Communicating effectively is essential
skill for genealogists. Whether in writing or on the phone, you’re going to ask
for information or share information. And it follows that you should be able to
type. If you can’t there’s a free, online program to help you develop that skill
at: http://www.sense-lang.org/typing/. Or sign up for
a keyboarding class at your local adult education center. Bonus: learning a new
skill is supposed to stave off brain atrophy.
We don’t write letters on paper any
more. We send e-mail. If we contact a cousin who doesn’t have e-mail (they tell
me such people still exist), we call on the phone. Long-distance phone rates
used to limit our conversations, but with today’s all-you-can-eat minutes plans
for land-line and cell phones, we can talk more than our cousins can stand to
Your E-mail Address
There are many free sites (well, free if you don’t include the advertising factor) that offer e-mail addresses. Gmail,
Hotmail, and Yahoo come to mind. If you establish one of those e-mail addresses
and check it fairly regularly, you can keep that address virtually forever. If
you use an e-mail address tied to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), when you
jump ship for a better deal, you lose your e-mail address.
You can establish your own Internet
domain name and it and the e-mail addresses that go with it will be yours as
long as you keep your domain name registration paid up.
But like street addresses, e-mail
addresses may change and you’ll hear that tune, "Return to Sender, Address
Unknown," playing in your head. It happens often when you find a query someone
posted to a message board and you attempt to contact the sender and find no one
on the receiving end.
There is something you can do to help
people find you even though an e-mail address of yours goes defunct. Add a
“signature” block to all your e-mail messages. All e-mail programs, even the
free ones, offer this option. You set up a block of text (your signature) and
apply it automatically to all your outgoing messages. Instead of some sappy
quotation, put some real-world contact information in that signature. Your full
name and street address is a good start. Add your phone number if you’re willing
to talk on the phone.
Some folks won’t put their full name,
much less an address, on their e-mail for fear of having their identity stolen.
What will really happen is that in the future, some new genealogist who found
your ancestor’s Bible in their great-grandmother’s trunk will read some old post
of yours somewhere in cyberspace and attempt to contact you and get a
no-longer-valid error message. And because you didn’t include your name, they’ll
never be able to find you.
There are some safety rules about e-mail you should observe:
- Never open an
e-mail attachment when you aren’t 100% sure of who sent it and why. If there’s
any doubt, send a new e-mail to the person who sent the attachment and ask for
- Never send
financial information of any kind in an unencrypted e-mail.
- Always use
up-to-date virus protection that scans incoming and outgoing e-mail messages.
And then are some courtesy issues:
- Don’t send any
attachment without sending a message first to ask if your recipient wants it or
can accept it. (Some organizations where folks work have policies that limit
employee use of e-mail.)
- Don’t send a huge
attachment without announcing the size in kilobytes and asking if your recipient
is on dial-up or if it violates their ISP’s restrictions.
- Don’t pass on
smutty jokes, religious diatribes, political statements, urban legends, chain
letters or other cyber-garbage to people who haven’t asked you to share those
things with them.
- Don’t say
something in an e-mail you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s
newspaper. There’s nothing private about e-mail. Your recipient may forward your
message to everyone on the planet.
messages even if you can’t supply whatever someone wants. How long does it take
to type, “Sorry, I have no information on that topic”?
If someone sends you an e-mail of
lasting value, make it a practice to click on “save as” from the file menu in
your e-mail program and save it as a text (.txt) file in a folder you regularly
back up. In the case of attachments you want to keep, right-click on the
attachment’s file name and choose “save as” and put it in a folder with
documents you’ll back up.
Periodically save your “address book” or
“contact list.” And back up the resulting file.
If you feel more comfortable printing
hard copies of important messages, by all means, do so. But in the print options
box, choose the “two-up” feature to print two pages on one sheet of paper and
you’ll save paper and filing space.
In the dark, pre-Internet days, we had
to submit written inquiries (queries) to genealogical publications. There are
some instances where you can still do that, but most queries today take the form
of posts on message boards or lists related to the area or family you’re
The rules for
writing an effective query still apply from the old days.
- Be specific about
what you want and who you’re talking about.
- Keep your post to
one family in one place at one time.
- Keep the inquiry
to dead folks. Don’t post anything about living people without their permission.
- Give complete
contact information, not just an e-mail address.
- Adhere to all
rules of the site where you’re posting a message.
- Respond to all
To get started with queries, go to
RootsWeb.com and explore the links for beginners. Search the message boards and
mailing lists to see the previous postings that might be of interest to you.
Remember to search for place names as well as family names.
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