestones for over 20 years. They’ve traveled up and down the Connecticut River Valley from northern Massachusetts down into southern Connecticut. They have a little over 20,000 images in their  collection. They sorted out about 50 or so for us that showed causes of death: fevers, war, old age among many other causes including illnesses that we are no longer confronted with.

Since I’ve been involved with Find-A-Grave for over 15 years, it occurred to me that the McKee’s had probably uploaded many of their images to that site. At the conclusion of the presentation, I asked them about that. Well, they just never got involved with uploading to Find-A-Grave. So I proposed a collaborative project between them and WMGS.  And they’re all for it. My idea was to open an account so that the memorials that get posted would give credit to them for the photographs.

Find-A-Grave is one of the websites that researchers use on a fairly regular basis. Creating an

William Bassett Passenger on the Fortune that arrived at Plymouth in 1621

William Bassett
Passenger on the Fortune that arrived at Plymouth in 1621

account is totally free and anyone can upload any memorial as long as the memorial has not already been posted. Incredibly, there are over 140 million memorials for “regular people” all the way up to presidents and movie stars. It’s a good research tool in that using the site to search for an ancestor can turn up some surprising results. That’s the upside. The downside is that realistically, anyone can upload anything. So you may find someone who is a target of your research, but the data gleaned from such a memorial must be verified before we take it as fact. Either way, it’s just another breadcrumb in the relentless search for our ancestors.

Why put up memorials? There are many reasons. First, it is a memorial and it does just that, memorialize a family member, friend or anyone who you are familiar with who you feel deserves to be remembered in such a manner. Many of us simply like to provide the information to researchers from around the country and actually from around the world. The photo isn’t necessary, it’s more of a bonus. I’ve had email over the years from people who appreciate the fact that they can “visit” friends and family when there is no opportunity to visit the actual cemetery. One elderly woman saw her sister in one of the local cemeteries and, according to her daughter, teared up.  The cemetery is here in Massachusetts and she currently lives with her daughter and son-in-law in California with no hope of making a trip back here.

So here’s the point of this post. If you’re familiar with Find-A-Grave or even if you’re new to it and would like to take part in this project, just get in touch with me at dave@oldbones.info. As we put together the details, I’m sure we can easily find a way to allow anyone from anywhere to pitch in.

I Didn’t Know “Uncle Wallace”!!!

In last night’s “Introduction to Genealogy”, I took some time to discuss the web site www.findagrave.com. I explained that it’s certainly not a “Primary Source” as the data is uploaded by volunteers who scour public records, family stories and even obituaries. Many volunteers are well intentioned and put up either their own family’s information or the information of their friends or clients. Very ofter, a person or a group may take on a “project” whereby they will use a specific data base and upload GOBS of information. I fall into all of these categories: 1) Family data; 2) Data on the family of friends and clients; 3) Cemetery logs; or 4) just from casual walks through cemeteries after finding a specific individual or individuals.

At any rate, these sisters, who are in their late 60’s or early 70’s (I certainly won’t reveal even though I’ve found them in the 1940 census!) asked if I could look in Island Pond Cemetery in Ludlow for their grandfather. I cautioned that the only way he’d be there is if a volunteer uploaded the information. That could be a relative or just someone who, like myself, will put up data for any number of reasons. They were disappointed that “William Williamson” wasn’t there, but it provided a perfect opportunity too show everyone in the class how the program works. So, based on the data the sisters had (and the research I’ve already done for them) the whole class became a part of uploading their grandfather to the site.

“Now”, I asked, “is your grandmother here as well?” As it turns out, she was Catholic and was buried in St Aloysius Cemetery in Indian Orchard, MA. William wasn’t Catholic and was buried in the secular Island Pond Cemetery in Ludlow, MA a few miles away.

Now is when it gets slightly weird. Someone had already uploaded Minnie Williamson, the grandmother. As I scrolled down, I discovered who that volunteer was…..me! I uploaded it a couple of years ago, probably after finding some other memorial that had been requested. I have no memory of it specifically. The relly weird part? On the tombstone and entered with his own memorial was an infant named “Wallace” who was born in 1912 and died in 1913. The sisters gasped and stared at each other! “Did you know about Wallace?” they asked each other almost simultaneously. Neither knew of “Uncle” Wallace….a family secret revealed!!