Getting the Most from Message Groups and Mailing Lists

by Thomas MacEntee | Sep 17, 2013

Thomas MacEntee

The desire to connect with others who are also researching their genealogy and family history is not new. Before the advent of the Internet, in the 1980s there were community bulletin boards and genealogists with a computer, a phone line and a modem used sites like AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy to exchange information.

Going back even further, queries were placed in genealogical society newsletters and quarterlies or magazines. Remember Everton's Genealogical Helper?

Fast forward to the present day and genealogists are utilizing platforms that have been around for over 20 years as well as looking to new platforms via social media to connect with others and share information.

Tips and Tricks

Before you start blasting queries to all sorts of groups, it's good to have a game plan. Here are some tips and tricks to help you have more success with those queries.

Read the Terms of Service.
Understand what you are getting into when you sign up for any service, especially for one where you are providing content via posted messages. Learn how and if you can remove content once you close your account. It is also your responsibility to understand what can be done with your content, especially if it can be used for marketing or advertising purposes.

Lurk and listen.
When you join a new group, take time to read the most recent messages as well as any welcome or introductory messages, especially those that lay out the rules. Do this before you jump in and begin posting content or leaving comments on content posted by others. Also, for some communities it is important that you read all the posts in a conversation before adding to it, making sure you don't duplicate information already posted.

Follow the community standards.
Understand how to post messages and what type of content is acceptable. Many forums and groups have an introductory message pinned to the top of the page explaining these standards. Also, look for a way to introduce yourself to the other members. If you find another member violating the community standards, report their content to the admin of the site.

Be nice or go home.
The search for one's roots is often an obsession and can invoke passionate responses in-person as well as online. You will find that you don't always agree with posted information about a common ancestor or the research methodology someone is using. Remember to follow the community standards and allow yourself to "disengage" if things get too heated.

Don't change your email address.
If you posted messages to various forums back in the 1990s, the only way others can still find you is if you haven't changed your email address. So instead of using the email address supplied by your Internet service provider, set up an account on Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo or any of the other free email sites. This way, if you change to a different Internet provider, you won't have to change your email address. (If you do have to change addresses, make sure to post new queries with your new email.)


Compose content offline.
Have you ever typed a message and posted it prematurely or by accident? Some platforms don't allow you to edit your posted content or it can look sloppy to add corrections. Write your posts in a text file, a new email message or using a document creation program like Microsoft Word or Notepad. Edit as necessary and then copy and paste the content in the group.

Enable notifications.
Don't spend time each day or week checking up on the status of your posts to see if you have any replies. Most of the platforms listed above have some notification mechanism that will email you when there is a reply to your post. Understand how the notifications work and use them to your advantage.

Venture beyond genealogy boards and lists.
Did you know that Google Groups has messages dating back to 1993 including several groups about genealogy and surnames? Think outside the box and look for forums, message boards and mailing lists in the history field as well as other fields.

Consider starting your own group or list.
If you don't find your favorite surname or topic covered, consider starting your own group or list on one of the more established platforms listed above. Yes it can be time consuming and quite a bit of work, but administering a genealogy group is a great way to give back to the family history community.

Resources You Should Know

Here is a partial list of genealogy and family history forums, mailing lists, message boards and groups you will want to review and use to help break down those brick walls. Message Boards
The Message Boards are one of the largest message board groupings with over 198,000 individual boards and 25 million posts. You do not need to be an subscriber or member to read posts, but you do need to register in order to post messages.
Started in 2002, CousinConnect offers a variety of message boards covering the United States and countries around the world where you can post your genealogy queries.

FamilySearch Research Communities on Facebook
FamilySearch eliminated their own forums in 2012 and since then have established almost 50 different research communities as Facebook groups.

GenForum is hosted at, which is now part of the family of products. Here you'll find surname message boards as well as boards covering other topics in the U.S. and around the world. Tip: use the Daily Search link to search by date going back to September 10, 2000.

Genealogy Resources on the Internet
Started in 1995, Genealogy Resources on the Internet is a grouping of mailing lists (they don't administer or take responsibility for any of the lists) and you may find lists from other sites such as RootsWeb listed.

RootsWeb Mailing Lists
With over 30,000 different mailing lists, RootsWeb has one of the largest and oldest mailing lists in the genealogy community - ROOTS-L which began in 1987. Tip: The "old" search page for RootsWeb Mailing Lists is still available.

RootsWeb Message Boards
Note: These messages boards are the same as the Message Boards above since RootsWeb is an site. Tip: Use the RootsWeb - Mailing List Archives Search to search the archives.

WikiTree G2G
G2G stands for "genealogist to genealogist" and allows members of WikiTree to not only discuss the WikiTree product (which is free) but also post queries and evaluate evidence and content in the wiki. Tip: Ask the WikiTree genealogy community a question.

For more resources, visit Cyndi's List and check out the list of message boards and mailing lists. Also look at the "Mailing List and Message Board" category on Linkpendium for the locations that you are interested in.

Genealogy Groups Go 21st Century

While many of the platforms developed in the 1990s are still going strong, social media is the new horizon for contacting other genealogists and posting queries. If you are on Facebook, use the search bar at the top of the page and look for a genealogy group such as The NextGen Genealogy Network. (Tip: when you see your search results, scroll to the bottom of the list, click "See more results" and then click Groups.)

In addition, while Twitter does have a Lists feature, most genealogists using the platform simply post queries and add relevant "hashtags" or labels such as #genealogy or #surnames. It's a great way to reach people who reach people who are not "following" you on Twitter.

Find Records Now for Free

Start your free trial today to learn more about your ancestors using our powerful and intuitive search. Cancel any time, no strings attached.

Start free trial