Where in the World: Technical Tools for Locating a Place

Despite an expand­ing wealth of online resources, geneal­o­gists will always need to “hit the road.” In addi­tion to vis­it­ing local repos­i­to­ries, court houses, and libraries where unique and “not-yet-online” resources are avail­able, geneal­o­gists want to visit old farms, churches, and ceme­ter­ies. They want to see the home places of their ances­tors. They want to feel the wind on the prairie of Nebraska or see the snow fall on a New Hamp­shire field.

Through the use of some handy soft­ware and hard­ware tools, the tra­di­tion of the geneal­ogy trip is becom­ing eas­ier to man­age and eas­ier to accomplish.

The key to a suc­cess­ful jour­ney, whether it’s a genealog­i­cal research trip or a vaca­tion to the islands, is plan­ning. You want to pack the right stuff, get the tick­ets, and arrange for pet sit­ting. More specif­i­cally for a geneal­ogy trip, in addi­tion to your research plan, you want to know how to find the old home­stead, the repos­i­to­ries, and the ceme­ter­ies. In other words, you want to place your fam­ily his­tory locales on a con­tem­po­rary map.

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Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: mtDNA

Three Generations of Arnold, Gregg, and Johnson Women
Three Gen­er­a­tions of Women

(Clock­wise, from top left:
my grand­mother
Helen Kjer­s­tine John­son, her sis­ter
Bethene Blanche John­son,
their mother, Alice Mar­garet Gregg,
her mother, Helen Edwina Arnold)

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings has posted his ideas for Sat­ur­day night geneal­ogy fun. I’m game!

Randy asks us to think about and respond to the following:

1. List your matri­lin­eal line — your mother, her mother, etc. back to the first iden­ti­fi­able mother. Note: this line is how your mito­chon­dr­ial DNA was passed to you!

2. Tell us if you have had your mito­chon­dr­ial DNA tested, and if so, which Hap­logroup you are in.

3. Post your responses on your own blog post, in Com­ments to this blog post, or in a Note or sta­tus line on Facebook.”

Here’s my matri­lin­eal line:

a. Jor­dan D. Jones
b. Alice May Hill (liv­ing) m. Carl Lawrence Jones
c. Helen Kjer­s­tine John­son (1894, Ord, Val­ley Co., NE — 1976, Simi Val­ley, Ven­tura Co., CA) m. Ernest Melvin Hill
d. Alice Mar­garet Gregg (1870, East Nod­away, Adams Co., IA — 1919, Ord, Val­ley Co., NE) m. Nels “E” John­son
e. Helen Edwina Arnold (1847, Wheel­ing, Ohio Co., VA — 1922, Des Moines Co., IA)
f. Esther Ward (circa 1821, prob­a­bly near Ohio Co., VA — unknown) m. Paul Arnold
g. [Prob­a­bly Sarah LNU [pos­si­bly Swan] (circa 1796, PA — 1863) m. Joseph Ward]
h. [Unknown, but pos­si­bly Eliz­a­beth Bowen (1773, Muddy Creek, Greene Co., PA — 1823, Grave Creek, Mar­shall Co., VA) m. Henry B. Swan]
i. [Unknown, but pos­si­bly Nancy Agnes Crea (1750, Muddy Creek, Greene Co., PA — 1791, Dunkard, Greene Co., PA) m. Thomas Bowen]

What’s excit­ing about this is that look­ing at my mater­nal line again, I picked up the trail of my 3rd great grand­mother, Esther Ward.

I had not been search­ing widely enough for her. Her hus­band Paul Ward appears in the 1850 Mar­shall County, Vir­ginia Mor­tal­ity Sched­ule, and I had not been able to find her in the cen­sus for Mar­shall County, Vir­ginia, where Paul was listed. She didn’t appear in Vir­ginia at all, in fact, or in other nearby states.

I didn’t find her in Vir­ginia or other local states because she had moved to Danville, Iowa, and she was incor­rectly indexed (as “Hes­ter Ansell”).

But tonight, I found her in the 1850 Cen­sus in Danville Town­ship, Des Moines Co., Iowa, with what I strongly believe are her par­ents, as well as her chil­dren Eliz­a­beth, Rollin, Joseph, Helen, and Paul. (I had known about Rollin, Helen, and Paul, and their ages are all on tar­get.) On Ancestry.com, this is linked with the extra infor­ma­tion, though none of has any sources cited, so it is all con­jec­tural at this point, but some­thing to start with, if only to rule it out when the doc­u­ments come in.)

All of this led to find­ing Sarah and her hus­band Joseph Ward in the tran­scrip­tion of the Blake­way Ceme­tery, Danville Town­ship, Des Moines County, Iowa on the US Gen Web site for Des Moines County, Iowa.

So, it’s been an inter­est­ing night! But back to Randy’s other question.

2. Yes, I have had my mito­chon­dr­ial DNA done.

I’m in the H hap­logroup, along with “about 30% of all mito­chon­dr­ial lin­eages in Europe [today]”, accord­ing to Charles Kerchner’s MtDNA Hap­logroup Descrip­tions & Infor­ma­tion Links. I have had some close matches, but noth­ing that made any genealog­i­cal sense. This is mainly because the gran­u­lar­ity of MtDNA hap­logroups is such that you can only see deep ances­try, long before genealog­i­cal records or even most of what we think of as our national origins.

Now, if you hap­pened to he in the H2a5 sub­clade of the H hap­logroup, you would know that your fam­ily prob­a­bly “orig­i­nated” in the Basque region of what is now Spain.

Of course, we all know that our ori­gins lie in Africa, even if we have the admix­ture, I recently men­tioned here, with Homo sapi­ens nean­derthalen­sis, the Nean­derthals… who prob­a­bly also came from Africa.

Even stat­ing all that, though, I still find mtDNA inter­est­ing, as one finds out facts such as that the H hap­logroup is promi­nent in Europe, but also by the Caspian Sea. We think of migra­tions in terms of our recent his­tory, but human migra­tion is a much longer trend, from Africa to the Caspian to Europe to Amer­ica: we just keep moving.

Diigo.com: “A collaborative research platform”

I came across an inter­est­ing web­site called Diigo.com. It is a com­bi­na­tion of a social book­mark­ing site, such as Delicious.com, and a note tak­ing, web con­tent stor­age site, such as Evernote.com.

Diigo allows you to store book­marks from across the web, tag them with mul­ti­ple tags, and share these links with oth­ers. You can also mark book­marks as pri­vate, in case you do not want to share them, or you can post them to par­tic­u­lar groups of users in the social net­work of Diigo.com.

While Delicious.com is a pow­er­ful tool, one thing it lacks is a true social com­po­nent, where users could cre­ate inter­est groups to share links within the group, not sim­ply based on tags. The Ever­note desk­top appli­ca­tion and its com­pan­ion site Evernote.com are one of the most use­ful sites for gath­er­ing together notes, images, snip­pets of web­pages, and so on. Ever­note allows you to col­lect con­tent in note­books, and share con­tent on a notebook-by-notebook basis. Note­books can be shared with indi­vid­u­als or with the world. But there’s no way in Ever­note to cre­ate groups, join groups, and share with other users who have a com­mon interest.

Where Diigo.com really shines is in its focus on research. As you tra­verses the web, you can store URLs, save text and files (web pages as well as images and PDFs), and high­light and anno­tate them. These notes and anno­ta­tions can be shared with the social net­work on the Diigo.com site, mak­ing it what what the folks at Diigo call “a col­lab­o­ra­tive research plat­form.” As opposed to a social net­work about every­thing, includ­ing games, and so on, like Face­book, the folks at Diigo say their site is a “social infor­ma­tion net­work.” It has been rec­og­nized by the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of School Librar­i­ans (AASL) as one of The Best Web­sites for Teach­ing and Learn­ing.

There are tool­bars avail­able for Fire­fox and Inter­net Explorer, a one-button exten­sion avail­able for Chrome, and a book­mark but­ton for Fire­fox, Inter­net Explorer, and Safari. There is some sup­port for the iPhone, but it seems a bit clunky.

I have cre­ated an account on Diigo.com and will try it out.

I don’t expect it to replace Evernote.com or Delicious.com, as it’s in a slightly dif­fer­ent mar­ket than those prod­ucts. (By the way, there’s an inte­gra­tion with Delicious.com from Diigo.com, allow­ing you to post the links you cre­ate on Diigo.com to your Delicious.com account.). The lack of an offline tool, such as what Ever­note has, means that I would not be able to take notes where wi-fi is not avail­able, but I see a lot of value in Diigo.com, espe­cially for the ease of shar­ing research mate­ri­als with other mem­bers of a research community.

Our Neanderthal Ancestors

The sci­ence mag­a­zine Nature has pub­lished an arti­cle that claims to prove that Euro­peans and Asians have traces of Nean­derthal DNA: “Euro­pean and Asian genomes have traces of Nean­derthal.”

Svante Pääbo leads a team of sci­en­tists at the Max Planck Insti­tute for Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­ogy in Leipzig. They have been sequenc­ing the DNA of Nean­derthal bones found in Vin­dija Cave in Croa­tia. When they com­pleted their ini­tial work on the Nean­derthal DNA a year ago, the sci­en­tists wanted to com­pare the Nean­derthal DNA to sequenced DNA of mod­ern indi­vid­u­als. Their sam­ple mod­ern DNA came from peo­ple in France, Africa, China, and Papua New Guinea.

What they found was that 1–4% of the DNA of Euro­peans and Asians comes from Nean­derthals. This was not true of Africans. Their esti­mate is that migrat­ing humans in Europe and Asia Minor inter­bred with Nean­derthals 45,000 to 80,000 years ago.

Talk about deep genealogy!

There will be a lot of fur­ther research into the impli­ca­tions of this par­tial ances­try of humans from near cousins in the dis­tant past. Are there any traits or vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties or sur­vival strengths some of us come to because of this ances­try? There will be much to pon­der as the research results are completed.

Kalaupapa, HI Genealogy Resources

I posted a film yes­ter­day about a woman dis­cov­er­ing infor­ma­tion about her great grand­mother who lived in what was called the Kalau­papa (Moloka’i) Lep­rosy Set­tle­ment. Wikipedia has this to say about Kalaupapa:

The county is coex­ten­sive with the Kalau­papa National His­tor­i­cal Park, and encom­passes the Kalau­papa Set­tle­ment where the King­dom of Hawaiʻi, the ter­ri­tory, and the state once exiled per­sons suf­fer­ing from lep­rosy (Hansen’s dis­ease) begin­ning in the 1860s. The quar­an­tine pol­icy was lifted in 1969, after the dis­ease became treat­able on an out­pa­tient basis and could be ren­dered non-contagious. How­ever, many of the res­i­dent patients chose to remain, and the state has promised they can stay there for the rest of their lives. No new patients, or other per­ma­nent res­i­dents, are admit­ted. Vis­i­tors are only per­mit­ted as part of offi­cially sanc­tioned tours. State law pro­hibits any­one under the age of 16 from vis­it­ing or liv­ing there. With a pop­u­la­tion of 147 at the 2000 cen­sus, Kalawao County’s pop­u­la­tion is the sec­ond small­est of any county in the United States, ahead of only Lov­ing County, Texas. Ranked by median house­hold income, it is the poor­est county in the United States.

(Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalawao : Accessed 5 May 2010)

Peo­ple who are look­ing into ances­tors who lived in Kalau­papa do not have a lot of resources. If you are doing fam­ily his­tory in this locale, here are some places you could try:

  • Hawai‘i State Archives, Geneal­ogy Research Guide (which includes some dig­i­tized vital records)
  • Linkpendium > Geneal­ogy > USA > Hawaii and the Pacific > Kalawao County
  • US Gen­Web Archives for Kalawao
  • Remem­ber­ing Kalaupapa
  • Kalawao County HI GenWeb
  • Fam­ily His­tory Library Micro­film from the Church of St. Fran­cis of Asissi, one reel, includ­ing:

    Bap­tisms 1927–1964, 1978 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 1)
    Mar­riages 1896–1909, 1927–1977 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 2–3)
    Con­fir­ma­tions 1927–1975 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 4)
    Church accounts 1889–1891 Deaths 1904–1927 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 5)
    Deaths 1927–1977 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 6)
    Reg­is­ter 1873–1930 (pho­to­copy of orig.) (bap­tisms, con­fir­ma­tions, mar­riages, buri­als) (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 7)

Genealogy, Health, and the Native Hawai’ians

I want to talk to you about “Search­ing for Emma.” It was one of the most affect­ing of a group of poignant films pre­sented at “A Cel­e­bra­tion of Fam­ily His­tory” on 29 April pre­sented by Fam­il­y­Search at the LDS Con­fer­ence Cen­ter in honor of the 2010 National Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety conference.

The film depicts the story of Emma Lyons Waimau, exiled at the age of 24 to Kalau­papa, what was then called the colony for lep­ers (per­sons with Hansen’s Dis­ease) on the island of Moloka’i. There, she met and mar­ried her hus­band and bore six chil­dren none of whom she would be able to keep, accord­ing to the laws of the day.

Fam­ily his­tory is sim­ply the story of lives as they are lived, with hap­pi­ness and tragedy deliv­ered as they will be, with­out a sched­ule or agenda. What moves is how peo­ple react to the lives they live.

The dev­as­ta­tion of the Hawai’ian peo­ple, the stigma­ti­za­tion of peo­ple with a dis­ease, and the whole his­tory of health care, inform this story of Emma Lyons Waimau and infuse it with mean­ing. Each aspect of the nar­ra­tive adds the weight of his­tory to a tale that might oth­er­wise be sim­ply a per­sonal one of a woman curi­ous to know about her great grandmother’s struggles.

Search­ing for Emma” (Adobe Flash-based video)

Decompressing from NGS 2010, Salt Lake City

I arrived home yes­ter­day after­noon from the National Genealog­i­cal Society’s annual con­fer­ence, held this year in Salt Lake City. I’m still decom­press­ing from a great week of pre­sen­ta­tions, speeches, singing from the Mor­mon Taber­na­cle Choir, and research. I do not this one post will encom­pass all that I have to say about the event, so here’s the first of a cou­ple of posts on the Conference.

This year there were sev­eral items of note:

  • Jay L. Verkler, Pres­i­dent of Fam­il­y­Search (which includes the Fam­ily His­tory Library in Salt Lake City, the over 4,600 Fam­ily His­tory Cen­ters in more than 80 coun­tries, and the FamilySearch.org web­site) gave the Wednes­day morn­ing keynote address, which included:
    • A pre­sen­ta­tion of “From the Gran­ite Moun­tain to the Ends of the World,” a video vir­tual tour through the LDS Gran­ite Moun­tain Records Vault, where the mas­ter copies of the Church’s 2.4 mil­lion micro­film reels are stored.

      I expect this video, enti­tled  will soon be posted to http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/FamilySearch_Presentations_at_NGS_2010 where the other LDS pre­sen­ta­tions from the Con­fer­ence have been posted. The pre­sen­ta­tion is listed there, but does not have an active link yet.

      Update: The film is up on their web­site. See the entry “Gran­ite Moun­tain Records Vault: The Video.”

    • An announce­ment that the Fam­il­y­Search web­site has posted 300 mil­lion new names in indexed genealog­i­cal records.
    • An announce­ment that dig­i­tiz­ing the Church’s micro­film (once esti­mated to take 178 years) will instead be com­pleted in … 10 years, due to tech­no­log­i­cal improvements.Indexing will take addi­tional time, but the fact that all the imag­ing will be done as soon as 2020 means that these records may be acces­si­ble in unin­dexed dig­i­tal for­mat (folks, the films are not indexed either!), and the index­ing could be done via crowd sourc­ing, as the FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and Footnote.com web­sites are already doing.
  • The NGS Con­fer­ence included a Gen­Tech sec­tion, where genealog­i­cal soft­ware and web­site com­pa­nies demon­strated their prod­ucts. There was an unmanned booth (though some­times there were peo­ple there!) with the pro­posed Genealog­i­cal Data Model (GDM).Here’s one researcher who hopes that the GDM is finally dusted off and used to cre­ate a true stan­dard for the stor­age, main­te­nance, and shar­ing of genealog­i­cal data that will com­ply with the Genealog­i­cal Proof Stan­dard and the sourc­ing guide­lines of Evi­dence Explained by Eliz­a­beth Shown Mills. This would give us a bet­ter way to share and com­pare genealog­i­cal infor­ma­tion as well as to take it cleanly from one prod­uct to another with­out the cur­rent vagaries of GEDCOM.

Kindle 2 Adds Native PDF Support; New Kindle for Windows

Ama­zon has added native PDF sup­port to the second-generation Kin­dle e-reader.

The Kin­dle DX, which has a larger screen (9.7 inches vs. 6 inches on the Kin­dle, 2nd gen) and a higher sticker price ($489 vs. $259), has had native PDF sup­port since its launch.

The new sup­port for PDFs on 2nd gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle devices is part of soft­ware ver­sion 2.3, which does not run on the orig­i­nal Kin­dle devices. This soft­ware will be auto­mat­i­cally down­loaded over the air, but Kin­dle own­ers who are as impa­tient as I am, can man­u­ally down­load the upgrade soft­ware and install it over a USB con­nec­tion to their Kin­dle. The soft­ware and instruc­tions are avail­able at: Kin­dle Soft­ware Updates.

The PDF reader works well. The PDFs retain all of their design and con­tent. How­ever, there are some lim­i­ta­tions. Unlike the Kin­dle DX, the Kin­dle 2 does not auto­mat­i­cally rotate the screen when you rotate the device. (Some review­ers of the Kin­dle DX have said that the auto-rotation is slug­gish and unpre­dictable, but it still might be eas­ier to deal with than the clicks required to rotate the screen man­u­ally on the DX or on the Kin­dle 2.) Once you rotate the screen, the image of a portrait-format PDF file fills up approx­i­mately two screens worth of scrolling on the Kin­dle. This works fine, and makes the PDFs read­able, but it might be nice if you could zoom in on a PDF the way you can on an image in Kindle-formatted books.

For geneal­o­gists, the native PDF sup­port makes the Kin­dle 2 a much more inter­est­ing device. You can now down­load pub­lic domain books from Google Books or take your society’s newslet­ter along in an instant-on portable device. No wire­less access is required while read­ing, and the radio for Whis­per­Net, the free cell phone-based access, can be turned off for use on air­planes or where there is no cell phone signal.

Another recent Ama­zon release is a Kin­dle for PC, which allows you to read books you’ve bought for the Kin­dle on your PC. (Kin­dle for PC runs on Win­dows XP (Ser­vice Pack 2), Win­dows Vista, and Win­dows 7. Kin­dle for PC syncs your read­ing loca­tion between Kin­dle for PC and your Kin­dle. You can share Kin­dle books with up to six Kin­dle read­ers or Kin­dle for PC soft­ware pack­ages. A Kin­dle for the Mac is in the works for Mac OS X users.

This beta release is admit­tedly not ready for gen­eral use. It is miss­ing key fea­tures such as the abil­ity to copy or even high­light text, and the abil­ity to … um search! Links also do not appear to work, which is very frus­trat­ing. Ama­zon promises updates to address these and other gaps and requested fea­tures. There is no way to pur­chase books from the Kin­dle for PC inter­face. You will need to do that on your hard­ware Kin­dle or on Amazon.com using a web browser. For licens­ing rea­sons, you can­not use the Kin­dle for PC soft­ware to read news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, or blogs, only books.

Facebook for Genealogists

Face­book, a social net­work­ing web­site, passed a mile­stone in Feb­ru­ary: it reached the five-year anniver­sary of its launch. Face­book was founded by Mark Zucker­berg, then a sopho­more at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, with the orig­i­nal idea of keep­ing in touch with his col­lege friends. The site quickly took off, with many Har­vard stu­dents join­ing, then stu­dents across the coun­try. Five years later, the site has expanded its hori­zons beyond the youth cul­ture of its begin­nings. The com­pany now claims that the Face­book Web site has 175 mil­lion active users glob­ally. Zucker­berg wrote in Jan­u­ary 2009 that “This includes peo­ple in every con­ti­nent — even Antarc­tica. If Face­book were a coun­try, it would be the eighth most pop­u­lated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Rus­sia, and Nige­ria.” Almost half of the active Face­book users use the site every day.

But, beyond the breathy hype of the website’s founder, of what value is Face­book to geneal­o­gists? It pro­vides the abil­ity to share notes, pho­tographs, event invi­ta­tions, and infor­ma­tion of specif­i­cally genealog­i­cal inter­est, allow­ing geneal­o­gists to con­nect with each other, and with other fam­ily mem­bers. For many, this can pro­vide a way to quickly and eas­ily share infor­ma­tion about their research with their fam­i­lies, espe­cially with peo­ple who think they are “not inter­ested” in genealogy.

Face­book is more than a sim­ple social net­work­ing site. In addi­tion to all of its social net­work­ing fea­tures, it func­tions as a frame­work for the cre­ation and dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion. The site has evolved to include not only pro­grams designed by the peo­ple at Face­book, but also pro­grams designed by oth­ers that run within Face­book and share infor­ma­tion with other Face­book appli­ca­tions. This is both the power and the risk of Face­book, as I will dis­cuss later.

Peo­ple come to Face­book for a num­ber of rea­sons: to con­nect with old friends or long-lost fam­ily, to share pic­tures, event invi­ta­tions, jokes, Web links, and video clips with friends, old and
new; and to talk to one another, and present them­selves almost as a kind of brand, shar­ing in their Face­book pro­files their favorite books, movies, and places, their reli­gious out­look, polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion, and hob­bies. Lately, they are shar­ing answers to a series of ques­tions about what they did in high school, what their goals are for their lives (and which of them have been achieved), and “twenty-five ran­dom things about me” which, of course, sel­dom seem very ran­dom. My wife has an unusual sur­name, and for her, Face­book has been a place where she has found poten­tial rel­a­tives she would not have found any other way.

The fifth most pop­u­lar appli­ca­tion on Face­book is “We’re Related,” a cre­ation of WorldVitalRecords.com. “We’re Related” allows one to see all of one’s fam­ily who are on Face­book, along with a descrip­tion of the rela­tion­ship with each of them (for exam­ple, “sister’s brother-in-law”). It also allows for the cre­ation of a geneal­ogy data­base (either on the site or via GEDCOM upload) to share with any­one on Face­book. (The GEDCOM import fea­ture — which would allow you to export an entire geneal­ogy data­base from your favorite soft ware pack­age and import it into “We’re Related” in one fell swoop — has been prob­lem­atic. It has worked at times, but as of this writ­ing is not work­ing and is under a major re-development effort.)

Many nation­ally known genealog­i­cal researchers, speak­ers, and writ­ers are on Face­book. In addi­tion, a vari­ety of soci­eties have set up pages there. A ran­dom sam­pling includes the Cal­i­for­nia Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety and Library, NGS, and the North Car­olina Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety (for which I admit I am the web­mas­ter… one of the twenty-five “ran­dom” things about me). You will also find mag­a­zines, such as Dig­i­tal Geneal­o­gist. In addi­tion, many blogs and pod­casts are rep­re­sented, includ­ing The Geneal­ogy Guys Pod­cast. Soft­ware ven­dors also make an appear­ance. Fans of The Mas­ter Geneal­o­gist have set up a page; the com­pany Roots­Magic has one as well. And, in a kind of fun-house mir­ror sort of dual­ity, there are even Web sites, such as GenealogyToday.com, RootsTelevision.com, Ancestry.com, and Footnote.com.

It is impor­tant to remem­ber that Face­book is a social, not a per­sonal site. Geneal­o­gists should con­duct them­selves as if any of their Face­book com­mu­ni­ca­tions could become pub­lic, since they could, through a vari­ety of means (i.e., shar­ing by Face­book friends, sys­tem fail­ures, or secu­rity holes). So, you don’t want to post your grandmother’s secret fried chicken recipe if you indeed want to make sure it remains a secret, even if you’re only shar­ing it with your clos­est friends.

Nev­er­the­less, there is a lot of power in the Face­book site. I have been quite impressed by the work being done there by a group called Unclaimed Per­sons. (The group also has its own Web site at UnclaimedPersons.org.) It posts infor­ma­tion about peo­ple whose bod­ies wait in morgues to be claimed by fam­ily mem­bers. Mem­bers of the group on Face­book do pro
bono research to try to locate the lost fam­i­lies of these per­sons, and then direct their sourced research through the Unclaimed Per­sons admin­is­tra­tors, who pass the infor­ma­tion on to the coro­ners’ offices. In many cases, Unclaimed Per­sons research has allowed coro­ners to con­tact fam­i­lies who have won­dered if they would ever know the fate of a brother or father or sis­ter or mother. The con­nec­tion between Face­book users and the appli­ca­tions, pages, and groups they have joined, gives them a sin­gle Web site to log into to par­tic­i­pate in the Unclaimed Per­sons eff ort, as well as many other activities.

Some might be con­cerned that Face­book could become a time drain, a place for geneal­o­gists to waste time they could be using to fur­ther their research. There is def­i­nitely a risk that you could end up play­ing more than your time bud­get allows. If, for exam­ple, you beat my wife at Word Chal­lenge, you and I, and my wife, will all know you’re spend­ing too much time play­ing games.

As with any tool or the Inter­net itself, it is up to each indi­vid­ual researcher to man­age his or her time and focus on reap­ing the ben­e­fits of that tool. One could eas­ily spend the bulk of a day on Face­book send­ing out vir­tual gift s to friends, but one can also fi nd out about events and soci­eties and keep up-to-date with a vari­ety of blogs. One can con­nect with fam­ily mem­bers who do not think of them­selves as geneal­o­gists, and share suc­cesses and chal­lenges with one’s research peers and friends.

Prob­a­bly the biggest con­cerns voiced about Face­book over the years have been about pri­vacy and secu­rity. Among the most seri­ous issues is that Face­book allows appli­ca­tions almost unfet­tered access to the mate­ri­als you have posted. At one point, press­ing the down arrow key or enter­ing a period in the search box would pro­duce a list of five pro­files related to the Face­book user who was cur­rently logged in. Peo­ple assumed that this was a list of the peo­ple who had most fre­quently vis­ited one’s pro­file. The list became known as the “Stalker List.” Even­tu­ally, Face­book said that the list was only intended to be used by the Face­book soft ware to quickly nav­i­gate users to profi les that they were likely to visit. Because there was so much con­fu­sion and con­cern about the list, it was removed.

While many of these issues remain, espe­cially the open­ness of your pro­file to Face­book appli­ca­tions that you choose to use, Face­book has made seri­ous gains in terms of mak­ing its site more secure and pri­vate. They have given users more per-application access to con­trol over what is shared with those appli­ca­tions, and what gets posted to your profi le from inter­ac­tions by you or oth­ers with those appli­ca­tions. As the say­ing goes: caveat emp­tor. You should actu­ally read the pri­vacy notice on Face­book, and use the pri­vacy set­tings avail­able to con­trol secu­rity and pri­vacy to the extent that you can. Keep in mind that it is a social, not a strictly pri­vate site.

Keep­ing those issues in mind, I believe that the ben­e­fits of Face­book are com­pelling. Appli­ca­tions such as “We’re Related,” as well as geneal­ogy focused groups and pages, bring a wealth of con­nec­tions to geneal­o­gists. With 175 mil­lion users, a lot of your cur­rent rel­a­tives are on Face­book, and the ones who have been hard to find are prob­a­bly eas­ier to locate here than elsewhere.

Orig­i­nally pub­lished in the NGS News­magazine, Vol­ume 35, Num­ber 1, April–June 2009. Revised and updated. Posted by permission.