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July 26, 2010

Pet Peeve #3: Is Your Answer Relevant?

Okay I know some readers will disagree with me. But I have to talk about it! We can find many tutorials on writing good genealogy queries but what about ANSWERING a genealogy query? Some people need help with this one.

Call me a nit-picker (I've been called worse) but why oh why do people answer a query with information that has absolutely nothing to do with the original question!

Example - a woman writes to a mailing list and asks specifically for help finding a ships passenger list for ships arriving in Canada between 1851 and 1854. That's pretty specific - dates (1851-1854) and locations (Canada) are stated.

Subscribers answer. One says "Try Ellis Island"

Huh? Ellis Island was the processing station for ships arriving in NEW YORK between 1892 and 1924. Hmm... that doesn't seem very helpful! The questioner wants ships to CANADA 1851-1854!

Another subscriber eagerly offers advice. "Try Pier 21 for Halifax Nova Scotia"

Oh, that's sounding better - but wait! A quick check reveals that Pier 21 is for ships arriving after 1928. That is far too late for what the questioner wants and needes.

"Castle Garden ships lists are free" says another subscriber.

Well, yes that's correct, but that website is for ships arriving in New York (and other states), not Canada.

In reality before 1865 Canadian ships passenger lists did not have to be archived. That means that few lists have survived for the time period the questioner wants. But the good news is that there are some lists and alternate methods of finding a passenger in that challenging time period and place. A helpful and relevant answer would have given the questioner at least one link or some information about ships passenger lists arriving in Canada 1851-1854!

There are some steamship lists, and some shipping company records and a few immigration agent records that have survived. They are scattered and it is time consuming to find them but Olive Tree Genealogy has a list of all the available projects and passenger lists to Canada before 1865. Some are online, some are offline, some are free, some are pay-to-view.

The few that fit the questioner's location and timeframe (1851-1854) are available at Filling in the Gaps: Canadian Ships Passenger Lists They include

* The Hawke Papers, letterbooks of Chief Emigrant Agent Anthony B. Hawke are available at the Archives of Ontario from 1831 to 1892 (only 1865-1883 is available online so the questioner would have to search microfilm for her years of interest)

* Passenger Books of J & J Cooke, Shipping Agents with sailings from Londonderry Ireland to Quebec and St. John New Brunswick from 1847 to 1871

* People from the Fitzwilliam estate in Ireland who settled in Ontario, 1847-1855 Settlement in East half of Ontario

* Filling in the Gaps: Partial Ships Passenger Lists 1850-1855 Names of Individuals in the New York Almshouse who arrived in Canada before going on to New York (includes name of ship, date of arrival and more)

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not peeved because my site wasn't mentioned as a resource! My peeve is that people gave answers that had nothing to do with the original question. I hate wasting time. I hate to see others wasting time. So I scratch my head and wonder why on earth did someone give a response that didn't even answer the question?

Maybe it's just me. I'm too much of a nit-picker. But there it is, Pet Peeve #3.


Ginger Smith said...

I totally agree. Great example. I also dislike it when you say you looked at Passenger Ship lists XY in your original query and they respond with "look at Passenger Ship Lists XY!"

lady red said...

I'm happy and grateful when people take time out from their busy day to try to help me with an inquiry. Most responders are not professional genealogists, or even experienced genealogists, and I know I'll have to sift through the answers. I don't mind.

This is a nice site. Thank you for creating it!

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

I have had almost this very same thing happen and similar incidents time and again. I'm glad I'm not the only one it annoys!

Carol said...

Seems to me, and this is my observation and my opinion, that many people who post a response are more interested in getting their two cents worth in, seeing their name in print, or whatever we call it on the net. They speed read questions, type whatever comes to mind in a hurry, not thinking that the time frame or their answer does not match the question.

Lady Red, good for you, believe me, you might find some really intersting stuff, even if it is not always answering the original question.

Moral of my answer, yes, it is time consuming and a pet peeve, but, on the other hand, I have found some really neato web sites from those "off" subject answers, WHEN I have the time to investigate.

KevinW said...

It sounds like you are describing the sorts of answers that queries get on the Ancestry.Com forums. Awful.

But it is a very thin line dividing criticizing the answers and discouraging future help. The goal is helpful answers and not wasting people's time with irrelevancies.

Overall I think tactfully criticizing lousy "help" is a good thing. Once in a while. ;)

Kaisa Kyläkoski said...

The most memorable case for me was when I asked for a lookup on a surname from one particular source (Index to Russian Consular Records). The only person to reply put the surname to Google and produced information on an well known and documented murder that I had no interest in. However the person felt that I should have been extremely grateful on his/her contribution.

Personally I try to reply in an relevant manner, but perhaps I should stop as it seems that people are really looking for research results and not help with research. If they are not willing to learn the basics of genealogical research in the country their ancestors come from, does it mean that someone should do it for them voluntarily? It is a different issue when the material is not easily available, of course.

Martin said...

That's why I don't answer or post to message boards. I hated when I would ask the question of Mr. Smith who married ms. Jones and someone would reply I know nothing about your couple but do you know about my Mr. Smith five states over and 100 years later.

I probably posted 1,000 to from 1996 to 2009. It never came close to reaching its potential. I was the only one who posted original records transcriptions.