“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”
How very true that message from Albert Einstein is! And it applies to genealogy and technology doubly so! Especially if you’re asking someone else or offering to help them. Some very simple rules to follow if you’re asking for help:
First, you need to be very specific about what you’re looking for. “The Adams family went from Connecticut to Virginia and I want to know all about them” is not very specific. Break it down to the important details: “We’ve heard our great-great-great-grandfather John Adams is related to the President of the same name and would like to know if they are, and how.” Better!
Second, share the information you already have. Nothing is more frustrating to a volunteer than to uncover something they believe is new, just to have you person say, “Oh, we already know that!” They are sharing their time and effort with you, so please be considerate of it. Include in your shared information the proof you already have, if any. Is it just family folklore, or do you have some documents that back the story up? (A second benefit of sharing your information is that it requires you to organize it. After years of looking, many times our documentation gets fragmented and we don’t even realize it. Reorganization might just show you a clue that’s been there all along!)
Some people would add the question, “Where have you researched already?” And if you have that information, that’s great. Knowing where the research has already been done can keep duplication of effort to a minimum – BUT – it can also miss important clues that a fresh set of eyes can give. While one person might read a name as “Sharrock” another set of eyes might see “Shadrock” instead. So sometimes a fresh look is in order.
The flip side is approaching someone with an entire box of documents and saying, “Here’s what we have, and we want you to figure it out.” That’s going to take longer, and be much more likely to miss important clues. So try to focus on the goal and use the KISS system – Keep It Simple Silly!