RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Time to check out larger cemeteries for listing in online databases

During an online exercise about searching online, I discovered that the biggest cemetery in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, the Greenwood/Memory Lawn Mortuary and Cemetery is vastly underrepresented on either FindAGrave.com or BillionGraves.com. According to these websites, there are just over 24,000 interments. But there could be over 100,000 burials. The Arizona Gravestone Project shows 2493 burials.

I began to wonder if this lack of coverage extended to other very large cemeteries? In checking for cemeteries on FindAGrave.com, I discovered that other large cemeteries were in a similar condition. The number of graves photographed of the total was very limited. It is probably a lot more satisfying to do a smaller cemetery, you get "finished" more rapidly and you can see some progress. Huge cemeteries such as the one in Phoenix are the special case. I guess the challenge is to organize projects to photograph the rest of the big cemeteries.

But another important fact from this information is that a failure to find a burial on one of these large online sources is not conclusive that the burial has not occurred. Another issue is the fact that the online programs such as FindAGrave.com focus primarily on the gravemarkers and not on the total number of burials. If the graves are unmarked, they are much less likely to show up in the online programs. Most of the larger cemeteries I have visited have a pretty comprehensive list of the burials. But in many instances, at least for private cemeteries, there are no complete records outside of the cemetery office. Unfortunately, you can never be sure that the online databases entered by users are exhaustively complete. Even if they are complete, there is no sure way to tell that fact.

3 comments:

  1. James, you said "But in many instances, at least for private cemeteries, there are no complete records outside of the cemetery office. Unfortunately, you can never be sure that the online databases entered by users are exhaustively complete."

    Most cemeteries in the USA never had an 'office' or 'sexton' and never will. In some cases old farm, church and public cemeteries' surviving gravestone were read and published by WPA or DAR or other organizational projects. Some 19th-century publications included lists of some burials. But even all of these are a small minority of actual burying-grounds. Many have had gravestones removed by 20th- and 21st-century owners in the interest of pasturage or cultivation or fracking. Many markers have deteriorated to the point of being unintelligible today (or even 20 years ago, as I found in one place in NY).

    Large modern cemeteries with kept records are a boon, but information on most of the prior 300+ years of burials will never be recovered.

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    1. I guess this topic needs to be addressed again soon. Part of what I was pointing out is that you cannot assume that the larger private cemeteries are adequately represented in online databases. Thanks for your comment.

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