A Guide to Using Social Media for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena examines the various social media channels that exist for genealogy and shows how they can help your family history research.

I remember the more recent “good old days” of genealogy. In those days, connecting with other researchers meant reading Everton’s Genealogical Helper magazine, where pages of researchers’ messages resided. I eagerly read those blurbs looking for my surnames, hoping to connect with a yet-unknown cousin who was trying to track down the same information I was.

I miss that magazine but I’m grateful to live in a time where making genealogical connections is considerably easier, thanks to the rise of the Information Age. With online message boards and numerous social media channels, I’m able to make connections in ways that my family historian grandmother could only imagine.

Are you using social media for your own genealogy? I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but seriously consider trying at least one social media network (Twitter, Facebook, GenealogyWise, Google+, YouTube are examples), or create a family history blog so that you can take advantage of all that modern-day genealogy offers.

graphic to illustrate an article on using social media for genealogy

Whether you are just dipping your toes in the ocean of social media or a seasoned user, consider these ways that social networking can benefit and enhance your genealogy research.

Seeking Family History Information

Genealogy research often raises more questions than answers, so I’m glad that I’m able to go online and seek guidance from libraries, archives and other family history researchers when I need to ask a question or talk through a tough research problem.


There are various ways that I do this, but one method is crowd-sourcing questions using a social media website like Twitter. I add relevant hashtags to my post that expand the reach of my question beyond just the people that follow me (some examples include #genealogy or #familyhistory). For questions I want to direct specifically to one person or institution, I use the direct message feature so that we can have a longer, private conversation. Note that Twitter apps such as Tweetdeck can help you track your responses more easily.

Also, try searching the names and hashtags of genealogical societies, companies, magazines, conferences and more, to find accounts to follow and stay on top of what is going on in the community, as shown below.

screenshot of GenealogyBank on Twitter

See: #genealogybank Twitter search


Obviously there are other ways to ask questions and seek information. Facebook’s specific subject groups are a great place to direct questions to those who have an interest in a certain type of research (like newspapers for example) or who use a website or software product. To find relevant groups, use the search engine located at the top of Facebook and enter keywords like “genealogy” or your favorite website or software program. Note that you must be logged into Facebook to search.

screenshot of GenealogyBank on Facebook

Follow Genealogical Societies, Organizations & Companies

Don’t forget to follow your favorite libraries, historical archives and genealogy companies on social media. They often post great resources to try, as well as information about emergency closings. Their social media channels are a great way to stay informed. For example, to find genealogy groups on Facebook, type “genealogy” into the search box and then select the “Pages” tab to get a listing of related pages to follow. Note that you must be logged into Facebook to search as shown below.

screenshot of genealogy pages on Facebook

Genealogy pages on Facebook

Attract Cousins

How do distant relations know of your research unless you have information about yourself out “there”? Leaving a virtual trail is one way people can find and connect with you to share information as well as answer questions. In my research, it’s through looking at online family trees, message boards and social media websites that I find modern-day descendants to share information, ask questions, and on occasion, reunite a family heirloom that I have found in an antique store.

I know it’s your genealogy research and I understand how protective you are of the work you’ve invested in it. But make it easier for others to find you. While some communications could be frustrating, others might result in wonderful things like a lost heirloom making its way back to your family. Get out there in the virtual world by using a genealogy blog or website to post information about your family history research. Then add a family tree or family images to share.

As one example, I put together a blog about an early 20th century couple I am researching. An antique dealer Googled the name she found on a painting (the wife was a painter), found my blog and then contacted me with information. Researching family history is not just about searching websites – it’s also about making connections with people who share your passion.

Learn More from GenealogyBank

We all could use a little help now and then. That’s why I always appreciate genealogy website social media tools. GenealogyBank has numerous tools online to help you learn more about genealogy research, as well as using the website to find your ancestors.

What tools are available? For one, take a look at GenealogyBank’s YouTube channel. Here you can find tutorials helping you do everything from finding family stories to using the GenealogyBank website itself. Sign into Google with your Google Account or your Gmail credentials and you can add your favorite genealogy tutorial videos to your YouTube playlist.

screenshot of GenealogyBank tutorial videos available on YouTube

See: GenealogyBank tutorial videos on Youtube

GenealogyBank also has a Google+ account with links to a variety of family history blog posts.

screenshot of GenealogyBank on Google+

See: GenealogyBank on Google Plus

Whom to Follow on Twitter for Genealogy

Those who know me know that I love Twitter. It’s a great place to follow other researchers, libraries, archives, and your favorite genealogy websites. GenealogyBank can be found at @genealogybank. Don’t forget to follow the GenealogyBank writers at their accounts: Gena Philibert-Ortega, @genaortega; Mary Harrell-Sesniak, @compmary; Duncan Kuehn, @FamBriarPatch; and Tom Kemp, @TomKemp.

GenealogyBank can also be found on Facebook and Pinterest.

Enter Last Name

I saved the best for last: the GenealogyBank blog. Frequent articles on the blog include nods to history, methodology, and ideas for your family history research. Don’t forget that we also post the latest newspaper additions to GenealogyBank, so the blog is a great place to learn about what’s new on the website.

I would recommend you add the GenealogyBank blog to your favorite blog reader by subscribing via the RSS feed. The RSS orange subscribe button can be found at the top right of the blog page.

screenshot of the GenealogyBank Blog RSS subscribe button

GenealogyBank Blog RSS Subscribe

You can search blog postings by the date, name of the author (to find all my blog posts search on my name: Gena Philibert-Ortega), and even by tags. You can find tagged subjects for each article at the bottom of the post. These tags index the article by subjects, and those subjects might be shared by other posts. You can find social media share buttons (as well as the option to print your favorite posts) at the bottom of each blog article.

Why Use Social Media for Genealogy?

Social media is an important tool in family history research. It provides us opportunities to network, share, and find information. Even if you are overwhelmed by social media, give one of the above tips a try. You just might find that these online genealogy tools can help you find a new cousin or unravel that family history mystery you’ve been working on for a while. I’d love to hear your experiences finding family or answers via social media networking. Please use the comment section below to share your social media genealogy tips.

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3 Steps to Using Pinterest for Your Family History

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains how the social media website Pinterest can help with your family history research.

Are you a member of Pinterest? Pinterest is a social media website that allows you to gather images from your computer and the Internet to create virtual bulletin boards on subjects that interest you. On Pinterest you can find boards dedicated to holiday meals, decorating kitchens, collecting antiques, fashion, and many other topics. But Pinterest is more than just a place to pursue those types of interests. Pinterest is also a place where you can organize, learn, and share your family history.

So how does a website where users virtually “pin” images about the latest movie or fashion collection help you with genealogy? As you take a look at Pinterest, consider it a site to share family photographs and documents, to bookmark websites related to your family history, or to plan out your next genealogy research trip. At home, your physical bulletin board might be used to save important articles, phone numbers, or notes you don’t want to forget. Pinterest is just like that real-life bulletin board except it is virtual and can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. Best of all, you can invite other family members or researchers to pin with you via shared group boards.

Not convinced Pinterest is for you? Not sure how Pinterest can be used for genealogy? Consider the following three tips.

Tip #1: Follow Genealogy Boards, Starting with GenealogyBank

One of the benefits of using Pinterest is getting ideas and learning about new genealogy sources. Following Pinterest boards maintained by genealogists, family history-related companies, and repositories can help you. Take for instance the GenealogyBank boards. Currently GenealogyBank has 50 boards covering topics as diverse as Family Tree Wall Art & Decor, Old Newspaper Ads, American Fashion History, and Genealogy Books.

Genealogy Bank Pinterest Page

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Family Tree Wall Art & Decor on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Newspaper Ads on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board American Fashion History on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Books on Pinterest.

These boards provide more than just images to look at. Consider the GenealogyBank board Genealogy Powerpoints, a must for any family history researcher. Here you will find links to presentations GenealogyBank genealogist Tom Kemp has given on subjects including Genealogy Research with Marriage & Anniversary Records, Top Genealogy Websites for the 21st Century, Newspapers: Critical Resources to Document your Family Tree, and Obituaries: Getting All the Clues. Pinterest is a great place to find resources and educational material about all facets of family history.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Powerpoints on Pinterest.

GenealogyBank’s recipe board is a shared group Pinterest board, where we welcome collaboration from those who share our common interests. In my blog article Holiday Recipe Ideas for Good Old-Fashioned Cooking I wrote about GenealogyBank’s Old Fashioned Family Recipes board. Follow this board and we will invite you to share your family recipes.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Fashioned Family Recipes on Pinterest.

To start following GenealogyBank, go to our page on Pinterest and then click on the orange “Follow” button at the top. You can also follow me on Pinterest.

Tip #2: Start Pinning

So what should you pin? Well, basically, images from the Internet or even your own photographs that you have from your camera, smartphone or scanner. Think of Pinterest as a place to share images that you find and those that you own. For those with mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, you can download the Pinterest app from the iTunes App Store (for Apple devices such as iPhone and iPad) or the Google Play store (for Android devices). Download the Pinterest button for your browser toolbar to make pinning images even easier. Make sure that when you pin an image you give credit to the person or website that it is from.

Here are some ideas to get you started on Pinterest:

  • Start a board where you share images of material items that were commonplace during your ancestor’s time. Pin images of what a kitchen was like in 1920 or what blacksmith tools your 3rd great-grandfather would have used.
  • Share images you have taken of the tombstones of your ancestors.
  • Start a board for a particular ancestor and then pin images of documents, photos, and other resources that help to tell the story of their life.
  • Pin images of books that you are interested in adding to your personal library. Need book ideas? Check out GenealogyBank’s Genealogy Books board.
  • Start a board with resources for a specific place that you research. Share your knowledge of local archives, libraries and museums that can assist other researchers.

Tip #3: Here’s the Best-Kept Secret: Using the Secret Boards

Not sure you want to share a board of your family history images? No problem. Pinterest offers members public and secret boards. Secret boards cannot be seen by others (unless you have a group secret board and then only those you allow to pin to the board can see it). Pinterest currently allows you to have up to six secret boards. (This is a recent addition of three extra boards that occurred during the holiday season). You can actually have access to additional secret boards if you are invited to pin on a secret board with another pinner. Use these boards to gather ideas for research or even set up virtual bookmarks for websites you need to look at further for genealogy clues. Currently I am using one of my secret boards to “bookmark” websites and digitized images I have found for one of my research projects. I love being able to see images to remind me where I’ve located resources and what I have yet to find.

Start a secret board with a cousin and use it to share photos and documents you’ve collected in your genealogy research. Use a secret board to plan out a genealogy research trip and include pins of libraries, archives and cemeteries you want to visit. Even consider using a secret board to interest the younger generation in their family history by pinning photos you have scanned.

Are you using Pinterest for your family history? Now is the time to give it a try. You’ll find it’s a great tool for sharing and storing images, and a good way to learn more about your family’s story.