• A great gift of the Internet is its use as a research tool.

    For the past year or so, I have been working on a manuscript that chronicles a period of my childhood, populated with an intriguing array of characters who were largely the summertime friends of my late father.

    The work is a form of memoir, and the people I am writing about are real people. The freedom I give myself as a writer in this particular project may depend, in part, on whether or not these characters are living or dead.

    One of the seminal subjects in the book is the woman who ultimately became my sister-in-law. First married (and divorced) when I was still in my teens, I have had little contact with my first husband or his family since we separated 40 years ago.

    He remarried, someone who’d been a friend of ours when we were a couple, and they had two lovely daughters. He maintained a profound love for animals and nature and was widely respected by his friends and extended family.

    How do I know all this about him? Searching for traces of my past on Facebook a few years ago, I came across his profile. Not a big social media guy, his feed consisted mostly of pictures of his wife and daughters, his dogs and ranch, and warm birthday wishes from friends.

    I decided his Facebook feed would be a good place to start my current search – to find out whatever I could about what became of his sister.

    Revisiting his feed, I was saddened to find his profile titled, Remembering. His name was Theodore, but everybody called him Tom. He was 63 when he passed, still young by my measuring stick. He died two years ago, but his profile can be found, and condolences or memories shared there.

    Facebook offers a legacy service that enables an official legacy contact (or a friend or family member with suitable proof) to change a personal profile to a legacy profile if the account holder is dead. I am grateful for this service. It signals an awareness on the part of Facebook of the need to find a way to respectfully deal with the pages and profiles of the deceased.

    In this case, having not been a part of each other’s lives for decades, it is unlikely that I would have been notified of Tom’s passing. Had his profile not been memorialized, I may have sent a potentially upsetting message to his account. For all I know, his daughters may not even know I exist.

    Knowing about his death not only closes a chapter of my personal life, but as a researching writer, it gave me much-needed information without questions from a stranger adding to the family’s grief.

    Googling Tom’s obituary, I found that, indeed, his sister had predeceased him. Further searching uncovered where she lived at the end of her life, and the nature of her death.

    I also rediscovered something I already knew—Tom was a good man, who is lovingly remembered, online and off.

    Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article first appeared in the Maple Ridge News.