How can Facebook help with your genealogy search?

Facebook has more to offer than pictures of your friends' vacations. It can connect you with long-lost relatives!
Facebook has more to offer than pictures of your friends' vacations. It can connect you with long-lost relatives!

Once upon a time, being a genealogist was physically exhausting, time-consuming, painstaking work. Whether the genealogist in question was a professional researcher or an amateur sleuth looking to hunt down family information, the job inevitably involved long days hunched over ancient microfiche machines, long-distance phone calls to small-town libraries and travel to far-off places. The Internet, of course, totally changed the game — these days, pretty much anyone can be an armchair genealogist. Archives, church registries and old newspapers are now just a click away.

The Internet not only offers information, but also the opportunity to pick the brains of other genealogists, amateur and otherwise. Before the days of social media, there were bulletin boards, chat rooms and online forums where people interested in genealogy could share resources and help one another out. Hundreds of genealogy sites sprang up. Some are research aids, and some allow users to enter their personal information and build family trees, connecting with others doing the same thing. And then social media — and Facebook in particular — took things to another level.

There are two basic ways to research genealogy on Facebook: apps and groups. The apps allow you to connect with other users, find relatives and construct family trees. Most of the apps are connected with an online genealogy company, like Ancestry, Geni or Family Tree Builder. For the most part, they allow you to automatically combine any information you find on Facebook with the family tree you may have already built online.

Facebook genealogy groups can be a bit overwhelming: One comprehensive list updated in October 2014 had more than 4,100 entries [source: Willson]. Most of these groups are closed to the public, so you'll need to ask permission to join. Depending on what you're looking for, you can start off big (the U.S. Archives), go local (Ionia County, Michigan), zero in on ethnicity (Choctaw Nation) or find a surname group (the Stubblefield-Jackson family of Kentucky). It gets amazingly specific, down to groups for specific haplotypes (groups of people sharing the same ancestor).

Once you're in a group you'll be able to search through all of its posts and also ask questions of your own. The other group members could be fellow searchers, amateur genealogists, or experts on the family or location you're interested in. As is the case on bulletin boards and online forums, the more specific your query, the better your chance of getting an answer. You need to explain exactly who or what you're looking for, what you already know, the steps you've taken to find out more, and how you ended up at a brick wall (if you have). If you don't find help in one group, move to another. It might be a bit tedious, but it's nothing compared to slogging through dusty old archives in a library. With 4,000 groups and counting, you're sure to strike gold in one of them.

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More Great Links


  • Berry, Laura. "Tracing your family tree? The 10 best apps to help you find your relatives." The Guardian. April 5, 2014. (Sept. 23, 2014)
  • Howells, Cyndi. "Facebook for Genealogy: Posts, aka Queries." Cyndi's List. Jan. 27, 2014. (Sept. 23, 2014)
  • Kramer, Heather. "Free Mobile Applications for Genealogists.", May 2, 2012. (Sept. 23, 2014)
  • Larson, Finn. "Using Facebook to Grow Your Family Tree." Oct. 9, 2012. (Sept. 23, 2014)
  • MacEntee, Thomas. "7 Genealogy Facebook Apps." Family Tree Magazine. Oct. 26, 2011. (Sept. 23, 2014)
  • Willson, Katherine R. "Genealogical and Historical Groups/Pages on Facebook." Sept. 2, 2014. (Sept. 23, 2014)