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How GenForum Works


Millions of people are using Internet resources to research their roots.
Millions of people are using Internet resources to research their roots.
© iStockphoto.com/catscandotcom

What do Jimmy Carter, William Wallace and Methuselah have in common? Hudson, Ohio resident Dorothy J. Click Lehman. The grandmother of 14 started tracing her roots 30 years ago, and in the process, she's uncovered thousands of relatives. The pages of names fill a book 200 pages long, following her family history back to a time before the Great Pyramid was built. While Dorothy has spent her fair share of time digging through records in courthouses and libraries, she admits that the Internet has allowed her to take her research farther than she ever thought possible. And while most people aren't as devoted to genealogy as Dorothy, there are millions of people using Internet resources (some are free, some are not) to research their roots. Combined with genealogy software, sites like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com help users create family trees, access birth and death records and explore their roots in ways never before possible.

GenForum is one of the many resources available to both budding and seasoned genealogists alike, though unlike many other sites, it depends heavily on its users to function. That's because, where other sites link to huge databases of genealogy information, GenForum fosters community among Internet users, allowing them to ask and answer each others' questions about genealogy. The site is part of a much larger network of genealogy resources owned and operated by Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., (formerly The Generations Network). Being part of such a large company is essential for GenForum to operate; the site can tap in to a huge user-base established by Ancestry.com's other operations. Since the site connects users to one another, oftentimes, they can share information that would be impossible to find otherwise. Think of GenForum as the Internet's version of asking your grandmother what it was like growing up; the information you can find goes well beyond what census data could tell you. And while GenForum will never replace the hard work of digging through records, digital or otherwise, it represents yet another way the Internet has added a new dynamic to a very old pastime. But exactly how does GenForum work? Read on to find out.

Using GenForum

At its core, GenForum is simply an Internet forum. Like other Internet forums, GenForum lets users post questions and comments under different message boards, and other users can respond to posts with their own feedback. The original posts, along with all of the responses to those posts, are kept on the site for any other visitors to search through, so forums are constantly gaining more and more content. In GenForum's case, anyone can read the posts written by the site's users. To contribute to the conversation, however, you'll need to register. The registration process, which is free, is surprisingly difficult. Because GenForum is part of a larger site, Genealogy.com, registration for both sites is tied together, which seems to complicate the process. The easiest way to sign up on GenForum is to jump right in and attempt to post to a discussion. The site will then bring up a page asking you to register, along with a link to the registration form. Of course, to make the registration page show up, you'll need to know how to search through forums to begin with. Fortunately, finding information on GenForum is easier than getting registered.

To find a message board about a particular surname, region or topic, users simply enter what they are looking for in the "Forum Finder"on the home page. The Forum Finder won't search the content of messages on discussion boards, however, so you'll need to start with a broad search and sift through the information from there. For instance, to find information on George Washington, you'll need to search for "Washington" and then click on "Washington Family Forum." From within the forum, you'll then be able to search for George specifically. The process is a little cumbersome, but it works. Fortunately, the site has nearly every last name imaginable, from "Aagre" to "Zyzelewski," so you have a strong chance of finding something -- or someone -- you might need. GenForum also lets you search for surnames by letter and search regionally by country and state.

Once you've found the forum you're looking for, you can begin reading the conversations people have had about different families and regions. If you're looking for information about a particular relative and can't find a discussion about that person, just create your own post. Make sure to include as much information as you can about the person you're trying to research, particularly birth and death dates, birthplaces and names of relatives. This information will help other forum members make the connection between their own research and the information you're looking for, and it will also serve as a resource for future inquiries into a particular family or region. Like other forums, GenForum is moderated by administrators who act as digital security guards. These admins make sure that messages are related to genealogy and don't contain any hateful or obscene content. GenForum also asks that users make sure someone hasn't already posted about a particularly subject before making new posts. That way, all of the information about a particular person can be found in one place. Of course, most of these practices are standard for other Internet forums, including GenForum's competitors. Read on to see what sets GenForum apart.

Benefits of GenForum

We've already touched on the importance of a large and active community for a site like GenForum. Fortunately for GenForum, its ties with popular Web sites like Genealogy.com and Ancestry.com help the site establish just such a community. As a result, GenForum has more than 14,000 active message boards and around 30,000 visitors a month [source: Quantcast]. Add in a support staff that can help answer users' questions, and it's easy to see why GenForum has become a popular source of information. Additionally, GenForum has some unique features to make navigating the site more intuitive and efficient.

The first of these features is called My GenForum. As the name suggests, this feature lets you tailor the site to your own interests. Once you click on the My GenForum link on the site's home page, the Web site adds a customizable section to the page. From there, you can search for message boards that interest you, and then click a button to add the forum to your custom site. This way, you can create a list of the surnames and regions you want to follow, and the next time you visit the site, the list will be waiting for you. This feature functions through the use of cookies, however, so make sure your browser is set to accept them if you plan on using this feature.

In addition to MyGenForum, GenForum has a couple of other nice features for users. First, the site lets you connect with other users in chat rooms. Unfortunately, most users seem to overlook this feature, so it's not uncommon to log in to a chat room and be the only one there. Second, the site has a customizable search that lets you look for posts by date. For instance, you might be interested in seeing all posts about a particular name that were written the previous day. The feature is particularly helpful for popular last names, as forums related to those names have a higher amount of daily activity.

So how does GenForum ultimately stack up to other genealogy forums? The site is a little less polished than its competition, particularly when it comes to registering and searching. Additionally, there are much larger forums available for genealogy research, including sister-site RootsWeb.com, which boasts more than 161,000 message boards. Admittedly, other sites don't have features like My GenForum, but they make up for it with cleaner layouts that are easier to use. The good news is that there's no reason for people to have to choose between using one genealogy forum over another. All of the major forums are free to use, and since they all have different information, any one of them could hold the missing link you might be looking for.

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Sources

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  • Hammerstrom, Bill. "Hammertyme: Grandma traces her roots as a labor of love." Hudson Hub Times. July 12, 2009. (7/26/2009) http://www.hudsonhubtimes.com/news/article/4625814
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  • TechRockies.com. "The Generations Network Becomes Ancestry.com." July 6, 2009. (7/26/2009) http://www.techrockies.com/story/0022618.html
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