Facebook for Genealogists

From: NGS Magazine, April-June 2009, Volume 35, Number 2, p. 63.

Facebook, a social networking Web site, passed a milestone in February: it reached the five-year anniversary of its launch. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, then a sophomore at Harvard University, with the original idea of keeping in touch with his college friends. The site quickly took off, with many Harvard students joining, then students across the country. Five years later, the site has expanded its horizons beyond the youth culture of its beginnings. The company now claims that the Facebook Web site has 200 million active users globally.

But…of what value is Facebook to genealogists? It provides the ability to share notes, photographs, event invitations, and information of specifically genealogical interest, allowing genealogists to connect with each other, and with other family members. For many, Facebook is a tool to quickly and easily share information about their research with their families, especially with people who think they are “not interested” in genealogy.

The fifth most popular application of Facebook is “We’re Related,” a creation of WorldVitalRecords.com. “We’re Related” allows one to see all of one’s family who are on Facebook, along with a description of the relationship with each of them (for example, “sister’s brother-in-law”). It also allows for the creation of a genealogy database (either on the site or via GEDCOM upload) to share with anyone on Facebook. (The GEDCOM import feature—which would allow you to export an entire genealogy database from your favorite software package and import it into “We’re Related” in one fell swoop—has been problematic. It has worked at times, but as of this writing is not working and is under a major re-development effort.)

Many nationally known genealogical researchers, speakers, and writers are on Facebook. In addition, a variety of societies have set up pages there. A random sampling includes the California Genealogical Society and Library, NGS [National Genealogical Society], and the North Carolina Genealogical Society. You will also find magazines, such as Digital Genealogists. In addition, many blogs and podcasts are represented including The Genealogy Guys Podcast.

It is important to remember that Facebook is a social, not a personal site. Genealogists should conduct themselves as if any of their Facebook communications could become public, since they could, through a variety of means.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of power in the Facebook site. I have been quite impressed with the work being done there by a group called Unclaimed Persons. (The group also has its own Web site at UnclaimedPersons.org.) It posts information about people whose bodies wait in morgues to be claimed by family members. Members of the group on Facebook do pro bono research to try to locate the lost families of these persons, and then direct their sourced research through the Unclaimed Persons administrators, who pass the information on to the coroners’ offices.

Some people might be concerned that Facebook could become a time drain, a place for genealogists to waste time they could be using to further their research. As with any tool or the Internet itself, it is up to each individual researcher to manage his or her time and focus on reaping the benefits of that tool.

Keeping those issues in mind, I believe that the benefits of Facebook are compelling. Applications such as “We’re Related,” as well as genealogy-focused groups and pages, bring a wealth of connections to genealogists. With 200 million users, a lot of your current relatives are on Facebook, and the ones who have been hard to find are probably easier to locate here than elsewhere.

[You can visit the Facebook website at http://www.facebook.com]

Jordan Jones, a genealogist since 1976, editor and publisher since 1987, and a webmaster since 1995, is the webmaster for the North Carolina chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, the North Carolina Genealogical Society, and GenealogyMedia. He can be reached at jordan@genealogymedia.com.

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Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 3:43 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] lowndeslibarchives wrote an interesting post today on<b>Facebook</b> for GenealogistsHere’s a quick excerpt […]


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