Always Go to the Graveyard

Find a Grave is a site that might help direct you in the right direction but it should not be used as a source or the only information. Using what you learn from Find a Grave, more research should be done to prove or disprove they are family. This includes looking at the grave yard records and visiting the grave site in person. If it is not possible to go yourself, ask someone to go and take photos. You may learn more.

In many of my BYU-Idaho Family History research courses, we were assigned to research six different families in a semester. For one assignment we were to pick someone from our area. I picked a man who was a member of the Northwest Mounted Police, Thomas Ellis. We were given just over two weeks to do the research and write the report, giving us 18-24 hours. My objectives were his family group sheet as a child and his family group as a parent. After doing some other research it was time for researching his death records. I knew the cemetery he was buried in and from my research I had learned that he died between 1906 and 1910.

I went to Find a Grave to see what the site had. Thomas’ page had the photo on the right, his approximate birth year, birth location listed as England, a death date and location, plot location, and a copy of his obituary from the newspaper. The names listed on this stone are Thomas Ellis, Henry Pennington, and Eleanor Pennington. Henry and Eleanor were his in-laws. But his wife is not listed. I knew she married after his death so I thought she might have been buried with him. Interesting that the first person buried on this site is a Pennington but the stone says Ellis. This was most likely added later.

To learn more and get official documentation on his death, I phoned the cemetery office for the official burial records. After introducing myself and explaining why I was researching, I asked about Thomas Ellis. The office was very helpful. She found his record and told me: he died on 15 Jul 1909 at 44 years old, he had a traditional burial, his burial is indicated as “Order 2” and where this stone is located in the graveyard. I had to ask what “Order 2” meant. It means that he was buried on top of Henry Pennington. Eleanor Pennington. Henry’s wife is buried beside them, as well as Thomas’ wife Edith McCreight.

The documentation from the city did have two little mistakes. The document said he was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. He was Northwest Mounted Police. Yes, NWMP became RCMP but stating he was RCMP would indicate he was an officer during different years and could throw off research. Second, the documentation stated that Henry Pennington died at 61 years old on 28 Jul 1993.  Thomas died in 1909 before Henry. Also, his wife Eleanor died at 89 years of in 1930 and therefore, it is most likely that he died in 1893 not 1993. The gravestone also has 1893 on it. There was a note on the document that this is most likely incorrect.  This reminds us that two sources are so important because little mistakes happen. 

As well as researching what a typical burial meant, I also found out what the ihs on the top of the stone from a Cemetery Symbolism blog site.

Find a Grave did not know Thomas’ age and there was also a couple bits of information that is not given that are not essential but interesting, such as traditional burial and the order. The office said Edith is buried here as well but where is her name? I searched Find a Grave for her as Edith McCreight. There is a record but no photo, only the birth year, only the death year, approximate age and location. Nothing else. Edith Ellis is not found at all.

I now have a confession. I mentioned I had two weeks to do this research. This was in February. It was -40°C below and there was lots of snow. I did not go to the cemetery. Always go to the cemetery. I had enough information given to me to complete my research and report on Thomas Ellis but when I went to the plot in person I learnt more.

Here is what else I found when I went in person.

First.
I found Edith’s name on the gravestone. It is on the right side, shown in the photo on the right. Her name appears plus “Daughter of Henry & Eleanor Pennington 1869 – 1933.” No mention of first or second husband although it is an Ellis gravestone.


Second.
Walking around the Ellis stone I noticed that there were 6 cement pillars around this and a couple others gravestone. The pillars had a round indent which could be used for adding ropes or chains to mark their family plot area. They are short grey pillars shown in the two photos with red arrows pointing to them.




Inside the six pillars, were two other gravestone not mention by the city office or Find A Grave. The stone shown in the photo on the right is located on the left side of the Ellis stone. One of the pillars marking the Ellis area is on the left.  Thomas Threlfall has the same surname as Eleanor’s maiden name. 

Learning more about Thomas Threlfall gave me more information about Eleanor Pennington. This is Eleanor's brother. In a census record I saw a surname I could not figure out. Seeing this stone would have told me the answer faster than it took me to figured it out. Thomas' obit mentions that Edith had a brother W. Pennington living near by. Thomas came from Ulverston, Lancashire, England 33 years before his death. He never had children and lived with Edith his last nine years. All of this would help in researching Edith’s maternal line.

 

The second extra gravestone was this little grave. I have no idea who this is. There does not look like there was ever anything on this marker.

These extra gravestones located within the blocked off area were not mentioned when I called the office the first time and I didn’t know to ask because I had not visited. I should have applied the FANS concept when I called. I phoned the office again. I asked about the other stones. They could see the Threlfall stone but there is no record of this little stone. 


His obituary states he had a Masonic Funeral and yet I don’t see a typical masonic symbol on the stone. Most likely because the Penningtons were not masons. Don’t assume that if there is not mason symbol they were not masons. Two or more sources.

Did I get a good grade on my assignment? Yes, because Thomas was my main research person and I found sources for all my objectives, but if this was my family or if I was asked to research more in depth of his wife Edith’s family, visiting the cemetery in person would be essential. Yes, I will add the photo to Edith’s Find A Grave record as well as her information of her two husbands, with sources.

This article sounds very picky and critical but for a reason. It is to emphasize the importance of at least two sources and always go to the graveyard.

2 comments:

  1. Ms. Kruger - wonderful blog. I myself have missed family information because I did not look on the sides of a gravestone.
    At one point, you wrote, "Inside the six pillars, were two other gravestone not mention by the city office or Find My Past." Did you mean Find My Past or did you mean Find A Grave, Websites should not have names that are so close to each other, right?

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