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We all love Genealogy & Family History Stack Exchange, but there is a whole world of people out there who need answers to their questions and don't even know that this site exists. When they arrive from Google, what will their first impression be? Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before, and see how we stack up against the rest of the 'Net.

The Site Self-Evaluation review queue is open and populated with 10 questions that were asked and answered in the last quarter. Run a few Google searches to see how easy they are to find and compare the answers we have with the information available on other sites.

Rating the questions is only a part of the puzzle, though. Do you see a pattern of questions that should have been closed but are not? Questions or answers that could use an edit? Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!

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  • Wow. There's a lot of DNA questions in the queue. – American Luke Dec 1 '13 at 13:37
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    I didn't feel at all comfortable in commenting on the DNA questions. I know about DNA, but I haven't gotten into genetic genealogy at all, so my knowledge of what company uses what test and what alleles are reported on is zero. In answering any of those questions I could only refer people to the wiki at isogg.org. – Jan Murphy Mod Dec 3 '13 at 19:35
  • genealogy.stackexchange.com/review/site-eval (linked in the Question) is now throwing a Page Not Found error so perhaps the Question should be Closed or edited to say something like "results pending" if the plan is for it to be re-used to summarize them. – PolyGeo Mod Dec 9 '13 at 3:42
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Apologies if I'm not following proper procedure, since I'm still very new to SE. I seem to have bounced myself out of being able to review the questions, since I skipped many of them in order to look at the whole list before deciding on a question to review. :(

On the question What could an “X” under 'Spouse's Previous Husband's Name' mean? I marked "Needs improvement". Since I've already marked the question, I can't get back to it within SE itself to look at the answers again. However, the question does turn up in the first page of Google results, so I'll click through to re-read the answers that way.

These are my concerns with the answers that have been made so far:

@RobertShaw's answer begins with:

This "Spouse's Previous Husband's Name" is a standard field in FamilySearch marriage index records so it presumably has a standard interpretation. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be documented, at least as far as I could find. I have never noticed a nonblank entry there and looking through some records, including from the same source as Gebhardt's, found no others.

Maybe Robert hasn't seen any non-blank entries, but that's just his experience. Saying that there are no other non-blank entries in a particular batch is helpful, assuming that you have checked the entire batch. But you can't make statements about all of Family Search's M-batches from one single record or one single batch.

Asking for the bride's previous spouse's name is a standard question on Massachusetts vital records registers, and perhaps many others, so it's easy to see why FamilySearch might include a space for that information in an indexing template. When this field does contain data, these records have been valuable for me in confirming that an index entry might pertain to a woman whose history I am tracing; when filled in, it shows both her maiden name and the name of her previous spouse. For a bride's first marriage, the field will obviously be blank. For a New England researcher, who has a reasonable expectation of seeing data in this field, the only way to know the difference between a blank field because it's a first marriage, and a blank field because the indexer didn't put any extant data into the index, is to view the original image. I'm not clear about what other "interpretation" or "documentation" Robert is talking about, unless he means FamilySearch's own instructions to the indexers at the time the batch was done.

The sentence

Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be documented, at least as far as I could find.

bugs me because it doesn't tell me what he looked for or where he looked. An explicit statement "I couldn't find the instructions given to FamilySearch indexers" or "I looked for more information about M-batches in the FamilySearch Wiki and couldn't find anything." tells others what you tried to look for; it at least gives newer researchers a clue that one can search for instructions given to indexers, or that the FamilySearch Wiki exists.

The only way for a researcher to know in general if this field will ever have data in it, is to be familiar with the original register books for that geographical area, or to view the image (viewing the original is not an option in this particular case for anyone viewing this entry online and not at a FHC).

In his answer @richardtallent says:

Given the fact that this source is a conglomeration of other records, I wouldn't put much stock in a single "X".

Is it clear that this is a 'conglomeration', that is, should this source be treated the same as a compiled database?

This is the batch in question:

Indexing Project (Batch) Number: M91528-1

If this were a record for the UK, I would look up the batch number in Hugh Wallis' guide to IGI batches for the UK and North America. I don't know if there is an equivalent for German records. But presumably by looking at what the FHL cataloging said, one could find out the provenance of the records that were indexed in this batch?

This is the citation generated when I viewed the linked record today:

"Deutschland, Heiraten 1558-1929," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NZ2T-ZGM : accessed 03 Dec 2013), Daniel Gebhardt and Elisabetha Linckh, 06 Feb 1714; citing Steinheim/Murr (Oa. Marbach), Wurttemberg, Germany; FHL microfilm 1187116.

It was my understanding that B, C, and M- batches were all volunteer-indexed from vital records of specific towns; someone filmed the registers, and then volunteers indexed them from the images. According to Hugh Wallis, it is the I-batches in the IGI which are from user-submitted data; those are the ones that are more properly viewed as a "conglomeration" and should be used with much more caution. In any case -- even for the suspect I-batches -- this is worlds better than the U.S. Public Records index which takes data from many different sources, and combines them into one data pot, without giving the online viewer any clue about what original source yielded this information. (Family Search's search results seem to have more precise information than Ancestry's, but they still don't say whether the data comes from property tax records, a phone book, etc.)

Both answers are good in that they advise the reader to look at the original film, if possible. I don't know if privacy restrictions about German records prevent one from looking at these films at the local FHC; I've been procrastinating about going to my local FHC and doing German research because I don't have solid information about where my husband's family came from yet.

Possible digression: I don't know if this is relevant to the self-evaluation, but is this the same area of Germany mentioned in the comments for the question How can I find a town or the local church for a distant relative? If we notice two questions happen to be talking about the same geographical area, should they be linked?

Seeing that coincidence of place made me go back and look at the tags. The question in the self-evaluation queue is only tagged with one tag, marriage-records. It does not have a tag for Germany -- should it have? By contrast, the other question, how can I find a town, is tagged "records" "research" "research-methods" and "germany". What is the best practice?

Forgive me for going all Sheldon Cooper on this, but you asked. I think a more satisfactory answer would be to 1) advise the questioner that a look at the original image was needed, especially to review the headings in the original register and to 2) caution the questioner about restrictions on German records because of privacy concerns, although IIRC you can view them here but not in Germany. I can add some of this in a better answer after the self-evaluation period is over, if that's part of the Plan.

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  • Thanks for your observations! As far as bouncing out of the queue, when you skip a post in any queue, you can't come back to it and review it again (unless you're a moderator). – American Luke Dec 3 '13 at 19:40
  • Next time I'll know better. Thanks for the heads-up. Apologies for sticking everyone else with reviewing the DNA questions. ;) – Jan Murphy Mod Dec 3 '13 at 19:41
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    "If we notice two questions happen to be talking about the same geographical area, should they be linked?" Great question! If multiple questions share similar aspects such as the same locale, they should be tagged with the correct locations so they are easy to find. – American Luke Dec 3 '13 at 19:42
  • Total digression here, but while looking for the question on Google and thinking about batch numbers, I also found this post on DearMYRTLE's blog about the pitfalls of looking up FHC films: Finding a Record Copy or a FamilySearch folly blog.dearmyrtle.com/2012/01/… – Jan Murphy Mod Dec 3 '13 at 19:58
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