Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Using Facebook for Genealogy?

Trying to do anything other than look at the news stream on Facebook reminds me of walking into the jungle in Central America. The amount of "information" is overwhelming and there are real dangers lurking in the shadows but every once and while, I manage to see something of interest. Can that jungle experience really be used to do significant genealogical research? Well, that depends on how you define doing research.

If you are searching for contemporary records about your ancestors, i.e. doing historical genealogical research, searching on Facebook seems pretty silly. For example, here is screenshot of a search for one of my ancestors.

The results here give me one other person who has mentioned my supposed ancestor back in 2009. As a side note, I presently have links to over 100,000 SmartMatches on of potential relatives. This post expands into a transcription of book called the "New England Families" book.

If I were just starting out, this might be interesting, but if you read it carefully, you will see that this is just a repetition of speculation on the identity of this particular individual. Interestingly, the source is listed at the bottom of the entry as follows:

source: NORTH KINGSTON, RI (BOOK) 1395631 (8327302) (MICROFILM) 1395773 (8412107).

If you happen to know what this means, you might find the book on microfilm on Unfortunately, none of those numbers match any entry in the Catalog when I search by Film Number. They might be old film numbers. What about the title of the book? Here is the citation to this four volume work. 

Cutter, William Richard. 1913. New England families, genealogical and memorial: a record of the achievements of her people in the making of commonwealths and the founding of a nation. New York: Lewis Historical Pub. Co.

The book is generally available online in digital editions including Google Books. Assuming that I know all this and can find the book, I would now know a fair amount about my supposed ancestor. However, in this particular case, most of the information happens to be pure, unsupported speculation and is really copied from another earlier source. 

Did Facebook help me with my genealogy? I think we have to look further for an answer. In this particular case, there is a link to the Rhode Island Genealogy Network. 

I could post an inquiry or ask a question if I joined this group. But by joining a Facebook group, I will get more email and posts. There is a tradeoff. Actually, I am already a member of this group. 

Is there really any way further other than seeking opportunities to talk to other researchers that I can get any benefit from Facebook?

I could opt for some general education and links to programs and companies. I could post my own findings and blogs on Facebook and hope for some help.

My general use of Facebook is for information about my friends and family and for communicating with others on the program. Facebook is a good advertising medium and used by most of the genealogy companies. For example, there is a #RootsTech 2018 Facebook page for the upcoming conference.

It is generally a way to maintain contact with your family or an interest group. However, it has little use as a research tool. 


  1. While I can't disagree with you that you can't truly do research on Facebook, I've found that it is useful when it comes to genealogy. For example, I had tracked down the town in Germany by great-grandfather was probably born in. Since the only records for this town were from a Protestant church and the family had always been Catholic as far as I knew, I posted a question in the Baden-Wurtemburg Genealogy group asking if there would be a Catholic church nearby that might have my family's records. A couple of people responded that it was definitely a Protestant town and it was possible that my family was indeed Protestant. Another response was amazing. It was someone that confirmed that my family was from the town, they were Protestant, he had copies of many of the church records for me and we were distant cousins.

    Again, I didn't perform original research on Facebook and I believe that's unlikely to ever happen. However, Facebook makes it easy to post questions to groups that may be likely to have someone with an answer or even do a quick lookup for you. That, to me, is invaluable.

    1. As I mentioned, Facebook does best in contacting people and to receive help. Thanks for good example of using the program.

    2. This FamilySearch Wiki page might help people find Facebook Groups related to their area of research:

  2. I've found the DNA Facebook groups to be very useful, as well as Facebook groups that are specific to historical research in one of my ancestral counties (Lyon County KY). I also took care of the email and notification problem by setting "no email" and unfollowing the group, which lets me go check the group(s) only when I have time to do it. Since the group is "unfollowed", the gazillion posts do not show up in my newsfeed and only family, friends and the one or two groups that I WANT to see in my feed appear there. - Debbie

  3. I have countless examples of how Facebook has provided "breakthroughs" for myself and other researchers, especially those who are searching specific ethnic groups. Our Hellenic Genealogy Geek Facebook page continues to grow -- from 2,500 3 years ago to over 15,000 today. People of Greek descent are challenged by language barriers and an almost complete lack of online Greek records. Thus, we depend on each other for assistance: members in Greece will look up records in repositories; answer research questions; make phone calls for those who cannot speak the language; provide guidance as to where to look for records; and even ask people in villages for information about a specific family. Members in the U.S. will provide guidance for new researchers, provide guidance in contacting Greek archives, town halls and other repositories; translate documents written in Greek; and even do research for people who are "stuck." Many of us are proficient in researching in specific regions and we may have documents, books and other records that we consult to help those searching in that area. I am a specialist in research in Sparta, and I have helped many people by looking up information in archival records that I have digitized on my research trips. Just this week, I helped a person by finding his great-grandfather's family (wife, children) in a "Town Register" (like a census record) -- this document even named the man's second great-grandfather, taking him back one more generation to the early 1800's. As you pointed out, Facebook is all about connections. When someone is doing difficult foreign research, Facebook groups can provide invaluable support, guidance, and research in documents -- all keys to success.

  4. Facebook is the modern day picket fence. We gather and we gossip. That it does very well and the gossip is strong. Finding facts however still requires discipline and persistence. I use Facebook as cousin bait, as such; it is a fairly good fishing hole.

    I have created a few Descendants of…. Groups and actively recruited distant cousins and promote my pages elsewhere. In one group, we have over 50 members and while there are a fair handful of us actively doing genealogy, many are along for the ride. But even these folks chime in with a story or a picture. We have recently started exploring DNA testing and we have pretty good pool to work with. The group offered to pay for one of our Male members to take a Y-DNA test but he was willing to pay for it outright once we shared how it would help the group.

    So for collaboration and cousin fishing, it works well. Gossip is hard to ignore, but we can advance our genealogy with these Facebook groups.