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Preserving Family History

Posted Mar 19 2014 8:03am

StoryWorth was founded in late 2012 by Nick Baum, a San Francisco-based software engineer and product manager who left his job at Google in 2011 to pursue an entrepreneurial path. The idea began with a simple experiment. Mr. Baum built a service called Dear Robot that sent a daily text message to his smartphone asking how his day was going. His replies created what became a mini-diary.

“It was a very easy way to write a little bit every day,” said Mr. Baum, now 31.

This writing exercise reminded him of how, several years earlier, he had bought a book filled with questions about family history and childhood memories, with spaces for written responses. He had given it to his parents, hoping that they would use it to write stories he could share with his future children. Mr. Baum was especially curious to learn more about his father, Axel Baum, now 83, who was a naval officer before becoming an international lawyer. But his parents never wrote in the book.

Mr. Baum wondered whether sending them weekly queries by email instead, similar to the Dear Robot experiment, would be more effective. He tried it out, asking about their earliest memories in life, for instance, and their favorite childhood books. Breaking down the process this way got Mr. Baum’s parents to start writing.

Now, StoryWorth is one of a handful of new companies focused on emailing people to collect their family histories.  Although Mr. Baum didn’t set out to cater to an older group, StoryWorth’s most active users are in their 60s and 70s. This group tends to have time to reflect on the past, and its members are motivated to pass along their stories to grandchildren and other younger relatives.

“People from that generation don’t necessarily want to reconnect with their friends from middle school,” Mr. Baum said, referring to a common Facebook practice. “But talking to their family and having a real dialogue with them is really important.”

StoryWorth subscribers have generated more than 10,000 stories. The company charges an annual fee of $49, which covers up to six family members and includes an unlimited amount of data storage. Users can also upload their own audio files and photographs.

Source: The New York Times, March 16, 2014

This family history reminiscence of Margretta covers her young life up to her marriage in 1939.  Born during World War I when the Black Plague was circulating the globe and growing up during the Great Depression, as the only child of two career parents, her story resonates with today's children of full-time working parents who seek a better work/life integration.

The beginning of the Life of Margretta family history book:

"One of my grandsons asked me if I had remembered the covered wagons. I think it was Billy when I helped him with a school project.  He had decided to build a replica of Sir William Johnson's home in Johnstown, New York. Sir William (who received the only baronetcy ever granted on American soil) had come from England to make peace with the Indians. His home here was always open to the Indians and being finally accepted as their friend, later married a full-blooded Mohawk woman.

Grandson Billy and I made and painted Indian paper dolls to recreate the meetings that were held by Sir William with the Indians. A lot of work in that school project produced an "A" and Billy was asked if the school could use his project in future history class lessons.

While working with Billy, I had told him about my ancestors and how I was named after a Mohawk woman.  She was the child of a Mohawk Indian woman and a French fur trader named Hartell.  Her Indian name was Ots-tock and she married a Dutch fur trader named Cornelius van Slyck.  Ots-tock's son Jacques became one of the first settlers of Schnectady, New York and was an interpreter between the Indians and the settlers.  He owned a tavern at Washington Avenue and West Front Street.

I am a descendent of two of the daughters of Ots-tock; Susanna who married a Bratt (or Bradt) and Gertruy who married a Myndertse.  Ots-tock died on van Slyck Island in Schnectady and Jacques was given the patent of van Slyck Island by then Governor Stuyvesant in 1662.

My Aunt Minnie told me that she had asked my mother to include the name Margretta either in my first or middle name because Ots-took had been called Margretta after her marriage .... and the name had since been handed down from generation to generation. Being born in the twentieth century, it seems strange that there have been so many incidents in my life that relate to my Indian heritage." 

Cyrus Durey: Frontiersmen of the Adirondacks: Economic Development in Early North America   Cyrus Durey: Frontiersmen of the Adirondacks: Economic Development in Early North America

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The Life of Margretta


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