Genealogy tips: Social networking, online tools help researchers share family information
Online communities exist as a place for people with common interests to build new relationships. These online services provide simple tools to generate collaborative opportunities for finding, sharing and interacting with like-minded people. Social networking websites use networking technologies such as wikis, RSS and mapping.
Online family tree building is one example of the benefit of this kind of collaborative community, helping people connect with family members and other genealogy researchers. Many sites become a platform for the family social experience: participants can produce content, preserve connections, add historical anecdotes and communicate via a number of mediums, such as instant messaging and email and picture and family tree viewing.
People who use these services can browse by city or country to view uploaded photos of specific cities and names of genealogists who live there. Examples include Facebook, FamilyLink, Famiva, Google Plus, LinkedIn, MyFamily, MyHeritage, MySpace and Twitter.
I actively use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. I can virtually travel long distances — even across the pond — for little or no cost at all. Usually, I'm contacting people who have already advertised their body of knowledge and expertise.
Facebook, one of the leading social networking sites, has been adopted wholeheartedly by the genealogy community. It has allowed me to find near and distant family; I have also followed other genealogists who offer online seminars or have websites with information on genealogy and the industry.
Twitter is a messaging platform in which — just like Facebook "friends" — users gather "followers." These are people who find a user's messages interesting and decide to follow him. Twitter is different in that users are limited to 140 characters for each message, or "tweet." I actively tweet the surnames I am searching for, especially the ones for whom I am encountering brick walls.
Other useful online services include the following:
- Email. Writing and sending email is a quick, inexpensive and effective means for promoting communication. Email can be sent with attached documents and photographs. A brief and polite email to a potential, newfound or known relative is often the beginning of a wonderful exchange. When communicating via email, observe traditional courtesies.
- Mailing lists. A mailing list is simply an email party line. Every message a subscriber sends to the list is distributed to all other subscribers. Subscribing to a mailing list is one of the best ways of connecting to people who share your interests. Genealogy-related mailing lists can cover surnames, U.S. counties and states, other countries and regions, ethnic groups and various other topics. Many websites, including rootsweb.com, ancestry.com and genealogy.com, host mailing lists.
- Wikis. A wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses the wiki to contribute or modify content. The value of a wiki is that anyone can contribute. The combined efforts of several individuals usually create a better result than any one person could achieve by himself. Wikis are used to create collaborative websites where a community can work together to provide meaningful content. The most widely known wiki is wikipedia.com, an online encyclopedia. FamilySearch started a Research Wiki. Be careful, though, because anyone can contribute, you must make sure to check the accuracy of information retrieved from a wiki site.
- Message boards. Boards focus on surnames, localities and many other genealogy topics. By posting a message to the appropriate board, you create a record through which other researchers can find you. You'll find message boards on ancestry.com, rootsweb.com and genealogy.com.
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