Monday, September 19, 2011

Building a Community with GenForum

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Many people have heard the old expression: “Two heads (or more) are better than one”. In genealogy this axiom is especially true. But I didn’t find this out until years after I had been researching on my own.

Probably like you, I just started my family research by looking at the census and talking to relatives (of which I have only a few that are known to me).

 Soon I was sending away for records and finding many pieces. Sometimes the pieces just didn’t fit together.
When I moved to Augusta, GA in 2006, I met A.S., a very talented genealogist who has become a good friend. Not too soon after we met, I had an idea that if I could find some living relatives in the Kreis line, I might be able to make some of my pieces fit. But I wondered -- how best to do this?

A.S. suggested that I post a message on Well going public like that intimidated me back then. I was concerned about privacy issues. However, the drive to find out more family information overrode my initial reluctance. And I can truly say that posting on GenForum became one of the most valuable and rewarding things I have ever done in genealogy. And another benefit is that it is easy to do with a computer.

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Now back in the days before the internet, if you wanted to put out a query or question about an ancestor, you had to search for a place to post it. If you were lucky enough to live near a genealogy society, you could post it on a bulletin board there. Or you could search for a genealogy journal or magazine that covered the geographic area where your ancestor lived. Then you could leave your address and wait until someone who might know of your ancestor might look at the journal/magazine and might see your posting. Well you can see that the probability of success was not too great.

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But now we are in the Age of the Internet. And this is where comes in. If you go to the home page, you will see that GenForum uses what the company calls “forums” to guide people to groups of interest to them. These groups or forums are arranged around surnames and geographic place names. There are forums for US cities, counties and states and for countries all over the world. And if you can’t find a forum that fits your needs, you can start one!

Besides posting to a forum, you can also search archived messages in a forum. If you are looking for “Henry Kreis”, you can go to the Kreis forum and put “Henry Kreis” in the search box.

Next it’s time to post your own messages. Think of all the possible forums that might lead you to some new information on your family. In my case, I posted to my surnames and to the states where they lived in America. I haven’t yet been able to identify for many of my ancestors the county/city/town where they came from in Europe, so I haven’t posted to many international forums.

Both the opportunities and the power of this medium are incredible. I once put a general message on the Greek forum and received a response from a very kind genealogist in Athens who isn’t related to me at all but just likes to help Americans learn more about their Greek roots.
Posting on the Chicago forum in GenForum helped me find a wonderful genealogist who lives in Chicago and has helped me many times to think through a puzzle. If left to my own devices, I might slowly sink into one of many genealogical sand traps:
  • Tyring to force a “fit” when there isn’t one
  • Not being able to see the forest for the trees
  • Overlooking a clue that is right there crying out for you to see
  • Looking in the wrong place for a record and not knowing where the right place might be
And this is to name just a few.

In conclusion, two heads (and more) are needed to be successful at genealogy. Or to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, “It takes a village to do family research successfully.” So start building your village with GenForum.

Categories: genealogy community, research terms

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