YouTube is the world’s most popular online video channel and the second-largest search engine in the world. It’s now owned by Google. That means you can harness the power and flexibility of Google searching to find exactly what you’re looking for on YouTube.
Can you use YouTube for family history? Yes, in so many ways! A recent YouTube search for “genealogy” brought up 124,000 results, and “family history” brought up just slightly less. The ways you’ll use YouTube for family history are a little different than the ways you might use other search engine and “big data” genealogy websites, since every result you’re looking for is a video. But because video is such a powerful tool, when you do find something you need, it can often become one of your most valuable finds on that topic.
6 Ways to Use YouTube for Family History
Think about how to apply your own family history research to each of these ways to use YouTube for family history. Check out the many linked examples we’ve shared elsewhere on our site for more tips and inspiration:
#1 Learn more about your ancestor’s world.
Search for major historical events, images of an old ancestral town, and information about clubs, businesses, and other topics that impacted your ancestors’ lives. Was there a disaster? Find footage, like from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (that’s my own YouTube playlist because it has relevance to my ancestors), the Johnstown, PA flood of 1889 (which Contributing Editor Sunny Morton’s ancestors survived), or a disaster like this ship overturning. Click here to read a blog post by a Genealogy Gems podcast listener who hit pay dirt with historical footage on her ancestor’s town.
#2 Find your ancestors in action.
Ever since the Internet came on the scene, genealogists have been searching online for photos (or for the distant cousins possessing photos) of their family. Apply this strategy to YouTube and video. You might find them on-the-job, out-and-about in the community, or the subject of a historical news reel. Click here to read about the stunning footage Contributing Editor Sunny Morton found on her husband’s great-grandfather.
#3 Get quick answers to specific genealogy research questions.
Got a pressing question on how to fix your Ancestry tree, or how to create crafty family history gifts? Videos on YouTube not only supply answers, but show you how. For example:
- How to blog about your family history: my free YouTube series;
- How to read a faded tombstone without damaging the stone, a video I posted with some creative photo manipulation techniques;
- How to create a free family history website with your family tree;
- Evernote for genealogy YouTube series: a free online series I’ve created to help you use Evernote for genealogy;
- How to use Sanborn maps for genealogy, a popular video about important city maps created in the U.S.;
- MyHeritage webinar, with lots of great tricks for getting the most out of their website; and
- Freedman’s Bureau records for tracing African-American ancestors, a series recently posted by FamilySearch.
#4 Participate in online genealogy conferences from the comfort of home.
Not everyone has the time or money to attend a genealogy conference. Conference organizers understand this and are harnessing the power of online video to bring key content to users where they are.
To get started, check out the videos that feature popular conference speakers and the conference experience from channels like SCGS (Jamboree) by searching SCGS genealogy and NGS by searching NGS Genealogy in the YouTube search box or app.
#5 Make and share your own family history videos right on YouTube.
Click here to read some free tips on how to make a totally shareable video. Click here to learn more about a podcast episode and video that offer more in-depth instructions on creating a great family history video. Here are some examples of family history videos I’ve created and posted on YouTube:
- The Great War 100 Years Later, Found Among Grandmother’s Things
- A Nurse in Training, Part 1 and Part 2
#6 Learn new craft techniques and display ideas for sharing your family history.
Get crafty and creative with project ideas found on YouTube! Search for keywords such as photos, shadow boxes, quilting, scrapbooking, etc. I’ve set up a special playlist on the Genealogy Gems Channel called Family History Craft and Display Projects that is chock full of videos to get you started. Search “GenealogyGems” in the YouTube app or click here to go directly to the playlist. Recently I posted a new YouTube video that captures some highlights of projects I’ve created. You can also read Genealogy Gems blog posts that recommend YouTube videos for specific craft ideas like making a photo quilt or a message in a bottle.
Here’s a tip: When you find a YouTube channel you like, click the Subscribe button. This will set you up to be notified of new videos from that channel as soon as they are published. (Sign in to YouTube with your free Google account).
How to Get the Most Out of YouTube for Family History
Learn how to get the most out of YouTube for family history in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, which was entirely revised and updated in 2015. There’s an entire chapter on YouTube! You’ll learn how to navigate your way through YouTube; conduct the best searches for videos; how to create a custom YouTube channel, playlists and home page; how to like and share videos; how to upload your own videos and more.