The site is now approaching four years into beta. However, over the past year or two there has been little, if any, improvement in the number of questions per day and the number of active users. I'm starting to feel that sometimes I'm wasting my time if the site isn't going anywhere. I'm not particularly worried about getting the site to graduation, but having invested quite a lot of time and effort in the site it would be nice to feel that some progress is being made.

Some time ago I heard that genealogy is the third most common internet activity, trailing just behind online shopping and pornography. Genealogy is also apparently the second most popular hobby in the USA, after gardening. So the users are out there, but they're not on Genealogy & Family History StackExchange.

So I think it's time for a bit of a brainstorm.

We need a more concerted effort to improve the site. What are we doing wrong, and what can we do to attract more users asking quality questions?

  • I must note that yesterday we had 7 questions asked in a single day for the first time since Jan 2013, so I don't think we should be too pessimistic. Also, the number of active users per day over the past few days has been hovering just under 20 which is a level last reached on 5 Jan this year and before that not since Feb 2013.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 10:59
  • Now I need to note that since the day of 7 questions we have had four days totalling 2 more questions :-( and the number of active users has dipped a little.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 0:22

8 Answers 8


Grassroots based movements like G&FH SE only make it by word of mouth.

Who do online genealogists listen to? Social media of course.

So people with their own blogs, on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus need to get the word out, at least once every so often.

Ask members to do a "why I like G&FH SE" post on one of those media. If 100 of our users did that, we'll see if that does anything.

  • 2
    Most of the social media push I've made has been via Twitter, where I particpate in a couple of weekly TweetChats. I haven't done as much on Facebook or Google+. Unfortuntely, I don't blog -- I devote the time I would spend writing up blog posts on answering questions here, or writing up questions.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 0:10
  • 1
    I think @JanMurphy has been doing a great job flying our flag from her Twitter account.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 6:51
  • 1
    I agree @PolyGeo. Jan, if we had 100 people out of our thousand users doing one-quarter of what you are doing on the social scene to promote our site, we wouldn't have the need to find solutions to grow our site.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 21:00
  • See my latest tweet: https://twitter.com/louiskessler/status/740686062360616960
    – lkessler
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:27

A good question. I suppose G&FH could piggy-back on the other popular pursuits…

"Click here to add BMD certificates to your Amazon basket"
"Hot, hot, HOT great-great-great-grandmothers GONE WILD!!"

That should bring in users, and revenue!

Failing that, G&FH.SE is neither well known nor readily findable. If I type "genealogy and family history" into Google UK (without quotes), I don't find this site until the bottom of page 12. (With quotes it's on page 2, which is better, but only for that particular query.) Family Tree Magazine's 25 Best Genealogy Websites for Beginners doesn't include it, and neither does GenealogyInTime magazine's Top 100 Genealogy Websites of 2015, as two examples of site lists.

A search of "link:genealogy.stackexchange.com/" turns up just six results, all of which are internal to Stack Exchange (@PolyGeo wins the cookie for top spot!). Nobody is linking here, so nobody is getting sent here. So it's very much a niche website.

SE itself is a pretty technical site, which isn't surprising given its history, and that can be off-putting. There's little explanation or hand-holding within the site to help new users or new genealogists. That SE even has a genealogy site isn't obvious from landing on the front page, so only explorers will get here. I'd be interested to know how many G&FH users came directly to this section, and how many were on SE for a different reason and found the genealogy section later. I was one of the latter, and I suspect a lot of others are too.

This is probably why G&FH has such a good signal:noise - many of the users are already somewhat prepared for rigorous questions and are ready to do their own research first. There aren't any of the "Seeking Joneses in Wisconsin, I'm sure we're related" type questions that litter Ancestry et al. But beginning genealogists just aren't going to find G&FH, or are going to be put off by the rejection of poorly researched posts. It seems to be more "experienced amateur" users who prosper here, and that's a much smaller audience. Quality is already present, it's quantity that's lacking. (How to maintain the former in the face of the latter is a different problem, of course. And "orientation" of many new users to the SE way will require effort.)

If G&FH is going to grow, it's going to have to become findable, and reach out "downwards" to less experienced enthusiasts. As @lkessler notes, unless word gets out, nobody will come. And there may be a chicken-and-egg issue here, in that G&FH is too small to be linked to by blogs, list sites and search engines, so it won't grow… But I think that finding ways to get G&FH mentioned elsewhere is key, even if it's as a "mature" Q&A site for the roadblocks and dead ends that everyone reaches eventually.

  • Is it just me, or are "@" user links not working properly? I don't get autocompletion in answers or comments and any such link in a comment just disappears.
    – AndyW
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 14:05
  • 1
    those at-user pings are not designed to work everywhere - just within chat and in comments where the pinged user has already participated in the post.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 2:20
  • Thanks for these thoughts - when I saw the question posted I was hoping you as a new and quickly engaged user would be one to answer. I too came to SE (Geographic Information Systems) before finding G&FH SE - not long after it was proposed.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 4:31
  • Oh dear... I've been spotted. :) I had been thinking about this topic shortly before it was asked. This is a great site, and I plan to stay engaged, but it does need a few more participants.
    – AndyW
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 10:20

Sort of leaping off of PolyGeo's answer to "not be afraid to sprinkle our question titles with surnames and place names" ...I'd like to see more questions about tight-knit Societies and hard to research organizations. Like the Free Masons or Daughters of the American Revolution, etc. Asking questions about them, might garner interest from them. Wouldn't it be awesome to attract an expert on either of those two groups?

If we are talking about Google Search placement, then we may need to think about what google topics are over-saturated, and instead target questions and answers that do not have good representation already on the web. Countries that aren't popular to research in... Anyone researching Estonia lately? How about East India genealogy. What about Muslim traditions and other faith's burial rites? Targeted questions about professional associations, etc? I really enjoyed trying to crack the question about the Missouri photographer (couldn't do it, but it was fun trying to solve the puzzle). At the Southern California Genealogy Conference, Kim von Aspern-Parker, did a session about railroad records and included in her notes lists of associations related to railways. Very fun! Very relevant. But also somewhat niche. If you were searching for an ancestor who worked on a train, you would want to know about these resources wouldn't you? What if we targeted train operator questions for a week? How many of us have railway workers in our history that we could ask a simple or complex question about?

I always hear it said on SE that a real question (something you don't know, and genuinely want to find the answer to) is way better than any other kind of crafted question. So if we ask some real questions that may not be ground-shakingly profound, but are genuine, then chances are they will help others too. For example, I know that my last Ancestry question was simple, but I honestly didn't know the answer and had been wondering for a long time. There is so much clutter/noise on the web about Ancestry, that it's sometimes impossible to find a straight answer to a question you have, no matter how simple it may appear. I had a frustrating problem, I asked SE, I got an answer. Pretty much how SE is supposed to work :)

I think we need to take ourselves less seriously and just ask honest questions as they come, without feeling the need to craft the PERFECT question. ...there's always editing for that ;)

  • 2
    It would be good to attract specialist experts but we have to spot them when they arrive, and more importantly recognise their expertise -- otherwise we'll have what I saw recently: a well-known and respected professional UK genealogist providing an absolutely-to-the-point answer to a question which almost certainly nobody else here could have answered being told she needed to add more info to her answer or it would be converted to a comment... I would love to have "The Genealogist" (really, that's her title) from the Society of Genealogists popping in regularly, but I doubt she'll be back.
    – user104
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 8:19
  • @ColeValleyGirl I hope it was not me who attended to that answer but if it was I hope you will post a link to it so that I may learn from it.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 12:02
  • 1
    @PolyGeo I'm not going to point fingers at anyone. Nobody can recognise the names of all the experts in our field, which is the more important point I was trying to make -- so we need to look keenly at the content of answers and not perhaps judge them on the fact they looked to be done in haste and/or rely on personal expert knowledge that can't be backed up by a link to anything online. Plus I think we spend a lot of time wondering how to encourage more questions and not enough attention to attracting expert answerers.
    – user104
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 12:23
  • @ColeValleyGirl if we had one great question here every day then I think we would attract more expert answerers and have them visiting more regularly, but to get one great question I suspect we will need perhaps 3-4 questions of varying (not low) caliber to be asked every day. I feel for many of the great answerers we already have when those efforts are acknowledged with so few votes.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 12:34
  • @ColeValleyGirl Don't you have enough rep to delete other people's comments? If you see me putting my foot in it, feel free to nuke my comment.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 21:05
  • One problem we have with attracting expert answerers is that many of them have their own blogs and websites, and they already have plenty of work to do keeping up their own sites. They don't need to go out looking for more. I was happy to see David Underdown show up here: genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/10645/1006 -- note that he answered a question about a specific topic that he had already blogged about. Experts may be more likely to answer the narrow questions instead of the broad ones.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 21:10
  • @JanMurphy No, I can't delete anyone's comments other than my own now I'm not a moderator.
    – user104
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 7:18
  • @ColeValleyGirl Well, feel free to ping me if you like. I want feedback.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 18:22

Your observations:

that genealogy is the third most common internet activity, trailing just behind online shopping and pornography. Genealogy is also apparently the second most popular hobby in the USA, after gardening.

are not ones that I have come across but they do not surprise me.

In order to capture a share of that very sizable potential user/visitor base I think we have to appreciate that for a very large proportion of them their interest in genealogy and family history is a highly personal one. Consequently, in order to attract many of them to our site I think we should not be afraid to sprinkle our question titles with surnames and place names that may cause them to prick their ears up and look harder at what our site may have to offer them personally at first.

I don't want to sacrifice more in-depth questions about techniques and resources but instead to use their initial piqued personal interest in something a little lighter to bring them here, and thus to expose them to the value of more depth Genealogy and Family History that our existing users have so much skill and experience at sharing.


In response to @JanMurphy's answer, regarding the site's most viewed questions:

Reading around, it looks like sort-by-view was removed from SE some time ago. However... this question has an answer leading to the scary Data Explorer. That particular query. when set to run on G&FH, returns the top 1000 questions by number of views. It returns a sorted list of links to each question or, when set to text only, returns the question title.

The whole text-mode file is available here. The three columns are "Title", "Votes" and "Views", and it's sorted by views.

The top twenty are:

Views Question
----- --------
53873 Determining ethnicity according to ancestry?
41056 What is my relationship to the spouse of my cousin?         
35542 How to find information on German soldiers from World War I and World War II?    
34989 What is the relationship name of my (brother/sister)-in-law's (brother/sister) to me?
30106 What does the word "née" mean when following a woman's name?
23187 What's the difference between a family crest and a coat of arms?
12927 How long do results typically take for Ancestry DNA test?
7582  When WWII Army enlistment records list "Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA", what does that mean?
7354  What are some ways to find my haplogroup through my raw DNA data?
7319  What is the significance of "shared centiMorgans"?
6338  What is the best way to clean old photographs?  
6185  What were the UK reserved occupations during World War 2? Did they change during the course of the war?  
5855  Software options to display whole tree from imported GEDCOM? 
4937  How to determine relationship with a cousin?
4862  What's the difference between a "roomer" and a "boarder" in a 1930 census?
4725  What are the pre-1993 US Air Force Specialty Codes?
4631  What is relationship of widower to late wife's family (i.e. in-laws)?
4547  Why would I export my raw DNA data?
3967  I found some living distant relatives. Now what?
3942  Has a modern genealogy been traced back to a biblical person?

That's a bit of a mix. There's relationships, ethnicity+DNA, software, preservation, war records, biblical links and a couple of definitions.

There aren't many really "big hitters" - only seven over 10k and around another 100 over 1k views. I have to ask, though, are these page views reliable? 54k views seems rather high for this site, but I guess if it caught the search engines effectively that's plausible. Most of these questions do look like things people might ask Google. There's a lot of fairly generic questions there, nothing about specific people or places. So to attract search-engine users, perhaps more generalised question titles are helpful.

Clearly, even if thousands of visitors arrive for a popular question, most of them don't hang around once they've read it. It wouldn't take many "sticky" visitors to questions like these for the site to start growing. So what might make people stay with the site once they've found it?

  • 1
    "What does the word "née" mean..." Okay, I rest my case about not worrying whether questions seem too simple. Newbies have newbie-related genealogy questions. Therefore, we cater to all ;) Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 20:27
  • 2
    Yeah... :) I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised by that one. There must be many more new researchers than experts, so simpler questions have a wider audience. I'd expect viewing stats to fall off the more specific a question becomes to a particular family, place etc. But maybe the key to high viewing figures (and, perhaps, madness) is to phrase questions as if querying a search engine, to increase the chances of a good match. @CanadianGirlScout, your quoted phrase yields that question as the second hit on a Google search, hence the high views.
    – AndyW
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 12:56

From the Stack Overflow blog: A Recipe to Promote Your Site. Two key points:

  1. Encourage your community to share links to outstanding questions and answers. And if you feel you're not producing outstanding questions and answers worthy of sharing with the world, endeavor to fix that first.
  2. When it comes to promotion, don't try to take on the world. If the promotional ideas are giant, they're wrong. Break them into smaller, more specific bite-size ideas that each member of the community can pitch in and help with.

In an effort to address point #1, I'm asking a new question: What makes a question (and its answers) worth sharing?

Re: PolyGeo's comment:

Consequently, in order to attract many of them to our site I think we should not be afraid to sprinkle our question titles with surnames and place names that may cause them to prick their ears up and look harder at > what our site may have to offer them personally at first.

Is it not the philosophy of Stack Exchange that new users should be able to find us via search engines like Google? A well-crafted Google search will pick up the place names and surnames whether they are in the question title, or not.

My preference, as I've said elsewhere, is to put the emphasis on skillbuilding and to have the question titles reflect that.

My most-viewed question to date is Which FHL microfilms are available to view online? -- this is the kind of question which doesn't have a home in most traditional forums because it isn't about a place name or a surname.

Do we have a way to show which questions have the most views across the entire site? What are people actually looking at?


Once people visit our site, and especially if they post for the first time, I think the formula for keeping them coming back will be along the lines of:

  • Ask frequently
  • Answer frequently
  • Upvote frequently
  • Comment frequently
  • Edit frequently
  • Award bounties for unanswered questions and exemplary answers when able
  • Close vote when necessary
  • Downvote when necessary

We know from Helping Genealogy & Family History to graduate Beta sooner rather than later? that what SE looks for when considering whether a site is ready for graduation, and being deemed a success, is 7-10 questions per day.

Consequently, I try to put my efforts into anything that I think will help rather than stifle question flow.


Picking up on a point in this answer by @JanMurphy:

Re: PolyGeo's comment:

Consequently, in order to attract many of them to our site I think we should not be afraid to sprinkle our question titles with surnames and place names that may cause them to prick their ears up and look harder at > what our site may have to offer them personally at first.

Is it not the philosophy of Stack Exchange that new users should be able to find us via search engines like Google? A well-crafted Google search will pick up the place names and surnames whether they are in the question title, or not.

My understanding is that Stack Exchange does want the Q&As here to be search engine optimized, so I should expand on this point by saying that the strategy of sprinkling titles with place names and surnames is targeted more at existing users of Stack Exchange sites. To me these are the low hanging fruit for a site like ours which is seeking more and better Q&As and users.

I think we all agree that the Stack Exchange method is a great fit for genealogy and family history questions, but that it is harder to use initially than the "ask anything, any way you like" sites. Consequently, I think existing Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow users, who already know both how to use Stack Exchange and the benefits of doing so, are going to be our easiest "sell".

When our questions show up as Hot Network Questions in the sidebar, I think the chances of an existing Stack Exchange user, who sees their surname or the place they grew up in a question title, following that link to read the question and browse a little will be high.

I need to emphasize that I see this as just one way to attract new users and questions to G&FH SE, and it is by no means the only way. I think it should be just part of a multi-pronged strategy to grow our site.

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