Are You Giving All Your Family History Just to Facebook?

Earlier this evening I was on Facebook and noticed that my cousin’s daughter was soon to open her mission call. They had set it up to open the letter at a set time to broadcast it via Periscope, a live video app that is tied to Twitter.

What a world we live in now, eh? Here I sat in my office in rural Northern Utah watching a live event on my phone that was taking place in Colorado.

I was amazed to see that I wasn’t the only person to join in the festivities in this way — there were dozens of people from all over the place who “tuned in” to see this little moment of family history.

Oh yeah….that’s what that was: family history.

We make history every day. And most of us dump much of what we do every day on Facebook.

I can go to my Facebook page every day and see what family in California are doing today. I see the travels of my friends from across the world. I look at their pictures and hear of their experiences.

I could probably tell you more about the weather in Australia than in my own backyard because I have a friend there who posts weather information every day. Dumb as that sounds, I actually have come to enjoy seeing what is happening half a world away down under every day.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m an Internet pioneer. My first web efforts date back to the early 1990s.

But I’m also in my fifties — and I’m just not as tied socially to all things online like my kids.

Yes, I use Facebook but not like they do. I rarely take pictures of my food, I never post selfies and Facebook is about as far as I go. Well, okay, I look in on Twitter maybe once a month.

But my kids are daily users not only of Facebook but also Instagram and SnapChat and Vine and YouTube and all manner of other types of social sites.

In fact, they are like so many of their peers — they spend so much face time with a screen they sometimes don’t know how to handle face time with a person.

What does all this have to do with family history?

Just as the way we interact with each other has changed so too has the way we archive our own history. Not many keep private journals any more. Few have actual hold-in-your-hand pictures. Everything is online and much of it is embedded in social media such as Facebook.

In many ways, it’s wonderful. My mother-in-law interacting on an almost daily basis with my children thrills me. Their sharing one-on-one and instantly with others is great. In this way, even at a distance, more family can get to know each other in real time. We are indeed in a blessed time.

But there is a downside to all this convenience and all this data that is instantly shared: it is rarely, if ever archived and it is never organized.

You can see it now but can you find it later? And will you even try?

The fact that you can instantly update the world from your phone while you are on the go conditions you to only deal with your data in that way. But before long it is gone — long replaced by whatever came next, never to be seen again.

I was teaching at a Family History Fair a few months back and a young person told me that all her video and images were always there and available to her — instantly retrievable. I had her pull out her phone and attempt to bring back a picture from just last summer. She couldn’t do it.

In the moment — social media is great. But getting a record of it all that you can use for family history isn’t exactly easy.

Now, there are tools. You can actually order books of your Facebook feed. There are web services out there, if you want to pay for them, that can help you archive your social media activity. And maybe indeed, 150 years from now, our 22nd century family can look back on it all through the magic of their technology. Will that be how family history is done?

I hope you don’t leave all your family history in the hands of Facebook. I hope you gather your own stuff, organize it and share your story in your own words. It is okay — in fact, probably preferable — that you use all available technology. If history is any indicator technology will advance to present it in another way anyway.

Think about it. 100 years ago all records were kept on paper, most of it handwritten. At some point it was stored for a long time and then retrieved to be photographed and put on microfilm. Now those microfilms have been digitized — and we view what was originally on paper here on a screen. Chances are these very words 150 years from now will be presented differently than we see them now.

So don’t get hung up on the technology. Get hung up instead on your content. It is your story. Do you want it presented to your future family by the likes of Facebook? Or would you rather present it yourself?

Jeff Westover
Jeff Westover

Husband, father, Latter-day Saint, 11th generation American, and web geek currently residing in Smithfield, Utah. Please visit my website at

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