Won’t You Be My Neighbor (er, Friend)?

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.

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6 comments on “Won’t You Be My Neighbor (er, Friend)?
  1. Pat says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. I’m at the leading edge of the boomers so it is a *big* deal for me. So far enjoying the process.

  2. I second Kerry’s comment–good for you! I am at the tail end of the “baby boom” generation and just started using facebook back last winter. I have found it fun and useful. I’ve reconnected with some old friends and find it useful for staying in touch with family. My most exciting social networking moment was getting a message from and connecting with a long-lost cousin from Poland, who’s also into genealogy. I too share your concern for the loss of more permanant forms of communication. I spent a number of years working in an archival respository, responding to researcher’s requests for information contained in letters and other original doccuments. So much of what we write now is or has the potential to be a temporary form of communication. What are we leaving future researchers?

  3. Pat says:

    Thanks, Joan. I know I’m not the only reluctant one, and there are more of us there all the time. Just another genealogy tool!

  4. Joan says:

    I was a reluctant FaceBooker — but due to my granddaughter’s insistence and expertise, I miraculously joined the crowd and have been happily swimming the waters ever since. Thanks for a great post.

  5. Pat says:

    Kerry, thanks for the positive response. I agree that what helps me know more about the family is a good thing. I also agree that there is no reason not to be saving all these electronic sources of information so they’ll be available to the next genealogists to come along. I do worry that we don’t always think about doing it (I’m not always good about backing up this blog for example and I do know better!) Caring for the archives in every format is the important thing.

  6. Kerry says:

    Good for you for joining Facebook! I’m actually part of that “younger generation,” and I was still reluctant to join. I’ve found the same thing you have, though…it’s a fantastic way to keep in touch with the relatives you only see at weddings and funerals (if that). As a result, when your own family asks about those folks, you’ll know a lot more about them. That can only be a good thing, genealogy-wise.

    I just wrote a long post (rant?) about the Witcher comments, so I’ll only say: there’s noting preventing folks from printing and saving emails, Facebook posts, onilne photos, etc. If we lose that stuff, it’s not because of the medium…it’s because we’ve failed to care for the archives we have, in whatever format they’re in.

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