November 16, 2018

Facebook for finding family

Who Needs Facebook?


I had my first computer back in 1984. An Apple 2e. So, I'm not exactly a Luddite. But when social networking burst on the scene, I just couldn't get my head around it. It was fine for high school kids to find out who's dating who, and who's available, etc., etc., etc.

But for “serious” computer users like me, my reaction was, “Who needs Facebook?” It's a waste of time!!! A passing fad. Plus, I have enough trouble just keeping up with my email. And who the hell wants to read how other people are wasting their time, anyway?”

So, I ignored it until I happened to drop in on an obscure seminar back in 2010, while attending the 30th Annual International Conference of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Held at the brand new Marriott Hotel in the new “L.A. Live” section of L.A., I was there for the first ever showing of my film, “For the Life of Me”.

When I signed in, I was told I had a choice: I could just go for that day, or register for the entire event. Since there were so many fascinating films, classes, labs and workshops on the schedule that I quickly decided to go for the “whole enchilada”, and signed up for the entire week.

I found some interesting workshops that showed new ways of using applications like Google, Google Earth, Jewish Gen and I also found some genealogy software that was brand new to me, and much better than what I'd been using. So, life there was getting good.

Then on day #2, I happened to see an intriguing sign outside one of the classrooms that had “Social Networking” in the title, and “Hi Def. Genealogy” in the subtitle. I'd never seen it in the syllabus, but it was free. So, I figured “What the hell. Why not give it a shot!”

As I went in, I picked up a handout describing the class. When I read it, what really caught my eye was the opening paragraph, which said…

Social networking may appear to many of us to be all “fun and games, or kid's stuff, or a passing fad”.

Yes! Go on, I thought…

 “Yet more businesses and organizations are leveraging it as part of their marketing interaction and customer base.”




Ever the skeptic, I thought, “Social Networking has a use? ” But part of the workshop was built around the idea of using Facebook as a tool to locate living family members. And the more I heard, the more it piqued my curiosity. Maybe there was a use for it after all.

By the time the class was over, I found myself eager to try it. So, one night, after the convention, I went on Facebook and made my first attempt at doing a “people search”. Using my paternal ancestors surname for this test, I wrote “Weinlaub” in the search box.

Wow!!! What a surprise!  Facebook returned at least a dozen living breathing Weinlaubs.

As instructed, I wrote out a standard message introducing myself, describing how I was connected to the Weinlaub family, and that I was looking to connect with other members of my family as well.

Then a Sudden Shock!!!


Facebook doesn't like people who try to send messages in bulk to people they haven't “Friended“.  Assuming I was a spammer, they immediately froze my account and wouldn't let me back in for the next 24 hours.

Properly chastened – when they finally unfroze it – I carefully resent my message to each potential family member, waiting at least ten minutes before sending the next one. Truly a pain-in-the-ass. But the results were worth it.

Out of the twelve I sent, I got seven replies. Not bad for starters. Some of the names were familiar from my genealogical research. But finding real live family members on Facebook was treasure. All but one accepted my “Friending”. And she came through about a year later.

However, one of them really wanted to meet me in person. He was a distant cousin named Max Weinlaub, who lived in Chile, and was – you guessed it -in the wine business. Connecting with Max was very lucky break for a number of reasons.

First, Max just happened to be planning a trip to Sacramento for meetings with some Central California vintners, when I found him. Since his return trip home required a stop in L.A., he scheduled a layover for a couple of days to see some of his relatives, who were recent transplants from South America. Timing, timing, timing. We agreed to meet for lunch at the Getty Museum.

What made our meeting even sweeter was a hand written family tree that Max gave me, which provided the missing piece to a puzzle left by my father after his passing in 2004.

Shortly after WWII, he'd written a letter to his brother in which he mentioned his friend, “Hans Weinlaub from Stettin. Hans fled to South America right after Kristalnacht, winding up in Chile.

Years earlier, my father told me that it was at a company in the city of Stettin, where he served his apprenticeship to become part of his father's eiderdown bedding business. I later learned that it was owned by a relative, Max Weinlaub, the elder; Hans's father. And Hans Weinlaub happened to be my newfound cousin, Max the younger's grandfather. Our families link back to a common ancestor, Anschel Weinlaub, who was my GGGGrandfather.

So, it just goes to show you skeptics out there that Facebook really does work as a research tool to help you find members of your own family.

Meanwhile, for a variety of stories that keep coming out of my family research, please visit My Blog at: