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Newsgroups and Genealogy Research

While some researchers may shy away or be unaware, a particular set of tools used in the computer field, Newsgroups, Mailing lists, and Bulletin Boards, can be valuable in sharing problems in genealogical research.


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The question is often asked, How do I use genealogy newsgroups and mailing lists? Sometimes we ignore or pass up resources and avenues to resources because we do not fully understand their purposes or we are not sure as to how they might help in research. A particular set of tools used in the computer field, Newsgroups, Mailing lists and Bulletin Boards, can be valuable in sharing problems in genealogical research. The purpose of this article is to help clarify the current terms which a researcher may come across and to find the easiest way to get started in using a newsgroup or Mailing list.

Terms to Clarify

Newsgroup - This refers to an area on a computer network, especially the Internet, devoted to the discussion of a specified topic. For example, messages posted to a newsgroup may discuss a particular surname or historical period. Anything posted to a newsgroup will be seen by all the readers of that particular newsgroup or mailing list.

A newsgroup can cover general subject matter such as genealogical internet resources or focus on a specific a subject such as a particular surname. A good general list can be found at: This site lists many queries concerning other nations and ethnic groups. Soc.genealogy.misc is an example of an unmoderated Usenet newsgroup, intended for any genealogy-related posting that is not appropriate for one of the other genealogy groups. GenForum, which is part of, hosts many surname-based discussion groups at Newsgroups can also be found at the Genealogy Newsgroups Finder page. This page is linked to and has eight pages of newsgroup listings. One such group, is a site in which you can start your own discussion group and has archives of past discussions for future references.

Usenet - This is a world-wide distributed discussion system. It consists of a set of newsgroups with names that are classified hierarchically by subject. It is sometimes used in conjunction with the term "newsgroups."

Mailing Lists - This is a deceptive term because it concerns e-mail addresses and postal addresses. But for genealogical use on the computer, a mailing list is a collection of participant names and e-mail addresses, created by an individual or organization for the purpose of sending material to multiple recipients. It allows members of the mailing list to broadcast to all other members of the mailing list. This is a great way to disseminate a subject to many researchers of a certain subject or family at the same time. Participants respond to your query or comment and, perhaps, add to your knowledge of the subject or give you clues and sources to explore. GENMSC-L is much like its counterpart, soc.genealogy.misc mentioned above under Newsgroups, except it is a mailing list.

Bulletin Boards Systems (BBS) - This is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line (or Telnet) and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users.

The term "BBS" currently may also be used to refer to any online forum or message board. It is an online forum, often a present-time discussion of a subject that could help a researcher.

By the above definitions, one can quickly get the idea that these terms are interchangeable, and that is why they are often confusing to the user. But there are distinctions.

Advertising in this medium is generally frowned on and should be placed in soc.genealogy.marketplace. I suggest a person new to the on-line newsgroup and mailing list scene to read the Frequently Asked Questions at This eight-page site has information on how to join a group and how to use various features afforded by some sites.

The Easiest Way to Start

After reviewing many of the sites, I found the degree of complication to join a newsgroup a big hassle. So I narrowed down the process to two sites which a novice can use immediately.

If you wish to create a new discussion group I suggest you go to Google Groups at: Google Groups. There you will find the three steps needed to start your own group. It is particularly useful if you already have a collection of friends and associates all studying a similar subject.

GenForum is by far the easiest mailing list, which both assists one to find previously posted information as well as starting a new discussion by posting your own query. You can locate the subject you are interested in, whether it is a surname or location at I typed the Owen surname into the Forum Finder and discovered three matches, two being counties with the Owen name and one being the Owen Family. Once you choose either a location or surname, you will find a wealth of data, sources and leads to other members whom are looking for the same relatives.

I was surprised at the sheer number of mailing lists and newsgroups available. It is a growing resource which can be used by researchers every where, allowing you to find bits and pieces of family history that other people are submitting continuously on the Net.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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