Looking back over the year, I could think of many things to be thankful for. But, I am most grateful to several Azorean cousins who have taken the time to share their family stories with me. I would have never found them had it not been for Facebook.
Who Knows What Happened in the Azores After My Ancestors Left?
Ten years ago, I came into contact with a woman from Massachusetts. We had similar surnames in Maia, a village on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores Islands.
When the parish records went online, we were able to find the missing leaves in our family tree. We were related not once, not twice, but four times…three different ways on one surname!
While we’ve been able to connect my ancestors to hers, we were missing quite a bit of the family history.
You see, my people left the Azores in 1882 for Hawaii and they never went back. Her people left a few years later. Several generations have come and gone since our ancestors left the islands. Where did all those descendants end up?
Finding Living Cousins from the Azores
I’m pretty good at tracking down the living…in the USA. As long as I have the census, some obituaries, and phone directories, I can track them down.
I had no clue how to find people who lived half way across the world, so, never tried.
Then, Facebook was created.
Facebook has the ability to connect people across time zones and across borders. You can chat with someone real time who lives in another country. Isn’t that awesome?
How to Use Facebook to Track Down the Living with Facebook Groups
It can be a little weird reaching out to strangers on a social network. They are naturally skeptical. The first place to start, then, is Facebook Groups where people with a mutual interest come together. I belong to a group dedicated to one of my ancestral villages. In that group, I came into contact with a woman who recognized her father in a photograph. We chatted and realized we are related on both sides of her tree.
There are many genealogy, surname, and locality related groups on Facebook. They are worth joining. Even if you don’t find a cousin, you’ll learn important information that will help you with your research.
You can also create your own family group. I have one based on my Azorean side of the tree. I have invited cousins and they in return have invite cousins. See how that works to my advantage? We now have 137 members across the United States. We’ve exchanged photographs and stories. It’s been a great way to learn about the different families.
If you don’t mind being moderator, creating your own Facebook group is a great way to meet and stay in contact with cousins.
Private Messages to Strangers on Facebook
Networking between genealogists isn’t a new thing. But, how do you find people who aren’t interested in genealogy? You need to research whole families and find the living. If you collect enough information about these families, you might find living descendants by using Facebook search. Then, you take that leap and send a private message to a stranger.
This year I’ve used private messaging to find a couple of cousins. In two cases, I struck gold! One person’s parents left Maia in the 1950s. She has been able to teach me a lot about how life was for the Maiato after my ancestors left.
I learned a couple of years ago that my great great grandfather, Jozimas de Braga, had a sister who came to America. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to piece together her family tree. Only recently did I find names of living descendants.
I took a chance on one person and lucked out. Now I know my great great great aunt’s story!
It must be very weird to get a PM out of the blue from a stranger. I really appreciate it when people decide to respond.
Facebook Makes Genealogy a Global Endeavor
When I started doing genealogy there was paper and pen, CompuServe, and Prodigy. Even when AOL came along and I was a part of the Golden Gates Genealogy Forum, I don’t think I could have imagined how social networks would change the way we interract.
Back in those early years of the internet, people were leery and intimidated. They needed help copying and pasting and didn’t venture too far out of their comfort zones.
Today, everyone and their grandma is on Facebook. And, grandma knows how to take a picture of her old photos and post them to Facebook.
Everything is changing. All for the better for family historians if you ask me. Finding someone living in the village your ancestor was from was near impossible before social networks.
Today, you log into your Facebook account and look for a group that’s based on that town or region you’re interested in. You could end up chatting with someone who knew your uncle.
You can send a private message with fingers crossed to a possible cousin. You may end up filling in the pieces on a lost branch of the tree.
Thank You to Social Networks and to Strangers Willing to Hit Reply
I am thankful for two things. Thanks to Facebook for creating this thing called a social network that breaks down global barriers for genealogists. Today the Azores and Canada, tomorrow Brasil!
Who knows what other cousins might be on Twitter, Instagram, or Google+?
And, thank you to all the strangers who do genealogy and who don’t. You’ve taken the time to share your memories, your stories, your photographs. You’ve helped me understand a bit more about who my ancestors were. You’ve taught me things about the village they came from that only a native would know.
I am deeply appreciative to all of you and to Facebook for giving me an avenue to find you.
Have you found any cousins on Facebook or another social network? Tell us your success story in the comments!
This blog post was written for the November Genealogy Blog Party “Thankful” at MyDescendantsAncestors. Thank you toElizabeth O’Neal for this theme!
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com