Writing Queries that Get Terrific Results!
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
subject line on
the query posting page to the greatest advantage
by including four (4) pieces of information:
and a “Hook”.
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
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
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
locality of the people you are
date or dates for the time
period you are
Briefly state any
information you may already know,
so that your reader doesn’t waste time
re-sending info you have.
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
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
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:
line-> Seeking parents of Elizabeth
& George JONES, Montgomery Co., TX 1880’s
by Amy Jones firstname.lastname@example.org
on Sunday, 27 Jul 2009
Surname: SMITH, JONES
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.
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
forget to write an effective subject line with a
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).