Tuesday, April 4, 2017
From Forums to Facebook
Once genealogists discovered the power of the Internet, researching our family history changed—for the better, in my opinion. My quest to connect with a living descendant of the Irish couple whose 1936 family album ended up in an antique store near my home provides a case in point.
Used to be, in the early days of online access, a researcher could post a "query" on a forum geared to readers who shared the same interests. There were a number of such communities online, of which the old Rootsweb forums are still in existence as one example, thanks to the fact that they are now hosted by Ancestry.com.
Anyone wishing to ask anything from simple requests for obituaries to more complex questions on a wide variety of topics could pose their question to a ready-made audience of other genealogy fans on these forums. Free, easy, with ready access, forums were an obvious go-to place for researchers in the 1990s and early years post-Y2K.
The buzz has migrated away from those old forums to new digs, now. With "everybody" on Facebook lately, it was a logical jump to ditch the old fashioned forums for a perkier place for instant access to genealogical answers.
Don't think that is a lightweight choice. The same social media which bring us mind-numbing digital drivel ("and this is a photo of what I had for lunch today") prove to be quite effective at dishing up instant answers to our research questions.
In fact, so many people have voted with the click of their mouse to head to Facebook that there are apparently over ten thousand Facebook pages and groups in the English language alone dedicated to talk about genealogical pursuits.
That fact was not lost on me when I puzzled over the best strategy for sending my mystery photo album back home to Ireland. I knew that many of the Facebook genealogy groups were organized by geographic location. If there was a group dedicated to researching genealogy for County Cork, Ireland, I wanted to find it.
It's easy to find organizations on Facebook: just enter the terms you are seeking in the search bar at the top of any Facebook page. The only drawback is that there are two types of entries on Facebook. One is for "groups" and one is for "pages." If an organization chooses the "groups" format when they set up their Facebook entity, they may choose to make that group open or closed.
Unfortunately, the County Cork entry on Facebook was a closed group. The bright side, though, is that most closed groups are quite willing to grant admission, just upon the mere request to be allowed to join. So I asked.
It was then that I noticed the Cork Genealogical Society also has an open page, so I followed the links. Eventually, I noticed a sidebar mentioning the group's Facebook Messenger link and, next to a link with the words, "Message now," the promise, "typically replies within a day."
That was the spot where I jumped at the opportunity and sent my query. Even if the Society didn't permit me access to their closed group, I could still send my message. Hopefully, someone there wouldn't mind seeing if my target Hawkes and Reid families had descendants who still lived in the area.
Just before heading to bed the night before Saint Patrick's Day, I sent my official query via Facebook Messenger to the Cork Genealogical Society. By 1:51 the next afternoon (my time), the group's contact person informed me that I had been admitted to the closed group, and added, "Would you like me to cross post [my query from the open page messenger system onto the closed group] on your behalf?"
As soon as I could, I sent back a resounding, "Yes!" About fifteen minutes after that point, she responded, "I'll tag you so you can see the comments."
By that time—in the matter of one hour and eleven minutes of members' comments on that Saint Patrick's Day—the discussion thread was thirty responses deep. I had clippings of newspaper articles regarding the family, hints from other Society members, and a claim to have obtained the address of a specific, named, living descendant. It was at that spot in the sequence that someone mentioned recalling that the descendant may have been on Facebook, herself.
That was when I held my breath and tapped out a quick note to a total stranger, asking forgiveness for my intrusion on her privacy but...would she possibly be the granddaughter of one Harry and Alice Reid?
Facebook is wonderful in that it brings researchers together to crowdsource the answers to our research problems, but in no way can it actually guarantee that one participant will answer the question posed by another Facebook user. While this Saint Patrick's Day did indeed bring me some exciting news, the day closed without my actually achieving my goal of contacting the Reid family descendant I was seeking.