Is FindAGrave a Valid Source?

+8 votes

I was researching some data on one of my direct ancestors and found a lot of information that was on FindAGrave that is not in WikiTree.  

The missing information included a lot of data on who his children were, pictures of his gravestone, as well as other information.  

I posted a comment on his profile page for the Profile Manager:


Henry Sherman is my 10th GGFather.  
I have found some extensive data on Henry Sherman at the following location:
It lists all of his children plus some other information.  
Would you like me to add this to his profile?"
The response I got from the Profile Manager was:
"Sorry, I appreciate it, but Find A Grave is not a valid source."
I was quite surprised by that response.  
I'm sure that there is some level of uncertainty in information that you might get from FindAGrave but it seems to me that genealogy is rarely ever 100% certain and it is a judgement call of what level of uncertainty you are willing to accept.  
It would be very difficult to get anything done if we insisted on absolute certainty in any data we add to WikiTree.
Is it wrong to use FindAGrave as a source?
in Genealogy Help by Charles Cobb G2G1 (1.3k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
Like everything else, information at Find A Grave should be taken with a large helping of salt. I have found a gravestone with a death date of 1930 for someone who actually died in 1940.

Another example: Using a newspaper obituary, someone concluded that my grandmother's sister was the daughter of Herbert Kittell. Herb was actually her stepfather. I was able to contact Find A Grave and get that changed.
I agree with you Charles. Every source created by a human is open to error and all should be considered with that possibility in mind. I think I would ask which bit of information is invalid or incorrect so that I could add an explanatory === Research Notes === section to the Biography about the conflicting information.

5 Answers

+21 votes
Best answer
It is a source, according to the low bar that Wikitree sets in its definition of source.

But Henry Sherman is pre-1700, and Wikitree policy requires “reliable” sources to be used for these profiles. I don’t know that it explicitly precludes also adding additional unreliable sources, but it seems to me it could be read that way. It depends on the situation, and you have to hash it out as part of collaboration.

But I’d say that means on your part you should be doing due diligence. This FindAGrave page is rare in that it cites several journal articles and collections of original records or their transcriptions. I would go look at those journal articles and documents and see if the information that is not on Wikitree is in those articles. The journal articles go through a vetting process, unlike the FindAGrave page, so they are considered reliable (at least, reliable enough, but it does happen sometimes that someone disproves a statement in such an article years or decades after publication). If you find solid, new evidence or information, then I would add the article or document itself as a source on the page. I wouldn’t add the FindAGrave page because I think adding redundant sources leads to clutter and confusion. It isn’t always obvious which source was derivative of the other, so having both on the page adds unnecessary work for the reader.
by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (240k points)
edited by Barry Smith
Or you could always put the Find a Grave citation (including link) plus template under "See Also", which appears under the ==Sources== section.  So it's not exactly a source, but the viewer might be interested to have a look.
I think it would be better to add the full Find a Grave source citation, not just the link, along with the template, since that is giving more information.
+5 votes
I think of Find-A-Grave as a hint database; or, trust but verify. I've found quite a few errors on my relatives and had to ask more than once that they be corrected. For example, my great grandmother had her first married name listed as her maiden name. I think the volunteers have their heart in the right place, but don't always cross reference the information.

I add it as a source for my profiles because it's easy to find, but only if I have another source that corroborates some of the information.
by S Leeland G2G6 Mach 5 (59.4k points)
Using the information as a big hint is how to start, now find the documents stated, if possible.  Those can also be added to the profile under the See Also section at the bottom of Sources.  Look for sources for the children listed and then they can be added, if not done already.
+7 votes

In addition to the comments regarding this being a  pre-1700 profile, its also a Project Managed profile which means there may be specific source guidelines.  

For the England Project see: England_Project_Reliable_Sources

Find A Grave. Many entries on this site are similar to user created trees. Do not use Findagrave unless there is a photograph of the gravestone/monument. Of the pre-1700 gravestones that still exist, many are no longer legible.

by M Cole G2G6 Mach 4 (46.1k points)
Good point M. Cole!
+9 votes
I treat the actual grave marker as the source (as reliable as any grave marker can be) and Find A Grave as the repository for that source via photo and/or direct transcription of the grave marker text.

Any other information added to the Find A Grave record but not actually on the grave marker itself (e.g. maiden names, relationships, biographies, additional dates not on the marker) does not constitute a valid "source" but could be a good hint to find actual sources.
by Joe Murray G2G6 Mach 4 (41.0k points)
Fully agree with this sentiment. Grave markers and cemetery plots are certainly records and should be included in biographies. FindAGrave, as you mention, is merely the repository. But, just like birth, marriage, and death records, they can contain lots of incorrect information. It is our job as genealogists / researchers to pick this information apart and verify with other sources in order to gain a full understanding of the data available.
+4 votes

This is an excellent question.   The headstone itself has the most validity because most often Find A Grave managers don't ask for sources on facts that are posted to the memorials.  However,  here are examples from my limited experience with headstones:

1)   A Civil War Union Soldier has placed at his grave a Confederate Soldiers military record  (yes, the confederate soldiers' traditional pointed marker and military unit),  this mistake made by his ancestors in 1890 because they only got the name of the deceased correct.

2)  In 1990, my own father replaced headstones in our family cemetery and several errors were made in the dates on the stones.

3)  My GG Grandfather T.J. Hamilton's headstone says T.J. Hamelton;  My GG Grandfather  J.W. Lafferry's headstone says J.W. Laferry   (misspellings are quite common)

Bottom line,  it's great to know where they're buried but we can't trust even what's literally fixed in stone.

by Peggy McReynolds G2G6 Pilot (450k points)
edited by Peggy McReynolds
In fact, they may not be buried under the marker.
Good point indeed!

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