Key Topics

Why I didn't answer your Question

Revised November 2007

Genealogy in Hertfordshire is a specialist site - which provides a specialist service for free. I regularly receive a number of questions which it is inappropriate or impossible to answer, either because they fall outside the scope of this site, or because they give insufficient information. Many appear to have come from people who log into the site and are so anxious to  "Ask Chris" or "Tell Me" that they type in a question without finding out how the site works or looking at any of the help pages relevant to their query. In some cases these messages may come from people who have little experience of the family history (they may not even have read a "How to" book on the subject). Others appear to think that anyone who offers free advice is a slave who has an infinite amount of time to answer their off-topic and often vaguely worded question.

Let me make it clear that there is no problem with serious questions which come with good relevant information (including sources), and I am happy to help complete beginners get started, although in many cases the only advice I can give is for them to do the tutorial, read particular help files, or get an introductory book on genealogy. However my time and energy is limited and I have to concentrate on those who demonstrate that they have seriously thought about their question, have read the relevant support pages, and tried to conform to type of question I am prepared to consider. 

Begging letters and other totally irrelevant material are ignored. (Yes someone has actually used "Tell Me" to say that they had timber for sale, while someone else asked me about burial registration in Ohio, USA) The problem is where someone clearly has an enquiry - but it lies outside the scope of what I have time to offer or which violated The Policy on Questions relating to Living People. Some may ask for "everything" I can find about a particular surname or family, and if I started to answer such vaguely defined questions I would never have time to help anyone else. Others will ask questions which have nothing to do with Hertfordshire or relate to the 20th century (However I will sometime consider questions relating to people who were living at the time of the 1901 census and events up to the end of the First World War).  Others questions are so vague (almost always with no mention of any sources - and sometimes no dates and/or places) that it is impossible to give a reliable and meaningful answer.

How should I respond to such inappropriate or incomplete queries? I run this site for free because I like helping people - and I feel everyone should get a polite reply - however "rude" they have been by (in some cases) ignoring the guidelines. The difficulty is in trying to draft individual replies in a way which could not offend, when I know nothing about the age, gender, genealogical experience, temperament, etc. of the sender, or whether they had not read the instructions, or deliberately ignored them in order to try and get some "Free help from the slave at the other end of the line." 

In order to concentrate on full answers to suitable queries, and on updating details of books and places, I have decided to stop posting individual replies to problem queries, because trying to do so "diplomatically" takes up time when I could otherwise be improving the specialist service. If you get a messages saying that your query is inappropriate or incompletely defined, please understand that I will  always try to answer questions which fall within the guidelines. If appropriate, feel free to ask your question in a revised form after you have re-read the instructions, looked at appropriate helps files, and seen how I have answered some of the recent questions in the current edition of the newsletter. (Note that some of the older answers were posted when I had less questions and the limits were less rigid.)

Remember that answers are given through the monthly newsletter and so you should not expect an immediate reply. However, in many cases pages are updated "in draft form" within days of my getting a query. The questioner is notified of the change - but the change is only finalised and announced in the next monthly newsletter.

Finally, because of health problems and other commitments I cannot guarantee a speedy reply to appropriately worded questions, while questions which fall outside the scope of the "Ask Chris" facility may be ignored altogether. In addition, remember that answers are given through the monthly newsletter, so please do not request progress about your query until a month has gone by.


For more information see Frequently Asked Questions


Page updated November 2007