O Cousin Where Art Thou? Making Use of Genealogy Message Boards
I’m not sure that I like the relatives that I know, so why would I want to find more? Those are my husband’s words, not mine. I, like most family tree historians, thrive on digging away at our roots, unearthing new clues, following branches and chasing down every last missing relative. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of fun too, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a few assistants – maybe a few hundred or even thousands? They are out there just waiting for you to ask.
Genealogy message boards, forums, mailing lists and chat rooms are groups of like minded family tree researchers, from amateur to professional, available online 24 hours a day just waiting for your questions. For someone just starting out to trace their ancestry, this vast ocean of possibilities might seem overwhelming. Where should you even begin?
Everyone knows something about their family history, however scant the information is. Start with that. As an example, my husband’s paternal side came from “over near Ottawa” in Canada. His grandmother, named Frances Carr, died about 1924 and is buried in a village or cemetery called Woodlawn. That is about all his family knew. Knowing nothing about this area, the first step I took was to find a local library and email them for some direction. The Carp Library in Carleton County gave me the email address of a man who lived in this region all of his life and was both a descendant of the first settlers and an avid family historian. This helpful fellow knew of the family I was seeking and gave me names for Frances’ parents and her thirteen siblings!
At first, I had planned to dabble a little bit in genealogy, but as we all know that’s borderline impossible and I was soon full blown obsessed. I now had two branches to follow back in time and thirteen coming forward and I was thrilled about it. What should I do with all these new found puzzle pieces?
My first stop, back in those early days, was http://www.rootsweb.com which is a free to use sister site to http://www.ancestry.com/. At the top of the home page, you will find a button for Message Boards. The boards are subject specific, broken down basically three ways – by surname (Carr, Harris), locality (Carleton County) or even topic (military, occupations). The wonderful thing about these message boards is that only researchers with similar interests to yours will be looking at these queries, and the hope is that a distant relative or someone with genealogical resources will see your message and reply.
If you are seeking a member of the Carr (or any) family, type the last name into the search box under Surnames and topics and click Go. Carr came up with 15 possible message boards, but after scrolling down I found the right one – Surnames>Carr – and chose that one. The message board itself had 7,706 posts on it the last time I checked – a daunting figure! You can certainly browse through the messages and discount Carrs obviously not connected to your family (other country, other race etc.) or better yet use the Names and keywords box above. You can type in words like Frances, Woodlawn or Carp to narrow down queries more likely to pertain to your family. Be sure to unclick the All Boards button and click the other (surname specific) button below the search box, otherwise you will end up with every message containing those words on the entire website and you don’t want that. No one searching for your family? Take a moment to create a free user account and begin posting your own queries.
To search in a particular region, the steps are much the same. Under the Localities Categories in the Message Boards section, click on the broader category such as Canada or United States and this will be further broken down into provinces and states. Clicking on one of these will result in a choice of counties. Browse, search or post messages on these county boards just like you would on the surname message boards. Now you are among researchers seeking relatives from the same part of the world where your family once lived. There is a good possibility that you will find some cousin connections there.
Your long lost cousins may be found on these message boards, but another very welcome new friend is the fellow researcher who offers their own know how (local knowledge, access to databases, books or records, offering free look ups for subscription websites) and steps forward to help you on your search. Believe it or not, I once searched for and found a missing cousin in New Zealand and I didn’t even know her name. This would never have been possible without the help of some helpful folks on a Scottish board and a New Zealand message board who knew where to look. The Scots helped me figure out which sister in a family of seven had the nickname of Dolly, and the New Zealanders found her 1922 death record after I learned her married name.
This is just one message board on one of the better known genealogy websites. There are many, many more! Unfortunately, http://www.genealogy.com/index_n.html which was another favorite of mine has ceased operation and isn’t capable of receiving any new queries, but the good news is that you can still read through their archived messages under GenForum Message Boards and quite possibly find some new matches.
Another site that I really love is http://www.rootschat.com They have no surname or county specific boards for anywhere other than the UK, but their Forum section is extremely helpful nonetheless. You will find sections devoted to assisting researchers with deciphering old handwriting, free photo dating and restoration, technical help. DNA help and a buy and sell page for genealogical materials. Another fun thing is the Chat room. Create a free account to access this and all the other features. The chat room is a live discussion with family tree researchers all over the world.
Make use of your computer’s search engine and try to find some websites devoted to your particular interests that have message boards or forums. Again, the narrower the field of study the better the chances of connecting with other family tree aficionados looking for the same things. This website is solely devoted to Scottish genealogy and culture http://www.talkingscot.com and this one just deals with those interested in their Prince Edward Island roots http://www.islandregister.com Have a look and see if your neck of the woods has a well organized website or message board/forum.
Now put on your detective hat and get searching. Remember, even Sherlock Holmes didn’t work alone. Your own eager-to-assist Dr. Watsons are waiting only a few mouse clicks away.