From the discussion between @Fortiter and me in this question's comments:

Steven, your question invites expressions of personal opinion rather than a definitive answer based upon evidence and expertise. Perhaps you could rephrase it after reading the FAQ at genealogy.stackexchange.com/faq#dontask – Fortiter 4 hours ago

Fortiter - This is an excellent question for this forum. This is something everyone wants to know, this info isn't readily available on the web, and the experts here will likely provide just a few quality answers. – lkessler 1 hour ago

lkessler - If the differences between your excellent answer and that of GeneJ (equally good but very different) are not an example of a "“I would like to participate in a discussion about ______” question, then I have no idea what would be. It would be a great discussion BUT does it fit SE? – Fortiter 54 mins ago

Fortiter - Almost everything is an opinion. Even answers to the "When did my great-grandmother die?" questions are opnions. Further discussion should go to meta. – lkessler 30 mins ago

I hated when StackOverflow closed all the opinion questions last year. They were the most popular ones and they were the ones that attracted me to StackOverflow in the first place.

Now StackOverflow is sanitized. We have a programming problem to solve. We ask it. Someone answers it. I guess that's what's wanted there. But I seldom go there anymore, unless I have a problem to solve.

We get to choose what we want on this site. Do we want only questions about "Here's all my evidence - what is the answer"? Well that's what I'll do then. I'll come here to solve my family mysteries when I get a new one. And I'll go elsewhere to help people on how to do their genealogy.

Look. Stack Exchange says you shouldn't ask "What's the best way" questions, because the answer is an opinion. Well everything in genealogy is an opinion. Even the "conclusion" of what the evidence means is an opinion. You can get 100 answers to one of those. Maybe we shouldn't allow them either.

My personal opinion (Aha! another opinion!) is that any "How to do something" question should be allowed. And the poor poster (who is usually someone new coming here) shouldn't get lambasted with comments saying that's not the way we do things around here.

The answers on "How to do something" will be opinions. But they will be experts giving good ideas based on their expertise.

If the answers start becoming a discussion, then yes, I agree it's gone too far. But until then, can't we just give a little bit of leniency here?

Additional information:

ColeValleyGirl pointed out in a comment that subjective StackOverflow questions were moved to Programmers. If you take a look at the Programmers FAQ, it gives quite clear rules for subjective questions that I think are very reasonable. This is what it says:

What about subjective questions?

Subjective questions are allowed, but subjective does not mean “anything goes”. Please keep it professional at all times. If this is a question you'd be uncomfortable discussing with your colleagues in a work environment, it's probably not appropriate here, either.

All subjective questions are expected to be constructive. How do we define that? Constructive subjective questions …

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  • tend to have long, not short, answers.
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  • are more than just mindless social fun.

Questions that do not meet enough of these six guidelines will be closed as "Not Constructive". Please see the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and Real Questions Have Answers blog posts for more details and examples.

Maybe we should adopt something like this for Genealogy and Family History SE when we finalize our FAQ.

  • The subjective questions on StackOverflow went to programmers.stackexchange.com.
    – user104
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 11:52
  • @CodeValleyGirl - My goodness! I believe you are correct. So there you have an SE site that is completely for subjective questions. What that implies is that we should either allow them here, or else create a separate Genealogy Subjective SE site.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 13:53
  • 2
    I don't think we need to go as far as genealogy.subjective!
    – user104
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 13:56
  • lkessler, does your accepting an answer imply that you think this question is settled?
    – user104
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 10:51
  • @ColeValleyGirl - No. I just heartily agreed with ACProctor and I couldn't help myself but to check it. But I'll now take that off and let more discussion take place if necessary.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 15:02
  • @ColeValleyGirl - Also, I didn't realize that accepting an answer on meta meant that the issue was settled. I thought a status-completed tag (or something like that) gets added.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 15:09
  • I'd expect a status-completed tag as well, but some people are new to the platform so best to avoid confusion.
    – user104
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 15:16

5 Answers 5


I see absolutely nothing wrong with this question, at least given how it is phrased at the moment. The fact it solicits personal opinions is precisely why it was asked. There is no black-and-white answer to most of the questions on this site, and the poster was simply looking for guidance from someone with relevant experience.

I'm rather dismayed that it even had to be discussed like this.

  • 1
    I am concerned that ACProctor is "dismayed that it even had to be discussed" on the grounds that only by discussing an issue that is undoubtedly "live" across SE sites can we arrive at a community-endorsed position. I am puzzled (perhaps, even a little dismayed) that less than 20 hours after launching what ought to be a significant discussion, lkessler has "accepted an answer" thereby implying that the issue is resolved.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 2:39
  • 2
    I agree that there are questions that need to be discussed and analysed. My comment here merely reflects that I did not consider this case to be controversial, and felt that the posing of the meta-question may be highlighting a greater gap in a "community-endorsed position" than I had hoped for.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 8:20
  • @ACproctor, I think we're all trying to understand whether there is a gap or not and hoping that there isn't.
    – user104
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 10:52

Not every problem that we're faced with as family historians/genealogists has an objective answer, so I think we ought to allow subjective questions. There is no single right way of doing many things in the research process, for example, just ways that experience have shown work better (or worse) than others (and how well they work is often contextual).

As long as we keep Good Subjective, Bad Subjective in mind, it will allow our experts to share their experience on the questions that don't have a black-and-white answer but still need to be asked.

  • 1
    Hi ColeValleyGirl, have you or Luke had a chance to see the edit link that appears for moderators below the first section of the "What kind of questions can I ask here" portion of the FAQ? In my experience, the FAQ sort of evolves as the site does, so it's something you could start editing now based on community feedback and then revise as you go as everyone learns more about what works and what doesn't. Hope this helps!
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 6:27
  • @jmort253, yes, seen it. Hope to soon start drafting something for to run past the community (not on this issue, 'cos it's too early days yet) but on scope, based on discussions to date).
    – user104
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 10:28

I'm glad to see a meta open about this question. We are a community. The more opinions that are shared on the topic of good questions/good content, the better we are able to understand our diverse membership.

I don't know whether this question will be closed or not.

There are well established paper based and or electronic filing systems that I consider scholarly. (As I recall, William Dollarhide has a good system, Dae Powell has written "Organize Your Research"; Cole Valley Girl has cited one.)

In the case of this question, I was happy to add an answer about a system that works for me, especially it is a little different. I don't set out to store copies of source materials that I consider readily available. This means I'm saving and storing things that aren't easy to find or access.

We live in interesting times: just what constitutes "readily available" is changing rapidly. I suspect another good question that will be asked is about when to cull or delete some of the formerly stored electronic items!

If others feel the curent question stimulates too much discussion, then it will probably be closed. That's the community way.

We are learning, and we are learning together.


As at 10 January, Steven has 5 answers to his question. They offer three bases for organisation:

  • by sources (1 answer, 5 upvotes, 1 downvote)
  • by doc type (1 answer, 2 upvotes)
  • by surnames (3 answers, 5 upvotes, 1 downvote)

Most answers imply, but do not make explicit, that the system being advocated reflects (or is driven by) a particular view of genealogical practice. It is not made clear that attempting to adopt the technique without the underpinning philosophy could be disastrous.

Reading the answers as a whole does not provide a sound basis for making a choice.

Contextual clarification:

I believe that the question (how to structure your information store) is important and worthy of detailed consideration.

I believe that the answers provided are worthwhile contributions to that discussion.

I feared when I saw the question that it was incompatible with the SE "rules" and that fear has been reinforced by examining the set of answers.

  • My position is that -- if we agree to do so -- we can draft the genealogy.se rules such that it is compatible with them. It will need more watchfulness from all of us to ensure that the answers to such questions stay on-topic and constructive.
    – user104
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 10:31
  • If anybody wants to edit my answer -- or any other answer -- to that question to highlight the pitfalls you've mentioned, that would be entirely appropriate and helpful.
    – user104
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 10:33
  • Fortiter. I think you were being a bit overzealous in your criticism of the question. And here you are being a bit overzealous in your criticism of the five answers to the question. Please try to be a bit more lenient. We all are trying the best we can.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 13:53
  • Fortiter, on reflection, this reads to me as if you believe we shouldn't allow subjective questions. Is this the case?
    – user104
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 14:35
  • I have not criticised the question or the (other) answers. I have sought to raise the issue of how questions of that type "fit" within the SE mould. There appears to be an emerging consensus that they do; or if they don't, then they should. I look forward to seeing that view implemented.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 10:48
  • 1
    Rather than edit any one of the five answers (when my comments relate equally to all of them) I have added a sixth which I believe is probably "not an answer" in strict SE terms; but which the OP has accepted. Who'd have thought it?
    – Fortiter
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 10:50
  • @Fortiter, first step to successful implementation?
    – user104
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 17:55

In the SE verbage we need to decide emphasis:

a definitive answer based upon evidence and expertise


a definitive answer based upon evidence and expertise

"I like this" is opinion. "I found that when I did this I got the following pro's and con's" is sharing expertise. I vote we keep the emphasis on expertise and experience. I believe the reason for the concern on opinions is because of the problems they have with nonconstructive flame wars. There does not appear to be any danger of that in this forum with the types of opinions being sought.

Constructive opinions based on evidence and experience should be allowed.

Multiple answers are also allowed - in fact they are encouraged. Note the launch requirements state 2.5 answers per question is good. If everything was cut and dry then there would only be one answer. Even on straightforward 2+2 programing questions there are more than one way to do something. Multiple people sharing their expertise is valuable for those deciding how they want to do it.

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