A few years into my research I began posting messages on several genealogy web site message boards. Initially, I hoped to connect with others searching the same name and perhaps receive some leads in my search. I had forgotten all about the posted messages when, six months later, I received an e-mail from someone in the UK. The e-mail had been sent by a fellow named Neil. After exchanging a few e-mails we determined that we were distant cousins, sharing the same fifth-great-grandparents. Neil resides in the same small town in England that my family had lived for generations. I was provided with a multitude of information, taking me back several more generations.
A word of caution here: consider any information you receive from others as leads rather than truth, until you have verified it to be true. Even the most well-intended help can have errors.
Although Neil was a tremendous help, my real treasure came about a year later when I received an e-mail from Dot. It turns out Dot and I are fourth cousins. My second-great-grandparents moved to Canada while hers moved to the U. S. At the time of this correspondence, Dot was fairly new to genealogy. She was able to provide me with some missing pieces on the U. S. side, but the real gem was a photograph of my third-great-grand-grandmother Rebecca. I had longed for photos of my English ancestors to help complete my image of these people. The photo was a priceless gift I was thrilled to receive.
To make the most effective use of message boards it's goo to become familiar with the various genealogy web sites. You never know when or where you will make important connections, so place messages on as many sites as possible, particularly the more popular ones. Most message boards are divided up via name, location, and individual categories (cemeteries, military etc.). These areas are typically organized A-Z. When placing a message be clear and concise. A vague entry such as "Clifford family, England, early 1880" will likely be passed over. It's much too common a name for someone to read through each and every entry. You want your entry to stand out, otherwise it will be lost in the sea of Cliffords. Enter defining information in bold (i.e., first names, place names and dates); be sure to include the surname and location in the subject line.
You can also improve your chances of connecting by placing your message under various spellings of the name you are researching. Using location and category classifications can also be effective, as they may be more specific.
My Clifford family comes from a small town called Bramcote, England. In the early 1800's the population was approximately 800 people. By using the Location board as well as entering "Bramcote" in bold, I increased my chances at a connection. Being that the population was so small, it is likely that anyone searching Cliffords in Bramcote would have some relationship to my Cliffords. I did receive a reply from a Clifford living in the Bramcote area; we are a distant relation to one another and he, too, has given me invaluable information.
Don't forget to search the message boards frequently. New queries are added all the time, there may also be an old query just waiting for you, and your query may be a treasure to someone else.
Message boards can provide you with a wealth of information and new relationships, as well as unexpected surprises. Start utilizing your message boards, you might be lucky enough to discover your own treasure(s).