Saving Family History with Tumblr

October 17, 2019 § 18 Comments

By Kat Fitzpatrick

I inherited hundreds of uncaptioned photos from my parents.

Though I have no desire to archive every moment of their lives, I do wish that some of those photos had been annotated to provide context, dimension, and color. Even something as simple as this would have been great:

July 16, 1976—Grandpa loved to fish. Sometimes it drove Grandma nuts. On this beautiful summer day in Seattle, she grabbed the pole to make fun of his style. He didn’t smoke, so the cigarette clenched in her teeth was all her. Shortly after this fishing expedition they went to a bicentennial celebration downtown—1976 was the two-hundred-year anniversary of our country, after all.

A caption like this may have lain in wait for years until someone opened the scrapbook, but it would have still been there, inked into history—a date, a setting, a personal glimpse. I can’t go back in time and magically inscribe such captions but there are ways to start now to capture memories as a gift for future generations.

Some may believe that we are already doing that with Instagram or Facebook. However, those posts tend to be quick entries aimed at our immediate and intimate audience. They already know a great deal about us so there is no need to provide any background information. For instance, if you were posting a current photo like the grandparent-fishing caper, you wouldn’t usually notate that Grandma smokes and Grandpa doesn’t—current family and friends don’t need to be reminded. But when considering generations to come, such details become relevant nuances we don’t want to leave out.

As I played with this idea of saving moments of history, I stumbled upon an easy and satisfying way to share them with others today and to preserve them for tomorrow: I keep a running blog of “Flash-Memoirs”—short social-media entries describing a photo, a clipping, or even just a memory based on an image I like.

With this practice I have preserved such stories as:

  • the time my mom nearly stole an ashtray from the Korean De-Militarized Zone (she ultimately bought it)
  • the way my pioneer ancestors patrolled their Idaho ranch on horseback
  • how my father, despite his long CIA career, believed that in the end, “it is the common people who call the shots.”

I would like to encourage you to take up this simple and streamlined way to preserve your family history. Here is my method in three steps:

  1. Choose a photo or a memory
  2. Write a short essay (200-400 words) including date and time, people inside and outside the immediate scene, setting, and some historical context if possible, e.g., it was the year of the bicentennial celebration.
  3. Upload to Instagram to be enjoyed by friends and family today…
  4. …and to Tumblr to archive for future generations.

It is easy to post to both places at the same time because Instagram has a “push” feature that can simultaneously post to the blogging site Tumblr. (This feature also allows you to post to Facebook and Twitter, if you so desire.)

In case you are not familiar with it, Tumblr (pronounced “tumbler”) is a social networking site for microblogging—short posts that can include text, images, video, audio, and links to other articles or sites. A Tumblr account can be public or kept private, a nice feature for those just wishing to archive and not to create additional social media interactions. My intention using Tumblr is not to attract more current readers, and I send only those flash-memoir posts to Tumblr because I want that “blog” to contain only my historical stories.

The advantages of posting my flash-memoirs to Instagram and Tumblr at the same time:

  1. Instagram allows for 400 words or less, so I must keep my entries succinct. Quite a discipline!
  2. By only archiving specific posts, I can go to my Tumblr site to scroll through family-history entries only—an easy walk down memory lane.
  3. Eventually I will use a service such as BlookUp or Blog2Print to transform my Tumblr into a printed book.

I love the idea that one day those bits of history I have captured will be available for my family to peruse on real live paper. If you heed my encouragement and save some history in this way too, we may just inspire some real old-fashioned social media interaction.


Kat Fitzpatrick, M.F.A, is a New York-based writer and artist who works with memoir, particularly her family history in Vietnam. Her work includes the The Fight to Write: What the Vietnam War Taught Me About Truth & Writing, and the humorous novel, Kat Manudu’s Holistic Advertising Agency. See her flash-memoir collection at or follow her on Instagram at kat_adventures22.

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