Having Trouble Finding A Name?
There are many reasons why a person you are searching for cannot be found in the bignames.txt index. The following is a list of reasons ordered from most likely to least likely.
- The individual's grave was originally marked with a wooden cross or some other temporary marker. A hundred years ago only the well-to-do could afford a headstone. Old cemeteries in Newfoundland have a high percentage of unmarked graves.
- The cemetery was located in a remote location which was skipped due to the time required to get to it. It might be on one of the outlying islands or in a coastal area only accessible by boat.
- The town is believed to have been completed, but one or more unknown cemeteries
were missed by the photographers.
- The cemetery was photographed, but the stone was missed by the photographers due to one or more of the following reasons: inability to see the stone due to dense foliage, the photographer was interrupted, the stone had fallen over and was partially or completely covered, the rows in the cemetery were convoluted and disorganized, the stone had fallen on its face and was too massive to roll over.
- The stone was located and photographed, but cannot be found in the index for a variety of reasons which are detailed below.
- Pertinent information appeared only on the back of the stone and was not noticed when the face of the stone was photographed. Unfortunately it was not uncommon to find stones with the surname only carved on the back. Occasionally additional names were added to the back of a stone when available space was depleted on the face.
- The transcriber failed to read and interpret the text of the stone correctly. The main cause of this problem is that there are two very common and very opposite ways that spouses are identified on most of the older stones:
"In memory of Martha beloved wife of Charles Hillier who died April 6, 1864"
"Erected by Charles Hillier in memory of his beloved wife Martha who died April 6, 1864"In the first example the deceased's name is given first, and in the second example her name is given second. The transcription team was constantly reminded of this problem, but certainly many errors were caused from this.
- The person's name on the stone is different than you expect it to be. Examples are: different spellings of the surname, use of a nickname versus given name, a first initial or given name unknown to you precedes the name you know them by, or it was misspelled on the stone or in the database.
- The individual was "lost at sea" and the body was never recovered for burial. It is very common to find these people in the database anyway because families often added their names as a memorial.
- Due to ambiguous wording on the stone, it was unclear what the correct surname was. This was frequently a problem when a stone included multiple surnames, married names, names of grandchildren, mothers-in-law, and unrelated friends.
- The transcriber treated the middle name as the surname. There were a number of reasons this could happen. It is very common to find stones for small children and babies that say something like,
"In memory of John Abbott, born 21 June 1892, died 7 March 1903" This is followed by much smaller text at the bottom that looks like faded poetry and says something like,
"Precious child of James and Ann Feeham" A few blades of grass sticking up at the bottom of the stone could easily disguise this key phrase.
"Erected by John Sullivan in memory of his sister Jane Allen who died March 25, 1875, aged 70 years"
Due to her age, it is assumed that Allen is her married surname rather than her middle name, and that Sullivan is her maiden name. This may be incorrect, but the stone is indexed as:
ALLEN, Jane Sullivan (1875)
Had Jane been 10 years old rather than 70, it would be assumed that she was not married, and that her middle name was Allen and her surname was Sullivan. In this case her name would appear in the index as:
SULLIVAN, Jane Allen (1875)
- Due to damage or deterioration of the stone, all or part of the name was unreadable. If the transcribers were not fairly certain of the name, it was listed as "UNKNOWN" for surnames and "Unknown" for given names. An interested researcher is more likely to find these stones if they are indexed as unknowns rather than under an incorrectly guessed name. A large percentage of the unknown photos contain sufficient enough information that they will be easily identified by a researcher looking for them.
- The photographer took a bad photo that was too blurry to read.
- You are looking for the grave in the wrong town. This could be because the individual died somewhere away from home, for example at the hospital in St. John's. There are many graves in St. John's for people who did not live there. Also the individual might have moved to another community to live with one of their children following the death of their spouse, or may have moved as a result of one of Newfoundland's resettlement programs.
- You are looking for the grave in the wrong country. When the cod fishing industry began to collapse in the early 1900's many young people immigrated to New York, Boston, Detroit, and other large cities in the northeastern United States seeking employment, often leaving their parents in Newfoundland. After one of the parents died, the other would often go to the United States to be with their children and grandchildren, and would eventually die and be buried there.
- The individual was adopted and the correct surname was not clear.
- The individual is identified only as "& others". If too many individuals were listed on the face of the same stone, some names were omitted to meet requirements for computer file name length. Stones falling into this category were typically indexed by the most senior couple.
- The individual is buried in the cemetery of one type of church, and you are sure it should be a different one. There are many reasons this could happen; use your imagination.
- Enough attention has not been given to various spellings of the same surname. During the course of this project, several stones were found with surnames spelled differently on the same stone. Use the dig.exe application to generate a namelist for the entire town of interest, and examine every surname. You might be very surprised what you find! If the town of interest is large, you can shorten the list by instructing dig.exe to output only a single example of each surname located. See the web page on using dig.exe for details.
- The surname was obstructed by flowers placed on top of the stone or on the ground in front of the stone, and the problem was not noticed by the photographer.
- You thought you located the correct record, but the year of death is not what you expected. Since the highest percentage of stones were for the 1900's, it was easy for transcribers to inadvertently type 19xx rather than 18xx. Certainly many numbers were transposed and misread as well. There was frequent confusion between 3 & 5, between 3 & 8, between 1 & 4, between 2 & 7, and among 6, 8, 9, 0. If there is an "x" in the date or an "unknown" name in the record, consider this an indication that the stone is worn or damaged, and the likelihood of it having been misread is higher.
- A spouse was mentioned in the fine print squeezed in at the bottom of a stone and the transcriber overlooked it.
- The individual is a woman indexed by the surname of her husband. If maiden surnames could be determined from the wording on the stone, it was usually added onto the end of their given and middle names to aid in locating the record.
- The individual is a woman who remarried after her first husband died, and is indexed under the new surname.
- The individual was a woman married to a man whose surname is not known to you. Try searching for their maiden name using dig.exe, and if their maiden name was added to the records, you should be able to find it.
- The stone had been temporarily removed from the cemetery for repair, correction, or replacement by the monument company.
- You have been looking only in St. John's not realizing that Mt. Pearl is the large city next door with the "new" Catholic cemetery. Buried there are many thousands of the descendants of people who are buried in the two older Catholic cemeteries in St. John's.