Thursday, April 7, 2011

Social Media, Social Networking, Family History Research and You!

Photo credit: Stephen VanHorn
As a webmaster, and social media manager for a local non-profit organization, I thought I knew quite a bit about social media and social networking.  That is, until I began preparing for an upcoming class that I am presenting at Bridges to the Past on "how to use social media to assist you with family history research."  Turns out, there is way more out there than I had ever imagined!  So much so, that I realized how daunting it can be, especially for those of us who are getting on in years.  A lot of people my age (I won't tell you exactly how old I am, but lets just say I've reached the top of the hill and am on my way down the other side) seem to be either scared of social media, or are not interested in it at all.  They tell me that they don't need it, and in fact, view it as something that is either an invasion of their privacy or a huge time waster.  I can understand why they might think of it that way, having had some issues with both of those myself.  However, there are so many benefits for the family historian, that I think it merits a good hard look to see if the benefits might outweigh the costs of ignoring it.

First though, let's define exactly what Social Networking and Social Media are.

Social Networking is a way of communicating via the Internet with individuals and groups of people who share a common interest.  Social Media refers to the Internet tools that allow us to participate in Social Networking.  These are part of something we call Web 2.0, which refers to the way people behave on the Internet, focusing mainly on collaboration and interactive web technologies rather than static web pages.  If you are still thinking of the Internet as an online encyclopedia or dictionary, think again!  Social media has forever changed the Internet landscape!

For those of you who are not yet converted, let me try and convince you of the value of social media by answering the question "Why would someone use social media and social networking in their genealogical research?"  Here are a few important reasons:
  1. It increases the speed and efficiency of communicating with others.  Remember the days of handwriting letters, trying to track down mailing addresses, then waiting weeks for a reply?  Contacting almost anyone, anywhere in the world today is as easy as sending an e-mail or visiting a website and posting a query, and can often bring about almost immediate results.  
  2. It's about creating "communities" made up of individuals from around the world who share a common interest and is the easiest and most efficient way of finding and collaborating with other researchers who are working on the same area,  the same surname, or the same ancestral lines as you are.  
  3. It is a great way to find out about and locate new resources for research as they become available, many of which are now digitized and online. 
  4. It is a great place to connect with other genealogists and experts who are willing to share their recommendations and opinions.  Some of them may even live in the areas that you are researching, and know hard-to-find facts about local places that you might never discover otherwise.
  5. It's a inexpensive and time-saving way to grow in your research skills and knowledge, without having to leave your house to attend expensive conferences and seminars.  
  6. Social Media is a great way to share the results of your research with others.  One of the very things that makes social media work is that it is based on user-generated content and user-participation.  Sharing your research this way has the potential to reach the greatest number of people, and often brings back loads of information to you in return.
  7. Many libraries and genealogy-related organizations and societies use social media to update users on what they are doing, conferences they are sponsoring, or other newsworthy items.  It's one of the best ways to keep abreast of new developments in the field.  
  8. Social Media sites provide a great place to organize and store large multimedia files and documents, as well as the ability to share them with family members in an simple, cost effective way.  
  9. If you are involved in a local genealogical society or organization, social media provides a wonderful method for getting the word out about upcoming events.
  10. And last, it's just plain fun!
Because there is so much out there, I would suggest that you start out slowly, and remember that you only need to use the media that is useful to you.  There is an excellent resource to help you get started, that was developed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  It can be accessed by clicking on the following link  There you will find twenty three small "steps", each focusing on a different method of social networking.  My suggestion would be to pick just one step at a time to work on, and when you've mastered it, try another one.  Happy networking!


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  2. Welcome to the Geneabloggers community!

    This is an awesome blog post! As someone who teaches basic social networking to some of the smaller societies in my area, I love it. I'm going to be recommending this post in my syllabus. The points here are just spot on.

    -Elyse Doerflinger
    WikiTree Evangelist

  3. Judi -

    You might also want to consider that there are a few genealogy specific social networking sights out there.

    WikiTree is a free family tree building website that encourages collaboration while also balancing privacy. People can be invited to collaborate together on an ancestor profile. Not to mention, this is a great way to find other unknown cousins - ie: "Cousin Bait"


  4. Thanks so much! I'm hoping to help make the social networking experience easy to understand for the average genealogist with basic computer skills.