Using Twitter for Genealogy

24 June 2010

I give a lot of talks to genealogy and family history groups and I always ask the question – Who uses Twitter? Invariably people laugh and very few, if any, admit that they are on Twitter. I go on to say that I think Twitter is one of the best genealogy resources today and that I have learnt more from Twitter in the last twelve months than I have in years. This usually makes peoples eyebrows go up and people look at me even more strangely.

Lately I have started to give specific examples to help prove my point, hence this blog post. I (HicksShauna) have nearly 500 followers  and I am following about 450  people. There is a mix of genealogy, family history, archives, libraries and some personal interests and quite a few where I am not sure why they are following me. I am also the person behind ausarchivists for the Australian Society of Archivists.

Why do I choose to follow certain people or organisations? Obvious examples are state archives like staterecordsnsw (State Records New South Wales) or state libraries such as slqld (State Library of Queensland) or Library_Vic (State Library of Victoria). These allow me to keep up to date with what is new or happening with them. Other examples include genealogy societies like SocAustGen (Society of Australian Genealogists), GenealogyWorld (Genealogical Society of Victoria) or QueenslandFHS (Queensland Family History Society) – again to learn about news and events.

There are so many people writing genealogy blogs now it is hard to keep up with them all so I follow certain people with similar interests to me who tweet about what they are reading. Examples here include CaroleRiley, Infolass, geniaus and lifeasdaddy tweets on a wide range of topics – not everyone uses a real name or a photo of themselves. You can have some fun wondering what various people actually look like in real life!

I also follow entities like UnlockThePast for news on genealogy in Australia and New Zealand, the GuildOneName (Guild of One Name Studies – GOONS), fibiswebmaster (Families in British India Society) and commercial companies like GouldGenealogyfindmypast and Ancestrydotcom to learn about free offers, what’s on sale, discounts or other news.

Then there are those I follow because my research interests are in their area and here I follow people in New Zealand, United States, Canada, United Kingdom and of course Australia. Most of these people tweet links to new resources or highlight resources and it is these that can often lead to breakthroughs in genealogy research.

I am going to the New Zealand Family History Expo in July and had been planning to do some research while over there. I was particularly interested in passenger lists and was under the impression that I would have to go to the Archives New Zealand in Wellington and had been exploring their website in preparation. One of my New Zealand tweeters genebrarian gave a link to passenger lists which were indexed and available through the Auckland City Libraries online. I now also follow Auckland_Libs as well.

A quick click on the link, data entered the name and up popped my family with the date and name of the ship they travelled to New Zealand on from Victoria, Australia. How easy was that? I still want to get copies but at least I got the basic facts within seconds and at no cost – amazing when I think of the effort I had to go to in the 1970s to get passenger information before indexes were compiled.

What do I tweet about? Sometimes it is about what I am doing or new genealogy sites that I have discovered. I also tweet about what is happening in archives and libraries and of course, some of my personal interests including food. I also retweet other tweets if I think my followers would also be interested.

Along the way I have become ‘Twitter friends’ with a range of people all around the world and it is amazing how you get to know them and aspects of their personal lives through their tweets.

You can set up different lists so that you can quickly scan certain tweets as quite often the different time zones mean that we may be asleep when those we follow are tweeting. As the number of people following you grows, it becomes impossible to read all the tweets which is why retweeting often works because you may see something when it is retweeted.

Twitter can be addictive and it can be time consuming but used ‘in moderation’ it can certainly help with your genealogy research and your overall genealogy skills and knowledge. Why not give it a try?

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  1. Great blog Shauna! Looking forward to meeting you when you visit the Auckland Research Centre (Auckland City Library) very soon. Also excited about the NZ Family History Fair in July – we have a great spot, right next to the New Zealand Society of Genealogists (NZSG) and right by the entrance to the exhibition hall! How cool is that!

    The urls posted on Twitter have been invaluable to my learning – I’ve learned heaps too!

    Happy tweeting, see you IRL soon!

  2. As Infolass – a Local and family history Librarian for a large Regional library service, I too have embraced Twitter the last 12 months. I enjoy the aspect of making new discoveries and reporting what the library is up to in the department of family and local history and in particular promoting local history which compared to family history has a fairly low profile on twitter for Australia. Conicidentally today, before reading your blog post Shauna, I have now created a personal account after thinking about it for some time and hope to twitter about more personal research etc. Follow me @Genelass Regards Liz

  3. A thoughtful post, Shauna.

    I have been on Twitter as glumball since Jun 3rd, 2008 and as geniaus since Nov 17th, 2008. I have given up on using the two accounts and tend to follow everyone through the one account, geniaus.

    I am still in a quandary as to when I should use Twitter and when I should use other tools eg my blog.I certainly find Twitter most useful for learning about new resources and hearing of events.

    I think your suggestion that Twitter should be “used ‘in moderation’” is most important. A couple of weeks ago I posted “Methinks some people tweet too much” at where I tried to outline some etiquette pointers for genealogists who use Twitter.

    Twitter annoys me sometimes – perhaps it’s because I’m getting old and narky!


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