National Genealogical Society

References for Researching

Writing a Query

Good queries are: Clear—Specific—Simple—Concise

Subj: Allen Smith of Barren Co KY, 1821-abt 1857

Researching Allen Smith, b 1821 VA, mov to Barren Co KY bef 1850, m Susan Carter. dpl Metcalfe Co KY abt 1857. Bro of Geo. W. Smith, Civil War veteran. Will share GEDCOM. E-mail [email protected]

How to Start

Each query should ask a specific question or questions about one particular individual. Clearly state your question right at the start. For example: "Seek bpl/d/m of Allen Smith..." Sometimes you might want to ask a question about a number of people; for example, a husband and wife. If this can be done simply, without causing confusion, it is acceptable. However, if there is no obvious connection between these individuals or if the query becomes too complicated, then submit a separate query for each individual.

Subject Lines

Subject lines in e-mail queries and on message boards should be short and to the point. Surnames, place names, and dates are all that is necessary. Do not include unnecessary text. More complete details can be provided in the body of the message.

Sentence Beginnings

Avoid beginning sentences with pronouns; this can cause confusion especially when a number of individuals have been mentioned and it is unclear which one you're referencing. By using actual names to begin sentences, you can avoid ambiguities.


If you want to use accepted abbreviations for your query, consult the list of Query Abbreviations.

What Not to Include

Any information that is not directly related to your query should not be included. It is often tempting to include some of the interesting facts you have discovered about your subjects and to explain your relationship to them, but remember—your goal is to write a query that can be read quickly and easily, and to get a result. You can best achieve this by keeping it clear, specific, simple, and concise.

*Certified Genealogist, cg, Certified Genealogical Lecturer and cgl are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists® used by the Board to identify its program of genealogical competency evaluation and used under license by the Board’s associates.

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