Your fellow researchers can be an excellent source of previous research. Genealogy is one of the most popular pastimes in the United States, so there's bound to be someone out there who is researching one of the same family lines as you -- it's just a matter of finding that person.
Post a Query
A "query" is a message that tells other people which family lines you are researching. Electronic bulletin boards and message boards can be excellent places to post queries because they can reach a wide audience. Online services such as America Online and CompuServe have genealogy forums where you can post these types of messages, and you will also find that the GenForum is handy for the same purpose.
In addition to posting your own query, you of course will want to check for queries that may have been posted by other people who are researching the same family line as you. An added convenience of electronic message boards is that you can often search for a name electronically, instead of by hand, making your searches much faster. Check the message board that you use for instructions. When you do search through query messages, don't forget to consider alternate spellings of your family names!
Another option is to submit and look for queries in a genealogy magazine or newsletter. Everton's Genealogical Helper is one popular national outlet for this purpose. The magazines of some national organizations, such as National Genealogical Society , allow queries in some of their publications. You might also want to check for a genealogical magazine or newsletter that is published in the area where your ancestors lived -- it will often be published by the genealogical society in that area. If someone is researching the same family line as you, it is possible that they subscribe to the newsletter and have already posted a query, or will see a query that you post
How to Formulate Your Query
Before you post a query message, take a few moments to plan out what it is that you want to say. You may want to create a general query asking for more information about an entire family branch, or you may have a specific question, such as "What was the name of John Henry Scott's father?" No matter the nature of your question, you should be sure to include information such as names, dates or date ranges, and locations. These types of details will help people who read your query decide if you are researching the same family line, or just a family that happens to have the same last name. Also, don't forget to include an e-mail or regular mail address so that others can contact you. (On the Family Tree Maker Online message boards, it's not necessary to add an address into the text of the query, just be sure to fill out the name and address fields that are already in the form.)
For example, you might create a query that said something like this:
Need parents and siblings of John Olsen, born June 12 1882 in Adams Co. PA, married Beth Williams in February 1902 in Lima, NY. Died in Lima NY in 1961. Contact Jane Doe at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have details.
Or a more general query might look like this:
Am researching Jamison, Barker, Goode, and Jackson families of Wise Co., TX, c. 1875. Contact Jane Doe at email@example.com if you are researching the same family.
Network, Network, Network
Above, we talked about posting queries in the newsletters of local genealogical societies, but you may also want to take a more active role in the society. By networking with other members, you may find the infamous "someone who knows someone" who is working on the same lines as you. Even if you don't find another person who is working on the same lines, other members of the society may be able to give you tips on researching families from the area. They may know where hard-to-find records are or be able to give you clues about the immigration and migration patterns of people who lived in the area. Local ethnic organizations may also be able to offer you this type of information. While these types of details may not be as helpful as specific information about your great-grandpa Joseph, they may certainly give your research a push in the right direction.
Other networking ideas:
- Make an effort to attend genealogy conferences, and when you do, attach a short list of family names to your name tag.
- Be sure that everyone in your family knows that you are researching the family roots, and try to meet all of those distant cousins at large family gatherings such as weddings. Using this strategy, you may find another genealogist in the family, or you might turn up information about old records in the family, such as a family Bible.
- Contact a family name association -- groups of individuals who all have the same last name. Of course not everyone with the same last name is related, but someone in the group may be researching the same family line as you.
Don't Forget to Check Sources
If you find another person who is researching the same family line as you -- that's great! The two of you may be able to answer some of each other's questions and fill in some holes in your trees. However, remember that you should still check the facts on any information that you receive from your new friend. Make sure that the individual is a careful researcher and has documented the sources of any information that you add to your own tree. Don't hesitate to ask questions and share alternative interpretations of the information that you have.
The benefit of working with another researcher is that you can compare data and discuss your findings and interpretations of different events. When you are lucky enough to find another person who is working on the same family lines, be sure to take advantage of that!