Ancestry doesn’t give much publicity to the massive collection of content on the Ancestry Message Boards.
Instead, the company has closed many of the older Boards for new posts. This article looks at whether the Message Boards are still useful for genealogy research.
The short answer is yes! But I’ll give you lots of tips if you haven’t used the site yet.
What Are The Ancestry Message Boards?
The Ancestry Message Boards are a collection of online forums where members post information and questions. There are thousands of individual forums or “Boards” organized in a hierarchical structure,
The top of the hierarchy can be found on the main page where you’ll see two types of Categories.
The first type are location categories where you can drill down from region to country. The second type are topic categories. The next sections explore both types.
How To Browse Location Categories
Countries may be further sub-divided before you get to the actual messages. For example, England divides into counties. And some counties like Bedfordshire divide into five sub-categories.
Unless your ancestors are from a hundred different places, it’s worth having a browse down through the hierarchy to see what’s available.
For example, London has three sub-categories. One is named “East of London Family History Society”.
This has posts of personal testimonies and memories. I had a look at “Life in Jupps Road”, which is an account of a family who lived on this road. It ends with this:
My mum’s family’s name was Wright, nan was Florence, (Flo), the family who lived downstairs were called Mr & Mrs. Island!Post on Ancestry Message Board
If your ancestors were the Islands of Jupps Road, you’d find this post fascinating!
How To Browse Topics Categories
The topics categories are more numerous than locations, and a bit more higgledy-piggledy in terms of organization.
My top tip is that you find the expansion link at the bottom of the home page. There may be a lot more topic categories than you think!
My next tip is that the expanded page has a display of two halves: categories and boards.
The top half is the list of categories, which may have further sub-categories when you click into them. When you drill down to the bottom level, you will see a list of Boards.
Each Board is a forum containing one or more threads.
You can distinguish a Category from a Board by the icon on the left. The folder icon is for a Category and the speech bubble icon is for a Board.
The second half of the page has a list of Boards that aren’t within a sub-category. They are directly under the main Topics Category list.
The little speech-bubble icon is the give-away.
This confused me when I was first looking through this site!
As you browse through Boards, you’ll notice that some are very specific. For example, the “Mormon Handcart Pioneers 1856” topic has one thread with two posts.
In contrast, some Boards have thousands of threads. One example is the Obituary Board, which we’ll look at in a later section.
How To Search The Ancestry Message Boards
Once you’ve had a browse through the Categories and Boards, you’ll probably want to get more focused.
There are two types of searches available. The first is a keyword search which will look through the content of messages posted within boards.
You can enter a keyword like “Sultana” to find messages that mention the Sultana Shipwreck of 1865.
You can also enter a surname as the keyword. Again, this looks within the message content for mention of the surname.
But this may be a bit of a wide dragnet. There is a more targeted choice for surnames and topics.
The Board Search lets you look for a board that is named for the topic or surname.
You can also use the alphabet option, which is helpful for spotting different variations of names.
For example, I’m interested in the surname “Gamble”. A Board search gives me two results: “Gamble” and “Gambler”.
However, when I use the alphabet drill-down it’s easier to spot name variations.
This is useful because the search functions aren’t as sophisticated as available with Ancestry’s record searching. They don’t give you alternate spellings and nicknames.
The Closed Obituary Board On Ancestry Message Boards
The biggest individual board by far on the site is called “Obituaries”. It has a whopping 111,029 threads within the topic.
How did it get so big? Well, one member posted a huge number of recent obituaries back in 2008.
As thousands were posted on the same day, I assume that the user had an automated process to copy-and-post them onto the board.
I mentioned the exact number of threads because I’m confident that it won’t have changed by the time you’re reading this article.
This is because Ancestry has closed this board to new messages! This message is at the top of the page:
“This board is read-only and closed to new posts.”Obituary Board
Still useful for a search
The poster has helpfully provided separate surname lists for each obituary.
However, I suggest that you search by the content so you don’t miss married women!
For example, here is an extract of an obituary for “John Petree” where the surname list is given as “Chaney, Petree”.
“Surviving are three daughters, Abbie Turner and Sheryl Michael, both of Sedalia, and Lisa Rivers, and her husband, Metus, of Shreveport, La.”Post on Obituary Board
You don’t want to miss out if your lead is married daughter Lisa Rivers of Shreveport.
Why did Ancestry close the Obituary message board?
Ancestry closed the board in March 2020.
I assume that the reason was to stop the free material from competing with Ancestry’s other obituary archives: FindAGrave.com and Newspapers.com.
The timing may seem a little bit late. Ancestry bought FindAGrave in 2013, and they bought Newspapers.com in 2012. I don’t suppose it took the execs eight years to notice their own free message board!
So, what was happening in 2020 that made them close the Obituary board? Well, Ancestry was acquired by a massive investment company later that year.
It may be that they were “cleaning house” in preparation for the purchase. Perhaps the clean-up included shutting down competition to their paid service of obituaries on Newspapers.com.
Why Are So Many Ancestry Message Boards Closed?
Many of the closed message boards were transferred from a separate website called RootsWeb when Ancestry purchased it.
We have a separate article on the history and current state of RootsWeb.
The original forum administrators were no longer willing (or perhaps able) to continue to moderate on a new website.
However, you find that the original members continue to be active elsewhere.
They may have posted a final message with details of further contact. Alternatively, you can do an internet search to chase them up.
For example, this is the final message on the “East Of London Family History Society” Board. It’s a little terse!
The East of London Family History Society (EoLFHS) no longer monitors or supports this board. Please do not place new posts here. They will be removed.Final post on this Board
However, a quick internet search for this society shows that they set up an independent website to support their activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Ancestry Still Allow New Message Boards And Posts?
Unlike RootsWeb, Ancestry hasn’t closed its Message Boards down.
There are plenty of Boards that continue to have activity. You just need to check the date of the most recent activity.
Do You Have To Pay To Use Ancestry Message Boards?
Ancestry Message Boards are completely free to use.
You don’t need the free membership account with Ancestry to view messages on the boards.
Can you post on Ancestry Message Boards?
Although many of the Boards are closed for new posts, you can still post messages on the open Boards.
In order to post a message, you will need to register for a free account.
Can you delete messages on Ancestry Message Boards?
You can delete messages that you posted on a Board. You can’t delete other people’s messages – unless you’re an administrator (in which case you probably wouldn’t be asking this question).
Are there Irish message boards?
There is a top-level location category called “United Kingdom and Ireland” that lets you drill down to Irish topics.
However, some other topic categories aren’t so clear that they contain good content on Irish affairs.
For example, there is an “Adoption” topic that has a sub-category called “United Kingdom”. Unfortunately, “Ireland” is beneath this sub-category. As many of the messages concern the Republic Of Ireland in the mid-to-late 20th century, this is not historically correct.
So if you’re looking for Irish material and can’t find an “Ireland” category- take a look inside the “United Kingdom” category to see if it’s hiding there.