Thursday, 19 May 2016

Headstones Are Not Always Right

Many genealogists before me have sounded the warning to only use Find a Grave memorials as a tool and not always as pure fact. Those that have headstones are considered by many as valid evidence of the death and burial of the subject of the memorial. Those with a tombstone are more valid than those memorials posted without headstones and no source pinpointing burial in that cemetery.  Another problem for the researcher is the headstone that has been recently created and added to a cemetery for someone who died more than a century ago. Where did the creator get the information?
You can tell the focus of my post will be why you need to be cautious about adding the information you find on Find a grave to your tree and creating Find a Grave page as your source for the dates you put in your tree.

I will use as an example of my words of caution a memorial I found while I was helping a family with the War of 1812 Pension Files for Josiah Mead. I went to Find a Grave website to look to see if there were any headstones for the soldier or his two wives, . There was a memorial for his first wife Sally Wood Mead and connected was a memorial for him. At first I thought it was strange there was a headstone for him in Lexington, Kentucky since he died in Will, Illinois. Then I looked a little closer and, well, let me put up the headstones for Josiah and Sally and then I will discuss.
Memorial for Josiah Mead 
headstone on Sally Wood Mead memorial, wife of Josiah.

The "headstone" for Josiah on his memorial, correct me if I am wrong, appears to be the bottom part of Sally's headstone where it identifies her as wife of Josiah Mead Born...; Died...
You notice they have the exact same birth and death dates. Odder things have happened, but in this case I have a pension file to show the inaccuracy. 
Information of first wife Sally Wood 
Portion of a letter in the file, stating death of Josiah. He was living in Will, Illinois

With this information, I know that the "headstone" on Find a Grave was not Josiah, because a year after Sally died he was writing a family member about her death. Another point to be made is he married his second wife in the year 1856 and then died in 1866.
I contacted the man who maintains the memorial site with the above information suggesting a change for Josiah's memorial was in order.  No response, and it has not been changed as of this time. 

You get my point, that headstones  are awesome to help with identifying birth, death, and place, It is not, however, a primary proof, and should not be treated as such. If you are sure the information is correct, then back up that information with researched sources if at all possible. 

I leave these thoughts with you to mull over and consider.
See you again, same place, same time next month.


  1. My grandmother has 2 headstones- one in MO, where I attended her burial and another in Central Illinois where one was inscribed with the correct name &adages next to her pre-deceased husband.
    I have tried to get FAG to correct with this info but it hasn't happened last I checked.

    1. Mearl, I have read that the corporation doesn't take responsibility. This is my second venture into trying to correct and neither have been exactly successful to write about, thus the warning.

  2. Great case study Fran. I think in this case, I might consider contacting Find A Grave directly and pointing out your observations.

    1. Great idea Carol. I was giving them time to fix.

  3. Good stuff, Fran, and a useful reminder/warning.

  4. Inscriptions on gravestones I feel should be considered as another resource for a source of identification, but not to be used without any other supportive sources that either match the information or refute it. I feel that gathering as many resources as possible for such information and comparing the details is the best approach even a lay person can take. Mistakes can be found in obits, death certificates, gravestone inscriptions, county history biographies, you name it. So, it is wise to keep that fact in mind. And, then there are people who change their names during their lifetimes for their own reasons.

    My personal family gravestone story of a name change issue:

    My own mother changed her given name when Social Security began; and never revealed that fact to me in her lifetime. She did not do so legally either.

    But, she changed her name to what she wanted it to be and that is what I knew her by all of my life, and so it is on her gravestone. It wasn't until after she died that I learned from my aunt when we visited my parent's gravesite that I "have the wrong name for my mother on her gravestone." I didn't want to believe it! So, I went digging for more information. I actually located 3 birth certificates for my mother and there were differences between each of them for other information, but not her name. It wasn't until I saw my mother's name listed in a high school yearbook that I learned the truth that my mother's given name was indeed Regina and not Virginia.

    1. Awesome points and examples Linda. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I know I have a 4th great grandfather there is a findagrave with a head stone. I went to the grave yard. And it is not him. I went through the records there and he is not listed. A nice man helped me there. We believe he is buried there but at one time many of the old unreadable headstones were removed. His wifes headstone is there but not his. I wrote the women and sent her the proof this man with the same name was not the mane she had on findagrave. She refused to change it. So I gave up. I add information to findagrave but I don't add anything until I have prove it to be true before I add it.

  6. My husband's grandfather has 2 headstones one where he is buried and the other is where his parents are buried. If I had not found both of them and knew where the funeral had taken place I could have assumed he was buried with his parents. Having proof of burial can often be all we have as the poor families could not afford headstones.

    1. Similar situation here. I have a Civil War soldier ancestor who died at Cold Harbor and is buried in a cemetery near there, but also has a stone in Maine near his parents, which many people thought was where he was buried. Some still don't believe the evidence we have of the "real" grave.

    2. So true. I have run into that with my great grandparents. Only a locality, no death certificates. Thanks for the comment

  7. Now that ancestry owns findagrave I think we will find lots more misinformation. "Everyone" is adding information to their memorials and connecting families. I know of 2 or 3 gravestones in my immediate family with the wrong dates on them.


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