6 Steps to Writing a Successful Genealogical Query

Step ONE:

Pick the PRIMARY surname (last name) for your query. Note that this is your “main” surname and should have the highest priority.
“Shotgun” versus “Laser Beam” Queries. The “Shotgun” approach is what you might imagine: BOOM ! An example would be: “Searching for HENRY in Pennsylvania”. The results returned, if anyone responds, will be information on HENRY families throughout the entire state, while you may only be interested in 1, 2, or 3 counties. The “Laser Beam” approach will most likely generate a response from someone who has information the person or the family you are interested in.

Step TWO:

Start your query with what you know:
1) Need parents (or wife, or husband,or children) of…(now list the person, state, etc.)
2) What is the maiden name of…(now list the person, state, etc.)
3) Any information regarding…(now list the family or person, state, etc.)
4) Wish to correspond with others researching…(now list the family or person, state, etc.)


It’s fine to say, “Researching the LEWIS surname in Georgia.” if you know that there were very few LEWIS in Georgia. BUT — if you are searching searching for SMITH in Pennsylvania, you will get tons of false leads because there were so many of them. If your query is for a very common surname, you must search in a smaller region. For example, “Looking for SMITH in Clarion County, Pennsylvania.”

Step FOUR:

Be as specific as possible. You may be looking for a certain person, so by all means, make them the focal point of your query. If you are more interested in a group of families in a certain area, specify the oldest person you know of as your focal point.

Step FIVE:

Only mention CLOSE KNIT FAMILIES in the “also researching” line. The last part of your query should say, “Also researching the A, B, and C families.” Make sure you include only a few of the other related families in the region. Including families in different regions of the state or different states only confuses possible respondants and your query becomes to general and loses its punch.

Step SIX:

Re-write for clarity. Use all lower case except for the “main body surnames.” After you have written your query, read it aloud. Does it make sense? Is it easy to follow? Have someone else read it. Do they understand what you are asking ?
When you are satisfied that your query has met all of the requirements, post your query. The responses you get should be fruitful.