“I don’t for the life of me understand why people feel the need to put their most mundane thoughts and ramblings into words and post them on a website for the world to see”. “Do I really care if Joe Bolognesa went to the bathroom and missed the touchdown that finally gave the Bills their first Super Bowl win?”. “Some people really need to get a life”.
I bet I’m not the only one who has heard these criticisms of Facebook. Well, I still haven’t heard the one about Joe B. missing the non-existent touchdown reception that won the Bills the Super Bowl, but I digress. And sometimes, I share some of those criticisms.
“Facebook has no right to change my privacy settings”. “I hate it when Facebook adds a new way for third parties to steal my information and use it as their own, and then having to figure it out myself and change my account settings to stop them from doing it”. “Why does Facebook have to change the format when the old one wasn’t broken”?
I bet I’m not the only one who has heard and shared these frustrations about Facebook. So why do I keep using it? If you are on my Facebook “friend” list and have followed my posts for the past few weeks, you can probably figure out the answer for yourself.
I started posting some of the old family photographs on my Facebook page. Do you know what happened after I posted the first one? I had a comment or two from cousins who recognized their parents or grandparents. Do you know what happened when I posted just one or two more? I had cousins joining my FB friend list left and right. Some of these were my parents’ first cousins, some of these were my parents’ first cousins’ kids (my second cousins). Before I knew it, cousins of various levels were sharing the photos on their Facebook walls, and still more cousins started coming out of the woodwork. Sometimes people were simply awestruck by the photos. Sometimes cousins were able to identify the person in the back to the left of Aunt Birdie. But every time I felt a twinge of excitement as history started repeating itself.
Huh? What does that mean? If you’ve done any research of your ancestors from the 1930’s and earlier, you probably noticed that where you’d find one ancestor, you’d usually find the others. That’s because families typically lived near each other, if not with each other. Cousin connections were the norm back then. If you’ve searched the 1940 U.S. Census since it’s release in April 2012 you might have noticed a shift in your family’s living situation: Branches of the family may have moved to points far away from the traditional family home. Over the 6 decades that followed, families have moved apart as a matter of course, and connections to cousins either dwindled, disappeared, or never even existed.
So it was in my family lines. My family moved to Arizona from Western New York in the late 1970’s. Over time, we lost touch with aunts, uncles and cousins. For many years, it was simply considered a part of modern life. But Facebook, for me anyway, provides a way for extended family members to share in each others’ lives in spite of the time and distance that separates us.
As I look back at my Facebook page over the past few weeks – complete with cousin connections and communications – I can’t help but ask: What do our ancestors think about THIS?
Colleen McHugh is the author of Ancestral Profiling, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist that helps you learn more about your ancestors as individuals. Colleen also blogs on Orations of OMcHodoy.
© Colleen McHugh 2012