Person of Interest: Henry McMahon
Relationship: Brother-in-law of my 1st great grand uncle
Source Citation: Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, “Catholic Cemeteries,” database, Catholic Cemeteries: Archdiocese of Newark (http://www.rcancem.org/find-a-loved-one-search/ : accessed 14 January 2012), Henry McMahon (1942).
Document Description: The word “document” is used here very loosely. The search for Henry McMahon on this website (www.rcancem.org) yields two results, one of which is for the Gate of Heaven cemetery. Clicking on that particular entry brings up a nice screen that has his burial date, plot, and a google map showing were he is in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery located at 225 Ridgedale Ave, East Hanover, New Jersey. I screen clipped this and saved it as the document. This source is really a cemetery database. Surprise! Not every grave listing is on FindAGrave or BillionGraves. I happened to find this particular database when I read a blurb in the New Jersey Genealogy Society newsletter about the work that the Archdiocese of Newark was doing in getting these listings online.
Document Scan and Transcription:
A ministry of the Archdiocese of Newark
Henry McMahon was buried on 05/18/1942 at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Sec-38 Blk-B Tr-K Gr-51 1A.
[google.map here, with location pinned, in satellite view]
Analysis: I had a clue on where to look for Henry’s burial place. In my great-grandmother’s family group sheet binder, she made a note about Henry’s death. Henry is a brother to Margaret who married one of my great grand uncles, Lewis Allen Repsher. I wasn’t actively researching his branch of the family but it was nice happenstance when I read the blurb about the database. The Archdiocese of Newark is still adding to it. They have a note stating that it’s updated daily and that work is being done to add new cemeteries.
They also specifically state in this notice that “If you have questions or need additional information concerning individual records, we suggest you contact the cemetery directly to discuss your findings.”
This is a database and as such makes this record a derivative record source. This means the original record has been transformed in some way. In this case, the Archdiocese of Newark has taken the original records, transcribed them, combine them with other catholic cemetery records, indexed them and made them searchable. It looks nothing like the original (whatever form that is, we don’t know) and is subject to errors of transcription or omission. You are relying on the person updating the records to be accurate and diligent during in their entry.
It is primary information in that this comes from the cemetery that buried Henry. Someone was there to witness the hole digging, collect the fee for the burial, erect the gravestone (if there’s one), cover him up, and record where they planted him.
It is direct evidence in that it answers quite explicitly the research question, “When and where was Henry McMahon of New Jersey buried?” It’s indirect in that it somewhat answers the question, “When did Henry McMahon of New Jersey die?” We can answer it with “sometime before the 18th of May in 1942” but that’s all we can say. We need other evidence to combine with this in order to find out a more specific death date.
This “document” is more than sufficient for entering Henry McMahon into my family tree. He’s on a collateral branch and not a research focus for me at this time. However, this is definitely an interim research step. I would need to either contact the Gate of Heaven cemetery directly, as recommended by the Archdiocese of Newark who maintains the database, for their detail or make a trip to (or have someone else) go take a picture of the tombstone. Databases that don’t have original images attached are a stepping stone to finding the original records and digging deeper into your person of interest.
 Anna (Karthaeuser) Repsher, compiler, “Family Record of J. J. Repsher Jr. and Caroline Repsher nee Bonser”; (Handwritten family group sheets, Netcong, New Jersey, 1911-1970), p. 77; privately held by held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, AZ, 2017.