Got questions? Message boards have answers.

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There are days that I wish there were a Facebook page just for genealogists!

I would love to be able to post a question about a particular family, or a specific town, or both, and have everybody see it who has even a moderate interest. Everybody would try to answer the question. They would either tell me what I need to know, or teach me how to find it for myself, or both.

The Facebook can be used that way, but you get all the hassles of being on Facebook, like endless vacation pictures, angry political posts, and unfunny memes. So how do we get around this?

Many key genealogy websites have a section called the “Message Board.” and many also have a way to upload your family tree and contact each other to exchange information.

Genealogy message boards are basically like having a giant old-school cork bulletin board filled with post-it notes. I used to go to large national genealogy conferences and each one always had an entire wall filled with notes “Looking For Johnson family from Sheboygan, 1850s. E-mail me at…” People would actually connect with each other even though they flew hundreds of miles to attend the conference. On-line message boards save a lot of airfare.

So the idea is for you to post a question, and everyone on the board can see it or search for it, and they can all throw in their answers. First, however, you should find the correct board. Each board has either a specific town, county or country, specific family surname, or a type of record such as “Obituaries” or “Passenger lists”. You can post in more than one board if the question belongs there. Second, be specific with your subject line. Always list the specific info you want. “Looking for Obituary of Giuseppe Ancona 1959 in Addison.” What is important to understand is that there will be thousands of questions on each board, and people will only read the ones that look interesting. So your subject line needs to stand out amongst a lot of other posts. Never use a generic subject line like “Searching for Family” or “Genealogy question” because that looks to the reader like it could be about anything, and they don’t have time to read all of those.

Somewhere in the question area is a check box that tells you “Send an e-mail when someone responds to this post” Always check that box, so you will only have to revisit that question when someone tries to answer it. Otherwise, you will have to visit the page over and over to see if someone saw and answered your question.

You can answer other people’s questions too by searching for family names or towns that you know and replying. Most often, I search for “Triggiano” and reply to anyone who is asking for help with that town. Usually I give them my e-mail and ask them to contact me that way.

So where do we find these boards, they are all over but the largest collections of boards can be found on, Ancestry, Rootsweb, and

Another way to connect to other researchers is to post your family tree on or Typically you need to download your tree as a gedcom file and then upload it to either of those web sites. The sites will try to get you to correct any glaring errors in your tree, such as a person being born in 1620 and having no death date. Then it will try to find matches between your data and the data submitted by others. This is an obvious way to connect to other people researching the same family. Frequently you end up finding the person who is researching the in-law side of the tree, which you may not be working on, but you can confirm your sources and trade with that person even if it’s only one married couple. If you are lucky enough to find someone who is researching the same line as you are, it’s a home run! The web site will check the name, dates and places and decide if it has an exact match or a partial match, and then it lets you decide if you think that your second cousin Angela Mallardi is the same as the other person’s grandmother Angelina Mallardi. If you don’t think it’s a match, or you’re not sure, don’t link them together. Our Italian genealogy files have a lot of infants in them and we have to make sure that second cousin Angela who was born on Oct 4th 1924 is not the same as someone else’s grandmother Angelina who was born April 10th 1922. (It turns out that the birth date of the grandmother is the wrong person. It’s a baby sibling that died. The real birth date is 1924!)

Long story short, when in doubt, don’t link them together but check into it on your own later.

So until Facebook creates a special app called “FamilyBook” that limits your posts to genealogy questions, you can use the message board and the family tree upload to connect to other possible relatives all over the world!

E-mail Dan at and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject.


About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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One comment

  1. There are a few Italian genealogy groups as well as a very active Dual Citizenship group which requires a lot of genealogy. A lot of people visit their old commune and reconnect with family members. It’s really great.

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