Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions
Posted on Apr 25, 2012
Learning begins with a question. Questions and answers are the foundation for exchanging information. We have many ways to learn, but by simply asking questions, we set the stage for learning and sharing what we know.
Ask for documentation. Never be shy about asking for documentation from another researcher, when they have shared information with you. Again, without the paper records in hand, nothing is proven. One respondent commented: “Some people omit certain things like previous marriages, etc, but this is important, especially if there were children involved. I have discovered relatives I never knew existed.”
Ask the same question to several individuals. Asking the same question to multiple individuals helps to develop a more complete picture of a given situation, process, or memory. For example: interview the children of any set of parents and see the variations of answers you receive. Some will have more detail than others. Together they give a more complete description of the evolution of the parents as individuals, parents, and a couple. One or more of the details you receive will more than likely lead you to another question, clue, and answer.
Review your written questions before you press the send button. Remember individuals you are seeking information from don’t have any background or frame of reference to a specific question you are asking. When you write a question on a message board, email, or letter, ask yourself the following questions and you will get better answers:
- Why am I asking the question?
- What information leads me to ask the question?
- What have I personally done to gain an answer to the question?
- What information have I gathered already?
- What answer am I seeking and how will it help me?
- What information could I share that will help others better answer my question?
- What information do I have that will help others in their quest?
- Who is the best person to answer my question? Why?
When you are ready to ask the question, compose your message and include:
- Question: (Clear and concise question.)
- Background to your question: (Statement of what you know and what you have done.)
- Statement of thank you for the time others will take on your behalf.
Reread and edit your message to make sure there are no spelling errors, words or information left out, and that your question is clearly what you want to ask.
Narrow the focus of your questions. What information do you really want? It’s not uncommon to read and hear questions from new genealogists that seem to be asking for the responder to provide them answers to every question they will ever need now or in the future about a given family line or individual.
Examples of the questions genealogists ask.
- What is the genealogy of Dr. John Clarke of Clarke's Wharf where Paul Revere's shop was located?
- When recording the birth place on a family tree, is it the town the person lives in or the town of the hospital where he was born?
- What does Jewish mean?
- How do you go about finding somebody without knowing their birth date or social security number?
- Where does the last name Fitzpatrick originate and the history of the name in Ireland?
- Where did the name Stephen originate?
- Is Barrett an Irish name?
- How do you find a Bohemian coat of arms?
- What country did the last name Quarles come from?
- If his father is your father's uncle what is your relationship?
- What is the word star in the Scottish language?
- How do you trace your genealogy back on the internet?
- How many people have lived and died on this earth since the beginning of time?
- How many years do you have to go to college to get a genealogy major?
- How do you find where your grandfather served in WWII?
- How was the intake of immigrants to the U.S. recorded?
- What are the French, Irish, and English origins of the name Keville or Kevill?
- Is the Bain family line related to the Masons from the Mason Dixon Line?
- What country did the surname Frady originate from?
- Where can you start your Chicago genealogy research?