As mentioned at On- and off-topic questions: an attempt to reach consensus (please read first) this is one of a set of questions attempting to reach consensus on the scope for this site.

This question focuses on questions relating to

Researching specific ancestors

i.e. advice and guidance on problems and brick walls being encountered in an individual's personal research that relate to named ancestors or relatives

Please up-vote answers you believe are on-topic, down-vote answers you believe are off topic and add your own suggestions for what should be in or out (with your view made clear).

Related questions:

What is "Genealogy," "Family History," and "Microhistory"?

On- and off-topic questions: Application of technology

On- and off-topic questions: Research processes and methodologies

On- and off-topic questions: Locating records and documents

On- and off-topic questions: Interpreting records

On- and off-topic questions: Other specialist related topics

  • Within the context of "on topic" or "off topic," I'm confused about how to use this Meta Q&A to come to terms with cousin connection queries that are posted as Q&A. I'll try to add an answer here. If you prefer this be moved, let me know. – GeneJ Dec 6 '12 at 16:40
  • @GeneJ, I'd thought meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/1411/104 addressed the cousin connection queries, but add another if you don't think it does. Or edit that one -- I'm surprised nobody has edited any of my answers yet... – user104 Dec 6 '12 at 16:43
  • It addresses it as on-topic or off topic, but the problem may not be so black and white. The answer I'm writing starts out, "See also the answer that opens, "[Looking for any information on person X...][1]" – GeneJ Dec 6 '12 at 16:52
  • @GeneJ, fair enough. – user104 Dec 6 '12 at 16:53

How do I learn X historical fact about Y ancestor

  • ColeValleyGirl view: On-topic
  • PolyGeo view: On-topic

How do I learn about the historical context in which a specific ancestor lived

  • ColeValleyGirl view: Undecided (Possible overlap with History SE)
  • PolyGeo view: spectrum between microhistory (On-topic) and world history (suggest asking on History SE)

Peer review, or: How robust are my conclusions? (Providing details of a specific, bounded piece of research done and the conclusions I've reached from that research and seeking expert critique on how well the conclusions stand up form the evidence provided)

  • ColeValleyGirl view: On-topic
  • PolyGeo view: On-topic

Some links to help others find Meta questions with our and other throughts about peer review:

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    I would vote this up as on-topic BUT I suspect it does not fit within this "group". I think it is research-method or similar. – Fortiter Dec 4 '12 at 3:03
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    @Fortiter Agreed. Perhaps this could be set up as a specific chat room where conversation could go back and forth about the merits or flaws in any part of the research. This way, one person wouldn't need to know 100% why a conclusion was right or wrong, but input from everyone could bit by bit piece together the most likely angle to tackle the problem to the most likely conclusion. – Canadian Girl Scout Dec 5 '12 at 1:43
  • @Fortiter, difficult to move it now. Vote on the basis that it is on-topic no matter where it belongs and we can shift it in the final result set? – user104 Dec 5 '12 at 9:31
  • @CanadianGirlScout, wouldn't it at least have to start with a question to initiate the process? – user104 Dec 5 '12 at 9:32
  • @ColeValleyGirl Yes, I mean that someone who wished to be critiqued could enter the designated (for that purpose) chatroom and post a link to their research and suppositions. Then others could comment on it, ask questions, ponder aloud (à la texting) and hopefully the original user who shared leaves the chatroom with more ideas or more clarity on their process. – Canadian Girl Scout Dec 5 '12 at 9:39
  • @CanadianGirlScout, so that would mean monitoring the chatroom for new activity as well as the main and meta sites? – user104 Dec 5 '12 at 9:46
  • When someone "@" acknowledges you, @ColeValleyGirl, SE notifies you: chat, main or meta. Maybe we should move this conversation into chat? – Canadian Girl Scout Dec 5 '12 at 13:38
  • @CanadianGirlScout, but that relies on pinging an individual, rather than the individual finding the 'topic' and deciding to participate. – user104 Dec 5 '12 at 14:13
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    I think this is on topic too. I can't imagine these sorts of questions getting much traction though. I would leave it up to the user to either create a question or turn to chat. A chat room could be setup specifically for this purpose if we think these sorts of inquiries will be frequent. – user47 Dec 5 '12 at 17:28

Looking for any information on person X/family X, or "Do my research for me"

  • ColeValleyGirl view: Off-topic
  • PolyGeo view: On-topic but should be Closed as Too Broad until revised to be a more specific question
  • 1
    The question is worded in a prejudiced manner. "Do my research for me" is pejorative. Many questions on many genealogy sites are similar to 'looking for' and I think excluding those questions drastically cuts SE's audience. Findagrave and many random acts of kindness sites work thru everyone helping each other. You may not want to help the person because it's your perception they are lazy. You don't have to the help the person, but others may be willing to. – Duncan Dec 5 '12 at 17:36
  • @Duncan, vote if you think it's on-topic. others will do the same. – user104 Dec 5 '12 at 19:07
  • @Duncan, it may be worth pointing out that my primary issue with this type of question is not whether the OP is lazy or not -- I'll usually assume ignorance rather than laziness. I've even answered a few myself that have been slight better worded than "Do my research for me", where the effort involved was nothing more than a few Google searches that might set the questioner on the right road. My concern is rather that these questions often fall into one of two closure buckets [contd.] – user104 Dec 6 '12 at 10:07
  • @Duncan, contd: "Not a real question": This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form, or "Too localised": This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. Of course, if the question is improved to fall outside those parameters, by being made more specific and answerable, then it is on topic. – user104 Dec 6 '12 at 10:09
  • @ColeValleyGirl - Note closure is NOT the se method to handle low quality questions. That's why editing low quality questions has a rep score needed all it's own. If they are inscope and low quality, that is different than saying they are out of scope and should be closed. Look at genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1656/…. That question is typical of most Q's on most genealogy sites. I polled two professional genealogist and both responded that although the question needs work, they understood enough to answer if paid. – Duncan Dec 11 '12 at 2:09
  • @Duncan, out of interest would they have bothered if they weren't being paid? Also, did you see my comment about improving questions so that they needn't be closed. It's a pity that, in the example you quoted, the OP didn't respond to the request for more info in the 13 days before it was closed. – user104 Dec 11 '12 at 7:59
  • I didn't ask but I assume they wouldn't bother without getting paid regardless of the question. Neither seemed that interested in using the site since they had existing resources and access to experts. Maybe finding a professional willing to volunteer would have been better but I only knew two to ask. Note my point is they understood what was being asked even if it wasn't perfectly asked. Wrt 'in 13 days' I have two comments. (1) 13 days is not a long time, and (2) most importantly - it's still not the SE way to deal with low quality. People with enough rep are supposed to fix it, not close it – Duncan Dec 12 '12 at 4:23
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    @Duncan, I wasn't involved in closing that particular problem but I wouldn't have been able to fix it either (or I would have done so) -- there was information missing that only the OP could know. I understood what was being asked, but without more context it would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack. – user104 Dec 12 '12 at 9:06

How can I locate a living individual in this specific set of circumstances (where the individual is NOT publicly identified or identifiable from information given)

  • ColeValleyGirl view: Undecided.
  • PolyGeo view: Off-topic as soon as privacy concerns are raised - asked carefully some will be OK
  • I have upvoted this one. Locating living people is definitely part of genealogy -- it's often called "reverse genealogy" since we're going forward rather than backward. Just this weekend, I made an amazing breakthrough in my search for distant cousins in South Africa. I finally found records for the immigrant couple, and am now hoping to identify their living descendants. IMO, this is definitely something I should be able to ask about here. Specifically, I should be able to ask about methods and resources for tracing this family forward. – efgen Dec 4 '12 at 5:13
  • Voted down. We would not want to get into a turf war with SE:Debt Collectors (or similar). How would we relate this to the regular platitudes about privacy an d not identifying living people? – Fortiter Dec 5 '12 at 5:28
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    I think as stated currently, the answer (ie the topic) is too broad. I think the 'not id' part is crucial and agree with. I think 'finding cousins' is a good topic. Maybe instead of 'how can I locate a living individual' it could be 'What techniques would assist me in connecting with cousins'. That should keep the SE:Debt Collectors out of the turf war :-) – Duncan Dec 5 '12 at 17:29
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    "How do I find my cousins - other living descendants of James Newton Sparrell (1740-1773) - so I can collaborate with them" seems like an 'anonymous' question that would be acceptable to me. – Duncan Dec 5 '12 at 17:42

How do I learn X historical fact, knowing which may lead me to more information on an ancestor

  • ColeValleyGirl view: Undecided (possible overlap with History SE)
  • PolyGeo view: spectrum between microhistory (On-topic) and world history (suggest asking on History SE)

See also the answer that opens, "Looking for any information on person X..."

I see this as not so much a problem of on-topic or off-topic but scope, purpose and accompanying documentation. Regardless of the form, most of the questions I see in this category represent some modern notion of a traditional query.

Our challenge is to discover how Genealogy.SE becomes the place for content driven, valuable queries.

This is easier said than done.

In earlier times, many queries were published in journals or newsletters. Submitters often had to be a dues paying member of the publishing organization. Limitations as to length and/or frequency typically applied. Said another way, folks writing queries way back when had good reason to be concrete, to the point and on-topic. It took some thought and work; no doubt an editor helped many see the light.

And then we discovered the Internets.

While there are several modern guides, genealogist extraordinaire Kimberly Powell (about.com) has a nice article, "How To Write a Successful Genealogy Query."*

More than on-topic or off-topic, it seems we need "our guide" (and community protocols**) for this aspect of the Q&A.

*Including that Genealogy.SE would likely approach in her nos. 7, 9, 10 and 11 differently.

**How we address "queries" posted that are not a good fit (fall outside of "our guide")? As well, how to address non-response to suggestions about how to make the query a better fit.


Please look my ancestor up in the census/some other record set.

  • ColeValleyGirl view: Off-topic
  • PolyGeo view: Off-topic (users may volunteer to do this some times but should never be asked to)
  • This would be more appropriate in 'chat', right? – Canadian Girl Scout Dec 5 '12 at 1:50
  • @CanadianGirlScout I'm not even sure it would be OK there -- do we want to be a lookup exchange? – user104 Dec 5 '12 at 9:07
  • Isn't chat for expressing whatever is of interest to the people in the chat room at a given time? That's what other SE sites seem to be. The discussions range from "What I'm eating right now" to "I've got an exam on botany tomorrow." The chat rooms can be designated with certain topics, but it's a more open space; conversations tend to veer off, then come back to a main interest, then veer off again to whatever is 'of the moment'. – Canadian Girl Scout Dec 5 '12 at 9:25
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    + I think that this helps to build a sense of familiarity with other users as well as a sense of community. I don't think that we should be banning topics or requests for help in chat. There is enough formality in the main & meta sites. – Canadian Girl Scout Dec 5 '12 at 9:28

How do I locate X living individual? (including where X is publicly identifiable by information provided, even if they're not explicitly identified)

  • ColeValleyGirl view: Off-topic (privacy concerns)
  • PolyGeo view: Off-topic (privacy concerns)
  • 1
    Agreed on this one, posting the names of living individuals is a privacy issue. – efgen Dec 4 '12 at 5:14
  • 1
    I do not understand how this can be distinguished from the one above. We will not help you to stalk named people but will offer advice on tracking someone anonymous! – Fortiter Dec 5 '12 at 5:31
  • @Fortiter, my thinking was that we absolutely shouldn't violate anyone's privacy on Genealogy.SE but that discussion of techniques for tracking down cousins for collaboration or locating living relatives might be viewed differently. – user104 Dec 21 '12 at 17:03

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