Our History SE counterparts were the first to run a Weekly Topic Challenge and from time to time we use a similar concept here to see if it can help us to generate more questions.

Here's how it works:

  1. Suggest topics in the answers below.
  2. About every two weeks, the organizer* picks one of the topics, based mainly on your votes, and writes up a new meta post introducing the challenge period which is usually two weeks. This is an example Challenge question.
  3. Anyone who wants to participate asks one or more questions about the challenge topic.
  4. At the end of the challenge period, the person who suggested that particular challenge (and/or the organizer) posts an answer to the challenge with a count of how many questions were asked and anything else they feel like highlighting (e.g. favourite questions or notable achievements). This is an example of a Challenge answer.
  5. The organizer picks a new topic and starts back on step #2.

People are free to add new topics at any time and when the list of topics is exhausted, the challenge series ends.

Please let me know what you think and suggest some topics for the months ahead.

* Either myself or someone who volunteers in an answer below.

10 Answers 10


In the USA, September 15th through October 15th is celebrated as German-American Heritage Month, to commemorate the arrival of German immigrants to the US on October 6th, 1683.

One of the special challenges if you have immigrant ancestors in your research is bridging the gap between the records in their new country, and the records in their old one.

The tag is well-represented with 46 questions, but we have only 7 with the tag . However, naturalization records often have the most precise information about the place of origin of our immigrant ancestors.

Let's write some Q/As and work on our skills so we can find these important resources.

This answer became Weekly Topic Challenge #1: Weekly Topic Challenge: Let's ask about Naturalization (and Citizenship)?

  • 1
    Although this answer refers to the German ancestry of many Americans at the beginning, I am assuming that the topic that emerges from it can be broadened to naturalization and attaining citizenship to any new country from any old country. Also, where you said "Let's write some Q/As", I'm keen to emphasize that what we are after primarily is Questions - from those the Answers should follow.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 22:21
  • 1
    Yes, I intended it to include naturalization / naturalisation records in any new country, not just the USA.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 0:54

I just searched for mentions of Family Legends and found only one such question for which I duly coined a new tag of .

That question came from @Fortiter and was Where do I look for a woman who vanished for 17 years?

By family legend I mean a story/legend that has been passed down to you (most likely) by word of mouth, or perhaps has been written up somewhere, but currently lacks any or sufficient corroborating evidence for you to be confident that it is true.

I think there must be many amazing Family Legends that could either stand up or fall to closer scrutiny, and am hoping that, if/when this answer floats to the top of the list of yet to be undertaken Weekly Topic Challenge suggestions, you will have at least one to ask about.

This answer became Weekly Topic Challenge #2: Weekly Topic Challenge: Let's ask about Family Legends?


What about Vital records that seem not to exist?

Things like elusive birth, death or marriagerecords... Every genealogist has at least one example!

Note: @ColeValleyGirl originally had birth, marriage and census records in this answer but @PolyGeo has split out Census records to see whether people want to focus on Vital or Census records first by using their votes.

This answer became:

  • a Topic Challenge in May 2015
  • Weekly Topic Challenge #3 in October 2014:

using this Meta Q&A:

  • Are you refering to gaps in record sets due to loss or date restrictions, or do you mean hard-to-find specific records?
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 14:22
  • 1
    Is this a proposal for a new tag: elusive? :)
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 14:52
  • @JanMurphy No re tag -- it's nothing that anybody would realistically/usefully want to search for or monitor.
    – user104
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 15:37
  • 1
    @bgwiehle it could be either -- working round known gaps in record sets, or improving search techniques for hard-to-find specific records.
    – user104
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 15:38
  • I was joking about the tag, but there is one problem, in that it's slightly easier to tally up the increase in questions for a category if they're a tagged category. But I do like the idea. [tag: work-arounds] ?
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 16:15
  • @JanMurphy If it has to fit into a single meaningful tag, it probably won't work -- I'd hate to see another tag generated like family-legend which has no wiki entry and no real use other than this topic challenge.
    – user104
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 17:05
  • Tags generated during the challenges do not have to persist beyond them - I was thinking that when the time for this one comes we could use missing-vital-record - and perhaps a separate challenge on missing-census-record because I think your suggestion is big enough to spawn two. In fact, I think I will perform that split to see whether people want to do missing vital or missing census records first.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 19:43
  • An alternative to using a meaningless tag would be to include a specific piece of marker text in the question like [X-challenge]. You can easily search for those questions to tally them up and edit the titles to remove the marker.
    – user104
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 13:39
  • How about using a single tag "topic-challenge" which could then be removed as the week's challenge was over? Tags are less conspicuous and thus less likely to confuse new visitors to the site. On the other hand, a case could be made that putting topic-challenge in the title could attract more people to participate.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 3:03

What about Census Records that seem not to exist?

Every genealogist has at least one example of an elusive census record!

Note: I've split this one out of @ColeValeyGirl's answer (suggestion) in order to see whether people would like to focus on elusive Census or Vital records first (by voting).

This answer became Weekly Topic Challenge #5: Is there a census record that you've looked and looked for but cannot find?


We currently have 9 questions with the tag .

Wills are an especially rich source of names, which is a great way to jumpstart cluster or FAN (friends, associates, neighbors) research. Even something as simple as an entry in the National Probate Index can provide important clues.

This answer became Weekly Topic Challenge #6: Making the most of clues from Probate Records and Wills?


Well, I've already posted two questions on this topic already, so I don't know how many more Q/As could be added, but what about tutorials on old scripts / old handwriting?

This answer became Weekly Topic Challenge #7: Who needs help deciphering some old handwriting in family history documents?


We have some questions about the Masons already. There are MANY other fraternal organizations. I'm sure if we scoured our records, we could find people who belonged to the Masons, other fraternal orders, or other social organizations.

The orders themselves may have indexes of members with just a few dates involving their membership in the organization, but they can provide vital clues to residence in a particular area, and membership information may lead to hits in newspapers or city directories, yielding names of associates for cluster / FAN group research.

This answer became the subject of a challenge topic in May 2015:


I would like to propose a challenge to identify details in an old photograph that you need help with.

The photographs will preferably be of an individual (or small group) and include any details that your research already suggests about who it may be, and where and when it was taken.

Additional information like a scan of the reverse side should be included wherever possible, as well as how you came to be in possession of the photo, etc.

Looking back, examples of the types of question that I am thinking of are:

We could use a tag of for this challenge when it floats to the top.

This answer became Weekly Topic Challenge #4: Who's that in your old family photo?


I have posted special Conference Room chat topic for this weekend in hono(u)r of this weekend's WWI centenary.

See the Meta question Conference Room chat: WWI centenary and finding records about WWI service members for details about special online events and free access weekends. To encourage people to write up their questions and findings, I'd like to suggest finding WWI records and relatives as a topic challenge.

A "Gallipoli edition" of this answer ran as a Topic Challenge in the weeks leading up to its 100th anniversary on 25 Apr 2015: Ask your ANZAC ancestry questions on 100th anniversary of Gallipoli landing! but there is plenty of scope to re-run this challenge as 100th anniversaries of other battles loom (feel free to add more):

  • Verdun February-December 1916
  • Somme July-November 1916
  • Ypres July-November 1917
  • Caporetta October-November 1917

I would like to propose that we have a topic challenge every now and again which is focused on location.

For instance: this week FamilySearch's British Isles team is holding a series of webinars on Scotland Research. In July, they will conduct a series of classes on research in Wales. I am taking these classes even though I am not really in a position to get back to Scotland or Wales because I have no data to go on and the surnames are very common, but I want to be prepared in case I can make the connection.

One thing I have neglected so far is research in Canada, in part because the I am missing a lot of 'obvious' records like passenger lists that weren't kept during the period I need them. I would love to see more Q/As about Canadian research so I can learn more about record groups I may have missed.

Edited to add: I surveyed the tags to see what kind of numbers we had for the Commonwealth countries:

  • england 110
  • australia 28
  • scotland 25
  • wales 22
  • canada 17
  • ireland 17

For the purpose of voting, consider this a proposal for questions about Canada. If you'd like to see other countries, please write your own answer for the country of your choice.

This topic became the subject of a challenge that began on 30 May 2015: Are you interested in Canadian genealogy and Family History?

  • I think this is a great idea! One thought though is whether we need an answer for each country someone proposes we shine the spotlight on. For example, is this answer proposing Canada, Scotland or Wales should be the first we do?
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 21:15
  • @PolyGeo - what seems best? a) edit my answer and have people list the country they'd like to see with their username or b) add individual answers for a country they'd like to see, which we could upvote or c) something else? I would like to see Scotland some time after this week's classes are over, so I could invite some of my classmates to participate, but it doesn't matter if there is some lag time (and it might be better to give people some 'sinking in time' to think about it). We could use the current tag counts as a guide, perhaps.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 23:53
  • I'm thinking you could edit this answer to say specifically that a vote for it is a vote for doing Country A, and then create another answer or two that reference meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/2023 but propose doing Country B, Country C, etc PS My votes will be for Scotland and Wales before Canada.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 23:58
  • @PolyGeo -- very well, I've picked CANADA as my country of first choice, and I've amended my answer accordingly.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 0:09

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