Facebook as a Gateway Drug

It started with this photo, posted to Facebook by my cousin Chris Gray. Chris and I found each other on Ancestry.com just after I was bitten by the genealogy bug. (He’s been researching the family for years.) We “friended” each other on Facebook and gradually other cousins began showing up. I have ten first cousins on my father’s side of the family, most of whom I had lost touch with. Time, moves and divorces had taken their toll.

It’s been a tough summer for Dad’s family. First there was the Joplin tornado which impacted many of that branch of the family. No injuries thankfully but one of my cousins lost everything she owned. That was followed by two tragic and unexpected deaths a few weeks apart:  a 31 year old cousin and my father’s youngest brother. Several family members started posting old photos on Facebook as a way of remembering and honoring them. When Chris posted this photo, everyone began leaving comments, helping to identify the people and dates.  When we got up to 30 comments, it suddenly occurred to me that what we needed was a Facebook ‘group’.

It was very easy to create one. I just clicked on ‘Groups’ in the left sidebar, then on the ‘Create Group’ button. I named our group “Bessie’s Grandkids” because that’s the grandmother we all have in common (yeah, yeah, a boring name but I was in a hurry). You can make your group open or closed. The difference between the two is mostly how people join the group. In an open group anyone can add themselves to the group. In a closed group, an administrator has to approve membership requests. I chose ‘open’ for our group. Then I just started adding family members to it. (To take a peek at the group you can go here.)

Before I knew it, 28 people were posting old family photos and sharing memories. Some of the first questions posted in the group were requests for Grandma’s recipes. She was a great cook and famous for her apple butter which she made every fall. I created a group document so members can share any of her recipes they might have. Soon I began to see that the family is like a big jigsaw puzzle…we all have some of the pieces and when we combine the pieces we get an amazing picture.

Overall, the Facebook group has been a very enlightening experience. For example, when my Aunt Peggy joined the group, I learned that she had come to my parent’s home in Oklahoma City to help my mother after I was born. She told me a funny little story about my mother and the family cat. Now how did I get into my 50s without hearing that story? It was a little unsettling! Which just goes to show you that sometimes the person you need to be researching is yourself!

Aunt Peggy and her two daughters moved away after she and my uncle divorced and I really never knew her or my cousins while we were growing up.  But thanks to the Facebook group I have re-connected with all three of them.

One of the most gratifying aspects of the group has been seeing the next generation get involved. Many of my cousins have adult or teen children that have also joined the group. If you’ve ever wondered how to get the younger members of your family interested in family history, this is a great way to go about it. Using social media is meeting them on their own turf. Give them a taste of the family history “drug” and who knows…you might eventually have someone to leave your research to!


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Nancy Shively of Skiatook, OK. Read all her posts at Family Tree University.

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