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Twitter for Genealogists

Twitter. To many in the genealogical community, this leading social media platform is confusing, overwhelming, and just plain frustrating. What can we possibly share about our ancestors in 140 characters or less?

Not very much.

But don’t let your imagination be stifled by character count. Our research endeavors require a lot of imagination, do they not? No one should stop short of giving Twitter a fair shake just because of character count, just as no one should stop their research when vital records get dicey.

Twitter is, to me, the coffee house of family history. You walk into a coffee shop with friends, and as you converse, the topics change, the conversation flows. That’s what Twitter is. A 24/7 conversation that we get to jump into whenever we’re ready.


Getting Started

Creating an account on Twitter is easy, and the setup process will guide you through finding topics and people you might be interested in following. Look for leaders in the field, like FamilySearch, the National Archives, and your local or state genealogy society.

The more people and organizations you add right from the beginning, the more Twitter will be able to adjust its recommendations to you. Adding genealogy television – like PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, as well as co-host D. Joshua Taylor – will ensure that the behind-the-scenes algorithms will work in your favor. From there, it will be easy to identity Kenyatta Barry and Mary Tedesco.


Use hashtags on Twitter to follow certain subjects. You can search by a hashtag like you would a search term on any search engine. Also be sure to include an appropriate hashtag in your own messages, so people will see what you want to share, too. Remember that these count in your 140 characters, so make sure to leave yourself some room. It’s one of the many reasons why users of Twitter tend to include abbreviations and shortened words – just enough for people to interpret without taking all of the space in the message itself.

The most commonly used hashtags in family history are listed below:


Note that there are no spaces in any of these hashtags, nor is there any punctuation. You can create any hashtag you want; for example, I use #fraternalgenealogy when I share something based on fraternal societies and their role in history.

Twitter Chats

Chats are common on Twitter, and there are currently two that are specific to family history: #genchat and #AncestryHour. Both are excellent for sharing information, ideas, suggestions, and generally being a part of the genealogy community. #genchat is hosted every two weeks and each chat is focused on a specific topic. #AncestryHour is more of an “open mic” style, and allows people to ask specific research questions and gain advice. If you would like to take part in a Twitter chat, consider using a platform such as Tweetdeck or Twubs to keep up with the flow of conversation.

Let’s review. A 24/7 online resource where fellow researchers gather to exchange ideas, sympathize with struggles and dead ends, and serve as an excellent resource when you get “stuck,” offering suggestions and tips? A great place to go when you realize it’s 3 a.m. and you’ve been falling down the rabbit hole for hours…?

Where do I sign up?

Oh, wait. I already did. You can find me on Twitter @ancestryjourney – pop in, say hello, and feel free to ask questions. And don’t forget to follow @NextGenNetwrk!

Jen_BaldwinJen Baldwin is the North America Data Licensing Manager at Findmypast and the NextGen Genealogy Network’s Outreach Coordinator. She writes and lectures on technology, social media, the Colorado gold rush, and fraternal societies, and volunteers with Preserve the Pensions. Jen is also the host of #genchat, a biweekly genealogy chat held on Twitter.


Faces of NextGen: Meet Breanne Ballard

Breanne Ballard, 32, Utah

What five words would you use to describe yourself? Genuine, motherly, studious, driven, persistent.

Why genealogy? Genealogy is the perfect combination of intellect and heart. I love history and the “detective work” aspects of genealogy. At the same time, there is something indescribable about the excitement I get and the relationship I feel to these people I find and research.

What’s the coolest discovery you’ve made? Folsom Prison records for my second and third great grandpas, mug shots and all!

What are you working on this week? I found a naturalization record that gave me some great clues to start researching my Lithuanian ancestors.

What’s the number one secret to your success in genealogy? Asking questions and networking. The more people I talk to the more I learn.

What superpower would you want to help you uncover your family history? Time travel.

What are we most likely to find you doing when you’re not researching family history? Being a mom. I’ve got three really cute kiddos that I love to pieces.

The NextGen Genealogy Network is made up of young genealogists with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Faces of NextGen will showcase a different member of our community each month. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming feature, simply complete our questionnaire and submit a selfie.


Something Worth Sharing: Creating a Family History Book

You’ve put countless hours into researching ancestors, digitizing photos and collecting stories. Now what? Of course the family tree with all its records and photos can be thrown onto a USB drive and passed out to interested parties, but there’s a good chance the drive may just sit on a shelf collecting dust. Sometimes the best way to generate interest and appreciation in family heritage is to make a good old-fashioned book or poster.

As the Internet has grown up around us, we’ve begun to discover some amazing ways to express ourselves through the printed word. Services like Shutterfly, Snapfish, and even WalMart offer the ability to design and build a photo book through a web browser. Photos are uploaded to be manipulated and arranged, clip art is available to make frames or embellishments, and text can be added throughout the book as captions for photos or even entire stories. But using these sites to make a family history book may be the hard way to do it.

If you are a user of, you should be aware that they actually have their own media printing service called MyCanvas. The really, really handy thing about MyCanvas is that all of the family tree work done in is actually linked up to MyCanvas. To get to it from, click on “Extras” along the top, then click “Photo Books and Posters.” The site has family history books and poster templates and once a project is chosen (a family history book for example), all of the relevant names, dates, locations, and profile pictures will be pulled from your tree on and laid out in a book in MyCanvas within seconds. Once the general template has been filled in, pages can be added, layouts edited, media inserted, and stories shared.


I have found that the MyCanvas page editor is easy to use and very flexible for creativity. All family tree records and media are accessible under each ancestor’s name, and photos not yet in your tree can be uploaded directly to MyCanvas to be used within your project. Books can be made with up to 250 pages and five generations deep. Posters can be printed in various styles from the standard family tree or descendant layouts as well as a combination poster showing the union of two families. The poster can display from three to nine generations and range from 16 x 20 inches up to 24 x 36 inches.

In my experience, it has taken a lot of time and patience to tweak my books and posters to the way I ultimately wanted them, but an unexpected benefit is that the exercise actually pointed out various holes I had in my own research. It pushed me to find missing dates, spouses’ names, pictures, records, and newspaper articles. The result is something to be very proud of, something which locks context and connections together in a permanent way and gives the family’s heritage a better chance of outliving its author.


EricEric Wells is a Missouri-based construction contractor in between his genealogy work. He frequently gives talks about publishing family history to his local society and regional conferences. He has published several books and posters for his family, friends, and clients, and is a volunteer with the NextGen Genealogy Network.


Call for Volunteers

Young genealogists don’t always have a lot of time on their hands. Whether we’re preoccupied with school, careers, families, or all of the above, it can be hard to find a spare hour to research our own family history, much less engage with the genealogical community at conferences or online.

We know your time is valuable. That’s why we’ve broken down our volunteer opportunities into bite-sized pieces. Are you squeezing in one genealogy conference this year? You can spend your lunch break there as a Meetup Coordinator. Are you always on Facebook and Twitter? Do double-duty and help us engage with our online community as a Social Media Assistant.

Read about these opportunities and more below:

    • Content Contributor: If you love to write and would like to expand your professional exposure by reaching out to a growing community of young genealogists, consider writing for us. Learn more…
    • Social Media Assistant: Can’t stay away from Facebook and Twitter? Volunteer your time online to share content and engage with our active community of young genealogists. Learn more…
    • Graphic Design Assistant: If dreaming up eye-catching graphics and getting creative on is your idea of a good time, help us connect with the next generation of genealogists. Learn more…
    • Community Liaison: Are you planning to attend an upcoming genealogy conference? Do you love to meet new people? Represent our organization wherever you may be. Learn more…
    • Meetup Coordinator: Whether you plan to attend a local, state, regional, or national genealogy conference, we encourage you to lead a fun and informal meetup event for young genealogists. Learn more…

Have a different idea? Complete our Volunteer Application and let us know how you’d like to get involved. We would love to have you join our growing team of volunteers – all dedicated to engaging the next generation of genealogists.