Sarah Mackay of Bury, Lancashire, England, used the Internet frequently in an attempt to learn about her family tree. However, she became annoyed because most of the results were geared towards people living in America - stuff like census and trade information, old photos, and maps. All of Sarah's ancestors were British, so the information found seemed worthless to her.
Sarah discussed the problem with her fiancé, Trystan Davies. According to Miss Mackay, "I was complaining to Trystan, and he asked me what I would do if I were running a website. Then he said, 'Why not do it?' So we did."
The result was launched on December 31, 2003. RootsChat.com is described as an easy-to-use messaging forum for everyone researching their family history or local history. The focus is on Ireland and the British Isles. The site's home page states, "Local Historians and Family Historians have a great deal of knowledge to share. This service is entirely free, with the hope that you and the historian and genealogy community as a whole will benefit from it."
In fact, there seem to be no records or transcribed lists on this site. It is devoted almost entirely to message boards, one for every county in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The site also has separate message boards for genealogy beginners, one for specific census records, and even one labeled, "For Sale/Wanted."
Trystan Davies says that people are more than happy to look for other people's ancestors. "It's like detective work. It's so enjoyable, it doesn't seem to matter whether people are building their own family trees or other people's. I think there's also the feeling people get of helping each other."
The site's most popular feature is the monthly challenge to obtain as much information as possible on a randomly selected person from the 1881 census. As well as being fun, the results hold valuable clues so that others have a better chance of finding long-lost relatives.
The website gets about 2 million hits a month and has 160,000 members across the globe. According to Davies, "About 90% of people using the site say it has helped them, and the more people use it, the more information goes on it, so the more useful it becomes."
You can check out the message boards on RootsChat.com for yourself at http://www.RootsChat.com.