23 September 2009
by Charles S. "Chuck" Mason Jr., CG
From time to time the topic of not receiving a reply to either a letter or an email that someone has written comes up in genealogy circles. There are a number of reasons that cause professional genealogists either to not reply or to simply turn down a request for research. An email that I received earlier this week prompted me to write about this issue this month.
I received an email from someone I do not know. Actually, there were two identical emails, sent exactly six minutes apart. The email stated that I was “REQUIRED TO VIEW THE ATTACHED FILE BELOW.” The file was regarding the estate of a Dr. Girard Mason. The entire message was typed in capital letters and gave no explanation regarding who this person was, who the person sending the email was, or why they were contacting me.
My first reaction was that this might be an attachment with a virus. My second reaction was, “How dare you tell me what I am ‘REQUIRED’ to do?” I have not opened either copy of the email. I did reply to the sender that I was not required to do anything, especially when I do not know who you are. So far, I have not received a message back. However, this incident brought to mind other emails and, back in the dark ages, snail mail letters I have received.
Since I do research for others, and I have a website, I often receive emails from potential clients. In the mid 1990s I was secretary of a genealogical society. Today that society has a website and often receives inquiries from people seeking help. A number of years ago I came up with some guidelines for letters. They also apply to emails and may be helpful in explaining why you may not receive a reply to your letter or email.
A professional genealogist may list the facilities or counties where they research. They may not research in other facilities; especially if they are a considerable distance away. They may list specialties or locations where they research, and those locations may not be where they reside.
The facility, organization, or researcher may have information about areas not listed on the website or may do research in areas or facilities also not listed. However, do not assume this is true. Contact them and ask. It is wasted time to send a lengthy letter or email requesting research outside their resources or areas of expertise.
Another problem I often encounter is mixing dates and places of birth, marriage, and death for two or more people. If you have some of this information for both a husband and wife and are requesting the missing information, identify what you have for the husband and what you are missing. Then do the same for the wife. The same would apply to the children of the couple.
I try to work through the problems with the information or lack of information in letters and emails and always reply to the person. However, in some cases I turn the person down because I do not want to deal with the issues I mentioned above. Sometimes facilities or individuals will not answer your requests. In some cases it is not because of anything you did; but in other cases it may be because of some of the reasons I have included here.
Also, requests like “send me everything you have on a certain family” may be unreasonable. I once received a request that our genealogical society send the person everything we had on the Lee family of Virginia. First, we did not have a research facility, so we did not have any information about the family. We would have had to research at a local library. Second, the Lee family came to Virginia before the American Revolution. There are many generations of the Lee Family and many books, articles, and other information about this family. The request was unreasonable to try to fill, not to mention very costly. This person may have only needed a small amount of information.