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Would You Like A Genealogy Q&A Site? - Fri, 24 Aug 2012

Where do you go now if you have a question about Genealogy? Is there one convenient place where you can ask a question and almost immediately get answers from people trying to help you?

Before you read the rest of this post, if you feel you’d like to have such a site, then go right over to the Genealogy proposal at Area51 and sign up.


Area51 is where topics are proposed for Q&A sites on the StackExchange network. Currently they have 88 topics with 2.2 million users who asked 4.3 million questions and had 8.6 million answers for those questions.

I got involved about 4 years ago with the first site created: StackOverflow, which is a site for programming questions. Personally, I’ve asked 127 questions and got good answers to all of them. This has been tremendously useful in my work to program Behold. Often, when a Google search wouldn’t find the answer to my problem, I’d post on StackOverflow and I’d get answers within minutes. Often, my problem would be solved within an hour. I’ve also helped others and have given answers to 202 questions by other people.

How many programmers are there in the world? Take a look at the question and some of the answers given at StackOverflow. Then look at the comments people make on both the question and the answers and how those add so much value and clarification. If you like a question, you upvote it. If you like an answer you upvote it. The best answers float to the top. The asker gets to choose which answer they want to accept and it gets a green checkmark. You gain “reputation” and “badges” for what you do, especially when people upvote what you do.

It’s practically a social site. And it’s also a friendly competition for reputation, where you learn to respect the answers of those who have more Rep than you.  It is a lot of fun and somewhat addictive. But most of all, it is educational, interesting and provides you with fast answers to information you need.

The accepted answer to the programmers question was that there are about 12 million in the world. At StackOverflow, there are over 1 million registered users. That means 1 out of every 12 programmers in the world is at StackOverflow.

I think there are way more genealogists in the world than that. I think genealogists need answers to their questions just as much as programmers do. It’s now our turn to take advantage of the offerings of the StackExchange people and get our very own Q&A site for genealogy. The only requirements are that we prove our mettle. We’ll need to show that we can get at least a couple of hundred people to sign up, and then run the site in Beta and show that we can keep up a required level of interest. Should that be achieved, the Genealogy site will be added permanently to the StackExchange network, and we will have done something really great for the genealogy community. All of us will benefit.

This would be a Q&A site for genealogy, run independently of the interests of any genealogy company. It would be completely free for anybody to use.

If you have a genealogy newsletter or are a Geneablogger and are reading this post, please tell your readers and let’s kick-start this thing. We need at least 200 people to sign up to get to Beta mode. Let’s all work together and do this.

Disclaimer: I have no vested interest in this Q&A site whatsoever. I am  recommending it because I truly believe having it would be a great thing for genealogists everywhere.

6 Comments           comments Leave a Comment

1. nita (nita)
United States flag
Joined: Sun, 2 Sep 2012
1 blog comment, 0 forum posts
Posted: Sun, 2 Sep 2012  Permalink

I would love to help you with you Q & A site if you get it up and running. I taught genealogy classes for years at our Adult Education, plus director of Family History Library, plus President of Local genealogy society. I have done research all over United States, heavy on Pennsylvania. Also Switzerland, Germany, Scotland and Scandinavian countries. I host a web site where I have included 3 books I have written. So keep me on your list if you need help. Nita Caffrey

2. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
Canada flag
Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
237 blog comments, 226 forum posts
Posted: Mon, 3 Sep 2012  Permalink

Terrific Nita!

If you could sign up at the site Proposal site and vote for some questions, that will help get it to Beta phase and once in Beta we’ll actually have a site to use. See my detailied instructions at:


3. anquestory (anquestory)
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Joined: Tue, 4 Sep 2012
1 blog comment, 0 forum posts
Posted: Tue, 4 Sep 2012  Permalink

I participated in a similar project that was part of Everton.com when Genealogical Helper was still being published. Fortunately, there was a “moderator” who directed queries to persons with the “proper” expertise when no volunteer came forward. That moderator was quite good at her job as more than once I was asked to answer a question that fell outside of my stipulated areas of expertise and was able to do so.

One concerned finding the precise location of a town along the border between Oklahoma and Arkansas (I specialize in Virginia/West Virginia) that does not appear on modern maps. I suggested the Postal Site Application and Report files for Arkansas and Oklahoma knowing not only that those files often contained lists of the communities served, if not detailed maps of the area, but also that a post office often had a different name than the town in which it was located with the post office name often being the name that survived.

I was later informed that the individual found the answer to his question in those records!

I participated in that program in no small part because even though queries could be asked at no cost, there was also a paid option and the queries also resulted in my getting paid research assignments. I might well see such assignments by participating in this new program, but I saw nothing as I explored the same that offered that option.

When it comes to genealogy there is a clear overall bias on the internet against promoting any fee-based services other than Ancestry or a like company that is primarily offering access to data, and generally “second-hand”, rather than actual research.

Granted, with this still being an alpha, it is perhaps premature to expect a “referral” option, but without a stipulation that the same is intended, I would expect most of the people who would be answering the queries to be amateurs.

I have nothing against amateurs per se, for they still dominate genealogical “publishing”, and I know more than a few “amateurs” I consider to be more competent than individuals who call themselves “professional genealogists”.

Even with the moderation at Everton.com, I was struck by the frequency with which the answers were, if well-intentioned, misinformed.

If questions are to be “removed” for being too specific, will they also be removed for being “WRONG”? I note that it is stipulated that with time, an answer receiving the most votes with move to the top. That suggests to me that any given answer may never be removed, but if it would be, what criteria would be used for making that determination? I don’t know that I like the idea of it being strictly the “most vote” because a “lie” can come to be regarded as “truth” if repeated often enough.

Looking over the sample questions at the actual beta site, along with some of the remarks/explanation for closings, I am concerned that the majority of posted questions are TOO VAGUE, providing too little information for a succinct reply, and I suspect there will be no active moderation to direct a question to a suitable expert.

Quite frankly, without such moderation I would not participate because I suspect that in the majority of instances where I would ask for further information, the detail provided would suggest that I not actually try to answer the question.

For example, I saw only one query that stipulated a specific place and few that gave a time frame. AT A MINIMUM, finding genealogical information in Virginia would require both a date range and location.

The date range is needed to determine whether the information is likely to exist.

For example, civil registration of births and deaths do not begin in Virginia until 1853, with is a gap for most localities from 1896 and 1912, and second, what restrictions on access may apply, there being, for example, an 100 privacy restriction on births.

Prior to 1853, finding a birth date would be largely dependent on locating a tombstone, Bible or church record, though other options are also available, but the tombstone may have been destroyed by nature or man if the family could even have afforded to have one erected, the Bible lost in a fire or discarded because it was handed down through a family that did not have an interest in its history when the surname was different, and most churches do not keep records of birth dates of members.

In Virginia in particular, a location is needed since Virginia is the not the one place in the United States where a city is INDEPENDENT of a county even if completely surrounding it (the 5 boroughs of NYC come closest to the same), so there are multiple places were a given record might be recorded.

Until 1974, the Henrico County, Virginia, courthouse was located both in the city of Richmond and roughly 4 blocks from the city courthouse. I have seen in my almost 40 years as a professional genealogist numerous instances where a record that should have been recorded in Henrico County was actually recorded in the city of Richmond and vice versa. There is also a Richmond County. Indeed, there are both a city and county in Virginia named Bedford, Franklin, Fairfax and Roanoke, and like Richmond city and County, Franklin city and County are NOT contiguous.

I recently found an adoption record for a client in the General Court for the city of Richmond. I routinely find such records in a county in its County Court, for which until the adoption of the current state constitution the equivalent court in a city was the Hustings Court!

There are also Virginia towns with the same name as a Virginia county, Washington coming immediately to mind, though the town of Washington would have few records specifically for the town, yet one will find quite a few records there by virtue of the fact it is the seat for the government of Rappahannock County!

To make matters more confusing, there are still a James City and Charles City that are actually COUNTIES, Elizabeth City that was a county but is now a city named HAMPTON, and Alexandria County, now called Arlington, that was distinctly different from the city of Alexandria though they did adjoin, and many mistakenly presume to be a city when it is still a COUNTY.

While these comments might be better posted at the alpha-site given your comments about the requisites for establishing a beta, I suspect that those who share my opinion might never see them if I were to post on the alpha, quite possibly because they would be classified as “off topic”.

4. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
Canada flag
Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
237 blog comments, 226 forum posts
Posted: Tue, 4 Sep 2012  Permalink


I remember Everton. They had a very good magazine and did a lot for the genealogical community.

As far as the Q&A site goes, once it’s up and into Beta, it will be the participants themselves who judge the quality of your questions. Your question will be upvoted if good, and downvoted if bad. Others can edit your question to make it more clear or add better tags - which you can undo if you don’t agree. And people can comment on your question possibly with suggestions you should make to it.

The answers to your questions will be equally graded by others, and you can then indicate the answer you’ve chosen as best for you.

It’s an interesting scheme that, from my experience with StackOverflow, seems to work well.


5. trolleydave (trolleydave)
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Joined: Sat, 8 Sep 2012
4 blog comments, 10 forum posts
Posted: Sun, 9 Sep 2012  Permalink

Sounded like a great idea so I did get right over to the site. Made the mistake of browsing around in Area 51 and Stack Exchange, got kinda turned off. Didn’t get the impression that I’m the kind of “expert” they want or welcome. I would expect to have a lot more questions than answers and I doubt that many of the questions would have global significance.

I’m probably not even a “serious amateur”, just a guy with lots of family records and an itch to get them into a computer. I’ve used Legacy for several years and dabbled with Roots Magic, tried to get serious about sources and experienced all the frustrations you’ve promised to relieve in Behold, but I’m a user, not a genealogy philosopher. If the site won’t let me ask questions like “Is anyone working on the John Doe who was born in LeMars Iowa in 1905″, it’s not going to have much relevance for me.

I might go ahead and sign up anyway, just to cast a few votes for establishment, but don’t think I’ll last long. It’s too bad too, because I’ve been trying to find a path between lust for the resources of Ancestry et al with antipathy toward the prevalent model where individuals find and publish the data for free, and company X gets rich from it. I’ve looked (briefly) at several of the previous and current attempts to to provide non-profit venues for public exposure, but it seems there’s always a loop hole or an ulterior motive.

(If that got too far off-topic, feel free to edit or delete.)

Regards - Dave

6. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
Canada flag
Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
237 blog comments, 226 forum posts
Posted: Sun, 9 Sep 2012  Permalink


Thanks for your comments. The questions at Area51 are just proposed example questions, and yes you are correct, that finding other people doing similar research is not one of them listed.

Personally, in addition to the other types of questions, I wouldn’t mind seeing it used the way you suggest. If there were 100,000 family researchers monitoring the Q&A site, we’d all want to be able to find people who are researching common lines.

Maybe we’ll all start adding signatures on our Q’s and A’s with our family names we’re researching like we did during the old bulletin board days, e.g.

Louis Kessler
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Surnames: Braunstein, Focsaner, Kessler, Herman, Goretsky, Kushner, Zaslovsky, Furman, Muchnik
Places: Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Romania, Ukraine


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    [...] Louis Kessler sent as message about a great new web site. He wrote eloquently about it so I am republishing his message here with only minor editing: [...]

  3. Lines of Descent : Mon, 3 Sep 2012
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