In advancing your genealogy research on the Internet, don't ignore two vital resources: message boards — or discussion websites, which include bulletin boards and forums; and electronic mailing lists, also known as email discussion groups (or Listservs).
Mailing lists are free to subscribe to and you participate in specific genealogical or historical discussions via e-mail.
There are specific mailing lists for a variety of genealogical and historical topics …
To participate in a mailing list you send e-mail commands to a computer software program … in order to be automatically subscribed to the list. You send e-mail messages to a different address for that mailing list in order to communicate with the other subscribers.
Before you join a mailing list or post to a message board, there are a few things to keep in mind. For one thing, you should be sure to read the guidelines for technical instructions and etiquette tips. It's also critical to realize that in general, what goes onto the Internet stays on the Internet.
In her article "Effective Use of Genealogy Message Boards," Natalie D. Cottrill explains:
Though there are private message boards, most message boards are public. So, when you post a message to the Internet, it's going to be published for anyone and everyone to read … before you push "submit," you'll want to make sure that the message you post to the Internet only contains information that you are ready to share with everyone. It is also worth mentioning that messages posted to a message board are generally permanent.
Though in some instances editing can be done, once you push the "submit" button in a message board, you'll usually not be able to go back and change or edit your message. So, make sure there are no typos in your message, and that it says what you truly want it to say.
Genealogical mailing lists, ideal for contacting fellow researchers, are categorized by surname, geographical location, ethnicity and thousands of other genealogy-related topics. They are also an excellent method of contacting descendants of slave owners and exchanging information.
Consider registering at the mega genealogy website Rootsweb.com (which also has message boards). Once you've done so, search the site's mailing lists for surnames, locations (such as county, state) and other topics (such as genealogy methods, "people of color," freedmen or slaves) that you're interested in. You can choose which lists to join and post a genealogy query to a message board. When you write your query, mention that you are willing to trade information, if you have it, and reveal your willingness to share; it will attract more responses.
Cottrill lists other basic requirements for an effective query:
The greater the details you can provide about when and where your subjects lived, the greater your chance of linking up with people seeking the same individuals. Some items that will help others identify common family members include these: Full name, including any middle names or initials; birth, marriage, and death dates; places where (these) events occurred; residence and migration; names of their children and/or parents.
For further instructions, follow the detailed directions in the article "6 Steps to Writing a Successful Genealogy Query."
Karin D. Berry is a newspaper journalist and freelance writer who has been researching her family history since 1987. Her articles, book reviews and op-ed articles have been published in Essence, Black Enterprise, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Macon Telegraph, the Baltimore Sun, the Evening Sun, Emerge and the Philadelphia Daily News.