The Art of Writing Mailing List QueriesBy Lou Pero, genealogist
Mailing Lists are a form of electronic advertising, with certain built in hazards and advantages. You will garner more responses by tailoring your queries to avoid the pitfalls and gives yourself some breaks.
Consider yourself, reading the day's crop of queries from your favorite mailing list. What are you looking for? Your Names! Your Places! How much time are you going to spend on a particular query? About as much time as it takes to *flick* register the names on your retina and *flick* hit the delete key.
If it is obviously the same query that you have seen several times before from the same person, you probably skip the *flick* to the names and go straight to the *flick* delete button.
Electronic mailing by its nature is a fleeting thing, compared to the bad old days when we all saved wads of paper in our files, just in case we might spot a connection "some day." At least with those paper files, we could easily leaf through them and check against new information, but even for the most die-hard saver, leafing through a lot of saved queries on a computer disk is an exercise in frustration, to the point that most of us read the query and *flick* it's gone.
On the other hand, electronic mailing lists are free advertising. They can address a lot of people at once. The subscribers are guaranteed to be interested in a certain name. Often the lists attract specialists who make their expertise (and their collections) available to list members. And they do lend themselves to short queries, which do not require a doctorate in communications to write.
Simply put, your objective is to grab that first *flick* and turn it into a second *glance*. Always include a subject line with at least the last names and perhaps a place, i.e. "KING in Franklin Co, AL". A lot of people delete messages without a subject line because of the tide of junk mail. The surnames in both the subject line and the query should always be in Caps, but please, not the rest of the query. Be sure your query includes name, date and place, particularly if it is a common name. Look up the county. (Note that this rates its own paragraph.)
Genealogists tend to think in terms of county because records are found on a county basis. Your village of Smithville might be six miles from the town of Jonesville, where your ancestor's brother lived, but the *flick* casual glance will not inspire a reader to go look up the county for you. You need to do that yourself.
Finally, ask a question. A query by definition is a question. "Who were his parents?" tells the reader that the writer has mentioned his oldest relative. "Are there any descendants of John Smith on this list?" makes the reader wonder if any descendants of his relative are on the list. There is something about a question mark that seems to *flick* grab the attention in itself.
Finally, mailing lists in themselves tend to change a lot. People sign on for a few days, sign off when they are out of town, sign on again when they remember, sign off when their mailbox gets full. As a listowner of the King-L@rootsweb.com mailing list, I am amazed at the constant stream of "Subscribe" and "Unsubscribe" messages.
Posting frequent queries is a must, but repeat queries should have some new information or question. Add the spouse or the cemetery where family members are buried. Switch emphasis to a son or daughter. A person who did not recognize the name on the first *flick* glance might have a bit of information that causes him to *focus* on the second exposure.
Writing effective queries for mailing lists can boost the success of your online research, so give it a try.
Published on this page with permission from Lou Pero, 3/17/98
Do you really want answers and information back or are you just asking questions?
I'm sure some of you do not get answers to information because you say something like the following:
"I am looking for information on John DOE, my grandfather and please send me any information"If you really want answers back, and want others to help you, then why not think about your requests a bit. Gather some information, then put it in a format that is interesting.
Sometimes a birthdate or a wife's name is included but many times not....
Here are a few hints that will help you get a better response.
1. Put all the surnames of all the people in the request in CAPITAL letters. ie. Alda Clifford MANISThese ideas are posted here as ideas, and of course, are never in concrete.
2. Put each question on a separate line. (it makes the message so much easier to read and answer.)
3. When requesting information, tell us lots of information about what you KNOW about the person. (ie. Dates of birth, death, marriage, wifes names, names of children and their birthdates). Start the request with one short sentence. Then in the next sentence tell what you KNOW.
Alway make the subject line of your message JUMP out at the reader. Isn't that what you want; their attention?
Written by: Cliff Manis
Submitted by: Barbara Farthing Bonham
LINKS TO OTHER SITES
Adventures in Genealogy: Mail List Manners