New Year’s Day 2021 marked the beginning of a family history experiment on Instagram. I had tried sharing family history before. I’ve emailed info, shared Google photo albums, texted info, shared my ancestry.com family trees, created a family history-related blog – nothing truly engaged my family.
Lessons from 2020
That was a tough year, wasn’t it? A frightening pandemic, hospitals filled beyond capacity, businesses and schools shut down, stay-at-home orders issued, an emotionally charged U.S. Presidential election. 2020 was frightening, exhausting, and important.
As the media continually impressed upon us the unpredictability of the COVID virus, that anyone over 65 was automatically within the at-risk category, and that no one could be assured of the outcome of contracting the virus, the uncertainty of the future became a carefully considered reality. We were at home, not running hither and yon with mindless and needless busyness. We were either at home or masked-up and cautiously socially distancing. To connect with the world and with one another, our dependency on technology and the media rocketed.
We attended virtual meetings, virtual conferences, video-chatted with family and friends. Our social feeds were flooded with information, opinions, anger, fear, facts, and fallacies. For many people, social media became a very uncomfortable place.
And yet, as the world struggled to stay connected through the months of social restrictions, we found ourselves increasingly reliant on social media. Our phones became a vital link to the outside world. We became virtually, digitally, connected in unprecedented ways.
With everything that was going on in the world, how did family history bubble to the top of my To Do list?
- I was at home and it was staring me straight in the eye. There were envelopes, boxes, and tubs of stuff I had never taken the time to sort, scan, and share.
- I bought a new computer and could not in good conscience transfer 1000’s of disorganized files onto the sparkling clean solid state drives.
My quest began with a desire to capture and organize family history info for preservation and retrieval. As I scanned, as I sorted, as I put genealogical data with family photos, stories began to emerge.
Is a story a story if it isn’t told?
I understand that family history and old family photos don’t interest everyone. I understand that a huge family tree is overwhelming. I understand that not everyone thrills with discoveries uncovered after investing hours of research. I understand.
The hidden secret of family history is that it isn’t just a collection of demographic facts. It’s not just a set of names, dates, and places. Family history is a set of stories. Those stories are a way to honor the folks who lived, loved, and from whom we are descended. Their lives are not irrelevant or insignificant. Their lives form the threads that have been woven by time into the tapestry of today.
I wanted my family to have the opportunity to engage with our family stories. There are a lot of wonderful platforms built for the purpose of collecting and sharing family history and photos but with so many previous failed attempts at sharing, which to choose?
Begin with the End in Mind
As 2020 came to a close, I clarified my mission. With a pencil, paper, and coffee (always coffee) in hand, I brainstormed. What did I want to accomplish? What was my desired outcome? Who was my target audience? What kind of time investment was reasonable? What would bring me satisfaction?
I decided to skip a generation. My generation kindly had tried to stifle their yawns. They tried to keep their eyes from rolling when I talked about family history. They feigned interest as I identified folks in antique photos. I had bored them enough. I decided that my target audience would be our children, nieces, and nephews. If a group of millennials is my target audience, how best to reach them?
Instead of inviting them into my world, I’ll take my world to them.
I was inspired by a circus in Louisville KY. When the pandemic forced closure, they took their show to the streets. You could arrange with the circus and they would bring their acts to your neighborhood for socially distanced parties and celebrations. The circus pivoted and delivered appropriately-sized personal parties to you. Why not do the same with a Family History Circus?
Inviting family to read blog posts or to scroll through my ancestry.com family tree didn’t work. So rather than creating another something that would require my target audience to take action to gain access, I decided to experiment with delivering appropriately-sized family history stories on a street they travel every single day: Instagram.
I just wanted to plant some seeds.
I enjoy Instagram. My first post was to @maymeeandpop on December 15, 2015. I was sharing photos from my personal life and before long fell head over heels in love with the aesthetic created by similarly styled photos.
Since family stories centered around family photos and since my target audience scrolls through Instagram daily, it seemed a worthwhile experiment. I decided to plant family history seeds on Instagram one square at a time – just like Square Foot Gardening – and see what happens.
Two hundred thirty seeds later, I am happy to report that there are seedlings breaking ground.
Not only are our children, nieces, and nephews engaging with these posts, but my generation has also engaged. Cousins are reading posts, seeing pictures. Conversations are being started, names and faces that previously were so distant as to be invisible are being brought home. The relevance of lives long past is being realized. The content is in their hands, the seeds planted in their hearts and minds.
As if that was not rewarding enough, I discovered a community of like-minded individuals on Instagram.
Before I started this quest, I had no idea there were so many genealogists, family history enthusiasts, photo scanning/sharing services utilizing the platform. What a delightful community they are. Every day, their posts inspire and encourage me. Feedback from my family thrills my heart and soul.
A story isn’t a story unless it is told and for now, Instagram is the entry point for our family’s history. The @artofrecollection experiment begun January 1, 2021, has proven itself successful. Stories are told. Photos shared.
So now what?
I have ideas for 2022. After a year of sowing family history seeds, one photo, and one Instagram square at a time, I have ideas about how to make this an even more enriching experience. This show will continue performing on the Instagram road, but I am envisioning the addition of a few sideshows and am always prepared for the need to pivot – just like that Louisville circus did.