By Dawne

Sometimes when I tell people what a fan I am of Facebook, I hear that it’s such a waste of time, or kids’ stuff. That hasn’t been my experience with this social media outlet at all. I have long been a fan of Facebook for a number of reasons:
•    It helps me keep in touch with friends who live all across the country
•    It allows me to keep the family bonds strong with my first cousins – who used to be like brothers and sisters to me when I was small. I love seeing the pictures of their children and grandchildren!
•    It helps all of us – friends and family – keep up with what is going on in one another’s lives.
•    It helps me strengthen the networking contacts I have made in the genealogical world.
•    It has allowed me to post ancestral photos so that interested family members can see them.
•    The special interest groups, such as Technology for Genealogy and Ancestry.com’s Facebook page have allowed me to learn.

Some time ago, I was contacted by someone who saw the small family tree I have on Ancestry. She is my third cousin and we became Facebook friends. Since that time, we have sent private Facebook messages back and forth numerous times about our common ancestors and have shared stories and pictures more publicly. We discovered that we knew some of the same members of the older generations of our family when we were children. The personal stories of these people we have been able to exchange are priceless!

Not very long ago, this cousin posted a video of a family reunion she attended the previous weekend, panning around the crowd and narrating, showing the “old timers” – the oldest generation – in attendance. She “tagged” me and two other distant cousins in her post and comments on the video thread. One of the two names caught my eye – that of another third cousin I DID know.

My family spent a week each summer in western Pennsylvania when I was a child, visiting my father’s relatives. For two of three summers, we stayed at the home of this woman’s parents. She was a teenager at that time and I was a pre-teen. We hung out together and had a lot of fun. But I hadn’t had contact with her since I was about 12 years old. Our mutual cousin, who posted the video, has never met either of us, but found us through her interest in family history.

I posted on the thread, “Is that the Linda ***** who was the granddaughter of Jane and Andy Lawrence?” She responded in the affirmative and I sent her a friend request, which she accepted. Imagine if you can, how much fun we have had the past few days reconnecting and exchanging memories, not only of the fun times we spent together as kids, but of those older relatives who are now gone. And now we are sharing photos, too, and news of the still living older members of our families who had largely lost touch.

Between the connections that can be made with friends and family, the institutional pages (like The Genealogy Center’s Facebook page) that give news of those facilities and organizations, the family or surname pages where pictures and stories are shared, and the special interest pages where you can get help on everything from choosing a scanner to how to research ancestors in a particular state, I’m convinced that Facebook can be a valuable learning and enrichment tool, as much as it can be a venue for posting cat pictures and pithy quotes.