I suppose I have become used to the eye rolls and the sighs, the benign smiles and groans. You know, when you are passionate about an issue, trying desperately to communicate an aspect of genealogy very meaningful to you, and the response you receive is one of disinterest, at best. This has happened many times as I have attempted to engage in conversation family historians, from newbies to the very experienced, about the benefits our industry could reap by harnessing the power of social media. Now, let me be clear from the beginning, I would never show deliberate disrespect for the tried and true methods we have and continue to use to conduct our research and share our wins with each other; we stand on very broad shoulders. I unequivocally acknowledge the wonderful work some family history societies have done, within the capacity of their resources, to embrace various aspects of social media in order to communicate with the broader genealogical community. Thank you also to those professional and experienced archivists, librarians and family historians who use social media to bring to us news of the latest research techniques, the release of the newest resource sets and so very much more.
Since the conversations I alluded to still happen frequently however, I would like to suggest that we look beyond social media as merely being a frivolous time waster, a medium through which young people share inane, non-constructive aspects of life that have no substance or intellectual weight. Can it not be to our advantage to recognise what a powerful tool social media can be and, when appropriately used, one that can allow us to take the message about which we are so enthusiastic, to those with whom we have no other way of being in contact or who are unable to visit our library and be hands on with our resources? Twitter can allow us to shoot our short, simple messages out to a potentially large audience very quickly. If a picture paints a thousand words, how powerful could Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube be in progressing our research and breaking through our brickwalls?
I’m a big fan of the ‘slowly slowly’ approach when it comes to stepping into the unknown. Absolute credit to the organisers of GSQ’s Monday Morning Natters who arranged some time back for the group to explore the benefits of Facebook, Twitter and blog posts, if I remember correctly. There was some trepidation about this session but, with no apologies from the organisers for starting with the very basics, we moved through the features of each site one by one. The post session feedback was positive, with one attendee quietly saying that we had managed to demystify Twitter and encourage her to become more familiar with the features on her Facebook page.
On library duty one Wednesday night, when all was a little quiet and everyone present was busily about their research, I saw a tweet. A single, 140 character message, requesting assistance with Dutch genealogical research. I offered to help even though I was confident that GSQ’s catalogue would not list a huge amount of Dutch resource; consulting WIIFY? confirmed this. My thinking was that at least GSQ’s name would be ‘out there’ and contact would have been made with someone new. Because I took the time to respond, the sender let me know the name she was looking into. It had changed over time, at least the Dutch penchant for prefixes such as van, den and von had, but the core name remained the same and it was the core name that immediately intrigued. Responding to her most recent tweet, I pointed out that the surname was clearly Jewish and noted that she could check records specific to this community such as Bris documents, Ketubot and the like. I received a very excited tweet in return acknowledging this.
In the meantime, a user at an unknown location entered our conversation, providing the link to a website that allowed the initial enquirer to progress her research back a further generation in the 1700s. I discovered, after looking at the Twitter profile of the person who posted the first tweet, that she was a professional genealogist based in England, so she was able to progress her client brief. This whole conversation occurred in approximately 35 mins. I still remember telling the members of the Southern Suburbs branch this story at one of their monthly meetings and taking delight in the oohs and aahs when I mentioned the timeframes involved.
What a wonderful time we currently live in, with such powerful resources at our disposal. They provide us with so many opportunities to be in contact with family historians across the world and progress and share our research in timeframes we could never have previously imagined. Social media, in all its forms, is an incredibly diverse and influential communication tool that allows us to connect, share and learn and, after all, isn’t that what our genealogy is all about?