A Short History of ROOTS (UK!)


This summary of Genealogy via the Bulletin Board network would not be complete without a comment on one of the most well known, and respected BBS in the UK, ROOTS (UK!) run by Mike Fisher.

Mike started ROOTS (UK!) as a BBS with a listing in the FidoNet NODELIST (the dialling directory we used for calling up other BBS) in the autumn of 1990. The magic of BBS in the early days was to be able to exchange information with our ‘cousins’ in Australia and New Zealand, and the US and Canada electronically, no longer dependent on the postal service - it was surely around this time the term ‘snail-mail’ was coined, because of the slowness of air, or surface mail in comparison. Mike set the ball rolling in the UK, exchanging genealogy echomail (the equivalent of newsgroups) with other countries, starting firstly with the US. During the next few years he set up feeds with Australia, the Netherlands, and South Africa as well, and our present network still maintains a personal contact with SysOps in these same countries.

Mike's enthusiasm for his subject, and his willingness to assist was infectious, and attracted many callers to ROOTS (UK!), including myself. Indeed before long, many of us had started our own BBSs united by a common interest in Genealogy.

Mike, however, not wishing to take all the credit, tells me there were one or two before him who did a fair bit of ground work. The very first specialist Genealogy BBS in the UK was run by an American, Bill Hamilton, called “Family Skeletons (UK!)”. Bill was a Master Sergeant in the USAF (based at RAF Alconbury in Huntingdonshire) and had brought “Family Skeletons” with him when posted here - adding the “(UK!)” to its name when he set it up here.

Mike adopted the “(UK!)” when he set up ROOTS (UK!) as a homage, having called Bill's BBS himself as a user during 1989. Thus to paraphrase Isaac Newton, if we saw a little further, it was because we were standing on the shoulders of Giants... [ Citation: The Phrase Finder]

There were just four Genealogy echoes to start with - GENEALOGY (US Genealogy - 50 .. 80 messages per day), GENSOFT (Genealogy Software), SE_GENEALOGY (South Eastern USA) and JEWISHGEN (Jewish Genealogy - later gated as the JEWISHGEN-L Mailing list) - all but the first were very small in traffic. Bill was partly instrumental, with Steve Hayes in South Africa, in getting GENEALOGY.EUR (European Genealogy) started. Ultimately however Bill had a lightning strike which damaged his system and it was never the same again; however by then it was time for him to go back to the US, and retirement from the USAF. The last Mike heard of him was in about 1992, when he had not started his BBS again.

In the early days there was also a ROOTS (SF!) [SF= San Francisco], run by Brian Mavrogeorge, who subsequently moved on join the RootsWeb Community (since amalgamated with Ancestry).

My own origins on Fidonet date back to late 1992, having been encouraged by one of my snailmail contacts - Alistair Cameron - to get online. Alistair is now running a research service in Australia - Cameron Research - I'm sure he won't mind my giving his web site a plug! At the time I joined the BBS network, he was already a regular BBS user, and apparently having a whale of a time! This amazing means of electronic communication for genealogical research appealed to me because of the ease of talking to overseas genealogists, and the possibility of making new contacts, as it seemed - at the time - that I'd exhausted all possible connections in the UK! :-) Shortly after that, I joined Fidonet, obtaining my own node address, and then eventually started running the BBS known as Wishful Thinking, or, as it became known affectionately amongst its users, “WT”.

“The rest”, as they say, “is History!!”

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