Hi there, it’s me Nate.
If you read the “Why we’re building JustFamily” post, you’ve read the story about the recording of my Grandpa Quigley singing “Home on the Range”. The disappearance of that recording was the original inspiration for building JustFamily.
Here’s the longer backstory for those of you that have found your way over here to the JustFamily team blog…
As I mentioned in the note on our About page, I sing “Home on the Range” to my kids at bedtime. They call it “The Cowboy Song”. That lullaby is a Quigley family tradition that started with my Grandpa Quigley. He was a Forest Ranger and he had a beautiful baritone voice. So when he’d sing us that song as young cousins it felt pretty authentic.
At Grandpa’s funeral several years ago someone played a recording of him singing “Home on the Range”. No one knew such a recording existed and it was a powerful moment for all of us who loved him. I immediately thought of my own children. I really wanted them to hear Grandpa sing that song. I felt like it would help connect them to their roots and make our little tradition that much more meaningful. But after calling all of my aunts and uncles and emailing a bunch of my cousins after the funeral I was convinced the recording was gone forever. No one knew who had brought the recording to the funeral and no one knew where it went afterwards. It literally disappeared.
Losing that recording really bothered me. It just felt terrible. Like our whole family had lost something absolutely priceless because we hadn’t worked hard enough to take care of it. My brother Morgan, a CS PhD at Stanford at the time, was just as upset about the loss as I was. So, almost as a way to fight back, we decided to build a web application we could use to make sure a loss like that would never happen again.
With help from a good friend Kiran Shah and a few other talented people we built out the very first prototype of JustFamily, although at the time we called it “Folkstory”. Right away we digitized several reel-to-reel recordings of Grandpa singing that we’d found at his home after the funeral. We uploaded those recordings to JustFamily and breathed a sigh of relief knowing they were now safely and soundly tucked away in the Amazon S3 Cloud.
We invited everyone on our family tree to join JustFamily. Everyone loved having access to those recordings of Grandpa singing and we loved knowing they were now safe. We didn’t have “Home on the Range” but at least we still had Grandpa’s voice. Soon a few of my cousins were uploading scanned copies of old photos I’d never seen before. Seeing all of those incredible memories getting collected together in a safe place where we could all share and enjoy them felt so good to me.
But it got even better. Miraculously, several years later the “Home on the Range” recording that started it all turned up again. As it turned out, my cousin Joanne had the recording all along. She suffered from a terminal disease and she was very close to Grandpa. She was incredibly tough and in spite of her own challenges she lived with my grandparents near the end of their lives and helped them both in so many ways. Joanne may have been the one who brought the recording to the funeral in the first place. In any case, she took it home with her afterwards and kept it safely in her room. When Joanne passed away my Aunt Clara found the tape in her things.
Clara remembered that a bunch of us had been looking for that recording, so she called her brother who lived nearby with the news. Tom collected and digitized the recording and up on JustFamily it went. I’ll never forget how I felt the night I gathered our kids around the computer on the other side of the country and clicked play. I just loved that my kids were able to hear Grandpa sing “The Cowboy Song” while they looked at a picture of him in his Forest Ranger uniform. I loved knowing that all of their cousins and all of my cousins could now remember Grandpa this way too.
Since then our family has collected lots of great memories at JustFamily, but this one will always be one of my favorites.