Find a Grave has provided me with information, photos and leads for every branch of my family tree. The Find a Grave website was created by Jim Tipton in 1995 because he could not find an existing site focused on his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. Jim soon found a whole community of people who shared his passion. The site is largely filled with information and photos from volunteers. Every day, contributors from around the world enter new records. It has grown from a site to find out where famous people are buried to an invaluable tool for family history research.
While I have found many facts and dates on Find a Grave, the most emotional find for me was a listing for my Aunt Trixy. Aunt Trixy is my mother’s sibling. She was born and died in New Mexico many years before my mother was born. As a child I was always aware of this aunt whom I had never met. I knew that she died very young and that my other aunts and uncles had memories of her. My mother’s family moved to Roswell, New Mexico in the early 1900s and then back to Oklahoma before my mother was born in 1920.
The 1910 census in New Mexico lists Trixy’s name as Della B and shows her age as three years old. Based on that I guessed her birth year to be 1907 . My mother thought she had died at about two years of age. So I thought she must have died shortly after this census. I looked for a listing on Find a Grave hoping to be able to fill in some details about dates of birth and death and her full name. Nothing came up in my search.
I am fortunate to have photos of each of mother’s siblings when they were young. One day, about a year after first searching for Trixie (how I thought her name was spelled at the time) on Find a Grave, I was scanning and entering a photo for each of my mother’s siblings on my Ancestry family tree. When I added Trixy’s photo a hint came up for Find a Grave. A memorial had been added for her nine months earlier that had not been there when I conducted my initial search. The listing had her full name which I had never known, Della Beatrix West. There were no photos with the listing. There was a year of death but no birth date listed. It appeared that the person adding this info had added it based on cemetery records and not headstone photos.
This brings me to how Find a Grave is administered. Hundreds of volunteers worldwide access cemetery records where they live and add information to the Find a Grave site. Some volunteers take a photo of each headstone and the entrance to the cemetery and add those photos and any information that can be found on the headstone. Anyone accessing the site can put in a request for a volunteer to go to a cemetery, take a photo of a headstone for a particular listing and add it to the listing.
People who use Find a Grave for research sign up as volunteers for the area in which they live and when a request is made they get an email asking if they can fulfill that request. I put in a request for a volunteer to take a photo of Trixy’s headstone for me. It was a very emotional moment for me to when I awakened the next morning to an email saying to check Trixy’s listing for an update. I found that a photo of her headstone had been added and a photo of the cemetery. The headstone showed her birth and death dates. The headstone was a loving tribute from her parents, sweetly inscribed and with a lamb resting at the bottom.
I could not help but think what it must have been like for my grandmother to leave New Mexico and her daughter’s grave behind when they moved back to Oklahoma. I also thought about that grave sitting there for all of those years, with no one ever visiting.
I uploaded the one photo of Trixy that I had to her Find a Grave memorial. Now anyone browsing her listing will see her adorable face. The memorials on Find a Grave have banner ads on the page. You can permanently remove the banner ads from an individual listing for a onetime fee of $5.00. I did that for Trixy’s page. I hope one day to go to New Mexico to research more about my grandmother’s time there in the early years of her marriage. I now have a place to go and remember Trixy for my grandmother and all of her siblings who were not able to go to her gravesite after they moved in about 1915.
Since making this find I have signed up to be a volunteer for Find a Grave and have been able to fulfill two requests for photos from my local cemetery. I know from my personal experience how much it means to the person making the request.
The most important lesson in this story is to never give up on a lead. New material is being added to the internet every day. I had searched for Trixy in Find a Grave before and found nothing. Months later a volunteer had entered enough information for me to be able to discover the missing details about Trixy’s short life.
In a future article I will talk about how to use Find a Grave in your family research and how to make use of the information that you find there.