Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Digging graves

The following comparison was inspired by Dick Eastman's recent notice that BillionGraves has crossed the 5 million entries mark. A quick check of Find A Grave found that it has more than 116 million entries. How does that play out in actual searches?

I searched for my wife's ancestor Lewis Bassett. Find A Grave returned 38 people of that name. BillionGraves returned 3,102, most of whom were named something else, such as Lucy Bassett. (Users of certain commercial services will have experienced this same "search inflation.") With "exact match" turned on, BillionGraves returned zero for this search.

I searched for my ancestor William Thrall. Find A Grave returned 48 people of that name. BillionGraves returned 206, many of whom were named something else. With "exact match" turned on, BillionGraves returned six men for this search.

Finally, I searched Jane Smith. Find A Grave found 3550 of that name. BillionGraves, whose search engine in general ran much more slowly, produced "error" messages.

So I searched for Jane Smith in Illinois. Find A Grave found 128. BillionGraves found 945, most of whom were Smiths with other given names than Jane. With "exact match" turned on, BillionGraves found two women in Illinois. One them, a Jane Smith who died in Woodside (Sangamon County) in 1825, was not on Find A Grave.

I was playing hooky anyway, so these are the only searches I did.

When I need a global search, I'll use both services, while recognizing that my chances of finding a potentially relevant connection are very much better on the older one. And, once in the right county, I'll check for local resources, both on line and in print.

Photo credit: Furzepig Festival's photostream on,, per Creative Commons.

Harold Henderson, "Digging graves," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 September 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


don said...

sometimes, I do wish there was an "approximate match" feature on find a grave (which could be turned on or off). It's nice to see another burial source, but find a grave is still by far my favorite

Geolover said...

Billiongraves also could use geopolitical location improvements. A search for a name in Licking County, Ohio, produced search results for wrong names all in Reynoldsburg (no County name given) which is in Franklin County.

Another cemetery resource is in the very large body of work of volunteers posted on USGenWeb, both in its Archive tombstone project and in individual County sites. While some indiscreet individuals have lifted these readings to install on without crediting their origins, many still are only available where originally posted.