Capturing and #SharingStories in 140 Characters or Less

D Josh Taylor

This year at RootsTech D. Joshua Taylor presented a lecture titled Capturing and #SharingStories in 140 Characters or Less. He called it an “idea-planting session” because there is so many options of the social networking world. He encouraged attendees to investigate the options that were of interest to them.

Taylor began by explaining the definition of a hashtag and that it is used with Twitter and other social networks to identify specific things. He further explained that a hashtag helps to index trending topics on social media. As an example, he highlighted Black Box, a science fiction short story written by Pulitzer Prizewinning American author, Jennifer Egan. She released her story on the New Yorker’s Twitter account in a serialized format, 140 characters at a time. This is the maximum number of characters allowed when composing a tweet. It was highly successful and individuals followed her tweets over a nine-day period. Taylor suggested that this is an example how we can engage family members in family history by creating anticipation one tweet at a time.

Taylor said that we are in a mobile and digital age where “cloud computing makes it all happen.” Collaboration efforts will depend on the different approaches, researchers, records, and theories, but the goal is the same, to share and preserve our family history.

Social media has its own communication style that is fun and an exciting adventure to learn. He encouraged attendees to show, not tell, the story and to use links to blogs and websites as a way to reduce characters to meet the imposed limits, which varies depending on the medium. Taylor mentioned the increased use of instant messaging (IMs) and chats with libraries and other organizations, including He recommended Trillian as means to chatting online across different social media. According to the homepage, Trillian “prioritizes chat interoperability and security.” Trillian allows an individual to start a conversation on an iPad, continue the chat on a phone, and finish the conversation on a desktop at work. Trillian offers a free account. As with everything mentioned in this session, further investigation is a must to determine which social media options fit your purpose in family history storytelling!

Blogging is “a great way to communicate” and tell stories of ancestors. According to Taylor, blogging is becoming a treasure trove and a resource for family history. He only wished that his ancestors had blogged and suggested that participants search Google exclusively for blogs that are already published and may contain history of their ancestors. WordPress and Blogger offer a free platform for anyone interested in creating a blog of their own.When talking about Facebook, Taylor suggested that users look beyond friends and profiles and consider subscribing and joining family history related Facebook groups and organizations. He said that one can post research findings, questions about brick walls, and connect with others by surnames, locations, and record types.

Taylor encouraged attendees to search YouTube using the words “genealogy” and “family history.” He talked about Vine, an app found in the iTunes store that captures up to 6 seconds of video that loops, which can be posted to Twitter and Facebook. Instagram is another app for taking photos and posting them to social media accounts. Flickr is a photo-sharing service. Taylor suggested searching this site using keywords to look for photos. Other recommended services were Pinterest and Tumblr. All of these services are free or have free options.If one needs to publish more than 140 characters without blogging, ePublishing may be the answer, allowing the story to be read on a Kindle, an iPad, or a Nook. An additional idea is to invite family near and far to an eReunion using Skype, Google Hangouts, or create a distinct hashtag and have a Twitter chat. All of these methods may be preserved for family history.

Taylor concluded with a list of best practices in social media:

  • Keep yourself updated
  • Try the service first to see if you like it
  • Ask questions
  • Set your own security standards
  • Protect yourself and others
  • Be smart and use common sense.

Our family histories are written page by page, chapter by chapter. These tools will capture daily life and help share and preserve family history that will engage current and future generations.

Lynn Broderick ( is a writer by birth, a teacher by profession, and a researcher by passion. She enjoys researching individuals of the past in the context of family, community, and social history. Known as the Single Leaf, she combined her childhood memories of football and genealogy to create genealogy football and works with her team to win their family history bowl each year. She loves to coach people on how to enjoy pursuing their family history and has done so for over 25 years.

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