Yesterday we had a question that was seeking a software recommendation for a Querying GEDCOM file to find people with missing parent(s)?

It has since been edited by two other users but it originally started:

can anyone recommend software to allow me to query a gedcom?

I used my supervote to close this question because the help center on-topic page says on-topic questions are:

not about:

  • Which genealogy software or website is “the best”

If recommendations for genealogy software cannot be asked on the Main site of G&FH SE, where could they be asked?


4 Answers 4


This is less a question of what is on-topic vs what is off-topic, because questions about genealogy software is undoubtedly on-topic – we have a tag with 87 questions currently.

Questions that generate lists are not great questions because they are simply not focused enough (i.e. too broad or primarily opinion-based), it's not that the question is necessarily off-topic.

To use one of my own questions as an example (which happens to be a software-recommendation type question) – Methods to organize medical genealogy information? I had a genealogical problem that I was trying to solve, and looking for software solutions. I agree it is not the best question as it tends to be somewhat list-generating, however the fact that the question has 10 upvotes suggests that it has been useful to several people. It makes much more sense to me that it is included in the site about Genealogy rather than the site about Software.

In summary:

  • Questions that ask 'what is the best genealogy software' should be closed as primarily opinion-based, not closed as off-topic.
  • We should aim to keep software questions on this site as long as they are focused or framed around a genealogical problem
  • Questions may be on-topic on more than one site, and if they are also on-topic here (and likely to get a good answer here) then we should not immediately refer them elsewhere

Short version: We should keep the questions here and make them into 'constructive subjective' questions, as described at (see https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask). I've edited the question (awaiting peer review) to make it very clearly on topic.

We don't automatically have to ban software recommendations.

This question on Sofware Recommendations meta acknowledges

Most, but not all, SE Sites forbid Software Recommendations

It then goes on to discuss how to manage the overlap between Software Recs and other sites that do allow recommendations.


I think there are a number of issues here:

Is this question on-topic?

Asking for recommendations was previously agreed to be off-topic but asking if a specific package can achieve a task or asking how to do something with a specific package was agreed to be on-topic. Where does this fall on that spectrum, and could/should it be edited to fit somewhere 'safe'?

(See: https://genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1379/6485, https://genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1377/6485 and https://genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1376/6485 for more detail).

Are we handling this type of question consistently?

If you look at the tag we have a fair number of very similar questions, some of which have been left open and some closed, so there's an issue of consistency which could be very confusing, especially to new comers:

What can analyze a tree and suggest what your next research goal(s) should be?

I have a ged file with 44k entries - what is a good program which will handle it? (Closed)

How to upload a "stripped" GEDCOM to DNA sites

Free/open software or method to convert PAF file to GEDCOM?

Software/service for informal genealogy book?

Seeking genealogy software that will support multiple languages and RTL writing? (closed)

Statistical analysis of data within my genealogy program? (which has significant overlap with the question that prompted this discussion and was not closed)

Should we be referring all these questions to Software Recommendations

None of the (possibly) 'offending' questions so far have been migrated, and I'm struggling to see how we could clearly explain the difference to newcomers between:

  • How can I do X when my data is in format Y?

  • How can I do X?

  • What software packages will allow me to do X?

The answers to all the above could be a recommendation for a software package, instructions on how to do it in the package they're already using, advice that it isn't possible, suggestions that they do some programming, advice that they can achieve their desired end in a completely different way that doesn't involve a programme at all, adice that they need to step back and look at what they're trying to achive from a genealogy perspective not a technical perspective... In short, a wide range of answers to an on-topic question, many of which will be best generated by genealogy specialists and possibly not involve software at all.

(I'm not addressing use of the 'best' word because that is always subjective, but can be easily edited out of a question and would be off-topic for Software Recommendations as well.)

Further, I'm not convinced that we're so overrun with questions here that we can afford to turn away questions that are centred on genealogy when they can easily be made into "constructive subjective" questions .


Is this a question that could have been solved with a simple change of title?

Asking "How do I query my database to find missing data?" is asking how to use software. It invites a long list of answers, all based on how-to-do-it on whatever software packages our community might have experience with. Is this on-topic or off-topic?

Asking for a "query builder app" also invites a long string of "I use [name of software]" and seems bound for Software Recommendations. But on the face of it, it doesn't seem that different from the question which asks about making a book with your genealogy software. I agree that the situation is confusing to newcomers.

Should we also consider What site is most likely to produce an answer for the question?

I confess that I don't visit Software Recommendations very often. I just went there to look at the questions tagged , and to leave a new question of my own, and discovered a question I had asked last year. I never received an answer.

I understand the problems on super-busy sites like SO that caused the situation that we have now, but for our site, which needs more questions, it's ridiculous to insist on sending people over to Software Recommendations if they won't get an answer unless we follow the question over there.

Edited to add: links of interest from Meta:

Edited to link to the SO blog: Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping!

Jeff's examples are from photography, for someone looking for a camera that can take good photos in low light.

Q: What’s the best low light point-and-shoot camera?

A: Canon S90 and Lumix LX3.

Or this:

Q: How do I tell which point-and-shoot cameras take good low light photos?

A: I strongly recommend looking for something with

    a fast lens (2.0 at least)

    reasonable ISO handling (at least 400, but preferably 800)
    the biggest sensor available

The sum of these factors are really critical for low light situations.

So my proposal would be to look over whatever software-recommendation questions that come up with an eye toward editing them towards software evaluation.

  • 1
    To solve the problem of questions going to Software Recommendations to die, I've subscribed myself to the genealogy tag over on SR.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 1:13

They are on-topic over at Software Recommendations. This includes libraries and apps.

At the moment they have seven questions under their tag, which is specifically for genealogy software. These include one of mine.

I would recommend that all such questions on this site be referred there on the grounds of being off-topic here.

Questions regarding how to use software or websites within one's research are on-topic here. Sometimes the answer to such a question may be use a different software package, try xxx. While that type of answer may be a recommendation, that type of question isn't directly seeking a recommendation.

  • 2
    Just because a question is also on topic on Software Recommendations does not mean they must be referred there, if they are also on topic here.
    – Harry V. Mod
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 14:20
  • 2
    Obviously true, but the whole point is that such questions are off-topic here.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 10:10
  • But there's disagreement that they are off-topic: our scope explicitly says you can ask about "Using technology to support your research" and we have software to identify this type of question. Asking a bad question that will get a list of short answers with no supporting evidence makes it a bad question, not off-topic; it should be closed as primarily opinion-based until it can be improved.
    – user6485
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 14:37
  • @HarryVervet See my edit to my answer that specifically covers our potential relationship with Software recommendations.
    – user6485
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 15:41
  • 2
    I'm not convinced that Software Recommendations is the best place for fairly specific genealogical software questions. The people most likely to be able to answer them are surely here, not there. I'm inclined to agree that reworking the question into on-topicality is preferable.
    – AndyW
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 16:28

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