This comes out of a comment on an answer to Researching Cohen de Murcia in Spain?

When a brief generic question like the one linked above is asked, how could it be processed?


As the commenter, my reasoning was thus:

The question

  • We don't know what the question is. A surname (Cohen) and place (Murcia) are given in the title but we don't know anything else. Cohen isn't a Spanish name. Also no sense of a date is given – are we looking at resources for the fifteenth century or twentieth century?

  • Therefore, the question is both unclear and too broad as it stands. I voted to close as unclear because the question is salvageable if the OP returns and adds more details. However we should wait for a community consensus (4-5 votes from normal users) before the question is closed. Sometimes I feel that our wonderful mods are a bit too on top of things and step in too soon with their "absolute" vote, which does nothing to encourage community participation in the moderation process. Of course there are the occasional exceptions when questions ought to be closed immediately without community input; I don't believe this is one of those cases.

  • Generic questions are okay as long as they can be answered usefully. For genealogy questions of this type, it means providing a reasonably scoped place and timeframe.

  • Questions looking for databases or resources are okay, as long as answers don't just turn into a copy and paste of Cyndi's List.

The answer

  • Any answer is guessing at what the question is, because we don't know what the question is.

  • A link to one or two pages on FamilySearch does not constitute an answer. The quotes included from those pages don't give any really useful information, only a basic list of genealogy sources. One has to go to the link to get any useful information. While we want to cite our sources we also want people to find the answers to questions on StackExchange, not be immediately redirected to another website for the whole answer.

  • When bad questions are answered, they linger. Questions that are closed and downvoted get automatically deleted after a certain period of time with no activity and no effort for improvement. See Enable automatic deletion of old, unanswered zero-score questions after a year? for full details on this process. As soon as someone answers a question, it pretty much stays forever whether or not it is improved or closed.

  • We have tag wikis, which exist to provide "a detailed introduction to the topic, suitable as a destination for those curious about it". This is a great place to put the link to the FamilySearch page. We might consider updating country/county/state/province tags with basic links like this, so that when vague questions come up we can say, in a short comment: please take a look at other questions with tag x and also the introductory resources on the tag wiki for place x. We can be proactive here – we need not wait until generic questions come up to improve our tag wikis!


As the first, and so far only, answerer of the cited question, I will explain my thought process for doing so in the way that I did.

The question is very short on detail but it does ask:

Are there any databases that we could research to obtain more information?

From that, and the opening statement of:

Our family is trying to trace our family ancestry who were of Spanish descent.

I inferred that the asker did not know where to start on research into Spanish genealogy and assumed that they might not know about the resources that are readily available at FamilySearch.org as a starting point. Consequently, I thought that the least I could do was to make sure that they were aware of FamilySearch.org's pages on Spanish genealogy.

I searched first to see whether any previous Q&As here provided a generic introduction to Spanish genealogy, like there is for Italian genealogy Finding online resource for searching Italian records? There was not, but if I had found one, then I would have made their question a duplicate of it.

I then proceeded to provide an answer of a few paragraphs that was designed to act as a starting point for them.

The benefits I saw for G&FH SE in this approach were:

  • the user received an answer quickly, and if it did not suffice, then it lets them know that they need to ask something more detailed
  • the effort it took me to answer was commensurate with the effort taken to write the question, so neither I nor other users needed to expend more effort when there was no guarantee that the asker would be back.
  • when the next visitor to G&FH SE does not know where to start with Spanish genealogy and performs a search on that term they find that answer and are either satisfied or realize that they need to move on to a more detailed question
  • if the visitor mentioned above decides to ask a similarly vague question about Spanish Genealogy then there is a ready duplicate available for its closure.
  • the initial answer could leave room for more answers by others with additional advice to offer, and perhaps after more detail has been added to the question.
  • we get one more question, and at least one more answer, for our site stats which are improving but are still far from where we aspire to be

There are many valid points made in the other answer, and the original comment and I think the approaches to answering questions on Main may reasonably be as varied as the askers of those questions, because we have not yet hit upon a formula for asking and answering that guarantees site success for us.

When any one of us posts an answer or question that another thinks is substandard, or in any other way inappropriate, then any available options of downvoting or voting for closure may be worth considering.

I tend to refrain from downvoting here at G&FH SE, because we are still in Beta and finding our feet, but as you will see from my Votes Cast at GIS SE, I do see a lot of value in after graduation downvoting (when appropriate).

  • Regarding your fourth bulletpoint: vague questions should be closed because they are too broad or unclear, not because they are duplicates. Duplicate questions are supposed to be good questions that have been asked more than once. Duplicate questions stay on the site, while closed and downvoted questions are gradually deleted through an automated process. Also, I struggle to accept that your last bulletpoint is a valid justification to leave an unclear question open. I'd love to see the site stats improve, but not at the cost of filling the site with questions like this one.
    – Harry V. Mod
    Jun 5 '16 at 12:11
  • 1
    Also, I have to disagree that downvoting is less appropriate in beta compared to graduated sites. The questions asked now will stay after the site graduates. If a question ought to be downvoted after the site graduates, then it also ought to be downvoted now.
    – Harry V. Mod
    Jun 5 '16 at 12:11
  • @HarryVervet I think you may be overestimating the permanence of below average questions and duplicates on these sites. They can be deleted by voting from moderators and high rep users. Sometimes I find a pragmatic approach can have advantages over a more purist one. I think a managed set of questions and answers that may be deleted later can serve a useful purpose now. We continue to have a low question count problem and I think the way to ratchet that up may be to alternately relax and tighten our question quality expectations.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jun 5 '16 at 12:52
  • 1
    Closed and duplicate questions don't count towards our "stats". So I struggle to see what useful purpose those questions might serve now? We don't want to direct new users to substandard questions. I don't think that's a great path towards graduation (if that be the end goal). I have not been active in a site graduation before – is part of that process deleting all the substandard questions and answers?
    – Harry V. Mod
    Jun 5 '16 at 13:28
  • I started a new question about growing the site more generally - see meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/3137/…
    – Harry V. Mod
    Jun 5 '16 at 13:54
  • 1
    @HarryVervet thanks for starting that Meta discussion because it is one that I think we need to keep having each year or so. At graduation any cleanup of Q&As no longer useful to the site would only be an informal activity. I find myself often doing it at Geographic Information Systems even now, years after we graduated.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jun 6 '16 at 13:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .