An offshoot from the comments on How much detail should be included in questions about WW1 and WW2 service members?....

– @AdrianB38 makes the case for more information:

To try and expand my comment above - (1) It would have been perfectly possible for the Original Poster to have asked a generic, non-specific question along the lines of "How do I find the burial place of ...?" Except - we know it doesn't work like that. Many of us here are perfectly happy to work in the abstract but lots of people out there, including many in our target "audience", can't work like that. That's exactly why we, the abstractionists, often finish our theory with practical examples from real life. To require our Posters to anonymise their qns makes their qns harder to phrase.

I have ended up on both sides of this issue. For some questions, without having enough information, the question seems impossible to answer properly. For others, a non-specific answer seems easy to write (as in the 'how do I find a burial place' question referenced in the linked question').

What makes a question harder or easier to answer, depending on the information given or withheld? Would it be worthwhile to work up some general guidelines that might be helpful to add to the FAQ?

Here's why I ask.

We are searching for records from providers who are keen to have us search by name. This leaves us at the mercy of bad indexing / transcription -- if the name is not spelled the way we expect, often we can't find the person we're looking for. Sometimes the only way to bring a record up is to search for everything we know about someone but leaving the name blank.

On the other hand, sometimes we can only be certain we have found the right person by looking at a combination of names found in the record, because there are too many possibilities if we look at only one.

I've seen several comments about how we don't want to be a lookup service, and yet if we have a name, it's tempting to just go straight into looking for the name, instead of thinking about the larger picture.

However, when sites exist specifically to record the burial places of service members, it seems more straightforward to cut to the chase and point the user in that direction, when that's what the user has asked for.

One reason that we might struggle with this question -- finding a record, and recognizing that the record we are looking at belongs to "our people" are two separate tasks. This seems obvious to state, but I think the industry muddies the two on purpose, to make things seem "easier" for beginners.

2 Answers 2


I think both types of question should be welcome here, and providing guidance on how to ask one or the other is unnecessary.

However, I think a good answer will always be generic, with a worked example that directly addresses named individuals if enough details are given and the records are publicly available. Plus of course an explanation of how to judge whether that individual is the one sought...

A bad answer will just do a lookup, which is no use to anyone else and may encourage the OP to be a lazy researcher who doesn't consider whether the result of a search is the individual they seek.

So I'd not bother with guidance for questions, but perhaps give some guidance for answers.


Anonymous questions generate generic answers. If the original poster is a true novice, whether in overall experience or only in the specific record type or region referenced by the question, then this may be sufficient.

However, if the poster has done a reasonable amount of research (which is not always reflected by the initial post), then they are looking for a way around a roadblock.

In order to formulate an answer that goes beyond basics, sometimes my own experience provides an insight. Otherwise, I try to recreate the reasearch to see what difficulties apply to the described situation. Without details, that's not really possible.

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