Question: is a cemetery gravestone a primary source?
Queston: are cemeteries required to meet government standards for accuracy?
Question: how reliable is the information on a gravestone for an person who died mid 1700?
@Richard D Thorpe
In my experience, tombstones & monumental inscriptions are no more reliable than any other source of information.
I have personal knowledge of 3 close ancestors with incorrect birth or death dates, and one with the wrong given name (I was told that her husband said the person who carved the name must have been intoxicated)
Most tombstones are erected weeks, months, or even years after burial, or may be a replacement for an earlier marker.
Any source is subject to error—I was the informant for my mother’s death certificate, a close family friend was the official who prepared the information for filing, & we both signed the paperwork. Neither of us noticed the month was incorrect, it was only caught when her insurance refused to pay for hospital bills incurred “after she died.” Without that feedback I’m reasonably sure her official death date would still be incorrect.
Whether a gravestone is (or is not) a primary source depends on what you want to use a gravestone as a source for...
For example, here are a few suggestions:
(1) A gravestone would be considered a Primary source for Burial Location,
(2) for death (date) information, I find, generally, that a gravestone is not considered Primary. The argument is made that the gravestone may be added sometime following the individual's death, and possibly based on someone's memory. For deaths in the 1700's and earlier, a gravestone may be the only source that you have.
(3) for death location, gravestones are not a primary source, and generally would not be an adequate source, at all, for location of the death.
(4) although we often see birth data on a gravestone, that would not be considered to be a Primary source.
So, in summary, burial location is generally the only information that the gravestone would be accepted as a primary source, without debate. Also, I would have to actually view the gravestone - either in-person or as an image that is clearly viewable.
You can alway find additional information via the internet, etc.
Please understand that I've provided this information based on my experience and study; however, I am not an expert on this. Sources you might refer include authors such as Elizabeth Mills and others. Hope it helps.
I would argue that the headstone isn't necessarily even a primary source for burial location, because there is often no discernible difference between a cenotaph and a gravestone.
My mother had my great-great-grandmother's headstone re-engraved. I have discovered since then that the date that was (and is) on the stone is wrong. It's going to stay that way for the foreseeable future, because having it corrected would be too much trouble and way too expensive.
And no, there is no government oversight of gravestones. Most governments will only interfere with a cemetery if people are falling into holes or stones are falling onto people.