If someone asked you about your family history, would you know how your great grandparents met or what life was like for them growing up?
Chris Cummings’ mom was diagnosed with early-onset dementia when she was 48. He saw firsthand how a family member’s memories can slip away and impact families.
“My mom struggled with multiple sclerosis for many years before the dementia started,” says Cummings. “I took on the role of caregiver to her at a very early age. When she passed away in 2012, even though I spent endless hours with her, I realized there was so much I didn’t know but wanted to know about my mom, yet it was too late.”
While visiting his grandmother, Shirley, Cummings asked how her parents had fallen in love. She had no idea, which seemed odd since she knew all the family history.
“That question caused her to call her sister to see if she knew the answer,” Cummings says. “She did not. Grandmother went on to ask her brother, who did know. Apparently, my great grandfather, Sidney, was on a trip in Texas headed home to Louisiana when his car broke down in Jasper. He didn’t have enough money to get his car fixed so he got a job at the local five-and-dime. A few days later, my great grandmother Minnie walked in the store. They met, fell in love and got married.”
By asking a simple question, Cummings discovered an important piece of family history. This sent Cummings, who actually has a law degree, down a path that ultimately led him to launch greetingStory. He had already created Pass it Down, a digital storytelling platform. He shared his latest idea with genealogy experts about reinventing the greeting card to help families preserve treasured memories the old-fashioned way.
“Experts in the field were intrigued because there is this huge technology gap in families,” Cummings shares. “While people have videos, they often don’t have the written stories that make up their family history. Our concept was to help people capture family memories one greeting card at a time. We also know that loneliness and isolation are huge issues for the aging population. We believed we could use the greetings cards to bring families together and reduce the loneliness and isolation.”
Cummings and his wife married in November 2015. The next month, they moved to Chattanooga because they heard it was a great place to start a business. They raised money to build the company and went through the GIGTANK 365 accelerator for startups. They actually entered Miller Lite’s Tap The Future contest to find the most innovative company in the country, and they finished in the top six applicants out of more than 15,000 companies. The couple first presented Pass It Down in front of FUBU CEO and Shark Tank investor Daymond John at the semifinals in Atlanta and won. Although they did not ultimately win the contest, they walked away with $22,000 and used it to create greetingStory.
“We hope the cards will be the easiest way to sit down with a loved one or friend and spark a conversation about their life stories and help them record their stories,” Cummings says. “I have had so many people tell me how emotional it is to see their grandfather’s signature or that seeing their grandmother’s handwriting brings back so many memories. There is something very special about handwriting a story that is different from recording a video.”
The creatively-designed cards encourage loved ones to share important information. These sample questions offer a glimpse of what you can expect from them:
What do you want to be remembered for?
When is a time in your life when you had to make a stand?
What is a great lesson your parents taught you?
If you’re interested in preserving your family history, you can purchase a box of the cards and return envelopes to mail personally. You can also purchase a subscription and send one, two or four greeting cards per month. When your family member answers the questions and mails the cards back to you, you will be actively preserving your family history one card at a time. In the process, you can spread joy and connectedness as you invite your loved ones to share their unique stories. Future generations will benefit from it as well.
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 23, 2017.