Happy Birthday Houstory!

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder/President

So I’m filling in this month as my brother Dan takes a well-earned summer break from the Herd.

Dan will return in the fall to remind you that you’re going to die — yes, it could be next week — and yes, a living obituary is a wonderful idea and loving gift for those you leave behind.

[Shameless Promotion: So is snapping a few pics with your smart phone and spending 15 minutes with your dad while he tells you the story of that interesting knick-knack that has sat on his shelf for as long as you can remember. It’s a part of his life and he’s around to tell you about it now. (Do it. Just do it!. We’ll even give you a free registration to get you started.) That is all.]

houstory, heirloom registry, birthday, home history book


As substitute editor, however, I thought I would take a break from Dan’s healthy and important DeathTalk to do a little celebrating.

Yes, Houstory officially turned 8 years old in June. Unofficially, we’re closer to 9 years old as the company was actually “born” the night of October 29, 2006. (In my my hot tub. Keep reading for details….)

houstory, heirloom registry, home history book, birthday

It has been quite the ride. Quite the ride indeed. Marked, most recently, with my hand-delivering one of our Premier Home History books – one of just a handful handcrafted by the oldest custom bindery in America — to The Playboy Mansion, one of most famous homes on the planet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…. Let’s start from the very beginning. It’s a very fine place to start.

The Story of Houstory (or “The Path to the Mansion.”)

If I’m going to really start at the beginning, the story of Houstory probably began when I was born into a military family. My dad was a career Air Force pilot. Which made me a career military brat.

I lived in ten different cities, 12 houses and attended nine different schools before graduating high school in Alaska in 1982. When you ask me the very simple, “So where is home?” like many brats, you sort of stump me. (Although, I pretty much always say Alaska — for the “rugged exotic” factor….)

Having such fluid roots is probably why selling our first house — a place  I’d spent more time — by far — than anyplace else I’d ever called home — made such a big impression on me.

Between finishing law school, landing our first long-term jobs, discovering our new city and neighbors, getting a dog/child (that’s one entity, not two), followed, of course, by raising our two human daughters during the decade-plus we lived there, much wonderful family history happened in that same small, unassuming townhouse, outside Washington, DC.

Our Home:  The Inspiration for Houstory

Our Home: The Inspiration for Houstory

I remember in the spring of 2003, as my wife and I closed the door for the last time, being surprisingly sad at how all that history — all the family stories that had taken place in that cramped, but wonderful townhouse, all the photos of our family’s history within those walls and changes we’d made to home — now stashed in our photo albums, were leaving with us.

But life called, it was time to go and I tucked that emotion away.





Go West

Fast forward a couple years to the night of October 29, 2006. I’m in my hot tub. We had moved from Washington, DC, into our new home, nearer to my family in Washington State. It was a perfect fall night, the moon not quite full.

Mt. Baker (WA)

Mt. Baker (WA)

Our beautiful Northern Cascades mountain, Mount Baker, sort of glowed in the distance.

We had started a new phase of our lives. Following September 11th and the appearance of anti-aircraft guns in Northern Virginia’s highway interchanges and bio-warfare sniffing gizmos in my subway station (not to mention the DC sniper, which interfered with kids’ soccer games, and the sky-high price of real estate in DC), we had decided a change was in order. Someplace a bit simpler and less “bulls-eye-ish.” (Although this week’s New Yorker story about the upcoming Cascadia Fault earthquake —  aka “The Really Big One” —  reminds one there’s no perfect place.)  And though it had taken some time, finally — that night with the moon shining on Mt. Baker — I felt like the move and the disruption (including the release of certain professional goals I’d had) was all worthwhile. The moment felt perfect and I was so grateful we’d had the courage and tenacity to follow through. As I sat in my hot tub, gazing at Mt. Baker (known to the natives in the area as Komo Kulshan), I remember wondering how many others had experienced the mountain as I was experiencing her now — and who in the future would enjoy a similar experience from the vantage point of our home. And, seriously, that’s when the idea for the Home History Book spilled out.

One could easily share stories and important thoughts/tips about the home with those who followed in a recordbook/journal of a home that stayed with the home — and was passed from one owner to the next.

Truth be told, I’d get a lot of ideas hanging out in my hot tub, but this one was different. It was so clear – I actually saw the book we would later build. I forced myself to get out of the warm water, dripping, to get a pen and paper to write it down. The idea seemed so simple. So easy. Surely, someone was already doing this, right? Wrong.

In fact, the idea was original and simple. But the execution — if we stuck to the original vision — was not so easy. Planning, market-testing and creating the Home History Book took Dan and I the better part of three years, working full and part-time. Our goal was to build a book that felt like it would be around for 300 years. Most hardcover books being created today are lucky to last 30 years, let alone 300, so it meant talking to paper experts, archivists, book historians, custom bookbinders, specialty printers and traditional letterpressman. We worked with our wonderful designers, Kelli Allen Campbell and Angela Compton, to create the content. We were successful. The finished product exceeded our expectations.

In 2009, the thunderbolt struck once again — and in similar fashion as I stood in front of our family grandfather clock, whose handwritten provenance had been thumbtacked to the back of the clock by my grandpa (it had been purchased as a wedding gift for my great grandmother by her father in the late 1880s).

The handwritten note that inspired the Heirloom Registry.

The handwritten note that inspired the Heirloom Registry.

Over the years, I’d seen similar stories attached or scribbled on the backs of other things in our house and in the homes of other friends and relatives. Standing there, it hit me, those stories matter. In fact, in many ways, it’s the story about a thing that matters most. And the idea for what would become the Heirloom Registry was born.

Again, there was a lot of research and development work, but about a year later working with our software designer extraordinaire Karl Nelson, one of Dan’s good friends at the time and now our partner and Technical Adviser, we launched our permanent online registration service. (You can read find the registration for the grandfather clock here.)

It was such a simple, beautiful solution that not only helps create legacy, but also can help us all redefine our relationship with the stuff in our lives. You’re more inclined to take care — rather than trash and replace — something whose story you know and care about. For Dan, who — I’m not kidding — has been known to turn the engine off and push his car through a drive-thru to limit his environmental impact, it’s a win-win.

And things started falling into place. The Universe seemed to be winking at us.

For example, Antique Trader, the leading trade publication for antique aficionados and dealers of old stuff with stories – our people — published a wonderful story and review about Houstory.

We scored coveted invites to the VIP Breakfast at RootsTech, the largest genealogy and family history conference held in North America. It was, we learned, a very rare honor for a brand new company. (For an additional “wink,” and unbeknownst to me until we showed up that morning, I was seated at one of the front tables with a bunch of  head honchos from FamilySearch, sponsor of the breakfast and the largest genealogy organization in the world.)

In January 2013, we were invited to the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting to present our products to the ALA’s Genealogy Committee , an honor extended to just one company a year that the group feels is doing something new and noteworthy in the field of genealogy.

One of my favorite “winks,” however, occurred as we were working to find the best, most durable way of affixing the brass address plate to our trademarked “door cover” on the Home History Book. We had tested several different ideas and thought we’d found the right solution until we sent a “test” book to my sister-in-law in Minnesota for Christmas. It was Minnesota cold and the book had sat outside on her doorstep for several hours. When my sister-in-law opened the box and held up the book, the plate promptly fell into her lap. (It was, I will add, the only time that has ever happened.) That seems like a bad thing, right? Nope, my sister-in-law had just recently started dating an adhesive engineer from 3-M (yeah, the inventor of the Stickie Pad and all things tacky.) An adhesive engineer. Seriously, how many of those are there in the world? He took our little problem under advisement and helped us find the perfect solution (a speciality, double-sided, manufacture-grade tape used in place of rivets to secure automotive parts.) Thanks Universe.

Dan and I have learned so much in the process. (New biz tip: Don’t invest in an 800 number. Nobody calls anyone if they can help it anymore.) And we’ve gotten to work together doing things we enjoy. Doing some traveling. And meeting lots and lots of interesting people in a whole new world along the way. (Genealogists, especially, are a fun, quirky bunch.)

And though we’re not quite ready to hit the rocking chairs, not long ago we paid off our bank loan and are now proudly 100 percent family-owned and operated.

(If you’re waiting to hear about how our book ended up in the Playboy Mansion, I promise it’s coming.)

Finding Courage

Before the idea for the Home History Book hit, I worked for more than two decades for the nonprofit Student Press Law Center where I was a media law and First Amendent attorney providing legal help and information to students and teachers. It was, for a journalist/lawyer, my dream job and I traveled the country (with a few international stops thrown in) helping young people avoid trouble as they said what they needed to say.

But I was starting to feel an itch. I’d started my job at a time when students would send me an actual stamped letter to ask a legal question or, if the problem was urgent, pay for a long distance phone call. That fairly quickly morphed into fax machines and the speed of connection ramped up. A couple years later, we were one of the first to experiment with this new thing called email. It took. And the speed of connection was now only limited by how quickly the players chose to play the new game. Of course, this was followed by Web sites and social media and texting and whatever, I’m sure, popped up yesterday.

I appreciate the power of Facebook, but I don’t love it. The truth is I enjoy life “off the grid” and I tend to only look at my personal page a few times a month. But Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, etc., is where the young people I was helping (like my two daughters) live. Rock on!

I felt they needed a lawyer who loved Facebook, too.

I loved the SPLC. Young people are the future. It’s always been that way. They bring new ideas and different ways of being in the world. They are not tied — at least initially — to the status quo and doing things the way they’ve always been done. Thank god! Instead of fearing what they have to say, it’s important that we listen. They bring gifts we need and messages that can help.

Fortunately, Houstory was on the launch pad. It gave me courage. It’s not easy leaving a dream job even when you feel in your heart it’s time. But the Universe seemed to be providing a kind nudge. So, in 2012 — foolish as it felt — I took the leap from full-time attorney to being the SPLC’s very part-time “Special Project Attorney.”

And before I could settle into Houstory, a special project showed up. Again, in the hot tub. (Please let me know if you’re ever in Central Cascadia and are looking for inspiration. I’m thinking of making of renting it out on Air BNB. It seems to be a pretty good spot.)

The Tinker Tour

The idea for what would become the international Tinker Tour — a journey that covered nearly 25,000 miles while traveling through 41 states, three nations, and stopping at more than 100 schools, colleges, libraries, churches, juvenile detention facilities, and conventions — was born just after I received an email from Mary Beth Tinker congratulating me on an award I’d won.  Mary Beth was one of the named student plaintiffs in the landmark 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, which set the precedent for student speech in American schools and whose iconic story is routinely included in high school, college and law school textbooks. As an attorney focused specifically on the rights of students, I had been writing about and telling Mary Beth’s story for over two decades In 2012, she was named one of America’s 101 most important changemakers.  Her case has been cited more than 10,000 times by judges and legal scholars. But, unlike Rosa Parks and most other “important historical figures” discussed in their history book, Mary Beth can actually stand in front of an auditorium of students and teachers and answer questions.


Mary Beth Tinker and I during a stop at Syracuse University on the Tinker Tour. Houstory was the sole corporate sponsor of the tour.

So, once again, sitting in my hot tub, pondering what lay ahead, the idea for the Tinker Tour forced me once again, dripping wet, out of the hot tub. It was clear – Mary Beth Tinker and I needed to go on a free speech bus tour. And a very long story short (which you can read lots more about here) – we did.

And it was a smash success!

In fact, at the end of the tour, we were named the 2014 recipient of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in the education category. (Here comes the Playboy Mansion connection I promised!) It’s actually a pretty big deal in First Amendment and civil rights circles. In fact, we shared the honor with Glenn Greenwald, the reporter at the forefront of the Edward Snowden disclosures who won the journalism category. And if the recognition – and the generous cash award weren’t enough – a couple months after receiving the award, I received an email from the foundation asking if I would be one of the three judges — along with Hugh’s daughter, Christie — for the 2015 awards. The judging would happen at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills.

I was headed to the Mansion, one of the most famous and storied homes in all the world.

The Playboy Mansion Gets a Home History Book!

It didn’t click at first, but finally I realized the Universe was throwing me a softball. I was the creator of the Home History Book and the Playboy Mansion — a home with history, if ever there was one — damn well needed a book!


Christie Hefner takes the author on a tour of the historic Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Oddly, I was still a little reluctant. My reluctance melted, however, when Christie, who knew nothing about the book at the time, told me during a fun, private tour of the Mansion that her dad “should be in the Guinness World Record Book for scrapbooking” as he loves clipping articles, photos and keeping track of all the things that have happened at his most famous of homes over the years.


The Playboy Mansion’s Home History Book


The Playboy Mansion’s Home History Book settles into its new home.

So Mr. Hefner is now the owner of what I think is probably the most beautiful, sturdiest scrapbook ever made.

It’s a crazy, fun world we live in. I love this stuff! I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Happy birthday, Houstory.

family heirloom, family keepsakes, provenances, family stories, family heirlooms, heirloom registry, houstory publishing, house history, home history book, family history, genealogy, mike hiestand, dan hiestand

Bald and Beautiful, Mike and Dan Hiestand, the Houstory Brothers.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (hence the name “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will be confined to three main categories, or related offshoots: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Natural Resource Conservation. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet


Family History

Author: By Charles Ornstein, NPR.org

Title: ‘Kiss Everybody': Voice Mails Live On After Parents Are Gone

Herd-Worthy Because: The author, who lost his mother a couple years ago, talks about his discovery of voicemails from her in his iPhone’s cache of deleted messages and how much they mean today: “I have many treasured memories of my mom, who died two years ago this month. I cherish her parents’ naturalization certificates upon becoming U.S. citizens. I have serving platters, wine glasses, and photos of her as a girl and with my children. I, of course, have videos of her at my Bar Mitzvah and wedding. But somehow, oddly, the voice mails — those unscripted moments of everyday life — are the ones I turn to most often.

house history

Author: Lizzy Duffy, Digital Producer, Oregon Public Radio

Title: Buyer Finds Home In Astoria’s Flavel House

Herd-Worthy Because: An old home with a quirky past looks for new life in the center of one of our favorite small towns.


Finally, a big congratulations to lucky podcast listener, Barry Breslow. He won last month’s podcast contest by correctly answering that my dad learned to play basketball from nuns at his Catholic school. He’ll receive a copy of Denise Levenick’s wonderful new book, “How to Archive Family Photos.” 

Dan and I are both taking off July and August. The Herd will be back in September.

Until we “Herd” again…


Houstory Herd: Our Podcast Schedule

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

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So we’ve been getting a few questions regarding our podcast. Specifically, how often episodes will be produced and when they will be released.

We are planning on coming out with new episodes about once every three months (quarterly). The next episode is scheduled for early-mid September 2015. On a related note, we are happy that we’ve gotten good reviews so far, and really do appreciate the kind words! If you like what you hear and you have a spare moment, would you mind giving us a good review on iTunes


And please, let us know if you have a family heirloom or house with a story. Or maybe you know someone else with these types of stories? We’d love to chat with you (or them) on our podcast. Your words may inspire others to save the stories that are so important to family history.

P.S.: Good news! There is still time to enter our multiple contests (if you are reading this before June 1, 2015). For more details on how to win, visit last month’s Herd.



archive family photos, family curator, houstory, family tree magazine

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

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Houstory Herd: Place and Family History

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

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So I belong to a local Toastmasters group in Eugene, Oregon. I joined the club to work on my communication skills (giving speeches, making presentations, producing podcasts, etc.).

The meeting allows members a chance to speak on a variety of topics in an effort to improve, and one subject that was recently presented to me was this biggie: “What is your favorite place in the world.” Well, I could list off a lot of places I love, but the one that came to mind was a location that held an important place in my family history called Granite Creek Campgroundnear Anchorage, Alaska. It was an oasis for me growing up, a campground that brings back memories of catching my first fish and action-packed getaways with my family.

houstory, heirloom registry, home history book, houstories, podcast, family heirloom, house history, family history, Klamath Falls, Oregon,

Dan and Dad in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

To me, I remember Granite Creek felt like home. If you want to know more about me and my life path, you need to know about Granite Creek and its importance in my personal history.

The second episode of our new Houstories podcast examines a similar concept: What places do you connect with family history? For this episode, we travel to Klamath Falls, Oregon., to delve deeper into the topic. That’s where I have a chance find out a little bit more about what makes my dad tick. How? He lived there 60-plus years ago as a little kid, and I recently joined him and his brother (my Uncle John) on a journey to learn a little bit more about their connection to the area.

In this episode, my brother Mike and I also chat about one woman’s unique and humorous approach to preserving her legacy in the face of battling a terminal illness.

Finally, we ask Allison Dolan of Family Tree Magazine penetrating questions about life outside of genealogy, including the longest she has gone without bathing. (Thank you for being a good sport, Allison!)

Allison Dolan, family tree magazine, houstory

Allison Dolan

Yes, it is mostly fun and games at Houstory. Speaking of games, Allison has graciously offered to give away Denise Levenick’s new book, “How to Archive Family Photos.” If it is anything like her outstanding book, “How to Archive Family Keepsakes,” you will learn much from The Family Curator.

To enter the drawing for a chance to win her book, send us an email at info (at) houstory.com telling us who taught Dan’s dad to play basketball. [Hint 1: The answer is in the podcast!] [Hint 2: It’s between the 12:12 — 15:15 minute mark.] Winner will be randomly selected from among the correct entries. One entry per person, please. Final entries due May 31.

And for those of you who want to start saving your stories of home, send us your obituary. Yes, you heard that correctly.

Give us one paragraph telling us what you liked to do while you were alive (hobbies, interests, etc.). Yes, your living obituary — just like the one I penned for my father-in-law. If we read your words on air during our next podcast, we will send you a pack of Heirloom Registry labels so you can preserve and pass on the stories of your family heirlooms. Send those entries to info (at) houstory (dot) com. (If you just want to inspire others, but would prefer we not use your real name when reading it, let us know.)

Finally, make sure to check out the links we mentioned in the podcast with our Herd stories at the end of this post, as well as photos of Dan’s Klamath Falls trip. And of course listen to the podcast, too.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

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Houstory Herd: We Want HouStories

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

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Do you own a family heirloom with an interesting story? Do you live in a house that has a compelling history? Would you like to share these tales and other related HouStories with others?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, we need to talk.

uncle sam, house history, family heirlooms

We’d appreciate the opportunity to connect with you about the possibility of making your story a part of our new podcast. In case you didn’t hear, episode 1 of the podcast was unveiled a few weeks ago, and No. 2 is on the way shortly. In the meantime, we want to line up some good stories for future episodes.

Why should you do this? Your story can help inspire other Houstorians to preserve and share their own houstories. I can’t tell you how many times I hear our customers and supporters say: “Boy, that is a great idea. I should document and share the stories behind my house and family heirlooms.”

And then they put it off, forget about it and wish they had done so later. Your words may help others to take a few precious moments to save those stories.

Drop us a line to talk about that old Craftsman home that your mom and dad bought during the Depression, or chat about Uncle Theo’s rocking chair or Grandma Patty’s quilt. Shoot us an e-mail at info (at) houstory (dot) com, or hit us up at our Facebook, Google+ (Home History Book & Heirloom Registry) or Twitter accounts. We hope to hear from some of you.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

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Houstory Herd: Cabin Fever Edition

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

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It’s hard not to feel bad for our U.S. eastern seaboard readers, who are currently buried under piles of snow, enduring frigid temperatures and likely experiencing cranky moods — and perhaps at touch of cabin fever. I grew up in Alaska, so I can relate.

I still remember the sun coming up around 10 a.m, and sinking below the frozen horizon just a short five to six hours later during the dead of winter in Anchorage. And of course we had snow. In fact, this state of affairs — which started in late October and continued well into April, sometimes later — literally made people want to kill themselves.

Hopefully, you’re not quite at that point yet. Rather, I hope you’re taking advantage of your cabin fever to work on family history projects. Here’s an idea: Take some time to document your family heirlooms. And do you have kids? Then take time to properly designate who gets what when you are no longer around.

All snow and no documentation of family heirlooms makes Jack a foolish boy. ( Courtesy of 'The Shining', 1980; Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Got a little case of cabin fever? All work and no documentation of family heirlooms makes Jack a foolish boy. (Photo source: ‘The Shining’, 1980; Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

You might as well be productive with all that extra energy, don’t you think? If it makes you feel any better, I had to wear a light jacket because it was only 61 degrees today in Oregon at the beach. Brrrr!!!

Get a leg up on your legacy while the cold – or something else – keeps you inside. (Photo source: ‘Misery’, 1990; Photo by Castle Rock Entertainment; Nelson Entertainment & Columbia Pictures)


What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (hence the name “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will be confined to three main categories: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Natural Resource Conservation. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet

Author: Nicole Anzia, Special to The Washington Post & DelawareOnline.com

TitleHow seniors and families can cut the clutter

Herd-Worthy Because: “We have all picked up an old black-and-white photo at some point and been unable to identify the people staring back at us. We’re left wishing we had asked someone who knew when we had the chance. The same goes for that piece of artwork, jewelry or furniture. Learning the history of items makes it easier to decide whether to keep or discard them.” Yep. And keep those stories attached to the heirlooms by labeling them and registering them online.



TitleL.B. Antiques sells quality pieces with interesting back stories

Herd-Worthy Because: “Many times the back story adds more value because people love hearing about the how and when the antique was used throughout history.” If you live in Minnesota, give them a visit. I know we will. Right after we visit Matt’s Bar for a “Juicy Lucy.” Ever had one? Genius baby! Genius!


Author: Curbed, by Jenny Xie

TitleStudents Scraped Together a Small, Functional House for $489

Herd-Worthy Because: “Everything we used was on its way to the landfill…” Inspiring on multiple levels. Whether it’s re-purposing your unused family heirlooms or unused lumber in the garage, I challenge you to look around your own house, and imagine how these items can be utilized in a creative and useful way.


Until we “Herd” again…

Introducing ‘Houstories’ Podcast

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

When was the last time you poured yourself a nice beverage, settled into a comfortable chair, turned off all the lights, closed your eyes … and turned on the radio? There is something truly powerful and wonderful about this oft overlooked medium of yesteryear.

houstories, podcast, house history, family heirloom

Mike (top) and Dan: The Houstory Brothers. Family heirlooms, historic houses, family history and structured goofyness.

In many ways, radio broadcasts free us of the boundaries that television and more visual mediums inherently create. Much like reading books devoid of pictures and art, radio allows us to use our imagination. When you listen to a ballgame, you can imagine what the player looks like when they slide into second base. Or when you tune into a radio mystery, it’s your choice whether the murderer has a mustache or not, or is dark-haired or bald.

Imagination is truly freedom to create entire worlds.

Today, Houstory is proud to introduce the first episode of “Houstories: The Stories of Home” podcast (SEE BELOW TO PLAY FROM ON-PAGE PLAYER). For those of you who don’t know what a podcast is, I think the easiest explanation is this: radio played over your computer (as opposed to, well, your radio). Have a topic you are interested in? There is most likely a podcast about it — including ours.

A description of our podcast: “Ever noticed a house and wondered what it would say if its walls could talk? Been in an antique store and tried to imagine where the object had been previously? This podcast is for you and the voices in your head. Brothers Mike and Dan, founders of Houstory and maker of The Heirloom Registry and The Home History Book, are your hosts. Family heirlooms, historic houses, family history and structured goofyness.”

You can listen below.

For a quick tutorial on what podcasts are and how to access them, check out this video (done by Ira Glass for the incredibly popular “Serial” podcast) for a little more information. It’s kind of awesome.

We are very proud of this effort. However, like any new endeavor, it may take a few episodes to get out the kinks and find our “voice.” Rest assured, we will. I hope you take a few minutes to give it a shot, and then to let us know what you think.

Keep in mind we can only improve with your feedback.


1:41 – 13:06: Dan interviews Mike about the origins of The Heirloom Registry and The Home History Book archival journal, as well as the podcast format.

13:06-30:47: Gamwell House Feature

30:55-37:18: 5 Questions with Thomas MacEntee

In case you have a fever and the only prescription is more Gamwell House information, scroll to the bottom of the page for 20 more minutes of bonus audio on this beautiful historic home.

Finally, a favor or three:

1) If you like our podcast, please share the link of this Web page with your friends and sign up to subscribe to Houstories by simply adding your e-mail address next to the podcast feed logo (see below for what it looks like) on the sidebar of this blog. 

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2) Leave us a comment. We need to hear from you if we are going to continue this effort, so speak up Houstory Nation!

3) If you like what you hear, give us a good review on iTunes

Thanks, and hope you enjoy!

Gamwell House, house history, Bellingham, Washington

Gamwell House front door

BONUS: Gamwell House Audio. 


Houstory Herd: Death and Tea Edition

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

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Have you ever sat down with a small group of people — strangers, actually — over a warm cup of tea and a slice of delicious cake, and talked about death?

Well, after last week, I can check this off my (kick the) bucket list. I attended my first “Death Cafe,” a worldwide “social franchise” movement that started several years ago. The group I participated in included about 30 people who were there to talk about anything and everything that had to do with death and dying. As someone representing The Heirloom Registry, one topic included family inheritance — an important part of the death process.

dementia, houstory

Source: The New York Times

A future blog post will be dedicated to this important movement, which is very much in line with what Houstory stands for: planning for the future and protecting your family by preparing for the inevitable now.

During my Cafe experience, I was part of a smaller, four-person breakout group that talked about death for more than an hour — specifically on advanced directives and end-of-life medical decisions. We actually had to pause the roundtable just as we were getting started, but it initiated a very healthy conversation.

In fact, earlier today, one participant of the group (a stranger no more) e-mailed me this recent New York Times story that discussed the complexities of having dementia and facing end of life decisions. The common theme to all of this: plan for your “finish line” scenario now. After all, death is always toughest on those who are left behind.

Check out the Death Cafe Web site to find out about groups near you.

Now, on to The Herd….

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (hence the name “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will be confined to three main categories: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Natural Resource Conservation. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet

Author: Marla Jo Fisher, Orange County Register

TitleGrandpa’s old radio leads to intriguing questions about family history

Herd-Worthy BecauseAfter my grandparents passed away, my other relatives went through their tiny clapboard house like a pack of ravening wolves, taking everything of value. But they ignored the radio, probably sensing it was nearly worthless.”


Author: Matt Gurney, National Post

TitleMatt Gurney: A solution to the hard cull of family heirlooms

Herd-Worthy Because: “(The solution) struck me as a thoroughly 21st century solution to the problem; effectively, you outsource the emotional impact to someone who won’t feel it the same way that you would.


Author: Catherine E. Shoichet, MarketWatch

Title1795 time capsule opened, centuries after Revere and Adams buried it

Herd-Worthy BecauseMore than 200 years after Samuel Adams and Paul Revere first buried it in Boston, it took an hour to remove all the objects crammed inside a tiny time capsule.


Author: Anna Rumer, Times Recorder

TitlePair preserving history one memory at a time

Herd-Worthy Because: “Sometimes, however, because of their size or location, smaller pieces of history can be overlooked. But people such as Nancy Ranck and Mary Flanagan are refusing to let those things pass them by…”


House History

Author: Megan Turchey, Times Recorder

Title3D Laser Technology Recreates Historic Homes

Herd-Worthy BecauseThe Paul Revere House in the North End has already used their 3D model to do renovations on the house, keeping it as authentic as possible.


Author: Justine Hofherr, Boston.com

TitleStaff Book Picks: What Makes a House a Home?

Herd-Worthy Because: “Some of our choices are practical – about construction or decoration. Others are non-fiction narratives about building or creating a home. And we threw in a few fiction stories in which characters struggle with their own ideas of home.”


Until we “Herd” again…

Houstory Herd: Looking Ahead Edition

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

This year, as you gathered with family, did you get serious about your family history? As you kicked back the eggnog and knocked back the ubiquitous holiday treats (my lord, my office is bombarded!), did you take this precious time to gather stories? Did you sit with your brothers and sisters, your moms and dads and your grandparents, and simply ask and listen?


#NoMoreStuff, family history

Dan with much better half, Tasi, during the holidays.

Obviously, I hope you did. But no worries if you didn’t. That’s what New Years resolutions are for, right? Looking ahead, let’s make it our goal to record these stories. Let’s also get serious about getting ready for the great beyond. Many discussions about estate planning and delegating family heirlooms will likely start with family history conversations.

Don’t be afraid of it. Do it. You’ll be thankful you did.

family curator, family heirlooms

Thank you Family Curator for supporting our #NoMoreStuff campaign!

Before I get to the “meat” of The Herd, I want to thank those of you who supported our #NoMoreStuff campaign. Mike and I, the Houstory Brothers, are appreciative. As a token of our gratitude, please check out the attached (goofy) video that details a free gift we’d like to give you.

We look forward to celebrating the New Year with all of you!

Now, on to The Herd….

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (hence the name “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will be confined to three main categories: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Natural Resource Conservation. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet

Author: connectmidmissouri.com— Referred by  The New England Historic Genealogical Society

TitleTreasure the Heirlooms in Your Family Tree

Herd-Worthy Because: “The mere sight of the trunk served to remind my grandmother of where she came from, and the details of her life -sometimes sad, sometimes happy, always emotional.”


Author: MarketWatch

TitleThis Thanksgiving, share your family’s ‘money history

Herd-Worthy Because: “For many households, the coming weekend offers the best, and perhaps only, time this year when everyone will be together to tackle family finances and long-term planning decisions. Here’s how to do it—without spoiling the holiday.” Also, as an added bonus (aren’t we generous?!) check out this article on how, “Discussion might ease transfer of family heirlooms.”


Author: The Spectrum (Utah)

TitleHow to monetize your heirlooms

Herd-Worthy Because: “Whether you want to get rid of it all at once, or little bits over time, selling some of your items now might be a good option. This may give you a modest financial bump, make it easier for your heirs to manage your property, make it easier to move or declutter your retirement home.” We would add: register them at The Heirloom Registry to add even more unique value!


Author: The Star (Toronto)

TitleI don’t have any heirs. So what do I do with my stuff?

Herd-Worthy Because: “There are stories attached to all these things — funny, sad, ironic and occasionally downright weird. But without a younger generation to tell them to, the clock, the gun and everything else I’ve salvaged just become so much … stuff.” I really couldn’t say it any better myself.


Author: The Star (Toronto)

TitleFamily Heirlooms: The Ultimate Holiday Regift

Herd-Worthy Because: Our good friend Denise Levenick (aka “The Family Curator”) wrote some nice words about our #NoMoreStuff campaign, and even developed a handy-dandy form that you can use to save the stories behind your family heirlooms. Check it out!


Author: NPR (and thanks to my wife, Tasi, for passing this on)

TitleA Premature Obituary Can Be A Sweet — If Strange — Gift

Herd-Worthy Because: “Maybe it would be a good exercise — even a gift, in the holiday season — to help write a brief obituary for someone you love while they are still vibrant, alive, and able to appreciate it.” Doesn’t this sound familiar? 


House History

Author: Los Angeles Times

Title“ Piatigorsky House is Gone, but Pieces of History Were Saved

Herd-Worthy Because: “‘The Piatigorsky house is being demolished,’ she said. ‘We were their neighbors for 60 years.’ Los Angeles was losing part of its cultural history.”


Author: Times of Trenton (New Jersey)

TitleBuoyed by memories after home sweet home is sold

Herd-Worthy Because: “The places we grow up never really leave us. They sit at our core and shape who we are. They are, as my mother wrote, the anchors for our childhoods.”


Until we “Herd” again…

HoustoryHerd: NoMoreStuff Edition

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

A few years ago, my family recognized that gift-giving during the holidays was really becoming more of a burden than a pleasure.

This was a pretty big shift, because my side of the family is not small. In addition to my parents, I have five brothers, two sister-in-laws, three nieces and a wife. We are all extremely fortunate to have roofs over our heads, food on the table and plenty of creature comforts that make life not only easier but enjoyable, such as the laptop I’m using to compose this.

In other words, we are not for need of anything.

consumerism, #NoMoreStuff, heirloom registryAround the same time, we also realized we were also not for want of any things, either. Rather, we all seem to prefer experiences (such as eating out, traveling or simply getting together) as the activities we liked to spend our disposable income on. For many folks, I think this is a common theme. Buying less “stuff” (everyone probably has their own definition of what that means — I just know it when I feel it) and choosing to re-invest those funds into non-material items can be both more memorable and meaningful than a great Black Friday deal.

In response to this evolution, my family developed a lottery system where we would pull names out of a hat and purchase a gift for that person. One gift per person. Now, as we all get older and fully realize the significance and importance of family connection, we concentrate our efforts and funds on simply getting together to enjoy each other’s company. I’m not saying we don’t give gifts. If I see something that I know a family member will truly appreciate, I won’t hesitate to purchase it, and vice versa. But there are no expectations.

thanksgiving, holidays, family history, #NoMoreStuff

As an example of a non-material offering that I consider absolutely priceless, last year — as a special gift — my mom and dad walked around their house and documented  the family history behind several key family heirlooms in their home. Now, those precious stories are safely recorded online at The Heirloom Registry, and accessible to our family, both now — and long into the future — after those stories can no longer be shared in person.

Let’s face it, the holidays are often one of the few times we are able to bring family members together at one time. Depending on the family — and I understand some family dynamics are a little more stressful than others — this is an extraordinary opportunity. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to choose how you spend these few, fleeting moments. I’m just asking you to recognize that each year that goes by is another opportunity to connect with those you love on a deeper level.

This year, as during the past two years, we are urging you to say, ” NoMoreStuff .” Share your photos and stories of family heirlooms, family histories, house histories, etc., that show you’ve decided to say “yes” to deeper family connections, and “no” to the rat race.

Simply tag them #NoMoreStuff on social media. Spread the message — join us in our No More Stuff Revolution!

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS: I’m informing this week’s poll with help from PBS NewsHour, which recently posed a great question that directly relates to the theme.

thanksgiving, black friday, shopping

Thank you, PBS for the screen shot!



Now, on to The Herd….

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (hence the name “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will be confined to three main categories: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Natural Resource Conservation. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet

Author: connectmidmissouri.com— Referred by  The New England Historic Genealogical Society

TitleA priceless family treasure

Herd-Worthy Because: “Sara realized if she didn’t get the pictures back, ‘That would have been a large portion of our family’s history gone for three dollars.'” Whoops!


Author: Al Jazeera America

TitleHomeless dragged down by belongings, as cities view keepsakes ‘trash

Herd-Worthy Because“(Items like family keepsakes are) garbage, as far as the cities are concerned. This is trash and an unsightly mess. If you can’t lug it when you take off, it’s going in the trash. Period.”  Imagine if you had to haul your entire world — including your family heirlooms — with you every day. And you had no permanent place to put them. All while living on the streets.


Author: Eastman’s Online Genealogy Letter

TitleMake a Google Will

Herd-Worthy Because: “Many of the online services we use every day have no contingency plans for a deceased customer’s heirs to take over the account and save whatever is online for posterity.” Getting your affairs in order for the great beyond. Yes Dick Eastman, you’re speaking our language!


House History

Author: connectmidmissouri.com— Referred by  The New England Historic Genealogical Society

TitleThe Schoolhouse from The Birds Is Now a Beautifully Restored (and Haunted) Private Home

Herd-Worthy Because: Remember when actress Tippi Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels asked this question? “Have you ever seen so many gulls? What do you suppose it is?” I’m thinking it may have been tainted salmon, but those were some angry birds! But this isn’t about that. It’s about an iconic schoolhouse-turned-private house.


Author: The Guardian

TitleThe Making of Home review – Judith Flanders’s history of how our houses became homes

Herd-Worthy BecauseA fascinating 500-year history charts the transformation of our houses from uncomfortable workplaces into cosy sanctuaries


Natural Resource

Author: Eastman’s Online Genealogy Letter

TitleCreate a Permanent Living Legacy that Memorializes the Passing of a Loved One

Herd-Worthy Because: “The goal is to directly rehabilitate and rebuild the dying ocean reefs and, in turn, add new habitat to the marine environment. For families and individuals that choose cremation, Eternal Reefs offers a unique memorial choice that replaces cremation urns and ash scatterings with a permanent environmental living legacy.” Hmm, environmental protection plus family history. We likey!


Author: Story of Stuff

TitleBuy Less, Live More

Herd-Worthy Because: From now through the end of December, the Story of Stuff is on a mission to collect pictures and stories from supporters who believe there is more to the holidays than shopping and consuming. Sound familiar? Check out their cool campaign!


Until we “Herd” again…

Houstory Herd: ‘Mourning’ Edition

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

Guess what? You, me, and we are all going to die. In case you didn’t know: There is one finish line for everyone, and we are all going to cross it. We don’t know when or how, but it’s going to happen.

There, I said it.

Dying. Death. Dead.

For some of you, this may be uncomfortable to read about. For others, perhaps a feeling of resignation, and for others fear (and/or all sorts of emotions in between). I say all reactions are valid. I also say, “let’s talk.”

zombies, death, estate planning, family heirlooms

When we talk about death, really we are talking about the living. The survivors. The family members and friends left behind to pick up the pieces, to organize the memorials, to execute the wills, to deal with the pain of loss. So if death is really about the struggles of the living, why don’t we do more to prepare for the big finish?

In my universe, death is not an end, but simply a part of the story arc. Take The Heirloom Registry, for example. I consider our service a key part of estate planning. For parents who take the time to jot down a few notes about a family heirloom — how it came into the family, why it’s important to a family’s history, to which family member it’s designated  — death is made a bit easier for children left behind. By taking the time to register what matters in your family, you’ll be helping your family members when you can’t be there.

Register now, rest in peace later.

I may need to work on that tagline, but you get the gist.

So what got me started on death this month? Well, it is Halloween for starters. Zombies. Vampires. Frankenstein. Just seems like a good fit.

I also was inspired by a New York Times article that highlighted three exhibitions of art associated with mourning and memorialization. In the article, the author asked if the topic was a bit too grim.

“I think it’s quite healthy,” said Mary Rockefeller Morgan, a psychotherapist and the author of “When Grief Calls Forth the Healing: A Memoir of Losing a Twin.” “Society is becoming open to the discussion of all types of topics that used to be forbidden, and people are longing to heal naturally in the sharing of grief.”

dia de los muertos, mexico, death, estate planning, family heirlooms


My sentiments exactly. So get to talking. Get to registering. And get to living.

PS: We are putting the finishing touches on our brand-spanking new podcast, which will be out in November so stay tuned!

Now, on to The Herd….

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (hence the name “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen in the recent past that our fellow Houstorians would likely be interested in. The Herd’s content will be confined to three main categories: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Natural Resource Conservation. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet

Author: The Fall River Spirit — Referred by  The New England Historic Genealogical Society

TitleGreat-grandfather’s police notebook a window to the past

Herd-Worthy Because: “I get a glimpse of his world every time I pick up his fragile 93-year-old patrol notebook, the one with the frayed binding, yellowed pages and enviably elegant penmanship.” Yep, we’re in!


Author: This Old House — Referred by  The New England Historic Genealogical Society

Title: Look What You Found During Your Renovations

Herd-Worthy Because: “From a homemade mousetrap to a fading Civil War tintype, the oddities readers have discovered in and around their homes surprised even us.” Time capsules are everywhere!


Author: MarketWatch.com

TitleHow to prevent family feuds when it comes to your inheritance

Herd-Worthy Because: Register. Your. Heirlooms. Now.


Author: New York Times

TitleExploring the Culture of Mourning

Herd-Worthy Because: “Death is not going to go away because we pretend it’s not there, and there needs to be a way culturally of dealing with this reality of life…” Or as Woody Allen put it: “I am not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Author: dallas news

Title“(Rocker) Phil Collins remembers the Alamo with donation of artifacts

Herd-Worthy Because: Have you ever really listened to 1985’s masterpiece, “No Jacket Required.” This was on steady rotation in the Hiestand house at that time. Now that Phil has entered my universe (or I guess I’ve entered his), I have to give the guy props.

House History

Author: House Beautiful

Title:5 Mansions With Major Dream House Potential

Herd-Worthy Because: With listing prices under $100,000, these homes, in our opinion, have major dream house potential.

Natural Resource

Author: DIY * Del * Ray

Title:  Cleaning Out Clutter: Where Can It Go Besides the Curb?

Herd-Worthy Because: Great common sense tips on what to do with the stuff you no longer need or want, especially for people who are downsizing households. Example: “I have a computer hard drive and a Kindle that have died. How can I recycle them without putting myself at risk for identity theft?” These types of questions will become more and more complicated as people acquire more and more stuff. You can recycle or reuse nearly anything if you slow down and take the time — including ideas!


Until we “Herd” again…