Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Surname Message Boards

I've had good luck with surname message boards (Ancestry, Rootsweb, Cousin Connect, etc.) over the past few years. When I connect with someone on a surname board, it's usually a productive exchange, although many responses only serve to clarify that the responder and I are NOT from the same family tree.

Yesterday, after only 3 months, someone contacted me about a very unique surname posting. I'm hopeful that this will give us both more insight into our family backgrounds.

Here's what I've learned about using surname message boards:
  1. The initial message must include sufficient information for readers to determine whether they should follow up with me. Thanks to a couple of anonymous readers of surname posts who gave me advice after my first few postings, I got better at this fairly quickly. Now I'm careful to include not just the surname and the given name of the person/family I'm tracing but also dates for the period in question, places (birthplace, immigration path, and/or residence), plus any special details that would jump out at the reader.
  2. Be sure to tag the surnames mentioned in the message. Otherwise someone who's searching for the same surname may not connect with me. But I also have to avoid the temptation to include every surname I'm trying to research. Targeted is better.
  3. Offer to share info. Why would someone answer my post if I don't plan to exchange info? They're searching for their ancestors, just as I'm searching for mine. Fair is fair.
  4. It's a good idea to post new inquiries or requests later, especially when I find more information that helps me narrow the surname search. Although many boards allow revision of old posts, I prefer to post a new message to catch the eye of someone who's browsing or readers who've read all the older posts and only want to see the newer ones.
  5. I have to check the message boards from time to time even if I've signed up for "automatic notification" when responders answer my message. Sometimes "automatic" isn't so automatic, so it's up to me to check for anything new.
  6. When I get a response, I need to answer promptly and offer a few more details to keep the conversation going. If I'm lucky, the message-board connection will help me and the responder fill in spots in our family tree and maybe even allow us to do research together.

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