How Hashtags Can Help Your Genealogy

Social media and genealogy is a great combination. We can make so many more connections with more people now than ever before. But it isn't possible to follow every genealogist on social media, so how can you find more content that's meaningful to your research? One way is with hashtags. Here's how you can use hashtags to discover more things that you want to read and how to get your content in front of more readers. 


What Is a Hashtag?

A hashtag is a combination of the pound sign and a word or phrase (with no spaces). For example: #genealogy or #familyhistory are both hashtags. They're used in social media to help people find content on a specific topic. (They're also added sometimes as a way to express a feeling. I might add #IAmSoTiredOfWinter on a tweet about the below zero temperatures we've been having in my part of the country.)

Hashtags were used in IRC chat rooms back in the 1990s, as a way for people to group different items together. Blogger Chris Messina introduced them to Twitter in 2007 as a way for people to find conversations they were interested in.

How to Use a Hashtag if You're Looking for Genealogy Content

Hashtags are commonly used on Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. Pinterest recently started supporting hashtags; the use of them there is growing rapidly. You can use hashtags on Facebook, but they're not commonly used and you won't get as much benefit from using them there.

As a reader, you can search for specific hashtags on social media. Let's say you're on Instagram and you want to see what people are posting about genealogy. You could look for #genealogy and you'd see posts that use that hashtag, like this one from Melissa (@genealogygirltalks):

Similarly, on Twitter you could look for #genealogy and find this tweet from the New England Historic Genealogical Society:

Hashtags are a great way to follow along with projects and events. For example, if you want to see what people are posting about the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, you could search for the #52Ancestors hashtag. I follow conference hashtags such as #RootsTech and #FGS2018 both before and during the event, to see what people are saying. 

How to Use Hashtags to Get People to Read Your Genealogy

Let's say that you have a blog post about a discovery you made about your ancestor. If you just Tweet "Here's my blog post about my ancestor <link>", the only people who will see that tweet are the people who follow you on Twitter. If you include relevant hashtags, you can expand your reach to people who are looking for that hashtag. 

For example, I tweeted about an interview that I did with Judy Russell about the ethics of genetic genealogy: 

By including #genealogy, #familyhistory, and #DNA, my tweet could be seen not only by the people who follow me on Twitter, but also by people searching for any of those hashtags.

The same principle applies on Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. (As I mentioned before, the use of hashtags on Facebook really hasn't taken off.)

Find More Genealogy With Hashtags

Hashtags help us sort through the noise of social media. They let us find more content that is of interest. They also help us get our content to more people who are looking for what we're writing. Who knew that a punctuation mark could help do all that?!

How Hashtags Can Help Your Genealogy
Posted: January 4, 2018.

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  • This is a easy to follow explanation – especially for new users. I did not realize when # started – fascinated with this “IRC chat rooms back in the 1990s”. Thank you so much.

  • Thanks for the suggestions and information. I am not a social media person, but I can see that using hashtags can be a really good source for information. Will definitely try it and see it helps in any of my searches. Really appreciated the Hashtag lesson!

    • Think about the topic. If you’re interested in genealogy, search for #genealogy, #familyhistory, or #ancestry. If you’re wondering about DNA, search #DNA or #genetics. Conferences usually announce what their “official” hashtag is (like #RootsTech or #FGS2018). If you’re into military research, use the name of the war, like #CivilWar or #WWII. Once you start searching for a hashtag, pay attention to what other hashtags are being used in that post; chances are they’re also relevant.

      You can’t use wildcards with hashtags. It’s strictly that set of characters (so #ancest* would only find a post that used exactly #ancest* .) Keep it to whole words.

  • Isn’t it the hash sign # and not the pound sign £?

    I learned a while ago to add hashtags to my posts. And some people have come to my site because of it.

    I use hashtags on twitter and that has helped me. But I need to use them on Google+.

    Does it help to use them on Facebook as well?

    • Hashtags on Facebook really haven’t taken off in terms of use. I don’t see any benefit to using them there (at least, not right now).

    • “Pound” was the normal name of # before social media hashtags started becoming a thing. (Well, its technical name is actually “octothorpe”, but nobody ever really called it that in conversation.) Even today, on a telephone IVR you’ll still be told to push the pound button when they want you to hit #.

  • I’ve used hashtags like forever BUT when I searched for #52Ancestors on WordPress a few minutes ago it said “No Results”! I was just having a look for other people who are doing the challenge because I just started. Is there something weird happening?

  • G’Day from Down Under!
    I came across your 52 Ancestors challenge this afternoon and, having taken it up as a definite DO, I then began to read more of your posts. The # hashtag is relatively unkown to me simply due to my Aspergers brain which kept seeing it everywhere and therefore doggedly refusing to jump on the # rollercoaster. I was not aware of just how useful it could be, I stand corrected and shall now look into it further.

    I am gonna have to begin learning more about blogging and other ways of getting the best out of social media other than FaceBook which is my first Go-To for research purposes, it is one of my fav soap-box topics. I want to learn more of how to use social media to enhance genealogy research, I really need to bring myself into the 21st Century!

    I do have one question… How do you limit the results when searching if it brings up 2,500+ results, none of which are remotely connected to my request?? My very first venture was to try my own surname #Baynes… and all I am getting is multiple of multiple posts on an Aussie basketballer who is of no interest to me. There may be further posts with that same hashtag but wading through the eleventy-seven thousand posts on him, I just do NOT have the time, nor the patience, to keep scrolling. At least with Ebay you can put -basketball -sport etc. to limit the amount of unwanted junk to find the treasured pearl that you really want.

    Surely there must be a better way of minimizing the search??

    Thank you for taking the time to simplify the # hashtag method!

    Your newest Aussie fan,
    Erynne Baynes,
    Warragul, Victoria.

    • Thanks for checking out my site, Erynne!

      Using a surname as a hashtag can be tricky, as you discovered. The problem is that most systems are pretty “dumb” when it comes to hashtags. It isn’t like on Google or other search engines where you can use wildcards or Boolean operators. It’s pretty much that hashtag as is 🙁 You could try attaching a word onto a surname. For example, try #BaynesFamily or #BaynesAncestry. Of course, that only works if the person who did the post used that hashtag. (You’ll get fewer results, but they should be more meaningful.)

      Also think about other ways you could identify the person you’re looking for. I have a lot of ancestors in Perry County, Ohio, so I would also do searches for #PerryCounty or #PerryCountyOhio (or variations of that).