Capturing the Memories of a Lifetime

A place to store and share our stories

By Sue Baldani

We all have stories, but many of us don’t know how to capture and share them with family and friends. Many of us also wish that we knew more about our ancestors who have passed away.

“My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and I said to him, ‘I want to ask you questions about your life so your grandkids and great grandkids will have this information about their Grandpa Jack,’” says Elaine Schwartz. “We often don’t ask those questions while our relatives are alive, and then we have to depend on other people’s memories, and they’re not always right. They remember things with their own filters.”

Elaine, who came to know many interesting people in her work with the state, wanted to find a way for them and others to record and preserve their stories in a way that was sharable. “I was the community outreach director for the State of Kansas and the Department on Aging, and that’s when I realized that we didn’t have something available where people could write and share their life stories.”

In 2005, Elaine collaborated with her husband, Howard Schwartz, to develop Lasting Legacy Online, a totally free site. From her exhaustive research on how to write an autobiography, she was able to formulate 75 questions for people to answer.

“The one question I think is the most interesting is, ‘What is your earliest memory?’ Don’t think of pictures you’ve seen with you as a small child, but focus on what you actually remember. If you read my story, my first memory was of lightning when I was 3 years old and sleeping with my sister and being afraid.” She found that answering these questions in detail was very therapeutic.

“When I had to answer about the greatest accomplishment in my life, even though I had been a legislator and knew the governors and the high and mighty in the state, I answered that it was truly my family that was my most significant accomplishment,” she says.

Elaine also had the honor of interviewing her good friend, the late Chief Justice Kay McFarland. “Working with the chief on her story is really what made Lasting Legacy Online happen. She named me trustee of her estate, and one of the things I did was promote her story.” Since Elaine made the chief’s Lasting Legacy public, others are able to read about her fascinating life. Elaine and her husband have also made their stories public.

All the other stories are private, and the site utilizes the latest technology to protect this information. “We don’t even see the answers to their questions, because we want them to be private stories,” says Elaine. “Once they’re finished, they get a link, and they can then share that however they want.” The site also generates a QR code to use and share.

“Lasting Legacy Online is not only for people to write their own stories, but a way for them to capture those memories of the people they love before they die. It’s a beautiful thing. And if somebody has already written their life story, that document can be uploaded rather than going through the questions.”

Some of its users bestow their stories as gifts, while others, she says, are making them part of their trusts. “We have several financial institutions in Topeka that are using it with their clientele.”

Links can also be used for school reunions and/or any event where people would like to share their stories. “Whatever your age, it’s a great tool,” says Elaine.

To record your and your loved ones’ stories, sign up at https://lastinglegacyonline.com/.

Written for Topeka Lifestyle magazine in Kansas.

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