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soc.genealogy.surnames.* newsgroups

and SURNAMES-* mailing lists

version 1.3a May 30, 2000
    Regular posting address works again.

Welcome to the soc.genealogy.surnames.* family of newsgroups. The intent of these newsgroups and the associated SURNAMES mailing lists is to help genealogists contact others researching related families. All surname queries are welcome here.

Table of contents

  1. Posting to soc.genealogy.surnames.*
  2. Newsgroups in the soc.genealogy.surnames* family & linked mailing lists
  3. Types of articles posted to the groups
    1. general surname queries
    2. address changes
    3. follow-up articles
    4. anywhere / anytime posts
    5. Rootsweb Surname List (RSL) articles
    6. web page & newsletter announcements
    7. moderators' announcements
  4. Archives
  5. To contact a human for help
  6. Historical background

Other FAQs and files for the surnames groups:

General Interest

Regional surnames newsgroups / mailing lists To check on your recent posts

1. Posting to soc.genealogy.surnames.* newsgroups & surnames mailing lists

A surname query is in many ways like a classified ad in a newspaper. You want to attract people who might be interested in sharing information about your family to read and respond to your post. To help readers in finding articles of interest, writers are requested to follow some simple guidelines for including names, places, and dates in the subject lines of their articles.

You can post to these newsgroups using your newsreader software, just as you would post to any other newsgroup. Or you can e-mail your submissions to All articles posted to the groups are reviewed by the automoderator, a computer program, for correct format. The automoderator will crosspost your query to the relevant regional surnames groups according to the country codes you list in the subject of the query, and to If your article's subject line does not follow the standard format, the automoderator will notify you that your article was not posted, and make suggestions for rewriting the subject. Examples of the standard subject format and a brief description can be found below in section 3a - general surname queries. A fuller explanation of the subject format is available in the FAQ: subject format for soc.genealogy.surnames.* / SURNAMES-*.

Because these are moderated newsgroups, your article has to be transmitted from you to the automoderator, and then back to your news server. There may be more delay before your article is available than you are used to in posting to unmoderated groups.

2. Newsgroups in the soc.genealogy.surnames* family & linked mailing lists

There are seven newsgroups in the soc.genealogy.surnames.* family. Five of the groups cover specific regions. The group soc.genealogy.misc covers all other areas of the world. All queries are cross-posted to in addition to the relevant regional groups.

 newsgroup                          regions covered
 ---------------------              -------------------------------------------
 soc.genealogy.surnames.britain     Great Britain, Channel Islands, Isle of Man
 soc.genealogy.surnames.canada      Canada
 soc.genealogy.surnames.german      German-speaking areas of Europe
 soc.genealogy.surnames.ireland     Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
 soc.genealogy.surnames.usa         United States of America and territories
 soc.genealogy.surnames.misc        other countries      all of the above - worldwide
Each of the soc.genealogy.surnames.* newsgroups is linked to a mailing list hosted at Each mailing list gets all the queries posted to the associated newgroup, and vice-versa. The mailing lists have names of the form For information on subscribing to the lists, see FAQ: SURNAMES-* lists linked to soc.genealogy.surnames.*.

3. Types of articles posted to the s.g.surnames.* groups

Articles in soc.genealogy.surnames.* fall into a few basic categories:
  1. general surname queries
  2. address changes
  3. follow-up articles
  4. anywhere / anytime posts
  5. Rootsweb Surname List (RSL) articles
  6. web page & newsletter announcements
  7. moderators' announcements

a. General surname queries

General surname queries can be written in plain language, freely formatted. The body of the article can include any information about a family that you wish. It should repeat the information given in the Subject: line, since not everyone can see the Subject and body of the message at the same time. We recommend including given names, spouses, children, birth, death, and marriage dates and places, if you know them. This will make your article more useful to people who might want to contact you, as well as making it valuable to people who may find your article in searching the surname archives later. Indicating what additional information you are seeking is a good idea. Also include how to contact you. List your e-mail address in case your software does not include a good return address. You may also include your snail-mail address and phone number if you like. Each surname query should have a subject line that gives one or more surnames (in all capital letters), at least one place (using an abbreviation from the RSL list of abbreviations), and an indication of the time frame of interest. Examples:
Subject: CLOVER John / CLARK Mary; Lincoln, LIN,ENG; m. 1839
Subject: LOUCKS George / SALS Anna Eva; Graevenwiesbach, NAS,DEU; 1650-1710
Subject: DELZELL / DALZELL; SCT > DOW,NIR > PA,USA; 1750-1830
Subject: MILLS Samuel D/HODGES; Williamsburg, Kings Co, NY,USA; 1796-1863
Subject: ZAHM/PICARD/STEIS; Obergailbach + Olsberg, LOT,FRA; 1680-1840
Subject: ZAHM; LOT,FRA > IN,USA > IL,USA > KS,USA; 1650-
It's a good idea to include a spouse's surname in the subject line, along with the surname that mainly interests you. Putting both names together can help other researchers recognize the family. If you find you want to include queries about more families than can be summarized in the subject line, you may wish to post several queries.

Some of the abbreviations may seem unfamiliar at first. The advantage of using standard abbreviations for place names is that it makes searching the surname archives easier and more reliable. As an example, consider searching the archives for Coles families in New York. With standard abbreviations, you can look for subjects that contain both "COLES" and "NY,USA" and be sure that you are finding all the relevant archived queries. Without standardization, you'd have to search for "NY" and "New York", and might miss articles that said "Albany" or "Buffalo" but left out the state. Abbreviations also make subject lines shorter, for writers whose software limits subject length. The place abbreviations are the same as used for the Rootsweb Surname List (RSL). They include United States and Canadian two-letter postal codes, Chapman codes, three-letter ISO codes for nations, some other standard codes, and a few codes invented for the RSL.

The complete list of codes is available on the world wide web at:
Or you can retrieve the list (a less-complete version) by e-mail to, with a subject line of "archive", and the message saying only:
get family.abbrev
The computer will then e-mail you the list of abbreviations. The dates should indicate when you are interested in the family in the areas listed in the subject line. The dates could be the earliest birth and latest death dates for known ancestors, or periods for which you have information, or the time for which you want more information. The date range is approximate; there is no need to add "circa" or "?" if you are not sure of dates.

The computer automoderator is not very smart, and will only approve articles that have the Subject: line in exactly correct format. If you're having trouble getting the format just right, feel free to contact the human moderators at

b. Address changes

Because people change e-mail accounts, phone numbers, and move to new addresses from time to time, the contact information in the archived surname queries will grow stale. A well-written query can provide valuable information or clues even if the author can no longer be reached. Genealogists who have posted queries to the group may post an address change, so that readers of their archived queries can contact them. The subject line should include your surname (all capitals) and the words "address change". Examples:
Subject: MILLS; address change
Subject: MILLS Bill; address change
In the text, include any contact information you wish. You may want to include a permanent address or stable address of a relative.

If you find an old query in the surname archives, and cannot contact the writer with the contact information given, you can search for an address change message from that writer.

c. Follow-up articles

You may respond to surname queries by posting to the newsgroup or by private e-mail. Posted replies should have standard subject lines as described above. (The prefix "Re:" will also be accepted in surname query subject lines.) You might consider using a new subject line in a follow-up article if appropriate, for example if you're discussing the same surnames in a different place or time, or if you're writing about surnames not included in the original message's subject. Follow-up articles should give genealogical information, including places and dates; notes such as "Hi, I'll send you mail soon" should be sent by private e-mail.

d. Anywhere / anytime posts

For genealogists making a comprehensive worldwide study of a surname throughout history, a special case of the surname query format uses anywhere and anytime instead of specific places and dates in the subject line. For example:
Subject: ZAHM; anywhere; anytime
Queries with only "anywhere" listed in the places field will be posted only to

This format is not a substitute for giving specific place and time information. Please make sure to include, in the body of the message, a description of the countries and the time period for which you already have data on the surname. For example, "My database includes 6000 Zahm individuals from Germany, France, USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, and Israel." Telling us about the extent of your database is a way to encourage people to share their research with you. The basic philosophy of the group is that every article should give the reader enough information to decide whether it might be worthwhile to contact the writer.

If you are just starting out in researching your family, this option is not recommended. Instead, please describe what you do know about your family, and use a subject line format described above under general surname queries.

e. Rootsweb Surname List (RSL)

The Rootsweb Surname List team will post announcements about the RSL. The updates to the RSL, giving the month's new entries, are posted to but not the SURNAMES mailing list. These posts will include "RSL" in the subject line.

For more information on the RSL and the rsl-update mailing list, see the RSL web page or send or send any message to

f. Web page & newsletter announcements

You may post announcements of surname-related resources, such as a surname newsletter, web page, or family history book. These announcements should include a description including names, places, and dates, and should use the standard subject line format described above. A mention of Web Page or Newsletter, for example, may be included in the name field of the Subject: line. For now, the words should be written in the format for given names, in lower case with initial letter capitalized.

Subject: ZAHM Web Page; LOT,FRA / CHE / DEU / USA / CAN / AUS; 1650-

g. Moderators' announcements

The moderators will post FAQs periodically as well as occasional administrative announcements. FAQs will be posted only to the newsgroups, and are available on the web at:

4. Archives

All the queries in all the soc.genealogy.surnames.* groups (including posts to the former soc.genealogy.surnames since December 1994) are archived at:
                for messages December 1994 to date
                 (updated daily) for messages December 1994 - August 15, 1997 (This site may close soon.) for messages since spring 1996

5. To contact a human for help

If you have any questions or suggestions about posting guidelines, please contact the human moderators at You may also discuss the posting guidelines and policies in the unmoderated group soc.genealogy.computing.

6. Historical background

The original soc.genealogy.surnames was created in December 1994, after a vote to reorganize the old soc.roots newsgroup. The group was created as a forum for surname queries, which are of interest only to others researching the same families, to leave the other soc.genealogy.* newsgroups open for more general discussions. It was created as a moderated newsgroup to ensure that all queries included at a minimum surname, places, and dates. An added feature was an archive, indexed by the subject line as each article is posted.

For its first two years of existence, soc.genealogy.surnames / GENNAM-L was moderated by a team of human volunteers. This became too time consuming, so Tim Pierce wrote a program to review the incoming messages automatically. The automoderator allows you to post to the newsgroup with less delay, since articles do not have to wait for review by a person. You also now have complete control over the information included in the subject line, within the format guidelines recognized by the automoderator.

By early 1997, soc.genealogy.surnames was rather large, with a predominance of queries about ancestors in the USA. At the same time, and soc.genealogy.german had grown uncomfortably large, with a large number of surname queries in both groups. The reorganization of soc.genealogy.surnames into the current seven soc.genealogy.surnames.* groups was accomplished by a vote which ended in July 1997, setting the pattern for the creation of other regional surnames groups when there is sufficient interest.

Bill Mills <>
WWW adapted from Tim Pierce <>