I joined Facebook in 2005, a year after its creation in 2004. At that time, I was 21 years old and a devoted Myspace user who had to be heavily coaxed into creating a Facebook account, being one of the last of my friends to do so. When I joined, Facebook was only open to college students and when you signed up for it you had to list which college or university you attended. It’s sort of hard to think of now that everyone is on Facebook, but there were no tweens, no parents, no grandparents, no businesses, no celebrities, and no accounts set up for pet cats. Initially when it switched over to an open platform, my friends and I were slightly annoyed that our exclusive club was exclusive no longer. That irritation was short lived and now it’s almost hard to imagine a life before all-inclusive Facebook. One thing is for certain: I never would have made some key discoveries in my genealogy research had it not been for this change.

I would like to share with you a few tips and methods for using Facebook as a genealogy tool that have helped me.

  1. Be specific in your searches. If you are overwhelmed by the amount of “John Lyle”s that come up when you enter that into the search box, but you know that your Lyle ancestors were from Antrim, Ireland, then type the location in as well.
  2. Don’t be afraid to reach out and private message someone. I have had great luck with this, from both the sending and receiving ends. Sometimes people you message may take months to answer. I waited 7 months to hear back from a cousin in Italy, but the end result was so rewarding, it was worth the wait. You may find that you never receive a response, but you won’t get anywhere unless you try, as they say. Sum up who you are and why you are messaging them in the first message. You may get a better response that way than just leaving it at, “Hi!” Photos are another good way to break the ice.
  3. Sometimes joining a group will help you make some discoveries. There are groups dedicated to certain surnames and cities, others that offer genealogy tips and tricks. You could even start your own group!

Last year I decided that I wanted to write a genealogy book, but was not having much luck getting information from family members by putting up general posts on my page asking for information. A few family members liked the posts…but didn’t comment on them. So I tried something a little different. A great many members of this particular family were on Facebook, so I figured, let’s all have a private conversation together! I have had great success and a lot of fun in the process. The method is as follows:

Zoe’s Method for Having Group Conversations with Relatives on Facebook:

  1. Create a List – The first thing you will need to do is create a List of family members from one particular side of the family that you would like to know more about (instructions for creating a list are here).
  2. Write a Post – Begin to write a post on your wall, making it viewable only to this group (click the drop down arrow in the bottom of the box that you are writing in and you should be able to select your pre-made List of people from Step 1 there).
  3. Tag Them In – If you’ve ever taken a basic psychology class, you have probably heard of the Bystander Effect, which came to be in the aftermath of the sad murder of Kitty Genovese and the many bystanders who watched, but did nothing because everyone assumed someone else would. This bystander concept, I have found, also applies to group conversations. No one will post if they think someone else will first and no one assumes that the post is directed at them instead of anyone else reading it. The way around this is to tag the people on the list into the bottom of the message. This way it not only tells them specifically that yes, I want you to pay attention to this, it also alerts them that they have been tagged and they are more inclined to see it.
  4. Be specific about what you want from them – My grandfather was one of 7 siblings and my goal for the series of posts was to find out about them. I chose one sibling per post and wrote something like this, “Hi Family! Part 1: Tony DiBagno I am looking for stories, memories, photographs, traits, information, etc. on Tony. Go!” You can include reasons for why you are looking for this information, why you need their help, etc. Say whatever you feel is right to include them and make them feel as excited about the process as you are.
  5. Privacy is Key – I always make sure to mention in the post that it is private, viewable to family only so that they feel comfortable sharing without fear that any random person will be able to see what they post.
  6. You Comment First – I knew from experience, as a person who used to host parties, that no one ever wants to be the first person out on the dance floor. This, I found, was the same for group conversations. So you be the first to comment. Give them an example of the type of thing you want them to say by leading by example. Maybe post a photo, too.
  7. Keep Up the Momentum – Mine ended up being a series of posts (one for each sibling plus a few bonus posts for good measure) that I would release every 2 or 3 days. I found that this timeframe worked the best because it gave people enough time to see and respond to the post, but also didn’t leave enough time in between posts for people to lose interest.
  8. Save Your Posts – Finally, once you have posted, save the post and put it into a collection! This makes it much easier to go back to. You can do this by clicking on the little … mark at the top right corner of the post. Click “Save Post” the “Add to a Collection” when prompted. If you have not already made a collection to save it to, click the “Create Collection” prompt.

I hope you have good luck and success in finding and reaching out to your family members, whichever way you end up going about it. If you do end up trying my method, please let me know how it turns out for you! I love a good story!