Sunday, July 13, 2014

Find A Grave - Caveat Utilitor!

I love Find A Grave (–I’m both a user and a contributor.  Making burial information available and preserving images of gravestones for now and the future is a great boon for genealogists, family historians, gravestone art aficionados, and many others.  I have mixed feelings, however, about the additional information, some documented, some not, that has been posted on many memorials.

Case in point–I recently came across a memorial on which the contributor had posted an obituary of the deceased, Joseph J. Jones [all names have been changed in consideration for the contributor].  It was a transcription, not an image, of the actual obituary.  I was happy to find it, even though no source was given.  Particularly interesting, I thought, was the last paragraph: “Surviving is his wife of almost 55 years, the former Susan S. Smith; He was the father of the late Susie Q. Jones.”

Thanks to Fulton History (, another great website, I had already found Susie’s death notice, which said she was “sister of Betty.”  Curious!  What became of Betty?  Why wasn’t she mentioned in her father’s obituary?  Dead or alive, what reason could there be for her to have been omitted?  I went looking for more information. 

The Jones family was too recent to be in census records; and city directories and the like don’t identify children.  I turned to Fulton History and searched for an obituary or death notice for one of Susie’s grandparents, who were listed as survivors in her death notice. Those for Susie’s paternal grandparents were no help, and I couldn’t find anything for her maternal grandparents.

Almost as a last resort, I googled Susie’s father by name and found his obituary, posted by the funeral home that had served his family.  Lo and behold, it was the same as the one on Find A Grave, except for one very important paragraph.  “Surviving is his wife of almost 55 years, the former Susan S. Smith; three daughters, Betty [ John ] Doe; of Wheatfield; Jane [Robert ] Roe, of Lewiston; Mary [Charles ] Coe, of Long Island; a sister, Ann Black, of Hayward, CA; 3 grandchildren. He was the father of the late Susie Q. Jones.”

Omission of facts is almost as egregious as alteration of facts.  Rather than providing a helpful resource for researchers, the Find A Grave contributor unwittingly committed a grave disservice, misleading everyone relying on that obituary for information about the Jones family.

Caveat lector!  Caveat utilitor!

Image by Buffalogen