Toronto women create app to help families preserve, record their stories

Anika Chabra and Jennifer Siripong founded Root and Seed as a way to create an "active heirloom." The app helps families have deeper conversations about their histories and ultimately record them.

Anika Chabra and Jennifer Siripong both saw a need to preserve their own family histories

Root & Seed app created by Toronto women helps families preserve stories

2 years ago
Duration 4:46
Toronto women Anika Chabra and Jennifer Siripong founded the Root & Seed app as a way to help users preserve and record family stories. The app provides conversation prompts to help people dig deeper into their memories through conversations.

It wasn't until the death of her mother that Sara Diament started thinking about how she would preserve her family history and Jewish culture.

"The responsibility sort of came on to me to sort of make sure that our traditions [were] preserved and we're honouring, ... what she would like us to do as part of our family," Diament told CBC Toronto.. 

While she had some knowledge, she says what she lost with her mother were the important life stories and memories. 

"It's hard because I don't have anything that I had captured," said Diament, a 41-year-old mom of three. "It's sad because sometimes I think to myself, I wish I would have asked her this question or I wish I would have known a little bit more what her childhood was like."

That's when Diament started using a phone app called Root & Seed. The app provides conversation prompts to help people dig deeper into their family stories and memories through conversations. It also allows users to record these conversations and save them on a personal profile. 

Jennifer Siripong, left, and Anika Chabra, right, co-founded Root & Seed as a way to help families have conversations that will preserve their stories and histories. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

She's been using the app to record the stories of her father, Joe Diament, so his memories don't get lost. The 78-year-old grandfather says telling his stories has been rewarding for him too. 

"I feel nostalgia in a way because I start to think about things that I haven't thought about recently ... And on the other hand, I'm glad that these things are preserved and not lost forever," he said.

"It's very good to know that the past is something that we always keep in mind, that this is our roots, where we came from. Unfortunately there's a lot of people who lose the connection to their roots. And [the app] will stop that from happening."

App allows families to dig deeper, founders say

The app was created by Anika Chabra and Jennifer Siripong. Both have experience in advertising and saw a need to reflect on and remember their own family histories. 

"I suddenly lost my mom and I was in a place of trying to figure out myself a little bit better ... I lost so much with her in an instant in a weekend, so many stories, so many recipes had been lost with her passing," Chabra said.

Sara Diament, seen here as a child in an undated photo with her mother, Renee Diament. (Sara Diament)

"So, what I ended up doing was actually asking my father to start writing a memoir because I didn't want to lose any  more. What I really wanted to do was make sure that I grasped onto those stories.". 

Chabra reached out to Siripong to start the app, and it just so happened the 39-year-old was on a similar journey. 

"It made me reflect on the fact that I didn't have that deep cultural understanding and upbringing ... I am mixed race. My mother is French, Irish, my father is Thai...and I am a mixed religion. I was raised Catholic but converted to Judaism after I got married," Siripong said.

Anika Chabra, left, with her mother. Chabra says the loss of her mother in an instant a few years ago helped her reflect on how much she lost. It prompted her to start Root & Seed as a way to help families document their histories. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

"So there's very little consistency in any of my cultural, geographic, religious background, and I always saw that as a reason to just move forward and move past it," she continued. 

"It made me realize that I really should be a little bit more introspective in the way I consider my own culture, especially since it's my responsibility to bring that to my children."

The two women founded Root & Seed as a way of helping families understand that their stories matter. 

"What we wanted to do was lay the foundation for people to start to think about these things," said Chabra.

"Many people don't think about their stories as being unique or special or interesting. But if you really dig deep, there's some interesting things that you can learn about yourself."

The phone app allows users to find conversation prompts under four specific categories: recipes, traditions, celebrations and stories. Then families can swipe through questions they can ask family members and take notes. They can also record the conversations. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

Siripong says having deep conversations with family can be hard sometimes and that's why the app provides conversation prompts under four categories: recipes, traditions, celebrations and stories. 

Once you choose the category, users can swipe through the cards to find key questions and choose whether they want to note down the answers or record the conversation. 

There are two ways into the app: one as an adult asking an adult a question or a child asking an adult a question. Once conversations are asked and recorded, they are stored in your personal profile or you can download the audio files. 

Siripong says so far, the feedback from early users of the app has been positive.

"They put in the active thought of asking the question to their mother, their aunt, their grandmother," she said.

"And once that happens, this wonderful bubble of experience and history opens up and a simple question can surface so much more than you realize, because your understanding of somebody's history is limited to what you've previously experienced."

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