May 30, 2012

Why it Pays to Follow and Post on Genealogy Forums

My new sister-in-law never knew her grandmother. All she knew was a first name - Mabel. Mabel had a son (the father of my sister-in-law) who she gave up for adoption in 1914 and all the family knew was that she worked for a wealthy family in London England.

As a surprise for my sister-in-law I've been researching her family for the past year. I started with her dad's birth certificate from PRO, which didn't reveal his father's name but gave me more information about Mabel.

Using that plus a marriage record, I was able to trace Mabel and her family back several generations. But all I could find on Mabel was that she never married and died in 1977.

So I began tracing Mabel's siblings - one brother and one sister. The sister died young but her brother married, had one son and that son had four children. I told my sister-in-law that if she wanted I would try to find and contact the four children (they would be her cousins) but she should be prepared for reactions ranging from overjoyed to know of new family to refusal to acknowledge her.

Long story short, I follow various genealogy forums online. In order to know when new posts are made to certain forums, I make sure I post responses to others queries. That way I get an email when anyone posts on that topic. I also post queries.

Two days ago I received an email notification that a man had posted in a forum I watch where the topic is Mabel's surname.

I was blown away by this new post. Someone had posted looking for information on his grandfather - Mable's brother! I wrote to him privately and told him about Mabel and her son. I wasn't sure if he would respond or if the family knew about Mabel's son. But I got lucky. He responded with "this is a bombshell but I'm overjoyed"

In an exchange of emails I have learned that he knew his "Aunt Mabel" very well and that he visited her frequently until her death. He's now filled me in on many details of Mabel's life and personality. She was well-loved by her family but no one alive now knew of her son.

Ironically she lived less than 11 miles from her son when he was an adult. It is so sad that he never got to meet her but my sister-in-law is thrilled to find out about her mysterious grandmother.

Best of all, my new contact is in the process of asking his mother for photos of Mabel.

Had I not been watching this particular surname forum it's unlikely I'd have found Mable's nephew. Serendipity at work!

19 comments:

Nicola said...

That's a truly inspirational story. As a result of reading it I went back to a family name forum that i first posted on in 1999! I haven't been keeping up with it, But I will be making more effort from now on.
Thanks for sharing this.

Jana Last said...

How awesome! Congratulations and thanks for sharing!

The Grandmother Here said...

There's a lot of serendipity in genealogy.

Susie said...

That is wonderful, can you give a tip as to which forums you watch? Most of the ones I have looked at, it always seems the last person that posted, posted years ago, but I try and contact them anyway, and they are no longer at the email address, or they just don't do genealogy anymore. Have you come across this?

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Hi Susie. I use Rootschat.net for my English lines, then I post on a topic of interest. That way I get notified whenever a new post is made.

For my USA and Canadian lines I use Ancestry forums. I don't find it very useful most of the time to write to those who post so what I do is reply on the forum even if their post is many years old. I do that so that others will see my response (and I always give my email addy in my response) or perhaps even the original poster will wander back in and see it.

I watch surname forums and location forums on Ancestry. But only a few surnames - the ones that are most interesting or challenging to me.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Nicola, it really does pay off. It's a lot of work and I confess that I don't go back to read the forums as often as I should!

I rely on others contacting me OR being notified via email that a new post has gone up. I prefer a forum where I can set my preferences to say "contact me if anyone posts on this topic/board"

Susie said...

Thanks for the tips! I'll start leaving messages instead of trying to contact them, I bet I will get better responses.

Brett Payne said...

Great story Lorine. I must say finding adopted children's biological family has got to be some of the most rewarding research you can do. My gg-grandmother was adopted in the 1840s, the days before formal adoption, and I've been looking for years for her parents without success. I'm now resorting to Y-DNA testing of family members to try and get somewhere.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Brett - agreed! Adoption and illegitimacy are very difficult to research.

My 2nd great gramma was illegitimate and no father's name given in church record. It was too early for vital registrations (1830s) but luckily her marriage record gave her father's name. Phew! Otherwise I doubt I'd ever have found out who he was.

Brett Payne said...

I meant autosomal DNA testing, not Y-DNA, which of course is only good for the male line.

Rebecca said...

Neat story. Once in a while something neat like this happens when doing research. Thanks for sharing.

Mariann Regan said...

Lorine, Thank you for bringing up this important topic. Like you, I have used the ancestry.com forum and made some serious discoveries there, although none have been as heartwarming and personal as yours. Years ago, I did find one person with whom I shared family trees, and this way we each acquired supplementary branches of several hundred people--the "other side" of the family for each of us. It really bolsters my faith in human nature to do this kind of successful sharing and friendly interchange.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Rebecca & Mariann - I think this is one of the side effects I love most about genealogy.

I've found over the years that surprises (delightful ones) abound when seeking answers and details about an ancestor. Sometimes the surprises aren't quite so nice but the other genealogists I've come in contact with are almost always amazingly generous people

Claudia's Genealogy Blog said...

I also follow my Family Names posts. The biggest frustration is in older posts is failing to get a reply. I always think that perhaps the poster has died.

The next frustration is the emails are no longer working. I still keep my old email account with the chance someone will want to contact me.

Benjamin S. Jackson Jr. said...

How cool! What an awesome story, thanks for sharing! I've come to a few dead ends over time, and I've tried messaging people on Ancestry, but I never hear anything back. I should be more proactive and actually start a forum discussion myself.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Benjamin - I don't find writing directly is a good use of my time. That's why I post on the forum in response.

That way it's public and another descendant might see it. And that's also why I like to include an email addy that isn't tied to my ISP and one I think will be around for long time :-)

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Great idea Claudia to keep an old email account just in case. Sometimes that's not possible though but I do the same thing if I can.

I still have an old email account through my long-gone ISP csolve.net. IT costs 11.00/month and that's all it is - email. But it was in use over 15 years ago so I need it to stay viable for awhile longer

However my very first email addy I had was on an ISP that went out of business so that one's long gone!

Jeni said...

This is a very helpful post. FYI, it's http://www.rootschat.com/ , not .net. I appreciate that link also - it's so great when people share family history information.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Jeni thanks for the correction of URL. You're absolutely right