Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Making Surnames Searchable

So you’ve been to the Forums and you can’t find the surnames you are looking for. Now what? That happened to me, and I found a way to resolve that problem. It’s just a matter of asking.

Once I discovered the names associated with my father’s Laskowski line—Aktabowski and Gramlewicz—I was excited and wanted to get to work on the research right away. I had thought this would be an easy task, since those are not very common names. Unfortunately, they were so uncommon that I couldn’t find them anywhere.

My two primary resources for online help were the forums hosted at GenForum and Rootsweb. Neither place had those surnames included in their roster. At the time, Googling the names yielded next to nothing, too.

Then, I discovered a little secret about GenForum: you can ask. And someone will have an answer you will like: a way to provide a forum for your specific surname.

Turned out there were two ways to request consideration of adding new surnames. First, there is an actual page with clickable options for adding a surname, adding a domestic location, and adding an international location. Then, for those unable to find their way to this page (and I was one of those search-challenged individuals), there is a clickable link included on the bottom right of each page in GenForum that says simply, “Add Forum.” Can’t get more streamlined than that.

The process, in my case, was so simple, I pulled it off without a hitch. And there, on GenForum, are my requested forums for both Aktabowski and Gramlewicz. However, as you probably have surmised, just one look shows how obvious it was why this research venue was not previously included in their roster: the pages have gotten next to no traffic in all the years since my request.

The case with Rootsweb was a little different. At that time, the Rootsweb subscriber lists were administered by a moderator. If you wanted a new surname added, you had to be willing to be a moderator for the list. I wasn’t quite ready for that, myself. I’m still not ready. And evidently, no one else is ready to spring for administering a mailing list for my Aktabowski or Gramlewicz lines, as I saw today when taking another look around their current list of offerings.

However, upon the merger of Rootsweb with the commercial power of Ancestry, the Rootsweb navigational bar began offering the link to Ancestry’s message boards. At that point, I hadn’t checked to see if my two surnames were on their list, but checking right now, they aren’t. However, there is a way to request other surnames be added on this site, too. Ominously, there is a clickable box at the bottom of the request form for those willing to serve as board administrator. I didn’t see any commentary on what happens to requests made by those not willing to exert the effort to make things happen, but I’m wondering if the answer will turn negative for those not willing to follow through with a little volunteer muscle.

So, if you are an initiator and want to see your ancestors’ surnames in lights (at least in a digital version online), the bottom line is: you can do this, and the more of “this” you want to do, the more you must be willing to follow through with your volunteer presence.

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