The Internet offers all of us many new opportunities to share and exchange
information. One of the more prominent means of communication on the Internet
is through message boards, including bulletin boards and forums. Message
boards allow people to communicate freely with one another in a public
forum. When many people participate in these boards, the amount of information
that can be shared is tremendous. With a few keystrokes and the click
of a mouse, message boards broadcast our interests and inquiries to other
interested readers around the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365
days a year. Message boards are wonderful tools for genealogists who are
trying to connect with others who have similar interests.
Before sending out a message that will be read around the world, there
are a few important things to understand about how message boards work.
Though there are private message boards, most message boards are public.
So, when you post a message to the Internet, it's going to be published
for anyone and everyone to read. You never know who's going to read your
post, or who might quote portions of it to share with other interested
parties. So before you push "Submit," you'll want to make sure
that the message you post to the Internet only contains information that
you are ready to share with everyone. It is also worth mentioning that
messages posted to a message board are generally permanent. Though in
some instances editing can be done, once you push the "submit"
button in a message board, you'll usually not be able to go back and change
or edit your message. So, make sure there are no typos in your message,
and that it says what you truly want it to say.
Usual Message Board Guidelines
Web sites usually have rules and regulations about the type, frequency
and content of messages that can be posted to their boards. Some message
boards are monitored; others are not. You'll usually find message board
guidelines outlined in a section entitled "policies," "user
with these guidelines so you'll quickly fit into the message board community
in which you're considering participation.
As a general rule, you'll want to post your message in one or two places
where it is the most appropriate so it will receive the best response.
Leaving the same message in every available message board can be irritating
to people who frequent them (this is called SPAMMING), and who don't appreciate
reading the same message over and over again. It is worth mentioning that
most people will begin to ignore a message that has been posted rather
indiscriminately on several different boards.
It's also important to stick to the topic of the message board. Just
as in any real life social gathering, it's rather disconcerting to have
someone barge into the middle of a conversation with some statement that
has little relevance to the topic at hand.
There are several family history related message boards on the Internet
that are frequented by genealogists. The most well circulated boards are
those at www.genforum.com.
The boards at GenForum are arranged by surname, region and general topics
(like genealogy software).
Following are some things that you can do to ensure that your message
board posts receive positive responses.
More is Less
More information lessens confusion. If your message is content
rich and detailed, it will lend itself more toward attracting appropriate
responses. For instance, if you are planning on writing a message about
John Smith who married Mary Jones, you'd better list more about them than
just their names in your message! Otherwise, because of the common occurrence
of the Smith and Jones surnames, you'll have way too many people responding
to your inquiry. So, it's important to include enough information about
the people you're seeking so that everyone will know exactly who they
are, or at least how to positively identify them. The greater the details
you can provide about when and where your subjects lived, the greater
your chance of linking up with people seeking the same individuals. Some
items that will help others identify common family members include these:
- Full name, including any middle names or initials
- Birth, marriage, and death dates
- Places where the above events occurred
- Residence and migration
- Names of their children and/or parents
Example: Henry Tewksbury, Jr. was born 15 Dec 1664
in Newbury, Essex Co., Massachusetts, the son of Henry and Martha (Copp)
Tewksbury. Henry, Jr. married Hannah _______ sometime between 1685 and
1693. They had children: Henry, Jonathan, Hannah, Philip, Naomi, Jean,
John, Abner and James. I would like to know the maiden name of Henry's
wife, Hannah. I haven't been able to find Henry and Hannah's marriage
record in Newbury or nearby Amesbury, Massachusetts. I know that Henry
was reported as "of Amesbury" in 1723 from a land deed. I
also know that some of his children married in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Other than this, I have very little information on the time or place
of his death or that of his wife. If anyone can help fill in the blanks,
please contact me - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write it Right
Good grammar, spelling, content, and punctuation are important. Well-written
message board postings will invite others to correspond with you. If your
message is easily understood and has few typographical errors, then it
will be easier for your relatives and others researching the same topic
to find and comprehend your message.
Typographical errors might completely misconstrue the message you've
written, so make certain to proofread your message before pressing the
"Submit" button. For instance, if you were to accidentally type
1989 instead of 1899, the message will read as if it were written about
subjects from a completely different century! Misspelling a place name
or a person's given name may have similar consequences.
There's one added benefit to correct spelling and punctuation that most
genealogists don't immediately consider good search engine visibility.
You'll want the Internet's search engines to display your message when
some other genealogist is searching for the same family. Search engines
like AltaVista, HotBot, and Family Finder send out little indexing programs
called "spiders." These spiders creep along word by word, sentence
by sentence, indexing millions of pages of Internet text including
your message board post day after day. Because they are computer
programs, they won't think about or interpret the text that they see.
They'll just index message board text errors and all. So, if you
want to connect with others who are researching Mary Jones born 1830,
make sure that your message post doesn't accidentally read Mary Joens
(typo) born 1830. Punctuation is important, too. A spider will usually
read MaryJones,b1830 as one big meaningless word.
You might want to include spelling variations, too, in your message if
you know that the name can be spelled a few different ways by different
branches of the family: McManis and McManus and Louis and Lewis are two
such spelling variations. I'd suggest not using state abbreviations in
your messages. Several states are often abbreviated incorrectly. For example:
Maine is sometimes abbreviated MA (instead of ME) and Arizona is sometimes
abbreviated AR (instead of AZ).
Check your email address for typos, too! You'll want to make sure that
anyone can get in touch with you. There are some people who do not like
to communicate on public Internet boards. They may, however, contact you
via email if your email address was entered correctly!
Message boards are often full of shorthand expressions that have been
made popular on the Internet. These include emoticons a
set of non-alphabetical keyboard characters that are put together to resemble
facial expressions (albeit sideways facial expressions). Here are some
common abbreviations for phrases and emoticons that you might find
useful to know:
by the way
in my humble opinion
for your information
for what it's worth
rolling on the floor laughing
way to go
:-) or :)
:-( or :(
;-) or ;)
:-D or :D
Write to others as you would have them write to you. Be
understanding and considerate about others' opinions and thoughts. Consider
the consequences before publishing information on the Internet that concerns
living individuals. They might consider the post an invasion of their
After posting a message to a board, check it every so often for a reply.
Some boards will automatically email you when someone replies, but some
do not. In the latter case, you'll need to go back and review the message
board manually. To quickly find your message on these boards, you can
use the "Edit (find on this page)" function on your browser
or any pre-installed search box function that might be available. When
someone does respond to your message, if you don't have time to write
a detailed response back to them, it would be a considerate gesture to
drop them a quick thank-you note via email, until you have a chance to
reply in more detail later.
One final thought that we should consider: each time we publish to the
Internet, whether it be to mailing lists, web pages, or bulletin boards,
we are playing a role in determining the way that the Internet will be
used in the future. Issues like security, privacy, consideration, copyright,
and, most importantly, freedom of speech need to be considered. Considerate
online community involvement and gentle, meaningful interactions are important
in helping us preserve and protect our unrestricted usage of the Internet.