Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cyndi's List: Browse Categories vs Search Engine

A couple of weeks ago, at a local seminar, I referred someone to one of the categories on Cyndi's List. When I looked over his shoulder to point out what he needed to find I saw him use the site's search engine to get to the category and then to a link. I wondered how many people out there might do this on a regular basis and ignore the categories and all the link categorization that I do.

The purpose of Cyndi's List today is the same as it was in 1996 when it was brand new. It is a categorized and cross-referenced index of links to everything I can find online for genealogy. This is what I do. Often 12+ hours a day. I find new sources online and I categorize them. For example, one link to a web page about the History of Civil Registration in Ireland gets put under multiple categories/sub-categories in order for people to find it no matter how they might end up looking for it:

  • United Kingdom & Ireland » Ireland & Northern Ireland » Birth, Marriage, Death
  • Births & Baptisms » Locality Specific: United Kingdom & Ireland
  • Marriages & Divorce » Locality Specific: United Kingdom & Ireland
  • Death Records » Locality Specific: United Kingdom & Ireland
  • ...and under BMD in each county in Ireland
I admit that I may be too close to this issue. I work on the backend of the site and actively use the categorization because that is what how I think and how I research. 

So, is there a benefit to browsing categories versus using the search engine?

For the first several years I resisted putting a search engine on the web site. The concept didn't make sense to me. Using a search engine means you have to try to guess at words and phrases that might be used in either a link's title or description. In doing so you may miss out on some links that don't use the words or phrases you are looking for, but still might contain information you need. After a couple of years I finally gave in and added the search engine. It appears at the top right on each page of the site. But, what are you missing by not scrolling further down the page?

I have been told by several people that by browsing the categories new ideas for research possibilities pop up. For example, one lady told me she never would have thought of railroad records for her ancestors until she saw the Railroads category on Cyndi's List. When was the last time you browsed the categories

Benefits of Using the Categories Per Cyndi's List Users:

  • "You find things you didn't know you were looking for!" --Jane 
  • "It's similar to browsing the library shelves rather than using the catalog. If you aren't finding something useful using one method, try the other." --Mike
  • "I will 2nd what Jane said - you find categories/areas that you didn't know about before. Gets you thinking." --Jen
  • "Sometimes you don't know what to search for to get all of the results. Cyndi's List brings together all of the places that Cyndi and the entire community have found for a given subject." --Tim
  • "I'm a category browser." --Mark
  • "I agree with all of the above. I don't use the search engine, either. ('Oh look, a squirrel!' Then off I go to delve into something else.) I also agree that it's like library shelves." --Linda
  • "Categories show you things you didn't know were out there, and trigger your mind to think in paths it might not have found otherwise. Search engine: bleh, if you don't have a clue what the choices are, you don't know how well it's telling you what's out there." --Megan
  • "Agreed. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. As in, you aren't aware certain things even exist, or that they've been digitized and are hiding somewhere. That crafting Cyndi digs them out for us." --Polly
  • "I would much rather browse the topics than use the search engine. It's for the same reason I would rather browse the books rather than using a "closed stack" library. There are some things I know to look for, and the search engine is a great vehicle for doing that. But, sometimes I just need to be made aware of things that I just didn't know were out there." --Peggy
  • "I always prefer browsing. Perhaps I'm looking for something specific but lo and behold when I browse I spot something I would never have thought to query in a search engine. I like a search engine for names but not for topics." --Lorine

Types of Categories on Cyndi's List:

  • Ethnic groups
  • How to
  • Localities
    • For the US there are also categories for each state and all counties
    • For the UK & Ireland, a category for each country and all counties
    • For Canada there are categories for each province
    • For Australia, individual state categories are in the works
  • Methodologies
  • Occupations
  • Preservation
  • Record types
  • Religions
  • Social Networking
  • Technology

Category Pages Include:

  • A set of sub-categories that include standard genealogical category names found across the site, as well as sub-categories that are unique to that subject
  • Links to Related Categories to help connect you with more topics for your research
  • And some categories and sub-categories have definitions, descriptions, and other helpful pieces of information for the topic you are researching

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cyndi's List: How to Submit New Links

The purpose of Cyndi's List is to categorize everything found online for genealogy. All links are cross-referenced under as many categories and sub-categories as are appropriate. Both free and pay-for-use web sites are included. If you know of a link that isn't yet categorized on Cyndi's List you can submit the link through the form on the site:


  1. Be sure the link isn't already found on Cyndi's List. First check the categories or use the search function on the site.
  2. Copy and paste the URL for the link to be sure that there are no errors when submitting.
  3. Include the title as shown on the web site. This will be checked and edited if necessary.
  4. Include a brief description. If you are submitting the link you probably know more about it than I do. So, be sure to explain what the site is about and include important genealogical details such as names, dates, and place names. For links to institutions such as libraries or societies, give the location including the name of the city, county, state/province, and country.
  5. Please do not submit a new link more than once.
  6. Please do not submit link corrections through the new link form. Use the "Report a Broken Link" or "Update a Link" tab on the left side of each page.

After You Submit:

  • New links will be reviewed, the titles and descriptions will be edited, and categorization will be determined.
  • New links are added to the individual category pages on Cyndi's List as I have time to visit, verify and examine each web site.
  • I will visit each site to verify that the address is correct.
  • I will use the title exactly as it is shown on the web site.
  • If no description is submitted I will do my best to find one on the web site to use.
  • I will determine the categories under which the links will be set up.
  • The new link will have a green New graphic next to it for 30 days.  
  • The new link will show up on the What's New pages for 30 days.
  • The new link will be included in the daily What's New e-mail that goes out to the Cyndi's List Mailing List each day.


  • The content on Cyndi's List is subject to the owner's discretion.
  • Links will be added to Cyndi's List at the owner's discretion.
  • There is no guarantee that all links will be included on Cyndi's List.
  • There is no guarantee that links will be added to Cyndi's List within a specific time frame.
  • All new resources submitted for inclusion on Cyndi's List will be reviewed by the owner prior to categorization.
  • Each URL will be verified for accuracy.
  • Each web site title will be reviewed for correct categorization and alphabetization.
  • Categorization of each link will be at the discretion of the owner.
  • The purpose of Cyndi's List is to provide a categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources found online. The intent is for the site to be all-inclusive; however, the owner reserves the right to add and remove links at any time and at her discretion.
  • Links will be added and/or removed without any prior notification at the discretion of the owner.
  • The owner is not responsible for the content found on other web sites that are found linked on Cyndi's List.
  • Links to commercial enterprises found on Cyndi's List are included as a courtesy. Unless otherwise stated, the existence of these links on Cyndi's List does not imply endorsement of the services or products provided by those commercial enterprises.
  • The owner will not knowingly link to sites that derive from or participate in fraudulent or illegal behavior.
  • The owner is not responsible for problems that arise from sites found on the index that derive from or participate in fraudulent or illegal behavior.
  • The owner is not responsible for disputes, conflicts or other problems between web sites linked to by Cyndi's List.
  • The owner is not responsible for disputes, conflicts or other problems between web site visitors and web sites linked to by Cyndi's List.
  • Cyndi's List (including the web site, the blog, the mailing list, and Facebook, Twitter, & Google+ forums) contains banner advertisements and some text links that point to commercial enterprises via an affiliate relationship. Users of Cyndi's List might follow an affiliate link and visit a commercial web site. Any resulting purchases made by a visitor might result in a commission being paid to the owner of Cyndi's List. Every effort is made to identify pay-for-use commercial web sites as such within link descriptions. The existence of these links on Cyndi's List does not imply endorsement of the services or products provided by those commercial enterprises.

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