Sunday, January 23, 2011

Genealogy Monopoly

Yesterday I received a stunning e-mail from a distant cousin of my husband’s (although she had not known for sure that they were cousins until some recent research proved the connection) in which she was able to tell me which US Fichtelmann was my husband’s ancestor, how he was related to her ancestor, and a lot more information on this family in the United States and in Germany.

I noted with satisfaction that we had been in contact on GenealogyWise and had originally found one another through a post on GenForum.

This made me think about all of the online “contact points” I and other people have left in various places so that other researches can contact us and we can share our research.

In contemplating my online presence, I was struck by how I think of it: This is my genealogy real estate. It may not be actual land or buildings, but investing in it can definitely pay off.

It’s kind of like Monopoly. You buy up a bunch of inexpensive pieces of real estate that pay off small amounts each time someone lands on them. When you can afford it, you buy more expensive pieces of real estate that pay off handsomely when someone lands on them.

But if you don’t invest, you will not make any money. You pays your money and you takes your chances. And sometimes you have to be patient.

I started genealogy five and a half years ago, and almost from the beginning I was contacting people by e-mail (something that the shy, pre-genealogy me would never have done) and placing posts on message boards. I did wait for a year to subscribe to Ancestry because I wanted to make sure I was going to stick with this new obsession before I invested my money.

Ancestry paid off, and this encouraged me to subscribe to Footnote and Genealogy Bank as well, which have also paid off.

Even the free message boards and search sites that you have to sign up for represent an investment - an investment of time. I still get responses from message board posts that I wrote four or five years ago.

So what does my little “real estate empire” look like?

Well, there is Ancestry itself. I have made a lot of corrections and a number of comments over the years, and there have been a few people who have contacted me through those. Recently I began to create and develop Public Member Trees. Often the “sharing of information” through these trees goes one way: people use the information but do not contact the owners. But there have been a couple of nibbles there so far.

Then there are the message boards. I have posts both on the Ancestry/Rootsweb message boards and on GenForum. This is an area that probably needs some updating and additional work, however. It’s a good idea to repost on families of particular interest, especially when we have new information that might provide the necessary clue to other researchers that our families are connected. And I know that I do not have posts for all my families.

Google searches have landed me on several “minor” message boards where I have found contacts and left messages for people to contact me. One of these contacts was able to provide me with some very interesting information on what happened to one of my Floyd lines. A number of GenWeb sites still have their own message boards (or at least archives of them) in addition to the Rootsweb message boards that they usually link to. I have put up “Post-its” on Rootsweb WorldConnect genealogies. There are mailing lists that you can subscribe to, though many of these have been swallowed up by the big message boards.

On Footnote I have tried to create pages for quite a few individual ancestors, even some for whom I have found no documents on Footnote so far. This has paid off with one contact up to this point, but the contact was a major one for me: my Moore-related cousin Paula, who identified her ancestor Freeman Manson Moore as another son of my ggg-grandfather Samuel Moore and with whom I shared a genealogy research trip in Greenville, South Carolina.

I have not discovered yet whether there is a way to have a “presence” on Genealogy Bank, but I have been sharing my finds there with fellow researchers (most, but not all of whom are cousins) to keep the lines of communication open with people with whom I have had productive research collaboration.

And, for all of the initial criticisms of GenealogyWise and the retreat from the early over-hyping of the site, it has paid off to have a presence there. There was Mary Lou Benjamin, the Fichtelmann contact (and this alone would have made joining GenealogyWise worthwhile). There have also been a couple of other people who have made some initial contact that has not been followed up, but who knows? In addition to the page I keep on GenealogyWise, I have added my names of interest to several surname and geographical area groups on the site. This is something else that I should probably update in the near future.

Findagrave is another website that provides opportunities for connecting with other researchers. As some genealogy bloggers have reported, there is also the potential for “turf battles.” In the case of most of the pictures I have been able to take of ancestor graves, there are already at least text entries on Findagrave (but at least I can add the pictures) and often there are already pictures as well.

Some other small pieces of real estate are the surnames lists kept by two of the genealogy societies that I belong to (Fairfax Genealogical Society and Collin County Texas Genealogical Society). One actual “physical” piece of real estate would be a couple of articles I wrote for the Anderson County South Carolina Heritage Book. I would like to do a few more things alone these lines as well.

Then there is the showpiece of my genealogy real estate: this blog. While Greta’s Genealogy Bog has developed into something well beyond my original intentions in terms of purpose, the main purpose continues to be to attract fellow researchers to get in touch with me.

The blog is the piece of real estate that requires the biggest investment of time from me, although I can leave it alone for periods of time and old posts on families will still pull in contacts. I chose the Blogger platform based on the priority that it is given in Google searches. I can confirm that this blog is the single largest and most successful piece of “cousin bait” I have (and imagine that most of my fellow genealogy bloggers have similar results to report). As with any piece of real estate, we probably get more “nibbles” than we do “buyers,” but even some of those nibblers have dropped interesting and useful tidbits even as they munched the free food that was offered during the open house.

One of the really surprising and gratifying aspects of having a blog is that many people who are not related to me have responded or written to me with information and advice that has been very helpful in my research. Sharp-eyed fellow genealogy bloggers have spotted mistakes in location names (hi, Debbie and Janice!), done lookups for me (hi, Cynthia!), pointed me to obscure but useful websites, and much more. A couple of (unrelated) people who are doing research that touches on some of my families have freely shared this information.

I know that there is a lot of potential through Facebook and Twitter for making useful contacts as well. I have all three of my blogs linked on Facebook and have posted links to some of my blog articles there. However, there is a lot more that could be done. Right now Twitter is just too much to add to an already strained schedule, but recently I joined Ancestorville on Facebook and we’ll see what may turn up there.

Another “big-time” resource for generating a lot of contacts that I have not used would be family websites. The reasons? Lack of time and lack of knowledge. Some day, though.

Keeping up e-mail contact with all of these people takes time, but it has turned out to be a surprisingly successful method of turning up more information. When we haven’t corresponded for a while, it’s good to just drop them a line saying something like “How are you? Here are a few things I have found in our line recently. Anything new with you?”. This has actually produced a couple of “brickwall-breakers”! And when e-mail addresses are no longer active, I have been known to “stalk” a contact by doing a Google search on the contact’s name and the surname we are both researching to locate a newer e-mail address.

Of course, we all have to be careful to allocate our resources wisely. We only have so much time and so much money. I do know that one of my resolutions should have been (well, I’m making it now, aren’t I?) to update my online presence and renew contact with all of my fellow researchers.

There is one downside to owning and managing all of this real estate. You can be deluged with information, more information than you can handle and keep up with at times. But who ever said that the life of a real estate mogul is an easy one?

Now where is my Get Out of Jail Free card?


  1. I agree with Carol. This is a fantastic post. My life has truly changed by linking my blog to geneabloggers. I've learned new techniques and had feedback from fellow bloggers. I no longer feel that I'm writing for a limited few. I worry, though, that I'd rather do this than just about anything else.

  2. I agree with both Carol and Kathy. You might also try RootsWeb too, not the post-ems, put your entire GEDCOM on the site, it is free to all. (This week, I got 2 emails from people who found me that way.) Thanks for this post, and your creative way of presenting it!

  3. Great post. One of my personal challenges was to write each week a post with the title of Ancestor of the week
    In the hope that someone might connect. I then posted an introductory post for my graveyard rabbit site and wanted to put a bit more detail onto some of the photos as they connect to my Bowring family. On Wed I had an email from the Bangalore edition of Time Out Magazine as they are running an article on the family. So write your blog posts as Google picks them up and I hit jackpot!

  4. Greta, I like the way you put it - a great analogy. I may just have to take an "inventory" of my internet "real estate" again.

    In November I wrote about a GenForum query that I had recently gotten a response from - the query had been posted 11 years ago! So it definitely pays to have a presence "out there" in cyberspace!

  5. Excellent post!

    And so true. Never thought about it in the way you have written but it is an excellent analogy.

    Last week was a genealogy gold mine for me...met two new cousins, one from the online family tree at Rootsweb and one from the blog.

  6. Great perspective.

    I recommend a family tree website. I can't tell you how many contacts I've had from mine in the past 4 years. I get more contacts from it than I do the blog or any other "real estate" I have floating around.

  7. Excellent Post! And I love your phrase "cousin bait" - I'll be saving that one to use! I've found that the time and effort I've put into scanning, posting and most importantly, TAGGING, pictures for my blog posts is what has lured most of my contacts.

  8. Great post! And so true, there is such a wonderful community of genealogy compatriots out there in the cyber land - I had no idea how many till I stumbled onto Geneabloggers! So great to find a community with a shared passion :-)


  9. My genealogy "property" so far is limited to my blog and lots of posts on rootsweb family name sites and a few rootsweb email lists. Thanks for the suggestions for other sites and sharing your experiences with them.

  10. Thank you for this perspective of Genealogy posts and queries on websites as well as pages. I had not thought of it like this. Will have to take stock of where I stand.

  11. You do have a way of expressing things, Greta, that is so persuasive, so elegantly clear even to my muddled mind. One more thing to ponder.

  12. Excellent Post! I find that Ancestry, Footnote, GenealogyBank and FindAGrave are essential to my research.

  13. What can one say, when all has been said?


  14. Carol - Thank you!

    Kathy - I know, it's terrible how addictive blogging and blog reading is.

    Barbara - I've thought of doing RootsWeb WorldConnect, but I like separating my tree into several trees and adding the information bit by bit, so for now I'm just doing trees on Ancestry.

    AR - Yes, it's interesting to see some of the publications that land on the blogs - one wanted to publish my post about our Edsel!

    Becky - Wow, 11 years! Some of the posts I originally responded to were 5 years old, and I was so happy the e-mails were still good.

    dee - I love weeks like that. It just opens up so many new possibilities.

    Linda - Some day I want to do a website, but it's one of those things that is going to have to wait a bit.

    Leah - That's excellent information - I think I'll try to do that with my photos; I hadn't considered that, yet. I may write to ask you exactly how you are tagging them (I'm pretty ignorant in that area).

    Claire - I'm so glad you are enjoying the Genea-Bloggers. I love this group - it's like a really supportive educational community. And I love your blog!

    Nancy - I'm always trying to find more places to "advertise," too - let me know if you think of any new ones!

    hummer - It's just always so surprising where the contacts come from. For instance, I never would have thought that Footnote would have helped in that way.

    Susan - I can tell from your writing that you definitely do NOT have a "muddled mind"! It's that G-Town training, fer shure.

    Susan - I just love that you can research and make contacts on the same sites.

    Joan, you are so sweet; I am blushing!

  15. This is a wonderful post, and so right on. I've been overwhelmed by all the information I've found and received online through message boards, my blog, and genea-friends. I was shocked when my cousin Marek responded in January 2010 to a RootsWeb message I posted back in 2004. It IS like a little bit of real estate out there on the Internet.

  16. Loved your blog post on this!

    One of the things that I have decided to do this year is to check the Ancestry activity each day. I have made some excellent contacts with great family information through watching who was accessing my information!


  17. Cynthia - Isn't it amazing that responses come to posts written long ago and often come from quite far away?

    Sue F. - I also check out the "action" on Ancestry, and your comment is a reminder that I need to be more active about contacting these people!

  18. Excellent advice as usual Greta. Alas I cannot help with "Get out of jail free" cards. HOWEVER, I do have a few extra "Get Out of Hell Free" cards that I can provide. Um, not that you would need them or anything.

  19. Sheri - I definitely could use a "Get Out of Hell Free" card - especially lately!

  20. Yes, indeed a great post! We could keep going and talk about land speculation, return on investment,needing a stimulus package, and ...!

  21. MHD - Kinda makes you feel as though we're rich, doesn't it?