Friday, September 20, 2013

Replying to "rejected" queries

One of my weaknesses is that if someone asks me a question I feel obliged to answer it, or at least write a polite personal reply apologising for not giving an answer. This takes time and as my time is limited this means I have less time to provide answers, and update the web site for everyone else.

Help Desk
Most of the problem emails appear to come from people who want to ask a question irrespective of whether it is relevant to the way the web site is run, and/or are too lazy to include relevant information. For years the "Ask Chris" page has included guidelines and examples of what I am looking for - to the point that it probably puts some genuine people off. I have decided to try a different approach. 

The "Ask Chris" page starts with a comparatively brief introduction, followed by the paragraph:
Rather than urge you to read the Frequently Asked Questions (which many of you will not do)  I give below the text of the standard letter you will get if you don't read them and ask an "out-of-court" question.
The letter (below the fold) lists the possible reasons why their request might be rejected, and all I need to do is to send the questioner a copy of a letter they have already seen (with relevant paragraphs highlighted). 

Please excuse this circular reply but with millions of people researching their families on the internet I get more requests for information than I can possibly answer.  My web site provides specialist help for people who have tried to find the answer to a specific question (such as a missing birth record) and have come up against a brick wall. I would go mad if I tried to write personal answers to everyone who sends in questions which quite obviously fall outside the guidelines. While I will give help to complete beginners if I have time, I would normally expect you to have checked the obvious sources (such as census returns) before you ask your question.
I am afraid your request will not be answered for one or more of the following reasons:
  • The answer is already on my web site!
  • You could have found the answer (or an easy link to a more relevant web site/contact address) in a minute or two using Google.
  • I cannot answer vague questions of the kind "Tell me anything you know about ..." You must describe the specific event that is causing you difficulties.
  • You have failed to make it clear why you think the question relates to Hertfordshire. 
  • I do not answer questions relating to events that occurred after the end of the First World War, or about people born after the 1911 census.
  • My resources for giving help before 1660 is limited and I don't read Medieval Latin!
  • I do not answer direct requests for free look-ups on commercial web sites - but I can advise on where you might find "missing" information.
  • I do not have access to the original documents stored at HALS or the National Archives, but can often advise on what might be available.
  • This is not a commercial web site and I do not carry adverts - beyond writing reviews of books (if you provide a review copy) and giving details of relevant events in the Newsletter.
I am sorry that I can't be more helpful but there are not 101 hours in a day and I have to live! To spend time on writing an individual reply would mean less time trying to raise money for charity and less time for helping people who have asked an appropriate question.

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This is the newsletter for the Genealogy in Hertfordshire Web site. Comments on this blog are moderated and may be transferred to the web site where appropriate. If you have a local or family history query you want answered you must use "Ask Chris" - See box in right hand column. Anonymous comments cannot be answered.