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

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How to Analyze Genealogical Sources: Part Six

After you have reviewed a few thousand documents, you will work out your own method for analyzing the document or record and the information contained in the document or record. But meanwhile, it is a good idea to think about the process and make sure that you ask a series of questions before blindly copying the information and sticking it into someone on your family tree. Here is an example of a document suggested by as a Record Hint for the Reverend Alonzo Torrey (b. 1813, d. 1892).

This is a entry. This entry is in my part of the Family Tree because one of my relatives married Torrey when he was 78 years old and she was 41 years old. He only lived one year after the marriage date. Why this all occurred after my relative had been married previously and had two children is not yet explained. But let's look at the FindAGrave entry. First of all, It is obviously the right person. The entry makes no mention of the late-in-life marriage but that might be expected. In this particular case, the birth and death dates on the grave marker match the ones in FamilySearch. Now we need to ask the standard questions about the information contained in the FindAGrave memorial. 
  1. Where did the event occur?
  2. What are the levels of jurisdiction
  3. What was the date of the event?
  4. Who recorded the event?
  5. When was the event recorded?
  6. How was the report preserved?
  7. Is this a copy of the original report?
There can be more or fewer questions but this list is sufficient for the present post series. is basically a website that has a database of cemeteries and graves. There seems to be no controversy over the location of the burial (the event) in Flint, Genesee, Michigan, United States. The jurisdictional question is partially answered by the location. There is a death date but no burial year. We don't know who recorded the event because there is no indication as to who paid for and erected the grave marker. We also do not know when the dates were recorded. The grave marker could have been placed contemporaneously with the burial but usually, the marker is placed sometime after the burial. The events were recorded on the grave marker itself but it may or may not be the original marker. 

Are any of these dates "original?' No. All of the information on the website, including the images, are user-submitted. While grave markers are usually accurate about the death or burial date, they are not necessarily accurate about the birth date. On the other hand, these might be the most accurate dates available at all. This is one reason that the dichotomy created by the legalistic terms such as "primary vs. secondary" lose their usefulness. Arguably, someone who knew the deceased person paid for and placed the grave marker. They probably knew first hand the person's birth, death, and burial dates. The only reason that a researcher would seriously doubt the accuracy of these dates on the grave marker is if there were other documents and records with conflicting information. What if there were no image of the grave marker. Then the information loses its veracity and becomes no better or worse than an unsupported entry in an online family tree. Can we tell from the entry who supplied the information? Yes, usually there is a contact name and this may be a way to verify the information supplied. 


  1. I don't think you should assume grave markers are erected after burial. On both my mother's line (Acadian French Catholic) and my father's Connecticut Protestant line, numerous examples from 1800+ can be found of a Family monument erected after the death of one family member, or, as part of estate planning and purchase of a large cemetery plot. Names and birth dates were engraved on the stone and prepayment made to the monument maker to fill in the date of death after burial. The fact thaat mistakes happen was made clear on THE day I was bitten by the genealogy bug in June 2016 when my sister and I paid a visit to family graves in a couple of CT cemeteries on Father's Day. Dad's foster father had a large 2-sided marble monument erected in a prime plot to memorialize his inlaws and him and his wife. He died in 1959; his wife whom we address as Grandma died in 1984 just before her 100th birthday. I planned and attended the funeral,but because I lived hours away, didn't visit the cemetery again until 2016 and found Grandma's date of death had been carved as 1974 not 1984! she would be horrified; she was proud of her longevity.

  2. You are correct about the markers. It is common when one spouse dies to have a marked with a space for the other spouse. Sometimes when a child dies, the parents leave a space for their own information. But hopefully, the death dates are not entered until after the people die.