Should I delete Find A Grave as a source on my profiles after I've found other sources for birth/death/etc?

+8 votes
So after asking my question about Find A Grave, (here I read thread after thread of people saying that it is not a reliable source at all.  Furthermore, profiles with a link to Find A Grave get bombarded with error or suggestion reports that the data on WikiTree doesn't match if what is on Find A Grave is wrong.

So should I delete the Find A Grave source after I find other sources for the same information?
in Policy and Style by D. Botkin G2G6 Mach 3 (33.9k points)
No.  Of course not.
No, absolutely not.

8 Answers

+45 votes
Best answer

Virtually anything created by a human being is fallible. It can be a good source, but not always. That depends on what information you are trying to glean from it:

It can (not always) be a good source for:

  • The name of the individual
  • Their dates of birth and death
  • Their relationships (for instance, if buried with a wife or parents)
  • Their location of burial
  • An image of the grave marker

Other information is typically supplied through the research of the profile manager (much like WikiTree) and as such, it tends to have greater room for the introduction of errors. Still, just because some profiles contain erroneous information does not mean that they should all be tossed aside. It can also be important because those profile managers may have done research from which you have benefited - as such you are ethically obliged to cite that. That's also part of the WikiTree ethic, embedded in our Honor Code:

VII. We give credit. Although most genealogy isn't copyrighted, researchers deserve credit for the work they've done.

Genealogy is also about corroborating sources. It is never ideal to have just one single source to go off of, however good it may seem. It's better to have multiple sources that are mutually affirming. Of course, sometimes not all of the sources agree... but trying to access the truth of what actually happened despite divergent accounts is part of the telling of history and genealogy. (And sometimes all we can do is tell each of the divergent accounts and permit the reader to decide.) So even if you have other, better sources, it is always good to have one more one to corroborate. 

Additionally, it is helpful to others to have a cross-reference between one profile and another. That helps to ensure that other profiles do not get misidentified with those representing yours: Think of it as aiding others in disambiguation of similar names. There can be thousands of people named John Murphy. By linking together those profiles which represent the same John Murphy, we help every other John Murphy that is being identified since it reduces the number of unidentified matches. A very similar problem is faced by scientists trying to figure out who wrote a given scientific paper and we are now starting to use a numbering system for scientist-authors to help address the problem:

In scientific publishing, the situation is particularly bewildering in Asia where so many names are similar. According to Nature in 2011, there were 3,926 publications by various authors named Y. Wang, more than ten per day. Papers by Chens, Lees, Zhangs, and Lis were almost as common. So how can we be sure of who is who?

WikiTree's database-lovers (AleŇ°, I think) have been doing automatic data validation checks, comparing WikiTree info to FindAGrave info. It helps maximize the accuracy and can function as a double-check on an errand keystroke that might introduce a name or date error. 

Finally, WikiTree provides a template to help with the cross-referencing of FindAGrave profiles. This reminds us that such a citation can either go under the Sources section or just past the Sources in a section titled, See Also, which exists for other stuff that may relate to the individual profiled. 

To summarize:

  1. It can be a good source for certain information.
  2. It gives credit to the person whose effort in creating the FindAGrave profile has advanced your genealogy research.
  3. It can function to corroborate other sources.
  4. Linking provides a cross-reference between WikiTree and FindAGrave which helps with disambiguation. 
  5. WikiTree's database team can use it to perform a helpful double-check for accuracy, because "We care about accuracy". 

I hope that answers your question. 

by anonymous G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
selected by S Lewis
Is there any way to have this answer come up every time "Find A Grave" is mentioned or questioned?

JN Murphy touches on virtually every question that keeps coming up about using or deleting "Find A Grave" as a source.

Thanks JN Murphy!
Thank you JN Murphy, for providing such a comprehensive answer - a great guide for others to follow.
If it can help save time and answers a question being asked, then please, by all means, feel free to repost or quote as you see fit, Louise (and any others here addressing similar questions).
+16 votes
If the information matches, leave it there. If it is not exactly the same, you might consider moving it to ==See also== (usually below Sources) along with an explanation .
by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+21 votes
Whenever I find a primary source that trumps a secondary, the secondary gets moved to "see also."

I don't think "see also" necessarily warrants its own section, I just put it below the <references/> line and also below any bulleted sources if there are any. In this way, the == Sources == section first has citations, then bulleted sources, and then "See also:" with additional references and secondary sources listed in bullet format.
by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+14 votes

Find A Grave is often a good way to get information on relatives. Families are often burried together.

by Sue Hall G2G6 Pilot (139k points)
+12 votes
I would definitely not delete a Find-a-grave source from a profile. If it is connected to the wrong individual by a similar name, I'd add a comment about that in the Research Notes section. If it conflicts with a better source, or has some suspicious information [such as my favorite example with full dates and places but no headstone photo and/or burial location unknown], I'd either discuss in the Research Notes section, or possibly leave it as an in-line citation, with explanatory comments that it is only a clue, unreliable, and subject to more research.

If you just delete it, it may very well show up again by another well-meaning WikiTree-er.  So leave it, but explain any issues so others can be forewarned. Findagrave can be a good source, but each profile should be evaluated carefully for what it actually contains about the actual grave.
by Joyce Rivette G2G6 Pilot (101k points)

One note about FindAGrave links where it's "the wrong individual by a similar name": When linking to such a non-matching FindAGrave profile, using the template (ideally), you should include a little metadata:


in addition to a textual "This is not the same guy/gal...". That tells bots and database folks that it does not correspond to the profile in question. It could be a relative or a non-matching memorial profile. For more details, check the "Advanced Usage" section on the Help page for Links to FindAGrave:

Thanks for posting that information. I try to do that as well but don't always remember to add the sameas=no parameter!
+9 votes
Personally, I prefer to have an actual death registration as a source for the place and date of death, but I'm perfectly happy using Find A Grave as a source for the place of burial.

Frequently, Find A Grave includes information like the plot number. In cases like that, I have no reason to doubt that it's accurate. (I prefer to see a photo of the headstone, but even if that's missing, a plot number reassures me that the entry is probably valid.)

But if the Find A Grave entry is just a memorial, and says something like "burial place unknown", then I don't use it at all.

Some cemeteries (the ones which are still active) list the plot numbers for previous burials. If I can find a record there, then I might use it instead of the Find A Grave entry.

As Sue mentioned, Find A Grave can often lead to other family members, but I wouldn't use it as a sole source. I'd look for BMD or census records to confirm the existence and relationship of the other people listed. As far as relationships go, I consider Find A Grave as being about as reliable as an unsourced tree on FamilySearch, Ancestry, or any other site: worth including under "See also:", but not a primary source by any means. But for burials, as long as there's a photo of the headstone or a plot number, I do consider it a valid source for the burial itself.
by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (421k points)
+7 votes
If a gravestone photo is included, it may be a good secondary source:
by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.4m points)
+8 votes

Not an answer really, but related.

I use Find-A-Grave as a secondary source, and properly cite it. The whole reason we cite sources is so that others can evaluate their potential accuracy for theirself.

That said: As I do research, I often come across Find-A-Grave memorials for which I have a suggested edit - based on research. As an experiment, I have submitted dozens of suggested edits or the past few months - without including sources.

I have yet to have one of my edits declined - and I have yet to have anyone ask me for my sources. Of course, some of them were for unlinked spouses listed on the same tombstone... but for the rest, I really should've been asked for sources.

by Thomas Fuller G2G6 Mach 7 (79.9k points)
edited by Thomas Fuller

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