Update: A Find-a-Grave Success Story

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Find-a-Grave has become one of my favorite free genealogical sites. It consists of typed information, transcriptions from grave stones and other cemetery memorials, along with photographs of gravestones and, if you’re lucky, the decedent’s portrait or informal photograph. It is a place where people share information, acquire information for strangers who request it, and even create memorials to strangers’ ancestors in hope that their work will benefit others. It is the purest, most selfless form of service in the name of genealogical and family history research. The site contains info that Ancestry.com and other pay services don’t have. If you’re pinching pennies and striving to learn about your family, Find-a-Grave will be of great assistance to you. If you want to augment your paid services with an ever-growing inventory of data, Find-a-Grave will do that.

Best of all, if you can take out a little time at a graveyard, or sign up for photo and information requests from other Find-a-Grave seekers, you can add information to the site that might provide watershed experiences for other researchers. It’s a kind of quid-pro-quo in the (normally) generous spirit of the genealogy world.

Recently, the partial work of another Find-a-Grave member in Mannington, West Virginia helped me to begin to answer a 90-year-old question in my family.

Probably right before their deaths.
There has been a story in my family that Charles William McLaughlin III and his wife Fanny, my great-grand-uncle and great-grand-aunt, lived a happy life but came to a tragic end. They married young, had no children, and were devoted to one another. He, as the other men in the generations before and after him, worked in oil. The family spread out, but had followed oil strikes in Pennsylvania, Illinois, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma. She was a housewife. There is a varying field of speculation as to where they lived because of the family’s spread to oil fields across the country.


The tragedy, of family legend anyway, told that Uncle Charlie died in an oil well explosion in Desdemona, Texas in 1922. The legend goes on to say that, in despair, Fanny committed suicide that same day. Since the family was Catholic, the final twist of the tale was that Charlie was buried just inside the wall of a Catholic cemetery and Fannie, next to him, just without the fence because she committed the mortal sin of suicide.

I had searched everywhere for Charlie and Fanny – census records, birth, marriage, and death records, and even delved into Desdemona history. I had found nothing. I even searched GenDisasters and other internet sites for oil-related disasters in 1922, but I found nothing.

Then I went to Find-a-grave.

I already knew that Charlie’s sisters, brother-in-law, and parents were buried in Mannington Cemetery, Marion County, West Virginia. On a whim, I searched that one cemetery by last name, for all McLaughlin interments.

And there she was – Fanny McLaughlin.

Because of a Find-a-Grave member I don’t even know, I was able to see photos of the gravestone showing that Charlie and Fanny are buried in Mannington. I also got a death date: 25 Aug 1923. This is more than anyone has had for as long as my father can remember.

This volunteer’s work helped me to establish a few things, and to clear away a few myths. Charlie and Fanny DID die on the same day, and they were buried together in a public cemetery, not parted by a wall in a Catholic cemetery. The photos of the stone also showed me that, with only a death date, it is possible that they were originally interred elsewhere and then removed to the family plot in Mannington.

It also gave me the chance to establish Charlie’s Find-a-Grave site, to link him to Fanny as his wife, and to his parents.

This Find-a-Grave discovery also allowed me to start looking for events in 1923 that might have caused his death and precipitated her suicide. No luck yet, but I’m working on it.

How does this relate to you? If you add records at Find-a-Grave by becoming a member and photographing some headstones, then going online and creating their memorials with the information you glean or photograph, you can provide information that just might allow another researcher to break through a 90-year-old wall.

Beware: there is a hard-and-fast policy on Find-a-Grave that proud photographers enforce ruthlessly. If you post a photo, you MUST credit the photographer. While some photographers don’t really care, others can be downright nasty. Since it is a requuirement of the site, be sure to state  “photo by XXXXX” at the top of the biography you write for your ancestor. Do this for each photo shown.

Anyway, that’s what Find-a-Grave did for me. I work to do the same for others. Join the community, follow the instructions, and help make more free and valuable information available for all!!