Facebook and Genealogy

Social Media icons on a smartphone
So many networks, so many family members.

Any discussion among genealogists nowadays will eventually lead to social media, and more specifically, Facebook. They may not be discussing it as a venue for serious research or a way to find that crucial elusive record to break through a brick wall, but Facebook is neither a search engine nor a research focused medium, so though it may be tempting to want something out of FB that it is not intended or suited for, it  would be foolish to consider it that sort of venue. But what it does, it does well.

What Facebook (and Twitter) does provide is a way to interact with contemporaries — family members and other genealogists.  I’ve posted interesting research discoveries and started conversations with my siblings and cousins who generally show little genealogical interest.  The presentation of small doses of background on one 19th century ancestor allows my sisters to take in a bit without being overwhelmed by the onslaught of info I might present when I have a captive audience.  Our exuberance to share the passion of genealogy with family can make it overwhelming leading to the dreaded eyes-glazing-over.  Facebook allows this information to be shared in discrete nuggets, which may capture family’s attention or pass them by if they’d prefer.

I’ve searched for distant cousins and found them on FB, along with other information like their siblings and the names and birth dates of their children allowing me to fill out my tree whether or not I contacted them (though I do suggest caution with this method — who knows if a child is adopted or someone is lying about their own birthdate as many do).  In one instance, a cousin’s mugshot as a profile picture made me question whether I even wanted to get in touch.  Facebook gives a snapshot of someone’s life as it is now, or at least, how they present themselves now.

Despite its attempt to be the sole destination for everyone on the Internet, Facebook’s lack of quality archive capabilities means they will not completely replace boards like rootsweb. Inquiries will have a more limited time to be viewed.  I contacted someone based on a rootsweb board posting from 2002, nearly a decade ago.  On FB, on the other hand, I can’t look at status messages more than three days old unless I go into the individual’s “wall.”  Facebook isn’t about archiving information, but rather about being in the moment.

Recently, the “groups” function of Facebook has provided a newer method for genealogists to come together to share techniques, as proven by the growth of groups like “Social Media for Genealogy” or “Technology for Genealogists.” And due to it’s appeal to commercial interests, Facebook gives everyone a ripe target to applaud or complain about the policies of our favorite (or least favorite) genealogy website.

You wouldn’t look to a marriage record for a death date, nor a city directory for a probate record.  Equally, Facebook is unlikely to be considered a source for intense genealogy records, but rather a way to keep in contact with other members of the family who are living.

So when considering what place Facebook has in your genealogy, keep in mind what it does well.  Resist the temptation to consider any website for something for which it is not suited.  Social media is not everything.  But what it does, it does well, and I would encourage using it.

About kimcotton

Professional Genealogist, specializing in 19th & 20th Century U.S. records, particularly California & Connecticut, with a dash of North Western Mexico.

9 thoughts on “Facebook and Genealogy

  1. Great post Kim, Facebook is not only good for location specific genie discussions and tech tools but also surname and reunion groups. As you say other family members can easily dip in. What I like is some of the surname groups get found by people new to genealogy searching there own name and voila, the start asking genie questions which can lead them interested in sharing info about their branch.

    One issue for me is getting ones newsfeed more focussed, so I have made a list for all my friends and family and another for Family. History News, so all the news from the GLAM repositories as well as the commercial and non prints is in one place. The list is public anyone can subscribe to it…. https://www.facebook.com/lists/10152016130406275

    Thanks again for blogging about key benefits of Facebook for genie’s… Michelle

    1. I haven’t done much with surname groups. But I do using “lists” to focus your timeline and share with specific people is one of the most powerful yet least understood features of FB. Thanks for bringing it up!

  2. Genealogists.com, one of the largest family history research firms in the world has been using Facebook quite successfully and has created the most read Facebook page of any family history research firm. Likewise, FamilySearch and Ancestry.com have been using Facebook successfully for several years. Facebook is great for communicating new developments in the family history industry and for sharing educational and informative posts with others.

    1. Your organization seems to use “pages” well as a business, but as I alluded to in the post, many of our larger businesses face the challenge of a FB page filled with negativity. As a user, I’ve un-joined a few big name business pages because of how negative the comments always are…and I’m sure I’m missing some good stuff there as a result. But as they say, haters gonna hate. But when it works, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

  3. Many of the genealogy groups and surname groups I belong to use the “documents” or “docs” feature on Facebook. There we can post genealogies, surnames we are searching, DNA information or what-have-you and it is easily accessible Other groups don’t use them at all. It is the only way to archive information on Facebook. The problem is that most of the juicy bits happen in the comments. That’s where folks make cousin connections, corrections to lineages, and all the interesting stuff that happens in the moment.

    1. Heather, thanks for the tips on the “docs” feature. I’ve seen individuals use the “notes” feature in a similar way. But you are absolutely right: All the “juicy” stuff happens in the oh-so-ephemeral comments.

  4. I have had good luck in connecting with others researching same areas and surnames with FB. Another plus has been posting pictures to County pages and having then identified! Thanks for a great post!

    1. Cheri, Aren’t the county focused groups so much fun? But it takes a lot of generous people to keep them going and keep them positive. The state ones are useful too. I’ve joined groups for Wyoming research and California research and both have a mix of beginning through advanced members contributing.

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