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Are Your Queries Getting Results?

Are your queries getting results? Perhaps the lack of response lies within your query.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Carolyne Gould
Word Count: 770 (approx.)
Labels: Beginner's Guide 
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Are your queries getting results? Or, have you posted questions and/or information on various genealogical message boards but found the responses are few or none? Considering the popularity of genealogical research, and the fact that the further back we trace our tree, the number of potential "cousins" expands exponentially; perhaps the lack of response lies within your query.

I have found the main reason for lack of response is a poor subject line and a failure to provide enough information within the query itself. We're all guilty of this. Even long-time researchers and professional genealogists get in a hurry and fail to include identifying information that could tell the reader how your lines connect. Use of the following tips may see your response rate increase.

Subject Lines

Be as specific as possible. First, if you are researching Albertazzie Jones on the Jones surname board, do not enter "Jones Family" as your subject line. Naturally you are searching for the Jones family. So is everyone else on that message board. By listing "Albertazzie Jones" as the subject, you have a much better chance of the right person reading your post. If you are searching a more common name, such as John Jones, then add data that will narrow down which John Jones you are looking for. For example, "John Jones b. 12 Jan 1845; d. 23 June 1910."

More general subject lines that can still capture a cousin include "Jones PA>NY>OH>KA>TX." This tells your reader that the Jones family you are looking for trace back to Pennsylvania and then moved to New York, then Ohio, then Kansas, and then Texas. It will also weed out the people whose families and ancestors didn't live in those states or follow that particular migration pattern.

Message Content

This is one area where as much information as possible is needed if you are looking for information. But, beware of posting just a list of names, (i.e. Jones family: John, Mary, Sally and Fred). In most cases, rather than getting information back you will be hit with multiple contacts from people trying to identify whether or not the people you have listed are the same ones that are on their family tree. A better way to list the same family would be:

John Jones b.12 Jan 1845; d. 23 June 1910, Cincinnati, Ohio wife Mary (surname unknown), d. March 1920, Cincinnati, Ohio daughter Sally b. circa 1865 Ohio son Fred b. circa 1867 Ohio

Whenever possible, always include the full name of the town and state. There are at least three cities in the United States called Cincinnati. If you only know the county, it is even more important that you include the state in your message. Try doing an Internet search for "Green County" or "Lincoln County" and you'll see why this important.

One of the first rules of genealogical research is to capitalize all letters of the surname. Even the best genealogists can forget this simple rule. Lengthy paragraphs with multiple surnames that are not capitalized can hide the connecting family lines a reader needs to spot. Compare the following paragraphs and see what I mean:

John Jones married a woman named Mary about 1864 in Ohio. Mary was his second wife. His first wife was Anna Keller who died in 1863 in Pennsylvania. They had no children. John and Mary had two children, Sally born about 1865 in Ohio, who married George James; and Fred born about 1867 in Ohio who married Sandra Keyes.

John JONES married a woman named Mary about 1864 in Ohio. Mary was his second wife. His first wife was Anna KELLER who died in 1863 in Pennsylvania. They had no children. John and Mary had two children, Sally born about 1865 in Ohio, who married George JAMES; and Fred born about 1867 in Ohio who married Sandra KEYES.

Spell It Out

I also recommend that people spell out the names of states. Typographical errors (and we all make them) can change Arizona (AZ) to Alaska (AK) with one keystroke. Canadians abbreviate Canada either CA or Ca. Nope, that is not California; but, could be construed as such. Your Jones family in California could also appear to be the Jones family in Canada. Even adding the name of the town may not help when abbreviations are used for states. My parents lived in Ontario, California for a while. A family friend lives in Ontario, Canada. Spelling those words out makes a world (2,300 miles) of difference.

Before you post your next message, try to read that message as though you had never heard of those people before. Do a mental checklist for specifics, identification and place names. You will be glad you did.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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