I would like to ask our community a question, using as an example a recent question that I asked, which was answered by a distant cousin of mine, who I have otherwise never had any contact with:

When, where and to whom was William Henry Rouse born in about 1832 near Truro (or Redruth), Cornwall?

The answer was flagged as Not An Answer and converted to a comment as a result but should it have been?

I'm going to answer from one perspective, which is at least partly a personal one, but I am hoping we can see several perspectives and a number of votes that we can use to try and gauge community sentiment.

I recommend that anybody answering reviews this Q&A first: Can I post cousin-bait on this site? because the question coming from a cousin should not affect any policy but cousins are potential G&FH SE users too.


I notice the focus here has evolved a bit since this meta question was first posted. I think where you’ve landed, with PolyGeo’s approach of letting the answer stand but asking for info to support their claim, is rather sound.

For the sake of balancing long and short term priorities, I recommend adding one more condition -- if a bit of time, say 48 hours, has passed and a new user has not returned to add more supporting evidence, revert the post back to a comment.

This optimizes for giving new users more flexibility, and a helping hand, but ensures the questions and answers memorialized on your site maintain standards for quality and usefulness. You’re keeping the bar high, and then helping new users reach it.

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    +1 but I think 48 hours is too short a time for this particular site. – Jan Murphy Nov 26 '14 at 21:53
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    I wouldn't recommend waiting too long, but feel free to choose another timeframe -- 48 hours was an example. The most important thing is that the community agrees on an amount of time, and sticks to it. – Ana Nov 26 '14 at 22:34
  • +1 from me too but I agree with @JanMurphy that 48 hours is too short. I would be thinking a couple of weeks rather than a couple of days. – PolyGeo Nov 27 '14 at 0:46
  • @PolyGeo Is two weeks too long to remember to go back and check? If somebody cares enough about their question, they'll be back sooner -- what about 72 or 96 hrs? – user104 Nov 30 '14 at 15:16
  • @JanMurphy See above – user104 Nov 30 '14 at 15:16
  • @ColeValleyGirl I agree that two weeks seems a bit long. If things sit too long, we won't remember to go back and fix them. – Jan Murphy Nov 30 '14 at 17:10

One argument for leaving the answer as an answer, rather then converting it to a comment, is that conversion takes away an opportunity for newcomers to earn reputation points -- the immediate problem being that it takes 20 reputation to be able to talk in chat (and 50 to comment everywhere -- see most recent update at bottom of this answer).

This means that if a cousin shows up who is a complete SE newbie, we can't invite him/her to a chat room to explore side evidence that might not be directly relevant to the question, or encourage them to stick around and participate more fully in the site.

On the other hand, the answer as posted is not an answer, but instead, asks another question. I haven't searched Meta for this, but I have now seen multiple instances where I want to take an answer that someone has made and turn it into another question, linked back to the question where it was originally posted as an answer, with the original authorship of the question retained.

If we could do this, it seems like a win-win situation to me. It would generate new questions, which could then be addressed directly, instead of having low-quality answers on the original question, or long drawn-out discussions in comments.

Upvotes would not give the new person the same amount of rep points as leaving it as an answer, since questions don't get as much credit as answers, but it would be better than zero, which is what happens now when the answer gets converted to a comment.

Update: I have written a welcome comment on an answer to Brierton/Brereton Spelling Causing issues -- I'm leaving a note here as a reminder that if no edit is made to the answer, it needs to be converted to a comment. As a compromise between the 48-hour window proposed by Ana, and the longer period proposed by PolyGeo, shall we say, give people a week to come back and edit? We can always narrow the time period later.

Yet another update: I didn't realize until recently that new users cannot post comments everywhere when they first arrive because they don't earn that right until they have 50 reputation.

I'm sure Stack Exchange has a good reason for setting things up this way, but it makes things especially awkward for users who are coming to G&FH.SE as their first SE site. Look at it from their point of view: we won't let them comment right away, and if they post their comment as an answer (which is all that they are allowed to do) then we are forced to complain at them that their comment wasn't an answer.

I get it that we want them to jump in and start answering things and asking questions so they can earn some reputation, but it isn't very welcoming to say "you can't talk to unless you jump these hoops and earn 50 points first".

As an example, see this answer which has been flagged as 'not an answer' after I left a comment welcoming the user and PolyGeo edited it to be more answer-like. So my question is: How many 'not an answer' flags should the mods collect before we pull the trigger and transmogrify the cousin-bait, "I'm interested in these specific people, too" answers into comments?

I'd also like more answers from the rest of the community about how long a non-answer should age before it is converted to a comment. Two weeks? One week? 48 hours? Something else?

  • +1 for advantages seen in engaging new member of our community by not converting to comment. However, I don't think conversion to a question (even if an option) would be better than simply editing/commenting the answer to improve it, and then encouraging new questions to be asked from it. – PolyGeo Nov 21 '14 at 20:22
  • With no strong disagreement having been expressed, I am going to proceed to undelete the answer in question, and try to do what I suggested. – PolyGeo Nov 23 '14 at 23:09

At the moment I think we all recognise that more questions and answers are likely to lead to more visits and users, and in turn to more questions and answers, and a quicker graduation from Beta. Consequently, while we are in this phase, I think we need to try and keep the bar as low as possible for new users.

The answer which was converted to a comment was:

I am 2 x great grandson of William Crossman Rouse. I too have come across William Henry and have come to the same conclusion that William Crossman and someone called Elizabeth had a child out of wedlock. It is interesting to note that his eldest son Henry Green Rouse stayed in Cornwall when William Henry went to Australia. I would be interested to know more about what became of William Henry and his children in Australia.

Although there is some extraneous information, which certainly interests me but which I know is outside the strictest interpretations of the protocols under which we operate, I think it does qualify as an answer. It clearly states that its author has "come to the same conclusion that William Crossman [Rouse] and someone called Elizabeth had a child out of wedlock".

Rather than converting this already upvoted answer to a comment, I think it would have been better to enquire as to whether there was any additional evidence that could be brought in to support the conclusion, etc. We could also have mentioned that G&FH SE is not designed to facilitate online discussion between cousins, but to try and keep strictly to asking and answering questions concerning Genealogy and Family History. At the same time I do not think it would hurt to comment that some users do provide contact details in their user cards.

I think the upside to being a bit more "cousin (and new user) friendly" is that each of us has potentially thousands of cousins that could be attracted to our site and that we could benefit both personally and professionally from the input of many of them.

I have not heard from my cousin offline nor seen any further presence by him here.

My preference would be to undelete the answer and use the approach above on similar questions that may arise in the future.

I have had two other cousins dip their toes into our site, both of whom I commenced correspondence with prior to that, and I am trying to advertise the value of our Q&A to as many of my personal contacts as I can. One of them is responsible for a Guild of One Names Studies study which is a pool of genealogical talent that I would like to attract to monitor, ask and help answer questions here, and to spread the word about the high quality of Q&A we are striving for here.


tldr version:

It shouldn't make any difference whether the answer comes from a cousin or not. And we shouldn't ignore the requirements of the site to keep newbies on board but instead help them understand how it works around here and what's expected of participants.

Longer version:

I disagree. The content of the 'answer' was (in essence):

  • I agree with your speculative conclusion (without providing evidence to support it)
  • Here's a related snippet of information
  • I would be interested to know more about these people

Take away the 'cousin' factor and judge it against: https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer. At best, it's a not very good answer (or would be if the question at the end was removed, which I have now done). It's irrelevant whether it comes from a cousin (or possibly, its problems arise because it comes from a cousin who doesn't understand the format of this site and is treating it like a discussion forum).

More importantly, I don't think it does this site or new users any favours to treat 'cousins' differently from other users -- it will either cause confusion because the standards seem to differ for different users, or it will lower the standards generally. I do understand and share the desire to nurture new participation to help grow and mature the site, but remain to be convinced how diluting our quality standards will help us achieve that aim.

Re making contact with cousins, point them to contact info in your own profile or encourage them via comments to provide their own (the current moderators are unlikely to delete such solicitations) -- email is IMO going to be more productive than chat for the cousins involved, and the value to others of detailed chat between two cousins is probably very small.

  • I agree that a cousin being involved should not make a difference which is why I declared that at the outset. It is the bigger issue of how we try to keep SE beginners here long enough to realize the benefits of using G&FH SE that concerns me more, and I think Beta is a good time to experiment with varying degrees of push and pull. – PolyGeo Nov 24 '14 at 22:57
  • Sorry -- I was obviously misled by the title to understand you were proposing special pleading: "How strict should we be with Not An Answer flags/closure, especially related to questions from cousins?" – user104 Nov 25 '14 at 16:42
  • I've taken that bolded part out of the question title now and made minor mods to its body. – PolyGeo Nov 25 '14 at 22:27

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