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  Writing a Good Query

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One of the most useful tools we have for research is the query, but too often queries are not carefully written. They should be carefully and thoughtfully composed, not just written on the fly as you pass through a web site. A query should be concise. It is not unusual for readers of the posted queries to skip through long, drawn-out queries with entire descendent charts posted in them.

But you can also make a query too short. You will get very few responses if you just write that you are researching the Jones family. When writing a query or a look-up request, try to keep you question as specific as possible and give the most pertinent information. Also, don't write your queries in all upper case letters. This is hard to read and in the online world, this is the same as yelling. In general, try to make sure your query has these elements:

  • Who you are researching. Give the full name of the person you are researching, including any known nicknames. It is common practice to put only the surname in upper-case letters.
  • Crucial dates. Be sure to list the known or approximate birth, death, and marriage dates of the person you are looking for. Also, give the dates the ancestor lived in the area where you are posting the query.
  • What are you specifically looking for? Don't write a query for someone to do all of your research for you. Be specific. If you are trying to find a marriage date or record, ask for that. If you want someone to check a city directory, ask for that. It has always suprised me that people who respond to queries will often do more than is asked. But if a query asks for everything to begin with, it is often just overlooked.

So, take your time in writing queries and seek a balance between the length and including important information.

Last Updated
25 JAN 2003

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