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As a community, we've discussed how to handle 'lookup requests' before, but never written anything explicit into our 'off-topic guidance'.

I'm proposing that we incorporate the following so that we're very clear on the subject.


A note on 'lookup requests'

Questions asking for somebody to perform a lookup on a site/at an archives that is not accessible to the asker will be closed as off-topic, or (if part of a wider question) edited to remove the lookup request.

This is because:

  • Lookup requests are never useful to anyone except the requester, which is contrary to our aim "to build a comprehensive library of answers to questions about genealogy and family history" intended to have wide relevance to all family history and genealogy researchers.

  • Many online record providers have Terms of Service and/or copyright restrictions that prohibit or limit performing searches for other individuals and/or publishing the results of such searches online. We are not willing to condone blatantly asking members of our community to breach the Terms of Service for websites they use and/or relevant laws.

But, I NEED a lookup!

You have a few options.

  • If you know exactly what you want and where it is, try Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness or another site which links people offering to do lookups with people needing a lookup.

  • Hire a professional researcher, or pay an archive to provide a copy of a record -- this may be the best option if you're physically unable to visit some archives and RAOGK etc. have not provided results for a simple lookup.

  • Ask a question that describes what you're trying to achieve, what sources you've already consulted, and what sources you haven't consulted (yet) and why.

Answers may:

  1. Suggest alternative approaches to meet your research needs (including accessible online sources that you weren't aware of).
  2. Advise you of an online source for the information you seek, without actually reproducing the search results.
  3. Provide a transcription or partial image of a relevant source (with details of where it comes from) -- in which case we trust the person answering to ensure they're compliant with ToS/relevant laws when they do this.

Answers that explain how to find the information are more useful than answers that simply provide the information.

3

I think that we should use your wording and place it like below immediately before the last sentence at https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic which is "For more help, see "What types of questions should I avoid asking?"

A note on 'lookup requests'

Questions asking for somebody to perform a lookup on a site/at an archives that is not accessible to the asker will be closed as off-topic, or (if part of a wider question) edited to remove the lookup request.

This is because:

  • Lookup requests are never useful to anyone except the requester, which is contrary to our aim "to build a comprehensive library of answers to questions about genealogy and family history" intended to have wide relevance to all family history and genealogy researchers.

  • Many online record providers have Terms of Service and/or copyright restrictions that prohibit or limit performing searches for other individuals and/or publishing the results of such searches online. We are not willing to condone blatantly asking members of our community to breach the Terms of Service for websites they use and/or relevant laws.

But, I NEED a lookup!

You have a few options.

  • If you know exactly what you want and where it is, try Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness or another site which links people offering to do lookups with people needing a lookup.

  • Hire a professional researcher, or pay an archive to provide a copy of a record -- this may be the best option if you're physically unable to visit some archives and RAOGK etc. have not provided results for a simple lookup.

  • Ask a question that describes what you're trying to achieve, what sources you've already consulted, and what sources you haven't consulted (yet) and why.

Answers may:

  1. Suggest alternative approaches to meet your research needs (including accessible online sources that you weren't aware of).
  2. Advise you of an online source for the information you seek, without actually reproducing the search results.
  3. Provide a transcription or partial image of a relevant source (with details of where it comes from) -- in which case we trust the person answering to ensure they're compliant with ToS/relevant laws when they do this.

Answers that explain how to find the information are more useful than answers that simply provide the information.

1
  • I implemented this exact wording.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 15 '20 at 22:21
2

Answers that explain how to find the information are more useful than answers that simply provide the information.

In my opinion this last point can't be emphasized enough. Bolding it in guidance or adding more wordage may be overkill, so I want to emphasize it here.

Explanations that show others how we found alternate information can be used as a guide by other readers with the same kind of question. A friend of mine who is also a member of SE describes the difference between giving someone an answer, and giving them the tools they need to figure out the answer for themselves, "giving them a fish, versus teaching them how to fish".

Show how you can get an answer -- don't just give them the answer.

3
  • If it’s our mantra then I don’t think bolding it in our help would be overkill.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Dec 23 '19 at 23:29
  • 1
    @PolyGeo If it's our mantra then we should introduce it much earlier and in bold -- maybe as part of "We welcome questions at all levels, and you can expect a range of answers from very basic to highly technical, depending on how you phrase your question. The community tends to respond better to questions that show you have already done some research (at least used a search engine or consulted a dictionary) before asking for help."
    – user104
    Dec 24 '19 at 11:12
  • I think this answer is very valuable and would still like to try and incorporate it into the improved wording (which I just implemented). To get that last tweak, we could conduct a new Meta Q&A or just watch the voting here to decide whether it is warranted.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jan 15 '20 at 22:25

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