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Published February 18, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Family history made easy

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Have you ever lost a family member and lamented that “there are so many things I still wanted to ask?”

Or maybe you look at your kids and think “there are so many things I want to tell them.”

I know I have.

If you have, I received a Christmas gift from my daughter that may interest you.

It is an online service called StoryWorth, and it helps families preserve their history, one memory at a time.

StoryWorth is one of a handful of companies focused on enabling people to collect their family histories.

My daughter purchased a one-year subscription for $99. Once a week for 52 weeks I get questions to answer. My replies go to my daughter and are also stored on a website.

After the 52 weeks, the answers are put into book form. The service provides a list of questions from which to choose, but my daughter can ask her own questions. You can also add pictures and captions.

So far, I have answered questions about my grandparents, my first job, vacations I took as a kid, my favorite children’s books and my favorite classes in high school.

My daughter gave me the gift with a note saying it really was a gift for her and that she hoped it wouldn’t be too much work for me.
It hasn’t been.

Maybe that’s because I am getting up there in age. Maybe it is because I am a disabled retiree with time on his hands. Maybe it is because I am looking for something to do that is more constructive than reading Facebook.

Whatever the reason, I find StoryWorth both fun and rewarding. Each question brings a flood of memories. My daughter says she is learning new things about our family.

StoryWorth was founded in 2012 by Nick Baum, a software engineer and product manager who left his job at Google in 2011 to pursue an entrepreneurial path.

Baum had once purchased a book filled with questions about family history and childhood memories, with spaces for written responses. He had given the book to his parents in hopes they would use it to write stories he could share with his future children.

His parents never wrote in the book.

Baum told the New York Times he wondered whether sending them weekly queries by email would be more effective. It was. Baum’s parents started writing.

I find that using StoryWorth is more like having a conversation than facing the daunting task of writing a book.

One woman told the New York Times that StoryWorth “stimulates a part of the brain and memory that for me hadn’t been stimulated any other way before.”

Not surprisingly, most of StoryWorth’s users are, like me, in their 60s and 70s. I appreciate that the technology is simple and easy to use.

StoryWorth has competition in the memories business. StoryCorps and Saving Memories Forever are websites that will let you record interviews with family members of loved ones at any time. They are free, but don’t offer printed versions to pass down through generations.

FamilySearch Memories is a website that allows you to organize photos and documents into albums. It does produce a final product, but does not create a storybook.

In a time when there are so many forces tearing us apart, promoting a product that helps bring families together can’t be a bad thing.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)