Social Media and Genealogy: It’s Not Just About Chats With Friends Anymore 1

Okay, I know what you are thinking, “jeesh another post about social media, whoopee!”  Well, before you pass this by, ask yourself: do I really know what “Social Media” is?  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Have an answer?  Good.  Social media is hard to define, or even describe to most people, as it is ever changing and almost fluid in the way it evolves over time.  The most important thing to remember is that this concept refers to a community based, online communication forum that relies heavily on sharing of content and collaboration.  To me, that sounds a lot like what genealogists due online and off line. Wouldn’t you agree?

If you asked 10 people what they thought social media was, and to define it, I bet not one of them would give you the same answer.  Of course it all depends on who you asked.  In my opinion there is not a common answer because we each use the platforms that best fit our needs, thoughts, ideas, and patterns.  Some love twitter while others detest it.  Some are pintrest obsessed while others avoid it.  That is the great thing about this ever evolving world of collaboration and sharing: you can make it what you want it to be.  It is like putty that you can shape and mold to fit into your way of doing things. What works for you might not work for someone else, but there is something out there for everyone.

Where do you think you fall on the social media usage scale?  Take a look at this infographic from Media Bistro.  It shows the 12 user personalities on social media, and you can read the full article here.  Do you think you see where you fall?  Maybe you have several personalities depending on what you like to use.  You might be a lurker, an ultra, or even an informer I hope you will be willing to try something new and possibly shift personalities by the end of this post.

Conversations in Social Media

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To give you some ideas on how many different products are covered under the social media umbrella look at this graphic by Popular Culture Social Media Infographics.  Did you realize that all these services fell under the auspices of social media?  How many do you use in one day?


While I did not know a majority of these companies, there were nearly 20 that I use on a weekly basis, with over half of those helping my genealogy pursuits.  Did you have at least 10?  Hopefully you knew quite a few of the names.  Below are some of the more prominent outlets that I think you should at least consider looking into to further your genealogy pursuits.

I have talked about Twitter in another post, Research in 140 Characters or Less: Twitter for Genealogists,  so I won’t cover that again here and I didn’t include Facebook or go in depth into Google+.  In addition, I am not discussing blogging here, which would be a multipart post in of itself.  There are so many platforms I could talk about so consider this your amuse-bouche and there will be more entrées to come later.

I will be the first to admit that I am not all that keen on Google+ and I really have not taken the time to mine it for its full worth.  However, the feature I do like the most is the hangouts and video calls.  What a wonderful way to get a group of people together to collaborate, learn, or just talk.  I have participated in several hangouts for classes, panel discussions, and planning meetings.  So far it has been a wonderful experience.  That is the one thing I miss a lot with our popular forms of online communication; the personal touch of hearing a voice or seeing an expression.  Far too often you can insert your own intonation into a letter and be misled.  I encourage anyone who has not tried to be involved in a group hangout to try one in the future.  It is a great tool that I think has a lot of potential.

Many genealogy centered organizations have started YouTube channels.  This is a wonderful way for you to learn new things and participate in the community.  There are lectures, panel sessions, meetings, and Google+ hangouts to name a few that are recorded and placed over there.  The IDG, for example, has a YouTube channel where you can watch the archived After the Show sessions from Who Do You Think You Are?  Plus, for those who cannot travel for various reasons this is a great way to get more education opportunities in.

One of my favorite tools is bitly.  If you are unfamiliar with bitly you are in for a treat.  This is a free site that allows you to save, categorize, and archive web links.  It also shrinks down large website addresses so that you can share them easier.  I use this in a number of ways.  First, I can shrink links I want to share without worrying about taking up a lot of room in a message.  Next, I use it as a bookmark , or bitmark, so I can come back to that link later.  Finally, I can see what public links my friends on twitter and Facebook have bitmarked in case there is something interesting out there I want to learn more about.

Pinterest, in a way, is a like bitly.  Instead of link archive it is more like a picture archive, with the links attached.  This little site has taken off like hotcakes, and I put off joining the masses for a very long time.  Now that I have used it for a few months, I am hooked.   Pintrest allows you to share things with the world in a new and interesting way.  By setting up boards for various topics you can pin websites and images to them capturing in a visual way items you want to share.  What you can share is endless: pictures, maps, articles, blogs, videos, and on and on.  Plus, with the website Pinstamatic you can make even more websites pinable for the world to see.

Pictures are always worth a thousand words, and with camera phones you may have realized that many people have become shutterbugs.  While the genealogist’s selfie probably contains an old document or tombstone, we all understand that an image can be the ultimate in research finds.  However, how do you share the pictures you take with others? Many genealogists use flikr or picasa to share images online with friends, family, and fellow researchers.  Each has pros and cons but here are a couple things to think about.  Picasa can be linked directly into you Google+ account, so if you are active on that it would make sense for you to read more about it.  Flikr, on the other hand, allows users to have creative commons licensees for their images.  If you are worried about copyright, you should check them out.

Well, now that you have had an overview of hopefully a few new-to-you sites, let me give you a few examples how I pull these all together.  Hopefully if you have been struggling with what you can do with these sites this will help.

Example 1: I come across a really interesting article and I want to share it because I know there will be others out there who think this is wonderful too.  First I go to bitly and shrink down the web address.  From there I can directly share it to my twitter account.  My twitter account is linked to my Facebook Page for my genealogy site so the link is then automatically shared there too.  Also, I have a twitter feed on my genealogy blog.  The link will show in the window on my blog along with my 4 previous tweets. While I am on the articles website I can also pin it to one of my boards on Pintrest.  In less than 5 minutes I have shared information to 5 different sites reaching a variety of people.

Example 2: After attending a webinar I did some research (who doesn’t!) and I want to share my findings with my friends, family, and followers.  My research is gathered and I sit down to my computer to write a blog post.  I use bitly to shorten any links I provide that are not hyperlinked in.  Images from my photo sharing accounts are added in as well as images that I can use under the creative commons license from flikr or wikimedia.  When my post is ready I hit publish and it is uploaded to my blog, twitter, Facebook, and Google+ within minutes all with one click.

Example 3: My family and I are out on an adventure like we tend to do.  While out we come across a neat item or piece of family history.  With my trusty phone I take a picture and upload it to twitter.  Tag the image and share with the world what I just found.  The image is also sent over to my Facebook page and can be seen of my blog.  When I get home I can download it to my computer and save elsewhere.


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Needless to say I could keep going.  Social Media is not something to be afraid of.  While I still love my old school pen and moleskin notebooks I do embrace technology and what I can get out of it.  There are people I now have in my research and friends circle that would not be there if I didn’t try various forms of social media.  Who are you missing?

More reading:

Social Media for Genealogist by the IDG Definition of Social media page

30 Social Media Definitions by Heidi Cohen

A Brief History of Social Media (Infographic) by Shea Bennett




About Shannon Combs Bennett

Shannon Combs-Bennett, owner of T2 Family History, is a speaker and author based out of Virginia. She enjoys teaching about a wide range of topics from DNA to methodology. Currently Shannon is the Creative Director for The In-Depth Genealogist. You can learn more about her at

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