Using Search Engines and Social Media for Family Research

When you think, “I’d really like to do some genealogy research today,” what comes to mind first? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of a website like, or maybe even of a trip to the courthouse to look for documents.

Facebook and Google were not likely at the top of your list — but they should be, especially if you’re hitting a roadblock in your research. In this connected day and age, not only are people online almost constantly, but they are also much easier to find.

If you’re “lucky” enough to be researching an unusual name, you’re even more likely to locate a relative by doing a search on social media or using a search engine like Google.

Particularly on Google, you’ll want to play around with using names in quotation marks — which will look for only that exact name — and leaving them out, or searching only by surname. Your results may differ using both methods. What are you likely to find? Phone numbers, addresses, and newspaper articles are just a few of the pieces of information that may give you useful leads about your family members, both living and deceased. You might even find a relative has been published in a scientific journal, or (*gulp*) on a registry of incarcerated individuals.

Of course, on Facebook, your finds will probably be more in the “living” category: distant cousins who never knew you existed, people who married into your family, and so forth. Keep in mind that if you send them a Facebook message, it may go into their “Other” folder and not be seen right away. Don’t discount the value of being in contact with relatives who aren’t necessarily in your direct line; they may have details you’ve been hoping to learn, scanned photos to share or stories about your common ancestors that you’ve never heard.

Happy searching!

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