Michelle Barber cherishes handwritten letters from her family history, but there’s one in particular that has special meaning to her. It is a letter that her grandfather wrote to her grandmother before they were married.
The letter is brief and reads, “Sorry, we didn’t get the car fixed today. So I guess I can’t come up. Sure would like to see you. Well, must get busy.”
Barber’s grandmother received this message from her husband-to-be just a day or two before they were to get married.
Although everything worked out and her grandparents were able to be married as planned, Barber can’t help but smile every time she reads this letter.
“I’m surprised (my grandfather) even took the time to write this,” she said with a laugh. “(This letter) began a beautiful love story between those two.”
Barber, who works for FamilySearch, spoke about “the beauty that is in family history” and the importance of preserving personal history in an increasingly technological world during a Feb. 10 session of the RootsTech family history and technology conference.
“Don’t just document, preserve,” she said. “Every single one of you has a beautiful story to share and be told. How sad would it be to have it be lost? Preserve with a purpose, preserve from you heart.”
Barber’s grandmother recently celebrated her 100th birthday, and her family put together a slide show of pictures and videos from the celebration, documenting the games, the food and the people.
“I love technology for doing that,” Barber said. “But what can technology not automate? No future technology will be able to get inside my heart and unpack it for me. You can’t be automated.”
She encouraged her listeners to discover their voice and share it with others. In a world dominated by “Facebook-worthy” posts, Barber said it becomes easy to “glamorize” history, only posting thoughts and pictures that portray the ideal and are catered to a large audience.
Barber said it is even more important to record and share the experiences that are of personal significance. A variety of mobile apps and social media sites can provide a forum for this, but she cautioned listeners to be safe in their use of technology as some apps are short-lived, and others, such as Snapchat, make it extremely hard to capture and preserve moments, she said.
"If it’s on Facebook, is it preserved?” Barber asked her audience members to consider. “We all document, but where is it? Is it being saved?”
Although Barber values the traditional communication of letter writing that is an important part of her family history, she said that this tradition does still exist today, only it comes in the form of daily text messages and emails that carry many conversations and stories.
“We are all sending letters,” she said. “Don’t let things get lost in cyberspace. This is the voice I’m afraid we’re losing.”
She told listeners to take screenshots of their messages and to copy and paste conversations into online journals or apps as a means of preserving and keeping their voices alive.
She advised to find the apps and technology that works best for them, and to be “purposeful in (their) preservation.”
It is the anecdotes and experiences that “add color” to life and make the work of family history so rewarding, Barber said. Without a record of personal history and stories, it becomes nearly impossible for future generations to “paint a picture” of their ancestors.