Junior Andy Siegel never met his grandfather, but knows from his father’s many stories that everyone in his small Pennsylvania town would go to him whenever they needed anything.
Siegel is now helping others pass down family stories in a more lasting way: by preserving them on social media. This semester, the junior will help launch a company called eGenShare, a website that helps families remember the lessons and values from previous generations by sharing them online.
Families can create pages for their deceased loved ones and share stories and photos with other members. Users can also record their own “video wills,” participate in group chats using the “family room” feature and set family reminders.
Siegel said he hopes to ease older generations into social networking, which can turn off some older adults because they perceive it as superficial.
“The notion that you can create and share this living legacy for yourself in a private and meaningful way is so intuitive and natural, but it hasn’t been done,” Siegel said.
Siegel said one of his most formative experiences when deciding to start eGenShare was the ethical will – or a collection of stories and expressions – that he wrote for his best friend’s grandfather after he died.
“Each of the family quoted a piece of the will that they had not known about him at the funeral. It says it all, really speaking to the power of the document itself. That is something I will never forget,” Siegel said.
Siegel, the company’s chief executive officer, said he and Pennsylvania State University junior and longtime friend Spencer Balkin came up with the idea after years of volunteering in nursing centers.
Siegel first began volunteering with the elderly when he was 13, and spent the next seven years helping to manage a nonprofit called Lesson of a Lifetime, which was dedicated to providing ethical wills, hospice and palliative care for senior citizens.
“The generation that are in these facilities have been the backbone of which our parents and we are living, and neglecting their experiences, that would be a real loss to our generation,” Siegel said.
Siegel and Balkin have spent a year and a half training themselves in entrepreneurship, design and management, and have paid for most of their project themselves.
Siegel, a human services major, also works at the Smithsonian and GW Hospital, and is a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.
He said he believes it’s crucial to preserve memories from older generations, which would otherwise be lost after their passing.
“To share the people who were most important, to share the experiences they’ve had, is extraordinarily gratifying because often there are so many things their family doesn’t know about them. It allows the family to know them in a positive light,” Siegel said.