"... you actually use Find A Grave as a source? Maybe as a starting point or a clue, but NEVER as a source. I don't consider it to be very reliable."
I do use the Find A Grave website (www.findagrave.com) as a source, and create Burial Facts for persons in my database that I find on the site. If the memorial page for a person provides a birth date and/or a death date, I add those IF they are on the gravestone or in an epitaph. Some Find A Grave memorials provide links to potential relatives - spouse(s), parents and children. Some memorials provide a short biography from some source, and some provide an obituary.
All of that is information from a number of sources, one of which is the gravestone itself. The gravestone may be an original source (the first written, oral or visual record of an event) or it may be a derivative source (not in the first form). The Find A Grave memorial is certainly a derivative source document (although the image of a gravestone is a digital copy of the gravestone). It may be correct, or not. The information may be primary (first-hand information) or secondary (second-hand information) depending on the knowledge of the informant. The evidence may be direct (it provides definitive information) or it may be indirect (it does not provide definitive information).
The Genealogical Proof Standard requires researchers to consider all sources while performing a reasonably exhaustive search, weigh and analyze all of the collected evidence using the types of source, information and evidence, resolve conflicting evidence and draw sound conclusions. As part of this evidence collecting process, a diligent researcher will also pursue other records for the information on a gravestone and a Find A Grave memorial, including birth records, marriage records, death records, cemetery file records, funeral home records, newspaper articles, family papers, family Bibles, etc.
For many persons in my database, the Find A Grave memorial, with or without a gravestone picture, is the only record I have for a person's death date and burial location. So I use it, and source it. Frankly, I have found very few Find A Grave records where a given death date (from the stone or an epitaph) does not match other records (e.g., a Death Index entry or a Social Security Death Index entry). To be sure, there are many gravestones and Find A Grave memorials that do not have exact death dates, and some are off by a year or two (compared to other records).
What bugs me, frankly, is the Find A Grave memorials that do not document a burial site, but document only what was found in other records. I see a lot of these for New England records, where there is a link to a parent on a Find A Grave memorial but the burial location of the parent is not known.
Yes, Find A Grave memorials can be very useful as finding aids and clues for dates and other family members. But they do provide information material from a (usually) derivative source.
Is any specific Find A Grave memorial a "reliable source?" The researcher has to make that judgment based on all of the evidence available.
What do you think?
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Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver