The Uncertainty of FindAGrave, and how best to present it in profiles

+7 votes
302 views
A comment was made about the steepness of the WikiTree learning curve, to which I replied that there are spikes at the bottom of that slope; and now I've impaled myself on them. I only learned lately that FindAGrave is not considered to be accurate, which point I quite understood once pointed out; but now to the task of de-certain-ing several birth and death dates I'd thought were sufficiently sourced, at least if I've had no better evidence to them. The Help file on 'uncertain' points to the need to document this uncertainty 'in the text', but can anyone point to examples of best practice before I spike myself again in editing said profiles? Because ow.
in Policy and Style by Ted Fisher G2G Crew (950 points)
This should be obvious, but FAG is not an accurate and reliable source unless the entry's biography itself is using reliable and accurate sources.  The fact that many entries have provably wrong birth dates and biographical info are some key reasons not to take their claims for granted. I'm starting to put those under a "See Also" subsection under references.

laugh Ted, you can continue to use FaG without verifying the dates on it. It is dealer's choice here, as to how you will handle this 

You can hunt for official documentation either at familysearch (free) or some other web site or go to a library or whatever

You can keep the FaG on the profile or eliminate it as a ref if you find some official documentation from the county or the state or even the fed (SSDI) 

You can request an obit search through G2G, or maybe someone knows a URL you can tap into and find the obit yourself 

As I say, I locate death record (county, or state or fed or all three) and use those and keep the FaG burial into as to the cemetery they are buried in ... even this is dicey, unless there's a photo of the headstone ...  

You can notify FaG about the error or the person who is maintaining the memorial or pen an account yourself and post a note on the memorial ... there's different ways to go 

I don't think the obit is sufficient but it is a good starting place; liikewise the FaG; same applies to the Census info, it's a good starting place but not quite sufficient 

Awfully glad I asked, and thank you all for your helpful answers. What I take from them is that I should continue the process I've undertaken of adding to the profiles of my family that I've made, and work to find more, and more accurate, sources; and if FAG (as a gay man, let me say how wrong that looks, tee hee!) is all I have, to enter it in the date field but note it - in Research Notes, I assume, and something in the reason-for-change field if it's a later change. Still not sure what that would look like, though; something like 'Note: FAG only source for death date'? And again, thank you all!
I kind of grimace/chuckle everytime I hit that 'certain' button.  Not much is certain in genealogy and I am discovering more and unlearning things all the time.

Many, many of my ancestors are from wee towns in a somewhat geographically isolated part of Maine where if "official" births, marriages and deaths were ever recorded, they have burned (it happened a lot) or been plain old lost.  I read somewhere (maybe the Maine Historical Society?) that they estimate 60% of the people who have lived in Maine are completely undocumented.  But we were here, and we have stories to tell!

I began my genealogy hunt before online resources by traipsing old cemeteries and hunting newspaper extracts in the library for marriages and an occassional death notice to fill in blanks.  I've done genealogy ala land records, local histories (the older the better), read old Town Meeting minutes from the 1700's on microfilm from the LDS church, etc etc.  Now that censuses and official vitals are online through familysearch and Ancestry, life's a lot easier, but there are still a lot of my ancestors missing those official contemporary documents and they always will be.  I do my best to be accurate but a lot of individuals are never going to hit the gold standard.  

Is my family welcome here?
Thank you, Mr. Wells. The approach you suggest makes a lot of sense to me, and the one I think I'll try out to see how it looks. Further question; if FaG is all you have, at least beyond a year, or an approximate year, would you enter that date and mark it as 'uncertain'? Again, thank you for a solid, sensible suggestion!

Ted, I prefer to use 'Grave' as an abbreviation on comments on G2G and profiles instead of 'the other acronym' for Find a Grave page.  There have been multiple G2G discussions about using that other 'acronym' and it is also discussed on the Find a Grave template page at the bottom.  It is updated as FAM as one acronym, but I, personally, haven't seen that used.  I have seen many people using Grave or other varieties. 

As for gravestones, as some people have stated, the dates on the gravestones can be incorrect, but when full dates are on the stone, that is usually a 'fairly' good hint of what the date should be. 

Linda; Oh, heavens, I hope my bad joke didn't make anyone think I was offended. Not at all or even slightly; it just appealed to what my sainted mum called my 'cheap wit, or half of it' to be throwing around that particular acronym. And in all caps! But I suppose I'd better be a good boy here; it's clearly a serious place for serious people, and I'm having so much fun here, and feel so challenged to get better at it.  So I promise, no more silly jokes, even at my own expense. I'll watch my p's, and, when I remember where I put them, my q's.
I actually have a source that says my great grandfather was from Maine but I couldn't prove it because of what you just stated. Its kind of ironic how all of my families records have been burned in different parts of the country. Thank you for that I don't feel so alone now here lol.
Ted, I'd personally mark it as uncertain if that's indeed all I had from just the bio. But if the date is actually engraved on the gravestone, I wouldn't mark it as uncertain.
Sue, of course your family is welcome here. You mention several types of records that one can turn to in the absence of specific vital records. All of those are better than relying on FindAGrave.

Susan Smith, please be cautious of your wording about FindAGrave.  The only "reliable" data on a typical findagrave memorial page is the death date IF a photo of a contemporaneous gravestone is included. And even that might be wrong.

4 Answers

+7 votes
 
Best answer
Absent DNA evidence, there is no certainty in genealogy, only probability. A competent genealogist evaluates all the evidence and makes a judgment call, based on his or her assessment of the probabilities, of whether or not to assert a relationship. Every source needs to be considered critically, and assessed in combination with other relevant sources. That goes for FaG memorials as well as any other source.
by Stu Bloom G2G6 Mach 7 (71.4k points)
selected by Susan Smith

Exactly. My great uncle is a good example.  He died as the result of an accident on 8 Jan 1895, which was described in several different newspapers. His FindAGrave has this as his death date, even though both the engraved headstone and the death certificate are 8 Jan 1894. The local historian responded to my question about this....it was the first year they recorded death certificates and there were lots of errors.

+9 votes

laugh As with any material we use as a source, we need to verify the information we cull from it. So, with FaG as with a book as with an Obit as with a "History" online, we check to see if the dates and places and names are correct.  This need to verify is present no matter what the source of our info is. 

We all need a baseline, something to start from and FaG can serve in that place -- as can an obit published, or someone genealogy history of some family and its descendants or a newspaper article (or magazine), a letter someone wrote or an email or a census listing or whatever source it is 

If you are using FaG, run a fast check through www.familysearch.org for a death record or index on the person in question -- if something turns up add that ALSO or use it instead of FaG (although you can keep the burial info) 

if there is a conflict in dates, DOB or DOD, note that conflict in the biography 

Where there is conflict I use the civil authority info and eliminate the FaG, excepting the note of where the burial is

by Susan Smith G2G6 Pilot (490k points)
edited by Susan Smith
I wouldn’t eliminate FindAGrave, I would submit the corrections to FindAGrave, so it will match WikiTree. And WikiTree and FindAGrave should also match FamilySearch.
You can't rely on FAG even for burial information. The only thing you can be sure of is that there is a gravestone making certain claims located at a designated cemetery. And then only if the memorial includes a legible photo.
The death certificate and the obituary helps to confirm the burial location. You could probably throw a funeral home in the mix if you are desperate.
Even then, my grandfather's stone doesn't match his actual death date and who knows why because we certainly knew when he died.  PLUS some times people have markers multiple places--they may be buried one place, but listed on the family marker at another cemetery.  So i tend to assume they're slightly better than unsourced personal stories, more like a good estimate to work from.  (this is even more the case with the birth dates on the stones--someone buried them and should have a rough idea of when they died, but who knows what the birthdate was based on.  Reality? A good story?  Complete and total fiction?
I have had the same issues with FAG and I submitted the corrections to them and they still haven't fixed them.
Tiffany, what profile is it and what is the change?
I haven't put them on here on wikitree yet for the information not matching up with the information that I have. The only one that I do have on here is my great grandfather Phillips-34107 George Caldwell Phillips. His parents are not right on FAG. They are supposed to be Harvey Phillips, son of Fountain Phillips and Sarah Ellis, and Bertha Belle Terry, daughter of Jasper Terry.
If the profile owner hasn't declined or accepted them in a week or so, your changes will be automatically accepted, assuming that you submitted them today.
Having a gravestone is the best thing. Sometimes the obituary omits the cemetery, gives an unclear location or even a wrong one.
Find a Grave submissions/corrections are automatically accepted after 21 days to the second. (Does not apply to the bio area)

Fountain Phillips! We have got to have Fountain Phillips here!

I already submitted them and a request for transfer of memorials to myself...because within 3 generations I am able to do that and manage their memorials. Which now I have become the manager of the memorial finally. But the automatic by default is not how it goes. I am still not seeing any results on my grandmother. My fathers mother. I dont know about anyone else, but all this "making a tree" is a headache when you constantly have people trying to cover up the truth. Whatever their truth is that they are trying to keep. I have documents, bibles, and all and people still going against me. I know this is none of you here on wikitree's problem. I'm just a little emotional right now. Thanks. I just wanted to make it a point that FAG doesn't always do things by default.
yes, this is this truth! I moved to a different state trying to find out "who" I am, what I come from. I came to where I thought was the base of my heritage. The headstone doesn't mean there is a body and the memorial is what someone wants you to KNOW about a certain someone. It is not fair to the younger generations (I'm only 30 starting this) to suffer for whatever past feuds their may have been.
There is a Fountain Phillips here. He's noble for her services, and he is also my third great grandfather. Sarah " Rena" Ellis was his wife. Then down the line, here I am. Trying to have a voice for my "black sheep" family.
+3 votes
Like others here have said, FindAGrave is a starting point and I use it but usually designate it as "Burial" especially when I can find other sources for death. Many FindAGrave memorials have family members connected to them and some have biographical information - which still needs to be checked out.

Tombstones can be wrong. I have a notably wrong few tombstones in one cemetery. The people who manage hundreds of memorials in that part of the state refuse to change anything even when sources are presented to them. They will not even post anything on the biography that I send them. So, there are a number of obstacles with FindAGrave. It is still a valuable starting point!
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (683k points)
+1 vote
In families where a first name is used often, Find A grave records and biographies can be created for the wrong person especially if there is a family headstone with many names  I submitted a correction for one where there were several people with the same name and of course different dates, it was corrected in about 3 days.
by M Ross G2G6 Pilot (175k points)

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