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Think Outside the Book: Share Your Family History Stories With Social Media

Writing your family history is a big task. For many of us, it comes after 10 to 20 years of research and hundreds, if not thousands, of ancestors. Phew, that sounds like a daunting project, doesn’t it? And it can be. All those ancestors are vying for your attention and want their story told.

So start small. Begin with just one ancestor and tell their story in manageable snippets. In the same way that you share your narrative every day (or week or month) on Facebook or Instagram. Embrace social media storytelling to begin your family history, and turn your relatives into an engaged and eager audience.

Yes, social media often has a bad reputation because many people jump into it and then abandon it quickly. All without taking the time to learn how to use the platform of choice to your advantage. And that’s something which is super frustrating when using it as a research tool. Have you tried using social media for research? My experience is that it’s hit and miss. I have a series of successes and then discover abandoned Facebook page after abandoned Facebook page. Right back to square one!

But what if you were using it intentionally to share stories? Not just to share random photos or memes but to tell your family history? If you were using the platform to create a family community and for social media storytelling?

Social networks aren’t about websites. They’re about experiences.

Mike DiLorenzo, NHL social media marketing director

So let’s think outside the book and explore if social media storytelling is suitable for sharing your family history.

Social media storytelling, what does that even mean?

Social media storytelling is what it sounds like, telling stories through the use of social platforms. And that is pretty much used for that purpose already, though not always intentionally. What we post often reflects our mood whether it’s boredom, excitement or because we want an answer to a question. Whatever the reason, we will post to a social platform like Facebook or Instagram. And in the same way that sentences build together to tell a story, so do those posts. Whether or not we are aware of it, we are using social media to create a picture of our lives. If we approach it intentionally, then we can control the story we are telling.

Mobile phone showing photo gallery
The posting of our photos, videos and thoughts is one way to tell our story

Social media storytelling may be seen as a non-traditional method because the format isn’t always linear. And traditional stories usually are. They start with the beginning, you progress to the middle and arrive at the end. Sound familiar? Because that’s the same pattern, we see as we look at our ancestors’ lives. However, just because our family histories evolved linearly doesn’t mean that is how we have to tell them.

Are you using social media as a research tool?

Are you already a member of a family-run Facebook page or group dedicated to familial discoveries? I’m in a couple, and they have been a fantastic source of information and stories. One of the groups is fantastic. The group owner is very active, and everyone contributes. So while there is no specific order to how each person shares their knowledge, the engagement is incredible. It’s been a fantastic forum for collaborations, sharing research and working through theories.

For me, social media has been fantastic for connecting with relatives. I broke through a brick wall thanks to Facebook, and I’ve discovered photos because of Instagram. Social media platforms have been another avenue to explore for research purposes, but could it also work for sharing a family history?

Have you considered social media storytelling?

So far, in the series “Think Outside The Book” we’ve explored:

  • Creating a family history blog
  • Writing a diary from your ancestor’s point of view
  • Publishing a family history newspaper

Compared to those options, social media storytelling is the fastest way to get content to your audience. Why? It’s because social media is already a part of our day-to-day lives. With the other options, you need to create interest and traffic. Depending on your platform choice, with social media, your audience is already there.

Are you thinking about taking a genealogy road trip? Share the experience with your family via social media. A post a day, an hour or just in every new location. Share your photos, videos and thoughts about what it’s like to walk in your ancestor’s path. Or are you spending a day at the archives? Share the highs and lows of the adventure. Create an episode of your favourite genealogy documentary series starring you and take your relatives along via social media.

Use social media storytelling to peak their interest with photos and questions to create engagement. Try asking:

  • Where are your ancestors hiding?
  • Is that their name in a document?
  • Who can read this writing?


  • A fantastic option for collaboration, especially if you are living on opposite sides of the country (or the world!)
  • Suitable for short bursts of information (photos, stories, audio, video) so it’s perfect for tackling one ancestor or event at a time. Break it up into a series or season to encourage your audience to ‘check back tomorrow’.
  • Social media storytelling is the perfect way to include the ‘behind the scenes’ journey to make this not just a family history but your own genealogy documentary
  • No software purchases required. It’s available to everyone who registers for a free account.
  • It connects us to immediate and distant relatives in the same way.
  • It’s interactive as your audience can comment, participate in polls etc.
  • Social media storytelling allows different levels of interaction in real-time (e.g. commenting, chat, video etc.)
  • It’s very visual and provides the opportunity to show off the ‘behind-the-scenes’ side of the genealogy journey as well as the stories.
  • Your audience can read or watch the content when it suits them.
  • Your descendants will be a part of the technology generation, so you want to publish the stories where they hang out.


  • Using any social media platform means that you are publishing content to a forum that you can’t control. So, if that platform goes away then so does your content.
  • Privacy and copyright may be an issue. Make sure you read the terms of service of each platform you intend to post on. Wherever possible, review the privacy and security settings of your account so you know who can see what you post.
  • It’s online-only, so no offline option for people not connected.
  • There are limited formatting options for large blocks of text, and it isn’t possible to intersperse images throughout the copy.

Tools required

  • Your phone, tablet or computer
  • A camera (this could be your phone)
  • An internet connection
  • An account on your favourite social media platform
  • Free (or similar) account to create graphics
  • Google Slides or PowerPoint to create slides for YouTube
mobile phone showing a folder of social network apps
Which platform is the right one to use for social media storytelling?

Each platform works differently to appeal to specific audiences. We have the choice of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter to name a few. None of these is specifically for social media storytelling, so we need to be creative if that’s our purpose. That led me on an adventure to explore the leading platforms to see how they might work for this purpose.


Facebook is an obvious choice as it provides the most options. You can create a private group for your community to share your combined knowledge and stories. Groups have all the same features as a page such as:

  • add photos or video
  • create a poll
  • tag other users
  • ask for recommendations
  • add live video (great for family history road trip or interviews because the only equipment you need is your phone and an internet connection)

Group only features include:

  • ability to add files (great for PDFs and Word docs)
  • create doc (with the option for others to edit – or not! great way to share stories)
  • turn off comments on a post
  • search on keywords (such as surnames) or hashtags
  • have multiple admins

The two stand-out features are the ability to add PDF files and search the content. This feature makes it easy to create downloads for offline use and to double-check that no one else has posted your question, photo or story.


Instagram isn’t all about selfies and food photos! And while it is good for photos, it’s not great for text. It has limited formatting capabilities, so you won’t want to use it if you want to share long posts. It is great for sharing images and would be suitable for documenting your genealogy journey and discoveries. The best features of social media storytelling are:

  • your posts can be private, so only your followers can see them
  • Instagram stories because you can share ‘at the moment’ video and images that won’t mess up your feed
  • the ability to share multiple photos in one post
  • send posts in your feed to friends
  • see posts on a world map (fantastic if you are on a family history road trip!)
  • you can edit captions after posting
  • Hashtags. Not only are do they make it easy to search Instagram but you can create one specific to your family history.

Instagram is popular across generations, so it’s a great way to start to engage the younger generations. Show off your wizardry with Instagram stories and start sharing intriguing family facts that will leave your audience wanting more.


YouTube is a perfect solution for social media storytelling. It makes it possible for you to have your very own family history channel to share your stories and genealogy journey. Some of the features to consider are:

  • ability to create both public and private content
  • playlists to separate the video content
  • ability to create live videos
  • feature to add multiple content managers

The video is visual it’s a great medium for reading your stories to a slideshow of images. Or to introduce your audience to their relatives, conduct interviews and share other family history related adventures.

Structure your social media storytelling

Before you start creating accounts, plan out your approach. Which social media platform would be the best one to use to share your family history?

Download and use the Social Media Storytelling Planner to get started or ask yourself questions like:

  • The type of content will you include?
  • The focus of the content?
  • How often will you publish?
  • Can people leave comments?
  • Who will be able to contribute content?
  • Who are the contributors?
  • Which platforms are the contributors already using?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Which social media platforms are your audience hanging out on?

And remember that social media is visual so include lots of images, even ones you create yourself in programs like

Feasible or not?

After exploring the options, I wouldn’t use it as the primary way to share my ancestors’ stories. I think it’s a fantastic secondary option, particularly if planning a family reunion. It’s a great way to share teaser content, clarify information and share the odd news flash after the event.

Click the link in the sidebar (or below) to grab your copy of the Social Media Storytelling Planner

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