22 Apr 2012, 15:17

Facebook kicks Geni's butt for real family histories


#“Facebook kicks Geni’s butt for real family histories”

A few years back, quite a few of us put effort into building our family tree on Geni. For a while I was a fan. Then someone connected two big trees via marriage and it has been a disaster ofirrelevant birthday notifications about people I have never heard of since.

Also, the constant upsells mean I haven’t logged in for a very long time except to check the odd birthday.More importantly, all of the activity I have seen has been by my generation and younger. It is simply not on the radar of my parents.

For her 70th birthday, my Mum got an iPad from my Dad. After years of saying she would use computers when she could no longer do the garden, she is now online. She still gardens :-)

She uses the iPad for two things. One is the obvious family emails, usually links to pictures. The other I found out about last Christmas and is the real starting point for the title of this post.

She grew up in Ratoath, Co Meath, just outside Dublin. I lived there until I was 6. When we left in the early 70s, it was still a village. Over the past ten years it became the fastest growing town/village in Ireland. Despite the massive influx of people, there is still a core of the old villagers there, including my aunts/uncles and many of my cousins.

A few years back the Ratoath Heritage Society did a wonderful book called Ratoath Past and Present. I have a copy and loved trying to recognise people from my youth in it. There is a treasure trove of information in there but it naturally has a very limited distribution.

Back to last Christmas - Mum found out that there was now a Facebook Group dedicated to old pictures and stories about Ratoath. We spent ages trying to find it on the garbage Facebook iPad App and finally got to it using Safari.

The two of us spent the entire evening scrolling through all the pictures and seeing so many of my uncles as young men and my cousins playing GAA. It was an absolute delight. Huge kudos to Finian Darby who manages the group.

Now here’s the really interesting bit for non-Ratoathers. My Mum now has a Facebook account. She has no friends on there and doesn’t want any. The only reason for joining was so that she could join the group and see everything.

But it gets better. Over Easter I showed her how to Like a picture. Then I showed her how to comment. My Mum, commenting on Facebook. I swear I never thought I’d see the day.

Finally, the bit that made me realise just how important Facebook has become for this type of history logging and community building. That group has many people in the US and beyond asking questions about their ancestors and who they might be related to. I see real joy when connections are made and information gleaned. They are both receiving and contributing to the knowledgebase around Ratoath.

A picture was posted recently on the Group which included my granduncle Oliver. His wife Ita died a while back, aged 90. No-one knew where the picture had been taken. Oliver, aged 92, was at death’s door when Ita died but has somehow rallied and is now ok. Both his eyesight and hearing are failing. But someone decided to describe the picture to him and he was able to tell them exactly when and where it was taken!

A man who will never be on Facebook is feeding information to future generations which would otherwise be lost forever.

What Finian and all the locals are creating is an amazing repository of knowledge, memories and images. The open-systems person in me wishes they were doing it on a blog but it would never have happened that way. It’s the people and connections on Facebook that make wonderful things like this possible and easy.

One of my regrets is that we never got my grandparents to talk about their youth and the past. Whether that oral history had been recorded in writing or tape, it would have been so valuable. On my Dad’s side, all of the War of Independence stories would have beenriveting. On my Mum’s side, all of the stories around Fairyhouse and Glascarn would have had many gems too.

If Facebook is the tool that facilitates this, then so be it. If they added some genealogical overlay features on the Social Graph, it would be curtains for Geni.

I look forward to lots more interesting pictures and stories being adding to Ratoath Past and Present. I hope someone is doing similar for your home town.

Ita Doran, RIP.

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