RootsWeb Review Riches

Riches Published before June, 2007 

We hope you find this compilation of related articles from the RootsWeb Review helpful in your research. 
If you would like to see the original publications, you may do so at

Effective Queries for Newbies
By Wally Caviness

I recently have gotten several queries from my various surnames lineages. All they list is the name of the person they are looking for.

I have replied to the people and asked them to supply more information on the people they are asking others to help them find.

The information should include:

  1. Date and location of birth
  2. Date and location of death
  3. Social Security numbers
  4. Whether they served in any armed conflict: Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korean War, etc.
  5. Whether they had any brothers, sisters, aunts, or uncles
  6. Nationality
  7. Any other information that would help others in assisting the person seeking help finding their ancestor

I hope this helps the many new people that are getting into finding their family roots.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review:
11 July 2007, Vol. 10, No. 28


Getting to the Heart of the Subject: Are You Guilty?
By Joan Young

Have you ever posted a query on a RootsWeb mailing list or message board and gotten absolutely no response? Does it seem like everyone but you is getting the answers and feedback they need while you are shut out in the cold? If so, let's try to pinpoint the reason and improve your odds of making that RootsWeb connection.

Most people are constantly on the go. They try to "multitask" to cover a lot of ground as quickly as possible.

When we scan our inboxes for new e-mails, or search new message board posts, we generally don't read every word of every message. Many of us scan the subject lines and then only read those messages that appeal to us; that is, we read the message if we find a name, location, or fact in the subject line that attracts our attention.

Digest mailing list subscribers, especially, are notorious for quickly scanning the subjects in the index of a digest before deciding which messages to read and which to ignore. If we have books at our disposal that allow us to do lookups, we often only read those posts that mention the topics covered by our books.

When we encounter a subject line that says "no subject," or a generic subject line such as "Looking," "Searching," "Genealogy," "My Family," or worse yet, "Help!" we tend to disregard the message and move on to the next e-mail.

Another red flag for someone perusing a mailing list is the digest subscriber who merely clicks "reply" to a digest message and leaves the digest as the subject of the reply. I think we'd all admit that a subject line of "SMITH Digest, Vol 2, Issue 171" isn't exactly telling us much about the content of the message within. When replying to a digest message be sure to change the default subject to an informative one.

Quite possibly you have drafted an informative, well-written query with the names of the people you are researching, details of the times and places where they lived, and the information you wanted to learn.

However, it may still be lost if no one reads your message because of a poor subject line. Your message body should embellish your subject line and provide additional details.

Provide concise but specific information about the content of your message. Include the name, location, and time frame of the individuals in your message. Tell us what information you are looking for. In other words, briefly outline your reason for posting the query. If your query includes an interesting story about your ancestor, provide
the reader with an indication of the story enclosed so that your message attracts his attention.

Some examples of good subject lines follow:

--Maiden name needed for Sophie who married John SMITH in 1900 in Chicago, Illinois

--Seeking parents of Joseph JONES born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1765

--Looking for Obituary of James JOHNSON who died in Clearwater, Florida, in 1965

--Seeking Descendants of Henricus GEIGER who Died in 1746 in Lembach, Alsace, France

--James O'REILLY, born New Jersey, 1830; killed at Battle of Gettysburg, 1863; need marriage information

--Morris FRIEDMAN, immigrated in 1900 to Philadelphia, PA, from Russia--Seeking Village of Origin

Note: It is typical to capitalize surnames so that they quickly catch readers' attention.

The success of your query rests largely on your ability to create a subject line that will grab readers. Readers will be more likely to take the time to study your message and consider whether they have an interest or an answer for you. So stop crying for HELP in the wilderness and SEARCHING and LOOKING aimlessly, and start providing specifics in your subject lines.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 
25 July 2007, Vol. 10, No. 30


Getting Your Message Across on Mailing Lists and Message Boards
By Joan Young

In July, I wrote about the importance of attracting readers to your mailing list and message board queries with a meaningful subject line. (See "Getting to the Heart of the Subject: Are You Guilty?" at )

Getting the reader's attention is the most important factor in getting quality responses, but, once you have his or her attention, you must hold it and keep him from moving along to the next e-mail. So what distinguishes the query that makes the reader take notice and want to help you from the one that doesn't?

Let's start with what makes the reader run in the opposite direction. When I read queries on the lists and boards, I often come away shaking my head and wondering exactly what the author is asking or why she bothered to post. Misspellings, omitted information, impossible dates (such as children who are married before they were born)--I've seen all that and worse in queries. It doesn't make me eager to assist the person posting. If the poster can't be bothered to carefully explain what he is looking for, why should I play detective?

When drafting a query for a list or board do the following:

Take time to think about what it is you hope to learn from posting your query. Gather all the data you have already obtained. Who are you asking about; when and where did he live? Is there any other pertinent information that might interest the reader? Does your query concern a specific ethnic group, religious or church group, or occupation?

Once you have written down everything you know and what you hope to learn, condense the text as much as possible. Be concise and to the point.

Put yourself in the place of the reader, who is not familiar with your research or your family. If the ancestor about whom you are posting ever did anything unique that would be of interest to non-family members (e.g., he published a book, had a town named for him, fought in a war, etc), include this information.

If there were stories of Native American blood in the family, or you know that a coat of arms was granted to your ancestor, that they were leaders in their church group, or that they included several generations of blacksmiths, for example, include this type of information. It may attract the reader who has expertise in researching these areas.

List the facts that you do know. If you don't have a date or location, list as much supporting information as possible. Perhaps you don't have the date of birth for your ancestor but you do know when he married or you have a sibling's birth date. This information will, at the very least, give the reader some sense of the time period during which your ancestor lived. Perhaps you can't find your ancestor on the 1901 census in Canada but you know she lived in Montreal in 1891 and that she died in Calgary, Alberta, in 1910. This information may help a reader locate your ancestor in the intervening years and provide information about historic migration routes.

Think about what you hope to learn and then consider which board or list might be best for posting your query. Don't cross-post in many places; instead, select the most likely one or two lists or boards where experts may be able to help you.

If you are posting primarily about a family who migrated from one location to another and you are trying to trace them back another generation, a surname list or board might be your best bet. If your family remained in one location for many generations a locality list or board may be more appropriate.

My mother's BORTON ancestors came to America from England in 1679 and settled in Burlington County, New Jersey. Our branch of the family never left southern New Jersey. So the Burlington County board or list would probably be a good place to make contact with others researching the same branch of this family. The board is gatewayed to the corresponding mailing list--an extra bonus. The BORTONs were Quakers, so the QUAKER-ROOTS list or board would also be a good source of information, especially if I'm looking for information that might be found in Quaker records.

On my father's side, our SMITH ancestors proved to be fairly easy to trace despite the extremely common surname because several generations were stonemasons by trade. A list or board devoted to an ancestor's occupation could be your best option. While the surname is common, the occupation is less so. Ancestors who worked as master glassblowers often traveled in communities and intermarried within the community. Once again, the occupation could be the clue to tracing migration patterns.

The secret to successful queries lies in careful planning. Once a concise, accurate, and informative query has been posted in the appropriate place, all that remains is to be patient and await a reply.

To read even more about effective queries, see: "Knock, Knock . . . Anybody There?" at

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 
10 October 2007, Vol. 10, No. 41


Tips for Posting a Reply on a Mailing List or Message Board
By Joan Young

We've already discussed tips for posting new messages on mailing lists and message boards. We've also discussed choosing the appropriate list or board for posting your message (see "Getting Your Message Across on Mailing Lists and Message Boards" at ).

So now you know everything there is to know about message board/mailing list etiquette, right? Wrong. Crafting your message and posting it in the appropriate place is only half the equation; learning how to reply effectively is the other half.

The following steps will ensure that your reply is helpful and thorough.

Remember only to reply to a query when you have information that will be of interest--or if you wish to ask for clarification in order to provide help. You may also post a reply if you wish to let the poster and others reading the list/board message know that you are also researching the same ancestors. Do not send "me too" messages or messages noting that you don't have information for the poster--unless you were specifically asked for a lookup.

Most of us click on "Reply" or "Reply All" when we see an interesting message, but fail to take notice of exactly which address or addresses are included in the "Send to" field of our e-mail. This often results in unexpected consequences. Perhaps we intend to send a private reply to a newfound cousin and our reply contains private information, but we end up broadcasting it to the world on a public list and have it permanently saved in the mailing list archives.

Knowing how to direct your replies can differ from mailing list to mailing list. The list administrators have the option to set lists to default to "reply to sender" or "reply to list." Also, individual list posters may have a specific "reply to" address set in their e-mail program that can override a "reply to list" setting set by a list administrator. These variances make it absolutely essential that you check the addresses in the "To" and "CC" fields each and every time you send a reply. This will prevent the occasional "Oh no" moment--the moment after you hit "Send" when you realize the e-mail went to addresses you had not intended to include.

As for message boards, be careful to click on the "Reply" link rather than starting a new thread and posting a message that is not attached to the original one. If you make this error the original poster won't be notified that they have a reply to their query and they may never see it. Also, your reply may not make much sense to other readers if it is disconnected from the original query.

When you are replying to a query on a mailing list you usually want to include all or part of the query to which you are replying so that the answer or lookup information you provide will be clear to everyone reading your message.

When drafting your reply, check to see whether the information you planned on quoting is included, and also make sure it is clear what is being quoted from the original and what text you are adding in your reply. Remember that RootsWeb list messages are all sent through as plain text, so any HTML indenting or quote marks will not be displayed when your reply comes through the list.

E-mail programs differ in how they quote text in a reply. Some e-mail clients automatically quote the entire message and others allow you to highlight only the text you wish to quote. Some give you a choice in your mail options.

Don't quote more than is necessary to make your reply clear. Delete any old taglines and signature files to keep the reply as clean as possible. If your e-mail program automatically quotes an entire message but you don't need to quote the entire message, highlight the text you wish to delete and then hit the backspace or Delete key to remove the extraneous text. This is especially important if you are replying to a digest and your e-mail program automatically quotes the entire digest. Never, under any circumstances, quote an entire digest! Quote only a single message or part of a message.

When you post a reply on a mailing list or message board you are establishing a thread--your reply is attached to the original message. As a rule this means your reply has the same subject and topic as the original post. However, quite often as a thread continues and the topic of discussion begins to wander a bit from the original subject, it is necessary to change the subject of your reply before sending your message or hitting "Post" on the message board.

If you are replying to a digest message remember to change the subject of your reply to indicate the subject matter of the message rather than the default digest subject line.

If your reply is straying too far from the original topic of the thread, consider whether it might be more appropriate to begin a new thread or post a new original message rather than replying within the existing thread.

Finally, don't panic--just proceed with caution. We've all been beginners. But we're here to help each other learn the proper RootsWeb etiquette and to break down our tricky brick walls together.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 
24 October 2007, Vol. 10, No. 43


Posting Data on RootsWeb Message Boards and Mailing Lists
By Joan Young

Are you aware that in addition to being great places for posting queries, RootsWeb mailing lists and message boards are the perfect places to post data? This data can be easily located in the future through the mailing list archives or through conducting a global search of the message boards. Let's examine when and where we should consider posting data to the RootsWeb mailing lists and message boards.

When you read a query and have access to a book or other resource that includes the information the poster is seeking, consider taking the time to post the data.

For instance, the answer to a question about an ancestor's date of birth might be contained in a book you own listing baptismal records. Death information might be found in cemetery listings in your possession.

Take inventory of your available publications and research materials and have them at the ready to answer queries.

However, you don't need to wait until someone asks a question to post data you have collected.

My second great-grandfather, Joseph ROBINSON, bought and sold land in Salem County, New Jersey, on numerous occasions during his lifetime. Since I have not learned Joseph's mother's maiden name, I decided that obtaining copies of all of the deeds, transcribing them, studying the names of the people listed in the transactions, and posting the data might be productive.

I posted the deeds on the Salem County Message Board, which is gatewayed to a corresponding mailing list. Therefore, each deed was copied onto the mailing list and into the mailing list archives as well.

If posting the deeds helps other researchers looking for the ROBINSONs  or other people listed in the deeds now or in the future, that is wonderful. I receive a feeling of accomplishment when I provide information needed by others. But, I wasn't being entirely altruistic when I posted the deeds. Researchers who find the data in the future may be able to add to my knowledge.

In addition, transcribing the documents meant carefully examining every word and noticing details that had previously escaped my attention. And, I can now refer to the deeds on the board even if I'm accessing the Internet from a library or on a trip away from home and I do not have my personal research materials with me.

So, posting data without anyone asking for the information is beneficial to all concerned.

Most types of data, such as wills, deeds, marriage records, family Bible entries, birth/baptismal records, tombstone transcriptions, obituaries from older newspapers, and pension information are in the public domain. These may be freely posted by anyone. While you may post data in the public domain without attributing a source to it, I advise you to list your source to explain where you obtained the information.

And remember, not all data is in the public domain. Be careful to post only information that is in the public domain, or copyrighted information that you created yourself or have permission to post. In the latter situation, include the fact that you have obtained permission from the copyright holder.

Generally, anything published before 1923 is in the public domain; however, recent obituaries or biographies, newspaper clippings, or even scanned images could be under copyright. A helpful website for determining when a copyrighted work from the U.S. enters the public domain can be found here:

If in doubt, you can always abstract the factual data instead of copying something from a work verbatim. An obituary or a biography contains names, dates, and places that you may freely use in your post. Facts are not copyrightable.

You can used the Advanced Search feature on the message boards to search the boards by classification (categories include "Bible," "Biography," "Birth," "Cemetery," "Census," "Death," "Deed," etc.). If you are posting data, remember to select the proper classification to help future researchers locate it.

You cannot search a RootsWeb mailing list by classification, but the mailing list archive is globally searchable. In other words, you can search the entire content of all archived messages.

Remember that no snippet of data is so small or so insignificant that it might not be of importance to another genealogist researching his or her family history. By posting a single obituary or family Bible entry, you might be providing just the puzzle piece someone out there has long been seeking.

[Editor's Note: Although posting unsolicited data to a message board or a mailing list is acceptable, use discretion in the type and amount of material you post. Excess information posted at random can clutter boards and lists, irritate readers, and take up valuable server space. Make sure the data you post is relevant and useful. Individual message board and mailing list administrators may also choose to filter material they deem irrelevant.]

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 
7 November 2007, Vol. 10, No. 45.





2000 Rhonda Stolte Darnell