Basic newsgroup and mailing list "Netiquette"


This is a regular posting which outlines the basic newsgroup and mailing list "Netiquette" which should be followed by anyone who wishes to post to the soc.genealogy.* hierarchy of newsgroups and mailing lists.

This document is part of a regular series of postings which are sent to all appropriate groups and mailing lists. This particular document is posted on the first of every month.

The latest version of this document is available from the following locations

If you have any comments or additions, or would like to suggest further topics to be included, then please contact John Woodgate, (

Contributions by:
Tim Pierce, Pat Boren, Alf Christophersen, William Mills, Richard Pence, Hugh Ainsley, Alexandre Meissonnier, Randy Klear, Dave Sadler, Carl Cason, Margaret J. Olson, Jim Eggert, Ian Rawnsley, Linnea Ista, Cathy Deschu
Changes For This Version (5th July 1999)
Moved to a new server

Copyright And Disclaimer

Copyright (c) 1999 by John Woodgate. All rights reserved.

This document may be freely redistributed in its entirety without modification provided that this copyright notice is not removed. It may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial documents without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Permission is expressly granted for this document to be made available for file transfer from installations offering unrestricted anonymous file transfer on the Internet.

This document is provided AS IS without any express or implied warranty.

The author may be contacted at 50 Great Meadow Road, Bradley Stoke, Bristol, BS32 8DA, England.


Common Courtesies

Read carefully what you receive to make sure that you understand the message.

Read carefully what you send, to make sure that your message will not be misunderstood.

Know your audience. Make sure that the person or list of people you are sending your message to are right ones to be communicating with.

Many readers have very limited, and in some cases expensive electronic mail facilities. Be particularly careful not to cause unnecessary traffic, or to send unnecessary long messages.

Please DO NOT send "test messages." The system works. If you must test it, at least send a valid message, with useful information or questions. In fact there is a newsgroup called misc.test, set up specifically for test messages. If you post to this group, you will get email responses from a number of servers around the world which will allow you to judge how quickly and thoroughly your posts propagate.

Patience And Tolerance

Remember that not all readers have your native language as their native language, so make allowance for possible misunderstandings and unintended discourtesies.

Remember that the absence of visual clues normally associated with face to face communication provides an ideal environment for being misunderstood.

Be tolerant of newcomers. None of us were born knowing all.

If you are using humour or sarcasm, make sure to clearly label it as such. Humour is usually indicated by a smiley e.g. :) or (grin).

Subject Lines

Always include a descriptive subject line in your message. Use the Subject: line to get attention and make sure it describes the main point of your message. Avoid very long subjects as some newsreaders only display the first 30 characters or so. If you are seeking information about a family, include the surname in UPPERCASE in the Subject: line.

Remember that with many messages each week, many people use the subject line to decide if they should read your message or not. "Need help" or "Genealogy" are not good subject lines. Likewise, not everybody who reads this newsgroup lives in the same country as you. Please give an indication of the country or countries you are interested in together with a date range.

Keep messages to only one subject. Second subjects within a single message are often missed.

The information contained in the subject line should also be included in the message itself as some news readers display the subject line on a different screen to the message body.

Personal privacy

Please be careful about the information you post to the newsgroup or the mailing list. For example, if somebody asks you to look up some names and addresses in the local telephone directory, send the results directly to the requester.

Please be very careful about the amount of detail you post to the world. Consider if you would like to have the details of your birth, particularly if your parents weren't married at the time, broadcast to the world. And that is quite mild compared to some of the skeletons you might dig up.

As use of the Internet grows, we are beginning to see it being abused. Please think carefully before you post private details about yourself, or any present day individual to the world.

Request For Information

Be specific, especially when asking questions. If you ask about a person, identify when and where the person might have lived. You are much more likely to get a helpful reply if your message summarizes what efforts you have already made yourself to find the answer to your question.

Please do not post to this newsgroup or mailing list messages which should be more appropriately addressed to one of the other groups in the soc.genealogy hierarchy. And please avoid posting the same message to several newsgroups or mailing lists in the hierarchy, except when its content is equally relevant to each such newsgroup.

Avoid cluttering your message with excessive emphasis (such as stars, exclamation marks "!", etc). It can make the message hard to follow.

For straightforward queries which are simply seeking further information about a particular surname, or a named individual, it is recommended that the group of newsgroups soc.genealogy.surnames.* be used rather than any other newsgroup or mailing list. This is because soc.genealogy.surnames newsgroups are moderated as well as archived. The moderators ensure that subject lines are given in an informative and stylized format, providing details of dates and locations as well as the surname in question. This is aimed at facilitating searches of the entire large archive of messages that have ever been sent to the newsgroup, searching for all messages which relate to a given family.

For those people who are restricted to using email only, the soc.genealogy.surnames newsgroups are also available as mailing lists.

Please keep line lengths to about 72 characters to avoid problems with word wrap on replies. Most mail programs prepend the included lines with a '> '. It doesn't take many replies to extend the line over the normal 80 characters display size.

Replying to a message

Feel free to answer questions or provide clarification or comments in response to any posting you see on the newsgroup or mailing list. However, please "FOLLOW-UP" to the posting ONLY if you think your comments will be of interest to other readers and you wish your answer sent to all the newsgroup and mailing list readers. Otherwise please use the 'Reply' function on your newsreader to respond directly to the poster. If your newsreader doesn't allow 'Reply', note the e-mail address of the original poster and send an e-mail directly to that person.

If you want to start a personal correspondence with the poster of a message, look in the header of the note and find the "FROM:" or "REPLY TO:" field where you will find that person's email address. You can then send your note directly to that person.

Many newsreaders and mail programs provide easy means of replying to the poster of a particular message, and/or of posting a follow-up message, handling all the complications of message addressing automatically. Please make sure that you do not post a follow-up message accidentally, when your intention was merely to reply directly to the poster.

If you are responding to a message, either include the relevant part of the original message, or make sure you unambiguously refer to the original contents. It is very common for people to read your reply before they read the original message. However, please avoid unnecessarily lengthy quotations from the messages to which you are responding.

One point to bear in mind is that most Internet Service Providers delete messages after 2 or 3 days. You cannot rely on any one message being received by another subscriber. It is this very lack of permenance which makes it vital to register any surnames you are interested in in the soc.genealogy.surnames newsgroup so that it can be added to the archive.

Signature Files

Always 'sign' your message with your name and your preferred e-mail address. This is especially important because some e-mail and newsreader software do not always convey the originator's full e-mail address. While you may certainly include your regular mail address in your postings, you may wish to give this out only in personal replies, when necessary.

Please DO NOT include a list of the surnames you are researching in your signature file. If the messages are archived (and most newsgroups are archived) and somebody is searching for your surname, they need to find it only once; hopefully it will have your address with it as well. If they are searching, and get too many hits, then they may not request all the messages and therefore may miss seeing your message.

Many new email clients now default to attaching a copy of your message. This means that your message gets sent twice. Please ensure that you have this feature turned off when you send a message to a newsgroup or mailing list. You should also consider if you need to send your messages in MIME format, or would plain ASCII text be better?

There is an increasing trend to include V-Cards at the end of a message. While this may be a useful feature in a business environment, it is yet more wasted space when sent to a newsgroup or mailing list. The problem in Win95 is that they accumulate unless you purge them. Each of them will consume 16k (despite the file size of 176 bytes or whatever it is).

Mailing Lists

Some newsgroups are also linked, or gatewayed, to a mailing list. This means the all messages sent to the newsgroup are also sent to the mailing list. Thus people who can only use email can still take part in the discussions.

There is always a separate email address to send messages to the mailing list to that you use to subscribe, or talk to the computer. The computer often uses the name LISTSERV or LISTPROC. The mailing list address will be something list GENBRIT-L, or GENMSC-L. If you use the wrong address, you will end up sending messages to the computer, which will ignore them, and commands to the mailing list, which EVERYBODY will see.

Attaching Files

A lot of the newer mail and news programs provide a mechanisim which will allow you to 'attach' a file to your message. This can be a photo, a sound recording or even a complete family history book in your favourite word processor format. Even if you are sure everybody will be able to read it, the odds are that once it has passed through the internet it will be impossible to for anybody to understand without a lot of work. Please don't do it.

Sending GEDCOM files, Tiny Tafels, Decendent lists and any large lists should also be avoided. Not everybody has access to the Internet via their workplace or college. Some people have to pay for their access time. Downloading large files which they are not going to be interested in is a waste of their time and money. Much better to post a short message saying that you have the information if they are interested and then send it to just those people who request it.

Including files in any format other than straight ASCII is to be avoided. The use of uuencoded files, zipped files or even HTML files are likely to mean that nobody will read your message. In some groups it will result in the message being rejected.

Dealing with Junk mail

It is an unfortunate fact of life that with the expansion of the Internet we are all likely to receive junk mail at some point. Because the majority of the newsgroups and mailing lists are not moderated, then there is little that can be done to automatically stop these messages. So what can you do when you recieve junk mail?

Firstly, do not post a message to the newsgroup or mailing list that it arrived in. This will just increase the 'noise' in the group or list. If the message came directly to you, then you are in a better position to do something. Here are a list of suggested steps you might take:

Other types of junk mail include chain mail, virus warnings and the like. If you get a message that requests, often urgently, that you spread the message far and wide, that's a good sign to delete it. These often claim that they are 'helping a good cause', like the cancer struck kid that wanted to get into the Guinness Book of Records by getting as many cards in the mail as possible. The child exists and got 16 MILLION cards in the first year - 1990!

The virus warnings mails are fake too and keep going despite being years old. The 'Good Times', 'Deeyenda', 'Irina' and 'Ghost.exe' warnings are all hoaxes and spreading them around causes nothing but resource drains, bother and sometimes panic in the people you send them to.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Read the Frequently Asked Question list (FAQ) for the appropriate newsgroup or mailing list before posting anything. A list of the FAQs available for the soc.genealogy.* newsgroups can be found in the Genealogy Meta-FAQ which is available via the WWW at the URL It is also avaialable via anonymous FTP from:

The Meta-FAQ is posted periodically to all soc.genealogy.* newsgroups. Users new to Usenet should also read the informational postings available in the news.announce.newusers newsgroup and at the URL

The Use of Upper Case or CAPITALS

In order to allow people to quickly scan your message to see if it might be of interest to them, remember to put surnames and place names in captials. This will help them to stand out. However, do not put everything in capitals as this is considered to be SHOUTING.

Further Information

If you want more information, there is a very good web page on Netiquette at the URL

On the topic of junk mail, take a look at the following URLs

www.woodgate/org/FAQs/Netiquette.html / 5th July 1999 / webmaster