So it’s come to this. I knew I would be sad that MyFamily.com was retiring today, but I had no idea how sad I would actually be when it was no longer available. I felt like I had lost a good friend; even got teary a little. Sounds crazy, I know, but I was online looking at the site, archiving some of the pages and photos that I thought I would always have access to, like a good book on a snowy night or like getting a phone call from a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years… I know they’re always there and there’s comfort in that, even if we don’t speak on a daily basis.
A decade ago, in the summer of 2004, our niece started our own MyFamily.com website. We had begun our 3-year, temporary stay in Massachusetts… 14 years prior, in 1990. We moved here a year after Mark’s dad died; a year after I’d graduated from college and given birth to our third baby three days later. Mark loaded up the truck one week after my dad died and one day after he’d defended his Ph.D. thesis, and he headed out east to start his post-doc less than one week after my dad’s funeral. A few weeks later he flew back for one of our niece’s wedding and we drove out together as a family after the wedding. We had three little kids and we moved far away from any of our family; but it was okay; we were only going to be gone for 3 years, and then we would move back before our nieces graduated from high school.
Life has a funny way of marching on in spite of our best-laid plans, doesn’t it? We loved those three years… we explored like tourists because we were only going to live on the East Coast for three years. We had a lot of company because we were only going to live here for three years. We wrote a lot of letters because…. well, you know why. We traveled back to Minnesota each of the next two summers, and the kids and I stayed for several weeks at a time. It was kind of like the Promised Land to us. Everyone there—all our relatives—saw each other on a regular basis and we missed out on all the good times that happened when we weren’t there.
The third summer was when we should have moved back, should have moved home. Only at that time, there weren’t jobs for physicists in Minnesota. We didn’t make it to Minnesota that summer. Instead, we had another baby and gave her a New England name because she was our only New England baby (born in Quincy… we named her Abigail, after Abigail Adams). Two months later, we moved again… west, to Western Massachusetts. Which became our home away from home.
We met more people in the first two weeks of living here than we ever met where we had lived the previous three years. In the eastern part of the state, we had one family we grew close to… and other than that, we hung out with our babysitters; a family of seven kids, with the youngest six being girls… five of whom lived at home. It was awesome.
Only for several years I didn’t feel “settled.” Our kids didn’t feel “settled.” It still felt temporary to me, and it did for many years. Until one day I can still remember thinking, “I can’t live like this anymore. I have to plant roots.” And I spent several weeks planting shrubs and landscaping our backyard. For the first time – probably since I had been a teenager – I felt like I was at home. I didn’t feel like a visitor in my hometown.
Yet I still had an unsettled feeling, like whenever I was here I felt like I wanted to be in Minnesota… and whenever we were in Minnesota, I felt like I missed being home. Mark looks at it much more as a benefit-finder, like “how lucky we are to have two places we can call home!” But for me, I felt like a part of my heart was left in whichever place I wasn’t. I think that’s what happens when you’ve lived in more than one place, which in this day and age, is most of us.
And then Kari started our MyFamily.com site in 2004, and suddenly we didn’t feel so far away. It was the year our oldest daughter graduated from high school and moved (where else?) to Minnesota. We had discussions on the site that felt like we were a part of the action again! We laughed a lot and teased even more… we shared joy and sorrow and relished being together, even virtually. We didn’t feel so alone, and it was wonderful.
If Mark or I traveled, we could check in on the family site from anywhere in the world. It became our archive for family stories, for family history, for family photos. It. Was. Wonderful.
And then Facebook began. And it had an app for phones, which made it easier to upload photos, so gradually, family members started using Facebook. At first, many of us (older ones!) resisted because we loved the privacy of MyFamily.com. Topics were easy to search. And then more and more of us—myself included—started to use Facebook. And it was cool how easy it was to use, especially on our phones. And gradually MyFamily.com withered for our family.
A few months ago, we received an email from MyFamily.com saying that the site was going to retire on September 30, 2014. That they were going to focus their efforts on their product Ancestory.com. While I’ve no doubt this is true, we all knew it ended because of Facebook.
So then it was a matter of “Now what?” How do we archive all this wonderful family material that had been collected for a decade, collected in a place that we thought was perfect for archiving all our family history? Summer was a busy time with other work projects, so archiving wasn’t an option for me at that time. But as the retirement date grew closer and closer, I started to pay more attention to what was on the site.
MyFamily.com gave an option for downloading material, but to a non-techno person like me it didn’t make that much sense. My understanding is that we could download photos and the items that we had created files for… but that all the news threads, the wonderful discussions that we had participated in for over 10 years, would disappear. I think if we had updated several years ago to the 2.0 version, we might have been able to salvage more of our material, but we had checked out the 2.0 site and didn’t like it nearly as much as the 1.0 site.
So for the past month or so, I’ve been downloading what I can, when I can. I’ve always known I’m a collector or stuff, but I didn’t realize I was a collector of words. Kari had put together a recipe book of our favorite recipes from the first five years or so of the site, and she had put together a family memories book from early on as well, for which I am forever grateful. But what about the jokes? And the teasing? And the love of family? Truly, the love of family that is unlike anything I have ever been a part of, unlike anything I have ever experienced before. You see, this is the family I married into, and I love them all nearly as much as I love my husband, children, and grandchildren.
Yes, I love my family of origin as well, but it’s different. Expressing love for one another wasn’t a usual, habitual thing. We’ve gotten better over the years, but it’s on a much smaller scale, both in expression of love and in the sheer number of people, for there are only three of us (not counting my husband and our kids and grandkids); my sister, brother, and me. This MyFamily.com site was for Mark’s mom, and all her descendants: her seven direct descendants, their spouses, all their kids (there are 25 grandkids), all their kids’ spouses, all their grandkids (I’ve lost count… more than 50? Total guess here), all their grandkids’ spouses, and now all their grandkids’ kids.
When our kids were little, they remember talking about family reunions with their friends. Their friends would say, begrudgingly, “Oh, we have to go to a family reunion this weekend…,” bemoaning the fact that they had to go, whereas our kids would say, “YAAAAY!! WE GET TO GO TO A FAMILY REUNION THIS WEEKEND!!!!!!!” And that same spirit engulfed our MyFamily site.
As the month of September drew to a close, I realized I wouldn’t be able to archive all that I wanted to save. There just wasn’t enough time. I knew the site was retiring on September 30, 2014, so I figured I had that whole day.
I met a friend for tea this morning who will be moving to Australia soon. She’s been scanning photos and other memorabilia from her past digitally so she would be able to take them with her without “having” the actual object, much like the project that I had been frantically working on with our family site. She commented to me this morning how much fun it’s been to go through the memories; things she’d forgotten about and was happy to come across again. I could totally relate to this, because I’ve felt much the same way. She also said how freeing it feels to be letting go of the stuff itself; a lesson that I think I’ve needed to learn for quite a while now; my whole life, actually.
I’m a sentimental person who holds onto stuff. Those of you who know me personally know this about me. I’ve heard it said that stuff comes into our life at a time when we need it, and that holding onto it for too long can make us feel stuck; like we’re holding onto the past. Letting go of stuff can actually be cathartic, and can help us move forward, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. I believe this to be true to some extent, yet have difficulty of letting go of certain things.
So this afternoon at 1:30pm EDT, while I was archiving some more of the MyFamily.com site, I hit the back button to go to the next item (BTW, I wasn’t saving everything; there wasn’t time for that. I was just saving those items that were most important to me; old family photos, funny sayings our kids had said… ten years of archives!). When I hit the back button, a page came up that said, “Sadly, MyFamily.com has retired.”
WHAT?? It’s only 1:30 in the afternoon!! I thought I had till midnight!! That’s 10 ½ hours early!! I’m not done!! I have more to do!! I wasn’t going to work till midnight, but I have a few hours more I want to do! I’m not ready… I’m not ready… I’m not ready…
I was amazed how panicky I felt. It’s embarrassing to admit this. It’s just a website. But it was so much more than that. It was our family’s connection to, well… our family. Mark has said many times over the years, “It saved our lives.”
I sent a thank you email to MyFamily.com, with a small plea to have till midnight tonight. I keep checking, except now when I click on the “back” button, it just repeats the “Sadly, MyFamily.com has retired.”
In a strange way, it kinda feels like a death in the family. I say that with no disrespect; I’ve experienced a death in the family—more than one even—and I know that this isn’t like that. It’s not a person. It’s not tangible. It can’t be hugged or kissed or share a laugh or other emotions with. But it made it possible for our family to be connected, and it makes me sad that what made that possible for us for 10 years is no longer with us.
And it happened so abruptly like death sometimes does. Yesterday I drove to a presentation in the eastern part of the state and I ended up in stopped traffic on Route 2. I ended up turning around and taking an alternate route to get to my meeting. I read today that there had been a head-on collision and one person had been killed. I thought about those families whose lives—in an instant—had been changed forever. No matter how much you plan for it, it can sometimes hit you like that.
And perhaps that’s my lesson: the impermanence of life. Sometimes you can plan for it; other times not. We don’t always get to choose.
Thank you, MyFamily.com, for the past 10 years. It’s been quite a ride and we so appreciate your being there for us. We wish it could have been forever.