Joining a Herd Research Groups

If your relatives are tired of hearing about your genealogy research trips or the information that you found on great-uncle Beauford, but you'd like to share your triumphs with someone, you may be ready to join a research group.

Research groups consist of any number of people who coordinate their research and share resources to achieve success. These groups may start conducting research because they share a surname, family branch, or geographic location. Individuals who live geographically close to each other may make up a research group, or the group may consist of people who have never personally met each other but are interested in descendents of one particular person. Research groups may have a variety of goals and may have a formal or an informal structure. They are quite flexible organizationally and depend entirely on the membership of the group.

A good example of a research group is one that Matthew discovered shortly after he posted his first Web page. An individual who was researching one of his surnames on the East Coast of the United States contacted him. After exchanging a couple of e-mails, Matthew learned that this individual was part of a small research group studying the origins of several different branches of the Helm surname. Each member of the group contributes the results of his or her personal research and provides any information that he or she finds, which may be of use to other members of the group. Additionally, the group as a whole has sponsored research by professional genealogists in other countries to discover more about their ancestors there and has spun off a more formal research group that focuses solely on molecular research (DNA-based) of the Helm bloodlines. The vast majority of the communication for these two research groups is through e-mail.

You can find an example of an online-based research group at the William Aaron Saunders Research Group site ( The mission of this group is to collect and share genealogical data and stories relating to William Aaron Saunders (cir. 1735 VA to cir. 1785 NC). The site is constructed to help Saunders/Sanders researchers collaborate with each other. It has sections containing information about the research group members, family groups, stories, photos, and GEDCOM files. It also has links to other Web sites that have information about some of the same ancestors that are studied through the research group.

tWS To find research groups, your best bet is to visit a comprehensive genealogical Web site or a site that specializes in surnames, such as the GeneaSearch Surname Registry at or SurnameWeb at

The following steps show you how to find groups pertaining to a surname on the site:

1. Launch your Web browser and go to the SurnameWeb site at www.

After the page loads, you see a search field and the letters of the alphabet near the top center of the page.

2. Choose the letter of the alphabet that's the first letter of the surname that you're researching.

For example, say the surname that you're researching begins with the letter P. Find the link to the letter P and click it. This action brings up a Web page with the P Index.

3. Select the Po link near the top of the page.

This brings up a list of surname links that begin with the letters Po.

4. Scroll through the list and select a surname link.

We want to find sites relating to the surname Pollard, so click the link for the Pollard surname, which takes us to a Results page titled Pollard Genealogy Center.

5. Choose a site to visit.

Scroll down past all of the links to search other commercial Web sites until you reach the links you're most interested in — in our case, those links that take us directly to personal and group Web pages that contain information about people named Pollard.

In addition to using comprehensive genealogy sites and specialized surname sites, you can use other strategies to identify possible research groups. One way to find research groups pertaining to surnames is to visit a one-name studies index. You can find a list of one-name studies sites at the Guild of One-Name Studies page ( You can also look to existing larger groups that may have specific research components, such as genealogical societies. (The following section goes into more detail on genealogical societies.)

If you can't find an established online group that fits your interests, why not start one yourself? If you're interested in researching a particular topic, the chances are very good that others out there are interested as well. Maybe the time has come for you to coordinate efforts and begin working with others toward your common research goals. Starting an online research group can be relatively easy — just post a message stating your interest in starting a group at some key locations, such as message boards, newsgroups, or mailing lists.

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