The Art of the Query

Chances are, at some point or another you will be sending or posting a query for information on one of your ancestors. This may be on a genealogy message board or forum or in a message to a look-up volunteer. However you are asking, it is important to know how to query properly to increase your odds of getting the information you seek.

First and foremost, be polite. No one wants to get a rude message from a stranger demanding information. The words "thank you" go a long way. Even if the person responds letting you know they are unable to help, thank them for their time. They will remember it and if they later come across what you were looking for, they'll be more likely to help you add to your genealogy.

Second, be as specific as possible. Names, dates and locations will help other researchers pinpoint exactly who you are asking about. Use full names whenever possible. If other members of the family are known, add their names and relationships. If you don't know an exact date of birth, death or marriage, give an estimate or year range. Location is important as well.

Limit your request. If you are asking for too much information, you are going to have difficulty getting an answer. It is okay to ask about the parents and siblings of a single ancestor or the children of a set of parents, but don't get carried away. It is highly unlikely that anyone is going to give you the complete ancestry of a single person.

If using abbreviations, make sure they are the ones commonly used. I spoke about common genealogy abbreviations in a previous post.

Be patient. Lookup volunteers answer queries as time allows. Many have other obligations-family, work, etc-that must come first. Give the person a little time to get to you. On message boards or forums, you may not get an answer immediately or even for a length of time. Members may not have information on your ancestor or those that do have information may not be online.

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