How to find fellow genealogists

Did you know that, on the Internet, there are a large number of discussion-forums and mailing lists dealing with Norwegian genealogy?

If we add in all the forums that deal with Norwegian matters not directly linked to genealogy, there are so many that I am not even going to try to list any of them. These discussion-forums and mailing lists can be of great help and lots of fun to be part of. I will in the following refer to them as group(s).

In this article I want to share some thoughts and experiences I have made on various genealogy groups for almost as long as the Internet has been around. Many, if not most, of the advice I give should be relevant to any on-line group no matter what subject it may be dealing with.

What group should you join?

That is a question that I cannot easily answer. What you should do is to look around the Internet and see if you find something that seems interesting and relevant to what you are searching for. Write “Norwegian Genealogy Discussion” in Google and you will get a large number of hits. It is just for you to pick and choose. I recommend that you don’t join too many groups at the same time. It can be difficult to keep up reading and if you join in several discussions it can be confusing as to “who answered what where”. Sometimes you will see the same questions posted in different groups. I will address this later.

Most groups have a “Group description”, a “Newbie notes/read this” or a “Beginners FAQ” or something like that. You should start by reading this. The description will tell you exactly what the group is dealing with, what matters that may be raised and sometimes what matters that are not to be discussed in the group. As an example; there are groups dealing with “paper-trail genealogy”. Some of these groups may state that “DNA genealogy” is not to be discussed in that group as there are other groups that are dedicated to that subject.

How to get into these groups?

Some groups are open so that you can read and post messages without being a member. I think that is great because you can read and get a feeling of what is going on in that group before you decide on joining. Some groups are closed. You may still be able to read, but if you want to post you need to be a member. On Facebook you click “become a member” and an administrator will check to see that “you are a real person” and that you are properly identified. No hard interviews!

On mailing lists you send an email to a posted address. Sometimes it is enough to write “subscribe” in the message body and then a server will do its magic and, -voila! you’re in. Other times an administrator have to add you to the list manually. Again, be sure to read all the information posted about the group and how to join.

You are in the game

Ok, you’re in the group and ready to begin. If you have not already had the opportunity to do so, I think you should lurk a little while, to see what is going on. You can also do like some does and introduce yourself and tell where your family comes from and what you a planning on doing with your genealogy work. Sometimes this produces a lot of responses from people who recognizes the name and/or places you might mention. If you already have your names and dates figured out, I’d say “go for it!” If you still are in the very beginning for your research, I recommend that you politely thank everyone for their interest and tell them that you will be back when you have sorted out your information.

To get the best possible results from your group postings, you need to do a little homework. In genealogy as in any other research, you have to start with what is known. You link yourself to your parents then you link your parents to your grandparents, and so on. This linking is done by finding the vital information about each individual person. You need information about birth, marriage, death, dates and places. You do, of course, not need all this information for each and every person you inquire about, but you need at least one piece of information that you know for sure is correct.

If you go on a group and post a request for information about Hans Hanson who was born in Bergen sometime late 1800’s, the serious participants will ask you for more specific information. The not-so-serious participants will start bombarding you with random hits on the many thousand Hans Hansons that was born in Bergen in the late 1800’s. Bergen was/is a large town, but even in the smallest villages there may be many persons with the same name, born within the same time frame, making it impossible to pick the right one without the proper information.

In some groups you are asked to enter a subject line or heading. Other groups don’t have this feature. It is still smart to start with a little heading, or at least with as few words as possible state the core information of your inquiry. This can be boiled down to:

  • the name of the person you are looking for.


  • the location (place(s) where this person was born/lived/died)


  • time period


  • any other information that can help identify this person.

Most importantly:

  • what information are you looking for?

(The above list is based on Nedrud 2015)

It’s a bit strange, but some list a lot of information about their ancestors, but forget to ask an actual question.

I think it is a good thing to state the source(s) for the information you present in your question. That way you show that you have your act together, and it is easier for the responders, as it sometimes is necessary to do a bit of backtracking.

I recommend you to limit each posting to one person or a couple (husband and wife). If you introduce too many different persons, locations and time periods, it is easy for the responders and eventually you, to get very confused.

I also think that you should focus your question to one or a few items. “When was he/she born?”, “When did they get married?” or “Did he/she have any siblings?” There is no need to get as much information as possible into/out of each posting. Nobody will find it strange if you are back frequently with new requests. This just show that you work methodically and are serious about your genealogy.

There seems to be people who hang around Internet groups as a pastime. They will jump at the opportunity to help you and sometimes compete to be the first to answer. In genealogy as in most other walks of life it is not the speed, but the quality of the work that matters. (Nedrud 2015) When you post a request, you are not expected to monitor the group 24/7. I suggest you post your request, log off and don’t go back for at least a couple of hours. This way people have time to read your request thoroughly, the “pastimers” have had their competition and several other people have had the opportunity to read your question and the previous answers. It is not always the first responses that are the most interesting. Another reason for waiting a while is that on international groups the time difference cause people in different countries to be logged on at different times. Norway is 6 hours ahead of EST. Depending on your question it might be good to have views from both sides of the Atlantic ocean.

When you at some point have got a number of interesting responses it might be a good idea to pause the discussion by thanking for the responses and say that you need some time to digest what you have learned. This will help you stay on top of things and keep you at the helm of your research. After you have had the time to review your responses, you can go back to the discussion and ask for clarification or additional information, or you can start a new discussion with your new questions.

Sometimes you will experience that responders disagree on the answer to your question. Don’t be afraid to ask about what sources they base their view on. When giving genealogical information or explaining a Norwegian concept people should always be able to provide sources.

When someone responds to your request, be sure to thank them for their interest in your case.

After some time you will have gained experience and knowledge and you might want to respond to someone else’s questions. Many of the things I have touched upon above can be good to keep in mind when answering. First you need to read the question thoroughly. What is it asked about? Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and additional information if the question is unclear. Then read previous responses! It’s nothing more boring than to have to wade through a long list of similar responses.

Don’t take over the search from the one who asks the questions. I think the search is as much fun as the results so I advice you to stick to answering the question and let the one who asks stay at the helm of his/her search. You may indicate that you have more information on the matter.

The information you provide should, of course, be of the same quality as you expect from others. Responding can be boiled down one small sentence: THINK (before you write)

Is it


Every now and then you will see that the discussion wear off the topic and outside the boundaries of the group description. There are moderators that read all postings and if things get too far out, they (or someone else) will rein the group in. That is why you should not introduce new topics into an ongoing discussion. Your responses should relate directly to the initial question or to a relevant reply in that discussion. If the discussion makes you think of something you want to bring up that is just vaguely related to the ongoing topic, you should start a new discussion (thread). As there are groups that try to be as serious as possible about the genealogy, there are also groups designed for chatting more freely about your Norwegian connection.

If you are a member of several groups dealing with the same topic, don’t post the same question in several groups. I find it highly annoying having spent time answering, only to find that the same person has posted the same question on another genealogy group and got the same answer as I just gave. That is, in my opinion, to show disrespect for other people’s time and effort.

Proper conduct

I was debating whether to add this part as most people are well-behaved and kind to each other. It is, however, easy to become a little impersonal by the computer and to forget that at the other end of a very long wire stretching from your home, there is a person just like you.

We are getting into the area called “netiquette” i.e. proper conduct on the internet. If you Google this you will find a lot of information and it is no reason for me to repeat it here. I will just share a few thoughts on this.

In general I think that we should stick to the golden rule we learned in Sunday-school “do to others what you would have them do to you”. Don’t say or do anything on the Internet that you would not say or do when speaking to the person face to face.

Most of the persons I have met on the Internet are nice. I am sure that you will experience the same. There are in genealogy groups, as in every other group on the Internet, people who is not that considerate and well-behaved. There seems to be those very few “nettrolls” who find some kind of sick satisfaction from ridiculing others. It is sad, but the only thing to do is to ignore them. If any problems arise, contact the administrator and he/she should take proper action. If they don’t, I would just leave the group.

Do not start polls in the group unless you have the administrator’s permission. Hopefully he/she will not grant (m)any such permissions as these seldom are very interesting and they tend to take a lot of space, time and focus.

In Internet groups questions and replies tend to be kept short, and this may sound a bit harsh at times. Remember that in most cases this only means that the person answering is giving you a quick reply or might be posting from their phone. It has usually nothing to do with their attitude towards you or your question. Remember also that in some groups members may be of different nationalities and English may not be their native language. Not being fluent in English and typing a quick reply might make the posting sound harsh, again having nothing to do with the attitude of the writer.

You may have noticed that English is not my native language. One time I was making a comment in a discussion, I did not pay proper attention to how I phrased myself and ended up insulting one of the other participants. Fortunately we were able to settle the matter, but I can tell you it was not a pleasant experience.

My last point in the “netiquette” part is to tell you to be careful about discussing living persons. If you are trying to get in contact with living relatives, I suggest you post your question without giving much private information. Stick to the information that might be found in a public phone-, or address books. Ask people to respond through email or private message. If you are able to answer a question like that, you should respond in the same way. You can post a message in the group to tell them you send them a message.

I hope you find this information useful. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments on this topic. There may be things that should be added or things that needs clarification. Go to contact and send me a word.


Nedrud, Rune: “Søke hjelp der helpen er å finne” Online lecture. Slektsgransking SLG121MOOC. Høgskulen i Volda, Fall semester 2015 (My notes)

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