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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Fullscreen capture 582009 41310 PM.bmp

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.


Sheri said...

This is great! Funny, isn't it that I would wonder if it was "just a test." Guess I know how you family search people work! :D

geneabloggers said...

This is what I love best about Twitter as it pertains to genealogy - building a network of people with expert knowledge in specific areas. When I look at all the social networking options available and how much more connected genealogists are these days, I can't imagine trying to get this type of help this quickly even 10 years ago.

RussellHltn said...

Well, I found the same information on the FS Wiki in 3 minutes - and with more detail. ( I probably could have found it faster if the search was more Google-like.

Keep in mind "RTM" and the less polite "RTFM". The very fact it's become an acronym shows what happens when people end up having to answer the same questions over and over and over. It's either that or they pull back and the questions go unanswered.

There is certainly a place for asking questions - but it should be reserved for when the basic reference works fail. Or else the really knowledgeable people will burn out and go elsewhere.

RussellHltn said...

I should add that the usual reason that a FAQ or a Wiki is created is precisely so common questions can get the best detailed answers.

The world supply of n00bs is inexhaustible. The patience of the world supply of experts is not.

C & A said...

So, imagine if you didn't have to screenshot that tweet into your blog -

Nel Obrayan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sdmormon said...

How do I go about getting an answer? I don't tweet. Simply, on a passenger list; the term Master before the surname. This indicates a male child I am guessing. Is there any age group associated with this term? I.E. at what age would they have listed his given name? Can you answer or maybe send it out there for me??? Or direct me where I can find an answer? Much appreciated!