Sean Feeney
Architect of the digital age

Guide to Social Data Mining

5 May 2007

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

Performing an Internet “People Search”

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 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

Posted in genealogy, Geni, guides, Social Networking, tutorials

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