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Seniors Series: Don't let family stories disappear

Website captures memories, preserves your legacy

Bill Levesque, 51, has a family photo taken when his oldest brother was about to start college and the four younger children were moving to Seoul, South Korea with their parents. His father was in the Army.

What interests Levesque about the photo is the realization that each of its subjects had different emotions at the moment the picture was shot: Bill was an adolescent, excited about the move; his brother was looking forward to college; their mother was harried by her responsibilities for the move plus was sad at leaving her oldest son.

To record family photographs and the stories behind them, Levesque has launched Timeshaker.com. Photos can be uploaded to the site, then other family members can pitch in with their memories and background information.

"Everybody can contribute stories and photos into the timeline. It's really easy to add information," Levesque explained at a recent Coffee and Conversation morning at the Pleasanton Senior Center.

"The big thing Timeshaker provides is context," he added. "It sheds a different kind of light on those pictures."

As family members and friends visit the site, it will trigger other memories, which can then be added.

Levesque emphasized the importance of capturing our stories for posterity.

"The basic idea is that everybody has stories," he said. "They seem concrete, but they only exist in our heads."

Which means, of course, that unless they are recorded somewhere, our stories may disappear.

"The photos all have stories but if I'm not there to tell the story, it's just a picture," he said.

The site includes a historical element of events, popular music, TV shows and more from the last century. Users can import these to the timelines of family members.

"You click on the music and it plays," Levesque said, so you can look at grandma's photo while listening to the music she probably enjoyed at the time.

"The context sheds a different kind of light on those pictures. It allows me to understand their perspective on the world a little," Levesque said.

He has three local museums onboard, including the Niles Film Museum and the Museum of the San Ramon Valley with their photos and events. Users can import a photo of the opening of Interstate 680 in the 1960s, which surely impacted lives around here.

Levesque always saw the importance of preserving his own legacy.

"Before grandpa died, I set up a video camera and he told stories," Levesque said. "I will play it for my children."

"Timeshaker is a way to bring it all together," he continued. "I can combine the story of my life and my parents' life with history.

"You put in the personal information and then you can grab the public information."

Also, siblings who may have been separated when one moved away can become reacquainted online as they contribute to the timeline.

"It's a way to bring family members back together," Levesque said.

The website is free to users, and Levesque offered his help setting up a timeline.

"The website is financed through advertising but no information is shared," he said. "We are doing everything with sponsors."

Contact Levesque at (415) 816-9661 or email BillLevesque@timeshaker.com.

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