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Finding Clues in Genealogy Forums & Message Boards


Poking through past postings on popular genealogy message boards and forums can often reveal clues into your family history. Genealogy message boards are a prominent means of communication between family historians on the Internet, and allow for a tremendous amount of sharing of research.

Popular (and Free!) Genealogy Message Boards

  • GenForum
    The popular genealogy boards at GenForum are arranged by surname and region. There are also boards for topics of general interest, such as genealogy software.

  • Ancestry.com Message Boards
    Over 17 million posts on more than 161,00 genealogy message boards make this a popular stop for anyone tracing their roots.

  • CuriousFox
    Almost every county, town and village in the UK and Ireland has a page for message board posts and queries.

  • CousinConnect
    CousinConnect offers a Query Notification Service that sends you an email whenever a new query is posted to CousinConnect that matches your surnames and/or regions of interest.

Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Utilize the forum's search feature to search by surname and/or locality to find information and queries posted by other researchers who have interests similar to yours. If your ancestor has a common last name, then use an unusual first name or geographic location from your family tree to help narrow the search.

Contact Those With Similar Interests

When your message board searches bring up a post (or several) from a fellow genealogist who seems to have done some research on your family or surname of interest, take a few minutes to send a short email. In general, clicking on the name of the forum poster will bring up the person's email address. Compose a brief email explaining how you found their name and your connection to their families or surnames of interest. Collaborating with a fellow researcher can often open up new avenues for both of you!

Keep Track of Your Own Postings

Just about everyone who uses the Internet for genealogy research eventually posts a query regarding their ancestors on a forum or message board. This is a great way to meet other researchers who may be working on your family line or have direct knowledge of your ancestors. Most of us post such queries in multiple locations, however, making it hard to remember when and where we have left information when it comes time to check back for answers, change our email address, or update our family information.

Here are three easy methods you can use to help you keep track of your genealogical travels:

  1. Correspondence Log - This typical form for recording letters you have written and the replies received also works well for keeping track of surname queries and message board posts. Correspondence logs typically include a blank for the surname at the top and room to record information for each letter/query sent concerning that surname. You don't even have to use a fancy form to track your message board posts and queries, but be sure that for each query you make a note of the date posted, where it was posted, and a summary of your post. Then, once you receive the reply, you can make a note of the date the reply was received and the results (positive or negative).

  2. Bookmarks or Favorites - Create a folder in your bookmarks or favorites for the sole purpose of keeping track of your message board queries. If your program allows it, add a comment with the name of the message board and the date you last visited. You'll need to remember to update the comments each time you visit, just like with a correspondence log.

  3. Genealogy Software - If you like to keep everything in one place, then consider using a genealogy software program to keep track of your message board queries. You can either use an organizational program such as Clooz, or add them to your family tree program. Some family tree software programs include correspondence logs or 'to do' lists. For ones which do not, select a primary ancestor for each surname and add the information to the notes field. Be sure to include not only the URL, but also a copy of your post or query, the date you last checked, etc.

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