Exploring FindaGrave

Image from findagrave.com

FindaGrave is a website run by a community of volunteers who take their time to photograph and document graves around the world. FindaGrave was established in 1995, and features over 170 million graves from across the world. Members of the community are able to photograph and upload photos of gravestones from around the world, along with tidbits of information about the ancestors if available.

This website helped me discover names of potential relatives with its useful search engine feature. You are able to type in optional first names and mandatory last names, and an approximate location. I was at a dead end on a trail with one of my father’s ancestors. I had no other leads. Census records, addresses and other government documented information turned up dry. I typed in the last name of my ancestor on FindaGrave, and I was able to find his burial location which was in Toronto, Ontario. He gave birth to my great-grandfather in Nebraska, so now it was a battle to discover how he wound up deceased and buried in Toronto. There was something else suspicious about his burial as well. He was buried with a month old baby girl with the same last name.


I was able to look up the baby girl’s name, and discovered her father was in fact my great-grandfather who was born in Nebraska, which meant that she was my dead end relative’s grand daughter. Now it was a factor of discovering the relationship between how my second great-grandfather wound up back in Canada with my great-grandfather trailing behind him, and learning about the supposed brother he moved back to be with.

Once I was able to discover the name of the brother, this led me on a quest through FindaGrave to find my second great grandfather’s parents. His name was not documented in any census records with his parent’s names, but I was able to discover people who were buried in roughly the same geographic area, who shared the last name of my second great-grandfather and his brother. I searched the names of the people I found, and discovered some connections to my direct family lineage, which soon led to the discovery of my third great-grandparents on that specific line.

The problem with FindaGrave is that unlike other genealogy networking websites like FamilySearch.org and ancestry.ca, FindaGrave relies entirely on contributions made from what it calls its “community.” The “community” is a group of volunteers who travel to cemeteries in their region and document through photographic evidence various headstones and their locations. This information is vital to people who are looking for the graves of their ancestors who lived far away from their own geographic location.

Another helpful feature of FindaGrave is you are able to link memorials to other members of the same family to help people searching for their relatives. This allows for easier organization and being able to keep all of the information contained on fewer pages. This feature has helped me link numerous family members together and link them to my own memorials, even if I didn’t take the physical photograph myself.

There is an app offered through the Apple Store and through Google I believe, and it allows you manage all of your listings and browse the listings directly on your phone. This makes it simple to take the photographs directly off of your phone and upload them straight to the website. Much less time consuming!

Personally, I have only taken photos of gravestones that belonged to members of my own ancestral line when I was able to take the time to visit them. This summer, I would love to continue documenting cemeteries in my area to hopefully help people who are searching for their families to discover exactly where their final journey ended. It will be hard with a newborn baby and a toddler, but if I’m able to help out a few other people on my journey to discovering my own family, then it’s worth it.

7 thoughts on “Exploring FindaGrave

  1. I haven’t started exploring graves yet as I’m really unsure what they would add to my family history, a photo of a headstone is not like a photo of the person. Also for example, I do know where my grandparents were buried and neither have headstones! But each to his own, not a criticism, I just don’t get it. Yet!

    1. The headstones themselves don’t offer much other than clues. They’re confirmations of birth years and death years. When I was stuck looking for parents for my 3rd great grandfather, I began browsing findagrave with the last name which isn’t all that common. I was given several first names and dates that would line up, and then it was just a matter of finding the additional proof through census, marriage, birth and death records. Turns out my 3rd great grandfather went by two different names which is why I had such a hard time tracking down the remainder of his family! I’m going to do an article to show how I use obituaries in the same way. Graveyard hunting helped me. I also managed to find an additional sibling to my 2nd great grandfather who was buried with my 3rd great grand father who died in infancy. It is resourceful if you’re stuck, but it’s definitely not definitive proof without a source to back it up. Happy hunting!

      1. Once I’ve found a relative with reasonable accuracy I personally tend to focus on their occupation, it’s what interests me the most. It is quite amazing how I seem to have been the first in a line who was NOT a physical worker …… miner, steelworker, agricultural worker, navvie, but this is a sign of the times I suppose, more jobs require brain rather than brawn. So, I tend to hunt around for factories, tin mines, old ironworks, mills, workhouses rather than graveyards.

      2. That is an interesting comment! Once I’ve confirmed who they are, I definitely love to know their entire story, including occupation. I’m currently writing a Family History book, and one of the sections involves information about my husband’s family and their Loyalist ties. Do you have any tips for searching through occupations?

      3. I take a fairly simple approach. First follow occupation noted on census, then read about that occupation in the particular county or area they lived in, then consider the political economic social and technological issues of the era. So for example, tin miners in Cornwall were recognised as world experts in 1700s, worked in appalling conditions but improving thanks to improvements in “engines” to remove water successively developed by Newcomen, then Watt, then Trevithick, migrated to USA and Australia because of the global collapse of price of tin, women worked at mines too called Bal Maidens …… All researched from books, newspapers and visiting tin mines. That’s one example. Read my post on PEST

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