To start your journey into your family’s past you’ll probably talk to family members and consult online sources of official records or genealogical services sites.See: Online genealogy services: research your family history
Often you’ll come to a dead end, though, which is when you might choose to cast your net more widely. See also: Genealogy software explained: what to look for
Social networking sites are a good way of making contact with people you’ve never met and some of those people may have information relevant to your search.
Most obviously, you should consider using regular social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter to track down useful contacts and, if you want, to allow others to find you. In your enthusiasm to delve into your family’s past, though, do bear in mind the potential security risks involved in sharing too much information with people you don’t know.
In time you’ll hone your skills at using social networking sites for researching your family history but initially, try searching Facebook for your surname or other surnames in your family tree. If you have a common name you might end up with a vast number of results but you can always narrow the search in various ways. If you find anyone who is a possible family member, invite them to be friends – they might have some new information for you.
In addition to general social networking sites, you might also want to investigate some of the sites set up specifically for family history enthusiasts. While some of these sites offer facilities that are similar to those of the more familiar social networking sites, and others help family history enthusiasts to collaborate, most are geared primarily to providing a host of other genealogical services such as searching records and creating family trees, such as Ancestry.co.uk.
One site that, perhaps, goes further that most in the provision of social networking features is MyHeritage, which claims “to make it easier for people around the world to use the power of the internet to discover their heritage and strengthen their bonds with family and friends”.
The site claims 72 million registered users and 23 million family trees, so this is a resource that shouldn't be ignored. A basic subscription, including search facilities, 250MB of storage and 250 names on your family tree is free. More storage and additional facilities attract a monthly fee. A Google search for “social networking family history” will reveal plenty more sites to investigate.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that some of the online genealogical services have features which tie in with Facebook. Ancestry.co.uk, for example, allows you to record Facebook information to people in your family tree. This way, when a person updates their profile photograph, it’ll be updated automatically on your tree.
In addition, you can have direct access to a person’s Facebook profile from the family tree. Perhaps even more useful is the fact that Ancestry will use Facebook to suggest people who might be family members and provides a Living Relative Search facility.