A Find-a-Grave visit to the Gorham Cemetery (Old Village Cemetery)

Find a Grave logo. Source: "Musings From Mommyland"
Logo for “Find A Grave”

I love Find-a-Grave. It is a fantastic resource for genealogy research; and, I really like to do my part in helping the database along. As such, I like to volunteer to fulfill photo requests. It provides a great opportunity to get out into the fresh air, get some sun, and provide a purpose to visit a cemetery. The other thing is I often request photos on Find-a-Grave and think it is only right to take as many photos for others as I request.

Since moving to Maine last year, I really hadn’t had an opportunity to get out for a cemetery walk. The snow was gone, the ground was fairly dry, the temperature was comfortable, no reason not to do my part. I had seen six requests for photos for Gorham Cemetery. (It is also known as South Street Cemetery according to Find-a-Grave and Old Village Cemetery by the local historical society). I saw it was fairly small, 130 interments, the size I could mindfully walk in an hour or so. It was also close enough, about 20 minutes away.

Rather than just looking for the six photo requests that were active, I thought I’d apply the filter of “Names with no grave photos” and print out the list. Then I highlighted the six names that were active requests so I could provide special attention to them. I packed my camera, a mirror, and a whisk broom and headed out.

This is a small cemetery in the center of town, very old (for the U.S.), and well kept. As I walked the cemetery I looked carefully at each marker. As I walked, there were a few that were damaged or worn beyond my ability to read. In all but two cases, I could tell none of them, based upon the information I could read (part of a name, date of death, etc.), were the six requests I was working for. Happily, I never needed the whiskbroom. A couple markers could have used the mirror but they were too far under trees to make its use helpful. (Take the mirror and direct the sun to the marker from an extreme angle to make worn markings more visible.)

Marker of William Gorham
Gorham Cemetery
Photo by Don Taylor

As I walked I looked to see if the name was on my list of individuals whose markers should be photographed for Find-a-Grave. All together, I took 27 photos of 9 markers that weren’t in the Find-a-Grave entries for the cemetery.

Back home posted 8 of the photos to Find-a-Grave (One of them will need some Photoshop work to make it usable.). I then reported that I walked the entire cemetery and was unable to find the markers to FG.

I wondered if the Gorham Historical Society had anything regarding the cemetery. Sure enough I found their website and on it was a downloadable spreadsheet of “Town of Gorham Cemetery Records.” None of the six individuals requested were on the listing, however, all eight of the markers I did find were there. My inference is that the six requests were based upon entries in Find-a-Grave that were there by mistake. I then went back to Find-a-Grave and indicated for those requests that, “The Gorham Historical Society’s ‘Town of Gorham Cemetery Records’ has no listing for this individual. Please see: http://www.gorhamhistorical.com/vital-records.” I also suggested that their photo request be withdrawn.

As I looked at those records I realized there was no source for the information other than the creator of the memorial. There is a place for general notes but nothing to identify what the entry creation was based upon. I feel that is a major shortcoming of Find-a-Grave. Maybe, now that it is owned/managed by Ancestry.Com, they will add a source field to the data. I think it is a necessary addition that will help volunteers understand the data they are looking at and suggest revisions or removal of incorrect data.

A few notes regarding Find-a-Grave.

Don’t use Find-a-Grave entries as a source. Consider them as clues.  
Consider Find-a-Grave entries with photos done by someone other than the creator as confirmed there is a grave with the stone shown. Remember, markers often have errors, too.
Always check and check for a local historical society and see if they might have additional information on the cemetery. 
When you do find a problem with Find-a-Grave information, query back to the originator. Be nice, state the facts as you have them including your sources.

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