Find A Grave is an online database of graves with user-submitted obituaries and sometimes photographs of headstones and even the person who is buried there.
“It’s almost like Christmas when someone calls and says they appreciate what you’ve done,” Mackey said. “It only takes a couple of minutes to post a picture.”
Although posting photos only takes a few minutes, finding them is difficult. Mackey said for every 100 old photographs he finds there might only be one with traceable names and lineages.
Mackey recently came across some photos of Silas Watts Lucas, born Dec. 26, 1852, and died Jan. 13, 1935, and buried in Oakville Cemetery. He said within an hour of posting the photo he received an e-mail back from a descendent in Alabama who said Lucas was his great-great-great-grandfather, and he had never even seen the photos before.
“If you find the family, it would mean to world to the family,” Mackey said.
Participation in the website is essentially like a scavenger hunt. Many cemeteries have maps of registered graves, but not all graves are registered. In Oakville Cemetery’s case, Mackey said he’s not sure if there is an official map.
Mackey said the website claims there are more than 300 registered graves at the Oakville Cemetery, but he’s not sure how many have gravestones. About 30 percent of Oakville’s registered graves don’t have photos, and some of the ones Mackey took photos of recently aren’t even registered.
He said he and his family have been working on archiving Oakville Cemetery for the website for the last week or so. He also said one of the goals behind participating in Find A Grave is to get people to write the names of the people in their photos on the back.
“We always think one day we will get around to it, but one day rarely happens,” Mackey said.
Mackey was able to find his great-grandfather, William Brennecke, through the website and sees his three years of participation as a way of returning the favor. Since then he has added 11 new memorials, managed 14, added 34 photos, filled six photo requests and collected six grave sites into different groups or “cemeteries.”
“I would never have been able to find a picture of my great-grandfather had someone not posted it to the website,” Mackey said.
In Mackey’s case, adoption made tracing his roots a bit tricky. In other cases, name translations present a bump in the road for researchers such as the name “Charles” being “Carl” in German.
Another challenge Mackey and other Find A Grave participants encounter involves deterioration of gravestones over time due to things like erosion or even to vandalism.
“Very sadly, someone has gone in and destroyed headstones in Oakville Cemetery,” Mackey said. “This at least preserves the data and what is there.”
There are more than 103 million graves registered to the website so far, and all it takes to add more is a camera, notebook and a bit of luck when looking for old photos to help people from around the world trace back their roots.
“It does take a bit of detective work,” Mackey said.