I propose we start substantive work on populating the important first block of our FAQ: What kind of questions can I ask here? The section will no doubt evolve and change as our community does, but it's totally bare at present and not enormously helpful.

Based on the discussions we've already had here on meta, plus looking at examples from other StackExchange sites (both technology-based and non-technology-based), I've prepared a draft for us to discuss and refine. It's in three potential sections (1 answer per section) to help structure the discussion clearly.

  1. What questions can/cannot be about
  2. Where can I find the answers to simple and basic questions?
  3. What about subjective questions?

In each answer, I've explained briefly what I've based the draft on and why, and highlighted some key questions that need resolution. Please comment on or edit each section of the draft as you see fit; if you edit, it would be helpful to everyone if you could leave a visible comment explaining why you've made the changes you have.

Once we've given my draft a good kicking-into-shape, I'll post a question asking for people to vote Good-Enough/Not-Good-Enough on the result before we make it live (once it gets to Good-Enough, of course).

Note: This is NOT a discussion on what makes a good question or good answer. We need to continue those discussions that we've been having, and use the results when we draft our updated How to Ask and How to Answer posts. However, I intend to keep this thread focussed on what questions are allowed, and will gently (or less-gently) discourage thread drift. Let's eat this elephant a bite at a time, please.

Final draft here:

Proposed FAQ content (final draft)

3 Answers 3


Part 3


What about subjective questions?

Subjective questions are allowed, as long as they are on-topic, but subjective does not mean “anything goes”. Please keep it appropriate at all times. If this is a question you'd be uncomfortable discussing with fellow-researchers face-to-face, 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 risk being closed as "Not Constructive". Please see the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and Real Questions Have Answers blog posts for more details and examples.


I've also stolen this shamelessly from Programmers. I'm aware we have a live discussion on whether subjective questions are OK here, but the consensus so far seems to be towards allowing them, so I've included this here.

  • I don't feel like this is entirely necessary. Perhaps its because the text was copied from Programmers and doesn't seem to apply very well to us. I'm not sure how to change it. Until we find something better, I don't think we should include it.
    – user47
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:44
  • @JustinY are you suggesting we shouldn't be including subjective questions (see the discussion at meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1561/104). If we don't accept them, this section is unnecessary, but if we do, I think some guidance is essential.
    – user104
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:52
  • @JustinY, PS the same guidance on subjective questions is repeated in a number of places on Stackexchange, not just Programmers.
    – user104
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:53
  • I'm suggesting that such a lengthy explanation isn't necessary. It confused me more than it helped. I envision a newbie visiting for the first time and wondering why we spent so much effort to draw lines around subjective questions. I don't think it's been a large enough problem to address. What other sites include that section besides Programmers? I haven't seen it elsewhere.
    – user47
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:57
  • @JustinY, Parenting and The Workplace for 2 more.
    – user104
    Jan 19, 2013 at 17:15
  • 1
    Workplace has a much lighter touch: "Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct." And Parenting says: "Please note that opinions shared here should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. Also, posts that primarily exist to push a specific agenda (propaganda), and soap-boxing, are not welcome."
    – user104
    Jan 19, 2013 at 17:22
  • I like how they tread more lightly on the issue.
    – user47
    Jan 19, 2013 at 17:33
  • @JustinY, edit away!
    – user104
    Jan 19, 2013 at 17:43
  • I changed "will be closed" to "risk being closed"
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 24, 2013 at 9:48

Part 1


What kind of questions can I ask here?

Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for expert genealogists and people interested in genealogy and family history. With your help, we're building a comprehensive library of answers to questions about genealogy and family history.

If your question is about:

  • Starting your research or improving your methodology
  • Finding a source or understanding how to use it
  • Documenting or presenting what you’ve learned
  • Breaking down brick-walls in your family tree
  • Using technology to support your research

and it is not about:

  • Locating identifiable living individuals
  • Which genealogy software or website is “the best”
  • Developing genealogy software
  • Celebrity or biblical genealogy
  • General history

then you’re in the right place. We welcome questions at all levels, and you can expect a range of answers from very basic to highly technical, depending on how you phrase your question. The community tends to respond better to questions that show you have already done some research (e.g. search engine, dictionary) before asking for help.


  1. I've kept the number of bullet points in each list to 5, following user-interface best practice guidance, and tried to use them to hit the most important points.
  2. The hyperlink for the definition of genealogy and family history is intended to show that the definition should be available via a hyperlink, not that that definition is the agreed one.
  3. I've targeted the bullet points at where we seem to have most consensus about on- and off-topic areas.
  • 1
    "With your help, we're building a library of detailed answers to every question about genealogy." Perhaps that should be phrased differently. Mathematically speaking, we can never have answers to every question.
    – Luke_0
    Jan 16, 2013 at 2:31
  • @Luke: Stackexchange boilerplate but if we can change it, I agree it's a bit ambitious.
    – user104
    Jan 16, 2013 at 8:46
  • How about "answers to questions about genealogy" (drop every)?
    – Luke_0
    Jan 16, 2013 at 17:16
  • @Luke, Edit away...
    – user104
    Jan 16, 2013 at 17:29
  • 1
    Might slip in the word comprehensive somewhere.
    – user104
    Jan 16, 2013 at 17:29
  • 1
    Thanks for taking this on. It's very important, and I'm very happy with what you've come up with.
    – user47
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:50
  • I agree with @JustinY - well done!
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 24, 2013 at 9:39
  • 1
    Added "The community usually responds quickest to questions that show you have already done some research (e.g. search engine, dictionary) before asking for help." to end - which could remove need for Part 2.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 24, 2013 at 10:00
  • I think if after "help." you added a last sentence copied directly from the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective blog you referenced in #2 "Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!" with a link from the word "subjective" to that blog you could eliminate Part 3 - What about subjective questions?
    – Jeni
    Jan 28, 2013 at 3:36

Part 2


Where can I find the answers to simple and basic questions?

If your question is simple and can probably be easily answered by looking it up, then you may find common online internet resources to be of some help. View our list of community recommended resources [hyperlink to be added] to find some that may be of help to you.

Of course, if your question isn't adequately answered by these resources, feel free to ask here. Be sure to mention the research you've done and what you're still hoping to learn!


I've stolen this idea shamelessly from the English Language site. Key questions:

  1. Do we want this section at all, or do we want to accept all on-topic questions.
  2. If we do want it, should it point to a list of resources or just mention (e.g.) a dictionary and search engines.
  • I don't think we need this. These questions have been a problem yet. If they do become a problem then we can revisit this.
    – user47
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:40
  • @JustinY, There have been users objecting to questions that could be answered by Google or a dictionary.
    – user104
    Jan 19, 2013 at 18:13
  • I forgot about that.
    – user47
    Jan 19, 2013 at 18:44
  • I don't think this section will work unless we can define a simple and basic question. ELU defines a basic question as one readily answered by a standard source (e.g., a dictionary or thesaurus). It's harder to define that on a genealogy site.
    – Luke_0
    Jan 22, 2013 at 21:02
  • Added "The community usually responds quickest to questions that show you have already done some research (e.g. search engine, dictionary) before asking for help." to Part 1 which may help remove need for this Part 2.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 24, 2013 at 10:01
  • @PolyGeo, good idea.
    – user104
    Jan 24, 2013 at 10:04
  • (e.g. search engine, dictionary) - these seem very broad and it seems someone always asks for more specific references that have been used. Could a couple specific to genealogy resources be added in the ( )?
    – Jeni
    Jan 28, 2013 at 3:43
  • @Jeni, there's a final draft at meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1596/104 which I think addresses your concerns. Re genealogy resources, I think that's maybe a topic for How to Ask?
    – user104
    Jan 28, 2013 at 9:05

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