How RootsWeb/Ancestry Message Boards Work
Message boards (also called discussion boards and discussion forums) are very similar to traditional bulletin boards. You post a message to the board, and folks can read your message and respond to it if they like. Most, if not all, genealogy message board systems require you to register with the site and create a user profile. Message boards are web-based, meaning messages are posted to a web page. The content of messages on many genealogical message boards is accessible to the general public, including those who are not registered to use the message boards.
RootsWeb/Ancestry message boards are free to use and do not require a paid Ancestry.com subscription to use. You must register and create a user account in order to post (add or reply to a message) on the message boards, but neither is required to simply read messages or to search the boards. There are two interfaces (access points) for these message boards: one through the RootsWeb site and one through the Ancestry site. Both interfaces take you to the same set of message boards. They are not different message board systems.
There are three types of message boards at RootsWeb/Ancestry: surname, locality, and topic.
To post to the message boards, you must be a registered user with RootsWeb/Ancestry and be logged into your account. Registration is free and has additional benefits beyond allowing you to post to message boards. With your user account you can easily update your contact information on all messages you have posted to the message boards, have the message board system contact you when a message is posted to any board(s) you specify, and interconnect all areas of RootsWeb/Ancestry you use (mailing lists, family trees, post-ems, subscription service, webspace, and more).
When viewing a particular message board, you'll see a list of messages below the name of the board. They are arranged in order of newest to oldest, with the most recent messages posted at the top of the list. This list will include the subject of the first message posted in the thread, the author's username, the number of replies to the message, and the date of the most recent post to this thread. The word thread refers to a message and any replies posted to that message. Messages and their replies are "threaded" (attached) together as a group. Clicking on the subject line (under the heading Thread) will display the first message posted in the thread. Clicking on the username (under the heading Author) will display the contact info for the poster of the first message. Clicking on the date (under the heading Last Post) will display the most recent post to the thread.
When viewing a specific post on a message board, you have the option to Post, Report Abuse, or Print. Clicking on Post allows you to post a message to the board. Clicking on Report Abuse allows you to notify the board administrator that the message in question violates message board rules, and clicking on Print will display the message in a printer-friendly format.
Once you have a user account and are logged in, you can post a new message (called creating a new thread) or reply to a message already posted to a message board. Since the message boards are searchable, cross-posting is not permitted. Cross-posting refers to posting an identical message on more than one board. To post a new message, click on the "Begin New Thread" link just below the name of the board. This link will take you to a page where you can create a subject line and type up the content for your message. To post a reply, click on the "Reply" link just below the content of the message to which you wish to reply.
Some aspects of posting a message are not well explained on the RootsWeb/Ancestry site. When you create a new message or reply to an existing message, you are taken to a webpage that allows you to enter the following information:
Don't include angle brackets < > in your message. Since angle brackets are symbols used in HTML and other types of web page code and message boards are web-based, any angle brackets included will result in an error message when you click on the "Post" button to post your message. No reason will be given, other than there was problem that has been logged with their site.
E-mail addresses included in the content of your message are not encoded to protect them from "harvesters" (which collect e-mail addresses found on the internet and sell them to mass e-mailers). Therefore, it's not advisable to include e-mail addresses in your message. The e-mail address associated with your user account, if you choose to make it public on the RootsWeb/Ancestry boards, is encoded for your protection.
You may edit the content of any message you have posted. While logged in and viewing the post you want to edit, click on the Edit link beside the subject line. Your post will then be displayed in Edit form, where you can make any changes you wish. Note that you can only edit posts associated with your user account.
You may also delete any message that you have posted to the message board system. While logged on and viewing the post you want to remove, click on the Delete link beside the subject line. A confirmation box will appear on your screen, asking if you're sure you want to delete the post. Any replies to the message you wish to delete will not be removed from the board. You may also request removal of a message you posted by clicking on the Report Abuse link while viewing that message. Unlike when you remove your own post(s), all replies to that particular message may be deleted as well, so please use this option sparingly. Board administrators do not have the option to delete only your post if there are replies attached. You may also request removal of a message that you did not post if it violates RootsWeb/Ancestry's AUP. You must cite a valid reason for removal. The board administrator may remove any message without the poster's consent that advertises for-fee services such as commercial websites, paid services offered, books for sale, eBay auctions, and similar content.
As a registered user, it's very easy to change your contact information (if you've chosen to make it public). Simply click on My Account at the top of any message board and look for the link Change username or password under the heading Personal Information. It's that simple.
The RootsWeb/Ancestry message boards are searchable. On the message boards home page, locate the Search the Boards subheading. On a specific message board, look for the Search button above the name of the board and choose whether you want to search all boards or only that particular board. You cannot search a specific board from the message boards home page. There is also an Advanced Search link that will allow you to narrow your search by searching for keywords found in the subject line, surname field, and/or message body as well as by poster's username, message classification, or timeframe posted.
Many Ancestry/RootsWeb boards are "gatewayed." Gatewayed boards are those whose messages are copied to the RootsWeb mailing list of the same name. How does one know a message board is gatewayed? When viewing the list of messages on a particular board, you'll see two clues. Beside the name of the board (found above the list of messages), you'll see a dark yellow squarish icon to the left, and if the message board is gatewayed to a mailing list, you'll see an envelope overlapping that icon. The envelope icon can easily be mistaken for a white rectangle with a blue X inside. The second clue can be found at the bottom of the list of messages. Gatewayed boards will state "Posts to this board are copied to the [listname] RootsWeb.com mailing list. [Listname, of course, is the actual name of the mailing list.]
So, what exactly does this mean? It means that every message posted to a gatewayed board results in a copy of that message being posted to the corresponding mailing list. The mailing list subscribers will receive a copy of these messages that include additional identifying information to make it clear they are message board posts. To protect the privacy of board posters, gatewayed messages board posts do not include the posters' email addresses.