I would like help with improving the question

Who were children and parents of Jacob Fisher and Sarah Hodges?

According to the 2000 US census, Fisher is the 103rd most common name in the US (whereas my surname isn't even in the top 150,000). Someone searching Fisher now discovers this question as closed with with a highlighted entry:

closed as not a real question by GeneJ, ColeValleyGirl, JustinY, RobertShaw, Sue Adams Nov 8 at 19:28

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

I have spent significant time trying to improve this question. Does it need more to be reopened? What is the minimum standard (not the gold standard) for a question to be active vs closed?

I have subsequently removed the question. The reopen votes had aged out(other than mine - I was late in voting to reopen my own question since I did not have enough reputation yet) and my research on other sites made it seem unlikely to me it would ever get reopened. I do think we should be careful in closing questions just to improve them since according to other sites, it's unlikely they will ever reopen. See improving-the-reopen-system for more on this. If the stackoverflow site (largest on stackexchange) has trouble finding enough reputation to reopen, then I recommend the genealogy.se experts be very careful when voting to close, especially while we are still in beta.

  • You don't seem to have voted to re-open it yourself.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 13:30
  • Oops. I didn't think I could since I'd tried before and couldn't. I guess I now have enough rep that I can, so I now have.
    – Duncan
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 17:44
  • I closed out the original question. After several rounds and more effort than was worth it, the only vote to reopen was my own so I thought it best to remove it.
    – Duncan
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 5:03
  • 1
    The other reopen votes must have aged out, 'cos there's no way to undo them.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 8:34

5 Answers 5


I voted to close not because it was off-topic but because because I thought it was overly broad, especially this bit:

I am looking for any information anyone has on either Jacob Fisher (his birthdate/place, his death-date/place, his parents) or Sarah Hodges (ditto). I am also interested in any other children of Jacob and Sarah.

It read to me like a 'fishing expedition' such as I often see on mailing lists: "Looking for information of Joe and Mary Bloggs, resident London circa 1880."

With hindsight (and I apologise for not doing this) I should have left a comment suggesting that it was reworded either to ask "How can I discover more information about Jacob Fisher and Sarah Hodges" perhaps tying it to the specific sources and techniques useful for researching in Massachusetts in the period in question. I believe that would have elicited similar answers to the two very good ones that you received AND made it relevant to others.

  • 1
    @Duncan, it wasn't that it was asking about 3 generations, or about specific individuals (which I believe is firmly on topic) it was that I could see no evidence that you had done any work on the problem yourself (perhaps it's implicit in the information you linked to but I couldn't discern it and you didn't make it explicit) and you were asking for "any information". genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/how-to-ask says (1) Do your Homework (2) Be specific and (3) Make it relevant to others. [continued]
    – user104
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 14:53
  • @Duncan, re closing: I debated with myself voting to close versus suggesting improvements, especially as you'd asked what I think was a good question along similar lines at genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1430/104 -- but I also noted you hadn't followed the advice you'd got about improving the Phoebe Paine question when you crafted this one. I did apologise for not leaving a comment. And if you improve the question, I'll be happy to consider re-opening it.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 15:09
  • @Duncan, I didn't comment on that question -- I'd only have been repeating what others said, and I didn't want to "pile on". I do generally go and look at questioners previous questions before deciding whether to comment, answer, vote to close or whatever.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 17:41

Re the comment: "@GeneJ - I took another crack at editing the question. Would you re-evalutate your close vote and potentially vote to reopen. If so (and even if not) would you consider changing your comments and answer since they may not match up anymore – "

The new question continues to focus on the family of Jacob and Sarah (Hodges) Fisher; you want answers to identify their children. In the body of your question, you identify Jacob and Sarah only by a marriage record and what seems the birth record about one child. (The question provides references for the marriage and birth record.)

It looks to me like you still want folks to produce a genealogy for you, rather than help you overcome problems you are having producing a genealogy. (Including that you have planned questions asking for even more extended genealogical information/research.)

At some point, this starts to look like a StackOverflow post that might read, "I want to write an app. Here are the first couple lines of code. Will someone finish it for me?"

After all the drama and this extended discussion in meta, I don't see where you considered the input folks took time to make.

I'm particularly disappointed that you did not explain what you had done to try to solve the problem yourself as part of the changed question.

Though I hesitate to add this, I wonder if you even did try to solve it yourself? You made no effort to include and document the other births to "Jacob and Sarah" [FISHER] that are recorded in the very vital record book you cite as a reference for their marriage.

In the alternative, perhaps you intend this to be a "cousin connection" query. Ala, you don't expect folks to produce a genealogy but hope someone who has researched the family will answer. There are many other good sites that help connect cousins, but Genealogy.SE probably isn't a good site for that purpose. I'm sure you already appreciate that the target market for family specific sharing and/or collaboration will often be small. (For most of the families I research, the market for those with a direct interest in the family history or genealogy of those I research is limited to a handful of cousins.)

  • I made an honest attempt to research. I thought I did look thru the reference for other children. I've put hours into this particular couple and other family members have as well. Obviously I'm not as good as searching as you are. I also thought I'd went well beyond the minimum requirements in meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1290/… which are google search and se search. I thought I did take the input on this meta and in the comments into account. I am honestly trying but I'm just not getting it.
    – Duncan
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 23:34
  • The "blind search" frustration is a reason that most of us work from the known to the unknown. (Rather than to research different "uknowns.")
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 23:45
  • I don't know if this helps or not, but as I was thinking about your line yesterday, I did a little math about my own American families in the Rev. War and post-war period. Not a single one of my ancestors who was alive at the time of the war and alive in 1820 died at the same county where he was born. Most died in a different state; about half died in a different region of the country.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 23:49

I am also at a loss to understand why this question was closed. In other areas of Stack Exchange, questions are sometimes closed for what appear arbitrary reasons.

This comment I am alluding to the "close question" feature that Jeff so dogmatically believes is helping steer the users into asking the "right" questions. Instead, it is giving some users a power trip, because after all, they know what is good for the site. So they go ahead and close questions that clearly don't belong. Except some people find value in those questions, and it has a negative effect on the asker if they are powerless to disagree and change the decision. is a few years old but captures the idea.

I am not suggesting that this is happening on this site now. And I certainly hope that it is not about to be introduced by attitudes such as "if some people who write not so great content are going to be scared off by a little constructive advice, then I'm really not sure we can help them, and we probably don't want them in the community."

This is the most important question facing this community. If we get it wrong, you can start preparing the shutters now.

  • I agree with the sentiment that we have to get "why to close" correct. If it's a badly worded question, help me improve it (eg it should be split into 3 quetions, gratuitous info should be left out and help define what is gratuitous info, etc). If it is out of scope, help me understand why - and start meta discussions on how that can be made more clear in faq.
    – Duncan
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 12:25
  • In the alternative, what makes for a good/great questions in this new format? Where is our growing list of great SE "query" type questions? And .. are we voting up those good/great questions. Interesting tally here: genealogy.stackexchange.com/users?tab=voters&filter=all I've up voted 445 times, including that I've voted up 158 (of 246 asked) questions.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 0:01
  • 1
    See Luke's question, "What are the names of Marie Horjas' parents?" It had some issues, which he fixed. He edited his question and added a series of census entries. He put some work into it, but his question only rec'vd three up votes. Mine is one, so that means only two others up voted that query type question. genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1897/…
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 0:15
  • When I left that comment for you @Fortiter, you either misunderstood where I was coming from or didn't stop to think about what I was saying, either that or you just chose to select only a portion of my comment so as to make it appear that we have a problem here. Here is my comment in full, as well as the entire thread of our conversation, unbiased and unfiltered.
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 2:57
  • 1
    Here is Jeff Atwood's response to Mike Stone's blog post. Mike's argument with closing in 2008 was made back when it only took 1 vote to close. I believe he had a valid point; that was too much power for 1 person to hold. In response, SE raised the threshold 3 votes to close. Today, it's now 5, meaning this privilege is now better kept in check.
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 21:10

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this question in meta. We are all working to figure out the equation for converting good queries into great SE questions.

I thought there was a structural problem with the question; made some comments here.

For the short answer.

ColeValleyGirl suggested "reworded either to ask 'How can I discover more information about Jacob Fisher and Sarah Hodges' perhaps tying it to the specific sources and techniques useful for researching in Massachusetts in the period in question."

I would prefer to see you fix the structural problems. I think that fix would change the question and naturally narrow its scope; it would make that work to answer the new question more meaningful.

As part of the fix, whether or how you consider the answers that are already posted is a separate complication. (The quicker the fix, the less likely there are complications.)

Consider asking the question as "if/then," ala:

How to learn about the ancestry of Jacob Fisher, d. 1820 at XXXX, Mass.?

My ancestor, Jacob Fisher died 1820 at XXX, Mass.[Reference] He earlier married at XXXX to XXXX on MM YYYY. [Reference] He and his wife had children born at XXX, Mass. [Reference]

There was a Jacob Fisher born XXXX at Sharon, Mass., [Reference] son of Jacob Fisher and Sarah [Hodges]. [Reference]

  • How can I learn if my Jacob Fisher (d. 1820 at XXX, Mass.) is the same person born earlier at Sharon, Mass?
  • If my ancestor is the same man who was born 1776 at Sharon, then what more information is available about those parents and their family?

References not linked above:

I agree with the comment you added to ColeValleyGirl's answer, "my understanding is that questions that need improvement should get comments on how to improve or even edits with the improvements themselves. One of the most important aspects of a beta is what is on-topic and what is off-topic and closing to get focus on what is on topic."

Comments were made and still more explanation was provided in answers that were posted, but the question didn't change. Consider also that

  • A few people have expressed some well reasoned thoughts that others should not edit questions when the intent is to change the meaning of the question. (I like the idea of discussing questions in meta. May we continue this?)
  • There is another side to a problem question that I hope you will consider--folks will down vote and/or criticize an ANSWER that doesn't fully/directly address the question (even when they don't down vote and/or criticize the QUESTION).

Without belaboring the point, I had identified the conflict in the Sharon vital records probably within minutes. I could be reasonably sure the far more extended research and documentation about Sarah and Jacob (all their children, all sets of parents) would be extraneous/would not at this point contribute anything meaningful.

Other than vote to close, what should we do when comments are made (even answers contributed) specifying the a problem (with the question), but the question still isn't fixed?

  • 1
    @Duncan, I'd be as happy to see the question changed along the lines GeneJ suggests as along the lines I suggest. I also think the question about what we should do if problems are identified with a question but not addressed is a very pertinent one. I favour waiting a few days to give the questioner time to respond to concerns, but if nothing happens, I'd vote to close.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 19:35
  • @Duncan, Probably not an issue of one day or five days. (I was trying to respond ala your comment re comments, etc., esp. in light of Fortiter's answer.) In context here, the comments made were not sufficient for you to know how to fix the question (then or now). Having read your just earlier comment about the question, though, I think the crux of this is at a higher level than "this question" or whether comments were made. meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1278/…
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 16:29
  • 1
    Duncan, Closing a question is a big deal, a really big deal. Please don't assume I take it otherwise. (a) I have explained why I didn't edit the question already; (b) from the helpful exchanges we've had, it seems clear to me that you have a different notion for the direction of person specific questions. Go for it.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 17:18
  • Know that I don't have an interest personally in the pursuit of in-depth, front-end and low value/high risk research (ala, the black hole). I don't conduct that kind of research about my own family; I am unlikely to have the interest, time or inclination to otherwise volunteer such effort to others.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 18:09
  • 1
    Hi @Duncan, actually, closing doesn't mean a question isn't improvable. That's what deleted means. ;) This is why closed questions can still be edited. In short, closing a question gives you time to improve it without the stress of possibly invalidating answers. Hope this helps!
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 21:15
  • @Duncan, my comment is posted here: meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/1297/7
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 11, 2012 at 21:11

What is the problem.

At the time the original question was asked, you thought your Jacob Fisher d. 1820 at Bolton was the same man by that name born earlier (1776) at Sharon. That Fisher is a common surname should make documenting/expressing the logic for why they are probably not the same man just that much more valuable.

You are descended of Jacob Fisher d. Bolton. More importantly, you know how you descend of him. So, the warm and fuzzy family friendly framework exists to support working "from the known to the unknown. Is it possible to develop a plan by which research is conducted and you learn more about Jacob Fisher d. Bolton and his family. That plan will help you discover things like when your Jacob came to Bolton, where he came from, who he was associated with, what events impacted on his life, where he was born, the names of his parents ... Ala, "who" he was.

At least as I understand things, you (really really) don't want to follow "work from the known to the unknown" methodology to learn more about your ancestor. That is where things start to go pear shaped.

Suggestions about how to fix the problem.

  1. Draw on the framework used to set up the Genealogy.SE Foster case. @Fbrereto has an ancestor who is referred to by a military title. He'd like to know more about that. As part of the question (not the premise, but work he's done trying to solve the problem) he references the record of a military man by the same name stationed at Wyoming in the 1880 census. He didn't know if that record is about his ancestor. In response to his question, we've established some logic that his ancestor is probably not that man--he didn't ask, we didn't suggest and no one has gone about developing answers for a Foster genealogy about the man at Wyoming. (If @Fbrereto were to now change his question so it focused on developing a genealogy about that "probably not the same man" at Wyoming, I suspect the changed question would be down voted or closed.)
  2. Take a two fold approach. (a) FIX the original question along the lines proposed earlier (How to learn about the ancestry of Jacob Fisher, d. 1820 at XXXX, Mass.?) (b) Spend some time thinking about this and develop a second Fisher question about you and your DNA buddy. Frame a new question with the DNA facts and a summary of the work that has been done on the "paper lines" for both you and your DNA buddy. Then ASK how the two of you should proceed. As part of THAT question, ask if it would make sense for the two of you to collaborate on extending a genealogy about the family of Jacob and Sarah (Hodges) Fisher.

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