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References & Lookups & Queries


Writing Queries that Get Terrific Results!
by Phyllis Stehm

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 information: surname, location, date and a “Hook”.

Let’s first review the steps of an effective query whether print or electronic:

The Subject Line

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!

For example:  “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.”

Do 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.

The Body of the Query

f 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.
f Include the locality of the people you are looking for.

f Include a date or dates for the time period you are researching.

f Briefly state any information you may already know, so that your  reader doesn’t waste time re-sending info you have.

f Use standard genealogical abbreviations, but if there is a chance of a misunderstanding, spell the word out completely.


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 Ineffective Query:

             Subject line->           HELP!!!! 
Posted by Amy Smith
on Sunday, 27 Jul 2009

Surname:  Smith, Jones

Elizabeth Smith 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 subject line?

Here’s an Example of an Effective Query:

 Subject line->           Seeking parents of Elizabeth SMITH,
& George JONES, Montgomery Co., TX 1880’s
Posted by Amy Jones
on Sunday, 27 Jul 2009

Seeking parents/siblings 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 Group (MCG-IRG).



SHELBY COUNTY NEEDS HELP!!  If you have access to any books, census, marriages, cemeteries, etc. and have a few minutes to help volunteer to do lookups, please email me. We need more than one volunteer for each source, as my time and others may be limited.

When requesting a lookup, remember to ask the volunteer politely and read the above .     


Jane Keppler Vol. I of the History of the Shelby County, Texas 

Vol. 2 of the History of Shelby County, Texas

History of Shelby County Texas by Dr. Levi Henderson Ashcraft

1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 Census of Shelby County

Index to Probate Cases

1837, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1885 Tax Rolls of Shelby County


  Your name could go here!
Debra LaMel transcribed list of the 1854 (dated 17 Jun 1854) Scholastic (School) Census of Shelby Co TX by Gifford White (1979)
Debra LaMel

I also have a copy of the transcribed list of the  21 Feb 1864 and 1865 (this one has no specific date however it was send to the State Comptroller's office on 15 Feb 1865) Confederate Indigent List of Shelby Co TX 

Sharon McAllister
The BROWN, DEUPREE, EVANS, GATES, HARMAN, KING, MORRISON, ROBERTS and allied families in the Buena Vista area from the 1840s.  Many of these people are in my WorldConnect database (smc) but the book includes documentation such as transcriptions of Deeds and Wills.
Suzanne Sowell San Augustine Marriages and Cemeteries

Shelby County Historical Society  & Museum & Genealogical Library has an wealth of records online.  Check them out






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Do you enjoy "surfing" the TXGenWeb county websites and have a few extra hours available each month?  Then contact Laura Gregory Roberts for more information on joining the surfing committee. 

If you are interested in adopting a county, please check out the Orphan page.  

If you or your genealogy group would like  to sponsor a county, please contact Gina Heffernan.


Copyright © 1997  present by Jane Keppler. This information may be used by individuals for their own personal use, libraries and genealogical societies. Commercial use of this information is strictly prohibited without prior written permission from Jane Keppler. If material is copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information and please email me and let me know. Neither the Site Coordinators nor the volunteers assume any responsibility for the information or material given by the contributors or for errors of fact or judgment in material that is published at this website.

Page Modified: 14 November 2022