USING ROOTSWEB: Demystifying Mailing Lists and Message Boards
ex RootsWeb Review: RootsWeb's Weekly E-zine
5 July 2006, Vol. 9, No. 27
(c) 1998-2006 RootsWeb.com, Inc.
Every RootsWeb user, at one time or another, probably has made use of two of RootsWeb's most popular features -- the free mailing lists and
message boards. However, some are confused by the need to have both resources. Frequently asked questions are: Why do we need both lists and
boards? What are the differences between the two? Which should I use?
Lists and boards are resources for posting genealogical queries and awaiting possible answers to your research questions. Both can serve as
repositories for genealogical data. But there are differences in their usage and there are instances in which one would be better than the
other for posting your queries and data.
Message boards are generally the best place for transcriptions of data/documents. You can even add a graphic copy of the original document
as an attachment. Documents such as deeds, wills, military pension papers, family Bible records, and public domain biographies are all
easily copied to the boards for archiving purposes so that they can be accessed by future researchers who browse or search the message boards.
Queries posted to message boards can represent anything from an attempt to knock down a long-standing brick wall by a serious researcher to a
casual query about a collateral line or the spouse of a distant cousin. Since a researcher doesn't have to subscribe to a message board in order
to post a query on it, he can post queries that are only of passing interest as well as important research questions.
When posting to a message board, patience is the keyword. Message board posts might be found weeks, months, or even years later by another
researcher with the answer to your question or by someone who possess the puzzle piece you need to solve a mystery.
It is important to keep e-mail contact addresses current on old message board posts for this very reason.
It is quite easy to do so through the
use of registration and keeping your account data up-to-date.
Mailing lists are an e-mail forum for discussion among a group of researchers who subscribe to a list. Those on a mailing list receive all
messages posted to a list by others. Since you must subscribe to (join) a list in order to post or receive messages from it, lists are
relatively immune to spam and other undesirable content.
Mailing lists function more "in the moment" than message boards do. The "real-time"
discussion on a list often includes queries and responses on a specific thread until all aspects of the initial query have been thoroughly
answered or covered. You will often find resident experts on a list who are well-informed and helpful.
If you subscribe to mailing lists, remember that it is not possible to update your e-mail contact address should it change on old posts already
housed in the mailing list archives. So, if your address changes, it is wise to re-post old queries in cases where you are still looking for the
One valuable tool to aid mailing list subscribers in viewing message board posts is the "gateway," which makes board posts available on a
corresponding list with a link to permit replying on the board. The boards that make use of the gateway option carry a yellow highlighted
notation to that effect as well as a yellow envelope icon. For many researches, list and board gatewaying provides the best of both worlds
by playing to the strengths of both the message board and mailing list forums.
Don't just post once to a board or list and wait for answers. Keep your posts fresh and update them as you learn additional facts. Also,
remember to give help as well as ask for it -- that's what these forums are all about.