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


Michigan Girl said...

Great advise Cyndi. The use of social networking for genealogy is such a resource for all of us. I belong to several location specific pages and many of them are wonderfully helpful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this thoughtful piece. Using Facebook for genealogy queries is something fairly new to many. Many posts on the Internet remain for a long long time so it is good to have the best writing and information one can before pressing enter.

Linda Herrick Swisher said...

One more, Cyndi:
If posting on a message board, or when sending an e-mail, do not use the subject "Stuck," "Brick Wall" or the ever-popular "Help." Use "Smith in XYZ County, KY, 1870s." Use a subject line that allows people to see what the message is about without having to open it, or without worrying if it's spam.

labbie1 said...

Good article! Thanks for the reminder, Cyndi! :)

Jana Iverson Last said...


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Have a great weekend!