Combining Social Media with Family History

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As Facebook enters its eighth year and many other social networking sites become publicly-traded companies (LinkedIn, Groupon, Yelp, Zynga, Twitter), it seems that social media is here to stay.

As genealogists, how can we embrace today’s online social media tools to further our research? I’ve spoken to people who – through social networking – find both long lost cousins and other family members. Some find family they did not know they had.

One society I know of uses the free online meet-up technology available through GooglePlus – they are called Hangouts – to hold weekly meetings without leaving home.

There is so much knowledge and shared experience in the blogosphere. Whether it is a wiki website with user-submitted articles or a professional genealogist sharing his or her experience, blogs offer relevant hints and tricks. If you are not already familiar with blogs, follow a few presenters from a recent conference, company page or visit Geneabloggers.com for a comprehensive list of genealogy blogs. Once you find writers who resonate with you on your favorite social networking site, it’s like checking the daily news. You’ll receive valuable insights and entertaining snippets.

Microblogging, blogging but on a smaller scale, allows people to share quick bits of content. Whether you want to share a link to a great video or just your thoughts at the moment, Twitter is the most common forum for microbloggers. If you aren’t into sharing right away, following others is a fascinating way to learn about current trends. It feels as if you are listening simultaneously to 100 conversations. It is easy to see what topics are most commonly discussed. Are you are a visual person? There are sites to pin images of products, fun ideas or content as well like Pinterest. Whatever your style, share the best of what you find online within your network and learn new ideas from others — that’s what it’s all about.

But can social media effectively be used for research for people like me, who enjoy the quiet hunt for an ancestor? I’m more of an observer, than someone who spends time becoming familiar with all of the options. Whether you are an innovator who looks for ways to use new tools or one who only utilizes established tools, there’s a community of genealogists just like you who are willing to share what has helped them the most.

As far as researching online with social media, I’ve tried online discussion forums – a staple in the genealogy community – which provide a way to connect with others researching similar surnames. While I’ve benefitted from these discussions, I often feel like it’s a shot in the dark.

When it comes to family history research, it can be tough to share – and my family would agree that I feel this way. The limitations of desktop family tree software only offer sharing through sending a GEDCOM file to family members. Unless your research is already in a hardbound book, you’re the only one who can see the big picture of all of your hard work.

It can be daunting to upload your complete GEDCOM to a public forum without any privacy controls as to who will see that information. Even then, there is so much more to the individuals in a family tree than their names and dates.

If social media has taught us anything, it is the benefit of collaboration, but I want more from the available tools. I prefer sites that use back-end technological innovation to deliver a useful unique product.

At the recent St George Family History Expo, I spoke with a MyHeritage member who used an online family tree to connect with her husband’s cousin in Scandinavia. They had never met and did not know the other existed until a SmartMatch notified MyHeritage members in Utah and Denmark as to a common ancestor.

As the largest online family history network, MyHeritage offers a media-rich format for displaying your family tree, along with photos, documents and life events in individual profiles. The events in an individual’s life can be displayed in a Timeline, Timebook, slideshow or a beautiful one-click calendar – available to print.  Learn more about MyHeritage in 100 seconds.

I’ve found that face recognition technology helps me as I tag individuals in my uploaded photos. The feature automatically finds faces with similarities, offering hints as to who those in the photos might be.

The most powerful feature of MyHeritage.com is the collaboration tool offered through SmartMatches. The software automatically finds matches for you across the more than 21 million international family trees from the worldwide genealogical community. The website also operates in 38 languages.

As the world of genealogy moves more to cloud storage, MyHeritage offers a sustainable, powerful tool for sharing and collaboration. It connects you to individuals  - on a global scale – researching the same family and puts you in the driver’s seat of your privacy settings.

This is my kind of social tool. It does the hard thinking and delivers relevant content to further my research in meaningful ways.

Share with us: What online tools have you found to be the most useful in furthering your research? What do you hope to see in the future?

Tara McIntosh began researching her family history at a local church over 15 years ago, when CD-Roms and microfiche were the best technology available. Remember those days? Tara has worked for WorldVitalRecords for two years, previously in Customer Service, and now in Quality Assurance.

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4 Responses to “Combining Social Media with Family History”

  1. Hetty says:

    I will admit that I used FACEBOOK & HYVES to find family members.

    My madien name is very uncommon and over time I found more and people who shared the last name – mostly from the USA – they had idea what thier family history was or even how it started. I figured we would be related, and I told the new fb family that I was going to find the connection.

    I started the family tree 2.5 years ago and we have added 1651 names to our family site and still growing.

    My Pake (granddad in Friesan) did the last know family tree over 50 years ago only for his immediate family. We have now added the entire family and dated back to 1670.

  2. Tara McIntosh says:

    Hetty this is a remarkable story! What an innovative way to connect with others and research a difficult last name. Thank you for sharing the success you have had with us!

  3. Thanks for the GeneaBloggers shout out!

  4. Tara McIntosh says:

    Happy to share the word about a great resource!

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