Rachel LaCour Niesen was grieving the loss of her grandfather in 2013 when she posted a photo of him on Instagram to celebrate his legacy and asked family members to share their memories.
In a way, the celebration of him hasn’t ended, with more than 32,000 followers from around the globe contributing their cherished family photos and stories on the popular Instagram feed, SaveFamilyPhotos.
LaCour Niesen’s personal mission to help families celebrate and keep their stories alive has now branched out into a website and apps for iOS and Android called weGather.
The app and website let families share photos, then pass them on to other family members to build out the story that goes with the people and the moment in those square black-and-whites or fading color snapshots. weGather saves the photos and the stories — crucial metadata in today’s language — for future generations.
“We want to ensure that family photos never become anonymous artifacts in thrift stores,” LaCour Niesen told Cult of Mac. “Our belief is that family history is just as valuable as global history. And photos are a great way to trigger stories that bring family history to life.”
There are a number of websites and software offerings that families can use to digitize and archive old photos. Google just release its PhotoScan app and Cult of Mac last week gave a detailed review of Pic Scanner Gold, a solid smartphone tool to assist in building a digital archive.
We all have old photographs where the people in them are strangers, except for maybe a name and date scrawled in pencil on the back.
“Family photos are priceless, but without the stories behind them, their value is diminished,” she said. “Many of these stories live inside individuals’ memories — when they die, the stories die with them.
“That’s why weGather is designed to tap into the power of nostalgia. Families can collaborate to add memories to their old photos.”
LaCour Niesen and her husband and business partner, Andrew Niesen, are both photographers and tech consultants who split their time between New York and Atlanta.
The weGather name came from a conversation she had with a contributor to SaveFamilyPhotos, who asked her how it felt to bring so many people together through old photographs.
Immediately, she thought the experience is like a virtual campfire.
“To me, a campfire evokes memories of childhood storytelling, family reunions and summer camp adventures,” she said. “Campfires are all about gathering together with a group of people to talk and laugh and tell tales. [weGather is] like a campfire, a fun place for families to gather, to collect their stories and to preserve their history for future generations.”
The app is simple to use and lets you grab digital photos from Dropbox or your computer. You can also snap a picture of a picture. You then invite family and friends to share their stories.
The weGather website is an excellent resource on how best to preserve memories and curate the family story.
Between the Instagram feed and weGather, the project is shaping up to be a kind of visual version of National Public Radio’s Story Corp, a history that is told not by officials and newsmakers but by everyday people.
LaCour Niesen hopes to connect weGather with various family history services and family history libraries to create a permanent collection.
She usually spends her early mornings going through submissions for SaveFamilyPhotos and continues to be humbled by peoples’ willingness and need to share.
“I feel like I’m a steward of stories,” she said.