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Net Networks: Finding Relatives Online

Hands down, the most valuable tool for modern genealogy researchers is the Internet. While the Internet is of course a great way to perform searches and generally learn about the art of hunting for your ancestors, one of the most overlooked uses is networking. If you are just beginning your research, join one or many of the thousands of message boards on the Internet to find contacts and gain insight from people who have been doing this for years. You never know-you might even find a long-lost relative online!

First, decide what kind of message board is appropriate for you. Yahoo, America Online, and various genealogy sites have special message boards set up to help researchers. You can join one or many, and most are completely free as long as you register with a valid email account. Be safe-remember to never give out personal information, such as your home phone number, on the web, because predators can use this to find you. Also, consider a fun screen name that reflects your surname, rather than one which is your entire name. For example, instead of using "joe_allen_smith123" as your name under which you will speak to other members, you might consider something like "smith_boy456" or "looking_for_smiths789." You can even use something more generic should as "love_my_family246." Most of the time, you will need to use both letters and numbers, so use numbers that don't mean anything personal. Use caution, but don't let fear keep you from this great resource.

Message boards all have their own individual goals, so make sure you sign up for one that fits your needs before filling out the registration. For example, some are for beginners, so if you have no need to discuss simple things, such as birth records, you might rather sign up for the advanced message board. Also, read some of the previous posts to get a feel for the population using the message board. Sometimes, people will use lots of profanity, which may make you uncomfortable, or discuss one aspect of genealogy, such as family health. Sign up for what you need.

Message boards work in two ways-giving help and getting help. Although you may not gain anything personally from answering someone's question, remember to do it from time to time anyway, since someone is taking the time to answer yours. Message boards can lead you to a variety of sources and even help you locate people who are researching similar surnames, so this is a great option for beginners who have a personal computer.

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