Writing Queries that Get
Writing a great query and posting it to message board
can quickly advance your genealogy research and bust your brick walls! Many
sites offer tips on effective online communication techniques, which can be
read if you take the time before posting a query to the message board/forum
or sending an email. I want to point out a strategy that will make your
queries much more effective, that is, using the
subject line on the
query posting page to the greatest advantage by including four (4) pieces of
date and a
Let’s first review the
steps of an effective query whether print or electronic:
Target your question briefly in the subject line. Ask for information on
one problem or subject. Be specific and use a hook! The hook gets
your readers interested in your problem!
“Seeking parents & siblings of,” “Searching for children of,” “Trying to
locate the family Bible of”, “Was it murder?” Do not ask “Please send all
the information you have.” Then be sure to add a surname, a date
or time period, and a location in the subject line. For example,
“Seeking cemetery info for
Amanda Fletcher, died Conroe, TX, early 1900’s.”
not be so general that no one can connect to your information. The
experienced genealogist, who may have much to share with you, will pass over
your query if he/she cannot quickly identify information that connects to
what he/she may already know.
Body of the Query
Explain in more detail what you are searching for,
and include the names of the people that you know, capitalizing the
SURNAME. Be sure to
include the woman’s maiden name if known.
locality of the people you are looking for.
date or dates for the time period
you are researching.
Briefly state any information you may already know,
so that your reader doesn’t waste time re-sending info you have.
Use standard genealogical abbreviations,
but if there is a chance of a misunderstanding, spell the word out
What Makes An
Electronic Query Different?
Electronic queries may be searched by various search engines, they may be
displayed in various forums or on surname boards, but most of the time the
information displayed first will only be what you have put in your subject
line on the query posting page.
Below Is a Sample of an
Subject line-> HELP!!!!
Posted by Amy Smith
on Sunday, 27 Jul 2009
married George Jones both are from Montgomery Co. Doing my family roots need
some help in finding info.
What‘s Wrong With This Query?
Quite a bit actually! But the biggest mistake for posting to a message
board, is the subject line “HELP”. This is what will be shown on the message
board index before the query is opened to reveal the contents of the rest of
the message. This scream for help will be quickly passed over by experienced
genealogists, because they do not have time to open it based on the
information given. What can be done to improve this query, especially the
Here’s an Example of an
Subject line-> Seeking parents of Elizabeth SMITH,
& George JONES, Montgomery Co., TX 1880’s
by Amy Jones firstname.lastname@example.org
on Sunday, 27 Jul 2009
Surname: SMITH, JONES
of Elizabeth SMITH (b. ca 1865-1910), m. 2 Feb 1886 George JONES (b. ca.
1863-1916) in Montgomery Co., TX.
George and Elizabeth are
listed in 1900 US Census living with their children, Ann, George Jr. and
Hannah in Conroe, Montgomery Co., TX.
The second example will be noticed,
read and may even garner several responses from knowledgeable genealogists.
The subject line grabs attention because it gives surnames, location and a
date. The subject line is very important to those searching message board
indexes. It saves research time for everyone and produces more positive
results. Good query writing is
an art whether used in print or electronic format, but
don’t forget to write an effective subject line with a good hook!
Phyllis Stehm is a genealogy instructor
at Lone Star College, Montgomery campus in the
ALL ‑ Academy of Lifelong Learning
Program and co-founded the Montgomery County Genealogists’ Internet Research