#TBT Throwback Thursday: Social Media’s Celebration of the Past

#TBT Me during my archaeology days.  Genealogy is less dirty!

Me during my archaeology days. Genealogy is a lot less dirty (though I lost my great tan). #TBT

Have you seen the #TBT hashtag around the Internet?  It refers to Throwback Thursday, a weekly social media ritual where people post old photographs of themselves to their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr accounts.  Like most memes, it started amongst the younger set, but I’ve been amazed to see over the past year not only how it’s grown on Facebook to include even people in their 60s and 70s like my parents, but also how it has served as a jumping off point for great conversations about family history.  My mother and one of my cousins never miss a chance to post pictures of their now-grown kids as children, and I have one cousin in particular who takes #TBT so seriously that she’ll message us days in advance to let us know when she’s dug out a particularly good picture she doesn’t want us to miss.  The fabulous photos she posts always kick off long conversations with relatives sharing their memories of our family’s past.


A favorite #TBT showing my mother (the flasher) with her cousins.  Three of these kids (including the one who appears to have wet himself) were tagged in this picture when it was posted to Facebook, and they started a wonderful conversation with their children reminiscing about times gone by.

Thanks to Throwback Thursday I’m getting to see old photographs I would have never seen and to overhear family history conversations that wouldn’t have otherwise happened, but the best part is — I’m not the one kicking off these conversations!

Fifty years before Facebook, my family had a club!  (Source:  Pittsburgh Jewish Criterion, 1/14/1955)

Fifty years before Facebook, my family had a club! (Source: Pittsburgh Jewish Criterion, 1/14/1955)

When it comes to engaging your relatives in genealogy conversations, the trick is to approach them where they already are in ways that will feel familiar to them.   Tech industry watchers may lament the future for Facebook now that it’s become so multigenerational, but for those of us who are our families’ designated historians, it means that where we’ll find our relatives is Facebook, and what they’re doing there is looking at our pictures, commenting on them, and especially if they’re older, connecting with people from their past they don’t see otherwise.  More importantly, they’re also already posting their own pictures to Facebook.  In short, every aspect of Throwback Thursday is something already happening naturally with recent pictures.  You just need to shift the focus, from time-to-time, to the past!

Sixty years ago when my father’s family lived in the same place, they could organize monthly get-togethers and a newsletter, but today when there are hundreds of us with our pictures and memories scattered all over the world, Facebook is the easiest gathering place we have, and Throwback Thursday is the perfect way to take advantage of the virtual proximity to gently prod your family into a trip down memory lane.  If you’re not yet on the #TBT bandwagon, why don’t you give it a try?  Post an evocative photograph or a fascinating record, tag the family members most likely to be interested, and see what conversation develops.  Maybe you can even get #TBT to catch on so well in your family circle that in the future, it’s you commenting on one of your relative’s posts!

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