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Yesterday I asked Should questions that ask for "any information about family/person/etc" be off-topic? and a quick and comprehensive answer of "No" from @ColeValleyGirl (and a little prompt from her) easily convinced me that there is a more suitable question that I should ask instead.

How should we deal with broad questions that ask for "any information" about an element of interest where that element is usually a person or family, but could be a ship, occupation, village, etc?

As an example, I have found Finding parents of Jacob Drager (b. 1825, Germany; living Michigan, USA 1900)? which has had some editing since but which started as below with its title in bold:

Information on Jacob Drager

Does anyone have any information on the parents of Jacob Drager? Some of his information is below.

Birth: June of 1825 Birth Place: Germany

Wife: Gustina Rosomfsha Marriage: About 1867 in Wayne, Michigan

Children: Adelia Drager-born 1862 Anthony Joseph Drager-born 1865

Death: 1903

Any information would be appreciated! Thanks!

Could you describe the approach that you would recommend for trying to make it more answerable?

If you find similar questions feel free to add them above as more examples.

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If you have a reputation of more than 500, and thus the necessary privilege, then I think you should vote to Close such a question as Too Broad, which places it On Hold so that you and/or others can work with the question asker to improve and re-open their question.

Advice on what a good question should look like is myriad but I would like to offer mine here:

A Question is composed of three distinct parts:

  • body
  • title
  • tags

Body

By far the most important is the body of your question because this is where you pose the all important single question that you would like answered. It is the quality of your question body that engages or loses the attention of potential answerers.

Do not be afraid to say that you do not know where to start because this site welcomes questions from total beginners through to professionals. If you can just get some "meat" of your question down, then we can always help you to apply the "gravy" that makes it more likely to attract potential answerers.

You are provided with plenty of space and formatting tools in the body to assist you to present any background that potential answerers may need to understand your question.

Start by providing any relevant background - your question needs have arisen while researching genealogy, family history, and related topics in microhistory so make that background clear at the start. Other relevant background will often include a timeline of what you know about the ancestors you are asking about, like when and where they were born/baptized, married, had children born/baptized, and died or were buried. This saves potential answerers having to try and guess, or to ask, all of which may slow down or prevent an answer to your question. If you can provide sources that is great, but just saying something "from 1851 Census", is usually an acceptable level of source provision here, and potential answerers can easily ask for more detail if they need it.

The question body may well be the only part that potential answerers read and re-read after glancing at the title, so be sure to read and re-read it yourself, and to make ongoing edits to improve it as clarifications are sought by others via comments. You cannot assume that a potential answerer has read any of your previous questions, answers or comments so be sure to include all relevant details so that it can standalone.

Once written, a good cross-check on your question's body is whether it contains a single question mark? If that is the case, then what you are asking is clearly indicated. If you find yourself wanting to place more than one question mark in the body, then perhaps questions other than the most important one to you can be asked separately.

We try not to be too pedantic about there being only one question mark, but aiming for that is a good practice to get into.

Warning: If you simply state a set of information that you believe to be correct, and your question is whether anybody has any other information about what you have stated, then it is likely that your question will be placed On Hold for being Too Broad.

In this state no answers can be given and you will be required to edit it to ask something more specific before it can be re-opened.

We know that asking a single focussed question can be hard to do, especially when you are just starting to become more serious about your genealogy and family history. You may start out with lots of questions, or you may not know what question to ask first, but this is where Stack Exchange's focussed Q&A format sets itself apart from bulletin boards, discussion forums and other Q&A sites.

If you can ask a clear and focussed question you may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly and clearly an answer to it can come back!

Title

The title is best written after the body of the question because it is there to summarise what is in the body. As a result it should not introduce any new terms or information not covered in the body. By making this as succinct and accurately descriptive of the body as possible you are likely to attract more potential answers than if you hastily pen something like "Who's in my tree!".

My preference is for the title to always end in a question mark because that acts as a constant reminder that this site is about finding answers to questions. I recommend reviewing this answer to a Meta SE question for some thoughts on what makes a good title.

Tags

These help the volunteers who are willing to try and help you quickly find the subset of questions in which they have knowledge, instead of having to open many in which they do not.

I prefer that there is one tag each used for the main country, decade and record type that your question relates to. This still gives you scope to apply 2 more tags that reflect the significant keywords that are likely to help group your question with others that are somewhat similar.

Do not worry if you get tags "wrong" - they are always quick and easy to fix as incoming questions are triaged as long as the information is in your question body.

What about Comments?

Comments are attached to, but do not form part of, your Question.

Their main purpose is to help you edit to improve your Question by requesting clarifications wherever potential answerers are unsure of what you are doing, using or asking.

Imagine the pleasure of a potential answerer reading just your Question body and thinking immediately "I know the answer to that" versus reading a trail of back and forth comments between asker and commenters and thinking "does it mean this" or "does it mean that", and eventually "now I understand" or maybe not, or not bothering to read the comments and just moving on to the next Question.

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As a minimum, I would like to see the person asking the question provide some sort of information about how they arrived at the 'facts' they are presenting to us. Is it a family story? Something written in a family Bible? Compiled from many records? Knowing where your information came from is an important part of doing family history research.

When you present information like this with no information about where you found it, it can be misleading:

Wife: Gustina Rosomfsha Marriage: About 1867 in Wayne, Michigan

If this is the only information we have, the potential answerer now has to guess where it came from. It's relatively easy to find the wife's name because the couple shows up as parents in the children's marriage and death records, but how do they know the parents married around 1867? Is the estimated year calculated from the 1900 Census? And how do they know the marriage took place in Wayne County Michigan? Is that a guess, because they lived in Wayne County and child #1 was born there? If so, why not say that?

Simply by adding the phrase

(1900 Census)

and some sort of location, after a line such as

Birth: June of 1825 Birth Place: Germany

then we can see at a glance where the information came from.

The information in this question was probably compiled from a group of records -- the 1900 Census (which has the widowed father only), and the children's vital records, that have been collected and presented as a seemingly coherent whole simply because the father's name matches. But the person asking the question has forced the potential answerers to figure that out, when the same time could have been used to start answering the question.

I don't expect new users to write full-blown source citations or to link in the sources themselves. I had never used Markdown before coming to G&FH.SE, and I can understand how new users might be uncomfortable with doing more than basic editing.

But if the question includes a brief list of sources already consulted, or the provenance of the information is contained in the body of the question, then it shows the state of the person's research at the time they wrote the question.

From there, it's easy for those of us already familiar with the editing to drop in links to the sources used when free-to-view copies are out there, or to pull in other information contained on those sources. But the information should be in the question itself -- an answerer shouldn't be directed away from G&FH.SE. If the link to the other website breaks, we're left with incomplete information.

Many of the professional genealogists say that brick walls are often self-created. We have all done this to ourselves -- and this is exactly how it happens -- by cobbling together a group of facts, stripped of all context -- guesses and un-examined data all thrown together to make a franken-person.


As a contrast, I offer one of the queries I posted on the website Curious Fox, from my early days as a genealogist. I began my research in 2006; the query was last revised in 2009, probably when I revised it to say the relationship question had been solved. Curious Fox posts queries by location, so it is understood that I meant Brixham in Devon; I specified which Slapton I meant because there are three different Slaptons. The title reflects the Curious Fox format which does not require questions in the title.

BATTEN and ELLIOTT families in 1881 Brixham

Looking for more information about Angelina Batten b 1851/2 who appears in the 1881 Census at 18 Burton Street in Brixham with her husband Thomas J. Batten b 1852/3 and their children, and visitors Charles Elliott (b 1857/8 in Devonport), his wife Augusta b. 1857/8, and their infant son Cecil. Both Angelina and Augusta were born in Slapton (near Kingsbridge in Devon). There are entries in FreeBMD for marriage registrations for couples whose marriages seem to be consistent with these families, a Charles Edward G Elliott and Augusta Knowles reg in Q2 1878, a Thomas Batten and Angelina Knowles reg in Q3 1874. The Elliotts may be the family I am researching who appear in the 1910 US census residing in Holyoke (Hampden County) Massachusetts. I am trying to find other evidence for the residence of the Elliotts in 1881, to confirm the relationship between Angelina and Augusta, and find their siblings and parents and other relatives. Does anyone recognize these families?

There are plenty of things wrong with this, and it also needs to be improved.

The query doesn't meet G&FH.SE standards because I have several different questions in it, and I didn't give any archive references for the 1881 Census. I didn't give complete GRO registrations for the two marriage registrations.

BUT - at least I had three specific questions in the query instead of simply saying "I want anything about this person" and stopping at that.

Anyone reading this can see that I had started with the 1881 Census, had searched FreeBMD for marriage registrations, but hadn't ordered the certificates yet, and that I suspected that the two women were related somehow because they had the same maiden name.

This had enough workable information in it that another user on the site (completely unrelated to either family) did census lookups for me, worked the relationship problem, and suggested that Angelina and Augusta are aunt and niece. This was a great kindness, because I didn't have access to census records from the UK at that time, except for the 1881 Census which was free on FamilySearch.

(Obviously since then I've researched more and know a great deal about the rest of the family, but I still haven't figured out residence information for the Elliotts in 1881.)

My general experience is that if I post a query on Curious Fox which is rich in information, I'm far more likely to get an answer than one which is shorter and has less detail -- which is why I would like to see people put more detail in their questions here.

Make it easy for someone to say, "Oh, I can help with that!"


I have moved my remarks on the edited question title below this line. One of the difficulties we have with trying to improve low-content questions is that we risk introducing more assumptions into the question. I originally wrote:

I also have a problem with the edit on the title, since the question now reads "finding parents in Germany" where the original did not.

I have cases in my own research where I had families in the 1900 Census, for whom I did not know the parents. Subsequent research showed that the father also came to the US as well. Just because a person in the 1900 Census was born in Germany in 1825 doesn't mean that his parents automatically stayed behind in Germany. His parents could have come over in 1866 as well.

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