From Whom the Advice?

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to be one on the internet. However, having read through more than my fair share of probate records–from modern ones to pre-colonial ones–and having been involved in the settlement of estates, I have a rough idea of how things work.

And when I read the comments to an online column about an estate issue, I was shaking my head over and over. Some of the advice was flat out wrong. Some of the advice only worked in certain states. Some of the advice clearly indicated the commenter had not read the original question. And there were a handful of comments that were spot on.

The same goes for answers ones gets to online posts about genealogy questions. Comments and suggestions are only as good as the person typing them, their knowledge of the material at hand, and their ability to articulate.

Generally answers to genealogy questions need to acknowledge:

  • The time period.
  • The geographic location–laws, culture, and actual geography of the region.
  • Some personal details about the family involved–educational level, economic status, etc.

Getting advice online is great. But remember what you really need is just one or two individuals who know their stuff. A hundred answers can be woefully inadequate if they are from individuals spouting off what they “think they know.”

And always include enough information in your original post to allow any respondents to answer your question.

But don’t believe everything you read in every answer. Actually it’s good in some online forums to read answers to other questions before actually asking one. That’s a good way to get a feel for those who “know their stuff” and those who “think they know their stuff” (but don’t).