Proposal: Genealogy

We already have an example questions like it:

The example question as closed because it was too localized. We are guaranteed to get many more of them when the site goes live. How will we deal with this? Will we close all of them? Is there a way to rewrite questions like this so that they aren't too localized?

I worry about immediately closing half the questions we're going to get and thereby scaring away a large portion of the people who will visit.

5 Answers 5


Closing for being "too localized" is not really correct for that question, but it is one of the few reasons for closing to choose from, so that seems to have been the reason picked. I think the real problem with that question is the: "Does anyone know more?" which is too open ended. We need questions that are asking for specific information about something and not generalized information.

Most people don't ask generalities, they ask specifics. These will be the specific individual problems people have. Others will have solved very similar problems, e.g. figuring out where the town in Russia is, identifying the uniform granddad is wearing, deciding what to do when one record says ... and the other says ...

I've been at StackOverflow for programmers for years, and it is the specific problems I have about some lines of code in my program that don't work where StackOverflow has been most useful. They may not answer my specific problem, but they gave me a half a dozen ideas of what to look at next. Yes, at that point I was at a brick wall. I had tried all sorts of things. I had searched Google for answers. But it was only after I posted on StackOverflow, that I got answers from people who had solved similar problems - they gave me ideas - I got past my brick wall and solved my problem. And that is even though they did not give me the specific answer.

Our site will figure itself out once we get to Beta. The participants at the site self-regulate it by voting questions up and down. Appropriate ones will get lots of votes. Inappropriate ones won't. We'll see that: "Anybody researching the Smith family?" will not be an appropriate question. But a questions like: "My Smith ancestor was born in New York City in 1822. How do I find their birth certificate?" should be quite appropriate. And there can be LOTS of questions like that. It works, and it works well! I think this type of Q&A site would be especially suited for genealogy.


It's a bit difficult to tell from this example title only, but a question along the lines of "Help me find person [X]" would have to be closed as off topic.

Genealogy SE would be about the subject of Genealogy. If folks are looking for direction when they are stuck, that would likely be on topic (techniques), but this site should not be used to solicit folks to do genealogical searches.

The best analogy would be Stack Overflow. You certainly wouldn't allow a question like "I need a programmer to write a program about [X]", but if you have a chunk of code and can show your work, it is often okay to say "here's where I am stuck; what can I try next?"

  • 2
    Might the instructions for the forum suggest these questions be phrased as, "I'm researching ABC [Civil War, Immigration from Norway, Johnny Applesead...]. Is there an internet forum or discussion board where experienced researchers might be able to direct me?"
    – GeneJ
    Sep 3, 2012 at 21:35
  • Robert, a genealogist often communicates, "here's a chunk of code" by saying, I'm stuck on ABC. I've done this and that, what more can I do. While these might seem localized, the support is often provided by reading the question as, "Here's where I'm stuck; what can I try next?"
    – GeneJ
    Sep 4, 2012 at 21:55

In my experience the proposed Genealogy Q&A site like this should take care when closing questions as "Off Topic" especially when "brickwall" questions are asked.

People who take time to ask a question need to go away satisfied that they have been helped and the question they are asking is always "on topic" from their perspective (mainly because they feel they have exhausted all their option and the ASK Genealogy SE site is the place to come to get help.

Other SE sites that adopt this policy are left with 1,000s of users with 10 or less rep who never return (this will happen here Im sure to some degree).

A general question regarding a brick wall can be asked "What are my options if I hit a brick wall? or "How do I research a person if I only have their death date?. Subsequent questions like "How do I find grandpa Joe Does birth records, he died in PA 1895" should be tagged as a duplicate of above, with a comment "if this doesnt help, please ask another question etc...". Then you will get I have tried the suggestion in [Question link] and Im still having problems, what next?

When people ask questions on other QA sites they often identify themselves as a "Newbie" to the subject. the answer to a brickwall question for a newbie sometimes needs to be different based on their degree of experience.

Duncans answer to this question also poses topics that should be questions here in their own right.

This is my first post here and I think a site like this is much needed. Nice Job and I hope it kicks off.


I'm really confused as to why this Q&A list is needed when there are so many already out there that are unrestricted as to the content (Rootsweb/Ancestry, GenealogyWise, etc.) The more restrictions placed on the types of questions that can be asked, the fewer participants you can expect.

So, unless you limit your entire site to a specific topic (i.e., technology, etc.), it will be hard to limit the scope of questions that people will ask and/or answer. You'll end up spending more time closing questions than answering them.

Additionally, I'm curious if this will be the format of the questions and answers. Scrolling through a list of a gazillion questions to find an answer before you post your question is annoying. So unless there is a search option, I imagine you will have a lot of duplicate questions, which will only make finding a valid question even more annoying.

Just my 2 cents.

  • 1
    Hi Jenny, I'm new to StackExchange. There are other sites. Especially those that are surname or location specific are great, aren't they. This site won't compete with those. As I see this site, it will be more about genealogy methods and trends for all users. And, it will be independent (not owned by a vendor/service provider). The up vote system intrigues me. I'm particularly interested seeing that kind of system have a real chance at working for broad community/discipline like genealogy.--GeneJ
    – GeneJ
    Sep 4, 2012 at 21:43
  • @Jenny: On Stackoverflow, I regularly "scroll through" over 3 million questions. I find the ones I want by monitoring tags of interest, watching new questions as they come up, and using their powerful search tool (or even using Google because they get indexed almost instantly). I spend very little time closing questions. The key with duplicates is two-fold: (1) I search for the answer before I ask, and (2) As you start typing your question, a list of possible related questions pops up for you, and you can see if yours is the same before you post it. You'll see in the Beta. It's a great system!
    – lkessler
    Sep 8, 2012 at 13:55

I would like to understand the purpose of the Q&A. Most existing geneaological sites and most genealogical journals have a Q&A section relating to brickwalls. Many referred journals include entire articles on particular brick walls. One comment refers to it being too localized and relates it to a job search. I don't see the analogy. A job search is for a living individual and brickwall is asking anyone if they ran across related information because either they are also descended from that person (of which there may be thousands or even millions of people) or because they ran across it in their studies (eg it may be the name next to their ancestor in a document only they looked at in the Library of Congress, NARA, etc.). I think a better analogy is how to solve a particularly coding problem and a code snippet. It serves a particular purpose only of use to a small (but significant) percentage of the population, as well as is useful in the broader sense since the answer shows how the answer was created. In most the A's in the existing geneaolgical Q&A'a, the answer isn't a simple 'he was son of George', it's 'researching the will's of New York State, his name appears along with etc".

Is the purpose of this project to only be for the technology of genealogy or the questions most genealogists have? My thought was maybe having a general opensource clearinghouse for this kind of question would be useful instead of the pay-for sites and having to search all the individual sites (ie maybe many of the individual societies would use stackexchange).

I understand the question being voted down because individuals don't think it appropriate (although I think you will cut down on your membership because of this). I don't understand the question being closed as too localized.

  • 3
    It is my personal hope that people do post brickwall questions and that the community decide that this Q&A allow them. Once we're up and running, other's will have great ideas for next steps to try and many brickwalls may get solved. As long as the questions are specific enough that they can be answered, then I think they should be okay.
    – lkessler
    Sep 8, 2012 at 13:47
  • Bravo, Duncan. Bravo, Louis.
    – GeneJ
    Sep 8, 2012 at 13:54

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