Thursday, December 8, 2011

Friending My Sephardic Family; Using Facebook for Sephardic Genealogy

When I really started digging into my family genealogy I spent hours and hours online. In fact almost all of my research has been spent on the computer because of the massive amount of information on the internet. My first 'research' was finding trees built by distant relatives by googling family names and then putting them all into my own massive tree. I quickly found the website and used that as my main tree.

Most of these trees I found had been built from thousands of hours of research by older generations, usually on websites which dated to the late 90's and early 00's. I discovered that these trees had the names of many living relatives, some as close as 3rd cousins who I had never known about before. I started trying to find them by googling their names, searching the white pages online, and then by using Facebook.

I quickly found Facebook was an easy system to manipulate for my genealogy research. For all intents and purposes it has become something of a World Directory. It took patience but led to amazing discoveries, many which you can read in my previous post "Meeting Cousins". Here is how to manipulate Facebook to find living relatives and expand your tree.

The first step is to have a tree which has been traced back and then forward again. In other words, you need to have the names of living relatives who you are not in contact with. It is usually better to start with the people who will be easier to find. Here is some criteria to determine who will be easier to find;

1. Uncommon names - Either an uncommon surname or first name, especially a combination of both, helps narrow the search a lot.

2. Personal Info - The more information about the person and their immediate family you know the easier they will be to find. This can include age, location, education, and anything else people may list on their pages.

3. Bigger Families - By this I mean bigger immediate families, extending to their 1st and sometimes 2nd cousins. 

4. Millennial Generation a.k.a. Generation Y - Defined by William Strauss and Neil Howe as those born between 1982 and 2000, this generation is the one who Ive found uses Facebook most consistently across the world. 

Once you have a family of relatives you want to find it is now time to begin searching. Pick the name in the family member who meets the criteria best and type their name into the search bar. Make sure that the search only shows people. Now using the information you know about the person try to find someone who would be a match. If you aren't sure they are a match take a look at their profile.

If the profile is private then you are out of luck and will need to find another family member. The only other option is to message the person or friend them and explain you are searching for family. Be delicate with contacting people, it can sometimes come off creepy if handled badly. If they haven't made their profile private then you can look at their profile to try to determine if they are the person you are searching for.  One of the best ways to confirm and find more relatives at the same time is to search their friends list for their immediate family members. When you think you have found a match get in contact to confirm it. I would usually explain our exact relationship (basically the relationship path on and then inform them about interesting information about our shared Tree. 

Once you have connected with your distant relatives there is a lot you can do. I just so happened to have pictures of my 3rd great grandparents which I was able to share with hundreds of relatives around the world who were also descendants. As well you can obtain priceless info from your distant relatives.  One thing I also did was create a group on Facebook for all the relatives to connect with one another, not just me. I also invited them to my tree on to help edit and make sure the tree was up to date. 

Another method of genealogy research with Facebook is using uncommon family surnames to search for living relatives from distant families not traced forward to current times. The double surnames in Sephardic families helps make this an easy tool for Sephardic Jews. I have even found groups dedicated to Sephardic families such as Lopes Dias, Mendes De Costa, Senior Coronel, and many more. While searching surnames on Facebook is much more of a shot in the dark it can have amazing benefits which can expand your tree further than you expected. Through these types of searches I was able to connect with many relatives who had been isolated by the Holocaust and find our blood lines to each other, sometimes having been the first blood relatives to contact them since the War.

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