Friday, July 17, 2009

Online Cemeteries in a New Light (Part One)

Elizabeth Shown Mills once said, "If you are frustrated by record losses and tired of 'spinning wheels,' perhaps what you really need are some new ideas for dealing with those records you have managed to find already!" I love this statement. It's especially important to remember when the "repository" you use most often is the Internet.

Our access to many online records is via a name search only. This always makes me a little nervous. I always have this feeling that the record I need is hiding just a keystroke away - and I haven't found the right key. If I play with the online data, though, sometimes patterns appear, and the information I need to solve a problem becomes apparent.

There are many online cemetery databases for those of us who live too far away to visit, but access to almost all of them begins - and ends - with a name search. You find the person, you say, "Hurray!" and you enter the info, along with the source, in your genealogy database. If you were visiting the cemetery, though, what would you do? You would transcribe or photograph the tombstone, note its location in the cemetery, and search the neighboring tombstones for other possible family members. In the process, you might locate married daughters, in-laws, and siblings. If there were a cemetery office, you would visit this and obtain information on the lot(s), owners, dates of sale, and perhaps even copies of death certificates and obituaries. Access to this additional information is via cemetery section and lot number, not name. Although some online cemetery sources include this information, searching and sorting on any criterion but name is not easy. Here are some examples that show the importance of examining online data patterns.

1. You're looking for Philip Case, born about 1810, who lived most of his adult life in Ithaca, New York. Since you don't know the cemetery in which he's buried, you search Find A Grave. There, you find a likely candidate buried in the Ithaca City Cemetery. The entry includes a tombstone photo and links to entries for two wives and a daughter - all of them referencing the same tombstone. Of course, you next search the Ithaca City Cemetery listing for all Case burials, as well as Minton and Covert burials (his wives' maiden names), and you pick up one more Case name referencing the same tombstone and one additional Covert burial.

Many people stop here, but Find A Grave is not the only cemetery source online. A Google search for "Ithaca City Cemetery" provides links to the Tompkins County, New York, USGenWeb site. Here, you discover that this is a sixteen-acre cemetery, its first burial was about 1790 or 1791, and it's still in use. This GenWeb group is updating the cemetery's listing and adding some excellent tombstone photos. Unfortunately, access is still via surname, and the C's and M's have not been entered. Google also gives a link to the Ithaca City Cemetery records. Here you discover that the Ithaca City Clerk is partnering with Names In Stone to provide cemetery records.

Although Names In Stone does not provide a means to search records by cemetery section and lot, it does provide a burial map. Take a look at what information this yields: a previously unknown person, Luther T. Nelson, is buried in the Case lot! A return to Find A Grave uncovers a little more information and the fact that Luther's inscription is on the same Case tombstone. How exciting! Who is he? After a lot of additional research, you learn that Luther T. Nelson and Philip Case are first cousins once removed, and you've confirmed several previously undocumented relationships and explained some mysterious references in old family records. It all began with a web site that let you look at data in a different way.

My next post will show another method of looking at online cemetery data. Hint: Do you Excel?

1 comment:

listie said...

I took those findagrave pictures hoping they'd help someone with his/her research. I'm working my way around the cemetery photographing stones that haven't been done before; it's a huge project.