Help centre

Question Answer
What is a historyOwl puzzle?

Please see this section in the help centre.

What is the difference between a researcher and requester?

A requester can add puzzles which they would like to be resolved, whereas a researcher can bid for and answer those puzzles. Note that a researcher can also place their own puzzles (although it is not possible to bid on your own request).

Where is the Catholic Witness Index (CWI) help?

CWI help is here

Solving your puzzles


Becoming a researcher








HistoryOwl puzzles


  • What is a HistoryOwl puzzle?

In family or local history, a HistoryOwl puzzle can be many things, both big and small. It might be as simple as needing to get hold of a record which will help you progress your research (for example, a census entry). At the other extreme, it could be a situation when you have been unable to make progress with your family tree further back in time. For example, an ancestor whose origins are not known but who was born within the time period for which records are generally readily available. In England, that might be said to date from about 1780 onwards, but this may differ in other countries.

It is helpful to describe scenarios in order to illustrate the sorts of puzzles which a HistoryOwl might wish to get solved:

Note: The examples given below are based on genealogy in England

Example 1: No birthplace on census

In England, the 1841 census only asked whether a person born in England was born in the same county where they were currently living. If the answer is no, it can be difficult to trace their place of birth. For example, consider the following 1841 census entry:

10 Town St, Leeds, Yorkshire: John Smith aged 35. Born same county? No.

All we know here is that he was born in a county other than Yorkshire in England. So your puzzle may ask "Where was John Smith of 10 Town St, Leeds in 1841 and aged 35 born?"

Example 2: A common name may provide several possibilities from which it is difficult to confidently select the correct one

Consider John Smith born Sedgley, Staffs about 1821 which has been confirmed from a census. We know his father was called John (from his marriage certificate in 1842). If the baptism records in Sedgley in 1821 list two Johns son of Johns (with a different mother), how can we tell which is the correct one or even whether there is another we have not come across? This puzzle might ask "How can we prove which John Smith of the two listed is ours, if either?"

Example 3: A vague birthplace

If John Smith was born in London 1825 and there is no other information available (such as father’s name), it is going to be difficult to find his birth simply because there are so many areas of London from which he could have come. However, wider family connections can sometimes help to narrow this search. This puzzle might list all the supplementary information we have so far (e.g.children's baptisms) and ask where John was born or if there are any other traceable relatives.

Example 4: We only have a name

If we only know John Smith’s father is called Thomas because it says so on John’s marriage certificate, it may be difficult to identify the correct Thomas. Again, wider family connections or occupation can sometimes help to narrow this search but this puzzle might be asking for a search in some particular records to ascertain an earlier sighting or even rule other entries out from the puzzle.

What if I want to find out something that is not a puzzle as defined above?

That’s fine too. Just ensure you list what information you have and carefully describe what information you’d like your researcher to supply to you and that you have agreed about the scope of the research before you commission them.


  • Adding a new puzzle

When completing the form, bear in mind the following:

  1. A full name should be given. If there are alternative spellings it would be helpful to record this in the notes section.
  2. Give full details of the place and ensure it is readily identifiable. For example, not Gospel End, but Gospel End, Sedgley, Staffordshire
  3. Try to describe what the date you provide refers to. For example, born 1820; Living in Sedgley 1851; died 1881 aged 61.
  4. In the notes section, you should first state what you are looking for (e.g. Where was he born?) and then give as much contextual information as possible so that potential researchers can quickly get up to speed with what you are looking for. The more information you can provide, the less costly it is likely to be.
  5. The citations field allows you to provide a web link (or genealogical citation) to websites which may give fuller details of the person in question. Example of adding a citation link
  6. Attachments: You can add a family tree or other narrative that you may have which would help your researcher here. Make sure you do not upload any material for which you do not have the permission to use for copyright reasons as this would contravene the terms and conditions of this website.


Is the puzzle realistically solvable?

Before posting your puzzle, it is wise to take a moment to consider whether it is likely to be resolvable. For example, if the father is not listed on a birth certificate or baptism record because the child was illegitimate or born in the workhouse, there may simply be no record which lists the father’s name. You might be content to get proof positive of this by asking your researcher (for example) to check the records of a workhouse to ascertain whether a note of the father’s name was ever made in the records, which sometimes did happen. A professional genealogist shouldbe able to give you an idea of the likelihood or otherwise of success.

Example of a new puzzle:

Example of a new puzzle added


  • Reviewing researchers

If a researcher is able to help you to resolve your HistoryOwl puzzle, they may place a bid on it, and you will receive an email telling you this.

Beforehand, a researcher may add a comment to your puzzle  in order to clarify something or mention a specialist skill which they have which relates to your query. You will be notified by email so you can reply to these comments:

Example of a comment added by a researcher


You can ask researchers questions too via the comments section on a bid they send. For example,  if you want some extra clarity about what help they intend to provide. Either click the link from the email, or navigate from the Home Page > View All Activity > Review bid(s) link > View link (left hand side)


Example of bids for review


Having reviewed the bid(s) received you can choose the one which you think best suits your requirements. Here are some tips:

  1. Is the researcher a professional genealogist? This is evident when you view their profile. You may decide that you feel more comfortable entrusting the work to such researchers, particularly where the use of unfamiliar archival material may be required.
  2. Are they located near the research area or do they have  have access to a local archive which relates to your research location?
  3. Have they received previous feedback and how much confidence does this give you?
  • Hiring a researcher

When you have decided which researcher you wish to us, simply click the Hire button. The researcher will be notified immediately and you will receive a confirmation email.

At this stage, you will receive the researcher's email address and they will be sent yours. You should make payment if it is required in advance. This will be stated in the email you receive along with payment instructions and details of other terms and conditions.


  • Getting the answer

Try to be patient. It might take a week or two for the researcher to answer a more complex query. We ask researchers to make best efforts to complete research within 14 days and they may already work to shorter deadlines. They should have stated in their terms and conditions if the work is likely to take longer than this.

When they have answered your query, they will email you the results.

If there is anything you do not understand about them, contact the researcher and ask them to clarify. Try to be as specific as possible. 


  • Leaving feedback

Leaving feedback helps your fellow researchers in the genealogy community when they are choosing a researcher themselves. Please try to be fair when leaving either positive or negative feedback.

Example of feedback form

  • Troubleshooting

Sometimes things can go wrong. All researchers who have signed up to the website have agreed to follow the code of conduct which is described in the researcher terms and conditions. If you feel this has not been followed, and been unable to to rectify the situation yourself, you are encouraged to reflect this fairly within your feedback.






Becoming a researcher

  • Understanding the role of the researcher

TIP: Learn about how this website defines a puzzle

Some family or local historians have become experienced, developed a local expertise or are simply particularly skilled at progressing research which has become tricky.

A "researcher" is someone who takes up the challenge of helping a fellow historian to make progress with their research. The role requires a degree of persistence and experience so is probably not suited to someone who has just started researching their own family tree. If you think you may fit the bill, click the "upgrade to researcher" button on the home page.

Upgrade link to become a researcher

  • Upgrading to researcher

Upgrading to become a researcher is a two-step process. First, you need to complete some details about yourself in your profile. If you are a professional genealogist, put down the organisations you belong to. List any relevant qualifications. Try to describe your level of experience accurately. How long have you been researching for? Do you regard your level of experience as being low, moderate or advanced? Do you have any specialisms such as record sets which you are familiar with working (e.g. UK census data)? Do you have access to any local archive repositories which may help someone who needs information from that specific locality?

You will also need to decide on or list your terms and conditions and make sure these are clear in your profile. You can link to your website if you have one too.  

Screen of researcher profile before completion

Next, you will be asked to read and sign up to some extra HistoryOwl terms and conditions (including a code of conduct) which relate to researchers.

It is important to understand the relationship which you have with the HistoryOwl website and any potential requester on whose behalf you may carry out work. This website's role is to introduce you to potential requesters. Once you have been hired, the working relationship will be between you (the researcher) and the requester who has hired you. There is a two-way feedback mechanism to ensure that people can evaluate the person they are hiring.

  • Placing a bid to answer a HistoryOwl puzzle

When you have completed the researcher registration process, you can start to browse for puzzleswhich you think you are able to resolve. You can use the search system to filter down by keywords.

Screen showing puzzles which are for bidding upon

Before you place a bid (green arrow above), you must be sure that you understand what the requester is seeking. If you do not, please use the comments section of the puzzle first to ask the questions which will help you to evaluate this (purple arrow above). Following any exchange of comments, If you are still not confident that you can answer the query as it is described, you should not place a bid upon it.


However, if you think you can answer it, place your bid which can be free or you can make a charge.

Example of bid being added to a puzzle

  • Preparing the answer

After the requester has received your bid, they may choose to hire you. If this happens, you will receive an email to notify you of this. If you are charging and require payment in advance, you should ensure that this has been received before releasing your answer. There is nothing to stop you working on the problem immediately though. The code of conduct asks that you send your answer within 14 days unless you have specifically agreed prior to bidding with the requester that a longer timescale should apply. When you have answered it by replying by email to the requester, you can change the status to "Answered"

TIP: This information can be set in the terms and conditions field of your profile too.