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And the Walls Came Tumbling Down – Thank You, Google

Message boards work in mysterious ways. Thanks to search engines like Google, your message board queries can be found even by those who are not genealogists and family history researchers, but others with family ties and information.


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[Editor Note: This article was originally written in March 2008.]

Message boards work in mysterious ways. Thanks to search engines like Google, your message board queries can be found even by those who are not genealogists and family history researchers, but others with family ties and information.

So here's a reminder, if you haven't been out on the message boards lately or if you're new to genealogy and have not yet used the message boards, they are a tremendous resource. While there are many genealogy message boards, the one I use most frequently is at, where you will find a Message Boards tab. It's easy – and free – to register and use the RootsWeb message boards. You can search for a specific board, entering the name of a locality or surname. You can also search by keyword, and you can even start a new board. This article is focused primarily on the benefits of message boards and encourages patience. I guess patience is a given when it comes to genealogy, and if not, it must be cultivated.

Blessings of Message Boards

The blessings of message boards are on my mind. Just last week I received two replies to two separate posts that had been out on the boards, literally for years. One had been out there since 2003, and I've received replies in the past from messages that are older than that. So don't give up and think you will never find an answer: time is on your side.

Most of the collateral cousin correspondences I have developed over the years have been the result of message boards, either from replies to my posting or my replies to someone else. Through the boards, I have not only gained information but have also developed some very positive relationships that continue to this day. And it's not only collateral line relatives who are likely to respond to a post. I have received replies from other unrelated researchers who happened upon my post and graciously offered assistance — no strings attached. Just random acts of genealogical kindness.1

We have all been blessed by the generosity of others and, if are we are true to the spirit, we pay it forward.

One reply I received in the last week has virtually exploded one of my longstanding brick walls. For years I have been searching for a "lost boy" — a cousin and childhood playmate of my mother's, we'll call him Sam. Sam was left by his mother soon after birth to be raised by his grandparents. When my great-grandmother died, Sam was bounced around and I lost track of him after the 1930 Census — no other records could be found. . . until . . . after his death. In a routine search, I found his name in the Social Security Name Index (SSDI). Knowing, then, when and where he died, I was able to write to the local newspaper and obtain a copy of his obituary.

Not only was I interested to see what happened to this little boy whom my mother so fondly remembered, but I also knew he held the key to finding his mother, my great-aunt. She, too, had dropped off the map. Once a woman remarries, if you don't know her married name or don't happen upon her marriage record under a known name, it can take a long time finding her. And I have been working at this a long time — some 30-plus years. Finding Sam's mother might also help me find her brother and, possibly, the name of their mother, my great-grandfather's first wife, who died young. So I had a lot riding on this one little boy.

While Sam's obituary did not name his parents, it did give the first name of his wife, plus the name and state of residence for a "stepson." No other children were listed. That made me sad, for I was anxious to share what childhood stories and photos I had with his children. By the time I found this obituary, his wife had also passed away. I followed up on contacting the stepson but reached a dead end. And that was that! My one chance to solve the mystery of my lost boy . . . lost. Until this week.

I received a message board reply from someone who said he had been raised by Sam and would be happy to answer any questions I might have. This was not the stepson, but another little "lost boy" that Sam and his wife had taken when he was very young. I could never have found him, he had to find me.

The Rest of the Story

Over the course of the week, between the two of us, we put together the story of Sam's life. I could fill in the mystery for him of Sam's birth and early childhood; he was able to tell me "the rest of the story," picking up right at the time my research gave out. And . . . he gave me the key I had been waiting for, the married name of the Sam's mother.

In later years, it seems, Sam found his mother and developed a relationship, albeit a strained relationship. My correspondent had personal letters between the two and pictures — we have been able to share pictures. Since receiving this reply, I have found Sam's mother in the 1920 and 1930 census; have found her death in the SSDI; and have confirmed the relationship, life, family, and death of the Sam's older brother, who had also been part of the mystery.

One final note of interest is that Sam had once spoken of a close family member who was a "tailor," whom my correspondent believed was Sam's grandfather. A bell went off in my head. In actuality, the tailor was his uncle — his mother's brother, the second of my great-grandfather's children. I had found his name in an earlier census but could not be certain he was related. This tiny bit of firsthand information, which I could have found in no other way, confirmed that relationship. This was Sam's uncle, my other little "lost boy," sent away to live with an aunt after his mother died. I now had the entire family.

There is no brick wall remaining. A few pieces of information are yet discovered, but with what we have to go on, we are confident. In particular, I will send for the Social Security application card (SS-5) for Sam's mother, to see if it contains the name of her mother. No other record has been found. Most interesting is how this correspondent found me in the first place. He actually was not out researching the message boards at all. One night he was just thinking about Sam and missing him, so he googled Sam's name and found my message board post. He is not a genealogist or family history researcher, but just a person out there with memories. . . and information.

The rest, they say, is history,

Circling Back

So if you are new to message boards, and the Genforum are great places to start. You can also check the variety of message boards available on Genealogy Today and through Cyndi's List: Queries & Message Boards; there and in the GenWeekly Archive you will also find advice for posting good queries. Even if you are an old hand a message boards, it's a good idea to go out and review your posts periodically. There may be a message out there that you missed or something you forgot about and would like to revisit.

And be sure to keep your e-mail address up to date on the message boards. RootsWeb lets you change your e-mail address, which universally changes it in all your posts. Most message boards send out a notice when someone replies to your post or someone may wish to contact you directly, but they cannot reach you if your address of record is not up to date. Many times my direct-contact e-mails have bounced because the address was not up to date.

Keep the message boards high on your list, there may be a connection out there waiting to storm your brick wall.

1 Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness is not a message board, but does offer important free services to family history researchers. One of the hallmarks of a true genealogist or family historian is this random acts of genealogical kindness spirit.

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.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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