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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Find A Grave

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 4, 2010

A site that has been on the Internet since 1995 is almost historic.  Surviving 15 years of online existence is rare in our information age.


You may have found the site by accident; it is “Find A Grave,” or


The site pops up if you are searching for a famous deceased person, and the site offers to show you their burial site along with memorials placed online by fans of the individual.


The founder is Jim Tipton of Salt Lake City, and it was created to satisfy his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people.


I found it a curiosity, and have used it several times to locate such information and the biographical data that is included.


A recent article about Find A Grave noted that the site has expanded greatly since its founding, and now includes information about “anyone” who has died.


Major contributors have scoured the world’s cemeteries and downloaded data onto the site to the point that it now contains over 47 million names.


The famous people remain the backbone of Find A Grave, and you can search by name, date, claim-to-fame, and even the most popular searches.


Interesting monuments and epitaphs are singled out for the user.


I browsed through the section of general information about everyone who has been recorded on Find A Grave.


It can be searched by name, date, and cemetery.  In looking at the cemetery listing, which can be searched by country, state, and county, I was amazed at the coverage that has developed.


Find A Grave is becoming a worldwide database of cemetery listings.


The problem with any shared network that depends on “the public” for its data is the quality of the information.


I tested the system by entering my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, as well as some aunts and uncles, to see how many would be online.


I was surprised to find about half of my relatives were listed, and I signed up with Find A Grave to be able to enter the ones not yet entered online.


My great grandmother, Margaret Cullen, was incorrectly listed as Marguerite, so I tested the “correction” button to see how easy it would be to fix an error.


Within a day, it was corrected and the person who had entered it e-mailed me with a photo of the Cullen family monument!


I chuckled when I looked at the photo, as the person didn’t know the rest of the story about this famous tombstone.


When John Cullen died in 1923, he was buried in St. Patrick Cemetery near their farm.  His wife Margaret had the task of acquiring a monument.


It was into the new year before she “went to town” to purchase an appropriate tombstone and she purchased the largest granite stone she could find.


The company transported the huge monument by horse and wagon the 15 miles to the cemetery, but the weather prevented it from being pulled up the steep grade to the cemetery, so it was placed at the foot of the hill until spring.


The Cullen Monument became somewhat of a novelty, sitting at the bottom of the hill, and it was actually August of 1924 before two teams of horses and a skid dragged the huge granite marker up the hill to find that it wouldn’t fit into the cemetery.


Part of the fence had to be removed to get the monument to the gravesite.  The marker had only the family name carved on it, and Margaret said to wait until she died to have the remaining carving performed.


She died in 1936, and the monument company carved his death date as 1924, the date of the purchase, rather than 1923, his actual date of death.


In the 1960s, the huge granite marker began to tilt forward, so our family paid to have the Cullen marker straightened.


Little does Find A Grave know the rest-of-the-story of that big granite marker on their site.