1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

How To Write a Successful Genealogy Query


Make the most out of online genealogy message boards and mailing lists by learning how to write a clear and effective query.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: 10 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Select a focused topic for your query - you will achieve the best results if you limit your query to a single surname or question.
  2. Use your subject line wisely - make sure that it clearly reflects the information you are seeking. "Need help" is not as likely to get results as a subject heading which contains a surname and location.
  3. Separate your information into paragraphs - this makes it easier to scan quickly. The first paragraph should contain the who, what, when and where of your request. This helps to attract the attention of your audience.
  4. The second paragraph should state what you already know. Letting people know which places you have already checked for information will help to cut down on unnecessary suggestions.
  5. The final paragraph should provide any further details about what you don't know and what you specifically are hoping to find.
  6. Include only one surname or question per query. Too many requests may decrease your chances for a response. You will have much better results if you post each individual surname/family as a separate query.
  7. Include your name and email address at the bottom of your query.
  8. Read through your query at least once before sending it. Did you include all of the pertinent information? Does it make sense? Is it easy to read?
  9. Post your query to the appropriate forum - there are forums available for a wide variety of topics, including surnames, countries/regions and specialty topics such as military research.
  10. Keep a log of the times and places where you post your queries. This makes it easier to go back and check for responses.
  11. Be sure to thank anyone who responds to your query, whether you found the information helpful or not.


  1. Include surnames in CAPITAL LETTERS in the Subject line and the first time you use it in the query.
  2. Be specific. People do not often respond to queries such as "Send me all information about the POWELL family"
  3. Check online sources for answers to general research questions before posting to a list. Genealogists love to help those who help themselves.
  4. Try to stay away from too using too many abbreviations unless your space is limited. Many researchers may not recognize the abbreviations you are using.
  5. Try to use an email address you will be sticking with. There are thousands of queries on the Internet with no way to reach the posters because the email address is invalid.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.