These days, an online presence is one of the best research tools you can have. It serves so many purposes:
- A place to publish your family history – in the order and at a pace that suits you.
- A place to document your research efforts.
- A place to meet and network with other researchers for both information and support.
- A search-engine friendly advertisement of the surnames, regions and ethnic groups you are researching to attract other researchers.
If you have posted to a genealogy message board of belong to a mailing list, you have the experience needed to expand your online presence. Today’s options are easy to use and each of the ones discussed here are free. The time required to “maintain” your online presence will bring you many rewards. Let’s take a look.
The best way I can describe Facebook is the virtual equivalent of a community center. Once you set up an account, you can visit pages built by organizations and businesses. If they are something you find interesting or useful, you can choose to become a “fan”. As a fan, you will receive their updates in your Facebook newsfeed – your main area on the site. For example, I am a fan of several restaurants in my area and get daily updates listing the specials of the day – helpful for making lunch choices. I am also a fan of other businesses, government agencies, genealogical and historical associations and some of my favorite causes. Only those companies and organizations I’ve chosen can put updates on my newsfeed so I’m getting the information I need on software updates, sales and upcoming events without being bombarded with things I don’t.
Keeping up with businesses and organizations is useful, but the joy of Facebook is friends. While you become a fan of businesses, you become friends with people. For privacy reasons, a friend request is a two-step process. You find another Facebook user you would like to connect with and you send her a friend request. She must accept your request before you are both digitally connected in Facebook. When any of your friends posts an update on their wall – the Facebook equivalent of a bulletin board – that update appears in your newsfeed. Updates could be a weather report, a birth announcement (with photos even), a link to an interesting article or video or a research request. You choose how often you wish to stop by Facebook and scan your newsfeed to see what your friends are doing. You can reply to an update – or not. It’s your choice. The result is sort of like the conversations at a party – you’re wandering around the room, stopping when you hear something interesting, adding your thoughts, then moving on.
As your list of friends grows, you can organize them into groups – family, friends, research support, etc. This allows you to target updates to specific groups. If the local fresh market has the season’s first strawberries, this would probably only be interesting to your neighbors so you can direct your update just to them. You can also send private messages directly to individual Facebook friends.
Facebook requires much more than a couple of paragraphs to describe all the things it does, but it’s definitely a great place to keep up with friends, family and the many people, organizations and businesses that support your research efforts. Here are a couple of Facebook pages you might find useful:
- Genea-Bloggers. For those who blog about their research efforts, and those who think they might want to.
- The National Archives.
- The National Genealogical Society
- Moultrie Creek. Parent to Family Matters and several other blogs providing support to family historians.
WeRelate is becoming one of the most amazing resources for family history online. It uses the same concept and system as Wikipedia to provide a platform where everyone can build their family tree, document their research, write biographical sketches and even build on existing documentation by others. All WeRelate users can add pages and edit any existing pages. You may well find that once you post your research notes on great-uncle Matthew, a research cousin shows up and adds a tidbit or two that fills in some of the blanks in your research. After a while those collected tidbits are building a more complete history of Matthew’s life.
When you create a free account at WeRelate, a profile page is automatically built for you. Not only is this a good place to get comfortable with the editing and formatting features of the platform, but it also serves as your research business card. Here you can list the families and locations you’re researching, provide links to external content (I’ve listed my blogs) and, if you’ve uploaded your family tree, WeRelate provides links to it. This is probably the most important page you’ll maintain on the site because every other page you create or edit will list you as a contributor and link back to this page. If a research cousin finds your content, they can then find and contact you through WeRelate.
There is all kinds of user-created content on WeRelate. In addition to specific family histories, there’s a lot of research support content added daily. WeRelate has pages for thousands of locations worldwide and users are encouraged to use those pages to post historical information, links to research resources and other content supporting researchers. You’ll find a growing collection of research guides covering locations, ethnic groups, religions, cemeteries and any number of other topics. Every day users are adding more bits and pieces which build the knowledge base for all of us.
You don’t need to be a WeRelate user to access any of the information on the site, but I do encourage becoming a part of this community-built resource to support your research efforts and help all of us in the process.
Blog is a funny name for a very simple online platform where you can post articles – large and small – as well as photos, news items and even videos if you are so inclined. The word “blog” is short for web log because blog platforms maintain the articles in chronological order similar to a journal. There are dozens of blogging platforms from the ultra-easy to full-service, multi-user systems. This means you’ll be able to find a blog platform that suits your style.
Many genea-bloggers use the free Blogger platform run by Google. If you have a Google account, you can have your own blog up and running in minutes. Looking for something with a few more options? Try WordPress – another free platform. Concerned that blogging requires learning a bunch of new stuff? No problem. If you can email, you can blog with either Posterous or Tumblr and they’re also free.
Blogging is a great way to tell your family stories, document your research and connect with others. The genea-blogging community on Facebook (see link above) has over 1,000 members. They are active with online events that are fun and help develop both your research and writing skills. You’ll be amazed to find how well blogging and family research support each other.
The three online platforms discussed here are each very different in structure and purpose, but they all have one thing in common – a way to connect with other family historians. Not only will these platforms help you find your research cousins, you will also discover an awesome genealogy community that is both friendly and supportive. I hope to see you there soon.
Originally published March 20, 2010 at Family Matters.