Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Many RootsWeb Mailing Lists Are Now Inactive

I received an email from Genea-Musings reader Nancy yesterday, noting:
"My mailing list of 14 years that was still active was shut down (made inactive) I was told in automated repose that it was inactive or that my email as admin was no good. There was conversation on the list the week they marked it inactive and my email is the same as it has always been and is also my Ancestry email. (they have no trouble contacting me at renewal time ;-))  
"Look here at all the lists now marked inactive https://mailinglists.rootsweb.com/listindexes/details?surname=A#ADRIAN 
"This is after Ancestry took down the mailing lists and message boards for months in 2017-2018 -- see Eastman’s article here https://blog.eogn.com/2018/01/10/rootsweb-is-currently-unavailable-and-probably-will-remain-that-way-for-some-time/  
"It’s so discouraging after organizing and administering something for 14 years – guess they just want to kill it.  It was an invaluable way of organizing and communicating and it was FREE!"
Could this be true?  After decades of providing this service which many genealogists used over many years, is it all gone?  If so, that would be a real tragedy for genealogy.

The good news is that some of the mailing lists are still active, and the archives for them all are still accessible.  The bad news is that many mailing lists are now inactive and new information cannot be posted to them.  Nancy's list is inactive, but the archives for that list, and the other lists, are still available.

For those readers who have not used, or not known about, the RootsWeb Mailing Lists, they were one of the first "communities" set up in an organized manner back in the 1990s. There were mailing lists (you subscribed and received emails from each list whenever someone submitted an email) and message boards (you found them on the Internet, and created messages/posts) for surnames, localities (countries, states, counties,, etc), methodology (e.g., census, vital records, immigration, software, etc.), organizations (societies, DAR, etc.), and more.  They were logically set up and the contents were searchable and archived.

When I found a new surname in my research, I would go to the Mailing Lists and Message Boards to
search for posts about that surname and hope that some contributor had more information than I did.

It was, along with the RootsWeb Message Boards, the "Social Media for Genealogy" before Facebook.  Everyone used them.  And it was better organized and logical than Facebook pages and groups are now.

So, how does it work now?  Here is a process to search the Mailing Lists:

1)  Go to https://mailinglists.rootsweb.com/listindexes/ on the RootsWeb site:

On the screen above, there are links to "Search List Archives," "Popular Lists," and "Find a List."

The screen above says that there are 32,740 genealogy mailing lists.  I think, but don't know, if that number includes the inactive lists.

Further down the page are links for Surnames, States, Countries, and more:

2)  On the first screen, I entered "seaver" in the "Find A List" field, clicked "Search" and saw:

There is a Seaver surname mailing list, but it is Inactive now.  I clicked on the link for the list:

 On the screen above, there is a link to "browse or search the archives," so I clicked that:

3)  The list of archived mailing list posts are by year and month.  The screen above told me that there were no posts for April 2019.  Actually, the last posts on the Seaver mailing list were posted in 2011, and before that in 2005.

I clicked on 2011, and then November and saw the lists of posts for that month:

I can click on the title of each post to see the post and any responses to the post in a thread.

3)  Did Rootsweb/Ancestry announce to the genealogy world, or to the mailing list administrators, that they were making thousands of mailing lists inactive?   Why would they do this?  How much time and server space do they think they saved?  How much time did it take to make thousands of lists inactive?  What criteria were used to select the inactive lists?

What will happen next?  Will Inactive list archives be eliminated in the future?  What about message boards?  Will some of them be made inactive?

I may be an old geneasaurus, but these mailing lists and message boards are very valuable for many genealogists and family historians.

Thank you to Nancy for telling me, and my readers, about thousands of mailing lists becoming Inactive.


The URL for this post is:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/04/many-rootsweb-mailing-lists-are-now.html

Copyright (c) 2019, Randall J. Seaver

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Anne Gillespie Mitchell said...

Hi Randy and your readers,

I'm the product manager for RootsWeb at Ancestry. Well over a year ago, as we began resurrecting RootsWeb into a more secure code base on secure platforms, we attempted multiple times to contact all admins for the Mailing Lists. About 70% of those emails were bad emails and the admins could not be reached. We also posted to the listowners list and other places trying to get the word out on the new rule: to continue to be a list admin you had to verify your email address and make sure it was current, which I do believe was a very reasonable request; there aren't many sites that let you use a unverified email these days.

We left lists whose admins had verified their email over the past year active. Admins had a year to verify their email. An admin cannot maintain a list with the new tools with a new login which requires a verified email.

We also made the decision to leave county boards without admins active and we maintain those ourselves.

Lists that had not seen posts in months and had no verified admin were made inactive. If someone has a good reason to reactivate a board, I have listened and sometimes done so, if seems like there will be actual posts on the board. All the archives that we had available to publish have been published and will remain available.

Our goal was to cut down on the huge volumes of spam that come through the system. With over 33K lists and less than 30% with verified admins the lists were unmanageable. The amount of spam bogged down the system and added to the cost.

Twenty years ago, mailing lists were one of the first places people would look to communicate with each other about genealogy. Today with multiple social media platforms, and many genealogy sites, both free and paid, most people don't think to look for a Mailing List. It isn't on most genealogists radar and the system usage was impacted and has dramatically declined over the years. Better technology and platforms leads to better communication methods.

No solution will make everyone happy. We found the solution that allowed us to lists with posts with actual genealogy content up and running.

Anne Mitchell

Randy Seaver said...

Hi Anne,

Thank you very much for the information you provided about the mailing lists and the problems with them. I appreciate it and hope that Nancy and the users of the lists do also.

Can a mailing list be activated again? How can Nancy get back into her list? Contact me at randy.seaver@gmail.com if you want her email.

Cunningb2 said...

What a great post -thanks Randy!
I was NOT contacted - my admin email was the same email as it’s always been, I received other admin topical emails and it is the same as my paid ancestry account. The list was obviously active as can be seen in the archives for the month it was stopped and no official Rootsweb posts are there warning of it being discontinued for lack of being able to contact the admin.
I have tried 3 times to ask to have it reinstated and never get a response - so they clearly need a better way to ask for reactivation.
Also this is a county list, it’s the historic county of Missisquoi county, Quebec, Canada. Modern Canada has a new official county but this is important entity for historical research.
Guess there just were mistakes made with making my list inactive and yes I’d like very much to have it reactivated and would be happy to help fix whatever seems to be wrong on their end.
Thanks Randy -share my email!
Newer genealogist - if you are not a Rootsweb Mailing list and message board user become one! Get these active again and get connected to others researching your surnames and families in your locations.

pdxtom said...

Tis truly a shame. Those of us who were early users an supporters financially are not surprised that Ancestry.com would kill it. It was begun by a genealogist and the site was designed for ease of use allowing anyone to review a thread regarding individual topics or surnames. Ancestry apparently uses non genealogist IT personnel, who simply don't understand the needs of the people they are supposed to serve. All of their search engines are clunky. When they took over Heritage Quest that did away with a wonderful search engine and replaced it with a clunky one that does not begin to compare.

One of the thing that I like about MyHeritage is that all of their employees are genealogist. Thye truly understand how we think and design products that meet our needs.

Margaret said...

To Anne Mitchell.
From your response it would appear that you sent emails requesting verification to list administrators. I have reason to believe that one particular list in which I am interested may have no administrator as such, but was still reasonably active last year. How difficult would it have been to send a message to each LIST, as well as each list administrator? I would like to reactivate this list, how do I go about it? Regards Margaret