Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why Twitter is Great for Genealogists

Last Friday, Dear Myrtle wrote about an email she received from a man, Hugh, who did not "get" social networking sites. I was glad that Myrt explained that Facebook is what you make of it. You don't have to be friends with everyone you have ever met. Use Facebook for what you want to make of it. If you want it to be about connecting with other genealogists, then don't add your old high school friends. You have the control, use it.

What I really want to talk about in this post is Twitter. In his message to Myrt, Hugh said that t "there isn't much serious communications that can fit within the 140 character limitation." First of all, does everything have to be so serious all of the time? Secondly, I think you can get a lot out of 140 characters. It really makes you think about what you are typing and get your point across quickly. I have heard other genealogists and friends say that they don't understand Twitter and would never use it. George G. Morgan, from The Genealogy Guys podcast, posted on Facebook that he thought Twitter was "trashy" and deleted his account.

Others have written about Twitter and the genealogy community before. For example, Thomas MacEntee wrote a column on why Twitter is great for genealogists. His Twitter cheat sheet should help you understand Twitter if you haven't used it before or want to get more out of it. He has also put together a list of genealogy companies and people on Twitter.

Even though others have done it, I still wanted to add my comments. Here are some of my tips and reasons why I think Twitter is great for genealogists:

1. Choose who you follow. Your personal twitter feed is made up of only the people who you decide to follow. You have control of it. If you aren't interested in a person's twitter, don't follow them. If you decide you don't like someone's postings later, unfollow them. Don't want to read about every single thing a person does, don't follow that person's twitter. Find people who interest and entertain you and create a twitter feed that is meaningful to you. I currently follow some genealogists, but not every single one, who tweets (tweet = twitter post) meaningful, fun content. I also follow a few friends who have Twitter accounts, some local news, writers ,and web comic creators who I enjoy. I try to keep my feed manageable so that I can read through all of the postings and not be overwhelmed by it every time I log in.

2. Don't follow everyone who follows you. It's okay if you aren't interested in what someone else says. But that doesn't mean that they wouldn't enjoy what you say. For example, a rubber mulch company follows my husband on Twitter, but my husband could care less about rubber mulch and doesn't follow them.

3. Search for content that you will like. The genealogy community uses the tag #genealogy for all posts that deal with genealogy. (Is genealogy 3 times in one sentence too much?) You don't have to follow everyone to still read their posts that may interest you. Use the search box on the right of your screen and type in "#genealogy" and find all the lastest posts with that tag. You don't even have to join Twitter to use the search feature.

4. Keeping up to date on conferences you couldn't attend. This is the most powerful thing that I have found on Twitter. Twitter was used wonderfully at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree this past weekend. I couldn't attend the Jamboree, but I got wonderful coverage and felt like I was right there. The Twitterers at the Jamboree used the hashtag #scgs09. I created and saved a search for that tag and kept refreshing it all weekend. Randy Seaver had wonderful coverage of the Son of Bloggers Summit. Others took the time to twitter some of what they learned in the lectures. I still wish that I had been there but it was great to know what was going on at the conference.

I really hope to see more bloggers and twitterers (not sure if that's the correct term, but I'll use it anyway) reporting from genealogy conferences. I think it is a great way to generate more interest in the conferences and get more people to attend. I may have felt like I was at the Jamboree, but I know that I missed a lot more excitement and learning.

4. Let people know about your new blog posts. Get more followers to your blog and hopefully find someone to help with your brick walls. Maybe you'll even find a cousin.

5. Announce new content. I currently working on a Vevay Newspaper Index. It is an index of births, marriages, and deaths from the Vevay, Switzerland county, Indiana newspapers from 1853-1901. Whenever I finish a year and put it online, I send out a tweet.

6. Meet more genealogists and collaborate. One of the best things about going to conferences is being able to meet other genealogists. Facebook and Twitter are helping us to do it outside of the conferences and whenever we have the time.

7. Communicate with genealogy companies. Let the companies know your opinions and what you want to see from them. Open up communication between corporations and users.

Twitter may not be for everyone. But if people know how to use it and are able to find a great content, then I think it will work for lots of genealogists.

What did I miss about Twitter? Leave a comment or send me an email at genwishlist [at] gmail [dot] com. Or send me a tweet.


  1. I loved your comments about Twitter. It takes a while to learn how to use Twitter for your own particular purposes. Once you pass the honeymoon period [without giving up, of course], it's an extremely powerful tool for genealogical research. The problem lies in people being able to identify how they are going to use it [ideally, in multiple ways]. Twitter is an ambiguous tool, but therein lies the beauty of it.


  2. Absolutely agree about posting new content and tweeting from & about genealogy conferences events. More, please, everyone!

  3. I have found Twitter interesting, sometimes fun, but useless in furthering my own research. I much prefer interactive message boards, such as this one on Yuku.

  4. Thanks so much for the shout out - I was the same way most people were about Twitter - I thought "Meh, this is stupid" even as I consider myself a technology professional with 25 years experience.

    But I took Twitter back up and have never looked back since. I don't see Twitter as a substitute for how I communicate with my genealogy community - it augments and supplements how I interact with my online genealogy community.

    Thomas MacEntee

  5. In this age of instant gratification, I think there are some people who dismiss Twitter as useless because they don't take the time to understand it. Once I learned how to use hashtags and searches, I enjoyed Twittering a lot more. So, essentially, get MY instant gratification from making Twitter work for ME. :)

  6. So do you use Twitter instead of Facebook or in addition? Assuming you use it in addition, how do you decide what to post to one social network vs the other? Between blogs, FB, and Twitter, I see soooo much reduncancy of posts! What a huge waste of my time!

  7. I use both Facebook and Twitter. I have tried to keep my Facebook account for friending people who I actually know. I have friended many of the "big" genealogists though. I promote my blogs mostly on Twitter, although I do post my ancestral blog onto Facebook because I think it may interest my non-genealogist friends. I also find it redundant to have to read the same thing on Facebook and Twitter. Many people just post their Twitter feed onto their Facebook profile and it is annoying to have to read it twice. But since not everyone is on both, you have to make the decision of how to promote. Of course if you don't like the repeats, you are free to unfriend or unfollow a person.

  8. Twitter can be silly, but it can also be a handy public relations tool. I use it as such a tool in support of my genealogical speaking, writing, and blogging.

    Twitter, like much else in life, is what you make of it.