Verbeia suggested here: https://genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1701/104 that more self-answered questions might be a good move for the site. I happen to agree, but if the community as a whole doesn't concur, it might do more harm than good.

So: Would we be happy to see more self-answered questions? Are there any particular criteria they need to meet above and beyond the standards we apply to all questions?

ETA: The sort of self-answered question that might find a useful home here (and it might not even need to be self-answered) is: What finding aids and sources exist online for researching immigration into New Zealand in the late nineteenth century? Yes, the FamilySearch wiki provides copious detail on research in New Zealand, but not a potted answer to that exact question. Archives New Zealand talks about their own holdings and then suggests Google (!). So a curated answer here on the topic would perhaps not be redundant.

One situation in which this might arise is if somebody faces a genuine problem (how to start researching in an area unknown to them) and, being a good GFH.SE citizen, heads off to Google to do some digging. They don't find a concise answer to their question in a single place, but find enough information in a few places that they can construct their answer without needing to ask here. In which case, 'making the Internet a better place' and building 'a comprehensive library of answers to questions about genealogy and family history' could include posting their original question and the answer that they've developed for others to benefit from.

  • I am tempted to develop a "curated answer" to a finding aids and procedures question as you suggest in the ETA. But my rough outline suggests this could be a LONG piece. What length do you envisage being appropriate for such a self-answer? – Fortiter Jul 2 '13 at 2:50
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    @Fortiter Mmmm. As long as it needs to be is the glib answer, But if it's going to run really long maybe the question needs cutting into smaller chunks? – user104 Jul 2 '13 at 9:27
  • Aah, the wisdom of Solomon! But therein lies the dilemma. To be generally useful, a "how-to" needs to have a component devoted to framing the question appropriately for the parameters and that probably makes it better suited for other publishing avenues. Alternatively we need a sensible system for tying several shorter pieces into a coherent whole. In either case, I suspect that the structure will be a barrier. (Nevertheless, I will continue to explore options.) – Fortiter Jul 2 '13 at 12:04
  • @Fortiter, re mechanisms for tying several shorter pieces together, there is our amzingly-well-thought-through tagging system </sarcasm off>. At some point we could ask for our own blog, but I don't see much point until we have a larger community who are willing to share the workload of keeping it going. I'll have a think about structures as well. One thing I don't think we ought to be doing is creating 'blog entries' or 'wiki entries' in the Q&A format. One option to explore might be the tag wiki but that doesn't help bump up our question rate and I'm not sure how search engines handle that. – user104 Jul 2 '13 at 12:39

My answer to "Are we happy to see more self-answered questions?" is yes.

I believe we need more actual genealogical content on the site, not just 'how to'?

The majority of the active community doesn't ask questions, just answer them. None of the top-10 users have more questions than answers. Only 2 are close and most have 5-10X more answers than questions. Yet the subject matter experts have a wealth of facts in their genealogies that are not available to other researchers looking for those specific facts.

Most of stack exchange works thru knowledge sharing - both of 'how to' and of 'specific facts'. There appears to be a reluctance that information about specific ancestors is too narrowly focused and not of general interest. Yet most ancestors from more than a few generations back have a significant number of descendants and we might just find a few new members by getting hits on facts related to them.

I also suffer from not asking enough questions so I am trying to remedy that both with questions I don't have the answer to and with questions I do have the answer and think others (admittedly the narrow segment that are descended from that indivual) might be interested.

Our question rate is steadily decreasing, and more importantly, our hit rate is steadily decreasing. I believe more content will solve both those issues as well as increase our community.

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    There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking and answering questions about specific ancestors - although you keep taking aim at that straw-man. 16 of my 24 questions to date are about specific ancestors, but I've tried to make them more generally useful than just publishing the facts (which are all at www.colevalleygirl.co.uk as well as a number of online trees, and freely available to anyone using a search engine). The issue with cousin-bait is about the quality of the questions and their general utility -- poor questions with narrow audiences are not what this site should be seeking. – user104 Jul 6 '13 at 19:55
  • It is a real pity that you don't spent your effort on improving your questions; you have the kernel of several good questions if you would just work on them a little. – user104 Jul 6 '13 at 19:55
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    @ColeValleyGirl - that is one of my frustrations with this site. I put what I consider significant time into trying to meet your quality standards. I do more than 'just work on them a little' but it's still insufficient. I work much more than full-time and only have a few hours per week for my genealogy hobby so the hours I spend are very valuable to me. It is much easier on the other sites I participate in. I'd hoped this site would replace all those sites. – Duncan Jul 8 '13 at 3:22
  • Duncan, would you mind if I had a go at improving the Doris Sparrell question and answer for you? I'd need to know a little bit about her family background to do it (as Fortiter pointed out in his answer). – user104 Jul 8 '13 at 7:45
  • @ColeValleyGirl I sympathize strongly with Duncan. In an effort to meet quality standards, I end up putting in enough work to answer most of my questions. Sometimes I share the info, sometimes I don't. In an effort to get more life into the community, I tend to err on the side of sharing too much regardless of it's value and just let the community do with it as it pleases (vote up, vote down, close, comment, etc). But I'm not convinced that's the right approach. – user47 Jul 8 '13 at 23:02
  • @JustinY, I honestly don't see a problem if the process of researching your own problem leads you to your own answer. I've done it myself. But if I thought the question and answer I'd derived were useful to more people than just me (and didn't replicate material already on the site) I'd consider making it a self-answered question. [contd.] – user104 Jul 9 '13 at 7:33
  • But if somebody wants to post a question that hasn't had a lot of work put into it, they can -- the community doesn't often close them (unless there's insufficient info for them to be answerable). The only downsides are: they may not get many if any votes, they may get downvoted, and they may not get a good answer. Ditto if they post a question with very narrow relevance that doesn't illustrate a more general principle. – user104 Jul 9 '13 at 7:40
  • @Duncan, feel free to ignore my views -- I'm only one voice. If you can get answers to your questions here, great. – user104 Jul 9 '13 at 7:51
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    Yes, we need more questions. Yes, it would be great if we would all take it upon ourselves to ask and answer more questions. Cudos to you, Duncan, for trying to do so. I agree with you that ancestor specific questions should not be beyond the pale. I think that most people on here are saying that ancestor questions are fine... BUT if members leave comments asking for, or suggesting ways that you can IMPROVE your questions about said ancestors, then it would make sense to do so. – Canadian Girl Scout Jul 10 '13 at 3:37

I have created an example of what I have in mind, with the pre 1841 Census question. I've added a community wiki answer with the intention that together we can make it THE listing of what is available in this area. Hopefully others can think if analogous questions that lend themselves to,similar treatment.

  • This will be an interesting experiment. One challenge will be to see how the community "polices" the quality of the links added to the wiki answer. Do we need a mechanism for classifying sources (whether in EE terms or some other system)? – Fortiter Jul 8 '13 at 0:09
  • Could you edit your answer to include a link to the question you are talking about? – Jeni Jul 8 '13 at 20:59
  • Sorry @Jeni, I was in the airport lounge and the boarding call went, and then I forgot to come back to it after I arrived. Done now – Verbeia Jul 9 '13 at 3:56

A question that is asked with the intention of self-answering is a form of publishing that could be used to ensure that an important finding is widely promulgated.

Given the myriad other options for publishing, one must ask why would a researcher/author choose SE as a vehicle rather than (for example) a personal blog?

One possibility that I would definitely regard with unease is the possibility that a self-answered question might be used as cousin bait.

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    One reason for publishing here rather than on ones own blog would be the (theoretical) greater reach of SE. – user104 Jul 1 '13 at 12:06
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    Also, I don't believe cousin-bait would be any more acceptable here as a self-answered question than it would be in any other form. However, I'm known to be extreme in my views about the presence of cousin-bait. – user104 Jul 1 '13 at 12:07
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    what is cousin-bait? Could you refer to which part of genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask you are referring? There appears to be a prejudice against information about specific individuals as 'too narrow'. If that is the case, we need to define better. My opinion is that will reduce participation and I think we should be trying to encourage it. – Duncan Jul 6 '13 at 14:08
  • @Duncan, I've attempted to define and discuss cousin-bait here: meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1726/… – user104 Jul 9 '13 at 14:02
  • meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1726/… is a great explanation of 'cousin-bait'. My takeaway from that it's possible to have good self-answered questions about a given ancestor without it being cousin bait. – Duncan Jul 19 '13 at 12:28

Disclaimer This answer refers to a specific question but should not be read as a criticism of it. I am referring to it purely in the context of the discussion above about creating generally-applicable content.

The question about the teenaged(sic) Miss Sparell and its original answer seems to me to represent another distinct category of self-answered question. It enables a specific piece of information about a particular individual to be "preserved" by on-line publication; but would not (IMO) provide support for any researchers not specifically investigating one of the individuals named in the report.

The question for the community is whether my additional answer has added any value or simply loaded up a question (that already served one purpose) with an unnecessary additional burden.

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    Your answer shows how it's possible to have a good useful answer to a bad question. – user104 Jul 5 '13 at 7:56
  • "but would not (IMO) provide support for any researchers not specifically investigating one of the individuals named in the report" - I think reserachers for a speicific individual is mostly what genealogy is about. I personally think we need more 'facts' preserved so we'll get hits to our sites. As a exclusinvely how-to site, I don't think there is enough material to sustain this site – Duncan Jul 6 '13 at 14:10
  • btw - my intent in the Miss Sparrell question was as you state, to preserve a piece of information and make it generally available. I chose se as the 'publishing forum' in an attempt to get more facts into se to increae hit rate. This particular Q&A on it's own would not dramatically increase but if we all did similar it would put significant content on to the site and increase the value to a wider community – Duncan Jul 6 '13 at 14:12
  • @Duncan, SE is not a 'Publishing forum', it's a Q&A site. – user104 Jul 6 '13 at 19:58

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