Looking for a long-lost cousin? Trying to connect to others researching your surname? Online social networking may be able to help.
According to Drew Smith, well-known author of Social Networking for Genealogists (Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009), online social networking is "a way of using online resources and services to create and maintain a community of individuals who share a common interest."
Social networks are formed by people with a common interest to connect and communicate. A part of this communication is sharing knowledge and ideas. Social networks enable users to find people in an easy way never before possible.
Social networking is not new to genealogy. Genealogists have been using mailing lists and message board for years with success. But in the last couple of years, with the development of Web 2.0, there has been an explosion of social networking choices.
The following are some online social networking sites which are useful for genealogists:
Message boards are web sites where messages are posted and anyone can read and respond to the messages. Genealogy message boards usually have a theme such as a surname or location. Some genealogy message boards that are worth checking out are Ancestry.com (which includes the RootsWeb message boards) and GenForum, presented by Genealogy.com.
Mailing lists, also called LISTSERVs, are messages about a subject that are distributed through email to subscribers on the mailing list. All messages written to the list are sent to each subscriber automatically. Many mailing lists are archived making them a valuable research tool. For example, Rootsweb is archived back to 1987. Cyndi's List includes a large number of mailing lists.
Blogs are web logs or journals. They are web sites maintained by an individual or group of people with regular entries which are displayed with the most recent entry first. Genealogy blogs may have news, research tips, and/or personal research. Blogs have replaced many personal genealogy Web sites because they are easy to maintain and update. Genealogy Blog Finder is a good place to look for genealogy blogs.
Wikis are a type of Web site used for organizing information. They allow visitors to add, edit, or delete content and the changes are shown instantly. Wikis make it easy to collaborate on a project or family. Some places where genealogy wikis can be found are WeRelate.com and FamilySearch Research Wiki.
Facebook, although not specifically genealogy focused, is used to find, connect, and communicate with family and other genealogy researchers. Users set up a profile and can then set up a network of friends with whom they wish to communicate. Facebook has online tools which help the user to find family and friends who are also members of Facebook. There are quite a few testimonials from those who have found genealogy connections on Facebook.
Tree building sites allow users to create family trees online and share those trees with family members. The sites make it easy for users to share research and work together building family trees. MyHeritage.com and Geni.com are two tree building sites.
There are many other online social networking sites which focus on sharing photos, books, videos, and more.
Some people are afraid to use social networking web sites because of privacy concerns. It is always a good idea to use caution and common sense participating on these sites just as you would meeting a stranger in any social setting. Be sure to read the privacy conditions and set the privacy setting to your comfort level.
Connecting to people and sharing information can advance and enrich our family history. Using online social networking makes it possible to reach out to people across town or around the world to almost instantly make that connection.