Can Facebook Be a Research Tool?

Can Facebook Be a Research Tool?

by Kerry Scott on 21 April 2010

I confess:  I don’t love Facebook.

There are things I like about it…it’s been great to reconnect with old friends, and it’s a nice way to stay in touch with people you don’t see very often.  But there’s also some inevitable drama, and lots of Farmville, and the whole privacy thing makes me crazy.

That said, I just discovered one tool that makes me soften just a bit:  you can find all kinds of people who will tell you what their small town used to be like, with photos and everything.

Take Glenbeulah, Wisconsin, for example.  This is my husband’s hometown, and only a few hundred people still live there.  When he was a kid, though, it was a bustling little town, and his family’s roots there appear to date back to the 1870s.  I just found out there’s a Facebook group for Glenbeulah where people are sharing photos, stories, and all kinds of information.  It’s a great resource if you’re researching people from a small town and want to get some insight into what things were like there back in the day.  You might even find people who knew your ancestors.  To find a group like this, just type in the name of the town you’re working on in the search box on Facebook.

I was so inspired by all the cool pictures and stories I found that I dug out my file on my husband’s family and scanned in my photo (see above) of his grandpa, Sam Scott, in front of W.D. Scott Company, the lumberyard that was in Glenbeulah for years.  I also realized I had a pamphlet from the St. Fridolin’s Catholic Church in Glenbeulah.  It’s from 1915, and it was a souvenir from their golden jubilee celebration.  It has all kinds of information on the history of the town and the church, including lots of names of founders (and a list of the congregation in 1915).  I scanned it in and posted a link (you can find it here).

Maybe Facebook doesn’t totally suck after all.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Tiner May 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm

The privacy thing makes me crazy too. I got a facebook message the other day prompting me to connect with the town where I was born, and I wondered how facebook knew it was that town? It’s not on my profile and it’s not where I’ve lived for 51 yrs.


Kerry Scott May 3, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Oh wow. That is creepy. REALLY creepy.


Lisa Roberts November 7, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Hi Kerry,

I am asking the question, Can Facebook be a research tool? … and find your fabulous blog.

Your writing is beautiful, open and friendly. I specially love how you write about money! ‘Money’, in my family, was a dirty word, so I used to have terrible trouble dealing with it (specially making it). Now find that talking (and writing) about my challenges helps me to move forwards through them.

Perhaps this explains why I have become a researcher. Just this year I completed a PhD, so a lot of problem solving went on there! Now I am starting a new research project. I aim to find out how people connect to the environment (eg through walking, planting things, building, making art) and to develop an iconography from patterns that emerge from their responses. Facebook is one of several tools I am exploring to use for this research. Blogging is also a wonderful tool, as your ‘Clue Wagon’ demonstrates.

Some people may argue that blogging is a waste of time. However, responding to your thoughts has helped me to think through a challenge I have set myself. Now I can resume my proposal writing with greater clarity.

Thank you!



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