Did you know that, at least as of 2021, there were more than 16,000 genealogy-based groups on Facebook?1 Say what you will about the platform in general, using targeted genealogy groups can be a boon to research. I have been taking advantage of them—specifically, groups based on geographic locations—for more than ten years, beginning when I discovered a Finnish Genealogy group when I was planning an ancestral trip to Finland. In fact, I would say that if you don’t have a Facebook account already, it’s worth joining simply to take advantage of this resource in your research. A recent experience has taught me this lesson once again.
With those positive experiences in mind, when I needed help deciphering the marriage certificate of my husband’s German great-grandparents (above), I looked for a German genealogy group that could help. Finding one called German Genealogy Records Transcription, I posted a query and an image of the certificate. And although I asked only for a transcription of the handwriting, within hours someone had both transcribed and translated the entire record for me.
Recently I have been chipping away at my English ancestry, centered in County Durham. I searched, and there it was: a Facebook group called “Northumberland & Durham, England Family History.” I posted a query about my Heatherington ancestors and heard back quickly from someone who suggested I look into the Weardale Museum, which holds various records from the area and also will help with lookups.
I sent my information to the museum. Within a day, I had a response from someone with the surname Heatherington, a distant cousin who also descends from John Heatherington of Stanhope, Weardale, Durham. He sent me a family tree that takes mine back several generations, and in return I have sent him information about my branch of Heatheringtons in America. But the real icing on the cake is that he has offered to meet me this spring when I visit County Durham, to show me around different areas associated with our ancestors.
Might I have made some of these connections without Facebook? Possibly. But Facebook certainly offers a free and easy way to communicate with others who are working in parallel with me on different topics. Like the person who directed me to the Weardale Museum, group members often have in-depth knowledge about the specific area and can offer tips for research.
I have mentioned only European groups here, but you can find thousands of groups focused on different aspects of American genealogy. (I’m still waiting for breakthroughs arising from my membership in Belmont County, OH Genealogy and Cambria County, PA Genealogy, but posts from others have given me a deeper understanding of the history of each area.) And beyond location, you can find plenty of other kinds of genealogy groups: those focused on DNA, photo restoration, adoption, heraldry, different historical periods, how to use Ancestry and FamilySearch, and dozens more. To join a group, you might have to request approval, which sometimes involves answering a few questions; doing so ensures that group members have a real interest, and screens out spammers.
Of course, you can always start your own group focused on your family history—but I’ll leave coverage of that subject to someone who has done so already. What kinds of Facebook genealogy groups have you tried, and what are your experiences with them?
1 Genealogist Katherine R. Wilson developed and maintained an extensive list of Facebook genealogy groups, last updated in 2021 with 16,700+ entries. Wilson has now turned maintenance of the list over to Cyndi’s List.
About Penny Stratton
A veteran of the book publishing industry, Penny Stratton retired as NEHGS Publishing Director in June 2016; she continues to consult with the Society on publications projects. Among the more than 65 titles she managed at NEHGS are The Great Migration Directory, Elements of Genealogical Analysis, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, and the award-winning Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts. She has written for American Ancestors magazine and is a regular poster on Vita Brevis. With Henry B. Hoff, Penny is coauthor of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History; she is also the author of several Portable Genealogists on writing and publishing topics.View all posts by Penny Stratton →