As a developing site, we're starting to get our first low quality answers. They come in two primary forms: contact-me-privately and no-work-shown. Here's an example of a contact-me-privately answer:

Q: When was my ancestor ancestor, John Doe, born? Here are the details: lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...

A: Hi, I'm John Doe's eighth cousin five times removed. Contact me at sallyjane@randomaddress.com for more info on his DOB.

And here's a no-work-shown answer to the same question:

A: Mar. 18, 1882

How should these be handled?

  • 3
    I totally agree that answers should not be provided privately. However, I have had instances where I would like to message someone privately, and the content would be inappropriate in a public comment or even in our chat room. Does SE offer any private messaging feature? – ACProctor Jan 11 '13 at 17:06
  • @ACProctor No, unless they provide contact info in their profile. Some background at meta.stackexchange.com/a/433/195988 – user104 Jan 11 '13 at 17:19
  • Thanks for that link. The main stance appears to be that it may hide important detail for an answer (but then so might direct emailing), and that "SE is not a social networking site". I find the latter point a little sad. I would personally like to get to know some of you better, but without having to necessarily exchange birthday and Christmas cards with you ;-) It just seems a little arbitrary IMHO. – ACProctor Jan 11 '13 at 18:01
  • @ACProctor Put your birthday in your "about me" and I'll wish you happy birthday in Roots on that day. :P – American Luke Jan 11 '13 at 18:05
  • Thanks Luke. I may leave out the year though :-) – ACProctor Jan 11 '13 at 19:47

Regardless of the quality of the question or answer and whether or not the answer should be removed, any personal contact information in a post should be edited out by the community. This is just noise, and it detracts from the actual Q&A.

As others mentioned, posting a nice comment explaining that Stack Exchange posts are intended to be useful to future visitors will help educate the new user as to community norms.

If more sensitive information is ever published in a question or answer, it's also a good idea to flag the post for moderator attention, as Stack Exchange may want to do a hard-delete on any personal information in the post.

Please see What should I do if a user posts sensitive information as part of a question or answer? for more details.


Wrt 'Contact me': My vote is edit the answer so that "contact me privately" is a comment not an answer - and delete the email address. Eg comment is 'contact me privately - see my profile for contact info'. Note I say this even if they do not include their email in their profile.

If their answer is in parts - with some real content and the 'contact me' - then I recommend just move the contact to comment. Leave the content in the answer.

For comments that say - "let's talk in genealogy.se's chatroom "roots" at date-time" - Leave alone (although maybe delete once it's stale).

For answers that ask to talk in chatroom - move to comments.

Wrt 'no sources': Leave them as answers. Put a comment asking where the info was found. If you found the same answer to the question - edit their answer and include your source. It's not a competition for who can make the best answer - it's about getting the best answer for the OP and everyone else.

But even if no sources are found and OP doesn't edit - still leave it as is. It may help someone. Don't upvote it if you want more info. Downvote it if it particularly annoys you. But do not delete it. It is someone's answer to the question. Deletion is for questions/answers that start flame wars, not for answers that don't supply sources.

  • 3
    Unfortunately, the point of Stack Exchange is to collect high quality content that will attract and retain experts who can answer the hard questions. Litter the site with low quality material and you're less likely to attract experts. If we can't provide an explanation in our answers backing it up, then we're not experts, we're just random people on the Internet making statements. – jmort253 Jan 12 '13 at 5:36
  • 1
    @jmort253 If this is 'littered' with low-quality answers AND we were attracting a reasonable proportion of users - then I would agree with you that something should be done. It doesn't appear to be a huge problem at the moment that we have too many of these kind of answers (1?, 2?). Yet it does appear to me that we are scaring away participants. Nowhere on about (genealogy.stackexchange.com/about) does it say we delete your answer if you don't provide sources. I'm just saying err on the side of helping the OP of the low quality answer - don't shut them down. – Duncan Jan 14 '13 at 11:39

Most answers here can be rated on a scale of best to worst:

  • Best: Here are the steps to solve this problem, the answer to this particular problem, the notes on how to carry out each step, why you should do it that way, and what might go wrong during the process and what you can try if that does go wrong.

  • Better: These are the steps I took to solve this problem that can be generalized to solve similar problems for other researchers.

  • Adequate: Here is your answer (copied from my family tree with sources and working shown).

  • Worse: Here is your answer from my family tree (no sources or working).

  • Worst: Contact me; I have the answer.

Contact-me-privately answers fall into the "worst" category. Like the well-used proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime", these answers only help temporarily. The OP has his answer, but doesn't know how to find a similar answer again. However, when the answer is worked up the scale to the "best" category, it teaches the OP to find similar answers and he "eats for a lifetime".

On Genealogy.SE, when users ask questions, they get their answer and future visitors can (should be able to) also read and learn. However, this doesn't work the same when the answer is given privately. The OP benefits from it, but no one else does. So, these are obviously a problem. Why visit a site where existing posts don't help you at all?

These answers are not a good fit for a Q&A site. They are non-answers, really because the post itself does not answer the question, even if the private message does. Think of it as a link only answer. Eventually, the link will rot and the answer will be of no use to anyone. This is the same (but worse). The answer is useless to everyone but the OP from the moment it is posted.

For these reasons, contact-me-privately answers are deleted and converted to comments. Per Robert's comment here,

Solicitations for personal contact is not permitted in answers or comments. The public nature of these sites specifically dissuades that type of private, off-line contact. That is by design. We do not provide social networking functions that would allow you to contact a user privately, so if a user wants to be contacted in this manner, they can leave that information their profile. Chat would also be appropriate because it designed to be a bit more social, and it is not really considered part of the Q&A canon.

These contact-me-privately answers will be deleted without conversion to comment in keeping with the nature of SE. They don't help the community or visitors at all and they don't help the OP beyond giving him the facts. So, remember to "teach the OP to fish" (metaphorically speaking) rather than to give him a fish.

No-work-shown answers fall into the "worse" category. They are a little better, but they're still bad. The basic problem with these is the same: the OP gets his dinner, but will eventually starve because he doesn't know how to fish. These have the same solution: show your work. How did you find the date of birth? A birth certificate? An obituary? A draft registration? Again, bring it to the "best" category. Show the OP how you arrived at the answer, what could have gone wrong and what to do if it had gone wrong, and why you chose to use that particular method.

Because these answers make no attempt at helping the OP learn how to get answers for himself, they don't really help more than giving a fish helps. They are not useful and should be downvoted. If the answerer does not edit to show his methods after a reasonably long period, the answer will be deleted.

  • 4
    I don't think answers should be deleted unless they are nonsense. No work shown answers should be commented on and downvoted, or at least not upvoted. Deleting is too harsh, and who knows, the answer might even help someone. I agree with deleting contact-me answers though. – user47 Jan 11 '13 at 16:58
  • @JustinY, which do you think genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/2976/104 is? – user104 Jan 11 '13 at 17:20
  • @ColeValleyGirl I can't tell what that link is pointing to. – user47 Jan 11 '13 at 17:51
  • @JustinY, it's a deleted answer -- converted to a comment (the last) to the question. – user104 Jan 11 '13 at 17:53
  • @ColeValleyGirl I think that converting it to a comment was an excellent call. I would've done the same. I often flag those types of answers as 'not an answer' so that mods can convert them to comments. – user47 Jan 11 '13 at 18:01
  • @JustinY Perhaps deletion is a tad harsh, but given the point of a question is to teach a man to fish, they are still, to some degree, non-answers. Instead of deletion, perhaps downvoting would be a better solution. It leaves the answer more open to improvement (although deleted answers can still be edited). If the answer is not fixed after a reasonably long period of time, it will be deleted. – American Luke Jan 11 '13 at 18:40

So I am probably a guilty party, but I feel that there are some extenuating circumstances that should be considered. This group is all about finding ancestors and relatives. Since most of these people are dead, we have no choice but to use documents of various kinds as proxies for the people.

In some rare circumstances, however, we get lucky and catch a live one. There ought to be some sort of mechanism specific to this site to allow people to connect. I am not sure that adding a comment "send me email at xxx" is any different from adding a comment saying "send me mail to my address found at xxxx".

I wasn't able to find any obvious link to invite another person to chat; perhaps if that feature were more prominent, it would obviate the need for "contact me" comments.

With respect to a person who stumbles upon this site and has some personal knowledge about the people involved, my sense is this: if I interview my aunt, and she says "Grandpa was born in 1900", I can record that in my tree with an appropriate citation. I see answers such as "he was my grandfather; he was born in 1900" as belonging to the same category.

  • Both mailing and email addresses are solicitations for personal contact. Neither are permitted in answers or comments. However, if you have 100 rep, you may create a chat room. You will be able invite specific users to your chat room. Chat is more social and solicitations for personal contact are fine in there. – American Luke Jan 18 '13 at 19:10
  • The person who posted the answer in question had 1 reputation point, and would not be eligible to participate in chat. How would I be able to signal to such a person that I wanted to discuss things with him? – Gene Golovchinsky Jan 19 '13 at 0:24
  • The other method is to put your contact information in your "about me" in your profile for him to contact you privately. However, if the user doesn't look in your profile, he won't see it, obviously. – American Luke Jan 19 '13 at 15:56
  • So would it be appropriate to say "Please contact me at the email address in my profile"? – Gene Golovchinsky Jan 19 '13 at 19:06
  • No, that is still a solicitation for personal contact. As to your first comment, you can always enter chat and listen with no rep at all. You only need twenty rep to talk. This is to ensure that chat is reserved for active, engaged members of the community. – American Luke Jan 20 '13 at 0:31
  • There ought to be a way for an established member (e.g., 100+ rep) to invite a newbie to chat without the newbie having to to have 20 rep. Also, there should be a more salient and less involved means of switching to chat: there is no way that a casual user would find the 'chat' link in the web site. It took me a long time to discover it. – Gene Golovchinsky Jan 21 '13 at 8:14
  • For network-wide feature requests, see MSO. For site-specific feature requests, feel free to post a question here. The decision is ultimately up to the SE team, either way, though. – American Luke Jan 21 '13 at 14:12

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