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Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Finding Civil War Veterans’ Graves

Posted By on March 1, 2011

One resources which is especially helpful in locating graves of Civil War soldiers is the web site “Find A Grave.” The site was created in 1995 by Jim Tipton, who states, “I created the Find A Grave website because I could not find an existing site that catered to my hobby of visiting the graves of famous people.”  What began small, has now grown into a site where more than 57 million graves are registered, where written and pictorial memorials are posted, and genealogical and historical information is made readily available.

To begin using the site to locate a grave of a Civil War soldier, it is helpful to know something about the Civil War soldier you are trying to find.  If you know the soldier’s name, the best place to start is the name search page, which is located by clicking on the “Search 57 million grave records” at the top of the right hand column on the home page.  The following screen appears:

The “Last Name” is required on the form, and it is helpful if an initial or first name can be included, as well as a state.  When the state is entered, a pull-down list of counties can also be used.  Start by conducting a broad search, and if you get too many results, add more information to the search boxes and try again.  One warning though:  the last name must be spelled the same as the name appears in the Find A Grave data base.  You can try again, with various spellings if you are unsure of the spelling or if the person you are looking for used various spellings of his or her name.  The result of the search could be a single record, a list of records, or a screen which states “Sorry, there are no records in the Find A Grave database matching your query” and refers you to Ancestry.com.

If you get a single result or a list of results, you then must click on the result you want to see.  For example, if you want to find the grave of Cyrene Bowman and you have no ideas where is his buried, you enter “Cyrene” in the “First” field and “Bowman” in the “Last” field.  The following result is obtained.

There is only one “Cyrene Bowman” in the Find A Grave database.  He is buried in Gratz, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.  His birthdate is 16 January1843 and his death date is 30 March 1919.  He is buried in “Simeon United Lutheran Ch…”  The small stone with “RIP” to the right of his name indicates there is a grave marker picture in the record.  If a small, framed portrait appears to the right of the name, then the individual’s picture could be there, or there could be a second picture of the grave or a picture of the cemetery (no framed picture for Cyrene Bowman, so probably there is only a picture of the grave marker).  Next, click on his name on the search results page.

The data page for Cyrene Bowman appears with the names of his parents, the location of his birth and death, the name of his wife (including maiden name), and the full name of the cemetery as it appears in the records.  The grave marker picture is also shown.  If you are sure that this is the Cyrene Bowman you are seeking, you have found his grave and have found a picture of his grave marker!  The picture can be saved to to a disk by right-clicking on it and choosing “Save image as….”  You can also copy and paste the text into a word processing program.  [Note:  More information will be provided in a future post regarding copyright restrictions on the use of pictures downloaded from the Find A Grave site].

We can try searching for another soldier, John Saltzer.  This time, we get 8 results:

Knowing that the person we are looking for was a Civil War soldier (the birth and death dates are our clues), we can eliminate all but the first and sixth records.  We then try the first John Saltzer:

Then we try the sixth John Saltzer on the results list:

Note: A screen capture of the entire results page of the record for John C. Seltzer was only possible by shrinking the results to fit on a single screen. To see the actual results page, click on the text directly below this picture.

Click here to see the actual record for John C. Saltzer in Find A Grave.

The first John Saltzer was probably a Civil War soldier – he has a military grave marker, he is buried in a military cemetery, and he died during the Civil War.  The military grave marker indicates he was from Pennsylvania.

The other John Saltzer served in the 210th Pennsylvania Infantry and there is a great deal of information about him in the Find A Grave record.  (Note:  By clicking on the picture above, the information can more easily be read).  Since we already knew that John Saltzer served in the 210th Pennsylvania Infantry, survived the war, and had a wife named “Hannah,” we have found the grave of the John Seltzer we are seeking.  Both records are shown because many times, especially with more common names, a choice has to be made as to whether one or more of the results is for the soldier being sought.

The final example will be for a soldier who wasn’t found in the Find a Grave database.  From a previous post, it was indicated that the grave of John  W. Knouff had not been located.  A Find a Grave search produced the records for two persons named John Knouff who could have been Civil War veterans.  However, neither turned out to be the John Knouff we were seeking.

In the examples given above, Cyrene Bowman’s Find a Grave record fails to mention that he was a Civil War veteran but we know from other sources that the Cyrene Bowman buried in the Gratz cemetery served in the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company A, as a Private.

Cyrene T. Bowman (1843-1919)

The Gratz Historical Society has more extensive information on Cyrene T. Bowman in its Civil War files.  The information includes seven pages from his pension files, two pictures, other photos of his grave marker, information about his Civil war record, and stories about him and his family that were published in A Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz Pennsylvania. In order for more information to be added to the Find A Grave data base, the provider of the information must contact the person who created the memorial – in this case, Russ Ottens, whose e-mail can be obtained by clicking on his name on the actual web page record for Cyrene T. Bowman.  Ottens has been previously mentioned on this blog as one of the authors of the book Captain Enders Legion which is available at the Enders Family Association website.

But, John C. Saltzer‘s information in the Find A Grave record is more complete.  In the Civil War Research Project, additional pictures are available of John C. Saltzer‘s grave marker as well as about ten pages from his pension files, information about his Civil War record, census information, etc., as well as his inclusion in the Civil War Research Project.

Some Find A Grave results contain extensive biographies, reprints of obituaries, and pictures of the veteran.  It all depends on how much information is known or the provider wants to give.

Find A Grave is a site maintained by volunteers and supported by donations, advertising, and paid memorials (paying removes the advertisements from the “memorial” and allows more pictures to be posted).  Most of the posts do not have grave marker photos although more are being added each day.

One negative about the Find A Grave site is that it  seems as if the site managers are running a contest to see who can post the most “memorials”.  There is a page where the top 50 contributors are named – some posting upwards of 100,000 records.  Some of the volunteers stake out “claims” to “manage” memorials and provide elaborate explanations as to why they will not surrender them or to whom they will surrender them.  In the rush to increase the number of “memorials” they claim to manage, they sometimes provide only scant information about the individual, or worse, incorrect information.  Some “claim” entire cemeteries as their personal territory.  But by far, the worst comes out in their interpretation of the copyright laws.  Grave marker pictures are “branded” with their e-mail address, or the word “copyright” or some other irreverent expression.  Their “profiles” contain warnings about “lifting” their pictures and they bemoan about the amount of time they have expended in taking pictures – and the expense in doing so.  They hint at wanting to charge for copies of their pictures and some appear to have dreams of making a fortune by using the site to exhibit their wares.  This type of disrespect for the “memorial” aspect of the site should be better controlled by the site managers and a clearer statement that the “memorials” themselves should not be used as advertisements for photo sales businesses and threats and whinings should not be placed in the biographies of the volunteers.

All in all, most of the contributors to Find A Grave are generous, helpful people who see the site as both a service to others and a worthy pastime for themselves.  They show great respect for the persons represented by the grave records they have volunteered to manage.  These contributors are eager to learn more about the persons whose grave location information they posted.  Many offer to voluntarily take pictures and provide them on the Find a Grave site.  Many have statements in their profiles that include permission to re-post the pictures they have taken (with proper credit being given).  And, many will willingly surrender their management of the “memorials” to family members or anyone with more information on the individuals for whom the grave site recognizes.  The site creator and managers are to be commended for the amount of information that is provided and for the help the site has given to countless numbers of people in locating their ancestors’ graves as well as providing pictures and other information about them.

Tomorrow’s post will show how Find A Grave can be used to locate cemeteries in the geographic area of study for this Civil War Research Project.  The final post about Find A Grave will discuss interpretations of the copyright laws and present information on “Fair Use” of material that is presented specifically on Find A Grave, and more generally on the web.

Selected screen-print images of information found on Find A Grave are provided for the purpose of critical review and not-for-profit educational use as examples of how to use the Find A Grave site.


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