I wrote more than a year ago (here) about finally edging my way into the waters of social networking by signing up on Facebook. I have had a number of positive experiences (and a few negative ones!) since then, and find myself thinking about whether there is a better way for me to use it for genealogical purposes. My negative experiences, by the way, have been with Facebook itself not with “friends”. (I tried to log in from a strange computer and then couldn’t remember my password and Facebook locked me out for a month or so. Did, finally, get back into my account; but not without a lot of frustration.)

The gist of the issue for me is this: I first signed up so I could stay in touch with the younger generation of our family, most of whom repeatedly said to me “those pictures are on Facebook”. That use of my Facebook site has worked wonderfully. I can see all the family pictures and comment on them when I want to. I can even share my own pictures. As I got more practiced using the site, I also wanted to connect with other family members, “cousins” of all varieties and have started to do that. So far all of these connections have originated with me, that is, I went looking for people.

However, because it is my personal site, I have tried to be very careful about privacy and so have tried to keep my posts and photos as contained as possible by only letting friends (people already in my friend list) see them. I know that I am limiting myself in terms of others being able to find me by searching for the family names I post periodically. (I assume you can do this in Facebook. Guess I should find out.) For example, I try, whenever I have posted something on this blog, to put that on my wall so everyone who is interested can go look at what I said. Assuming that names mentioned in a wall post can be searched, I am going to try making those posts public, to see if anyone finds me.

I also recently started playing around with making a page in Facebook for the Genealogy Gals. Until I figure out how to use the page, however, and decide with Judy what it should have on it, it will remain unpublished.

screen capture of the Syracuse group on Facebook

The very best is that I discovered a group, thanks to cousin Nancy, called Jewish Community of the 15th Ward, Syracuse, New York (click on the name to go see the front page of the group). This is a new group, in existence for just over a month now, with 88 members last I looked. (There were 68 I think when I joined, so you can see it is growing.) The purpose of the group is to share memories and photos and information about the old 15th ward. This neighborhood doesn’t exist physically any more due to the construction of a major highway and general urban renewal. The group is active and there are some wonderful photos and images already. Everyone is also very helpful in making connections or answering questions.

I haven’t actually verified whether my husband’s family lived within this neighborhood, that is the actual boundaries of the ward, but they certainly were part of the Jewish community from their arrival in about 1905. That makes them latecomers compared to some of the Jewish families, but puts them in the middle of the pack compared to many others. I am hoping my sister-in-law will join the group and that we may find new “cousins” as well. So far the group has shared the recipe for potato latkes originally submitted by one of the aunts to a Hadassah cookbook in the 1960s, and I’ve been told about a handwritten pickle recipe from another aunt. I also found out about a book from the Arcadia series of picture books about places, which I have ordered and await impatiently. What a treasure trove!

I have a number of pictures and documents that I plan to share with this group. I don’t want to step on cousin Nancy’s toes, so will try to be careful not to share pictures we have because she sent copies to us. And before I share any studio photographs I will check up on the copyright issue. I seem to remember that photos taken before a specific date (or over X number of years old) are in the public domain, but I want to be certain.


The other social networking site I use is Twitter. I also originally signed onto this thinking that the younger generation in the immediate family would adopt it as a communications channel. I was the only one there for a very long time, but they’ve started to join in.

So, I am on Twitter as an individual and follow several of our fellow genealogists. The question for me again is separating the personal family stuff from the more general genealogical. As far as I know tweets cannot be directed to only some people.

Judy put the Genealogy Gals on Twitter too (yay, Judy!!) and both of us can access that account. Please notice the “follow us” icon on the bottom of the left menu. I suppose the answer to my own question is that I should use the Genealogy Gals account for general genealogy stuff and my personal account for staying in touch with individual family members or friends. I don’t use it much anyway since I’m often not doing or thinking anything I feel the need to share in that way. Too, I haven’t added using Twitter to my cell phone abilities, so there are many times when it isn’t easily available to me.

And, finally, there is a useful new posting by James Tanner over on familysearch.org that summarizes social networking for us genealogists. This post, plus the first comment capture it all.

Judy is out in the Wild West, visiting a college friend and going to a family reunion as well as vacationing. I’m sure there will be lots of pictures and stories when she returns. In the meantime, I’m holding the fort here at the blog.

This is going to be a description of my first tentative toe-poking into the scary (to me anyway) world of social networks. I suppose that this blog is actually a way of networking too, so maybe I was doing it before I knew. However, I very recently and very reluctantly joined Facebook. I won’t do my usual rant and rave about what is wrong with such sites and why I get concerned about the information people seem willing to share with the world. The truth is that my desire to be connected with the younger generation in the family finally prompted me to go explore the site and see what it required. Especially for the pictures, which most of them only post there.

So I took myself in hand and opened the page to see how you sign up and what you have to say and how you limit who sees what. I soon figured out that I didn’t have to give away any information about myself, and better yet, that I could limit who could see what to friends or friends and friends of friends. (These are terms of art!). I set up my account and went looking for all the younger family members and the older ones that I thought had accounts. Then I branched out a little and went looking for relatives I’ve connected to in searching various family lines (on both my side and my husband’s).

And that is the big payoff, for me so far. I have reconnected with three cousins I had lost touch with. You know how it is, your life gets in the way of being consistent about notes or emails and pretty soon it’s been so long that you’re embarrassed to make contact (if you’re me). So you don’t, you put it off, and then it’s been even longer and it’s even more embarrassing.

I have found that many people have been put on by their children, or did it themselves because so many colleagues/clients/potential clients keep asking. At least that is what I’ve heard so far. I have been thrilled to connect with my relatives and have been able to share information with them, which is this genealogist’s dream. With cousin Nancy I have begun (again) to look at the emigration of the various ancestors and to be able to start to construct timelines of their movements. This lets me look at the different relationships in the family, how different people are related, and what impact some of these relationships seem to have had. Sponsoring emigration into the country; introductions to later spouses; support in businesses and in life.

With cousin Marion I am starting to here her stories and reminisces of her parents, who were the original emigrants in her family. I have already begun to think about visiting her for a longer session and broached the issue of recording her memories. And in approaching that topic I learned of the existence of a recording made of her parents telling stories that I had no idea existed. Now to find a copy and get to listen to it!

And with cousin Daryl I am reconnecting with my mother’s side of the family. It’s odd: I come from a large family (have 4 siblings) but when I think about it, I have only a few cousins on my mother’s side, and fewer on my father’s. At least without going back several generations and then down the family again. My mother had one brother; her father had 2 siblings and her mother had one (who was much older than she). My father had no living siblings and his father had one living sibling (without children) and his mother seems to have been cut off from her family. Consequently I am happy to “adopt” all relatives as “cousins”.

Mostly, I am having fun seeing the photos that get taken and posted without much fanfare by the younger generation. And the recent graduations and wedding pictures, without having to nag at the photographers to send me the pictures or put them someplace else that I can see.

So I am willing to admit, so far, that social networking may have a positive side for me (and of course for many others as well). On the other hand, one of my concerns about all of this electronic communication (I promised not to rant, but I have to mention) is the lack of permanent records that may be increasing. Yes, there are still required licenses and certificates for the big life events, but much else only exists in electronic form or in the internet ether. When was the last time your bank sent your canceled checks back with a statement? Have you seen retailers scan a check and hand it back to the person who wrote it? Dick Eastman’s blog just reported on a talk by Curt Witcher addressing the problem of our losing important primary sources as paper is increasingly not the material used to communicate or to preserve information. And the Wayback Machine which captures so much that is on the web does not capture everything. Our blog and the attached front page are not there. I don’t think you can access any blog that is hosted by blogspot.com (I just tried and got an error message saying that it was prevented from seeing those pages). So how will our descendants know what we were doing, thinking about, posting about? I suspect that this is where the circle closes and we have to come back to hard-copy: put implement to paper in one way or another and add our parts to the ongoing stories of our families.

So while I enjoy the “writing on the wall” on Facebook, and the pictures, I am also resolving to write real physical notes (letters?) occasionally. And to remember to save the emails that have important content in more than my inbox.