This is an area that has needed addressed for a long time. Really, in posting effectively you are helping yourselves as much as others. Posts to message boards, mailing lists, and newsgroups are great ways to connect with researchers with similar interests, to seek information, or to locate long lost cousins. But getting results requires more than just a little luck. It takes a well though out query to get results. Below are some tips for writing an effective query that will increase your chances for success.

Good Subject Lines

First and foremost, you want to capture the readers' attention. In message boards and in E-mail messages, an effective, specific and informative subject line is the key to successful communication. I have seen messages posted with the following actual subject lines:


John Smith

Attention Ohio Wilson Researchers!!!

Still Looking for Connections


These are not good subject lines. They tell the reader nothing to help him or her determine if the content of the message is of interest to them.An effective subject line for surname research contains the following:

1. Name of the individual, with the surname in all capitals--such as Isaac WILSON;

2. The location where you are seeking records, such as NC or Mecklenburg Co., NC; and

3. The time period, such as 1850-1885 or Late 1880s

This information provides readers with many details in a brief subject line that allows them to determine if they want to read the posting. Here are some examples of good actual subject lines:

MORRISON, HARRIS b. 1846 m. Rosa Havner

Susan Elzie MORRISON b 1857 AR

Whitfield, Thomas 1806 TN

John Ball b. abt 1767 m Rachel King

John McKnitt ALEXANDER - 1733-1817 - MD>NC

The use of the > character in the subject line above indicates that the person moved from one place to another and is an excellent way to briefly communicate movement between locations.


The second important component of an excellent posting is the content of the message. You should indicate the name of the person you are researching (one person per posting is a good rule of thumb). You should state exactly what information you are seeking. Finally, you should include as much pertinent information as possible for the reader to determine if they have information that will help you. The following is an example of an effectively constructed message:

"I am seeking names and vital dates about the parents of Lydia Lenora PATTERSON, b. 13 November 1833 (place unknown) and d. 28 August 1914 at Davidson (Mecklenburg Co.) NC. She married Joseph McKnitt WILSON on 8 April 1856 in Mecklenburg Co., NC, and they produced at least nine children but there may have been as many as twelve. I would also be interested in names, dates and spouse/family information about these siblings."

In this example, the subject's name, vital dates, location and additional information about spouse and children are listed. The message is concise and contains enough details for the reader to determine if he or she has information that might assist the researcher who posted the message. Get to the point. Most people don't want to take the time to read a long drawn out query. The first paragraph should contain the "Who, What, Where, and When" of your request. Details can be filled in after you have gotten the attention of your targeted audience.

Include only one request in your post. Too many requests may decrease your chances for a response. Other inquiries can be posted separately.

Include places you have already checked for the information. Otherwise you may be wasting other people's time, as well as your own, as you will have half a dozen replies telling you to search the obvious places that you have already checked.

Capitalize SURNAMES so that they are easy to pick out of the post and subject lines. (You shouldn't capitalize an entire message as it makes it more difficult to read and some people consider it the online equivalent of shouting.)

Be careful with abbreviations in your query. Remember that many forums have members from all parts of the world and others may not be familiar with the same abbreviations that we use. So spell it out whenever possible. This will eliminate the possibility for misinterpretation. When posting to a mailing list, check your e-mail settings. Make sure you are only sending plain text to mailing lists. Others may not have the capability to read HTML coded messages and you want your message to be received and readable by as many people as possible.

Do not send your query as an attachment. Many viruses are transmitted as attachments and as a result, most people wisely refrain from opening attachments on email from people they don't know.

Sign your post with your name and e-mail address. Some e-mail readers don't show the address that an e-mail is received from and a recipient with the information you are looking for can't respond to you if they don't have your e-mail address.

Re-read your post carefully before you send it. Check for typos. Did you include all the necessary information? (Remember the 4 W's: Who, What, Where, When) Are all of your facts correct? Have you signed it properly?

Make sure your post is neat, and polite. Manners count online too.

Be careful of what information you post online, particularly when referring to living persons. Be sure to respect people's privacy and keep yourself and your family safe from those who might use information found online for fraudulent purposes.

If you find information worth sharing, post it to the appropriate list and share the source of the information so that others may benefit from your "finds." As you help others, they will be more eager to help you in return.

Always be polite on the lists and refrain from flaming. No one wants to help someone who is constantly complaining or mean to others.

Keep a log of your e-mail messages so you know what requests you have already put out and when.I keep mine in a folder and repost as necessary without having to retype them. I eliminate them as they are answered.

By using common sense and following simple guidelines, you can benefit greatly from genealogical forums. They are a great place to make friends, find relatives, and information.


Consider for a moment the E-mails and message board postings you see every day. Which ones will capture your interest first? Which ones are you most likely to read first? Do some of them provide insufficient information for you to make a decision? Do you even know what is being asked? For a reversal on this thought, which emails didn't you answer, even if you had the info? What did those look like? Which ones did you immediately discard? Why? I am certain that the discarded ones are not the example to follow.

As you can see in the examples above, a thoughtfully constructed posting that includes a meaningful subject line and detail-rich content is more likely to elicit responses. Invest a little time in creating better message board postings and chances are you will expand your research and achieve some new successes.