FAMILY HISTORY FORUMS
Jonathan Scott visits some genealogical water coolers, picking out the best forums and message boards for family historians
The best forums and message boards to help family historians
Message boards, chatrooms, mailing lists and forums have been at the heart of the genealogical community since the 1990s, helping to power the explosion of interest in family history that followed the launch of the internet.
If you’ve hit a brick wall, fancy an interesting read or wish to tap into the mood of the wider research community, forums are the place to go. Even if you don’t feel inclined to register and begin posting your own queries, the digital community is so vast that you may well find useful correspondence between researchers facing similar problems.
Indeed there are forums and wikis for every major branch of family history, and some highly specialist ones that focus on individual regions, periods of time, conflicts, software or commercial products.
This is certainly the busiest and best of the UK-focused, all- encompassing family history forums, currently boasting 4.9 million posts from 217,439 members. There are sections aimed at beginners, others on dating and restoring photos, and, at the time of writing, homepage signposts for everything from researching the armed forces, to Romany and Travellers, to one-name studies. The handwriting help section encourages users to upload any mysterious documents, so the wider community can chip in, deciphering hard-to-read passages or explaining archaic terms. There are banner ads, but not enough to become annoying, and there’s also an archived Reference Library with threads going back to 2003.
2Great War Forum
The best of the many military forums, which, like its parent site ( 1914-1918.net), is designed specifically with family historians in mind. Many use it to post photos of men and women in uniform, so members can help identify regiment or unit. Indeed, the most popular sections are ‘Units and Formations’ and ‘The Paraphernalia of War’ – uniforms, cap badges, insignia, medals, equipment and more. There’s a section devoted to documents where you can post queries relating to source material such as service records and medal index cards, currently with 3,728 topics and some 20,637 replies.
An established and popular forum from the commercial sector is GenesReunited’s ‘Community Section’. Within, you’ll find the ‘General Chat’ and ‘Find Ancestors’ boards boast more than five million posts alone. There are inspiring tales of research and reunions in ‘Success Stories’, plus ongoing hunts in the ‘Find Living Relatives’ section. ‘Military Chat’ isn’t so busy, but there’s an informative research tips thread going back to 2009. Plus, the ‘Suggestions’ board allows users to request changes/additions to the parent website. It’s not as focused and formal as some, but the forum is active and easy to use.
4Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine
While we prefer not to blow our own trumpet in these pages, the WDYTYA? Magazine Forum has some excellent features not available elsewhere. First and foremost there is the free WDYTYA Forum app ( whodoyouthinkyouaremagaz ine.com/news/download-ourfree-forum-app), designed to help you get the best from the forum, enabling you to write, comment and discuss on the move, and upload photos straight from your mobile device. The most popular sections are the general research queries, closely followed by photo identification. The forum also hosts popular live web chats with expert researchers – usually timed to coincide with the WDYTYA? series.
CuriousFox calls itself a “village by village contact site” aimed at family and local historians. To test activity in an area, just search by place name and you’ll be presented with a list of posts from researchers. To post your own entry, you need to join as a free or paid member. If you’ve paid (£5.50 a year), all users can contact you. If you’ve opted to join as a free member, only paid members can contact you.
Watercooler chat for
the internet age. Explore forums to expand your research