Finding that long last family member using the Internet
Sean Feeney – 5 May 2007 (Updated 9 May 2007)
Scenario: You have names, locations, and dates, but no idea on how to get in touch with that missing family member, much less a recent photo or their interests and political beliefs.
Here’s a quick guide to using the Internet to fill in missing Geni profile fields, find family photos, and find family contact information.
Note: Social networking site use is currently most prolific among those with birthdates in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This isn’t to say that there isn’t the occasional 40-something year-old on these sites, so you should always make the attempt to check nonetheless.
xkcd Map of Online Communities
Using the Social Networking Sites Directly
- Facebook (www.facebook.com) has the most reliable searches but it just recently opened up to the public (it was previously only available to students), so its user base is relatively small. You will need to create an account to search given a First Name, Last Name, or Nickname (or some more precise information). This is your best shot if you know your family member attended college in the 1990’s or later, or your family member attended high school in the 2000’s or later.
- MySpace (www.myspace.com), as depicted in the map above, currently has the largest user base worldwide. You can search on First Name and Last Name and filter the results within up to 100 miles of a zip code. You are more likely to find older age groups here, even mothers and fathers.
- Bebo (www.bebo.com) is most popular among Europeans, but you can still find the occasional American on there. Its search capabilities are limited since it uses Google, so you’re probably best off reading my Google suggestions and adding site:bebo.com to the end of your search term. This is one of the few sites that include profile fields for elementary and pre-school names, if that’s all you know about your family member.
- Tagworld (www.tagworld.com) is a lesser used social networking service that also has some older age groups on it. On the “People” tab you can find a fine grained search based on Real Name, Occupation, Gender, Age, Country, School and more.
- LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is popular with the business-oriented and fortune 500 crowd. You’re most likely to find college-aged and older people on here. You can search by First Name and Last Name and at the very least should be able to pull up their job title, location and industry. Most profiles are kept private beyond that, even if you do open an account.
- Studiverzeichnis (www.studivz.net) – or studiVZ for short – is the German equivalent to Facebook. Social networking is not as prevalent in Deutschland as it is in the United States so you’re unlikely to find a whole lot here, but it’s worth a shot if you know your family member attended college in Germany in the 2000’s.
- Growing Family (www.growingfamily.com) provides a WebNursery service to many hospitals in the United States and Canada. You can find photos of babies born in 2006 or later by searching by the baby’s Birthday, mother’s Last Name, Hospital, or ZIP/Postal Code.
Performing an Internet “People Search”
- Wink (www.wink.com) searches social networks like MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, Friendster and other online communities. Includes name search plus location, school, work, interests, and more.
- The Internet Address Book (www.internetaddressbook.com) attempts to search all social networking sites given a First Name, Last Name, and City. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t find much, because it isn’t really that exhaustive of a search engine yet.
- Streakr (www.streakr.com) searches MySpace, Bebo, Facebook and Hi5 on more than just names. It includes art, photos, music and more.
- Upscoop (Upscoop) can help you search MySpace, Friendster, Hi5 and “dozens more” if you know the email address of who you’re searching, or would just like to use your Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo or AOL address book to search for social network profiles.
- Google (www.google.com) can be used to search for people if you know the right syntax. Put the name you’re searching for in double quotes like so: “First Last”. You could also add the middle name in there, or use a nickname, alias, or screen name instead. Adding a city outside of the double quotes may narrow down the results a bit too: “First Last” City. Google will pull up public profiles from almost all of the social networking sites, as well as from forums, newsgroups, and the rest of the “web 1.0” bunch.
- The Ultimates (www.theultimates.com) provides a traditional and reverse look-up White Pages listing and e-mail directory. It doesn’t actually do the searching, but it provides you with all of the available sites that do in one easy place. Reverse look-ups are useful if you know a phone number or address but not who’s name it belongs to.
Using the information on these sites for Geni tree purposes
Most profiles have photos which can be downloaded to your computer by right-clicking on them and choosing “Save Image As” or something similar. These photos can then be uploaded to Geni to give your tree a more human touch. The profiles may also contain a number of “interests” elements such as Music, Movies, Television, Books, and Heroes; “details” elements such as Relationship Status, Hometown, Location, Height, Weight, Ethnicity, and Birthday; and “background” elements such as Schools and Companies. All of these fit nicely with the fields Geni asks you to fill in about each family member since Geni is, in effect, another social networking site (let’s call it a “family networking site” for now). You may also find links to other websites/profiles that person maintains, and “surveys” that they’ve filled out. Most of these surveys include further information that might help fill in Geni profiles.
It’s important to note that not everything on a social networking profile is something that a family member might want their family to know about them, despite these profiles being online and for the most part in the public view. Exercise discretion when choosing what data to scrape from these profiles to be added to Geni, and be sure to send the family member a message through their social networking service letting them know what you’re doing and inviting them to the tree to modify their own profile.
Migrating MyFamily.com data to Geni
The following applies to the original MyFamily site, not their current 2.0 beta, but it might help towards migrating data from either.
If your family already has a site setup on MyFamily, you have access to a family address book, family photos, stories, recipes, news and more.
- The first step is to migrate any Online Family Trees. These can be downloaded in GEDCOM format, and pretty soon you’ll be able to upload that GEDCOM directly to Geni.
- Next you’ll probably want to flip through the Address Book and compare each person’s MyFamily profile (accessible by clicking their name in the Address Book) with their Geni profile. Some of these profiles include mothers and fathers, birthdays, and notes. The information on a profile page is more likely to be up-to-date than the information in the Online Family Tree, so be sure to look for discrepancies. If you didn’t have any Online Family Trees, you can use the information in these profiles to piece together your tree from scratch.
- Now take a look through all of the Family News posts. You might find deaths or birthdays here not listed in the first two places, as well as additional information to include on people’s profiles.
- In the History section, you might find memories that your family has posted about ancestors. It’s probably better if you have each of these family members re-post these to Geni profiles themselves, but if that’s not possible you can always copy them over for them.
- The Photos section will probably be the hardest to migrate. If you’re lucky, they will be separated into albums by family name, but even then there might not always be captions. There is an “Owner” field on each photo, so you’re probably best off contacting the owner if you’re not sure who someone is in a photo.
- Finally, take a look through the rest of the site sections for other tidbits you can move over to Geni. The Calendar section might have a couple’s anniversary date, the Poll section might show family insight into an issue, and you might want to put a top recipe in a Geni biography field if that’s something the person was well known for.
I hope this will help some of you get started filling in details about the family in your tree, as names and dates alone aren’t the most exciting things that we can leave future generations.
For a complete list of social networking sites, see SocialMesh or Wikipedia.
Have you been successful finding information about lost family members using a site or method not listed in this article? Please add a comment about your experience!