Message Boards and Forums for Beginners


Message Boards have been around since the beginning of the Internet. They are a great tool in anything you research or if you have questions on a hot topic you are working on. Message boards are an online discussion regarding a particular topic, imagine a large electronic bulletin board. One conversation on any topic is called a ‘Message Thread’. Think of a piece of thread connecting each post within a conversation. You can start a ‘thread’ on a message board and people can then post their comments on that thread.

Most all message boards are free and you will need to create an account with a user name to register. I personally have used message boards for years in family history research. The two that come to mind are at and (which happen to be sister sites). Rootsweb is one of the original message boards and they both can be very helpful in your family history research. Both sites work together and are free to users.

Message boards aren’t limited to just family history research either. A Google search for gardening, recipes, and automotive message boards are possible. Family history message boards can be sorted by surname, locality or research questions in general. Most message boards have a search option so you can filter out what you are looking for when looking for one that already exists.

In the year 2000, I posted a query on‘s free message boards. I was searching for one surname in particular and was looking for any information that was available. It was a generic plea for help. It took about 3 years, but I finally received a reply and it was worth the wait. I found someone in New York that owned a hand written (copy) of a pedigree chart of my family. It filled the space of a 24” x 36” piece of paper. We connected and she mailed me a copy of the pedigree chart. It added nearly 200 ancestors that I did not know existed and it went all the way back to 1750 in Sweden. Not bad! My patience had paid off.

Most message boards have a great little feature where you will be emailed if anyone replies to your query. Keep in mind one thing; if you change your email address, you must go back to those message boards and change it with your account. A lost opportunity if you don’t keep tabs on that. If the message board doesn’t have that option, to be emailed if anyone replies, then keep a running diary of sorts and visit them every once in a while. If you are brave, post your email address in the query. But beware that if you change that email address, you need to re-post that information.

Another example of a success story of a message board, but with auto trouble; I remember years ago we were having trouble with our 1990 Jeep Cherokee. It was overheating for no apparent reason and I started to Google search the symptoms and found a message board having to do with Jeeps for the same model and year. We found that several other owners had the same trouble and one person posted the fix on how to do it, including part numbers, prices and where to locate the parts. My husband is mechanically inclined and was able to fix our Jeep with the solution and we haven’t had any trouble at all with the overheating since. The advice was free and solution was priceless.

10 Steps for a Successful query/post on a Message Board:

  1. Subject line is important. Don’t be general in your query. Be very specific and short. Something that will catch the eye of the reader. If you type the surname, year of birth and country that will bring attention to many. If you just put a generic listing of the surname with no more information, you won’t get very many looking.
  2. Use Internet etiquette. Typing in CAPS is considered shouting, so take the time to use upper and lower case. Check for spelling errors before posting, no vulgar personal attacks and watch your language.
  3. Think like you are posting a ‘Want Ad’ in a newspaper, or should I say, similar to Craigslist or Ebay. You want to ‘sell’ your post to the outside world.
  4. Do not post private information. If you get a good reply from your post, then you can email privately and make a decision if you want to share more information at that time.
  5. Before posting make sure you are posting to the right category.
  6. Use key words in your subject line and the body of text in the query. Remember that those key words can be used during a search and you can be found much quicker by the reader.
  7. No advertising, selling stuff or SPAM. Moderators will usually remove those posts, so don’t advertise your website for gain.
  8. It might be smart to cross-post your query on the message boards. If it is for family history, you might post your query on a locality thread and also a surname thread. Better opportunities to get noticed.
  9. Don’t post ‘Off-topic’ items. Stay true to the category and intent of your post. Your post maybe deleted by the moderator if you don’t follow their by-laws.
  10. Look around at other posts and you will see which are good ones and not. While looking around, use it as an active search for your own searching. Not only will it teach you how to post, but you might find something that will help in your quest to find answers.

By taking some time to write an effective message thread query you will be able enhance your learning whether it is for family history research, fixing your car or a question about gardening in your part of the world. The possibilities are endless and only limited by what you post.

Post your success stories with message boards in the comment section below, so other readers can see great success with a small part of the Internet.

[image credit: Wikimedia]
  1. I need help working with this page. I would like to find out how to help a specific member,
    thank you,
    Sheila Smith

  2. Thanks for sharing these great ideas. After trying lots of other study ideas, right now I'm using a pen and a composition notebook 🙂 I love Evernote though, but hadn't really thought of using it like this.

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