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Monday, March 19, 2018

Headstones and other memorials

Today I learned an important lesson about headstones that I want to pass on to everyone, with a couple of recommendations.

Years ago when both my parents were still alive, they bought a beautiful granite headstone, paid for their burial plot in my hometown cemetery and had it installed there. It has an unusual outer shape, an elaborate polished and carved scene of hills and a pair of deer, their names and birth and death dates. I'm not going to put the picture here because my father is still living and there's an error on the stone which is where the lesson comes in.

They were both living when they bought the stone and had it installed. Their names and probably their birth dates were on the stone when it was installed. When my mother died in 2001, her death date had to be added to the stone. I don't know how that's done; if the stone has to be picked up and taken back to the company who does the work - I assume. The error was that they put her death date under my father's name. I wasn't around at the time. I don't know if they put the date under both names or just my father's and had to put it, again, under my mother's name or if they put it under both names at the same time. In any case, my father is still alive and the death date under his name is, obviously, incorrect.

My father is currently in the hospital. He's "Ok" but he's 92 and in has an illness that will progressively get worse until he dies. Nobody can say how long that process will take so we have to be prepared. We all die; it's inevitable. It's prudent and intelligent to be practical and unsentimental about it, in advance.

So, how to fix the error. I've been told by the memorial company that the funeral home tells me they would contact to "complete" the date on the stone, that usually, in such cases, the error is filled in with epoxy and the new date cut over the error. Does that sound like it would work? It doesn't to me.

Quite frankly, at the time the error was made - it was made - it didn't magically happen, the business responsible should have swallowed the loss, ordered a completely new stone and done it correctly, right then. However, it's possible that wasn't a completely satisfactory option because the stone had been designed quite some time before my mother died and, perhaps, that style, design, etc. was no longer available. Also, it's possible that the company where the original stone was purchased was not the company adding the dates. Still, the company doing the dates, that made the error, should have accepted responsibility for making it right to the extent of replacing the stone - in my opinion.

That, clearly, didn't happen.

So, what to do. I don't want to accept the mess that will undoubtedly occur in trying to cover up the mistake and cut a new date over what's already there. It's set in stone; literally.

So here are suggestions for others that have been rushing around in my head after having a phone conversation with the memorial "craftsman" who is going to look at the stone and who would be called to "complete" the date:

- Whenever you might order a headstone, do it in advance of any need.

- Thank about and talk about what you want: shape, design, material, color, whatever you want "written" on the stone. It will be there for good.

- I suggest a surname stone, the largest stone, with the design and smaller, flat, stones or metal plates with names and dates.

- Be sure that the contract includes what occurs if errors are made, including forfeiture of payment, replacement of the stone.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Accuracy, like facts, is important


I've spent hours in the past few days, looking at online family trees, for several ancestors, that have so many errors and misdirections....  I can't tell you now annoying it is to waste so much time verifying that things are incorrect and trying to find the correct information. 

Here are a couple of hints that may make you better researchers (you can be sure I'm not the best but far from the worst.):

Take whatever information you have about an ancestor that you want to know more about and write it down.  If you have a family chart, write it down. 

Who - as complete a name, including initials, as you can find. Write down any spelling variations you have. Make a page for each individual.

What - what are you trying to find? Do you want to know where they were born, where their family was originally from? Try not to be distracted from your goal, it's easy to find yourself off on a tangent, chasing a related piece of information.  Don't go there.

When - write down dates, as precisely as you can. Birthdates, marriage dates, death dates, children's birthdays.

Where - write down places, birth places, wedding places, death places, burial places.

Check dates and places.  If you have a birth date and a marriage date but they are farther apart than 20 or 30 years, you may have an error somewhere.  Most people back in the 1800s and even now, get married in their mid-20s. There will be exceptions but this is still something you can rely on.  They also had children right away, usually.


If you have an ancestor who was born in county X and died in county X is said by somebody else to have married and lived in county B, unless you can verify it's the same person, it's unlikely that it is.

You WILL find more than one person with the same exact name as your ancestor and often nearby where you ancestors lived:  Who would think that there'd be more than one Charles and Francis V. Dougherty in New York State, but there were and the couple who lived in Buffalo, were NOT my relatives and so many people with the same family line seem to think so.  For a while I had an ancestor who I thought must have been a bigamist because I saw him in 2 places with different wives but children with all the same names, until I sorted out that they were cousins one a year or 2 different in ages who, unhappily, named their kids almost exactly the same names.

A lot of children died. It's something you will find and have to accept.  People disappear from the family tree.

You will not find documents for each and every person but you should try to find documentation of births, marriages and deaths.  Getting a real copy of a certificate of any of them is getting more and more expensive; the last I ordered was $22.  I'm happy to share for the cost of a photocopy and postage - after all they're not only my ancestors and relatives.

You can expect errors on almost any record.  It's surprising at first and really unfortunate but all these records were created by people who, just like us, make mistakes.  Spelling is the biggest mistake but there are some real surprises.  I have a death certificate of a great grandmother, the information supplied by an adult son who lived with her past his 40th birthday, and my great grandfather's first name is incorrect on the death certificate, unless we don't know something my great uncle knew. I choose to ignore the mistake since I have other documentation of their marriage.

Slow down.  I have to tell myself this all the time.  And,

Think.  What's logical?  What seems to be the normal progression of a person's life in time and space and that's the direction you should look.

Write down the source of every bit of information you find.  Immediately.  I have to tell myself this even more often and I often fail to do it and I'm ALWAYS sorry later, if I don't.

DO NOT accept family information from relatives as facts; sometimes they are, sometimes they're not.  Information gets handed down, generation to generation, cousins to cousins, grandparents to grandchildren, and like the kids' game of telegraph (you know where someone whispers something in the ear of one kid who does to the same to the next kid on a line however many kids long and the last kid in the line says what he was told and it's almost always completely different from what was whispered to the first kid), the information gets distorted over time until it's as far from the facts as can be.  Usually family information is a good starting place but it's better if backed up with a family bible, or birth certificates, funeral cards, etc.

Most of your ancestors and relatives, particularly in the mid-1800s, stayed close to home and, when they relocated, they often did so with most of their family.  So, if you see someone with the same name over the border in another state, or 3 counties away, don't assume they are related until you have checked carefully, all the dates, names, etc.

Follow your ancestor from birth to death to get a clear picture of the flow of their life.  Say you have your great grandmother's birth date and her wedding date but not a clear place for either.  If you know her birth date and her maiden name, then you can find her on the next census after her birth.  If you don't know her maiden name, but you know her wedding date, you can find her on the next census, after her wedding, with her married name, or your great grandfather's name.

FamilySearch.org has most of the census records and many birth, death and marriage records - FREE.

I'm a paying member of Ancestry.com, so I don't know which of their records are free now.

Finally, please, Please, PLEASE, don't post your information online unless and until you have documentation of what you're sharing.  Or, at least, include notes indicating what is and isn't verified.

I now have a clue that an ancestor that everybody else has accepted as one of my 4th great grandfather's father, is somehow related but not related as everybody else thinks because the dates and places just don't match. I'm more than a little tired of wasting my time looking at bad information and arguing with people who either don't understand how important it is to get things straight or don't care - like somebody very well-known is about everything that comes out of his mouth.

And, yes, I make mistakes but I work on my family lines to try to be sure that I have documents verifying who is who and what is what. 

After all, you can believe that you're related to Warren Buffet and tell as many people as you want but I'd be careful if I were you about showing up for a reading of the will when the time comes, unless you have more than one document proving it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Family Page Updates

Along the top of the blog, beneath the cover photo, is an array of tabs.  Some of them are links to family pages where I post information specific to that family line.  

I just updated some of those pages: Wormuth, Mattice, and Beismer, from posts I made on Facebook but I've included photos here.  I'll continue to do this from time to time and I'll post announcements of the updates on this main page.

Go, take a look.