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May 10, 2017

Good Query vs Bad Query - Which Do You Write?

When asking for genealogy help on a forum, a Facebook group page or in an email, it is wise to learn how to write a good query. A good query is bound to get you good results, other subscribers are more apt to respond. A bad query will be ignored or deleted. Good queries are clear, precise and have enough information to allow readers to help you.

  • Remember the 3 Rules - Name, Dates and Location! Be sure to include all three in your query.
    1. What is your ancestor's name?
    2. When was he born (or married or died?). If you don't know, make a guess - you must know if he was born 1820-1840 for example, versus being born 1910-1920!
    3. Where did your ancestor live or settle or where was he born? Be sure to include this information in your query.
  • Tell what sources you have searched (example: I've searched the 1910 and 1920 census)
  • State exactly what you want to know (example: I'm looking for my ancestor's death)
  • Write a descriptive subject line for your post or email (example: looking for Harvey Smith in PA circa 1850)
  • Leave lots of white space! Don't run your sentences all together. Leave space (white space) between your information and your question(s). Remember, the easier you make it for readers, the more chance you have of getting help 
  • Don't write a 5 page essay! Summarize, be precise and specific 

Good Query

Subject: Looking for Homer Jackson ca 1830 OH-1901 Pennsylvania

Homer Jackson was born circa 1830-40 in Ohio, lived in Pennsylvania from 1860 until his death in 1901. Parents unknown

He married Mary (surname unknown) circa 1859. Known children were Jesse, James, Sarah & Mary all born Pennsylvania in 1860s.

Have found family in census records from 1860 to 1900

I am looking for Homer and Mary's Marriage Record, hoping to find her surname and their parents' names

Bad Query

Subject: Help!

Looking for info on Homer Jackson in Pennsylvania


Wendy Callahan said...

This is an excellent reminder. I'm making sure it gets out there on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

There are so many bad queries out there and the responses usually ask for more detailed information. We save time if we put what we know (and don't know) into our query from the start.

You've also reminded me to post fresh new queries on message boards. Even though my queries from the early 2000s still exist, it's been a good 10-20 years since I posted the majority of them. Probably a good idea for me to go out there and freshen them up!

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Thanks Wendy! Glad it was helpful. It's a hot button for me - very frustrating to want to help others but it's like pulling teeth to get the details from some.

Marian B. Wood said...

Excellent reminder to be succinct and yet also include enough info that others know what you do and don't know. I also post queries on FB genealogy pages but often don't include much white space. Will take your advice and open it up a little.

ScotSue said...

A first class lesson on how we should write queries. I am on several Facebook groups and I am amazed sometimes on how the basic information is often omitted from the original enquiry. A timely reminder for us all.

T said...

I don't even click those messages that don't state a name in the subject line.

Marian Koalski said...

Thanks for saying this and for showing good and bad examples. The web gives us plenty of space for outlining our questions -- much better than the old magazine queries -- so people who need help should be encouraged to use it.