Superficially, social networking seems tailor-made for genealogists. Afterall, don’t we thrive on contacting relatives and keeping up with our families? Isn’t Facebook the best of all possible worlds for genealogical research? Or is it just an addictive, drivel-driven, waste of time?
You can literally have your real life consumed by Facebook. Watching soap operas all day used to be the example of the epitome of wasting time, but now, I fear, that Facebook has completely replaced both the supermarket tabloid and the soap opera as the new lows in daily activities.
So why would I dare to suggest that Facebook might assist a serious genealogical researcher? The answer lies in the way we approach Facebook and the internet in general. Yes, Facebook can be a cesspool of drivel, but it can also help us maintain contact with our family and the larger community of our friends, former friends and even those who we probably would not care if we ever saw or talked to again in our lives. Whether Facebook is an addiction or a boon depends entirely on our attitude and use of the website. Of course, there are other social networking websites, but Facebook is the most pervasive of time and interest.
But as a genealogist, the content on Facebook can be mined for information. The key is using Facebook as a database for searching rather than a news stream.
Let me use a hypothetical example. Let’s suppose that I have been researching my ancestors in Rhode Island in the 1700s. There are hundreds of sources of records from Rhode Island but after spending years doing research in this one state, I need some new ideas. What about Facebook?
I suggest focusing on the little-used search field on Facebook.
I can start with a simple search such as “genealogy Rhode Island.”
Will these Facebook groups help me with my genealogical research? The answer is a definite maybe. To a large extent, the answer lies in the level of activity and participation of the group members. But it is another place to start looking. The New England Genealogy group shown above has 6,412 members. That is a large number of people who might know something I don’t know about doing research in New England. The Rhode Island group has over a thousand members and very likely has someone who knows more about Rhode Island than I do.
Now, what if your search runs dry? Then either change your search terms or move on to another website. Don’t waste your time hoping to glean some particle of information from further involvement. But come back when you have a new search topic. By interacting with Facebook on your terms and not using is a pacifier, you might just avoid addiction.