Social Media for the Wise Genealogist" course through NIGS that I blogged about previously. While so far I'm finding the course a bit more basic than I would have liked, it's certainly an excellent course for people that haven't quite embraced new technology because they didn't think that they needed to, or because they were afraid to.
What I'm also finding while taking this course, is that despite the fact it's about social media, I see in fellow students' posts that they are still fighting it. I don't blame them for that. It took me quite some time (and convincing by friends) to even join Facebook, let alone begin blogging! One of our recent assignments was to post our experiences with Message Boards if we've used them and if we haven't, to poke around some surname boards and relay our findings. Do we think that they are useful in our research? I was shocked to see how many posts there were about how worthless message boards are! I began wondering if maybe they just weren't being used properly, and I posted my assignment suggesting just that, with some helpful hints, which I will go into more detail here.
We're bloggers or blog followers here, so it's most likely that we've all figured out how to use an RSS feed and some form of aggregator, i.e. - Google Reader, to read them through. That was also one of the first bits of reading covered in our class. I most commonly use Ancestry.com message boards, so that is what I will be referring to here. We all know that we can go to Ancestry Message Boards and search for information on a relative, hoping to find something. If we don't, sure we may think that the message boards were useless, but did you post a message to the board requesting the information or are you merely hoping to glean information from posts others have made? Don't be afraid to post! It may take awhile to get a response, but you won't get a response if you don't post anything! With a mentality like that there'd be no posting going on at all!
If you find a post with information that you may be interested in and you post a follow-up to it, what's next? If you check back you may get some information in your inbox, but what if you missed something in your initial search? Why not subscribe to the posts from that message board? If anyone posts to it, the information will be sent to your RSS aggregator and you'll be able to skim through it to see if it may pertain to you! You never know...perhaps someone looking for that common ancestor won't find your post in their search and they create a new one. If you've subscribed, you will see that new post and be able to contact them!
Keep your email address up to date on Ancestry as well! Have you ever come across a post that was made 10 years ago (or more)? They're still worth responding too, particularly if that person is still at that email or updated their profile. If someone responds directly to the post you made, you'll receive an email notification!
The message boards are free. You just need to know how to manage them so that you can use them to their fullest potential. I haven't covered every way this can be done, but I've touched on what I find easiest for me. I can't begin to count how many distant cousins I've met through Ancestry Message Boards. It didn't happen all at once, but it did happen and I've broken through some pretty big brick walls using them (always verifying information, of course!). If they haven't worked for you yet, don't disregard them. Think of how best to use them and give them time!