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Making the Most of Genealogy Mailing Lists

How to Use Genealogy Mailing Lists to Further Your Research


It's like having your own virtual research community. An easy way to network with other genealogists to share distant ancestors, get answers to questions, request lookups and swap research stories. Genealogy mailing lists are free, fun and are often one of the best online possibilities for filling in some of the blanks in your family tree.

Literally tens of thousands of genealogy mailing lists are available, covering just about every conceivable topic. If you're new to genealogy mailing lists, they function much like genealogy forums and message boards, with posts, queries, and responses by researchers. But instead of being posted to the Internet, mailing list messages come directly to your email box. Because they arrive daily in subscriber mailboxes, mailing lists better promote "real-time discussion," with faster responses than you'll generally receive with a message board post. Also, because individuals have to subscribe to post or receive messages, mailing lists generally encourage "serious" researchers and more in-depth discussions and exchange of data. Thus, a genealogy mailing list can often be an excellent way to locate fellow researchers or data that correspond with your subjects or areas of interest.

How Mailing Lists Work
Once you find a relevant genealogy mailing list, you can usually join by sending an email that automatically adds you to a list of subscribers. Most genealogy mailing lists also offer two subscription modes:

  • List Mode - You'll receive each message posted to the mailing list individually, as they are sent. These can sometimes be hard to distinguish from your regular email.

  • Digest Mode - You'll receive periodic emails with several mailing list messages bundled together. Each digest email will usually include a table of contents at the top with links to each of the individual email messages listed further down in the email. Digest mode is a great way to reduce clutter in your inbox, but it can sometimes be harder to follow the thread of a conversation.
The instructions for joining a particular list should be posted on the Web page which introduces the mailing list, but usually it is just a matter of sending an email to the administration address with the word subscribe in the subject line. These emails are usually processed by a computer, so there is no need to include anything else. You will then receive a welcome letter, usually within a few hours. Be sure to save this email as it will contain important information concerning list rules and -- this is very important -- how to unsubscribe.

Locating Mailing Lists
Genealogy mailing lists come in a wide variety of different flavors:

  • Network Your Names - Unless you are researching a very unusual surname, there is probably a mailing list with your name on it. Surname lists are a great way to connect with other genealogists who are researching the same name to share family connections, ask questions and swap tips and resources. I subscribe to mailing lists which deal with CRISP, OWENS surnames, as well as several others.

  • Location, Location, Location - If you've traced your ancestors to a specific locality, then there is most likely a mailing list to help you in your quest for location-specific clues. Consider subscribing to a genealogy mailing list that covers the county, town or parish of the family line which is giving you the most trouble. Once you've joined, you'll find your fellow list-members a great resource when you're stuck for ideas for where to look next. Location-specific lists are also a good place to find researchers who have access to books or records that would help you in your search.

  • Need a Helping Hand?
    Whether you are new to genealogy, or feel like you've been researching your family tree for most of your life, there are mailing lists geared toward helping people find answers to questions and exchange tips and ideas. From Gen-Newbie, a mailing list geared toward genealogy and/or computer novices, to APG-L, where professional genealogists exchange ideas, there are plenty of mailing lists geared toward helping genealogists improve their research skills.

  • What's Your Interest?
    Genealogists have set up mailing lists on just about every topic imaginable, including everything from GenAuthor, a mailing list where genealogists share ideas for writing and publishing family histories, to Disabled-Genies, a list for genealogists who have disabilities that make research difficult. There are mailing lists for specific record types [census, military, immigration]; for specific places [Ellis Island, Andersonville prison]; and for a wide variety of special interests [witch hunting, RVing genealogists, mariners]. Having trouble with your genealogy software program? There's a mailing list for that too.
Tip! If the mailing list you're interested in has archives online, this can give you an idea of how busy the list will be. Some receive only a few messages per month, while others average over 100 new messages each day.

As you can see, thousands of genealogy mailing lists are available. From the over 28,000 mailing lists hosted by RootsWeb, to individual mailing lists sponsored by genealogical societies, genealogy software publishers, etc., here are the best places to find genealogy mailing lists that meet your interests - Genealogy Mailing Lists on the Internet

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