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I admit that the first time I heard of Find A Grave, I imagined creepy, otherworldly creatures who were robbing cemeteries. I couldn’t fathom who would choose to spend time in a graveyard.
Silly as that was, I realize now that I had zero insight. My life had never been touched by death, and our family was not sentimental about headstones or Memorial Day rituals.
In fact, I was about 35 years old before I visited a grave. A friend was in town and asked me to go to Denver’s Ft. Logan National Cemetery to find her father’s grave. I was bewildered as she openly sobbed while looking at a marker that seemed like every other except for his name and military distinction.
Since then, death and grief have become familiar. Now I understand that a grave is physical evidence that a person lived. It is his or her mark upon the earth and a link to family members.
With deeper understanding, I finally tried FindaGrave.com. I felt compelled to find the parents of my great-great-grandmother but had come to a dead end. I believed that her maiden name was Cohen, but I wasn’t sure. Could I find out from her headstone?
I knew she died in Boston in 1913, but I couldn’t find her on FindaGrave.com. Out of curiosity, I found graves of other ancestors and was intrigued with the glimpses of places I’d never been before and bits of family history I didn’t know.
A short time later, I got a message from Kay, a fellow researcher, saying we might be related. He was in Alaska, and I was in Colorado, but through the Internet, we were able to research together. It wasn’t long before we confirmed that my great-great-grandmother and his great-grandfather were sister and brother, and their last name was Cohen. We searched on FindaGrave.com but didn’t find any ancestors.
Eventually, we discovered that the family migrated from “foreign parts” to England and then to Montreal, Canada. We also found the marriage record of my great-great-grandparents. They were not in Kay’s direct line, yet he was almost as excited as I was when we made the discovery.
Kay later told me he was going on a road trip and wouldn’t be in touch for a while.
When I received an email from him several months later, he included two photos from his trip. He had travelled from Anchorage, Alaska, to Montreal, Canada, and located the grave of my third-great-grandmother—his great-great-grandmother—Flora Cohen. He posted a picture of her grave on FindaGrave.com, adding all the family information he knew.
The next photo I saw touched me to the core. Though Kay had no need to travel to Boston, he took a detour from his planned route and located my great-great-grandmother’s death certificate. He found the out-of-the-way Jewish cemetery where she was buried and took pictures of her grave as well as the grave of my great-great-grandfather and three graves belonging to their children. Kay directed me to the FindaGrave.com site where he had posted the pictures and family information.
It’s hard to express the gratitude I have for Kay’s unexpected and ongoing gift of kindness. I doubt that I would have ever seen these graves in person. But now, each time I look at FindaGrave.com, I am reminded of my Jewish roots and the part of me that is from them.
Doing the research to find our family was fulfilling, but virtually seeing their resting place has given me a sense of contentment that I did not know was missing.
FindaGrave.com is free and is the largest online collection of burial information. Not every grave is on the site, but 110 million memorials are available, and thousands are added daily. All the images of grave markers, photos, and biographies and other details that are on FindaGrave.com have been uploaded by more than 200,000 volunteers.
Find A Grave is also available as a mobile app for android and IOS phones.
Want to find a great way to serve others by taking photos with your phone? Follow these easy steps on an outing with family or friends to fulfill a request for someone looking for their own ancestors:
- Download the App
Head to the app gallery to find the mobile app for iOS and Android.
- Print a Map
Visit the web page for the cemetery you’d like to visit, and print a map to help you more easily locate the headstones you’re looking for.
- Turn on GPS
Turn on the GPS feature in the settings of your smart phone to help track specific headstone locations.
- Clean the Headstone
For a better, clearer photo, clean the weeds and dirt from the headstone. Also spray the headstone with a water bottle for a better photo.
- Take the Photo
Check the front and back of the headstone for engravings, take a photo, and upload it with your Find A Grave app.
The Find A Grave Project
You Can Tell a Lot From a Tombstone
What Gems Will You Find?
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