When it comes to public history, I love social media. I truly believe that social media is an easy, cost-effective, and fun way to reach people who might never think about themselves as people interested in history, let alone public history. As a student in the MA/MLIS program, I can also see clear intersections between the use of social media in a public history setting and in a library setting. Because I already manage social media accounts for the Dominican University archives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and have in the past managed accounts on Tumblr and Pinterest as well, I wanted to look at a new-to-me social media platform for this week’s assignment. I could talk for hours about the usefulness of these Big Five accounts for public historians, but I am always interested in learning something new (obviously), and saw this assignment as a way to broaden my knowledge about marketing public history and library interests.
I looked at MyHeritage.com this week and evaluated it for its usefulness to public historians. It is an online family tree website, similar to Ancestry or Family Search. Users enter in their vital information and that of their parents and grandparents, and the site attempts to match their background to existing family trees. Users can add in additional family members to further develop their branches. The site gives users the ability to post photos of family members, to search census and voter records, and to comment on relationships the user has with other users’ family trees. Like many public history and cultural heritage sites, MyHeritage.com straddles the line between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Last week in class we seemed to establish Web 2.0 as a site that allows for user interaction, which MyHeritage des on a limited scale. Its status as a Web 2.0 site would be deepened through more interaction between users, for example on photos or census records. Users are able to see other users’ profiles, which adds to the site’s 2.0 presence.
There are two major ways where I would use this site as a public historian. The first is as a librarian working in a public history role in a library. A popular trend among libraries is to offer assistance with genealogical research. This site, along with Ancestry and Family Search, facilitates that research. I do not see it as a replacement for either of those two sites, as both of those are well-established in the field. Ancestry is the first site people look to when starting their genealogical research because of its marketing presence, and Family Search has a robustness backed by the Church of Latter Day Saints that is really unparalleled. MyHeritage cannot compete with those groups, but does offer some benefits in ease of use. Oftentimes the librarian in charge of genealogical support is a reference librarian and has genealogy as just one part of many duties, so that easy “yes this person is related to me” interface could be very useful for a time-cramped researcher. Secondly, a public historian could use documents from MyHistory to supplement an exhibit, or to demonstrate genealogical research similar to that of a librarian’s role. MyHeritage does not support exhibits in the traditional sense, but there may be opportunities to “hack” the site to make it work for an institution. Since users can upload photos, there may be an option there to build a presence for a public history institution. For example, in an institution where it is easy to trace the lineage of a family or families, and where the institution can provide photos of those people, the institution could build a family tree for the members they know and upload photos. Users not associated with that institution may run across those photos and records in building their own family trees, and look at those photos and the interpretation of those institutions.
MyHeritage is not a replacement for Ancestry or Family Search, but does stand as an example of how librarians and public historians can look at genealogy as an opportunity for a larger educational experience. Since genealogy is an incredibly popular topic right now, it may be in the best interest of an institution to look into building a presence on those sites.