Saturday, June 11, 2011

Surname Saturday and Tips for Surname Message Boards

Before I list the surnames I'm researching, let me tell a big success story that came about because of surname message boards--and suggest a few tips for this type of research.

A few months ago, I presented my talk, "Click! Using Boards and Blogs for Genealogy," to the local genealogical society. I highlighted three of the many popular surname message boards available online: Rootsweb/Ancestry, GenForum, and CousinConnect. Thanks to the researchers and distant relatives I've met through Rootsweb/Ancestry and GenForum, I've broken down several brick walls, but I've never had any luck with CousinConnect.

B, one of the audience members, went home after my talk and posted queries to the three boards I mentioned. She knew her father had been married more than once, and she suspected she had half-siblings out there. Once she posted the queries, she forgot about them.

Until this past Tuesday night. Three months after posting to CousinConnect, the site sent her an e-mail that someone had responded to her query. B logged on and found a note from her half-sister! They've now e-mailed and spoken and plans for a get-together are in the works. All because B decided to post queries to surname message boards one evening!

Here are my tips for using surname message boards:
  • Write a specific, detailed query. List WHO you're looking for, WHERE they were, and WHEN they were there. Some good/better/best examples and suggestions for effective queries are on Rootsweb and CousinConnect. Always offer to share information--it sets a positive tone and shows that you're willing to give, not just take.
  • Keep your contact info up to date. If B had changed her e-mail address after posting to CousinConnect, she would never have been notified of her half-sister's response. So be sure you keep your e-mail address current with any surname message boards you use.
  • Search and read the queries before you post. The answer to your question (or a contact for surname research) may already be on the surname message board, so search the queries and read the likeliest ones before you post, either starting a new thread or adding to a thread appropriate to your ancestor.
  • Cast your net wide. Use specialized surname and locality message boards as well as the most popular genealogy boards. (Cyndi's List has a few to try.) I've had responses from smaller boards as well as the mega-boards.
  • Track your queries. Write down where/when you post, so you can go back to update the post or change your e-mail months or years later. If you learn something significant about an ancestor you're trying to trace through a message board, you can always post a new query with the extra info. Don't plaster the same board with query after query, however.
Now for my most-wanted list of surnames being researched at the moment.
  1. Slatter. Mary Slatter (1869-1925), hubby's grandmother, wasn't dropped from Mars. She was born in England, came to America about 1895 (via Canada, I believe), and had siblings who seem to have stayed in Canada: John, Albert, and Harry Slatter, plus Mrs. Baker. How did Mary make her way to Toledo, OH, where she married James Edgar Wood? Then the two moved to Cleveland, OH.
  2. McClure. Benjamin McClure (1812-1896), great-great-grandfather of my husband and father of William Madison McClure, owned 80 acres of farmland in Wabash, Indiana in 1875. William was the father of hubby's grandfather, Brice Larimer McClure. Who were Benjamin McClure's parents and where did they come from?


  1. Good tips! I have had a lot of success with the local county boards. And I can't stress enough your tip to ensure your email stays up to date. Queries are in the "cloud" for years and I have found some that I could have helped the researcher with but my emails were returned undeliverable. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Heather, thanks for reading and adding your comments. County message boards have been valuable in my research, too. Maybe they'll help me find the McClures! Have a good weekend.

  3. AnonymousJune 12, 2011

    Great tips, Marian. I've had very good luck with surname message boards.

  4. Hi Dee, We meet the most interesting people on surname message boards, don't we? I've connected with several cousins in my husband's family, including one who researched the family name back to the 1500s. Wow! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Good tips, Marian! I hadn't thought about keeping track of my queries. How do you do that? Word doc? Spreadsheet?

  6. Tonia, I make notes on the inside of the file folder related to each surname or family member. Not very hi-tech but it works! Thanks for stopping by and leaving me a note.