Almost every week there are stories in the newspaper or on TV about someone finding their long lost sister, mother, or friend using the Internet. How could you find a person using the Internet? How can the Internet be used as a communication tool to find cousins?
Most people have heard of e-mail. This is the most common way people communicate on the Internet. It is basically a written message, like a letter or note, sent from one person to another. But, like regular mail, an address is needed in order to send the message. So first, you need to find these possible cousins. There are five common ways that this can be done using the Internet: message boards, mailing lists, newsgroups, chat rooms and Internet directories.
Message boards (which can also be referred to as query boards or bulletin boards) are Web sites where messages are posted, and anyone can read and respond to the messages. Message boards have the most exposure because they are more public for a longer period of time. Most genealogy message boards have a theme such as a surname or location. Look for messages that pertain to your family or the location where they lived. If one is found, post an answer and the author of the original message knows there is a cousin researching the same family. A private correspondence between the two of you can begin if mutually agreed upon. Be cautious about sharing personal information. Try exchanging several messages before giving your address and phone number.
Mailing lists are also messages, usually on a certain subject, that are distributed through e- mail to subscribers on the mailing list. Once you subscribe to the list, messages are sent to your e- mail automatically. The messages can be read and a reply can be sent. When a response is sent, the message is distributed to everyone on the list. That means that hundreds or even thousands of different people would be receiving your written message.
Cyndi’s List (http://www.cyndislist.com) has a large number of mailing lists listed on her site.
Check the mailing list and message board archives for old messages. The archives usually go back two or three years and can be searched by key words or browsed.
Newsgroups are almost identical to mailing lists, except special newsreader software is required. There aren’t too many genealogy newsgroups but check Cyndi’s List if this interests you.
Chat Rooms are real time text conversations with other Internet users. This means that you must be on the Internet at the same time as the other person. Some family history researchers like this way of communication but, compared to message boards and mailing lists, chances of connecting with a cousin are not as good. Again, Cyndi’s List has lists of genealogy chat rooms.
Internet directories can also be used in the search for cousins. This is basically an online phone book and can be used like any phone book. When a surname is put in, then it will give you the address, phone number, and sometimes the e-mail address of people with that surname in the area specified. The information can be used to write a letter or e-mail. There are many on-line directories for the United States and for foreign countries. A few that I like are: http://anywho.com, http://switchboard.com and http://infospace.com.
Once you have found a forum you like, you need to participate. Otherwise, no one will know you are there. If your goal is to find a living person, then you must post to the message board or mailing list for people to know you are there. Write queries and messages in a courteous and clear manner and write all surnames in capital letters so that they stick out. If you need more tips on how to write correspondence on the Internet, go to Cyndi’s List and she has some helpful suggestions.
Your search for cousins will be much more enjoyable and productive if you are organized from the beginning. Keep a chronological log of e-mails and messages posted. Print out each e- mail received that contains information and place it in the appropriate family file.
Sharing information can advance your research and could help someone else with a problem or brick wall. The Internet is a great way to connect with others that are researching your family lines. Happy cousin hunting and Happy Holidays!