A response to the 52 weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge #22: Find-A-Grave.

I can spend hours hanging out at Find-A-Grave, and here they are telling me to poke around on this site as a challenge. Yeah. Right.

Oops! I meant to say, “Wow, tough assignment; I’m just going to have square my shoulders and do my best.”

Find-A-Grave has done fine things for my research. It helped me clarify where my great-great-uncle William’s wife was buried, since they weren’t next to each other. It was also nice to see my dad’s headstone on the site, placed there by a volunteer who has photographed many veterans’ graves in Calverton National Cemetery.

I also get an enormous kick out of finding out which famous people are buried in cemeteries near my hometown. Searching by locale, you can easily pull up a list of cemeteries in your area and browse the entries. There’s always an interesting story or two.

But the most important things I’ve learned from Find A Grave have been in the forums, where regulars congregate to swap tips, pet peeves and general wisdom. For example:

• I know that you will not win any friends by bragging about how the chalk you put on that 18th-century headstone made the inscription clear as day.

• Ditto for whipping out a Sharpie to color in the letters.

• I know that each year, kind volunteers fan out across Woodland Cemetery in Newark, N.J., to record inscriptions and photograph markers. It’s a chance for volunteers to work in a big group with an escort from local police. (Security concerns are a fact of life in many urban burial grounds.)

What’s very interesting, and important for genealogy enthusiasts to know, is that Find-A-Grave is primarily a gathering place for people who love graveyards. Some of them also love genealogy; the two interests often dovetail.

I don’t mean to imply that genealogy queries are unwelcome there — quite the contrary. I’m just saying that when I first found Find-A-Grave, I was thrown for a loop. Why were complete strangers (at least, I think they were strangers)  photographing tombstones in my family lines? What was in it for them?

The answer for many really is simple: They get to explore cemeteries and read interesting tombstones. And because so many Find-A-Grave volunteers love what they do, we all gain in our research. Thanks, guys.


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