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A Brief History of the
Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group

Updated 21 Sep 1999
Please Email Additions and/or Corrections to The Combs &c. Research Group

In December 1996, the Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group (a.k.a. Combs &c.) consisted of only two of us… Today we number over 250. In December 1996, we had two web pages… Today we have over 1,100. During the year 1997, we posted over 5000 record-packed messages, which turned out to be small potatoes since in 1998, our total was 12,367, and in 1999 another 2,920 as of D-Day for a whopping total of over 20,000 List Postings (Wow)!

Who are we, you ask? Well, some of us have multiple Combs Lines (including all variant spellings), some of us have none. Some of us are quiet as mice, and others of us post 'til we drop. Some of us are old, some are young. Some are women, some are men. Some are white, some black, some hispanic and some Native Americans. Some of us are Catholics, some Protestant, some Jewish and some agnostic. All of us, however, share three traits:

Our Love of Tree-Climbing
Our Belief in Sharing
Our Dedication to Free Research on the Internet

These three traits have brought us together over the past two years in a way none of us "old timers" could ever have imagined. It has made us "real cousins" -- real in the sense that we have come to care for each other, real in that we have shared our lives -- births, deaths and illnesses, excitement and disappointment - and even (on rare occasions), our anger.

In the beginning, we didn't have a clue as to where we would be today. It seemed simple enough: Apply for a list, maybe sling up a web page and start posting, right?

Well, not quite. <g> We were just getting into the "swing of it," still at the head of the pioneer's trail of on-line genealogy, when "The Maiser" crashed back in May 1997-- except that most of us, including our list administrators, weren't even certain what a "Maiser" was.

All we knew was that if we sent an email to a special address, and typed the word, "subscribe," that we could share our lines with others with common interests - and it was Free!

Five months later, one SPAM sent by one commercial junk e-mailer to all the Maiser Lists, and it was all gone! No more Maiser, no more Combs List, no more shared postings, and all of it just about the time we were all really beginning to know and care for each other, and "on the brink" of hundreds of discoveries (at least).

We did learn what Maiser was: A wonderful man by the name of Larry Stephens at the University of Indiana, had started it all -- and handed it to the rest of us in a manner that was simple, free, and apparently effortless. ()>:

A very responsible man, too -- a man who wouldn't, who couldn't just stand by and watch it all "go down the tubes" after the crash - a man who instead struggled unceasingly to find a way, any way, for all of his work, and all of our work, to be saved and to go on -- which was how most of us learned about Karen Isaacson and Brian Leverich who, like Larry Stephens, seemed "too good to be true" (and ultimately was <VBG).

Karen and Bryan, co-owners of the now-for-profit RootsWeb, Inc. (see below), like Larry Stephens, had long "believed in" on-line genealogy and all it's endless possibilities, and volunteered to "grandfather" the 1,000+ Maiser Mailing Lists -- to take over, at no cost (their new price list required a $24 annual sponsorship for two lists)*

Voilà! One simple move, and we were Back In Business! Back in the limbs of our Family Trees, scuttling up branches far and wide, studying those leaves with a magnifying glass -- Combs who were Tories, and Combs who were Patriots; Combs who were friends of Shakespeare, and Combs who owned Houses of Ill-Repute; Combs who were preachers; Combs who were murderers; Combs who were rich and famous, and Combs who were poor and unknown. In other words, we were back to having Fun!

As a result, our Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group will always thank Larry Stephens, Karen Isaacson and Brian Leverich, from the bottom of our collective heart, for all the countless, untold time and effort that the three have put into the pioneer world of on-line genealogy. Their efforts have gone neither unnoticed, nor appreciated, but will always be one of the most significant eras in our history.

Who else do we have to thank? Well, that's an easy question to answer: Our Ancestors. After all, without 'em, we wouldn't be here, right? And boy, have some of them been interesting:

Winnie COMBS, widow of slain British Loyalist, William RIDGE, and grass widow of Nathan ALLEN (who stole her horse on his way out of town), who told the courts of Surry Co, NC in 1792: "as to any thing I have done contrary to my childrens interest of myself I deny, but what has been done by ALLEN I could not help it as I am but a woman…"

John COMBE of Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, England, for whom William SHAKESPEARE wrote an epitaph pre-1609: "Ten in the Hundred lies here ingrav'd, 'Tis a Hundred to Ten, his Soul is not sav'd: If any Man ask, Who lies in this Tomb? Oh! ho! quoth the Devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe."

Big Henry FIELDS of Perry Co, KY, natural son of Henry COMBS and Lucy FIELDS, his mother having been charged in March 1851 by the Commonwealth of Kentucky with "keeping a bawdy house," and himself later forced to go to court to prove his paternity…

Mary COMBS of Taunton, Somersetshire, England, who in the eighth year of Elizabeth (1566), on threat of being taken to prison, held up a knife and said: "come no here unto me, but yf thow do at thy perill."

John COMBS of Surry Co, NC who in May of 1788 was charged with the theft of a "white hogg commonly called a sow of the proper goods and chattels of Zachariah RAY Esq'r of the value of six pence then and there being found feloniously did steal take and carry away contrary to the statute in such case made and providing against the peace and dignity of the State…"

Carlton COMBS of Nemaha Co, NE who wrote in 1885 " If I had 1000 votes and had a legal and just right to use them, all would count in favor of giving women the ballot in the earnest hope that rum would be sent to the bottomless pit…"

Lucretia COMBS of the Parish of St. Jude, Surry-Wilkes (Surry Co, NC), in 1770, "Being moved & seduced by the Instigation of the Devil," thus charged with "the heinous crime of fornication…"

John COMBS of Richmond Co VA who wrote in 1716: "Butt if in case my Son Archdell should bee soe unkind as by force to Caus his mother my said Wife to Leave as Disposessed the house and Habitation I now Live…"

James R. COMBS of Piedmont, Mineral Co, West Virginia, who following an accident in 1892, told his physician: "Save me doctor…I will find some way to make a living for myself and family" whereupon three surgeons amputated his left leg at the knee joint, his right leg above the knee and his right arm below the elbow, and James R. COMBS then did exactly as he had said, going on to raise and nurture successfully a fine family.

General Elijah and Nicholas COMBS of Perry Co, KY who, sometime before 1838, had "hard words" over slaves as "the General did not care for such treatment of others…"

Jeremiah & Byram COMBES of Surry Co, NC, who, with the STACYS, CODYS and others, were termed: "Torys and known enemies to their country, and farther it was reported that Abiram and Jeremiah Combs was at the murder of a certain Bradley of Mecklenburg County of the State of North Carolina…"

General Leslie COMBS of Fayette Co KY, a hero of the war of 1812 who wrote in his will: "I have done everything in my power for my children, my friend, my town, county, state and country, but I desire no ostentation shown at my funeral - Let me be buried in a plain wooden coffin, by the side of my wife and boy in the Lexington cemetery."

Widow Ollie COMBS of Knott Co KY who stood up to a strip-mining bulldozer by lying down in front of it, later told the judge: "I've never been in trouble, never been in jail. I just want to live out my life in my hollow and be left alone."

Asberry and Cleveland COMBS, brothers of Breathitt Co KY, both killed by gunshots "causing instant death by Republican party."

And so many more, too many by far to include here* and somehow, over the last couple of years, every single last one of those Combs has become "our Combs" -- all of ours… Every Combs family, no matter how their name was spelled, no matter when or where they lived - all have become ours -- ours to treasure, ours to bemoan, ours to place in one or another family tree.

And not just in our own filing cabinets, but on the Web -- there for everyone: this year, next year and unto Eternity - all our work, all our efforts, for all our ancestors and all our descendants, including the yet unborn.

Thus last, but by far from least, we have ourselves to thank: Each and every member of the Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group, each and every one of us who is subscribed to our Combs Mailing List, who contributes to our Web Pages - whether our contributions have been small or large, we thank ourselves, too -- as we hope others will thank us in years to come…

May the Future Continue to Bring Us Closer to Both Our Elusive Ancestors and Each Other, and Our Dedicated Goal of Continued Free Research on the Internet.

Update 6 Jul 1999: Until last month, when we discovered that the folks at RootsWeb apparently believed Our Combs were not Ours at all, our Group had assumed we would probably live out our days there. Instead, we now find ourselves with our own Truly Free Web Site and Mailing List - far, far away from the arms of RootsWeb. The separation was neither easy, nor pleasant, but definitely all for the best. For more details, see Why We Left RootsWeb.

Sincerely and Affectionately,
The Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group

Why We Left RootsWeb

In May 1997, following the crash of Maiser, the Combs Mailing List was one of the first to move to the RootsWeb Genealogical Data Cooperative. Although the Cooperative "grandfathered" the Maiser Lists without requiring Listowners to join (normally Listowners were required to become Members of the Cooperative at a rate of $24 annually), Combs Researchers joined up in droves, and we changed our name to Combs &c. RootsWeb from its earlier Combs &c., moved to RootsWeb's Server, signed up for GenConnect Boards and added "Support RootsWeb - Join Now" hot links to every Combs &c. web page.

Until early Jun 1999, the RootsWeb Genealogical Data Cooperative was believed by most members of our Research Group to have been either non-profit or not-for-profit, and participation by members of our Group was substantially higher than most with over 20% of our Mailing List Subscribers (compared to an overall 7%) at Member, Donor and/or Patron levels, and with contributions over 60% higher than the overall average of RootsWeb's users.

RootsWeb, however, recently incorporated as a for-profit organization in California and Delaware, followed immediately by a drastic increase in web pages that included Commercial Advertising Banners. The web pages with Advertising Banners included both hits from search returns of List Archives and thousands of new "Cluster Resource Sites," both for Surnames and US Counties, many of them duplicates of pre-existing Surname and/or GenWeb Mailing Lists.

At the same time, input from Members of the Cooperative ceased being a source for RootsWeb Policies and Guidelines, and shortly thereafter RootsWeb also changed their Acceptable Use Policy ( to include Permanent Rights to Distribution and Re-Distribution of Individual Postings to Mailing Lists.

In addition, all Mailing Lists were required to become part of the "Threaded List Archives" as well as the regular List Archives (the Threaded List Archives use the inferior HotDig Search Engine which returns an impossible number of search hits whereas the regular List Archives uses the superior ISearch Search Engine, comparable to our new Xavatoria Search Engine).

These changes were, of course, unacceptable to our Group, and as a result, our List Moderator attempted to change our List to "No Archives" (previously an option), simultaneously notifying RootsWeb ( that we wished our List Archives to be removed from their Server.

Instead, we learned that "No Archives" was no longer an option (system override), and were initially advised that our Archives would not be removed. Numerous emails flew back and forth through cyberspace, including one in which we were advised that RootsWeb would remove our List Archives, but that we would not be permitted to upload them elsewhere.

This, too, was unacceptable, of course, and we continued to push - until finally, on 1 Jul 1999, with No Advance Notice, our List and GenConnect Boards were taken away from us, our Web Site Deleted, all user "privileges" of our List Moderator revoked, and our List Archives removed from RootsWeb and delivered to our List Moderator (YES!!!)

Mailing List subscribers were notified only that we would no longer be at Rootsweb and provided by RootsWeb owner Brian Leverich with incorrect information as to the new name and location of our List. No mention was made in his posting of any of the other actions taken by RootsWeb. (

Despite our sorrow over the events of the last 6 weeks, our disaffiliation and separation from RootsWeb has resulted ultimately in the best possible situation:

1. Our Mailing List is now served by who willingly and unhesitatingly entered into a Formal Licensing Agreement whereby holds no interest whatsoever in postings to the Mailing List (Individual Copyright to each Poster, Compilation Copyright to the Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group).
2. We are now formally incorporated as a non-profit organization.
3. We now have our own Domain Name ( with all rights to all material published on our domain.
4. All of us have learned an enormous amount about the Internet, Licensing Agreements, Acceptable Use Policies, Copyrights, Commercialism, and Incorporation as they affect on-line Genealogical Research.
5. Combs-Coombs &c. Research is now Truly Free on the Internet!
See Also the Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group & History of the Combs-Coombs &c. Research Group for additional information and source references.

Editor's Footnote: Our first real "clue" that something was wrong at RootsWeb was on the night of May 25th when Mailing List Owner-Administrators were given less than 24 hours' "advance notice" of the creation of thousands of commercial "Cluster Resource" sites, along with thousands of mostly-duplicate (var. sp.) Surname lists and Genconnect Boards, all with inferior search engines (guaranteeing double and triple hits of "Advertising-Bannered" web pages), a set-up guaranteed to gross millions of dollars annually if successful, but not at all "user-friendly" for genealogists.

Simultaneously, the message went out loud and clear that input from RootsWeb's Supporters, Contributors and Volunteers, were no longer wanted or needed by the Cooperative, an organization which would not even exist today if not for its Members. When loud cries of concern, confusion and protest arose from volunteers, not only was their input ignored, but many of RootsWeb's strongest supporters and largest contributors were labeled "dissenters" and publicly scorned on RootsWeb's Administrative lists.

One week after "Surname Cluster Day" came "County Cluster Day" and thousands more web pages, Mailing lists and GenConnect Boards were created - many in direct competition with the RootsWeb-hosted USGenWeb… except that in the meantime, RootsWeb co-owner Brian Leverich and Linda Russell Lewis, National Coordinator of the USGenWeb Archives, disclosed on the USGenWeb-All List that the two had reached a private agreement giving "effective ownership" of the Archives to RootsWeb; i.e., the GenWeb Archives would never be on-line at any server other than RootsWeb (including the USGenWeb's own domain,

About this same time, we learned that the for-profit incorporation of RootsWeb (, Inc.) had taken place in Delaware and California in late May without fanfare.

We also discovered (no announcement) that (a) even those who had declined Threaded Archives with inferior search engines were now being archived under that system; and (b) that archiving of past postings, whether threaded or not, was no longer an "option" in that none but sysadmins now had the ability to set a list to "No Archives."

The reason for these actions was, of course, to increase advertising revenue, and on 16 Jun 1999, RootsWeb published its "retroactive" Acceptable Use Policy which included RootsWeb having permanent distribution and re-distribution rights of all individual postings. In other words, they had co-opted the copyrights of both individual posters and listowners (compilation copyrights).

The Combs &c. Group was left with no choice but to protest. We had always been non-profit, had always stated unequivocally that our tens of thousands of hours of shared research would never be used commercially, and thus, despite our Group having been one of the most supportive in the Cooperative in the past, only upon having left RootsWeb, have we become Truly Free and our List Archives safe.

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