5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Message Boards and Mailing Lists

Message boards and mailing lists are brilliant places to find information, discover long lost cousins and get to know other family historians. If you haven’t already done so, why not find a few which match your research interests and subscribe. Rootsweb and Yahoo are good places to look, or take a look at the links in the right sidebar for some of my favourites.

Once you have signed up, you may not have much information to share if you are just starting out, but you will find the posts helpful and often highly informative even if they aren’t necessarily about your family. Most of the lists you join will have their own guidelines about the kind of posts which can be made to the list and the sort of behaviour which is expected of members. However, the following tips are usually applicable to all lists and should help you to get the most out of your membership.

1) Write surnames in capital letters. For example BLOGS, not Blogs. It is not always obvious that a surname is just that, some are also first names, or place names, or occupations. So Fred George, could be a full name, or it could be two forenames. Fred Carpenter might mean Fred who was a carpenter.

2) Write descriptive titles. Try to explain what your message is about in a short, succinct title. For example ‘Fred BLOGS, date of birth?’ lets other members know you are asking about the date of birth of someone called Fred Blogs.

3) Post to the correct list or board. If a mailing list or message board has been dedicated to a particular place, name or other topic, try to avoid posting unrelated queries there. People who are searching for their ancestors in Aberdeen are unlikely to know about yours from Southampton.

4) Use a signature message. But, only if it is allowed! Ask the moderator or list owner if you are unsure. If it is OK, append a short message – no more than 2 or 3 lines, including the surnames of a few of the families you are looking for, or a link to your online family tree. This can be a great way to find other people who have information about your ancestors.

5) Try to give back. If you are a newcomer, you may not have much advice or information to offer. However, you can help in other ways. Maybe you know about a particular occupation. Or maybe you have a lot of knowledge of a particular location – for example, your home town. Read the other messages on the list, and if you see one you can help with, send off an answer.

Those are my tips, if you have any why not share them in the comments 🙂

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