When Gravestone Websites Aren’t Enough

Where to research after you find a gravestone profile. #genealogy #gravestones #methodology

With FindAGrave and Billion Graves providing such an invaluable service, we sometimes forget that these gravestone websites aren’t always enough in our research into the death of our loved ones.

We need to pay attention to the arrangement of the family plot than can truly be shown on these websites. I was surprised that my mother left me a terrific clue from her research back in the ‘old days.’

The Clue From The Past

In reviewing mom’s genealogical documents from the 1970s, I discovered one record that outlined the names of persons buried in the family plot where mother’s parents would be laid to rest (in the ‘vacant’ spots on this document).

Mom’s Handwritten note detailing information about Philip Smith’s plot in Green Lawn Cemetery

Now, this isn’t the original record from the cemetery but rather notes that mom created in 1976 after calling the cemetery.

These notes helped me gather clues for the head of the family. The following details pertain to Philip Smith:

  • Name: Philip Smith
  • Birth: about 1830
  • Death:  1916 in Ohio, his last residence was Columbus
  • Buried: Green Lawn Cemetery (no stone)
  • Married Catherine Dague about 1852 in Franklin County, Ohio
  • Philip Smith and Catherine Dague had a  son Andrew Nelson Smith (1855-1933), who I have blogged about before (click here and here). He is buried on this family plot with his wives Emma and Marietta.

The plot record suggested that Philip had additional relatives that by my mother’s generation had faded from memory.

  • Wife:  Mary E Smith (1834-1899)
  • Son: Orlando Smith (1865-1928) and his wife Clara (1869-1927).

In reviewing this note, I initially thought Mary E might be Catherine Dague. I wasn’t entirely sure if Orlando was the son of Catherine or Mary.

Time to Turn to Census Records

“United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M629-NM3 : accessed 2 April 2016), Andrew Smith in household of Philip Smith, Ohio, United States; citing p. 38, family 300, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 552,699.

According to the 1870 US Census, Andrew and Orlando were brothers with the mother’s name listed as Mary. However, the census record doesn’t specify whether Mary is the mother of both boys.

Seeking Out Additional Sources

In genealogy, you always need as much evidence to make the case. Clearing the gravestone websites aren’t enough to answer the question of, “Who is Orlando’s mother?” based on quality sources.

I discovered the following additional resources:

  • Catherine Dague Smith lays buried in the Dague family plot in Smith / Union Cemetery. (I’ve written more about this here).
  • The death date on Catherine’s death certificate rules out the possibility of Orlando being her son.
  • Andrew, the older brother in the census record, has a marriage identifying his mother as Catherine.
  • Orlando’s marriage record identifies his mother as Mary.

Now that I know how Orlando and Mary fit into the family tree (Philip’s second wife and her son), I wanted to find Philip’s death certificate. Few possibilities turned up until I discovered an unsourced Ancestry.com member tree listed Philip’s name as Leon Philip Smith.

Finding More Clues About the Philip

Unsourced trees never establish the truth, but they do provide clues. I had never known Leon to be the first name of Philip but I investigated the clue to determine the names’ validity.

Before I saw the unsourced family tree on Ancestry, I did not have a death certificate for Philip Smith. With the possibility of his given name including Leon, I searched the Ohio Deaths 1840- 2001 collection. This collection contains the death certificates in electronic form.

“Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F6VG-67W : accessed 2 April 2016), Leon Phillip Smith, 24 Aug 1916; citing Death, Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, United States, source ID 1916 fn 2500, County courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 2,032,535.

The informant is Mrs. Harry H Long. That is my 2nd great grandmother Lura Maude Smith! Lura and her husband Harry Howard had cared for Andrew Nelson Smith for a time after his second wife died. To see her name on Leon Philip Smiths’s death certificate confirmed that indeed Philip and Leon were the same.

Leon Philips’ death record provided me with two more ancestors for my tree: David Smith and Elizabeth Browning. Now, I may have to stop thinking of this man as Philip and use his first name of Leon.

Gravestone Websites Aren’t Enough To Solve All Research Questions

I have compiled all of my clues for Leon Philip Smith, his two wives, and his two sons onto the FindAGrave.com profiles. Someone else may stumble upon my information and think perhaps the research is complete. However, gravestone websites are only one of many gateways to new discoveries.

Gravestones websites are great but sometimes you need more than a headstone! #genealogy #cemetery photos
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

4 thoughts on “When Gravestone Websites Aren’t Enough

  1. Have to like the notation "2nd wife?" next to Mary E. Smith. How lucky you are to have this set of clues! And a good post, reminding us to correlate our family's notes and knowledge with what we can learn from the cemetery and F-A-G.

  2. Thanks Marian. My mother never really understood who Mary Smith was. For years I searched for her last name to be something different. Sure enough Mary Smith was her maiden and married last names! But, I know so little about her and why she had a stone but her husband never did.

    BTW… What is F-A-G?

  3. Thanks Marian. If she were still living she'd say, "Ha. I told you I had great handwriting." Yes, I owe my love of genealogy to her. My personal handwriting did not take after her talent.

  4. How lucky you are to have a mother with such clear handwriting and note-taking discipline. Source, phone number, address, date! You come from good stock.

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