Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How To Cite A Find A Grave Headstone

I just finished reading a great post entitled Citation: Is it ever okay to enhance the standard? Opinions, Please..." by Herstoryan at her blog. In it she wonders about the proper citation format for a gravestone located on Find A Grave and whether or not it is permissible to go beyond that standard source citation formats of MLA and others.

For those in the same predicament as to how to properly cite sources, I highly recommend Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills. You can get an E-book version via Footnote or a hardcover version via Genealogical Publishing Company. Also Dear Myrtle just mentioned that the 2nd Edition is now available.

Herstoryan decided to use the following format to cite the headstone:

Headstone: Mary Nancy McCaskill Massey. 1974. Llano Cemetery, Amarillo, Texas. Digital Image by Walter Dunn. Memorial #15616487 created 04 Sept 2006. Accessed 21 Oct 2009

But following Evidence Explained (p. 229), it might look something like this:

Source List Entry
Find A Digital images. 2009.

First Reference Note
Find A, digital images ( accessed 21 October 2009), photograph, gravestone for Mary Nancy McCaskill Massey (1881-1974), Amarillo, Texas.

Subsequent Note
Find A, photograph, gravestone for Mary Nancy McCaskill Massey (1881-1974), Amarillo, Tex.

As to the question of "enhancing" a citation standard, my opinion is that it is permissible as long as 1) the enhancement clarifies instead of confuses and 2) you are consistent in that new format.

Consistency is important especially when using genealogy database software because if you later want to change the format, you can probably use a "search and replace" function. Having consistent citations for Find A Grave images would make it much easier to update all of them at one especially if there were a Source List Entry.

Personally, I would add the following: 1) give credit to the photographer if possible and 2) include the memorial number which is 15616487 but make sure you reference it as Find A Grave's memorial number otherwise readers may think it is a number used by the cemetery.

So my version for the First Reference Note might be:

Find A, digital images ( accessed 21 October 2009), photograph by Walter Dunn, gravestone for Mary Nancy McCaskill Massey (1881-1974), Find A Grave Memorial #15616487, Amarillo, Texas.

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee


Herstoryan said...

Awesome! Thank you SO much for providing so much information! I have actually had that book in my shopping cart for a few weeks now. I guess it's time to purchase it!

So are the formats in the book the standard used by genealogists? I like it a lot better than what the MLA generators suggested.

I really like your "enhanced" version. It includes everything I wanted to add in the format recommended by Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills.


Thomas MacEntee said...

If the book has been in your Amazon cart for some time, I would delete it and look it up again to make sure you get the 2nd edition. No one has said if there are major differences or not.

Evidence Explained is like a bible to me. I just wish I had bought the e-book version (and I still might) since it is a huge heavy book and I don't like taking it with me all the time.

Cindy said...

Thomas - as always thanks for your clear explanation of this issue. I read Hersotryan's post and left her blog scratching my head in curiosity - I too have find-a-grave information in my data. Unlike her, I do actually HAVE the book but sometimes it seems so daunting to pull that reference off the shelf and look for the correct entry method for something - especially when you're so wrapped up in doing the research. Thanks for your timely expertise!

Sheri Fenley said...

Thomas - Please submit your "enhanced" version to ESM. I have read and re-read Evid. Expl. and cannot find anywhere where you might have committed a sin - I think you have a winner.

You made sure that it was clear and concise.

In fact, there are several times that I have come across 3 photos of the same grave - all different photographers over at I think you really need to specify which photo, taken by which photographer you are using, don't you?

Thomas MacEntee said...


Thanks for the comments. I guess you could rely upon the title a Find A Grave user had given to the photos but often there are not titles. Also, you could right-click the photo and do a save as to get the file name which might serve as the title of the photo.

One thing I am often confused on is this: do you do a link to the main page on Find A Grave or to the specific memorial page? I think EE stresses the main page since we all know that subpages can often disappear.

GrannyPam said...

I actually sold my hard copy, and bought the e-book a month or so ago. I sure wish I had waited, I would like the new one, but hard to justify.

Family Curator said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's the English teacher in me that loves these citation discussions. You earned an A+.

Erika Stokes said...

This information is so helpful, thank you! I didn't think the citation recommended on the website contained sufficient information, so I went looking for suggestions for alternative formats and found your site. I especially like your enhanced version at the bottom of the post, as the photos on can change, and there may be multiple photos referenced (e.g. a family monument as well as individual stones).

I have two suggestions for possibly making the citation more clear to a wider range of users:

Researchers may wish to consider closing up the spaces in "Find A" to "" as even today, many people still don't understand that you can't have spaces in a domain name. I just ran into this the other day with a client who was upset that when she typed her brand-new two-word (with no spaces) domain into her browser, she got a Google result for other businesses instead of going directly to her website (which wasn't indexed yet, so it would never have come up with that method). She's an older individual, but my teenage kids, who seem to spend their lives online, also use their browser's Google search box to navigate to familiar websites instead of just typing in the address directly--I can't seem to convince them that they are creating additional work (a whole extra click... ;-) ) for themselves!

As a part of, and in addition to, the above, researchers might consider specifying the name of the website--which does have spaces and doesn't have a .com--separately from the URL.

Perhaps like this, which also includes the full link to the page in question (which, admittedly, can change--hopefully the coders for the site are savvy enough to compensate for this if they make changes to their URL structure in the future):

Find A Grave, digital images ( accessed 21 October 2009), photograph by Walter Dunn, gravestone for Mary Nancy McCaskill Massey (1881-1974), Find A Grave Memorial #15616487, Amarillo, Texas.

I hope these suggestions are useful to anyone who wants to include more information in citations. :)

nathanael said...

Not meaning to reopen an old thread, but I felt compelled to add a couple of comments.

After examining Find A Grave citation examples from Elizabeth Shown Mills, footnoteMaven and others, I've become most partial to Mr. MacEntee's models here. While generally following his examples, I do make the following alterations:

First, I alter "photograph by Walter Dunn" to "Walter Dunn, photograph". Since elsewhere we generally cite creator/type of record/item, this seems more consistent.

Second, I omit "Amarillo, Texas". It strikes me as out of place at the end, since it really belongs with Mary's name and vitals, rather than separated from them (that's ESM's "Velcro Principle"). So at the least I would relocate it to after "(1881-1974)". But on further reflection, name, vitals and F-a-G memorial number seem sufficient to locate the record; I'm not sure "Amarillo, Texas" adds anything useful. So rather than fretting over where to put it, why not just omit it?

Finally, I empathize with Erika's desire to include a full URL directly to the record. It adds a level of convenience, and unlike Ancestry, URLs directly to memorials at F-a-G seem pretty stable, so I don't think that's much of an issue.

The purist in me, however, would say hey, wait! -- this is smack in the middle of the bit where we're identifying the site, not the individual record, so it's really out of place here. Whilst the pragmatist in me (who realizes nobody actually likes a citation cop :) says, if it's not creating any confusion, what's the problem?

So here's my model:

Find A Grave, database and digital images ( : accessed 21 October 2009), Walter Dunn, photograph, gravestone for Mary Nancy McCaskill Massey (1881-1974), Find A Grave Memorial #15616487.