The bolding below is mine.

At Area 51 it says that we are a:

Beta Q&A site for expert genealogists and people interested in genealogy or family history

Our Tour and Help says:

Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for experts in, or people interested in, genealogy and family history.

I think we could attract more users/questions by a simple repositioning of who we see as our users so that our pitch becomes:

Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for anyone interested in genealogy and family history.

The last thing that I want to do is to alienate our expert genealogists but I think the current wording may be suggesting that you are best to be an expert before participating.

Should we change it? Is there a better wording?

The wording I now favour and would like to implement is:

Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for enthusiasts and experts to share their knowledge and build their skills while researching genealogy, family history, and related topics in microhistory.

  • The above wording has now been implemented at the start of tour and help center.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 13, 2016 at 1:03
  • 1
    As it is linked to directly from the tour and help pages, the meta question that defines genealogy and family history should also be updated to define microhistory (exactly what are those related topics). I hadn't a clue what microhistory really meant before I googled it.
    – Harry V. Mod
    Jan 13, 2016 at 1:34
  • @vervet I noticed that as I was updating the Tour and Help, and I agree that the Meta question needs expansion. I'm short on time at the moment so if you or anyone else would like to do it feel free. I think it needs to be expanded to mention microhistory and was thinking of mentioning village histories, house histories, ship histories, school histories, etc
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 13, 2016 at 1:38
  • 1
    @vervet I just did a minimalist update to the meta question to mention microhistory.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 13, 2016 at 23:47

5 Answers 5


I am grateful to lkessler for linking back to the Area 51 discussions and the earlier discussions on Meta.

I am opposed to dropping the word expert from the site description -- I don't know of any other English word that conveys as well the idea that the site is designed for people with knowledge and skill.

On Twitter, I pitch the site like this:

Got questions? Got answers? Share your expertise and bust your brick walls at http://genealogy.stackexchange.com the #genealogy Q/A site.

Dictionary.com's first definition of expert is:

a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority: a language expert.

There's a humorous definition of expert that defines it as "the person who knows more than anyone else in the room". Other definitions can be found in the Wikipedia article:

Mark Twain defined an expert as "an ordinary fellow from another town". Will Rogers described an expert as "A man fifty miles from home with a briefcase." Danish scientist and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr defined an expert as "A person that has made every possible mistake within his or her field."

Of these, I especially like Bohr's, because it conveys the idea that becoming an expert is a process that includes learning from one's own mistakes.

In a more serious section, the Wikipedia article cites Marie-Line Germain's Expertise Scale:

Relative to a specific field, an expert has:

  • Specific education, training, and knowledge
  • Required qualifications
  • Ability to assess importance in work-related situations
  • Capability to improve themselves
  • Intuition
  • Self-assurance and confidence in their knowledge

The argument against our using the word expert centers on one point of this scale, the 'required qualifications'. But look at the other five points. Aren't these things what we want to encourage in every user that visits this site?

Answering someone's tough question is fun, but that's not the only thing I want to do here. I want users to see my answers and learn from how I solved the answer. I want them to learn how to notice important clues they overlooked before. I want them to develop their own intuition and confidence, and build their own skills. And I want to get better at my own skills by practicing on solving the problems that other people are stuck on.

The Stack Exchange philosophy is to make the Internet a better place, is it not? So shouldn't our basic principle be that if you participate here, no matter what level you begin at, you will become a better genealogist?

If that's not what we want to do here, then I don't see why I should be here. Otherwise, I'm just frittering away the time I should be spending on my own research by doing other people's homework for them.

Therefore, I propose that we keep the term "expert" in our pitch. I would follow the lead of previous discussions from Area 51, and broaden the pitch slightly, like this:

Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for experts and enthusiasts to share their knowledge and build their research skills in genealogy, family history, and microhistory.

I include microhistory specifically because I think we could deepen our base by reaching out to local historians, people who do house histories, etc. The previous discussions on Area 51 showed that if you try to include one-place studies and one-name studies and house histories and all the other varied sub-interests, the description becomes far too wordy. "Microhistory" embraces them all, and nicely delineates the kind of question which is too "small potatoes" for History.SE.

The point is not that you must already have knowledge and skill in order to participate here. The point is that you want to acquire more. Like the intro of Anthony Bourdain's travel show No Reservations, we should all be hungry for more. Otherwise, why are we here?

Updated 27 Sep 2015:

Incorporating a comment from @PolyGeo:

Could we perhaps compromise to "Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for enthusiasts and experts alike to build their research skills and share their knowledge in genealogy, family history, and microhistory."

I would like to see something more in the description that would discourage the hit-and-run "does anyone know anything about this family" sort of 'cousin bait' posts.

G&FH.SE should be for workable problems. It should not be a dusty bulletin board full of unanswered and unanswerable "does anybody here already know X" questions.

  • 1
    It is hard to fault much, if any, of your reasoning. Could we compromise to "Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for enthusiasts and experts alike to build their research skills and share their knowledge in genealogy, family history, and microhistory." I like the inclusion of Microhistory - let's grab it before History does:-) Bringing enthusiasts before experts is subtle but important because experts have asked relatively few questions since the early days of G&FH SE. Our growth depends on gaining enthusiasts (for questions) while retaining experts (for answers).
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Apr 3, 2015 at 22:05
  • I note that we had an excellent house history question the other day: genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/9720/… and a too broad cousin bait question today: genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/9734/… - I think its time to progress this Meta Q&A
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Sep 28, 2015 at 5:46
  • 1
    One counter-argument for using the word experts -- in a presentation for the Association of Professional Genealogists about ethical behavior, Judy D. Russell talked about how the APG's Code of Ethics says not to exaggerate or misrepresent one's experience. Even though we are not APG members, it is still a good idea to maintain ethical behavior. Switching the wording to place enthusiasts first is a good idea -- very few of us are professionals, let alone credentialed or accredited.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Dec 11, 2015 at 3:39
  • I agree that cousin bait (or using the web as a trap for cousins) is something that should be strongly discouraged. But I think the focus on "expert" is misguided. Enthusiasts is a better term. I think the site should help people be better at this, not that you have to be an expert to start in. Jan 12, 2016 at 6:12
  • @PatFarrell There's nothing inherently wrong with posting 'cousin bait' but that's not what this site is about. The purpose of the site is for people to ask specific, answerable questions, and the answers to those questions. In my opinion, too much emphasis is placed on connecting with people who are related to you, at the expense of talking to other researchers working in the same locality and timeframe.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Jan 15, 2016 at 0:00

Putting the pitch together took a fair deal of discussion when we were trying to get this site going in Area51. There were lots of proposed pitches. The way it ended up, it had the "experts" in it.

Here's a bit of the history:

Sept 8, 2012: Why does the proposal include the term serious amateurs?

Sept 24, 2012: New proposal description is too restrictive/uninviting

Sept 24, 2012: "expert" instead of "professional"?

Take special note of Robert Cartaino's contributions to those questions, because he was the StackExchange staffer assigned to help us at the time.

Then in our current meta, please see these questions:

Oct 10, 2012: What is the "Elevator pitch" for Genealogy SE?

Feb 1, 2013: Proposed FAQ content (final draft)

Sorry, but I don't have an answer for you. I only bring the observation that this is a heated topic with many opinions.

  • Many thanks for those links and history. I had seen the Meta Q&As but not what went before in Area 51. I'm hoping that people will realize that it is far from doom and gloom for G&FH SE - after all the number of visitors to the site are consistently increasing. I honestly believe that simply having 4-5 rather than 1 question per day will enable critical mass to be reached quickly. As user 19 here I started by thinking that having high quality questions and answers from experts is where I would learn to become a better amateur genealogist.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Mar 27, 2015 at 7:05
  • However, I now believe that the quality of the questions is not nearly as important as the volume in this Beta phase because when no questions are asked we see no answers from the experts to learn from. I am hoping that the experts who have seen low question volume be the norm since not long after launch may have become much more tolerant to the not so gifted. An initially raw question from anyone can usually be edited into something much more answerable and likely to attract expert answers.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Mar 27, 2015 at 7:15

I'm not convinced that the wording is a barrier to new users. Anyone coming to the site for the first time is going to look at the questions on the front page to assess if this is going to be helpful to them.

A plethora of questions is key and the tour wording, although important, is secondary. The quality and nature of the questions is probably a different discussion.

I'm not averse to changing the wording to remove 'expert'. It would certainly do no harm.

  • I think you are right that it should not be a barrier but I am thinking that the first few words about the site helps set the tone for the site. On the novice to expert scale I think we originally set the tone towards expert and questions flowed freely for a short while. I'm hoping that resetting the tone towards novice/anyone may lead to questions flowing more freely again (and for longer or indefinitely) even if the questions asked may not always be of such high quality as those asked earlier.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:43

Short version: Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for amateur and professional researchers.

Long version: Genealogy and Family History is a question and answer site for amateur and professional family researchers seeking expert advice and sharing knowledge.

Example from SO's Tour: Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

I would not add micro-history, unless you want to expand and include local historians.

  • 2
    I think we do want to attract more visits and answers by local historians and so I would like to see microhistory added to our pitch. However, I would not want to see our focus on Genealogy & Family History swamped so I would oppose any modification to our name. If we start to see a lot of local history questions disconnected from genealogy & family history then my position might change, but I am certainly happy to see at least the occasional one from someone researching a house, ship, etc.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Oct 10, 2015 at 7:43

I think that there is a serious bit of confusion going on here. First, I don't see many questions about "expert" genealogists, most seem to be "help me find my great-grand-foobaz" which is a nearly trivial question.

Second, I think that "family history" and "expert genealogy" are contradictions in themselves. Most people doing genealogy are just recording family folklore. (At least from what I see of folks here, on genealogy.com, etc.). Sure, there are professional genealogists that follow the self proclaimed "genealogy standard of proof" but I have not seen any peer-reviewed discussions that show that the GSP is the one true way to do genealogy. Discussions of the merits of GSP are outside the scope of this meta discussion, but from what I see, GSP is about expert genealogists and family history has next to nothing to do with it.

In his answer, Rusty Erpenbeck talks about the tour saying this as an area for "enthusiast programmers" which is an interesting take. The photography and mathematics sections of StackExchange are not for professional developers of image-processing packages or mathematical proof systems, they are for photographers to talk about taking better pictures, making better edits, and are thus users of applications that deal with photography. Same as for Math, folks talk about wolfram Alpha, Matlab, mathematica, etc. all applications. If the community wants this to be about developers, then most of the questions posted here are off topic.

I wish this would be for serious users of genealogy and family history applications. But its only my vote.

  • Rusty mentions the Tour of Stack Overflow by way of analogy. As far as I can tell none of the previous answers are suggesting this site be focussed on developers, and our help center explicitly says that questions about Developing genealogy software are off-topic. I have to downvote because I want this site to be about researching Genealogy and Family History (and microhistory), and using software applications is just one part of that process.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 12, 2016 at 6:41
  • Downvoted because you make a pitch for SE sites being about "photographers to talk about taking better pictures" and at the same time, dismiss the value of the Genealogical Proof Standard (or any genealogy standards).
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Jan 12, 2016 at 23:19
  • Difference of opinion here Jan Murphy. I don't think that GPS helps typical users do better genealogy. PolyGeo, I don't see how we are disagreeing. I am not agreeing with Rusty, I think this should be for users, not developers. Jan 13, 2016 at 3:00
  • -- Jan Murphy. I can't tell from your three word reply what you are trying to say. You don't what? You don't think we are disagreeing? you don't think GPS is over rated? you don't think this site should be for users and not focused on developers? Jan 14, 2016 at 2:00
  • Apologies for the browser glitch that resulted in my partial comment. No, I don't think the GPS is over-rated. I understand that hobbyist genealogists don't want to write formal research reports or agonize over commas in citations, but we all should be able to explain how we got the information we're using and why we've come to the conclusion we've reached so far. Making a search wide enough to find your person and not miss them, analyzing your sources, and looking at the information as a group instead of cherry-picking is common sense as far as I can see. Why is this objectionable to you?
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Jan 14, 2016 at 23:13
  • -- Jan, you are missing most of the meaning of my posting. I think that this forum should attempt to attract the Yogi Bear (better than average) genealogists. Better, more interested in facts, less interested in cousin baiting. There is nothing at all wrong, IMHO, about professional or hard-core-expert genealogists, here or anywhere else. But I see them as a tiny bit of audience, well under 1% of folks interested in genealogy. To me, there is a lot of valuable area between folks who scrap from ancestry.com and the GPS pros. Talking about experts and GPS will scare away a lot of good users. Jan 15, 2016 at 2:06

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