Facebook: A powerful & fun free genealogy tool

logo-facebook-genealogyLove it or loathe it, Facebook can be a powerful family history and genealogy research tool. Yes, that virtual space with images and video clips of animals doing impossibly cute things, sunsets, sunrises and sketchy social and political memes can be a treasure trove of ancestry information.

So where can all of this invaluable research information be found? Facebook groups. There are hundreds of family-specific and county-level specific genealogy groups. Most are closed and require the permission of a group administrator to join them. Which is a good thing. After all, not everyone wants their family genealogy publicly accessible by just anyone.

I belong to around 3 dozen very active family research groups. These groups have provided key information that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else online. Just like I have in-depth information about my direct lines of descent, cousins from other branches of the families I’m related to hold vital information about their own direct ancestors. This could be as simple as providing a maiden name for 7x great grandma Hannah. Even better, they have family stories, pictures and documents to share.

It’s pretty easy to find them, as the video below shows. This video covers how to find genealogy groups based on a location. You can easily adapt it to search for specific family genealogy groups. For instance, if you were looking for information about Holloway family ancestors, you would search for something along the lines of: “Holloway family genealogy”, “Holloway Family”, “Holloway family ancestry”, etc.

If there isn’t a group that covers one of the families in your tree, it’s pretty easy to create one. I plan to start one for SW Virginia counties, which will cover Wythe, Smyth, Pulaski and Augusta Counties in Virginia.

The video below walks you through how to set up your own closed/private family genealogy group.

Like anything, there’s an etiquette for joining these kinds of groups:

  • It’s polite to thank the group administrators for adding you. This can be your first post.  In this post, you can introduce yourself and provide a short explanation to the other group members of how you’re related to this family.
  • When referencing a specific ancestor, or ancestors, provide as much key information as you can: dates of birth & death, the county(ies) where your ancestor lived (and when they lived there), and the names of their parents.  This helps differentiate your ancestors from others within the larger family who have the same name.For instance, I have a multitude of Hannah Harlans in my tree. Seriously. I must have around 50 of them. If I want to know about Hannah Harlan (born in 1779 in Chester, PA and died in 1850 in Rich Square, North Carolina) – daughter of Aaron Harlan (1743-1790) and Elizabeth Bailey (1750 – 1805) of Chester, PA, and the wife of Josiah Mendenhall …I’d add this information to my group post. I’d also probably add the names of the children Hannah Harlan and Josiah Mendenhall had to just to be absolutely clear about the person I need more information about.
  • If someone posts a picture of a distant relation, always ask if you can use it – and be sure to cite he person who provided it.
  • Thank people for the information they share- especially if its a key that unlocks a brick wall in your own research (you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do this).
  • Don’t be that person…the one who takes without giving. Or that other kind of person – the silent lurker.
  • Be respectful. There are ways to politely disagree or challenge something that someone has posted. If possible, use Facebook’s instant messaging function or email … and then share the corrected information with the group.

Hand on heart, I have to say that connecting with newly found cousins on Facebook has been a pretty cool experience. Like anything, there is a caveat. Be prepared to contribute. This can be as simple as answering questions (which is only fair if you’re asking questions) and sharing what you know.

Last but not least – it’s fun!

5 thoughts on “Facebook: A powerful & fun free genealogy tool

  1. Besides genealogy-specific groups, joining a city or county group can be helpful. The ones I belong to are not as interested in genealogy as they are the nostalgia of the area, but they post lots of old photos and know all the people who ever lived there.

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