Finding living relatives
One of the most unique benefits of Facebook for genealogy--because of the vast numbers of users--is the ability to connect with long-lost relatives. You can start with some descendancy research on your family tree. When you get to people who are still living, try typing their names into Facebook. It is easier to tell if you have the right person if the name is rare. You can also sometimes filter your search results by people from a specific city area. If you still are not sure, sometimes you are able to look in the friends list of other Facebook users (depending on their privacy settings) and search the list for other living relatives who you would expect to be connected with the person you are looking for. In this way, you can often find a distant cousin. Send them a message to offer what you know. Please be sensitive to their time and priorities--not everyone will be interested in talking about genealogy even if you can prove you are 2nd cousins. Now that you know you can, go find a cousin on Facebook. You never know what family stories you might uncover.
Sharing your genealogy
In addition to finding relatives, Facebook is ideal for reaching a wide range of relatives who would not otherwise take an interest--or even those who would.
Best posting practices
When making a post ("status update"), in Facebook, there are a few things you can do to increase the odds that your family will take notice. You can use several of the following in each post you make.
- Use the @profile_name feature to tag a relative in a post. This will send that person a direct notification about the post you made.
- Keep it short. A one sentence attention grabber can start a conversation and that is what you want to do in Facebook--posting long stories is possible, but not the most successful method.
- A picture (or short video) is worth a thousand words.
- Ask an open-ended question (who, what, where, when, why, how) directed to the reader. Example: What comes to mind when you see this picture of our grandfather?
- Share a link to a meaningful resource. You want to keep the message here short, but you can link to a blog post you wrote about your grandfather or some other item that will likely generate interest. When you paste a URL into a status update Facebook will generate a nice looking link. Then you can delete the URL link to make the post appear more neat. You can even click on the title of the generated link before you post it and change the link title to whatever you feel is best.
- Keep the conversation going. (Post comments, like select comments from relatives or others who respond, share the post to a page or group that you are an admin in)
Using a Facebook group
Once you become comfortable with posting "status updates" to your own Facebook wall, there is much more you can do to connect with relatives, or others who share an interest. A Facebook group is a great way to make these connections. Once you create or join a group you will have the ability to add any number of your own Facebook friends to the group. Here are some ideas of what kind of group to create:
- A genealogy interest group, for example: "Quaker Genealogy in Rhode Island"
- A surname group, for example: "Curtis Genealogy"
- Descendants of John Doe group
Using a Facebook page
All the ideas that were mentioned for a group could also work for a Facebook page. With a Facebook page you cannot simply add anyone from your friends list, but you may invite them to "like" the page. A page allows the page administrator(s) to use Facebook under the identity of the page. Any posts made to the page wall by the page administrators can show up in the Facebook news feeds of "fans" (people who liked the page). Pages can be more difficult to get people connected with at first, but allow more marketing and organizational interaction.
Getting research support
Several genealogical and historical societies have a presence on Facebook. The presence is most often manifest in the form of a Facebook page, but some societies use a group. Simply search for the name of your society. These pages and/or groups can be used for asking local research questions, but the response rate varies depending on the society page. Some society pages and/or groups are designed simply to keep members updated with news and not to offer support.
FamilySearch offers more general pages--called Genealogy Research Communities--for each US state, several countries, and a few ethnic groups. These pages are managed by the research help team at FamilySearch and are designed with the goal of answering your research questions--and pointing you in the right direction for a successful search. To see a list of available pages go to "Join a Facebook Research Community."
Provide research support
Life is a two-way street. As you become skilled in a certain area or topic you can join groups or pages for the purpose of sharing your expertise.
Genealogical Society Webmasters
Utilizing Facebook to reach out to younger genealogists is something that all societies should consider. A society officer with a Facebook account can set up a page on Facebook and those interested in the page can then click the 'Like' button to receive posts from the society in their news feed.
There are many features on a 'fan page'. You can set up discussions, get news of events or other news about your society out, and do a lot more. For example, FamilySearch has a Facebook fan page, it can be found at http://www.facebook.com/familysearch
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