Today is the 10th anniversary of the Benelux newsgroup for genealogy: soc.genealogy.benelux. I was one of the people who voted in favor of that group all those years ago. What began as a small group dominated by Americans with Dutch roots, is now a thriving online community where the majority of members are actually from the Benelux countries.
"Benelux" is an acronym for BElgium, NEtherlands and LUXemburg. The Benelux is a cooperation between these three countries, mainly about economic affairs. The Benelux Economic Union was signed in 1944 and came into force in 1948 to promote the free movement of workers, capital, services and goods in the region. Its founding contributed to the founding of the European Union.
The start of the newsgroup
Because of their proximity, shared history and to some extent shared language, it made sense to create a genealogical newsgroup for the three countries combined. Johan Berteloot from Belgium took the initiative to suggest the newsgroup soc.genealogy.benelux. Votes were cast and the majority of votes were in favor. On May 30, 1995, a new group was born. The original voting result can still be found in the Rootsweb Archives.
Most of the early members were Americans of Dutch descent. In 1995, only a very select group of people in the Netherlands had access to the internet. Most worked for universities or research institutes. In the early years, the main language in the group was English. In the late 1990s, internet became more and more common in the Netherlands and the language gradually shifted to Dutch. Today, most messages are in Dutch although messages in other languages are just as welcome. Often, regulars are willing to translate questions for foreign visitors.
Topics in the newsgroup
The newsgroup is a great source of information. Different topics are discussed:
- Specific questions about dead ends
- Questions about research and sources
- Look-up requests for a specific source in a specific archive, often combined with a look-up offer for an archive near the person requesting the look-up
- Translation or transcription requests
- Questions about genealogical software
- Press releases that have to do with genealogy
Some of the topics start with specific characters that have been decided upon by the regular members of the group:
- A ‘!’ at the beginning of a topic denotes a random act of genealogy, a find that someone did that someone else may have some use for. Since the entire newsgroup is archived in Google, it will be available for future use.
- A ‘+’ at the beginning of a topic denotes an obituary or other newspaper clipping about birth, marriages or deaths
- "Pers:" at the beginning denotes a press release, usually together with a hyperlink to the complete article.
These signs are put there so people who aren’t interested in some of these topic can instruct their newsreader to ignore these messages.