I appreciate that SE is a Q&A site but I feel that some questions do not have a black-and-white answer. I'm not sure whether this is the 'nature of the beast' with family history or whether it's just less mature than some other subjects.

I was wondering what options there are for dealing with discussion and/or collaboration.

Discussion usually get transfered to separate area but the content may be relevant to the original question so this is not always good.

Collaboration, on the other hand is a separate issue. If someone posts a question, say, about looking-up a missing person in the blah-blah census, then it may take a few people to find them using an iterative process. This is different to receive 5 independent answers, each of which may partially answer the question.

  • Extended discussions should be carried on in chat. The transcript of the conversation is never destroyed so you can always link back to it.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 18:33
  • As I indicated Luke, unless the content is visible to anyone else interested in the question then it may be wasted
    – ACProctor
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 20:10
  • 2
    @ACProctor, a link to the conversation can be included in a comment. There's even a facility to move an exchange of comments to chat with an automatic link created, as you and I did here: genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1442/104
    – user104
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 20:18
  • 1
    The impact of the "link to an archived discussion" tool is lost somewhat when chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/6157/… returns a 404!
    – Fortiter
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 2:55

2 Answers 2


This blog post provides guidance about how to adhere to good Q&A when the subject becomes more subjective:

Good Subjective, Bad Subjective

When the answer search becomes more collaborative, chat is an appropriate tool to have those discussions. But the results of that chat should be brought back out to the question in the form of a comprehensive answer. That's the only way to make the information widely available and to have it properly vetted (voting, comments, wiki editing, etc).

  • 3
    What you're saying Robert, indirectly, is that SE is not really the best medium for those type of collaborative questions. Anyone asking, or following, such a question would very likely not want a magic answer pulled out of a hat. I am raising this question primarily because a large number of requests for help in family-history concern this type of lookup.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 20:15
  • 2
    @ACproctor, I think what Robert is saying is that chat is the mechanism to collaborate to generate an answer, but it's only worthwhile if the results are posted back to the question as an answer.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 20:19
  • @ColeValleyGirl, I know what Robert meant but I was trying to point out that there are instances where there will be no specific answer, and the sum of the results, inferences, suggestions, and conjecture in the chat will amount to an answer. As you know, family-history (or any type of history) is not exact science, meaning that black-and-white answers rarely exist. We have a limited amount of evidence to go on, and the interpretation may be subjective.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 21:30
  • 1
    @ACProctor - You can still summarize the path from point A to point B in the answer, it just won't look like a forum discussion, which typically involves a lot of stuff that is mostly noise. In other words, one isn't merely limited to only saying "the answer is X" but can also say "the answer is X, and here is why....<insert important points from chat discussion here>". Hope this helps! ;)
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 2:09

An "ideal" system for dealing with this type of question would have the following characteristics

  1. mechanism to identify questions that required different processes
  2. ability to move the question, comments and proposed answers to an alternative venue
  3. tool set to facilitate collaborative problem solving
  4. method to return an agreed consolidated solution to the main Q&A list
  5. while retaining the documented process by which the solution was reached.

Robert's answer demonstrates that SE provides (3) and (4). Those who use chat as a tool need to find a way to manage (2); including a way of advising other readers of the Q&A that there is a parallel track operating on this question and inviting them to participate.

To date, we have not had sufficient experience in doing (1) to make any definitive statements, but this may pose a challenge for some time to come. (For example, how does this impact the lone wolf researcher who does not like chat and prefer the question to remain where it is.)

@ACProctor identifies the very real risk that when (if) a consolidated response is returned, it will gloss over the real method by which the solution was reached in favour of a "neat" description. Characteristic (5) is vital.

It may come as a surprise that some people on this site don't really care who Gene G's ancestors married a century ago in Berlin; but they are fascinated by the methods that might be used to discover that. An answer without a method is a piece of trivia to everyone but the person who asked the question.

  • Hi Fortiter, as ColeValley suggests, chat transcripts are permanent, and could be included as a reference link in the answer, which would solve #5. I have seen chat occasionally used in this manner, and I think it could work here too. As an aside, regarding #1 and #2, if a comment thread gets too long, the SE system already auto-posts a suggestion in the comments to take the conversation to chat. Hope this helps!
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 2:14
  • 1
    As noted above, the only example we have is not operating as suggested.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 6:25
  • Thanks Fortiter. You've summarised my points much better than I did. As you point out, the essential issue is that "method" is often more important than the final answer in this class of question.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 11:01
  • The room I referred to was deleted per the explanation at chat.stackexchange.com/faq#retention (and truly that particular chat transcript wasn't worth retaining). The sort of thing you're referring to would likely be more active and I'd hope the substance of the discussion would be updated back to the relevant question (at intervals to show process if the participants could be so disciplined).
    – user104
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 11:50
  • Clearly, while it is "possible" for the record of a chat to be retained as an essential component of a collaboratively developed answer there are conditions to be met to ensure that happens. There are procedures to be learned and protocols to be followed before we can be assured that "chat transcripts are permanent, and could be included as a reference".
    – Fortiter
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 11:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .