Twitter for Genealogists
October 19, 2015
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.
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.
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 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.