Thursday, November 10, 2016

What is a Hashtag and How do I Use it for Genealogy

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What is a hashtag used for and how can it help me with genealogy? That's a question I am often asked when giving my social media presentation. That silly little pound sign (#) that all the kids are using really does mean something. Once you learn the power of hashtags, you will be amazed at what you can find online!

Hashtag History

It was Twitter that introduced the hashtag in the summer of 2009. By putting that little symbol in front of a word or phrase, you could hyperlink associated material.

Hashtags are keywords with a pound sign in front. #Genealogy, #familyhistory, #funnykitten, and the list goes on...and on...and on! Genealogists are learning the power of hashtags to both organize their own information into categories to be easily found, and to find new information that can directly effect their research.

Using Hashtags to Organize and Categorize

Hashtags for organizing and categorizing can help when sharing on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If I wanted to share the pictures from a recent family reunion on Instagram so that all the cousins could enjoy them, I might add a hashtag like #ColeFamilyReunion2016 to each of the images. Then, a person need only search #ColeFamilyReunion2016 on Instagram to have all the pictures pop-up.

Now you may notice in the image here on the right, that not all of the images associated with the #ColeFamilyReunion2016 are those from my family reunion, but that's okay. Why? Because these other Cole Family's may be long lost relatives!

If you want to differentiate your family reunion, you may have to be creative in your hashtag. You might try something like #RobertColeFamilyReunion or #ColeFamilyReunion2016Ohio. Be sure to share your designated hashtag with all the family members so that they too can cache the images they took. By doing so, all the family pictures at your family reunion will be hyperlinked together.

Registering a Hashtag

Lots of people wonder how or if they can register a hashtag. The short answer is no, not really. says of registering hashtags:
"The first and most important thing that must be understood is that you cannot legally own a hashtag. The goal is that you habitually use a chosen hashtag and people will associate it with your brand. The hashtag selected should be a distinctive phrase or word associated with your company or messaging."
There are websites online that help you determine if a hashtag is already being used. is one of these websites. Here, you can enter in a hashtag you are interested in to see how many people have used it in the last 24 hours.

In this example above, it looks like the hashtag #everyonelovesamie is unique! There is a lot of information on the web about registering a hashtag. I will let you Google that and "hash" it out for yourself!

Organizing My Research Findings with Hashtags

Let's say I have been researching the Bowser family of Clark County, Ohio. I would like to post some old photographs I found or some pictures of the tombstones I took at the local cemetery. I might post them with three hashtags like #Clark, #Ohio, #Bowser. Now, I have organized all my pictures with this combination so that I can easily find them on whichever designated platform I choose.

Remember, if you hashtag your images on Facebook, you won't be able to search for them on Instagram, so many of us share to both platforms at the same time. You can do that by starting at Instagram and before posting, click on "Facebook" under the Share options.

In this way, you have captioned and hashtaged your image to be found on Instagram and Facebook at the same time. Others searching for these same hashtags on either platform would then find the images.

You can imagine the endless possibilities. Hashtags can be used to cache images for weddings, vacations, graduations, and your family history.

Finding New Information Using Hashtags

If I posted something on Facebook about the death records for Ohio I found online, I might type something like:
"FamilySearch #deathrecords for #RossCountyOhio can be found online and include digital images of the death certificates. #genealogy #familyhistory."
In fact, many genealogists, big companies, and societies are doing this very thing. They want to share with you their findings and collections. It's happening on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media hotspots.

Because they are doing this, you can search for hashtags like you would a person. Take a look at this example at Facebook:

In the search field at the top left of the Facebook homepage, you can type in any combination of hashtags. In this example, I searched for #RossCountyOhio #genealogy. The post regarding probate records for Ross County, Ohio pops up. Scroll down further and you will find the post regarding Ross County death records, too. In this way, you may locate records and collections that you did not know even existed.

Sadly, you can't possibly know what a genealogist or society will hashtag their posts with. You may have to try your search in several different ways. Maybe you will just search #Ross #Ohio...or maybe you will decide to only search with #Ohio #genealogy. There is no limit to the combinations, so just have fun with it and see what you can find.

Hashtags on Instagram

On Instagram, you can do the same thing. In particular, I love to search for a hashtaged surname on Twitter.

I follow DeadFred on Twitter. is a genealogy photo archive online. Now, they are putting images on Instagram and hashtaging them by surname and location. Take a look at some of these examples on the left.

Notice how they are hashtaged. In the top example, they have used #NY instead of #NewYork. In the second example, #VT was used instead of #Vermont. Some have been hashtaged with surnames and some have not. So again, be thoughtful and methodical when searching for relevant hashtags.

Hashtags on Twitter

Have you ever been disappointed that you couldn't go to a big genealogy conference like RootsTech or the National Genealogical Society Conference? Did you know that you can virtually follow along with Twitter hashtags? Yep! If you were to go to Twitter and search #RootsTech or #NGSconf or #WDYTYA (that's Who Do You Think You Are?) you can follow the tweets that are being posted about the event. You will see news information, pictures, and even videos in real time as you participate virtually using hashtags.

I hope this information about hashtags for genealogy will inspire you to use them. Let me know what fun things you find by searching for hashtags in the comments section below.

To learn more about social media tools for genealogy, I think you'll enjoy reading:
Using Facebook to Break Through Genealogy Brick Walls
Using the Power of Pinterest for Family History


  1. An excellent overview of hashtags. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Amie! I've found that many older people new to Social Media have a hard time with the hashtag.

    1. Your welcome and thanks for reading, Jacquie! I agree, it is a rather new concept. Even my husband had no idea that hashtags were actually worthwhile!

  3. A good reminder to use hashtags and how to use them. Hashtags on Pinterest are a good idea, too.

    1. Hashtags on Pinterest...yes! You are so right! Thanks for reading, Nancy!


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