HOW TO WRITE (or not write) A QUERY
Responses to queries depend directly on how the reader interprets what you wrote. [Grin]
All of us want results to our queries. Queries are placed in genealogical publications, internet genealogical news lists, and world wide web homepages. All these are produced with the expectation of receiving replies that contain all the information our notebooks [or computer programs] will hold. However, if the query is weak, confusing, unclear or asks for too much information it is likely to provide exercise only for the delete finger of those who read the query.
A query should focus on one or two surnames. Once contact is made with someone researching in the same area additional information may be solicited.
Essential information to anything more than a "pure chance" strike: 1) submit as complete a name as possible; 2) submit as accurate a time frame as possible; and, 3) submit as good a location as possible.
Several short, specific queries are preferred over a long, involved inquiry. This should elicit better and faster results.
The subject line of your electronic query should include the surname in all CAPITAL letters, the country and/or state abbreviation to attract the attention of the recipient(s).
Be courteous; use a salutation and closing to your query, as well as a full name. Some people object to the use of just nicknames or "handles". The less your query looks and feels like a "post-a-note" the better the response should be.
"Post-a-Note" type queries when answered often elicit "flat-out" statements. Do not "assume" these are negative statements. It is difficult to identify the emotion behind the written word. That which seems "short" or "uncomplimentary" may just be a "hurried" statement without any negative intent.
If you have been interested thus far, you are invited to read on for some examples of weak, unclear, and better queries inspired by those found in the author's files over the years. All names are fictitious to protect the author from further harm. [Grin]
Example 1: [Weakest]
Looking for SMITH worldwide. E-mail me.
This is the genealogical equivalent to fishing with only a "bobber" and "sinker" on your line. It contains a very common surname and a request that reads like a command.
Example 2: [Weak]
KERSCHNER; anywhere; anytime. Send me information about all KERSCHNERs.
A little better, but still, there is no worm on the hook. The request still reads like a command. If your goal is a comprehensive collection of a surname, say so, and tell enough about your project to encourage others to contribute. See example #5.
Example 3: [Still Weak]
John COOPER; NY; Anytime. I'm looking for information about my grandparents. They died when my father was a teenager. There are no living relatives.
Example three is a little better -- it does have a name and a general location. However, vital clues are still missing. The reader might come within 50 to 100 years of the correct time frame. Since the querier [writer] probably knows when his father was born or age when he died, it is a minor math calculation to name the decade he was a teen. Though the state is mentioned, even "Little Rhodie" is a large geographic area. A clue might be had from the birth place of the father. It is probably known, thus the residence of the grandparent would be known.
Example 4: [Overload/Confusing]
Searching for ALRED, SMITH, DUKE, KERSCHNER, LUCK families. Swen Alred died in service during some war in mid 1800s. Mary Luck Alred left Carolina with all her luggage, which contained deed papers to their farm, and the children. Don't know how many children. The trunk was lost with the deed. The farm was sold at Sheriff's Sale for back taxes. Don't know where the farm was located. Mary's father possibly Jan Willem Leouck. Their son, William, born abt 1850s. Family mythology says family from Dutch-Belgium-German border. Mary's grandfather was John George Smith. I've a direct descendant to me from a Willamena Duke and Ludwig Leock, I think from Bavaria. From here I have the family information. Does anyone have my missing link, PLEASE E-mail me, I will share what I have.
This query is unclear, confusing and asks for too much. It has five surnames; three geographical locations, two of which are confusing; lack of logical chronology; a missing link [KERSCHNER]; and a run-on sentence which causes more confusion. [Reference is made to the contents of the trunk.] [Big Grin] Such grammar causes confusion, misinterpretations and errors.
Queries should contain only one surname [or two when including a spouse]. Your first line will encourage or discourage a response. Try to say something about your search. Common surnames without detail draw NO responses. However, if you were asking about a Johannes Georg SCHMIDTT, you might gain some real attention. [Grin]
The goal is to get a reply, preferably an informative one. Your query needs to stand "up" and be recognized. Always include a name with a place and a date at or very near the beginning of the query.
For queries placed in NEGenWeb Sites include the county with the appropriate connection. NEGenWeb sites are geographically oriented as are all USGenWeb sites. In addition many county coordinators sponsor several pages at once. This is good advice for posting queries to various news, surname, location lists that exist on the WEB.
When making your query more readable it is a common practice to put each surname in all CAPITAL letters. This helps the reader who is scanning for particular names.
Example 5: [Better]
ALPSMAN/ELPSMAN; world wide; anytime. I'm researching the ALPSMAN family worldwide. I've traced my branch to a village in Aargau, Switzerland 1630-1870 time frame. Have obtained information about other branches in PA, MS, NE and CA, as well as Germany. I'm interested in contacting any other members of this family to share information.
Example 6: [Better]
Looking for ancestral information about Karl ALPSMAN/ ELPSMAN b Wölflinswil, Aargau, Switzerland 16 July 1850; migrated to Nuckolls county, NE, spring 1880; d 12 June 1923, Lawrence, Nuckolls Co, NE. Have information to share.
Example 7: [Better]
ALPSMAN, Karl; migrated to Nuckolls County, NE spring 1880. Married Klementina ALPSMANSE [no relation] from Oberhof, Aargau, Switzerland 1860. I'm looking for information about his family in Nebraska. Will share information.
These better example queries contain enough information to attract attention and hopefully entice positive responses.
In summary, limit the length of your query; limit the scope; include name, place, time frame; be courteous. Remember, on NEGenWeb it is a volunteer who will handle your query. Be patient, and if your query needs updating or removal, let the county coordinator know.
All of the Nebraska county coordinators wish you luck and hope you enjoy hunting out your elusive family members. Remember family historians are like squirrels --- always chasing that elusive nut! [Big Grin]
© 1998-2004 by Bill Oliver