Think That Message Board Post Won’t Help? Think Again!

Last night, I realized that I hadn’t posted to a genealogy message board in a long while.  Message boards are valuable resources that should never be ignored.  So, I found my three most difficult ancestors and posted some information/queries about each ancestor on their respective surname board on

After posting my first message on the Doerflinger message board (a message board with very few queries posted), gave the suggestion that I post the information/query on the three different regional boards that are mentioned in my post.  This is a great idea and a way to up my chances that someone might be able to help.
Sure enough, I checked my email this morning, and a lovely man had responded to one of my posts on the Missouri board about my ancestor, Adolph Doerflinger.  While he was not related, he did a quick search for me and posted a couple of possible matches.  After looking at these possible matches and checking on Ancestry to make sure everything was correct, I found out that these records matched my needs.  He even got me proof of the names for the next generation.
Needless to say, I was THRILLED!  I did my little happy dance before entering the data into my database and citing all of my sources.  How kind of him to take time out of his day to help me when we weren’t even related.  There are many “regulars” on these boards who are willing to help.
Tips for Writing a Query
When posting a query to a message board it is important to include certain information to make it easier for others to help you.  Below are some tips to help you:
  • Post your query to the surname board that it fits with.  For example, my query dealt with an Adolph Doerflinger and so I posted the query to the Doerflinger board.
  • Also post your query to state or regional boards. For example, my Adolph Doerflinger lived in Missouri, Iowa, and California.  Therefore, I posted the query to each of those boards also.
  • When writing your query, be clear about the facts versus your theories.  It is good to post both what you know and what you think you know, but be sure to be very clear about it.
  • Include in your query the places you have already searched. This will keep responders from suggesting sources that you have already checked.
  • Be clear about what you are looking for. Never say that you “just want more information”.  Always be specific about the type of information.  Do you want to know when he got married?  Want to know if he had any siblings?  Want to know when he immigrated to the U.S.?  Whatever it is – be clear about what you are looking for.
  • Always use good grammar and writing skills. Make it easy for others to know what you are searching for.
  • Make your title specific.  Include the first and last name, date ranges, places, and maybe even what you want to know.  The goal here is to get the message noticed so that someone (hopefully a distant cousin) will read it.  If you just say “Looking for Doerflinger information”, someone else might not read it.  Having the title say “Adolph Doerflinger 1859 – 1937, MO, IA, CA”, then people are going to notice.  This is especially important for very active boards or boards for common surnames.
  • Be polite. Always remember that the people who are responding to you are doing so out of kindness.  So remember to say your pleases and thank yous.  You might be making someone’s day.

I also want to discuss the issue of responding to message board posts.  Lorine Massey of The Olive Tree Genealogy Blog recently wrote a great blog post about responding to message board posts – and it is such a great post that I just have to share it.  There are some great tips and suggestions for anyone responding to a message board post.

Your Thoughts

Have you ever had great success with a message board post?  Do you have a great tip for getting your query noticed?  This is the place to share them!

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14 responses to “Think That Message Board Post Won’t Help? Think Again!

  1. Elyse – great tips – things I’ve also done. Especially making the subject clear. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at boards only to see “looking for family” or “Family” ancestors. I wish everyone would follow your tips!

  2. Julie Cahill Tarr

    Great advice, Elyse. Thanks!

  3. I strongly agree with the idea of putting real information in the post. For the area forums and larger name forums, this will increase the chances that someone searching for a specific name or place on that board will find your post among hundreds and even thousands of others (by entering the term in the search box). This was how I found the family of my great-grandfather Moore on the Moore discussion forum (because Moore is a common name, there are thousand of posts on this forum).

  4. Great tips as always Elyse and I’m off to hit some locality message boards for some of my more elusive family members that I’ve posted about over and over and over again. Thanks!

  5. Great tips Elyse! And I want to emphasize not to become discouraged if your answers don’t come immediately. A couple of years ago, I came across a posting that had been made a few years earlier still. A fellow in North Dakota had rescued an old family Bible that was being thrown out by neighbors cleaning the belongings of out a recently deceased elderly woman with no immediate family. (He is a collector of old Bibles). The posted gave some specific info and was wondering if anyone was linked to it? The Bible had been inscribed as presented to my upstate NY gr-gr-gr-grandfather by his father in 1816, probably as a wedding gift. Inside were pages of family records. Unbeknownst to any of my line, one of the children of another of gr-gr-gr-gf’s children had married and moved from NY to N. Dakota and taken the Bible along. The Bible was passed to an only child who never married and was the last of her branch of the family. So that is how a NY Bible ended up being rescued from the trash in ND and how I was able to get scans of the original handwritten Bible records, several years after the rescuer first posted about the Bible.

  6. Thanks for the tips. I love having new people come into my genealogy world. I will take time to really digest what you have written and will try and apply.
    Frances´s last blog post ..COG August Scrapbooking Your Family History Oklahoma Land Lottery Love

  7. Sorry, I have more heartache over message boards. Remember my first posting was in 1996. So I don’t answer or post to message boards. I hated when I would ask the question of Mr. Smith who married Ms. Jones and someone would reply I know nothing about your couple but do you know about my Mr. Smith five states over and 100 years later.

    I probably posted 1,000 to from 1996 to 2009. It never came close to reaching its potential. I was the only one who posted original records transcriptions.

    And of course, you can’t correct people. Ever. No matter what garbage they post.
    Martin Hollick´s last blog post ..Royal Lines- Medieval Genealogy and Ancient Lineages

  8. I should add that I was the resident expert, a term I despise, on two surname boards. So I was the helper not the helpee. As it was in person as a librarian, I could help ten people but only remember the one that was unkind to me at the end of the day. Likewise, I only recall the worst moments of message boards. I think I did help some people.
    Martin Hollick´s last blog post ..Royal Lines- Medieval Genealogy and Ancient Lineages

  9. I still love the message boards even though I don’t check them as much as I use to. I’ve met a number of wonderful people–friends as well as close and distant relatives–through the boards. My most exciting “message board moment” came this past January when I received a response to a message I posted in 2004 from a cousin from Poland. His grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. Our families lost touch after our grandparents died. I even received a lovely Easter card from his dad in Warsaw saying how happy he was that the families were in touch again. Truly wonderful…

  10. When I first started working on my family history in earnest about 4 1/2 years ago, I posted to message boards. It hasn’t happened often but it is a happy surprise when someone contacts me regarding one of my posts. Those who have contacted me have been searching for a sibling of one of my ancestors — which means that after the ancestors each of us is trying to find or find more information about, we’re working on the same person/couple. We usually share what information we have and then continue our research and keep in contact when we find something helpful. It’s exciting to receive a response from a message board post.
    I like your suggestions about specifics to include in a good query. Very helpful. Thanks.
    Nancy´s last blog post ..My Elizabeth

  11. Once again, fantastic advice. After adding my four lines to (Australia) I received 2 comments within 24 hours giving me some tips & leads to follow up.
    Lynny´s last blog post ..Who Cares? Your Family?

  12. A few months ago -maybe six I would say , I posted a message on Ancestry’s forum for an elusive family member. Within two months someone had gotten in touch with me and she had plenty of information to share with me. Ironically , earlier that day I was telling my father I didnt think I would ever find this person. Truthfully , I doubt I would have because all the information I had was completely wrong.
    The moral of this story : don’t trust Nana :)

  13. I’ve been very successful with genealogy message boards. In fact a 19th century photo album found it’s way back to me with a post I made. Find out the details at Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets .

    Regards, Jim

  14. Kristy Gravlin

    Like all researchers, I’ve had some good, and some bad, responses from message boards. Just as every book on the library shelves isn’t helpful, every message reader just cannot help you either. But the thrill of finding the right one is worth waiting for! I have a photo of my mother’s cousin…because I was the only researcher the person could find that mentioned enough in the way of names, places, and dates to make her think I might be the right family.
    My personal peeve comes, I know, because I am by trade a teacher. Someone will write in and ask for “all the info” about Betty Jones…and the answerer will send in a long answer with all sorts of info! But never any info on where it came from or how they knew to look there or where the asker should look next. There’s info but rarely any sign of how to be sure it really is the “right” Betty Jones. And very, very rarely is there any info about how to make a good guess about where to look the next time someone is elusive. Please, please help that new or unsure person out with some info about “how” to find it, not just a pile of answers. As the old saying goes, don’t just hand them the fish, teach them how to fish so that they (and everyone else who reads your return message) can develop another skill or two, do their own research, and pass on the skill to the next person. Know that I’ll put a nice “star” on your answer for doing good work when you help another researcher learn a skill!

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