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Guidelines for Posting Good Genealogy Queries


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How can you find an answer if you don’t know how to phrase the question? Isn’t it amazing that even today with all the worlds information increasingly online and at our literal fingertips…. that sometimes we have a hard time putting into words exactly what we’re looking for? But it’s true, searching for information is an art as is asking questions. I thought I’d spend some time talking about some good practices that can help get good answers when posting queries in forums.

I don’t know how many times I’ve visited a genealogy forum and seen a post along the following lines:

subject:Joe Green
Anyone else researching Joe Green born in the 1800s?

Amazingly enough these messages many times get no responses. Now admittedly by choosing the best place to post your query you’ve narrowed things down well. So, starting by finding a good relevant forum to post to is great. If you think Joe Green was born in Buncombe County, NC then a forum related to Buncombe County, NC queries would be an excellent spot to post. But let’s look at the query again… the subject probably could be phrased a bit better with a birthyear (or estimate.)

Yes, the content said 1800’s, but that’s fairly vague, we need to try and find out a bit more. Say for instance, that we know that Joe Green was born before 1814 (let’s suppose we found he was married in 1830.) Let’s also suppose that from the census we’re able to figure that he was born between 1810-1820, which really narrows our range from 1810-1814… ok let’s try the post again…

Subject:Looking for Joe Green, b. bet. 1810-1814 Buncombe, NC
Looking for any information on Joe Green, he was married in 1830 to Sally White in Buncombe County. From the 1840 census it looks as though he was born between 1810-1820, so I assume he was likely born between 1810-1814. The census also shows three children, I am researching his child Frank. who was born in 1832.

Notice how much more specific this is? Now you might be thinking, if I know all that much, why post a query, but obviously there is a lot more information we could develop on this individual (parents names, other children than Frank, where the family moved to/what happened next, Sally’s family information, Joe’s siblings, etc.)

The bottom line is use ALL the information you have available to try to HELP anyone potentially answering to find the match, you want to give as much information as you can, not just so they can glance and say, “aha!” that’s my great-great-great -grandfather Joe Green…, you also want to make it easy for any kind of search engine to have plenty of information there to be found when someone is searching for [“joe green” “sally white”]

With such things, usually the better the question asked, the better the answer received….