Series: Do-it-yourself

Do-it-yourself Family History, Part 7: Facebook

Facebook is a registered trademark. Please don't arrest me for using this logo...

Facebook is a registered trademark. Please don’t arrest me for using this logo…

If you are a Facebook user, you’ve probably spent countless hours uploading pictures, reposting memes, or commenting on your friend’s comments. More than likely, you’ve not looked at this social media giant as a genealogical tool.

But it is.

Facebook can be used to help identify relatives that fall outside that nasty 1940 United States Census barrier. Census records are important to family historians because they include usually complete household listings that include birth years, occupations, and residences for husbands, wives, and children. The most recent census available for public consumption is the 1940 census. It was released on April 2, 2012. The next set of records for 1950 won’t be available until April 1, 2022.

That’s a mighty long time if you’re impatient like me.

Facebook is an alternative to tapping our fingers on the table for the next seven years. Nevertheless, you should know that there are zero guarantees that you’ll find it useful. Facebook has built-in security that is managed at the individual level. This means that you are at the mercy of the person and their knowledge of how to secure their information. If they have their security settings configured correctly, you will have little luck. On the other hand, I’ve found that most folks are not as security savvy. As a result, I’ve had some success.

To get started, I’d recommend that you do your homework first. You should, at a minimum, have the names of your relatives living in the 1940s. If possible, locate their names in the 1940 census records. This is helpful because it places your family members in a specific location and provides the names of other family members. I would also suggest taking some time to look for obituaries. Obituaries often list the complete family including the married names of any females. Since children born in 1940 are now in their late 70s, you may have more luck looking for their children.

With a little data – and some luck thrown in for good measure – you can now shift to social media.

I attack this problem using brute force. With my list of names, I simply begin searching for the names using Facebook’s search option to see what fits. Start with your oldest ancestor and work forward through your list of names. While most 70-year olds don’t have Facebook pages, some do.

I'm glad I know who I am...

I’m glad I know who I am…

Finding women is a bit easier but you should remember to search using maiden name, married name, and a combination of the two. I’ve noticed that most women use maiden and married names (example: Christine Daigle Cole) so start with that. If you happen to know middle names, add that into the equation. Don’t forget to try middle initials, too.

One of the surnames in my family is Dattler. Using census records as a starting point, I was able to find a few obituaries that mentioned surviving family members. Armed with this information, I began my search on Facebook. Within a few minutes, I found one of the names. It was a female who had married a man with a unique surname (I was very lucky!). She was listed with both her maiden and married name.

I now know what she looks like. More importantly, her security settings were configured such that I had visibility into her Friends list and her photos. Both can give you additional family information.

Browsing her Friends, I found both instances of Dattler as well as her married name. As I clicked on each of these, I deduced that some were directly related – sons and daughters – and some were not (relatives of her husband). More importantly, some of her sons and daughters had children. Looking through photos, I came across tagged images of parents and children. Within an hour or so, I found two additional generations of relatives I never knew existed!

I repeated the entire process with the other names I had. In some cases I found more information and in others I did not.

The next obvious step was to reach out to these people and exclaim, “Hey, I’m your cousin!” And I did. However, Facebook is configured to put all e-mail not from Friends in the Other mailbox, visible only if you manually click Messages and look (unless, however, you are willing to pay for your messages to appear in their primary Messages Inbox at a $1.00 a pop). As a result, I’ve yet to get a response.

So it goes.

Facebook can be a great genealogical tool. I’d highly recommend trying it to see if you have luck. Let me know!



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