Researching Etiquette


This particular subject is an area in which I feel I can never ever say enough.

Again, as with other entries, this one isn't just aimed at the new researcher, but should be read and considered by every researcher out there. All too often though, this is one area in which the average researcher feels that they can scrimp.



All too often in this new current world of internet researching, people tend to think and feel that they are rather anonymous. They act and react in ways that for them would be unthinkable in a face to face relationship or even over the telephone.

Many of us learned at a young age that "you catch more flies with honey".

This same theory applies to researching strongly. None of us likes or particularly cares to associate with a pushy, rude, ungrateful, selfish or greedy person. But in our researching we find that WE are that person from time to time.

We are so excited at gaining a piece of information that we sometimes forget the basics of common courtesy. This is not by any means to offer an excuse for the behavior. This is to simply state that it happens and why.

Just as in our everyday lives, there are certain rules of human behavior that we must follow when interacting with other individuals. I would like to cover a few of these that applies to the world of researching. Many don't realize that in not observing these simple rules, they are only really hurting themselves. The recipient of the rudeness will of course be momentarily offended; but in the long run, it is the inconsiderate person who really suffers as eventually nobody will want to exchange data with them and this is where it gets painful. Any true researcher comprehends the fact that the success of their research depends greatly on the willingness of others to share their data.

Debbie's Rule for Researching Etiquette

In making a posting in a quest for information NEVER, EVER, EVER; Ask for everything another researcher possesses.

I myself have been asked time and again by another researcher "Send me all you have on so and so". Those particular people receive one thing from me. NOTHING. Most persons apparently don't grasp the concept that any serious researcher who has accumulated much data on a surname has put much time and effort into finding this information. Not only will they be extremely offended to think of just "handing that over", YOU should be extremely ashamed that you even asked. Really, why should they just turn everything over to you?? You should ALWAYS present your request to another researcher in the frame of "Whatever you would care to Share". To paraphrase this simple first rule in etiquette "The quickest way to receive nothing is to ask for everything".

Be extremely appreciative of whatever small scrap of information you might receive

I am certain that from time to time, many of us have given to organizations such as the Salvation Army, etc. If you remember, no matter what you gave them, they always responded as if you had written that million dollar check. Remember how generous that made you feel. More importantly, remember how willing that made you to contribute the next time?

When posting a query and someone returns a response with perhaps a portion of the answer to your query-- for goodness sake, act as if they just answered the 64 million dollar question for  you. Common sense should tell you that if they had a portion of the information you are searching for then they may just be researching somewhere around the same family. Therefore they just may pass along further information later as they find it. This especially applies to those times when you are requesting someone do a census lookup for you. They will be more inclined to do it again sometime; and you will also find someone who, if you are ever in need of a lookup will be of assistance. You need not write a response worthy of Emily Post, but a simple return email of "Thank you so much" is certainly in order and acceptable. If someone went out of their way to get further perhaps unasked for information then "thanks so much for your time and trouble" is also nice to receive.

Never, ever beat a dying horse as it will eventually die

I know that might sound a bit strange, but it does apply in our world of research.

When you do find someone who is willing to do a lookup for you whether it be a census record or cemetery record or whatever;


Don't let it get to the point that when they see your name on an email, they delete it. It might also be nice if you were to take the time to find out just a little something about the surname they are researching. Why? Because you never know, you might just come across a piece of data that would be useful to them. No this is not mandatory, but it will help encourage that other person to later assist you again. It is also a nice touch.

If you should find that you are asking again and again and again for information within a particular source, you just might need to consider subscribing to whatever service someone else is using.

Always, always expect to pay for what you receive

Many times in the world of researching, the items that you need simply cannot be sent through an email. This requires the use of the US postal service and they require the use of money. When someone offers to send you something, you should always expect to pay for the postage and if it is an extreme amount, the copying fees involved. Many researchers will simply tell you to forget it, but all the same, MAKE THE OFFER. Now when dealing with another researcher that you are on a familiar ground with or someone that say you are both researching the same family and have been doing this together for some time, then of course, you might not always make the offer. Why? Because frequently, you are sending them items and they are sending you items and the exchange/return of postage is kind of pointless. Each one balances out the other.

Be considerate of the gift given to you

This one to me is perhaps one of the most important rules in researching.

When another researcher sends you data whether it be large or small; consider it for you eyes only unless the giver has told you otherwise. I don't mean that you cannot share this with your sister who is researching. What I mean is don't take someone else's information and plaster it all over a website for the world to see. Do that and you will find that soon, nobody will be willing to exchange with you. It is unthinkable that some people do make a habit of doing that, and to make it even worse, they make the claim that it is their findings. I myself have had other people take items I have sent them and published it on the internet, claim ownership and to top it off, much of it was rather private information regarding living persons.