19    May 20091 comment

Social networking for family historians

Put tooltip hereThe Internet changes so rapidly that family history researchers must be aware of how to access every possible resource, including those created by companies, organizations and individual researchers.

Digital genealogy expert Drew Smith has had a lifelong interest in family history. In real life, he is a University of South Florida academic librarian. He's a director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and Florida Genealogical Society (Tampa) president, well-known co-host of the weekly Genealogy Guys Podcast and contributes to Digital Genealogist magazine.

He has just authored "Social Networking for Genealogists" (Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, Maryland, 2009). I've just read it and wanted to let you about it.

While not a heavy tome, its concise 129 pages set out the nuts and bolts of how the social information revolution can benefit each of us on our journeys down Discovery Road. The book covers - in a concise easy-to-read manner - podcasts, RSS, tags, wikis, genealogy social networks, general social networks, message boards, mailing lists, sharing photos and videos, collaborative editing, blogs, sharing personal libraries and even virtual worlds.

Each chapter begins with a definition. The first chapter asks 'What is social networking, and what does it mean for genealogists and their research methods?" followed by:

social networking (noun): A way of using online resources and services to create and maintain a community of individuals who share a common interest.

While social networking used to mean meeting people face-to-face, it is no longer exclusively a physical term. While in-person relationships are an important part of human society, we can now locate people around the world who share our interests - a community of like-minded individuals.

Technology means, writes Drew, that we now "go" to our e-mail box as if it were our home's physical mailbox, or a website as it were a store or meeting. For 10 years, online social networking sites and services have seen a remarkable increase, and some have been designed exclusively for genealogists. Today, we also use general networking sites for genealogical research (such as Facebook and Twitter, which I have written about previously).

While family history researchers have been working on their families for hundreds of years without any technological assistance, other than a better ink or writing instrument, we now have many more resources to access in many different ways.

As researchers, we are always delighted when we find a new resource to help in our quest. Drew's book helps researchers by providing an introduction to new sites and new tools. It is all about finding community, people who share our interests, sites that hold information for our personal research, and learning how to access new information.

Each chapter in the book also provides a "getting involved" list. Chapter 2 covers RSS syndication and offers four activity suggestions:

- Set up an account at a free aggregator website, such as Google Reader.
- Subscribe to one or more web feeds by visiting one of the social networking sites.
- Read items of interest from the feeds you've subscribed to.
- Organize your feeds into categories.

I certainly appreciate Drew's way of teaching readers about these concepts.

Beginners may not understand tags, with which we classify blog posts, for example. Think of tags as labeling a shelf of spice jars, which can be classified by the alphabetical list of spice names, by the color of the spice or by some personal system that the tagger understands, perhaps putting the most frequently used spices up front in the first row.

tag (noun): A word or short phrase used to identify or describe some item of information (such as a textual entry, photograph, or video) in order to make to easier to find later.

tag (verb): To assign one or more tags to an item of information.

folksonomy (noun): An informal classification system resulting from a large number of people applying tags of their own choosing to items in a repository of information.

I had never heard of folksonomy, so I learned something new. Drew's library experience provides a unique insight to classification issues. To properly utilize sources, we need to retrieve data quickly through an organized "labeling" system made for our purposes, one that we understand.

Drew writes of "a quickly changing discipline of knowledge," and tagging reflects how this increased volume of information is tagged as performed by passionate, interested and experienced family history researchers and genealogists.

Blogs are covered in Chapter 5:

Blog (noun): A type of website in which new content is authomatically displayed at the top of the home page, while older content is displayed further down the page and much older content is archived on other, linked pages.

Blog (verb): To maintain a blog.

Blogger: A person who blogs.

In this chapter, readers can learn about blogging and social networking, blogging and personal research; blogging, news, personal opinion; finding blogs of interest, creating and maintaining your own blog(s), and getting involved with blogging.

Drew's suggestions for getting involved with blogs:

- find and read one or more genealogy blogs of interest, using the Genealogy Blog Finder.
- Subscribe to one or more blogs, using a feed aggregator.
- Comment on a blog posting that you have enjoyed, disagree with, or can provide an answer to.
- Create your own blog about genealogy using Blogger.
- Tag your blog postings so that others can find them more easily.
- Maintain a blogroll on your blog to help others find interesting blogs that you enjoy.
- Allow others to comment about your blog postings.

Virtual worlds are covered in Chapter 13. I found this fascinating as I had not yet investigated the three-dimensional world of Second Life.

The final chapter relates to genealogy-specific social networking. Of course, MyHeritage.com was named. Drew suggests getting involved in such sites:

- Create a free account on a genealogy-specific social networking site.
- Edit a personal profile to let distant relatives and other researchers know more about you.
- Upload an existing GEDCOM file or manually enter individuals into your site so they can be discovered by others.
- Upload family photos and videos to your site.
- Add family news to your site.
-Search for names in family trees of others.
- Communicate with other users by sending them messages or invite them to your family group.
- Discuss topics in your site's message area with other family members.

It is a handy book that describes all sorts of useful topics for today's researchers. While more targeted to newcomers, even experienced researchers may well learn something new, and I certainly did.

What genealogy social networking elements are you using now? I'd like to know what you are thinking about all these possibilities and how you envision the future. I look forward to reading your comments.

Search for your ancestors:

Comments (1) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I am looking for connections on my maternal grandmother's side of the Trennis/Trenis families. My great grandmother's name was Minnie Mae Trennis. Her parents were Edwin Bertrand Trennis (1839-1893) and Julie Elizabeth Trennis (Julie Elizabeth Watkins, born 1856-1886). Minnie's siblings were Ida and Lemuel. This family lived around Cedar Run, Fauquier, Virginia and the Trennis family was in Prince William, Virginia before then.
    Family oral stories of a connection to Anne Knollys through this family have been passed down to our families. Any information is appreciated.

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