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What is a Mailing List?

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Mailing lists are groups of people who share a common interest. How they work is simple; you send an e-mail message to a special address. The computer at that special address gets the e-mail message and sends it out to everyone on the list. There are thousands of lists; lists for jokes, recipes, technical hints and genealogy. RootsWeb has the best ones for genealogy. For example, the address
is the RootsWeb PACK surname mailing list. If you get a message forwarded that went originally to xxxx-L or xxxx-D @RootsWeb.com, you know it was originally sent to a mailing list.

You can get data from a mailing list two ways - searching the archives or joining the list.

RootsWeb saves the messages that have been sent in an archive. To search the archives, go to:
RootsWeb Mailing List Archives.
Enter the surname or county. Surnames are spelled normally, as you saw above. County mailing lists are SScccccc, where SS = the state abbreviation and cccccc = the first six letters of the county name. CAStanis is California's Stanislaus County and WVMonroe is West Virginia's Monroe County. The case doesn't matter. I used upper and lower case above to make things clearer. If you have a rare surname or a sparsely populated county, there may not be a list for it. There may be a special regional mailing list, for a group of counties. You can use the "Mailing List" link below to look at the possibilities.

Once you find the archive, you can search it. If you search a county mailing list, use a surname. If you search a surname mailing list, use a spouse's name, a given name or a county. For example, if your ancestor was Ebeneezer Pack, who married Malinda McCorkle in Pocatello, Idaho, there would not be much use in searching the "Pack" mailing list for "Pack", because all of the messages on the Pack list would mention one Pack or another. Searching for McCorkle, Ebeneezer or Pocatello would narrow down your search. Try different spellings, too. The search window takes an "or" argument, so this would work: Ebeneezer or Ebineezer or Ebeneazer

You have to search year by year; after you search for one year, click "Back" and change the year radio button.

You don't have to be a member of the mailing list to search the archives. You do have to be a member to send e-mail messages to its members, and to receive e-mail and from them.

To join a list, go to
RootsWeb Mailing Lists.
Find the lists you want to join and follow the instructions to sign up. Start slowly - if you sign up for 8 counties and 16 surnames, you'll probably get a lot more mail than you want. When you search the archives, it will tell you how many messages there are for a given year, even if it doesn't get any hits. If there are 3,650 for 2001, and you sign up for that list, you will likely get 10 messages a day from it, on average. (They tend to come in spurts, in my experience. Someone asks a question, three or four people chime in, then nothing for a week or two.)

Once you are a member, you can send a question about Great-Uncle Ebeneezer to everyone on the list. Someone out there may have his diary, tucked away in a trunk with his Civil War uniform.

It is a good idea to search the archives and to read 10 or 12 messages to get a feel for the list before you ask a question. If you ask one that has been asked and answered before, some smart-alec may write "Neener, Neener, neener, you didn't search the archives". He may not; 99% of the people on mailing lists are unfailingly polite, patient, helpful and well-spoken. The ones on the Pack mailing list are devilishly handsome, to boot.

If, to take Ebeneezer again, he was your dead end and you were looking for connections, a really good first message for the Pack list would have a subject

Ebeneezer, m. Malinda McCorkle, Pocatello

It would list his descendants that you had, (omitting or blurring living people), with your sources, and offer to swap data. Note the word "Pack" isn't in the subject. You only get 40 - 50 characters for the subject, and everything on the Pack list is about Packs. "Pack" is a word you can skip, if you have a lot to cram into a subject line. Spouses names, birth dates and location are usually the most important things to put in the subject line of a post to a surname list. For a post to a county list, the full name, spouse's name and dates are the most important; town, too, if it is a big county. Good subject lines are important. I get 1 - 5 messages a day from the WV Monroe list. I sometimes delete them without reading them, if they don't mention any of my surnames in the subject. Other people on other lists do too.

On the Pack list, "Pack Family - Please help" is probably the worst subject in the world. I mention it because you see it all the time on mailing lists and bulletin boards.

Just a minor note on etiquette: It is considered bad form to use your membership in a genealogy mailing list send out virus warnings, jokes, appeals for money, offers to sell inkjet cartridges at 40% off and so forth. Keep to the subject, which is genealogy. You can write about sex, religion and politics, but only as they pertain to dead ancestors. ("My 4th great-Uncle Eneneezer, former Baptist minister and chairman of the Republican Party in Monroe County, was defrocked and drummed out of the Party for trifiling with the choir director, back in 1877".)


Some of the Ancestry query boards are "gatewayed" to the corresponding Roots Web Mailing list. That means if you post on the board, a copy of your post will go to everyone who is subscribed to the list. This causes a problem pretty constantly:

If you subscribe to the mailing list and someone who does not subscribe posts a query, they may not see your answer. For instance; Jason McCorkle posts a query on the McCorkle surname board,

Does anyone know about Hezekiah McCorkle, 1840 - 1922, born in Logan County, Ohio?
He died in Fresno, California when he was shot by a jealous husband.

You subscribe to the McCorkle mailing list. You see Jason's post in your e-mail. Hezekiah was your 2nd great grandfather. You reply to the mailing list

Hi Jason!
I have his diary, the sword he wore as a captain in the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and seventeen pictures.
Write to me.

Jason doesn't subscribe to the list. He waits and waits. No one posts a reply on the board. Jason cries bitter tears into his pillow every night and eventually gives up genealogy for stamp collecting. That's a pity, because Jason bought Microsoft at $14 a share, and he would have taken you to dinner in gratitude, to a restaurant with real flowers, cloth napkins, a 20-page wine list and a dessert cart so heavy the wheels groan. Then he would have paid to have the diary transcribed. I must have known 30 people that happened to.

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This page updated: June 21, 2014