Twitter and Today's Genealogist

by Stephanie Pitcher Fishman | Oct 22, 2013

Stephanie Pitcher Fishman

The family history community is on social media. Today's genealogical societies and libraries have found platforms like Facebook and Twitter to be an invaluable tool for reaching their members. As a researcher, you can use these same tools to your advantage as you connect with other genealogists, local historians, and even cousins. It's time to consider adding Twitter to your family history tool kit.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social media platform built upon microblogging, a fancy word for sharing short entries. The short messages, called tweets, have just 140 characters or less. Interactions on Twitter move fast because of this micro size. It also makes it important to craft tweets in a way that your core idea is highlighted. It's easier for others - and you - to determine quickly if a resource or user is a potential fit for your project or question.

Twitter is a great place to share links and ask questions. Because Twitter is used internationally, there are people looking at your tweets at all times of the day and night. If you are looking for resources or have questions about a locality or research method you can find someone who may have the information that you need. Location truly isn't important. With the help of Google Translate, language barriers can even be overcome. Genealogists from around the world come together on Twitter to help and support each other.

However, before you decide to join a new social media platform, read the terms of service. What some find acceptable may be different than what you find acceptable. Always look at the terms of service so that you understand how the network uses and/or protects your information.

Is Twitter Right for Genealogy?

Social media is great for breaking down brick walls and moving forward. Many researchers have made wonderful connections with other family historians using Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is not just filled with people wanting information. It's also filled with people wanting to help you find information. Many times if you have a question or a need you can find someone in the location you're researching who is willing to help you out with a photo or look up.

Both genealogical and historical organizations share information on events and repository resources on social media. The ability to access these organizations in another form can provide you with unique information. In fact, state tourism groups are great because they know their locations so well that they become a wonderful hidden resource when you are looking for a spot on a map or the name of an area that might be lost to you.

The family history community is filled with unique niches, and Twitter represents them all. In addition to the traditional societies and organizations you'll also find museums, lineage societies, genetic genealogy interest groups, photo restoration experts, and more. Taking some time to reach out to others will reveal a world full of experts at your fingertips.

The Basics

Twitter uses keyword tags called hashtags to help you sort through the noise and find your chosen topic. Hashtags are simply words preceded by the pound sign (#). Though anything can be a hashtag, typically subjects have generally accepted hashtags that are in common use on Twitter. For example, our community uses #genealogy and #familyhistory regularly. You'll also see hashtags for states, research areas, conference events, and more. Take the time to look around twitter to see the types of hashtags in use.

Tweets sent through Twitter are public by default; however, you can set them as "protected" if you would like to maintain control of what is viewed online. While this will require that followers be approved before they can see your tweets, it is an option available for those who would like to maintain a little more privacy online.

By using Twitter's search option, you can easily participate in or filter out the social tweets from those that are research based by the use of hashtags and other search terms. A search for "#genealogy" will reveal all tweets containing that hashtag in chronological order starting with the most recent. No other tweets will appear in your search results allowing you to quickly scan through those within your topic. A second search using the keyword "genealogy" without the pound symbol may return even more.

Seeing and Being Seen

Hashtags are also great resources for connecting with others during events. Organizations will often assign a special hashtag for those who want to sort their tweets and follow the conversation. Attendees tweet using that special hashtag during the live event allowing those at home to enjoy and benefit from the conference or lecture as well.

Another use of hashtags can be seen through special events called twitter chats or twitter parties. During these online events, participants will also use these hashtags in a very similar fashion. By meeting online at the same time and including a chosen hashtag in your tweets, users are able to have real-time conversations via Twitter with others interested in sharing resources or discussing the same topic.

Profile descriptions are another great way to use Twitter to your research advantage. Use of good keywords and hashtags in your profile that describe your research interest will help people locate on the platform. You'll find that you pick up followers and connect with people who may be researching the same area as you. By following others and being followed by other users you will increase your social reach, or how many Twitter users see your tweets and blog posts. Including your blog URL in your profile will also encourage others to look at your posts which can lead to research breakthroughs and cousin connections.

Twitter also gives us a great way to connect with our family members who might be spread out over the country or the world. We can share photos and stories like never before. And, they can share their photos and stories with us. How many times have you found out that a cousin or other relative had a stash of photos or letters that you'd love to see? Twitter will allow you to share photos or video in your tweets as well. While not everyone chooses to use these options in Twitter, they are there for your consideration.

Twitter Tips

Another benefit to using Twitter is the ability to create lists. These lists are simply organizational ways to group together other Twitter users however you feel it would be beneficial to you. Utilizing lists is incredibly simple. Create a list based on any topic you choose, add a Twitter user that you follow to the list, and choose if your list will be public or private.

Public lists can be viewed and followed by other users. The ability to follow a list is handy especially if you find a list created by a resource you trust as a solid source for information. By following their lists you benefit from their ability to curate the very best users unique to their niche or focus.

Private Twitter lists are for your viewing only. Other users are not able to view or follow these lists. Private lists are a nice way to group those users you want to follow more closely. They make it easy for you to quickly look at one group at a time if you only have a few minutes for browsing Twitter.

Other organizations such as service providers and magazines may hold events called twitter parties at various times. These events usually have a guest tweeter or a focused subject and often have freebies and giveaways as well.

Final Thoughts

Twitter can be a powerful tool in your resource kit. It can allow you to cross state and country borders to reach other researchers and repositories. Twitter can also allow you to connect with cousins or other family historians looking in your project area or at your focus surname.

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