Making the Most of RootsWeb's Message Boards and Mailing Lists
Mailing lists and message boards are two of the resources at RootsWeb that most researchers use. They offer incredible opportunities for beginning researchers as well as the veteran family historians.
The index of all of the 27,800+ RootsWeb mailing lists is here
and you can find the more than 140,650 message boards from here:
So why both lists and boards? While there are many similarities, there are differences and occasions when one or both will best suit your research needs. Both mailing lists and message boards can be found for a vast array of surnames, localities, and topics and are completely free to use. Each forum provides an opportunity to post a query or data to learn or share information, make contact with fellow researchers, or help others by making data publicly available to all. Both offer browsing and searching of posted messages.
Mailing lists are an e-mail forum for discussion among a group of researchers who subscribe to a list. Some list subscribers have e-mail capabilities, but not Web access. Those on a mailing list receive all messages posted to a list by others. The fact that you must subscribe to (join) a list in order to post or receive messages from it encourages serious researchers and makes them relatively immune to spam and other undesirable content.
On the other hand, Message boards require Web access in order to search, browse, or post a message. Also, anyone can post on a message board whether he is a serious researcher writing about an ancestral line or someone with only a passing interest in the subject. Data such as wills, deeds, obituaries, or biographical information can be recorded by anyone -- regardless of whether they have any connection to, or interest in, the individuals about whom they are posting.
Messages found on all message boards and most mailing lists are searchable, but a major difference between the two is that the boards are searchable on a global basis while list archives are searchable on a list by list and year-by-year basis. Both archives are both browseable on an individual basis. Anyone can search or browse boards and lists.
Mailing lists function more "in the moment" than message boards do. The "real-time" discussion on a list often includes queries and responses on a specific thread until all aspects of the initial query have been thoroughly answered or covered.
Message boards operate more as a repository so that future visitors may respond -- weeks, months, or even years later. Boards are a great place to archive data. Additionally, the boards have a wider audience due to their searchability through RootsWeb or Ancestry's interface, meaning a greater number of researchers will probably see your message on a board than on a list. However, most "experts" or "locals" are subscribed to the lists in their areas of major research or geographic area. Not all mailing list subscribers check message boards.
Utilize both lists and boards to get the max out of your researches. And, don't just post once and wait for answers. Remember to give help as well as ask for it -- that's what these forums are all about.