Thursday, July 4, 2013

Can Social Be Low-Tech?

We've already taken a glimpse at how various new media can boost our genealogical research efforts. We've considered the buzz—and genealogical impact—of Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus—with more to come.

Before we forge ahead, though, we need to consider a question:
In order to be considered social media, must an online resource be nascent? Or even post-millennial?
Years before the advent of the big names in online social media, people—especially researchers—were even then connecting digitally. In fact, the very concept of the Internet, itself, was an outgrowth of not only military and governmental concerns, but it also suited the needs of academics.

With the more widespread use of email and even "LISTSERV," researchers adapted these tools to help further their own purposes. If you have been around genealogical research long enough to recognize the name Rootsweb, you remember how supercharged—or, unfortunately, even super messed up—social genealogy pursuits could be. (If you weren’t researching your roots in the 1990s, you can pick up a brief tour of the background of Rootsweb through the hyperlinked terms in blog posts here and here.)

With the advent of others among the first entities like Rootsweb—GenForum and’s own message boards come to mind here—genealogy fanatics found a way to connect with each other, and to collaborate on research projects, sharing information with others in forums.

Now, before you say, “Rootsweb? That’s so 1990s,” let me remind you of that old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Using a tool known to virtually every computer user the world over (email), genealogy forums still help connect researchers seeking the same informational goals. Usually divided into logical categories—surnames and geographic areas, as well as specific interest groups—online genealogy forums put the theory of crowdsourcing to work in the simplest and most straightforward of ways.

With all the electronic bells and whistles we’ve been spoiled with in this “new” research era, we tend to leave our old toys behind in the technology sandbox, but if we can swallow our high-tech pride and go back to such humble online roots, we may still find some personal genealogy gems in the forum cache. I know I have—and I have lately heard encouraging stories from friends, too. Remember, our collective genealogical research knowledge is still resident in those archived forums.

There’s no reason why we should abandon these forums in the frenzy to seek the new. They’ve served their purpose in the past, and they are still quite capable of doing so today. Forums have served us well as a direct method to connect two or more like-minded researchers seeking the answer to the same question. Forums allow direct communication in a public venue whose history then becomes searchable. The more we use these forums, the more valuable—through search mechanisms—they can become. It would be a shame to let such a resource turn into a ghost town.


  1. Funny, I hadn't thought of Rootsweb and GenForum as "social" media, but yeah.

  2. Oh, I didn't realize that Rootsweb was one of the grandfathers of all this stuff we have today. I do remember message boards, however, from when I started researching a little in 2005. In fact, as you're suggesting, I still use them! Maybe in a slightly different form -- I email the Ancestry users who have created public family trees with attachments that I like (and take . . . because they're offered).

    I do find that some old websites have blinked out, kind of like disappearing stars, but many times more are coming into being.

  3. I find gems in both places... and sometimes, even through the forum message is years old - you can still connect with folks.


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