Depending on how immersed you are in family history research, a descendants group on Facebook might be something you could create if you yourself have already researched the family in depth or, if a group already exists, something that could help you immensely if you’re just starting out in your genealogy journey.
Usually, the main point of creating one is to gather all your family contacts in the one place to easily share research and photos, discover new contacts and uncover previously unknown information about the family.
Facebook is also a great tool for tracking down distant family members who may have previously unknown info or photos and having a group makes it easier for that new family member to quickly legitimise your request and hopefully create enough intrigue for them to go research and unearth their own info on their family line.
Here are a few tips on how to start and run one.
- Decide which ancestor you want to focus on. As we’re usually dealing more with ancestral research you probably want to choose someone who is a few generations ago. A person who is considered the main progenitor or patriarch/matriarch of a large family is ideal. Plus an ancestor further back covers more descendants to share info with. I made one for my 3x great-grandfather, John Foss Tonkin, as he was the first of the family branch to immigrate to Western Australia back in 1830. But we do invite others who are related further back or from connected branches of the family.
If you have a famous person in your tree you may also like to use them as the focal person, especially as it might be someone that people are likely to Google online.
- Make sure you create a group and not a page. A group on Facebook lets you have a lot more interaction and allows others to post in the group, whereas a page separates the page’s posts and any posts by others to the page.
On your Facebook home page, you’ll find a Create Group link down in the bottom left-hand corner.
Click on ‘Group’ and a window will appear. When choosing the group name, try to keep it simple and include the whole of the ancestor’s name. If the name is common you might like to add a location. So if you’re stuck with a John Smith, you might like to make the name something like ‘Descendants of John Charles Smith – Fitzroy, Victoria‘, instead of just ‘Descendants of John Smith‘ which of course would cover a LOT of researcher’s ancestors. Don’t try and use any flowery words like ‘Our wonderful, convict ancestor and the first of our family in Victoria, John Charles Smith 1811-1893‘. It’s too long, just keep it simple!
You can change the name later on, it will just send out a notification to each member to let them know.
Secondly, decide how private you’d like to make the group. ‘Secret group’ isn’t advisable as you want potential cousins to find your group either by a Facebook or Google search. A ‘Closed group’ allows people to find the group and see who is in it, but aren’t able to see any posts. A ‘Public group’ allows anyone to find the group and see who or what is in it. Whichever setting you decide on, make sure you choose the option for administrators to confirm each joining member request (see no.8).
You’ll eventually be able to enter a description and choose some tags to describe your group. Try and include information to distinguish the ancestor from others with the same or similar name. Definitely include the places this ancestor lived, who they married and also the surnames of any families they are connected with.
You can also have a nice cover page photo. If you’re not handy with photo editing programs, choose a long banner sized or panoramic photo to use. Google ‘family tree banner’ for ideas and options. Maybe use an old map or photo of an area your ancestor is connected to.
- Once your group has been created, invite all your family members to join and ask them to share and invite their own family that are also connected to the ancestor. If you have any family trees online, like on Ancestry.com, add the FB groups URL to ancestor photo descriptions so that others can find it, or send the link to distant cousins you’ve previously messaged on those sites.
When the group has been running for a bit and has some content, track down other cousins to invite. You could message people on family tree websites that you can see are a descendant or if you have an uncommon name, use Facebook to search for and send an invite to those with that surname that live in the same state or country.
Don’t forget to share with any Genealogy groups you may be a member of.
- Create a poll asking members which child of the ancestor they are descended from. This is a great way to track which lines are represented and what information the members will be interested in. It also helps when you just can’t remember which line someone is descended from!
Once the poll is created, pin it to the top so it’s the first thing members will see.
You can create a poll in the post box up the top of the page and you can pin it by clicking on the light grey ‘v‘ that will appear in the top, right-hand corner of the poll post and select, ‘Pin Post’.
- What to post? Share photos, info, short stories, family trees, anything really. But try to keep it short. You don’t want to write the family’s entire story in one post. I’ve just started an online family history writing course, where you write a lot of short stories. I’ve posted some of the stories related to the Tonkin family for something different, but they also give a different dimension to the family characters.
Try to post frequently, not every day but once or twice a week is good.
- Use the group to post unidentified photos. Members might have a copy of it or at least recognise who is in the photo.
- If Christmas or Mothers/Fathers Day is coming up, remind people to ask about family stories or photo albums when they go to family gatherings and to share them with the group. If you do DNA genealogy, put up a post when kits go on sale.
Also regularly ask people to contribute to the page.
- You will occasionally get spammers trying to join your group where at best they’ll just post some advertising, at worst, unsavoury graphic images. ALWAYS vet joining requests. If they already have a friend in the group, which the request will mention, then they’re probably fine. If they only just created their Facebook account a few weeks ago and are already a member of 100+ groups then block them, they’re spammers.
Click on the person’s profile and have a look at where they live, what groups they’re already in and just the general feel. If you’re still not sure, just send them a message asking how they’re related to your ancestor. This is why it’s good to make sure that all member requests need to be approved by an admin. Consider having a second admin person if you don’t spend a lot of time online.
Edit: Facebook has now added an option to ask up to 3 questions when a new member tries to join, this is a great idea and a question like “How are you related to ‘John Smith’?” would be a good idea.
- Create albums for each branch and add photos from that line in it, so when new members join they can go check the albums for their line and see what photos you have.
- Consider watermarking any photos you upload and put a disclaimer in your description that if people use the photos elsewhere, to credit the source. Also if others upload their own photos that unless they put their own disclaimer in the photo post that it may be used publicly.
A Facebook descendants group is a great way to find new information about your family and is also easily accessible for posterity. Give it a go!