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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Did You Think Before You Posted?
by Rhonda R. McClure

March 01, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

The Internet has made communicating with fellow genealogists easier. No longer must we have access to every periodical published by a genealogy society or company in order to find others researching our family names.

Through the Internet, we can post our queries, and read others, more easily. We can take advantage of search engines to locate potential messages. We can spontaneously submit our own queries or messages.

Think before you send.

An Effective Query

When I lecture to various groups, I often hear stories from researchers who are frustrated by the lack of answers to their queries. Often times, when I get more of the story I discover that the query may be to blame. Writing an effective query is half the battle to getting an answer. Few of us, though, take the time to be sure that we have written an effective query.

An effective query includes more than the surname of the family you are researching. An effective query gives those reading it a virtual look at your research. After all, the query is all they get. They cannot see your three-inch thick file folder full of copies and notes.

When writing a query online, you want to be sure to include the following information:

  • Information on an individual or family, rather than a surname
  • As precise a locality as is known; hopefully a county and state
  • A time period
  • Some indication as to the experience of the researcher
  • Information as to research already accomplished

An Effective Response

Of course, the flip side to an effective query is to post effective responses to others' queries. This is sometimes harder than creating the effective query.

How many times have you posted a query and then returned to read responses only to discover that the responses appear to have nothing to do with your original question? When this happens you feel frustrated or disappointed or both.

As you read a query and go to respond, how many times have you posted your response before rereading what you have written? We are probably all guilty of this. We live in a fast-paced world and there are so many messages to read and so much research yet to do.

However, keep in mind how you feel when you read a response to your query and it doesn't seem to apply to your original question or request. Really read the query. Before asking them if they have information on James Smith, make sure that there is some possibility that your James Smith may connect with the family.

Sometimes it is a better idea to offer information, if you have it, pertinent to the query poster's search. It doesn't necessarily have to pertain to the individual or surname in question. Your response could have to do with the locality in question.

In Conclusion

Always keep in mind how you feel when the messages you seek out are not helpful. Reread what you are getting ready to post. Make sure that it is pertinent to the query at hand and that, if possible, it is of help to the other researcher. If they know you are willing to share, they are more likely to give you the information they have already.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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