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First, let's get our terminology straight.
What is the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web?

  • The Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks.
  •    The World Wide Web is a network of interconnected web pages.

What are the main Internet communications tools and how can they help us? They are summarized in the following table.

Task Internet Tool
Find Family History Records World Wide Web
Find unknown relatives   Researcher Web Directories
Communicate with relatives e-mail
Find people with common interests   e-mail lists, message boards and  newsgroups

The Web    

With the web, users retrieve web pages from Internet servers. Users control what they get by clicking on links or typing in web addresses. The web pages are displayed by an internet browser such as Internet Explorer. 


With e-mail, messages are sent between individuals or groups. The sender controls what is sent and who it is sent to.

E-mail Lists

E-mail lists are lists of e-mail addresses stored on an Internet list server computer. People voluntarily register their e-mail addresses. When someone sends a message to the list, it is distributed to all registered users by the list server. Regular e-mail allows senders to send messages to a group of people, but the sender must know the e-mail addresses of all recipients. With e-mail lists, the list of receivers is stored on the server and is normally not made public. E-mail lists allow the receivers to remain anonymous. In some cases, e-mail lists have archives that are accessible so that you can view previously sent messages.

Message is sent to List Server

Mail is forwarded to all list members

RootsWeb mailing lists are at http://lists.rootsweb.ancestry.com

Message Boards and Newsgroups

Message boards and Newsgroups are a place where messages can be posted for others to see. Any user can send a message and the server simply stores the messages. Interested parties can then view the messages at any time. Message boards and Newsgroups are Internet bulletin boards.

Message is sent to News Server

Members can view news messages
  • Ancestrycom's message boards are at boards.ancestry.com
  • There are many web services on the Internet that let anyone create a forum or list on any topic. You will find numerous duplications on different Internet servers. For example,
  • Place your genealogy queries at www.cousinconnect.com

Common Sense

Most e-mail programs, such as Outlook Express, display you inbox as a summary of the subject lines of all messages. Because the subject line is the first part of the message, it is important that you some thought to what you type there. This is particularly important for messages to e-mail lists and to message boards. Once you join a few e-mail list, you will eventually get hundreds of messages a week. At some point, it will be impossible to read all of the messages, but you may wish to read the subject lines to decide whether to read further. Whether you reach this point yourself, is not as important as the fact that many other members of the e-mail list will be scanning the subject lines. Sending a message with a subject line of "My genealogy" will not get much attention and neither will a message to the Smith surname list, titled "Smith family".

Comparison of Internet Communications Tools

Tool  Messages Delivered Anonymous Receiver Archives Available
Message Board          
Newsgroup          Limited
E-mail list          
E-mail list with archive            

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