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Christmas 2012 / Shetland Past & Present

Shetland Past and Present, a Facebook phenomena

The past is the in thing at the moment – from telly programmes such as Who do you think you are?, where celebrities trace their ancestry under the gaze of the modern viewer, to magazines such as Family Tree that help you work out your genealogy – these days everybody wants to go back in time, to check out the history of their family, and find out where they come from. And nothing connects you with the past as immediately as a photograph.

When she set up her facebook page Shetland Past and Present, Linda Drewery had no idea that she was tapping into the zeitgeist. ‘I just wanted to find my relatives,’ she says from her home in Mid Yell ‘My mum was born in Scalloway and my gran was from Burra, but after my mum died I realised I had loads of relatives on Shetland, but knew very few of them.’

So Linda set up the page and invited a few friends to join, little knowing she was creating a phenomenon. By the end of the first week she was stunned to find she already had 500 members.and now, nearly a year on, 3,600 people regularly post and comment on pictures. What started as a method of connecting with relatives became a medium for people to share their old family photos, find out about their own history, and help others discover their past..So what is it that makes old photos so fascinating?

‘Some of the photos go way back to the 19th century,’ says Linda, ‘and people are spotting relatives in pictures, and are starting to dig really deep into their history and their ancestors. Also, we have visitors coming on from America, Canada and Australia – their folk emigrated and now they’re trying to find out about their roots.’

And as such these old photos make great mementos and gifts. With modern technology pictures can easily be transferred on to canvas prints, posters – even mugs and tea towels – in fact, just about anything that takes your fancy. It’s a great way to create a unique, personalised Christmas gift, whether for a newly rediscovered relative, for a friend who has moved abroad as a reminder of where they come from, or simply for someone fascinated by history.

‘Obviously we have to be careful about copyright issues,’ says Linda, ‘but I know that most members are more than happy to share their pictures. That’s the spirit of these pages – it’s like a big happy family, sharing and connecting.’

You can join the Facebook group by clicking here.