How to hire a house historian

So you’ve decided to enlist some help when it comes to researching your home’s history, and want to hire a house historian.

Surprisingly, house historians — in the purest sense of the phrase — are not as prevalent as you might think. Houstory (fittingly pronounced “House-Story”), has been around several years now (since 2007), and we’ve made it our business to track down a growing collection of house historians to add to the company’s house historian search engine.

house historian, hiring

 

These are individuals we have entrusted to help owners of our product, The Home History Book archival journal, fill in the details of their home’s past. For real estate agents seeking a unique closing gift, or bed and breakfasts trying to share their historic property’s background, time is often of the essence and help researching this history is well worth the cost.

A house historian can be employed to write your entire home history, track down just your old tax records, find information about a particular owner — or something in between. Before you hire a home historian, do your research. The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) have developed a handy checklist for the hiring process, as has historian Dan Curtis.

Are you a house historian? Or maybe you’ve worked with one you can recommend? We’d love to connect with you. Leave a short comment, send an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, or say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet.

Houstory Deals of the Month: April 2014

Once per month here at The Houstory Hearth, we are giving the Houstory Nation a chance to save big on our product line. Each of the two monthly discounts will represent our two product lines: The Home History Book archival journal, and The Heirloom Registry.

For serious family historians, house historians, real estate agents, bed and breakfast owners, antique dealers, and family heirloom aficionados, the “Houstory Deals of the Month” should be a regular stop on your online itinerary. Make sure to stop by on the second Wednesday of every month to find out what the latest deals are.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a short comment, send an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, or say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet.

 

Heirloom Registry, Premium Labels, deal of month

Home History Book Deluxe archival journal, deals of the month, Mahogany Classic

Share your family heirloom stories with the Houstory Nation

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history bookSo, a little more than a year ago, I made this video you see posted. It tells the story of a very simple lamp. If you saw this gadget in person, you may think it was nice enough, but you wouldn’t know anything else about it.

It’s not old. It’s not particularly fancy. But it symbolizes an experience  – living abroad in Taiwan as an English teacher — that I think was very important to my life story. This brief tenure (2002-2005) helped to shape a lot of who I am, and how I see the world. For me, it’s a family heirloom.

However, if you saw the lamp, you wouldn’t know that — unless you found its Heirloom Registry registration number, displayed on its underside. Then you’d realize that within my world, this hunk of metal means a lot to me. And because of this significance, it will likely have some meaning to my descendants, whether now or 75 years from now when I’m most likely LONG gone (unless they develop some sort of amazing everlasting life serum. On a related note, where is Steve Guttenberg?)

Its story is safe and intact even if I’m not. For just a moment, I want you to imagine the power of finding an actual item (family heirloom) that once belonged to a long-since-departed relative. As a family historian, I would consider that a gift from the great beyond, and a powerful bridge to the past. By registering an item online and printing out its registration certificate off-line,  I’m trying to do the same for my heirs today.

I don’t have a lot I want to pass on to the future, but the things that truly matter…I’ve registered them safely with the Heirloom Registry.

So, my question to you, Houstory Nation, is this: Have you registered the stories that matter to you? We ALL have at least a few objects that hold more than face value. Take a look around your house tonight. If you were not here tomorrow, would anyone know what these objects symbolized in your life?

Let us know what matters to you. We’d love to share your stories, and you can help us inspire others to save these stories from disappearing forever. Leave a short comment, send an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, or say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet.

 

Junk vs family heirloom: How do you determine?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

This week, I’d like to open up the floor to ask the question: How do you filter the clutter from the keepsakes?

I’ve seen this topic posted many times around online family heirloom communities, most recently in December in Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. (On a VERY related note, check out the Family Curator blog after you read this article. Denise Levenick has lots of great tips related to this).

For me, growing up as an Air Force brat, I moved three times. Compared to the transient nature of my four other brothers -— and particularly my oldest brother (and Houstory founder) Mike — this was nothing. He’s lived in more than a half dozen states.

My list was short: Alabama, Alaska, Washington state, done.

Since then, I’ve made up for lost time, living in a variety of places throughout the country and in Asia. Because of the lifestyle my wife and I have chosen (constant travel, shallow roots), moving has been both an expectation and a challenge.

However, one thing we both have no interest in is accumulating a lot of stuff. Our life plan is to move every few years, dabbling with new experiences and new locales. The last thing we desire is a bunch of items we don’t really need, want or have room for in the moving pod.

clutter, keepsake, family heirloom houstory, heirloom registry

Take a picture of your little “items.” This will save space, but the memories will be intact.

This has been a constant challenge because I’m the sentimental type, and a big fan of nostalgia. Every time we re-visit a town where we have lived, I have to go back and see the “old apartment,” or check out the corner grocery store where we shopped. My wife? Not so much. I’m the same way — to a degree — with my personal possessions. Particularly the ones with stories.

But even I have limits. You can only fill so many shoeboxes with knick-knacks before you have to say “enough is enough.” The main reason I like to preserve items is because they trigger memories (and I have a HORRIBLE memory), which explains why I was one of the founders of The Heirloom Registry. The true value in family heirlooms, in my opinion, are the stories they are associated with and the family history they help to draw forth.

So, what to do? One little trick I’ve turned to is taking pictures of things I don’t really have room for, but still want to remember. This saves space, but also keeps my  sad excuse for a memory from failing.

What do you do to save space? Do you even have this problem? Give others Houstorians who may be drowning in possessions advice!

House history: 11 tips to research a home’s interior

Our last house history post examined the “Top 12 House History Research Supplies” for house historians, or “houstorians,” as we like to refer them. This week, we will take a peek inside at what it takes to learn about a home’s interior history. 

Facelifts: Try to notice alterations, such as mixed materials or material scarring that may indicate structural deletions. Finding this evidence can be challenging for Houstorians – especially considering modern construction practices that make telling the difference between an original material and a substitute difficult.

house history, research, home interior

Notice the subtleties: Aside from more obvious modifications – such as new room additions – focus on more minor clues, such as signs of wallpaper replacement. This kind of detail may help indicate a room’s previous use.

Get familiar with interior design trends relating to your home’s beginnings: Houstorians should try to research interior design, using books and older publications, such as magazines and newspaper advertisements, if applicable. For example, advertisements may provide insight into a variety of interior-design issues, ranging from costs of materials and goods to appliances, heating and cooling systems.

Line things up: To get a full picture of a houstory, take a bird’s eye view of how your home’s rooms are laid out. Are the dominant line features curving, horizontal, or are they vertical? For example, many 18th- and 19th-century rooms emphasize vertical design by utilizing high ceilings, towering windows and oversized doors, whereas other styles may have more rounded features.

House plan books: These types of books have been around since the mid 1800s. They contain sketches or photos of homes, complete with floor plans – which can be invaluable from a Houstory perspective. Homeowners would simply send away for blueprints, and give them to their builders to construct. Libraries and some larger bookstores may have copies of the original books. Newspapers — and perhaps even some lumber companies, who produced the wood needed for homes — may also have the information. For example, from 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Company marketed and sold approximately 100,000 homes by catalog.

Get in there and get dirty: Get up close and personal with your walls – which may give clues to the timeframes of the building. Houstorians may have differing moldings in the same room for example, which may help to indicate modifications. Clues can be everywhere. For example, holes in walls may lead to observations about locations of paintings or lighting; unusual window shapes and sizes may help to clarify the locations of decorative windows.

Look at things in a different light: Original paint colors and wallpaper can be difficult to ascertain for Houstorians, as rooms can transform shades on a fairly regular basis. Often, outer fabrics – and sometimes even the wall itself – must be removed or disturbed to make these discoveries. However, sometimes – when walls are examined during various times of day in differing lighting conditions — different clues can become apparent.

Look to the pros: While you may be able to discover a lot on your own, paint chip removal should be done with extreme caution by Houstorians – not only in terms of home damage, but also information accuracy. Light, aging, pollution, glazes – all can alter the look of the paint. In many cases, professional conservators are needed for final evaluation.

Clues at your feet: Floors and floor coverings are often pages in the life story of your home. Details about furniture locations and room uses can be revealed to Houstorians by carefully examining floors for things like marks, burns, scars, and water damage. However, sanding, polishing and waxing floors – or replacing older carpet – can destroy or greatly compromise the accuracy of this information.

Apply your knowledge of appliances: Appliance styles – particularly in bathrooms, utility rooms and kitchens – can really help Houstorians gather valuable insight. These rooms are nearly always the first locations in a house to receive the latest and greatest in technology. Leftover clues, such as capped gas lines, electrical outlets, switches and lighting fixtures can also tell a tale.

Using public utilities: If permits are not available or accessible for some reason, public utility connection dates can help Houstorians to verify construction dates and potential improvements that may have occurred. Utility companies may have access to records and maps showing approximate times of when gas lines were laid, or electrical lines were put in place, for example.

For more on how to research your home’s history, and effective ways to make sure these stories are saved for the future, please visit www.homehistorybook.com.

Living obituary: When opportunity knocks for family history, answer the call

Editor’s note: The following post was taken from our monthly “Houstory Herald” newsletter. The article generated a good deal of conversation, so we felt it was appropriate to re-run it on our blog. Thanks.

 

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

We normally come out with the newsletter once per month, and — as some of you may have noticed — we didn’t have a February issue.

That’s because a lot has changed since I last wrote to you. I’m not sure if you remember the theme of my last piece. It was about the importance of writing a living obituary. In the article, I wrote about compiling information for an obit for my mother-in-law while she was still alive.

What I didn’t tell you is that I did the same thing for my father-in-law, Jim, the very same day. The reason I omitted this fact was because I didn’t quite complete the task. After an hour of life story conversation that often veered gloriously off path, we got to about 1975 (or when he was 25 years old) before we hung it up just before midnight.

living obituary, heirloom registry, houstory

Dan with Jim, being goofy – Christmas 2013

I’ll always kick myself for not pressing on further.

Exactly one week later, on Jan. 11, 2014, Jim unexpectedly passed away. He was just 63.

That hour, spent scribbling and questioning, is something I will cherish for all time.

Seven days after he died — and just 14 after sitting down with him — we had a service for him in a local bowling alley (his choice of venue, which I learned from our conversation). Much of the eulogy I gave — as well as ­­­the obituary I penned – was based on that 60-minute download.

I think you know where I’m going.

Stop. Sit with your loved ones. Talk. Record. Write down. Do it.

Before it’s too late. And don’t go to bed until you have it all.

RIP Jim. You will be remembered.

Three great ideas to reduce family heirloom clutter

For some, the equation is simple. Family heirloom = family clutter. This is understandable because, let’s face it, it can be a challenge to effectively — and attractively — keep and display the precious belongings that have been handed down to you.

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While we love family heirlooms, we do understand that being a “Family Curator” is a big responsibility. Case in point: you know that 135-year-old pickle passed down to you by your great-great-grandmother? Yeah, you know the one. How the heck do you display that?

Luckily over the past several years, we’ve kept our fingers on the pulse of what people are doing with their precious belongings, and we are going to share a few of these ideas with you.

Richmond Magazine’s R Home: “Embroidered memories: Sarah Wiley of Huger Embroidery stitches nostalgic keepsakes

Synopsis: “Sarah Wiley has found a way to celebrate and preserve … mementos through her embroidered designs.”

 

Sunset Magazine: “How to mix vintage treasures with your own upbeat style

Synopsis: “Be inventive. If you like the shape of an old piece, hold on to it until inspiration strikes.”

 

Making Lemonade Blog: Quick Ways to Display Heirlooms

Synopsis: “Here’s my advice when it comes to heirlooms: wrapped up in storage boxes, they don’t help anyone.  If you love something and it brings happy memories, find ways to display it so it honors those memories.”

 

The Heirloom Registry

Finally, as all of these folks point out, what good is displaying a family heirloom if no one knows why it’s significant? If you want to make sure its story lives on, we’ve got such an easy way to help. Without a story, a 135-year-old pickle is just a disgusting cucumber.

Do you have any clever ways to display family heirlooms? What are some of the unique heirlooms that you like to show off in your house? Do you feel pressure to display? Let the Houstory Nation know!

Top 12 House History Research Supplies

Researching your home’s history is a lot of fun, but you don’t want to be caught flat-footed if an opportunity to research and collect value information on your property presents itself. In an effort to help out our fellow “Houstorians,” we’ve come up with a list of the top 12 supplies for house history research.

House History Research

 

Notebook/laptop computer: To keep track of everything, of course.

Tape measurer: Try to have one on-hand at all times. Whether it comes to creating a map for your home, or measuring a room – accuracy is of paramount importance.

Camera: A picture is often worth a few thousand words.

Recording device: When conducting interviews, it is helpful to have a device on hand — whether it is a tape recorder or something more sophisticated, such as a digital recorder — that will allow you to record (with permission) the people you speak to along the way.

Large folder: During your research adventures, you’ll likely run across a slew of loose papers/documents that need a home. Eventually, many of these documents can be showcased in your Home History Book, but in the meantime, a folder will do.

Magnifying glass: Tiny print — common in the types of documents you will likely be examining, such as maps or government documents — can strain the eyes.

Tracing paper: For those times when you can’t copy some of the truly historic and fragile documents, or perhaps they are too large.

Pencil: Oftentimes, libraries and historical archives will not let you use a pen on the premises if the documents they house are too fragile or old.

Stapler: Keep the loose stuff organized.

Flashlight: The home historians sometimes has to follow the research trail to dark nooks and crannies in a home to dig up elusive information.

Sharp knife: Need a sample of wallpaper, or paint? This can help.

Mirror: If you are trying to explore hard-to-see areas, such as under an appliance or behind a wall – mirrors can be invaluable.

Is this list complete? What do you like to use when you research your home’s history? For more information on researching your house histories, visit www.homehistorybook.com

Holiday houses, holiday heirlooms

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory

A few weeks ago, we asked you to send in photos of your favorite holiday heirlooms, or smartly decorated holiday houses. The following is a sampling of a few submissions. If you want us to add a few more, simply e-mail photos to info (at) houstory.com, or post your image to our Facebook page.

christmas, holidays, family heirloom




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