Edited to summarise reactions:

There doesn't seem to be any desire to change our off-topic areas, so I propose that we accept the default off-topic close reason, which says:

This question does not appear to be about Genealogy & Family History, within the scope defined in the help center,

with a link to the definition of on- and off-topic areas in the help center.

We can define up to three specific off-topic/custom close reasons which would probably be useful if there was a high volume of questions that fell into a specific off-topic 'bucket' but we haven't had enough off-topic questions to know which ones are most useful yet. Do we want to craft anything specific or wait to see what develops?

Original Post

As part of the changes to closing (Wondering what's happened to all the proposed changes to 'closing'?):

5. Off-topic closures will include feedback on what specifically is off-topic for that site. (new)

  • Each site will have a list of its own specific pre-selected “Off-Topic” reasons
  • Each closer will either select one of the site's standard reasons from the list (for instance, “Recipe requests are off-topic, although recipe replacements, etc. are allowed”),
  • Closers can enter a free-form reason ("Your question appears to be about 'Cat Grooming', which is off-topic for Stack Overflow.")
    Free-form reasons will be presented as comments, but the close dialogue will refer the reader to the comments for more info
  • Free-form reasons picked by closers will be available to subsequent close-voters on that question as one of the selections from the list
  • These lists will be determined by the communities, and moderators will be able to update them, subject to review by each other, their community, and the SE team

Reasons will need to be specific enough to make it clear to most readers what is and is not allowed (off-topic reasons of the form "Things that are NOT X" will be discouraged).

This is also the place to address any closing reason that applies to one site but not others (for instance, the "General Reference" close reason on English Language and Usage is moving here).

As a community, we don't close a lot of questions as off-topic, but this might be a good opportunity to review the areas we currently have defined as 'off-topic' and add to or subtract from or clarify them if we wish.

Our help currently says:

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

So far, we've closed (or migrated) a grand total of 7 questions as off-topic, which have been about:

  • Terms of service for Ancestry.com (with the advice that the question should be raised with ancestry support)
  • General history with no genealogy or family history content
  • Medical implications of DNA testing
  • Ethnicity assessments by considering appearance
  • Photographic equipment (migrated to Photography site)
  • Online sources for buying an LCD TV (yes, really!)
  • Soliciting requirements for a college computing project to develop a genealogy 'web application'

So: Are we happy with the status quo for "off-topic"? And if we're not, what do we want to change? And do we want to try to add any "custom" closing reasons?

3 Answers 3


The one change I'd like to propose is to include:

  • Medical implications of DNA testing
  • Ethnicity calculations and assessments other than by DNA analysis

as explicitly off-topic.

The consensus when we were discussing scope in detail seemed to be that they were off-topic, but they didn't get included in the faq/help centre because of a desire to keep the list of off-topic areas quite short.

  • There was also a discussion here about mentioning names of living people (or people assumed to be still living within a certain time period)- somehow that should be worded as off-topic.
    – Jeni
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 21:24
  • Although the first is definitely off-topic, I don't think it deserves a specific close reason. It seems rather narrow and unlikely to be used often.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 1:37
  • 1
    @Jeni, I don't think it should be a close reason to mention the names of living people but people need to flag them if they see them. Even if such questions are closed and deleted the names are still visible unless a moderator gets somebody from SE to intervene (as we have done before -- editing the question to remove the named and then getting the powers-that-be to remove the previous version).
    – user104
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 8:27
  • @Luke, we've had one such question already.
    – user104
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 8:27
  • We've had one question about LCD TV's already
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 13:45
  • @Luke, that's so obviously off topic, it doesn't need mentioning. But DNA testing is on topic, so I think we need to be clear that the medical aspects are not.
    – user104
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 14:21
  • Would the medical uses of "traditional" genealogical tools (such as trying to infer carriers of simple recessive genes from a pedigree) be considered on-topic. I agree with the intent to close off the topic but finding the correct words will be a challenge.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 11:18
  • @Fortiter, you're right about the wording challenge. We can't police the reasons people are tracing their family, which may be - as you point out - to trace carriers of a recessive condition. But I think we can draw the line at people asking about the medical implications of their DNA profile.
    – user104
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 12:03

I am probably at an extreme end of the spectrum on the "general history" question, but I think that the claim that any question has "no genealogy ... content" would be impossible to sustain. All of our life histories are shaped by big events that might not involve our ancestors as primary players.

If I were to ask about the war between Prussia and Denmark, I would be looking for the factors that caused half the population of my ancestor's village to migrate to the other side of the world. I cannot say that my 4xgreat grandfather was determined to avoid his son's conscription or that the village granary was pillaged, but I strongly suspect that the people were aware of the conflict and that by learning more about it I can better understand their decisions.

  • 1
    I'm pretty close to your end of the spectrum, but I think we can recognise a question such as "Where did Archduke Franz Ferdinand die?" as having nothing to do with family history. Whereas a question about how World War 1 and its aftermath affected emigration from Germany to the USA would be well on-topic.
    – user104
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 12:12

One restriction I find puzzling is not allowing questions on "Developing genealogy software".

For a programmer (and the Stack Exchange audience is quite technical), it has a big overlap with "Using technology to support your research".

An example (made up) question:

There are modules in PHP, Ruby, and so on (link to them) that attempt to capitalize last names correctly, which is useful when taking all-caps data and making it readable in a genealogy program/website. The rules they use are not formal or documented, really just a series of empirical fixes as new exceptions become known. Although it's never possible to be 100% accurate as the same spellings may capitalise differently in different countries (and years), are there any documented best-practices and algorithms? Has this been tackled by any internationalisation group?

That question is clearly about software development, yet is considered off-topic in Stack Overflow: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2466706/capitalization-of-person-names-in-programming

That's just an example. Other questions could include where to get the geocoding data for UK BMD registration districts (for example for mapping of surnames), how best to parse and store GEDCOM, name matching and placename matching algorithms, best practice and what problems to look out for with fuzzy date matching, sources for genealogy test data, standard routines for calculating the various number reference systems used in genealogy, and so on.

If these are not appropriate for a Genealogy Q&A that covers "using techology to support your research", why not? Is there somewhere more suitable?

I do understand that overly technical questions could put some users off, although providing a resource for those developing for genealogy could equally attract other users.

  • At meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/1385/104 it seems that "I'm developing a software product to support X genealogical activity -- what features should it support" is not welcome. But we've been relaxed about questions that try to explore in depth one particular requirement e.g. genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/2319/104 or genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/2767/104. My opinion is that general programming topics e.g. PHP, Ruby, VBA don't fit here, even if they were being applied to genealogy, but questions about technical resources specific to genealogical problems would.
    – user104
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 9:39
  • 1
    I think this is important enough to warrant its own question here on meta -- do you want to raise it?
    – user104
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 9:41
  • IMO, "what features should it support?" is obviously to opinionized. However, an objective question maybe programming a GRAMPS extension (for example), should be fine. As long as it wouldn't be on-topic at SO, it should be fine here. "How do I set java parameters?" (I'm not a programmer :P) would be off-topic. Even if you put the word genealogy in there somewhere.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 12:22
  • Now asked as a question at meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1733/…
    – Rob Hoare
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 20:09

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