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Finding Your Family History on the Internet
 "Query Boards, GenForums, and E-mail Requests"

  by Lana Archibald

One of the great things about using the Internet for family history research is the opportunity it gives you to easily collaborate with others.  No longer is distance a factor when it comes to sharing information.

There are several vehicles for contacting others interested in researching the same surnames you are.  Query boards, genforums and surname mailing lists are among them.  Sometimes these names are used interchangeably for each other, yet each is a very different type of resource.

QUERY BOARDS are web sites, much like a classified section in the newspaper, where you can write a brief description of information you are looking for about an individual, a family or a location.  Generally, queries are archived after so many months; yet they remain easily accessible.  Search engines are provided to give you a quick way of searching through all of them for names you are interested in.

USGenWeb is a primary sponsor of query boards. This major website was formed by volunteers who provide satellite sites for free genealogical research in every county and state of the United States.  The query boards are part of each county's web page.  The address for the main index can be found at <>.

To post a query, first determine the state, and county where your ancestor(s) lived. From the USGenWeb index, click on the state link, then on the county link.  Most of the state websites also offer an "Unknown County" page for queries for those unsure of their ancestor's exact origin.

Keep your query message short and focused.  Identifying an individual you are searching for by specific name, in a specific place, on a specific date, will get the best response.  Also state the type of information you are looking for.  Typing the surnames in ALL CAPS will make them stand out and catch the eye of readers better.

Viewing other queries posted to that site will give you a good idea of what kind of format to use.

Posting a query is a lot like putting out a fishing line to catch fish.  The more lines you put out, the greater your chances of finding the information you seek.  You'll find that a query continues working for you long after you post it.

There are query sites which require membership to an organization, but all of the query sites listed here are free for anyone to use.

Genealogical Exchange & Surname Registry   <>
This genealogical exchange site allows visitors and researchers to post queries and share information on those they are searching for.  It has become the "third largest non-commercial genealogy project on the Internet today."

Genealogy's Most Wanted (GMW) This site has a lot of linked pages with information which can take a lot of time to read.  To cut right to the meat of what you are looking for, you can go to this site: < > and view the index for all surnames.  More detailed information on how GMW works can be found at <>.

Global Surname Search is a comprehensive search site sponsored by RootsWeb.  With their search engine you can search the entire country or the entire world for queries (and other records) concerning your ancestor.  It can be found at <>.

Helm's Genealogy Toolbox Query Central <>
This site gives you a search engine for perusing 85,000 queries going back to October 1995.
And, of course, you can add a new query.

For a humorous, and informative lesson on how NOT to write a query, see the online article by
Gary Lee Phillips on the St. Clair County MIGenWeb site

GENFORUMS are very similar to query boards, but are more like party lines.  The thing that separates a genforum from a query board, at least in my mind, is that the original message and any replies to it are linked together at the web site, allowing anyone who logs on to read and follow a discussion.  Threaded messages can be printed together.  This makes a genforum much more valuable than just a query board; it brings more people together in an organized manner.

Search engines are usually provided on the main access page, so that you can quickly go to the area of interest.  New messages, or a replies to an existing message, are easily posted by filling in the form provided and clicking on SUBMIT.

When someone replies to your message, you will not be notified personally; therefore, keep a research log of sites where you post queries or submit messages to a genforum, so you can check back and update them later, if needed.

GenConnect, a branch of WorldGenWeb and RootsWeb, is a major genforum resource.
<>.  The search engine surveys genforums (or query boards) from around the world.  Both query and any subsequent replies are threaded together.

The Threaded Archive found at <> indexes 13,882 messages from old genforums at RootsWeb.  Their web page is very user-friendly and easy to understand.  An index and search engine is supplied to make sorting through the thousands of messages quick and pain-free.

There is no charge to use the Threaded Archive, but you must register with a username and password before accessing the messages.  The purpose is to give some accountability to those who post messages there.  Be sure to write down the username and password you assign yourself so you can use it again sometime.

MAILING LISTS are different from queries and genforums in that the mail comes to your personal e-mail box.  Each pertains to a particular surname or lineage.  In order to receive e-mail from a mailing list, you must join or subscribe to the list.

Any message sent by one of the members is received by all the others.  Since there can be dozens, or even hundreds of subscribers to a single surname list, this can fill up your e-mail file in a hurry.

User Mailing Lists sponsored by RootsWeb include those for locations and those for surnames.
Area mailing lists can be found at <>.  The list is divided into regions, countries, states and counties.  Use these mailing lists when trying to find historical information about a specific area.

Surname/Family Mailing Lists supported by RootsWeb are at
<> This page comes up in frames.  On the left will be an alphabetical link to the surnames.  In the top frame are the instructions for subscribing and unsubscribing to a list.  There are even instructions for those who can't use their web browser to receive e-mail (such as JUNO program users).  The bottom right frame will list appropriate surname lists after you click on an alphabet letter in the left frame. supports collaboration lists which are really mailing lists.  You can VIEW ALL LISTS which have been registered with them and sign up for the ones you are interested in, or you can CREATE A LIST specific to your interests.  Registration is required before you can use this service, but it costs nothing.  Simple create a user name and password for yourself (don't forget to write it down on your research log), then SIGN ON.  The next screen that comes up will have tabs for the VIEW and CREATE list pages.

Under the VIEW ALL LISTS tab, you will get an alphabetical sorting of lists already created by others.  Clicking on a list name you are interested in will open up an e-mail message box.  Once you click on SEND, your message is sent to everyone registered on that list.

You can connect to the registration page by clicking on COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS on the main <> page or go directly to the registration page with this address <>.

The thing to remember about the FamilySearch collaboration lists is that it is important to include your name and email address in any replies you send.  Since all messages are received by everyone on the list, clicking on the REPLY button identifies the sender only by the "name" of the list.  It is impossible to tell which individual is replying unless they give their personal name.

This may seem fine if you are big on privacy, but on one occasion I received two messages from two totally different people on the same list, on the same day.  Both asked a similar question.  It wasn't until I began getting conflicting replies that I realized I was conversing with two people   not one.

Following a few simple rules for writing a query, or sending an e-mail requesting research help, will make your efforts more productive and win you friends.

#1.  Remember that many people throughout time have had the same name.  When asking for information on an ancestor, much more information is needed than just his or her name.  You need to give enough information for others to pinpoint exactly which individual(s) you want help with.  What was the birth year, or marriage year, or even approximate dates that they lived?   What location were they from?  Were they from Tennessee? or England? Can you give names for any other members of their family?  The more precise information you give, the more likely you are to find someone who has more detail

#2.  Include a name for them to call you by.  It is hard to respond to an unknown entity known only by an e-mail address.  If you don't want to give your full name, give your first name, or an alias.  Always give your e-mail address and, in some cases, your mailing address.

#3.  Offer to pay for copies.  Most researchers are more than glad to share information, and take time to make and send copies to others interested in their work.  But this can also become overwhelming.  Spending a dollar for copies and postage may not seem like much when you do it once, but if you are receiving requests by the dozens, the costs can really add up.

#4.  Don't ask for "everything" they have got.  This, too, can be overwhelming, and it may cause your request to be discarded with no reply.  Rather, ask for a few specific facts a marriage date, or a location for birth, or even parents' names.  Usually, when replying with the dates and names you asked for, a researcher will offer a way for you to find more about the ancestor you are seeking.  Several shorter e-mails are more welcome and easier to answer than one long, demanding one.

#5.  When e-mailing someone else about their genealogy, tell where you saw their "link" or other information about their work.  This gives them the satisfaction of knowing which areas, they posted their work in, were successful in getting a response.  It also lets the other person know what previous information you have already seen about the lineage you are requesting help with.

#6.  Offer to share what you have.  Do you have a history, or photos, or dates which the other researcher may be interested in?

#7.  And, last of all, remember to write a quick note of thanks for any response you receive.

On the other side of this equation, when you are the one receiving e-mail requesting information, be quick to reply.  Even if you don't have time to give all the details they asked for at that moment, respond with a brief note and a promise to send more later.  Then follow through.

One of the most satisfying benefits that comes from using the Internet for family history research is the people you come on contact with and the relationships that develop.  There is an instant feeling of "cousin-ship" that comes when you find someone related to your ancestral lines.

As Robert R. Tillman said in his article in the RootsWeb Review, "Be kind, courteous, helpful, slow to take offense, quick to forgive, and you will be rewarded."   Sounds like good advice for any area of life!

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