17 February 2012

Asking For Help

There are plenty of people who are willing to help you get to the next step. It's good research karma ;-) There are message boards on Ancestry.com, FindAGrave.com, GenForum.com, and RootsWeb.com, just to name a few. These are searchable for years and may have boards dedicated to surnames or places. There are also pages and groups on Facebook: Ancestry.com, Genealogy Tip of the Day, Ancestorville, and others that cater to specific ancestry like Swedish Heart Genealogy and AfriGeneas. These are only searchable with the "Find" function on your computer and your post may be pushed down the page in a matter of hours. Both have their uses and it may be helpful to put your post in a couple of different places.

Basic Etiquette:
1) DON'T YELL. You may think that your post will
catch someone's eye because it's all in caps but
online that is considered yelling. Putting a surname
in all caps would be appropriate or a word or two
for emphasis but an entire post in caps is just rude.
2) No cursing. On some pages your post will be deleted
and you may be banned. If you've been reading other
posts on the page you'll be able to tell what is
and isn't acceptable for that particular site.
3) Say thank you. If someone takes the time to check
the subscription site they're paying for to see if there's a
record of your ancestor acknowledge that, even if they
didn't find anything. i.e. "Bummer. Thanks for checking."
4) Don't be greedy. When someone gives you information
don't then ask, "What about...?" Say thank you and go research.
5) Proofread your post! If you're going to post and then
not be online for a few hours make sure you're not
sending someone on a wild goose chase searching for your
ancestor in 1720 when you meant 1920.
6) For posts on Facebook... Have messages enabled on
your account. If the answer to your question is lengthy or
if a helper has a question about your post that may be
too personal for a public wall they may want to message you.
7) For posts on Facebook... If you forgot a detail
or have a clarification do not post the information
in a new post. Comment on your original post.
8) This one is for those who like to help... Tell how/where you
got the information. Remember the Chinese proverb:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

After the jump: What to include in your post

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If you write only that you're looking for John Smith most people will scroll past your post. Be as specific as possible. The big three details (for me) are time, place and a specific question.

Time: There's a big difference in John Q. Smith b. 1909 and John Q. Smith b. 1780. Even if you don't have an exact date give an approximation: "The family thinks he might have fought in the Civil War." If your mom remembers being in high school when he died that could narrow it down: "We think he died between 1960 and 1965."

Place: Where did any of the big events (birth, marriage, death) occur? Or do you know where he lived? Having even ONE place to start looking is incredibly helpful. You don't even need to know the name of the town or county, just a state. And you don't need to know all of those details but hopefully you know at least one.

Specific question: I've seen a few posts on Facebook where the poster just types a name. That's it. Nothing else. You wouldn't think this needed to be stated but...If you'd like help, ASK A QUESTION. Are you looking for his/her parents? His/Her children? A military record? A will or obituary? A birth, marriage, or death certificate?

Think you don't have details? If all you have is a name, let's say it's your grandfather, then (some of you may not like this one) include YOUR age. The reason I say this is because searching for the grandfather of a 15 year old would be much different than searching for the grandfather of a 75 year old. And did he die before you were born? Did he just do like Kim Catrall's grandfather and disappear? Or did no one in the family ever speak of him but you managed to find his name on a document? Details. To quote Crista Cowan, "What do you know and how do you know it?"

Also helpful: Do you have any information already? "He married Jane Doe in 1929 but I'm having trouble finding information on him BEFORE the marriage." or "The only thing I've found so far is the 1930 Census and they were living in Tazewell, TN." I once helped someone and each time I came back with a different document I got, "Oh, I already have that." Needless to say I felt like my time was wasted.

The more detailed and concise you can be in your post the more likely someone will stop to help you and the more successful they will be in helping you.

NEXT POST: What's the point?