Friday 9 September 2016

How To Get A Reply On Genealogy Forums and Message Boards

You may be wondering How To Get A Reply On Genealogy Forums and Message Boards is going to help you with your family research. You may also have no idea what a forum or message board is. I will explain what they are and why they are so important in family research. I will show you how to find them and more importantly how to get others to reply and help you with your research.
Genealogy forums and message boards are a great way to get help with your family tree. They are full of like minded people that are willing to help others and will often give that little bit extra. Many are willing to take a photo of a headstone or visit a local record office.

I get lots of requests through Ancestry for information on my private family tree. I make a point to answer every one and have often had a lovely reply back thanking me for replying as I am the only person to do so. Not everyone else was mean spirited so why did they have no responses?

One message to me was "I have Hart's in my tree please send me all the information you have". That request would take me hours and my Hart's are probably not even their relatives as Hart is a fairly common name. I replied that I needed more details. Others just ignore the request. 

Throughout I have used the term forum but this applies to message boards and groups too.

What is a Genealogy forum?

A forum is a online discussion where people post messages and reply to others creating a thread. Usually the forums are focused on one subject, not only genealogy but anything from mountain climbing to stamp collecting. This means that all those engaging in the threads are interested in the subject and many are very active and knowledgeable.

Some forums require people to register before being allowed to participate and others are open to all. Most allow non-members to read the thread. Many of these threads are archived and therefore still searchable. Most have some very useful information.

How Do I Find A Forum?

Ancestry has lots of boards which are also known as Rootsweb
Cyndi's List has many links 
GenForum has over 14,000 forums
British Genealogy has multiple forums
Roots Chat is a very popular forum

Now I've Found One What Do I do?

1. read the rules

Each forum has it's own rules and many of the members know them inside out. Most will have a FAQ or a new members thread and some require you to register before you can post a question. Before you post your question READ THE RULES! If you get their backs up you will not get the help you are after.

2.  Watch the threads/ Read the threads

Once you have read the rules and FAQ then read a few threads. What questions get ignored? What get lots of answers? Think about the style of writing is it chatty or more formal. 

3.  Only ask one question and make it specific

Do not be the person that asks 
"I have a Hart in my tree can you give me all the information you have"
You probably have thousands of questions in your mind and do want to know everything about all your ancestors but only ask one question and make it specific. 

Look at what you do know. What do you need to ask first? Is it a birth? Marriage? Census entry? Give as much detail as possible 

  • relationship to you
  • name
  • date of birth/death/marriage
  • place town/county
  • others related to the person their father/siblings/mother/spouse
  • if you have them in a census give the reference so the person helping can have all the information easily
  • Ask the question you want answered.

So instead of the above write something like this;

My great grandfather was John Hart b 1856 Norwich, Norfolk. I have found him on the 1871 census with his father John aged 45, mother Alice aged 48, and brother Fred aged 14. (census reference here) I cannot find a death or anymore information. Did he marry or emigrate? 

Family historians are detectives, they all like a puzzle but cannot solve a problem without clues.
Soon they will be checking the census and looking for a death, because they know you have missed it. Then they will start asking you questions and with luck give you way more information than you asked for. 

4. The thread title

Give this a little thought. Many forums are very busy and members just quickly scan the titles of the threads to see if any interest them. If you use a very generic title such as "help needed with my tree" you may miss the only person who can help. Ensure you put a little information in the title.

5. Thank you

It is easy to forget to say thank you, especially if no-one has found anything but they have tried. If you have no luck then try another forum or ask a different question.

When you have hit a brick wall a genealogy forum is a great way to get help. Sometimes the answer is there but you cannot see it. Sometimes others have the vital piece of information you need. Sometimes you just need to ask the correct question. If you are stuck there are lots more tips on my post How to break through brick walls in your family tree.

Would you like to read more tips for beginners?  Then just click on the tree below or the Family Tree tab above.




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  2. Hi! I'm at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Carry on the excellent work!


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