Friday, May 08, 2009

Genealogy Questions Answered in 6 Minutes

How many times when you’re stuck on a genealogy problem have you thought to yourself, “I’m sure someone out there knows the answer to this question.” If you could just ask the right person a quick question it would save you a ton of time. Well over at FamilySearch we’ve been kicking around some ideas of how we might help people with this experience. This past Wednesday I was thinking about how much I’d like to find the death certificate for a particular ancestor when the thought struck me, “I’m sure someone out there knows the answer to this question.” The question for me was, how do I find the death certificate for Warren Dodge, who died about 1888 in Barton County, Kansas?

Well I decided to try a little experiment. What if I could throw that question out to a large audience. Would they respond? Would they answer my question? Here’s what happened.

6 May 11:47am I posed my question on Twitter. Twitter automatically put my tweet on Facebook as well.
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  • 11:53am - 1st response comes in via Twitter
  • 12:04pm - 2nd response via Twitter
  • 12:04pm - 3rd response via Twitter
  • 12:14pm - 4th response via Facebook
  • 12:31pm - 5th response via Facebook
  • 12:51pm - 6th response via Facebook
  • 4:14pm - 7th response via Twitter

Here are images of the Twitter and Facebook responses.

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The first response was within 6 minutes! The last response was less than 6 hours later. All responses were accurate and helpful. As a result of the information provided I went to the Barton County genealogical society website and discovered that the county did not have death certificates that early and the state (as my online experts indicated) did not keep death certificates until 1911. I did not waste any more time looking for a death certificate but rather changed my focus to probate records. I called the Barton County records office and asked if they had a probate record for Warren Dodge who died there in the 1880s. Without even putting me on hold, she looked it up confirmed they had it and is sending me a copy of the whole file. Wow! That was a terrific experience.

Oh, by the way. The folks that offered answers on twitter are not people that I know personally. One of the responders on Facebook is an old friend I haven't seen for nearly 20 years. The other Facebook responder is a relative that I frequently collaborate with on genealogy stuff.