David Sawyer knows two very interesting things about his grandfather: he ran track fast enough to qualify for the Olympics and he once saved two men drowning at sea while working on a lobster boat.
But the details that would make those two events precious stories for generations to come were never shared. When Sawyer’s grandfather died, it was as if he died twice.
“Once when the physical body leaves this earth and twice when no one remembers who you were,” Sawyer told Cult of Mac. “No one should have to die that second time.”
The missing pieces motivated Sawyer to start TSOLife, a secure web-based service that lets people record the events of their life for sharing with family and friends long after they are gone. TSOLife is short for The Story Of Life and the easy-to-use website lets families record personal narratives in writing, photos, audio and video.
TSOLife is part of a movement to bring a tangible record to lives trapped in emails, texts and the camera rolls on smartphones. Collectively, we take millions of pictures every day and never print them out, which could potentially leave very little to show future generations.
Cult of Mac recently featured a new iOS photo-sharing app called everyStory, which allows users to record audio with photos they take or scan and save them to the cloud. On Instagram, Save Family Photos has been popular with people wanting to share an old photo and story from the past.
Sawyer, a senior at Stetson University in Florida, is already using TSOLife on his own story and is making sure other family members use it. But the real test of his website has been with World War II veterans, local nursing home residents and other families whose feedback has helped Sawer develop the simple tools to keep technology from being a barrier.
In one nursing home where Sawyer demonstrated TSOLife, two residents learned they were at the same battle in the Pacific for the Navy during World War II.
“I have such an emotional connection to this idea,” Sawyer said. “This is what I am supposed to do at this moment in my life. I’ve had to at times put school on hold.”
More than 400 people have recorded stories in TSOLife, Sawyer said.
The stories can remain private or be shared with many. Families interested in using TSOLIfe pay a one-time fee of $79 and are given the assurance that TSOLife will host the information forever.
For a separate fee, TSOLife will even help families record stories by offering the assistance of oral historians trained in guiding conversations to jog memories and bring forth detailed responses.
The Story of Life has received more than $100,000 in funding, including a successful Kickstarter campaign and prize money from winning three business competitions.
After Sawyer’s grandfather died, his grandmother soon passed and what he realized he didn’t know about both lives spurred him into action. He never wants to look at a gravestone and not remember who the person was.