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Even through some basic "rules of thumb" likely apply, genealogical problems are specific. If questions are asked in context (the problem I'm facing is ...), we have the opportunity to solve "real problems" rather than just referring folks to the big book of basics.*

Said another way, if the question posted provides the information and/or insight into record, family and personal circumstances at hand, I tend towards allowing the questions to be answered. (I realize there is some art involved in tagging these "somewhat similar" questions, so that all can be located.)

I hope @ACProctor weighs in on this, as he has separately expressed some related good ideas.

*P.S. Consider that even the big book of basics often doesn't come to be very meaningful until you have a fair amount of experience. Ala, until you can relate to just why this or that is even a basic.

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I'm not sure what you mean exactly by "Genealogical problems are precise". Surely, someone might ask a specific question about someone called "Andrew Wilson" or a more general one about researching circus ancestors.

I agree about the way that questions unfold, though, and how this might cause over-zealous closure. For instance, the topic of name variants has cropped up a few times now. This is a big subject with lots of finer detail. Because SE relies on users to post questions, there is no guarantee of how specific/generic/broad they might be. Hence, there will almost certainly be some partial overlap between those questions. For instance, if a broadly-scoped one is posted first then a later finely-scoped one - one that needs a more detailed answer - may suffer as a result. Sometimes the overlap might be enough to instigate a closure but sometimes we will not be absolutely sure, and we might have to live with a partial overlap.

In principle, SE questions should not overlap, and the idea is the obtain the best answers to specific questions. If we were doing the same thing in an online encyclopaedia style then we would have the advantage of being able to pose "stock questions" with "stock answers". We would therefore be able to decompose a big subject like name variants into nicely-sized sub-topics that complement rather than overlap.

Even if there was some practical way of creating a wealth of stock questions, and linking user's questions to them, I don't see a way that we - as a community - could attach stock answers that we all accepted. After all, we're all working in a highly subjective field.

  • Even though some of what we deal with is subjective, differing answers built upon differing experience have to be acceptable -- we don't have to find a single holy grail to answer every question. – user104 Feb 5 '13 at 15:22
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    @ColeValleyGirl, What about a new FAQ area that covers common genealogical questions, as opposed to the existing FAQ that explains the site's rules and best-practices? – ACProctor Feb 6 '13 at 17:40
  • @GeneJ and I had a discussion on this at chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/7699151#7699151 I think (hey, I've only been on SE for less than 3 months) that the way to do it is "canonical questions" on the Main site (so that they're seen as part of the main content) rather than Qs tagged as faq on Meta. Which is the same things I suppose as your stock Qs, and no reason we can't start posting Qs that we answer ourselves? – user104 Feb 6 '13 at 17:47
  • We only have flexibility in the FAQ on the first section. – user104 Feb 6 '13 at 17:48
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    OK. I'd go with that – ACProctor Feb 6 '13 at 17:52
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If the point of a question is to progress research on an individual/set of circumstances, then it's unlikely to be a duplicate. And I'm definitely in favour of helping in such cases, as long as the OP provides enough detail to work from, either originally or when asked for clarification.

I'm less convinced where the point of the question is to understand a basic principle or technique.

For example, What is somebody's "real" surname from a set of possible spelling variants? (as reworded) seeks to understand how best to deal with spelling variants for a surname, and uses as an example a particular individual. It's got answers that address the general approach rather than the specific individual, although using the individual to illustrate the principles.

If we get another question about handling spelling variants for names, even if the example individual(s) are different, my view is that it's still a duplicate and I'd point the OP at this one to see if that answered their question first, with a request that they clarify what's different about their question before it's re-opened.

  • When you close that (hypothetical) question as a duplicate, you will be applying the SE rules perfectly, and ensuring that G&FH never reaches its potential. But pursuing that argument would merely duplicate points made elsewhere. – Fortiter Feb 6 '13 at 3:36
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    @Fortiter And when it's re-opened because the OP has clarified the differences in their circumstances? – user104 Feb 6 '13 at 8:27
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    @Fortiter Also, "less convinced" is not the same as "dogmatically insistent." Put a counterview? – user104 Feb 6 '13 at 9:50

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