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  1. #1

    Default Helping us to help you

    If you're new to internet forums, I hope that this note will provide help in avoiding some of the common pitfalls in writing your queries.

    We often see messages saying something along the lines of:

    "I'm looking for my Grandfather, Kermit Macmuppet".

    For obvious reasons, it'll be pretty impossible to help this person since so little information is provided. Provide whatever information you have, even if it's an estimate. For a start, the writer might be 17 or 70, so it's no help to know that Kermit is his/her Grandfather.

    "I'm looking for Kermit Macmuppet, born around 1893" sorts that one out.

    You may not actually know his birth year, but you can help us make an estimate:

    " My Grandad was born in 1921, and he had an elder sister, so their parents must have married by 1919, which means they must have been born before 1903"

    This immediately limits the search to a couple of decades. Of course, there might have been other siblings, and he might have married at 30 instead of 16 so it's fairly vague, but will eliminate the guy born in 1910 and (probably) those born too early.
    Then there's the location. You might feel that the family name is pretty rare as yours is the only family of that name in your area. However, especially if your family were migrants, it might be locally common where the family began. You can't assume that everyone called Macmuppet is a relative.

    "The family came from Scotland. Grandad used to talk about an island where you can see Edinburgh on a good day."

    This immediately reduces the search to Scotland, likely to the east, and probably to the Bass Rock which (as anyone who used to read soc.genealogy.britain or alt.scottish.clans will know) is the heartland of the Clan Macmuppet. That means that there might be several Kermit Macmuppets in the right sort of age group, so think about other information that you might have. Do you know what he did? Even if it was something as common as an ag lab, that would eliminate the Parish Minister and the local teacher. What was his wife called? Are there forenames that recur in your family (remember that they might come from one of the other lines, of course). Do you know the names of other children, or did your Grandfather have a middle name? Was he or a relative in one of the wars (my search started with my very common surname and a photo of a Great Uncle who died in the Boer War).

    By now, your query might look like this:

    "I'm looking for Kermit Macmuppet, born before 1903 in Scotland. His wife was called Piegi, and they had at least 2 sons, Rauf and Arni. We think he was some sort of entertainer."

    All of a sudden, there's enough information for us to search with, and to make your Kermit stand out from the crowd.
    Of course, you probably won't have a lot of information, but share what you have. Even just giving us a country and a decade helps to focus. If it's a military query, start with the war, the branch of the service, rank, anything like that.

    Keep it simple. The opposite type of post to the one discussed above is the one that presents an entire, 55 generation tree in which the readers get bogged down and lose the plot. Pick out one individual or one family, and ask about them. You can always post another query about someone else.

    Penultimately, the title is what will attract readers picking out what they might be able to help with. "19/20th century Macmuppet from Scotland" is better than "Macmuppet" or (yes it does happen) "Looking for my Grandfather".

    Lastly, think about which forum is best for your query - where are the experts in such areas likely to be lurking? It's probably obvious that if you are looking for a pilot, you won't post your message in a forum dedicated to surgeons, but some are less obvious. For example, the Brickwalls forum is very popular, and we have brickwall demolishing experts, but it's full of unrelated questions that can vanish into the mass as time goes by. It might be worth considering putting your query in a geographical group - for Kermit, either the Scottish group or even that for Midlothian. Or what about an occupational group? For Kermit Macmuppet, this might be "Clan Chiefs" (if we have such a thing). Of course, if you haven't had much response in one forum, you can always ask a Moderator (usually just called Mods) to move your query to another one. Don't post duplicates in different forums.

  2. #2


    In this time of lockdown, I've been looking around the forums and it's struck me that there is an extra point that I should have made in the last paragraph of the previous post.

    The Finding Your Feet forum contains 3 sub-forums:
    "Welcome" from the Brit Gen Administration. The padlock on "Welcome" shows that it's locked, you can't post in it.
    "Navigating Brit-Gen" (the one that you are reading this message in).
    "Introduce Yourself".

    It is not wrong to use either of the other 2, but when you consider which might be best for your first post to Brit Gen, remember that "Welcome" attracts more initial posts, and therefore more potentially helpful-for-beginners readers. "Navigating" is more of a combined manual and road map, with a slightly different readership.

    If you want to start by giving lots of details about an aspect of your research, it can actually be better to head for a specialised forum where readers with specialized interests lurk.

    Of course, while everything is lockdown-quiet, most of us are reading everything that turns up on the list of new posts (less than 24 hours old), but your selected forum will matter more when your message/thread scrolls off the new messages page.
    If you have trouble finding a previous post of yours, click on your user name and then on "view forum posts", or put your user name or some keywords in the search box on the right of the blue band at the top of the page.



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