Find-A-Grave Memorial; Hypothesis is mistaken for facts

Please think twice before accepting a shaking leaf as fact.

Update – The very nice person behind the Find-A-Grave account made the changes. I received the email notification Saturday morning. Later that day I was hanging out at one of my favorite libraries, having a great discussion with a fellow history fan. When she gave her name, I realized that she was the face behind the account. What a coincidence! She offered to turn the memorials over to me, but I left them with her since she was tending them so well.

While researching my Fennimore family, I noticed some Ancestry family trees had accepted a Find-a-Grave hint for Mary Day Fennimore.  The hint indicated that Mary died in June of 1903 in Springfield, Burlington County, New Jersey and, she was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Basking Ridge, Somerset County, New Jersey.[i]  This hint caught my attention because I had searched for Mary’s death certificate, and I walked Evergreen Cemetery many times, looking for a headstone; I have found neither.  I have been researching this couple for over twenty years, and if there is a way to connect the Fennimores of Morris, and Somerset Counties to those in the Southern part of the state, I would be ecstatic.  I decided to take a look at the memorial:

Figure 1

Some of the information is accurate, and I recognize some of my memorials identified as children.  I didn’t create a memorial for their parents because I didn’t “Find a Grave.”  This memorial was added in August 2019, with the comments “It has been assumed that she was buried with her husband William Fennimore, but not yet confirmed.” Thinking someone found my William ‘s headstone, I excitedly clicked on his memorial[ii]

Figure 2

His memorial isn’t based upon a physical grave being located either.  Rather it is an assumption that he was buried at Evergreen because some of his family is buried there. Much of the other information matched his death certificate. I’m glad that the memorial owner indicated that these were assumptions; it helped me analyze this source.  Honestly, I had considered this assumption as well, but his death certificate stated that he was buried in Basking Ridge.  Yes, some of his children are buried at Evergreen, but some are also buried at another Basking Ridge cemetery, Millington Baptist Church. Mary and William were married at Millington Baptist, so there is a strong argument for both locations. There is Fennimore family in all four Basking Ridge cemeteries. I have physically searched all but the Roman Catholic cemetery.  I came up empty-handed for William and Mary, so I decided not to make an online memorial.

I looked up the memorial owner, and the individual manages over 27k memorials, a red flag for any genealogist. Thoroughly researching these memorials would be difficult. This person seems different and does do some research, and is open to turning over memorials to the family. I didn’t necessarily want the memorial, but I don’t want incorrect information replicated either.  My guess is that they had a death certificate for a Mary Fennimore and had wrongly attributed it to my Mary.  But without seeing the source document, it’s not very easy to say for sure.

I suggested an edit of Mary’s death and sent a message to the memorial owner asking for the source of her death information.  My suggestion was declined, and I was asked to prove why I thought the memorial is incorrect.  So, in other words, I have been asked to show something is wrong (not knowing what that something is), well here I go…

Figure 3

Conflicts presented

Why do I think Mary Day Fennimore did not die in Springfield, Burlington county?
First, let’s talk about common sense.  What is the likelihood of a women passing in Springfield, Burlington County, when her husband and children were living in the vicinity of Basking Ridge, Somerset County.  Today it’s an hour drive by automobile.  In 1903 travel would be even longer. Is there an explanation as to why Mary would be in that part of the state? Her family originated in Essex County, and later moved to Somerset County, New Jersey. I will acknowledge that stranger things have happened, so let’s review my analysis.

Here’s Something about my Mary

Mary was the daughter of Izrael [Israel] Day and Ann Elizh [Gracia Ann Elizabeth Blazier] Day. She married William Fennimore on 16 December 1859, in Bernards, Somerset County, New Jersey.  She was a resident of Bernards, and her age was listed as twenty putting her birth year at about 1839, well before the collection of vital statics. Mary would go on to give birth to at least thirteen children, many of whose brief existence can only be found in undertaker records.[iii]  Nine children survived until adulthood. I have not located any records that would tie Mary, her husband, her children, or her parents to Burlington county.  The family seems to have resided in the vicinity where Somerset, Morris, and Union counties meet in the Northern parts of New Jersey. Please note Basking Ridge, is an area located within Bernards Township.

A gap in death records

While researching Mary’s parents, I stumbled across original undertaker records, which indicated that Israel Day, Mary’s father, was buried on 5 March 1884.  With this date, I went to the New Jersey State Archives and searched for Israel’s death record.  There were no records for the area of Bernards, Somerset County, New Jersey.  I extended my manual search to neighboring Morris County, but nothing was found. I spoke with one of the Archive Rock stars, and we reviewed the Somerset County records. She indicated that Bernards has a record gap, and either they were never deposited with the state, or perhaps never recorded by the town.  Unfortunately, this period seems to extend to the date of when Mary Day Fennimore passed as well. In all likelihood, the death record no longer exists. Not locating a record, and finding that the records for that time and place do not exist today should not be mistaken for negative results.

Death date range

Mary Day Fennimore’s last documented appearance on the census was in 1885, where she is listed under William, and above her children.  The New Jersey census in 1885 did not provide relationships.[iv] In 1900, William Fennimore, her husband, was listed as being married for the duration of forty years. However, Mary was not registered with William or any of her children.  In 1905, William was enumerated again alone, this time indicating that he was widowed. She died before the 1905 census, and likely after 1 June 1900. So where was Mary in 1900?

1900 Census

A search of the 1900 census for women named Mary Fennimore returned results for two women named Mary Fenimore, born in New Jersey around 1840.

  • Mary Fenimore of Burlington county, wife of Henry, the was couple married forty years.[v]
  • Mary Fenimore of Burlington county, Single living with her sister[vi]

The women enumerated were the same age as Mary Day Fennimore but lived in Burlington County, where the Fenimore name is quite common.  One Mary was married to a man named Henry for a duration of forty years. The second Mary was single living with her sister, also single. Both women of the household with the surname of Fenimore. I would argue that Mary Day Fennimore was missed in the 1900 census. William Fennimore’s entry indicated that he was married (m) and had an accurate number of years married. It wasn’t a simple substitution of M (married) for a W (widowed) because the duration of the marriage was listed. She may have simply been overlooked.

Three women the same age in the same state, two of whom live in proximity to a death event that happened three years later.  I’d argue that it is more likely that the death in Springfield, Burlington County, is attributed to one of the women located in the Burlington County 1900 census.  If there is a death certificate in your possession that would prove otherwise, I’d love to see it. Again, stranger things have happened.

I believe there is enough of a conflict to the Find-A-Grave death entry to merit the removal. A known gap in death records for Basking Ridge (Bernards), Somerset county. Two other women of the same age named Mary Fenimore in the same county of the 1903 death event.  No evidence that any of Mary Day Fennimore’s family was living in Burlington county. It makes no sense for a married older woman to travel to that vicinity.  If I knew the source of the death entry, then I could evaluate further.  The Find-A-Grave memorial has been accepted as fact on several Ancestry family trees; if it’s factual, then please share the source.  If you don’t have a source, let’s work on proving or disproving your entry. I believe we probably live near one another. I’d be glad to meet for coffee to discuss..


[i] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 February 2020), memorial page for Mary Elizabeth Day Fennimore (1840–Jun 1903), Find A Grave Memorial no. 201997099, citing Evergreen Cemetery, Basking Ridge, Somerset County, New Jersey, USA ; Maintained by RS Witwer (contributor 48434609) .

[ii] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 February 2020), memorial page for William Fennimore (1836–4 Nov 1912), Find A Grave Memorial no. 201997045, citing Evergreen Cemetery, Basking Ridge, Somerset County, New Jersey, USA ; Maintained by RS Witwer (contributor 48434609) .

[iii] Robert C Bishop Undertaker Records 1879-1906, Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

[iv] “New Jersey State Census, 1885,” William Fennimore, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 10 February 2020), Somerset; Department of State, Trenton.

[v] “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DZR3-78N?cc=1325221&wc=9BQK-K6N%3A1030550301%2C1033658901%2C1033734901 : 17 February 2020), New Jersey, > Burlington > ED 35 Southampton Township > image 2 of 39; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

[vi] “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6XCQ-FNB?cc=1325221&wc=9BWH-PYX%3A1030550301%2C1033658901%2C1033683801 : 17 February 2020), New Jersey > Burlington > ED 12 Burlington Township > image 8 of 22; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

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