Monday, January 27, 2014

Facebook for Genealogy: Posts, aka Queries

There are now several thousand genealogy groups on Facebook. Some are for commercial enterprises and some are for researching in a specific locale or for a specific topic or surname. They are all community forums in which we can participate and help one another with our research. Social networking on Facebook is a great way to meet others, to teach others, and to help others. In order to make it a productive and helpful tool for our research, there are several things we should all put into regular practice.

Today's Topic: Posts, aka Queries

Facebook posts for genealogy currently run the full spectrum from exceedingly poor to perfectly terrific. A well-written query has been a challenge to genealogists for years, long before using the Internet. Genealogical magazines, journals, and newsletters often published queries for genealogists who were hoping to connect with someone else who had an ancestor or topic in common. Many of those publications had specific guidelines that had to be followed in order to publish a query. With the advent of home computers and the Internet, genealogists began to use technology to publish their research questions. Bulletin boards, online forums, chat rooms, mailing lists, message boards, and now social networking forums all give us the opportunity to reach out and ask for help. Many of these technology-based tools also include guidelines for posting queries. However, people often do not read them and do not follow them. 

Writing a well-crafted post or query is important in order to receive a well-crafted answer. If the question is important enough to you to ask in the first place, it should be important enough to ask it well. A quickly written sentence with a name and no other information won't cut it. It is important to include the details of what you already know, what you have already done, and what you want to learn by asking your question. There are many different types of queries you might write based on what sort of research you may need help with. And each one will have important details you should be sure to include.

Types of Posts and Queries

  • About an individual
  • About a family group
  • About research in a specific locality
  • About research with a specific record type
  • About research for a specific topic
  • About research for an ethnic group
  • About research for a religion
  • About research methodology
  • About help with technology for genealogy
  • About help with photos, letters, diaries, Bibles, and other mementos
  • And many more

Common Rules for Posts and Queries:

The following are guidelines to help you write the best query you can. Provide whatever information you have whenever possible.
  1. Limit each post to one query. Asking multiple questions within a post can make it hard for others to answer you. It can also mean that you may receive answers for some of the questions, but not all of them. One question per post fixes that.
  2. Choose the appropriate Facebook group or fan page on which to post your query. There are many different groups for many different genealogical topics. Posting on the correct group can get you the help you need. See Katherine R. Willson's "Genealogy on Facebook" list here:
  3. Posting a vague query with few details won't get you the answers you need. Be sure to include as many pieces of information as you can in order to help direct those who might be taking the time to reply to you.
    • Include a person's full name, including given, middle, nickname, and surname(s).
    • Include a person's birth, marriage, and death information including dates and places.
    • Include the names of a person's parents, siblings, and/or spouses.
    • Include all the details you already know.
    • Include details that indicate what you have already done.
  4. Don't assume that the reader will know what you know. Explain thoroughly.
  5. If your query involves a document or a photo, include a scanned copy for others to see.
  6. If your query involves a web site, include the URL (address) for the web site and/or the web page that you are referencing.
  7. To separate blocks of text within one post use the Shift+Enter keys at the same time to insert a soft return that won't trigger the post function before you're done writing your query.
  8. Don't type in all UPPERCASE letters. Online this is considered shouting. And it is very difficult to read. The exception is when typing surnames. They should be in uppercase letters to help them stand out from the rest of the text.
  9. Don't use any abbreviations in your post. Remember that the Internet is global and you might receive answers from people elsewhere in the world that aren't familiar with abbreviations used in your area.
  10. Be sure to proofread your query before you post it. Check it for accuracy, spelling, and clarity.  
  11. Make a log of where you posted your query, including the date and the name of the group. That way it is easier to remember where and when to check back later.
  12. If you have taken the time to post a query, stick around a while to participate in the resulting discussion in order to answer questions, make clarifications, or just follow along as the conversation grows.
  13. When someone takes the time to reply to your query be sure to carefully read their reply. Follow up with replies to their questions and with more questions of your own if you aren't clear about their answer(s). 
  14. Thank people for helping you. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is often overlooked.
  15. Check back over the next few days to see if anyone has replied or added to the conversation for your query. 
  16. Keep a copy of your query and the entire thread of conversation that took place after that. Put it in your research notes to help you down the road. Note the date and the Facebook group on which you asked your questions. 

See also: Facebook for Genealogy: Threads

Monday, December 16, 2013

Facebook for Genealogy: Threads

There are now several thousand genealogy groups on Facebook. Some are for commercial enterprises and some are for researching in a specific locale or for a specific topic or surname. They are all community forums in which we can participate and help one another with our research. Social networking on Facebook is a great way to meet others, to teach others, and to help others. In order to make it a productive and helpful tool for our research, there are several things we should all put into regular practice.

Today's Topic: Threads

A thread in an online forum refers to one conversation: the initial question or post followed by all the replies, comments, and answers to that post. On Facebook after a certain number of replies, the thread will "collapse" which means it will show up as a shortened version with only the most recent comments displayed. At the top under the original post it will state "View previous comments" and show the number of current comments on the thread, such as "11 of 112."  This means that it is showing the most recent 11 comments out of a total of 112.

When participating in a conversation, be sure you first read the entire thread. Doing so means you will know what others have already said and how other answers were shared. Quite often people do not read an entire thread, but they go ahead and reply, answer a question, or ask another question in their comments. This almost always means there will be duplication in the answers received or assumptions made about the depth and breadth of the conversation.

Common Rules to Follow in a Thread:

  • Read the initial post carefully to be sure you understand the comment or the question.
  • Before replying, be sure to read the entire thread first so that you don't repeat something that has already been said by someone else. Unless, of course, it is something that bears repeating.
  • Be thorough in your reply if you are offering advice or answering a research question.
  • If you are stating a personal opinion, offer some reasoning to back up your statements.
  • Do not assume that the reader has the same knowledge-base that you do about the topic or about genealogy in general. 
  • Remember that the reader of the thread isn't just the person who wrote the original post. Everyone who belongs to the group can read what your replies contain. This is always an opportunity to keep in mind that you may be sharing information with new genealogists and you might be helping them to learn new ways to do their research. You might also teach the veterans a thing or two.
  • If your reply includes a reference to something found online, be sure to include the URL (web address) for the reference. Copy & paste it from your web browser directly into your reply to be sure it is accurate and will work properly.
  • If your reply includes a reference to a specific work, online or offline, be sure to include the complete title so that it will be easy for others to track down.
  • Stay on topic. If the topic strays from the original post, it might be time to start a new thread.
  • If the thread becomes more of a personal conversation between you and another person, it might be time to move it to a private message conversation instead of using the public forum.
  • Respect the opinions and advice given by others. Have a thoughtful conversation with others, encouraging a good-natured exchange of ideas and research methodology tips.
  • Mind your manners. A public forum isn't the time or the place for anyone to do or say something that they wouldn't do or say in person, face to face. It's sad that I have to include this bit, but I've seen tempers flare far too often. Treat others with the same courtesy you wish for yourself.

See also: Facebook for Genealogy: Posts, aka Queries

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why Genealogy on TV is a Good Thing

Well, I think I've reached my personal limit with regard to the nay-sayers about the various television programs that feature genealogy. I'm so tired of listening to the complaining. In fact, I tend to think that the nay-sayers are a small number, yet they seem to holler the loudest. And this isn't a new thing when it comes to genealogy.

When I was first online in 1995 I watched the Internet take off in an astronomically fast upward spiral with regard to genealogy. I started keeping track of my bookmarks for genealogy, which at that time printed out on one piece of paper. Within two years of the launch of Cyndi's List the total went from 1,025 to well over 26,000 links. And that is in the infancy of genealogy online. By the 3rd anniversary the site had more than 20,000,000 visitors to the front page. Clearly, the Internet was popular with people who were interested in their family history. And that is when the nay-sayers started their Internet-hate campaign. Some of the things I heard or read on a regular basis:
  • The Internet is a fad.
  • The Internet is going to kill libraries.
  • The Internet is going to kill genealogy societies.
  • The Internet produces junk genealogy.
  • The Internet encourages junk genealogy.
  • The Internet isn't for serious genealogists.
18 years later I think each of those statements have now been proven to be extreme, overly reactionary, and just plain wrong. First of all, the Internet isn't a magical machine bent on destruction. Genealogy online is the work of human beings. And it is up to the genealogists online, especially the veterans and the professionals, to make the Internet work for us as a positive thing. The Internet is a venue for publishing, education, archiving, backup, records access, meetings, and socializing. Each of those things can be used in a way to enhance everything we do in genealogy. But, back in the beginning, each of those things were seen as negatives when it came to the nay-sayers. Well, they were wrong. I'm wagging my finger at them and sticking out my virtual tongue. I believe that people now see the Internet as a valuable tool and an asset to libraries, societies, and the entire genealogical community.

In my opinion, what the Internet has done for genealogy has been a wonderful thing. Supposedly genealogy is the second most popular topic online. The Internet has made it easy for long-lost cousins to find one another. And it's easier to learn, to publish, to share, and to move forward in our research faster than we could have done in the past. This also means that more people are interested in genealogy now than before computers and the Internet. More people find it accessible. Prior to this it was the hobby of retired people and those who had the time and money to do a lot of traveling for on-site research. The Internet opened up research to people who were on tight budgets or housebound for a variety of reasons. Younger people and stay-at-home moms or dads can now spend time on genealogy. It is now a hobby for anyone that has an interest in learning more about their ancestors.

So, how do we take the next step to encourage people to become interested in genealogy? When I started in genealogy in 1980, in Washington state, I had no idea that there were genealogy societies or libraries with genealogy collections. I worked in a very small vacuum in the Pacific Northwest, with no money and no car to drive. It took me several years to learn about where to go and what to look for in my research. My first exposure to genealogy beyond my small world was the media. A syndicated newspaper column by Myra Vanderpool Gormley. Through Myra I learned about genealogy books and magazines, genealogy libraries, genealogy societies, and that there were actually large groups of people out there who were also interested in this unique hobby. Myra's column told me that there was more out there. Myra's column, because of the nature of a nationally syndicated newspaper column, didn't teach me everything I needed to know to turn me into the world's perfect genealogist. My expectation wasn't that I would learn everything I ever needed to know just by reading her column. But it did keep my interest alive and it prompted me to go look for more. My Grandma Nash & my Aunt Daisy gave me my first taste of family history. It was Myra's column that let me know that there was more to it than just compiling names and dates. If it wasn't for Myra, I wouldn't have gone further.

And with that I come to the point of this article. Television is good for genealogy. And I'm so tired of hearing the nay-sayers when it comes to the television programs Who Do You Think You Are? and the Genealogy Roadshow. In both cases genealogical research for the people featured on the show is presented in a one-hour time slot. There is no way to fit everything a person needs to know about how to do research for________ [fill in the blank] in a one-hour show. So, it isn't a reasonable argument to say things such as:
  • If I had money to travel all over the world, I could do that too!
  • Celebrities have it easy.
  • The show misleads people by making it look too easy.
  • Wouldn't it be nice to have a clerk just hand you the documents you need without any work?
  • They are just handing a bunch of stuff over without telling them how to do the research.
  • They make it look like you can find these things without any work.
  • They aren't teaching them anything about genealogy.
C'mon people! Really? Behind the scenes of the genealogy television programs there are teams of professional genealogists doing the research, sometimes for several months. And all the research they did wasn't necessarily included in the one-hour program. You know why? Because there was a lot of editing done to the thousands of hours of research and hundreds of hours of filming in order to condense it to a one-hour show. And because TV is supposed to entertain us and engage us and draw us in. The purpose of these shows is to highlight the topic, not to be the end-all educational option for genealogy. In the same way that Myra's newspaper column opened my eyes 33 years ago, these television programs are letting the world know that this hobby is fun and interesting and personal and enthralling. These programs are today's media outreach to a new generation of genealogists. Television producers and directors edit and present the programs to bring in the targeted audience. And we need to remember they aren't necessarily targeting us—the genealogists who already know how to research. Once that targeted audience is here, it is our job to help them learn and to point them in the right direction to become great genealogists. Let's get them in the doors first. To just unilaterally dismiss the television programs by portraying them negatively is short-sighted. So, I'm wagging my finger at you nay-sayers again. Let's see these programs for what they are, a positive and entertaining introduction to genealogy, rather than for what you think they should be. Quit with the negativity and the bad-mouthing. Because I said so.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

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