General FAQs

What exactly is a newsgroup?

Before the World Wide Web, before most people had even heard of the Internet, email-like discussion groups existed, individually called newsgroups; collectively known as Usenet. Ironically, a discussion of the history of Usenet doesn’t belong here, but you can find an article on it at USENET . If you would like more information, type “history of usenet” into your web browser’s search box; there’s lots of information out there.

In brief, newsgroups are arranged in hierarchies. This newsgroup, soc.genealogy.britain, is part of the “soc” (social) list of groups. Under that list, there are many sub-lists, of which genealogy forms one. And we’re about genealogy in Britain. (Strictly speaking, the UK, in fact.)

Within each group, discussions are clumped in “threads” which have the same subject line. For an unmoderated group like soc.genealogy.britain, anyone can post messages. These are collected on news servers, which act like old-style bulletin boards (you know, the ones with green baize and lots of drawing pins), displaying the threads and the individual posts in each thread for anyone to read.

Each post is like an email, except that it’s sent to the newsgroup rather than to an individual. You, as a reader, can choose which topics you want to look at, and which postings you want to read: it’s not like an email discussion group where you get every message sent to you whether or not you’re interested in it.

How do I use newsgroups?

You have two options. Either through the web, using something like Google Groups (http://groups.google.com/ ), or with newsreading software.

The one newareader program we’d recommend for everyone is Thunderbird (http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/ ). That’s not because it’s the best newsreader out there – it’s not! – it’s just because it’s available for Windows, Linux and MacOS X alike, it’s used pretty commonly, it’s reasonably well maintained by an active group of developers and, best of all, it’s free.

But my ISP doesn’t provide a news server!

Don’t panic! You can buy news service very cheaply. I’d recommend news.individual.net . It costs EUR 10.00 per year, and you don’t have to change your settings when you change your ISP (or connect your laptop to a different ISP).A paid-for news service is probably better anyway: ISPs have less incentive to provide a good, reliable service than someone you’re paying specifically for Usenet.

What is the purpose of the newsgroup?

soc.genealogy.britain exists to allow genealogists of all kinds, both professional and amateur, to discuss topics related to genealogy. The group’s Charter describes in precise terms its full remit, and the acceptable and unacceptable types of post.

What’s it like in the newsgroup?

The soc.genealogy.britain newsgroup is a friendly group of people who share a common interest – family history. Some are professional genealogists or historical researchers; some are private individuals exploring theirfamily’s roots; some are just interested in the subject, or like posting historical information that bears upon genealogy, such as news snippets from century-old newspapers.

The thing to remember is that although most of the group’s members are very helpful, it’s a social group for genealogists, not just a “resource”. You’re expected to give as well as take. People who haven’t done their own researches, and expect the group members to do them for them, are likely to get short shrift – but people who have explored all the alternatives and genuinely got “stuck” often post questions that lead to fascinating discussions as well as a variety of answers!

So, if you’re new to the group, and have found yourself at a dead end, read on! You should find a lot of useful information here and in other FAQs on this site, and pointers to other sources of information elsewhere. Not only are you likely to help unblock your obstructions, you’ll pick up a lot of useful knowledge along the way. And that, of course, is what genealogy is all about: acquiring and preserving knowledge for the next generations.

Is this list all of the FAQs for the group?

Not at all. If you go to http://genealogy-britain.org.uk/ and browse around, you’ll find much, much more. This article is just for general questions about posting to soc.genealogy.britain.

I want to post a question about my family history. How do I do it?
There is a general expectation in the group that you will have exhausted all of the normal avenues of research before asking this type of question. But first you need to know what they are!

Frequently Asked Questions

These should give you a good introduction into surname research, and the various tools and facilities available.

Be prepared, when you embark on family history research, not to get results quickly. It takes over a week to get BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death) certificates back from the General Register Office for England and Wales (http://www.gro.gov.uk), unless you pay an expensive premium, and you’ll be spending a lot of time digging around various online and offline information sources before you make real progress.

It’s tempting to take a short cut, and post a general surname question to soc.genealogy.britain, but this is not to be recommended, as some regulars bite!

A good dictionary (for old occupations) and an atlas covering the counties of interest are worthwhile investments.

A visit to your local Library should produce several books on researching your family in the U.K. “Tracing Your Family Tree: The Comprehensive Guide To Discovering Your Family History” by Jean Cole & John Titford (earlier editions were by Jean Cole & Michael Armstrong) is one we can recommend.

Right, I’ve done all that, and I’m stuck. How DO I post?
Whoa there, Trigger! Have you checked whether the newsgroup has covered similar topics before? You will find the newsgroup archives at Google: http://groups.google.com/groups?q=soc.genealogy.britain&btnG=Search&meta=site%3Dgroups .

At the top you will find a search box. You have the option of searching just soc.genealogy.britain or all Google newsgroups.

Finally, please read the other Frequently Asked Questions lists that are provided on this web site.

If you’re still stuck, or you want to ask about something related to family history (or even if you’ve an interesting anecdote), post away!

I want to speak with the manager!

There isn’t one! Anyone’s free to post anything they want, and no-one can be “thrown out” of a Usenet newsgroup that doesn’t have moderation – and s.g.b doesn’t. But if someone’s posted in a way that their Internet Service Provider would consider abuse – that usually means defamatory, unlawful, abusive of minorities, or liable to cause deliberate offence – you might consider telling their ISP. All newsreader software has an option to show the “headers” of the message – often described as “View Source”. By examining these headers, you can usually find an email address or method for reporting abuse. Don’t expect a personal response – most ISPs don’t admit to having sanctioned a customer – but if there is a flood of complaint, or a legal threat – ISPs generally do take action behind the scenes.

A word about Ancestry before we go any further

There’s a very useful for-pay site called Ancestry (in the UK, http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ ). It has many different ways of searching for your ancestors, and it’s used by many of the genealogical community, not necessarily with good grace. However, recently they’ve introduced a “Buy Certificate” option on their Births, Marriages and Deaths searches. It’s the overwhelming consensus of the group that the “Buy Certificate” option is not worth using.

For England and Wales BMDs, the best and by far the cheapest way to obtain them is through the General Register Office ‘s web site. The basic service is £7 with delivery is in 5-7 working days, or £23 for the 24-hour service (plus £3 in both cases if you don’t know the GRO index number, which you can often get for free through FreeBMD ).

For Scottish BMDs, go to the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) instead (£13 standard service, £23 next-day, apply by writing or in person only). Better still, if you go to the Scotland’s People Centre and use their search rooms , for which you pay £10 per day, you can copy as many “statutory records” (certificate data) as you wish, for 50p per A4 page (£1 A3). If you can’t make it to the search rooms, you can download digital images of the certificates from Scotland’s People for £1.20 (five “credits”) each, based on a prepaid system charging £6 for 30 credits.

By contrast, Ancestry charges £19.99 for a 16 day service, or £39.99 for an “express” 6-day service! This is a money pit for novice family historians, and there is no good reason to use it in preference to better, cheaper and more canonical services provided by their Governmental sources.

(All prices correct as of 4th Sept 2009.)

Lists of Useful Links

We have links to a large number of very useful sites that contain research FAQs, over on the Useful Links page.

In memoriam

Family history starts with births, marriages and deaths. Sadly our membership occasionally contributes to the latter in person.

Hugh Watkins

On the 29th of December 2009, Hugh Watkins joined the death registry, to be researched in his own right. Hugh, a larger-than-life character in many ways, was an enthusiastic and regular contributor to soc.generalogy.britain. He frequently helped and mentored other members of the group, and was a well-known figure in many other areas of British genealogy, too. His online obiturary is here.

Don Moody

Not long ago, we lost a long-standing and famous – perhaps infamous – member: Don Moody. He died on the 27th February 2009, from complications of Type I diabetes. Don was highly intelligent, and deeply knowledgable about genealogy. He was also rather intolerant of newcomers or askers of obvious questions, who would become the aim of his wit: incisive, droll and acerbic in equal parts. His death notice, posted by soc.genealogy.britain by his son Danny, can be found here, along with a lot of group members’ obituaries and observations.

Nonetheless, Don was often entertaining, particularly if one was not his target, and he is remembered with wry fondness. Given his own restrained fondness for a certain beverage, it is an evolving tradition of soc.genealogy.britain to raise a glass of fine Scotch malt whisky to his memory whenever his name is mentioned. With that in mind … cheers, Don!