word count: 1304
approx reading time: 7 mins
a few weeks ago my friend ryan posted an OSINT challenge with geolocation and genealogy components. since this is the first gravesearching or genealogy challenge i've solved, i thought it might be interesting to share the steps i took in order to solve it
this is the image:
and this was the prompt it came with:
1) give the coordinates of this image within an accuracy of 3 meters
2) the individual on the gravestone's maternal grandfather's sixth child was baptized in a New York church. one other person was baptized at the church that day. what is that person's first name?
feel free to give this a try before you continue reading! the prompt seems very scary at first, but it's more doable than you'd expect
as always, we start by looking at the image in detail, trying to pick out the important bits. this is a skill that develops with practice. over time you develop a sense for what kinds of features are distinctive and useful when geolocating
the first thing we notice is that the name on this gravestone has been redacted out, so we won't be able to search for their name directly. the text is in english, which in combination with the vegetation that surrounds the gravestone, narrows down the location possibilities. we can also notice a big white mark at the top of the stone, made by what seems to be some sort of lichen. the stone is standing a few meters left of a white building
we also have the exact dates for both birth and death for the person we are looking for, 24/11/1681 - 18/3/1772. with this, we can jump into the research stage!
since i've never done any grave searching before, i started by looking around for what the best tools are. i landed on the quite aptly named FindAGrave dot com, which claims to be the "World’s largest gravesite collection."
since i know my friend ryan is from the US, i decided to narrow down the search to that at first. i have no way of knowing if this gravestone is in the US, but it's usually better to start with the most narrow search possible, and then loosen the search constraints. this way, we can ensure we are looking at the more likely options first, instead of manually sifting through all results that could apply. if we cannot find this gravestone in the US, we will change and search in other countries, such as the UK, ireland, or canada, which seem like the best candidates. if none of those end up being successful, we will widen our search to the whole world
the second result matches in both birth and death date, and if we open the full page, we can look at the images and see that it matches the one we are looking for
from this we can see that the grave is located in the Tappan Cemetery, in Tappan, New York
hopping on street view, we can see the white house and all the gravestones:
we can see a pair of gravestones right next to the white house:
and the left one looks the one we are looking for, with its big white lichen splotch at the top. from this view, we can see that the stones are a bit behind the top of the roof, and therefore the image was taken just about under the top of the roof
and so the coordinates we were looking for are
this second step is much scarier. having more steps means there's a higher chance we'll take a wrong turn somewhere along the way and end up at the wrong solution
first, we need to find Abraham Jans Haring's maternal grandfather. thankfully for us, FindAGrave lists Abraham's direct family, so we can see that his mother is Margaret Gerritszen Cozyns. we are not so lucky when clicking on her FindAGrave page, since it does not tell us who her father is
after a quick google search for her name, we land on this geni.com page. we can confirm that this is indeed the same Margaret, since her birth and death date match, and she has Abraham Jans Haring listed as a son. from this page, we can find her father, Cosyn Gerritsen van Putten
going into his page, we can see 6 children listed (there are actually 7 listed children, but the seventh seems to be a mistake, since they were born a century later). the sixth child by order of birth (which is not the same as the one listed) is Elsje Gerritsen Cozyns
once again, we get very lucky since geni.com shows her baptism record. it reads "1652 May 19; Cozyn Gerritszen, Vroutie Cozyns; Elsje; Nicolaes Verleth, Hendrick Janszen, Lyntie Jochems, Belitje Cornelis". it's in a weird format, there's a bunch of names listed. are these the names of all the people who were baptized that day? no, that doesn't make sense, Elsje's name shows up without a surname, and the first name seems to be her father's
there's a link on the sidebar of the geni.com page that reads "Related Projects: New Amsterdam - Baptisms - 1639-1674".
it seems to list all the baptisms in the Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam between 1639 and 1674.
it also tells us that the format for the entries is
date; parents' name; baptized child's first name; witnesses,
so the record we found is only Elsje's, and we need to see if there are any others with the same date
we can scroll down the list until we get to May 1652, and:
umm. that's weird. there's no one else listed. either the list is incomplete, and we need to look for a more complete one; or perhaps Elsje is not Abraham's maternal grandfather's sixth child
if we do a bit more research, we find that this is indeed the complete list (or as complete as it exists), which means we probably have the wrong person. let's check the steps that lead us to Elsje, starting with the ones we're less confident about. my first instinct was to check that the "Children" list on Cosyn's page is correct, and not missing anyone. this is the step that seems most suspect to me, since it listed a person who was born a century later, so we know it has some inconsistencies already
by searching for Cosyn's full name on google, we can find a couple other pages that list his family tree. some of them also have incomplete information, but among them we can find this FamilySearch page, which lists 8 children:
it turns out Elsje was actually the 8th child, and the one we should have been looking for is Geertje. FamilySearch is not a nice website and asks us to log in when we click on Geertje to see her full profile. we can find Geertje's geni.com page by clicking on the link in the "Children" list in Cosyn's geni.com page. it lists her baptism as happening on the 4th of July, 1649
we can look for this date on the New Amsterdam baptisms record page, and we can see there is another record!
the first name of this other person is
and with that, we are done! it wasn't the smoothest of rides, but we got there in the end. i feel like the biggest take-aways i had from working on this challenge are:
1) god bless open source data
2) always double check using different sources
these are things i theoretically knew, but it's good to have it cemented through a challenge
PS: thanks ryan for posting the challenge and for helping edit the post, and thanks scarlet for helping out during the solving of this challenge c: