How Not to Write a Collaboration Email

Collaboration is the name of the game in genealogy. I love when someone contacts me asking about research that I have shared on, FamilySearch, or FindAGrave. However, there’s one little thing that folks can do to make their emails a little easier to respond to.


I know that seems too simplistic. However, I have received a number of emails asking about research pertaining to individuals and there is no link to the individual to help me refresh my memory. Here’s one example,

I noticed that you had information about Jerry Lester stating that he was married to Sarah Quiggly and they had five children. You have him connected to James Lester as his father. Well, the Jerry Lester son of James from Massachusetts died before wedding and having children. I’m happy to find new information contrary to my research. Please let me know what supporting information you have for Jerry, husband of Sarah to Jerry son of James. 

While this email is extremely polite, what is it lacking?

Dates and places would certainly be nice. The email does mention Massachusetts but that isn’t helping much (especially with common names). What is lacking is a link to who they are referring to. Let me say this another way.

A link is essential. 

In order to answer this email, I need some way to know which site was used to find the tree links. It really does make a difference which resourced was used.

First, my accounts on various websites are not always in sync. Perhaps I have new information that needs to be transferred to the other site. So tell me which site was used.

Second, I do a lot of volunteer work on various sites to ‘pay it forward.’ Sharing a link to Sarah Quiggly will quickly help me recognize if the person you are asking about is a volunteer project or a common ancestor.

Finally, I am a busy mother of five children. When I have free time, I spend it doing genealogy. If you want me to answer your email quickly, then make it easy for me to access the person you are asking about.

These are three of my reasons why sharing a link about an ancestor you want to collaborate on is essential. Other genealogists have different reasons why a link, or a person ID number, would be invaluable to quickly respond to your email.

Whenever I receive such emails, I attempt to politely ask, “Who are you talking about?” and request the website or link so we can start on the same page. Often, the person sending the first email is so gracious to respond, “Oh, yeah. That would be helpful. Sorry and here you go!” Others seem put off by my request and do not respond again.

Collaborative genealogy is nothing new, it’s just in a new format. For online trees and queries, let’s all commit to better partnerships by sharing identifying information so the process flows just a little bit easier!

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

5 thoughts on “How Not to Write a Collaboration Email

  1. Recently I posted a query about the usefulness of a set of old CDs of genealogical information because I wanted to know how best to dispose of them. Several of the comments were right on target and helpful, but one person left a comment that implied some connection between her ancestors and mine, and even mentioned that my son and hers had the same name. I had posted nothing with any links to any online trees that might have such information, so it seemed likely that this was a blatant fishing expedition. The comment has been removed or I'd paste it here. It was barely literate with several misspellings and odd usage, making me think it was from someone not a native speaker of English. (Nothing wrong with that per se, certainly.)

    So I would add to your cautions that before sending a collaboration request, you proofread and spellcheck your request … and, as you say, identify the source of your suspicion that you have something in common with the person you're writing. And as the recipient of such a message, I'd emphasize the importance of establishing who you're dealing with before giving out any links of your own.

  2. Colleen, I'm glad we're in good company! I do want to help and I do want to answer emails that I received. We can all do better. The great thing is that it's so simple. Provide an ID or Link. That's just a few sections to save a lot of stress.

  3. I get the same type of emails. They are frustrating & it takes valuable time to figure out just who they are talking about and in reference to what [my blog, my website, DNA results, etc.]. I do wish there was more information in the emails because I do want to connect & share information. I'm glad to see that I am not the only person who has these concerns.

  4. Great points as well Elizabeth. My hubby is involved in our DNA research so I'm sure he relates fully with your comments. I can see how this little tip can go along way in may aspects. So glad you ranted so I could learn a new place the tip would certainly apply.

  5. Great point! When I send an email to another researcher (usually at Ancestry), I spend a great deal of time composing the email to make it as easy for the recipient to respond to me (because I am hoping for a prompt response, if possible).

    I would like to add that this applies to sending an email to someone regarding DNA testing results. I manage two DNA test results at Ancestry and seven at FamilyTreeDNA. It drives me nuts when I have to determine which person the emailer is writing about when I get an email that says: "It looks like our DNA results match" and either doesn't refer to the name or the name is buried in the email.

    Thanks for letting me vent about this particular pet peeve 😉

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