22/01/2018
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How to use social media for family history

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How can social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook help you with family history? In his latest blog, Paul Chiddicks explores the possibilities.

Unless you are living on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, then you surely must have heard of the Social media sites Facebook or Twitter. Love them or loathe them, they are very much a part of modern society and very much a part of a lot of people’s day to day lives. So, as a genealogist, how can we use these social media sites to help us with our own family history research?

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When I first started my own research, the Internet was pretty much in its infancy and sites such as Facebook and twitter were only pipe dreams. In those days to make contact with somebody who was researching the same names as you, would generally involve making contact via a family history societies members interest page and sending a member a letter! Yes believe me, back in the dark ages, we actually wrote letters.

I do realise that the potential intrusiveness of social media sites can be off putting for some people, but if you use it wisely, then social media can provide you with far more benefits than you can imagine, some of which I hope to explain here.

Find new family members

I will focus here on Facebook and Twitter, but don’t limit yourself to just these sites, there are also other popular social media sites such as:

  • snapchat
  • Instagram
  • youtube
  • pinterest
  • tumblr
  • wordpress
  • google+,

These sites offer you the chance to reach a new audience with anything that you wish to publish, but you can also reap dividends and meet new family members. You might initially feel outside your comfort zone using these new social media platforms, but once you have the confidence, these sites can help you enormously to reach a new audience and grow your tree.

The most obvious benefit to using sites like Facebook and Twitter is that you will potentially find people researching the same line as you, a “new cousin”. This to me is one of the most pleasurable aspects of our hobby, meeting new and distant cousins and sharing your family information, maybe even collaborating your efforts together.

You will obviously need to be careful and mindful of the information you share initially, until you are comfortable that you have established a definite family connection, but once established, it can be fun to pool ideas and share experiences, family pictures and maybe even meet up.

There are other obvious benefits with Facebook, for example, they have specific subject groups, which are a great place for those who have an interest in a certain type of research, for example military history and researching a WW1 soldier. Facebook has its owns search engine that allows you to find such groups, by entering key words such as “genealogy” or “military history”.

You can then join these groups and ask questions and take part in various discussion items. It’s also a great way to meet new friends within the family history community. Why not consider making a group yourself with your own family name? It’s a great way to find people with similar surname interests.

Family history and hashtags

Twitter reaches people in a slightly different way, but again is a great way to find people with common surname interests. Making a post on twitter and using the hashtag facility can be an invaluable way of reaching people that are not on your followers list, but who share a common interest in a subject that you have posted about.  

Not sure what a hashtag is? A hashtag looks like this: #. To use it on Twitter, you add words after the #. For example, you could start tagging Tweets about a family reunion with #ChiddicksFamilyReunion. Your family members can search Twitter for that hashtag and the search will bring up all of the Tweets that used the hashtag. One single Tweet that includes a hashtag can potentially, connect thousands of people who are interested in the topic. It can make it really easy to share thoughts, photos, and comments about family gatherings on Twitter.

 Consider setting up a family hashtag name to promote your own family name, it’s a great way to meet people with a common surname interest. You can obviously follow all the well-known genealogy sites on twitter, libraries, archives even family tree magazine, which will keep you fully up to date with the latest family history news.

#AncestryHour on Twitter

Again use Twitter wisely if you have specific questions that need answering and normally you will find somebody will be able to offer you the required help.  Stay tuned in online on a Tuesday evening (7pm-8pm) on Twitter for #AncestryHour where the whole family history community comes together to discuss relevant subjects and answer various questions. This is a great way to get involved and meet new friends and possibly get some burning questions that you have, answered by a resident expert.

A recent new venture for me is the joy of “blogging”. Hopefully it’s a pleasure for you too, reading my blogs! I have only recently started blogging on here for Family Tree magazine and I have also started my own blog website in the hope that people will find interesting what I am posting, but also in the hope of making new family connections and meeting new friends within the family history community. This is a great way to meet new people who share our hobby, to get involved with good detailed discussion groups and to also ask questions and help others with their research.

Social media is not necessarily “the root of all evil” that some people will have you believe, use it wisely and it can reach a whole new audience for you and hopefully open some doors and knock down a few of those dreaded brick walls... don’t be afraid!

Follow Paul on Twitter and his blog.

Researching the names: Chiddicks in Essex; Daniels in Dublin; Keyes in Prittlewell; Wootton in Herefordshire and London; Jack in Scotland.

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