White Friday anyone? Try an Alternative to Stuff This Holiday Season

By Mike and Dan Hiestand, The Houstory Brothers


no more stuff, #nomorestuff

Instead of waking up earlier and earlier on Black Friday (or increasingly never going to bed as more stores compete to open their doors first), battling the traffic and fighting the crowds for more stuff, what if you gave White Friday a try instead?

For the past few years, we’ve run our “No More Stuff” holiday campaign that encourages people to re-think the relationship they have with the objects and things that surround them before they head out shopping for things they may not really need or even truly want.

This year, we’re giving the campaign an official kickoff day — the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, we know we have some competition — so we’re calling ours White Friday.

Here’s how White Friday works: You sleep in as long as you need to. You sip your tea or coffee and bask in the memories of family and Thanksgiving the day before. Maybe you have a bit of breakfast. And then — when you’re ready — you take a leisurely stroll around the house taking notice of — and being grateful for — a few of the important pieces of “stuff” you already have. Maybe it’s an old family clock. Or a table that’s hosted family gatherings (such as dinner the day before). Or a treasured family photo. Or a special family cookbook. Or the crazy doo-dad sitting on the shelf that’s been in your life for as long as you can remember. And you write down their stories. (We call the things that you choose “heirlooms” here at The Heirloom Registry — but it’s really anything — old/new, expensive or “price-less” — that holds meaning for you.)

If you’re traveling and you’re waking up at your folks’ house (or grandparents’ — or some other relative) all the better! Let them choose the things that are important and whose stories they feel are worth sharing. You walk around with them, listen and take some notes. Maybe snap a photo or two of your family member in front of things he/she is talking about.

Here’s what I promise:

  1. You will learn something memorable you didn’t know before.
  2. You will smile.
  3. In years to come, you (and your family) will appreciate this simple gift more than almost anything else you could buy at 4 am.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated

To make it easy, we are gifting you this free, downloadable form that will help you collect some of the more pertinent information. When you finish you can simply attach the form to the back of the “heirloom” or file it with your important documents.

You can also try out The Heirloom Registry — for free — by signing up this holiday season for a complimentary registration number when you visit our Web site. (If you want to get a bit more fancy by ordering a permanent registration label or plate, we can help you with that.) But you don’t need to.

The important thing is that you do it. Because the stories of our family heirlooms usually disappear with our family members. And an heirloom without a story is — as we say — just more stuff.

We know it might sound crazy. And if you genuinely need that digital bathroom scale and can get it for the insanely low price of $9.99, go for it. (We all need things. That’s life on Earth.) Heck, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a mixture of both Black and White Friday. A Shade of Grey Friday feels like a step in the right direction.

But be the change you want to see in the world, right? We’d like a world that  makes room for a White Friday.

And we’d like to sleep in.

Happy Holidays!

Mike and Dan


Preserve, conserve, #nomorestuff


The Houstory Hearth Herd – May 2014

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me at LinkedIn!

When my father-in-law recently passed away, it took a considerable amount of time to sort through his online accounts. His Facebook page had to be closed, e-mail correspondence had to be attended to and online passwords had to be changed.

According to  Sue Doerfler of The Arizona Republic, these were, in effect, his “digital heirlooms.” She recently wrote about the topic.

I’m not sure if I’d call them “heirlooms,” but I understand the sentiment and these are things that need to be considered as we get older. This month’s Herd includes an interesting take on this subject.

The Herd also includes two submissions from Houstory Hearth reader Joan Hostetler of Indianapolis (see the really cool photo below). She put together two interesting pieces dealing with house histories and vintage photographs I encourage you to check out.

And then there are The Simpsons. TV’s No. 1 name in animated families. Did you know that I live in the city that inspired the Simpson’s Springfield? No joke. They’ve been around so long they have their own extremely detailed family history, and a book detailing their family tree will be coming out in September. Check out the link below. After you’ve read yourself blind, please let us know what you think with a short comment. We’d appreciate it!

house history, Indianapolis, photography, family history

Photo courtesy of Joan Hostetler.

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) Environmental sustainability issues. 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

HERD-HouseHistoryAuthor: Joan Hostetler, Heritage Photo & Research Services and a Houstory Hearth reader

Title: “Indianapolis Then and Now: 1939 and 1945 N. Pennsylvania Street

Herd-Worthy Because: Big thanks to Joan for contacting us and contributing this fantastic article that is both heirloom and house history. Our kind of story!


Author: Joan Hostetler, Heritage Photo & Research Services and a Houstory Hearth reader

Title: “Indianapolis Then and Now: The Ryan/Gasaway Home, 1103 E. 9th Street

Herd-Worthy Because: The history of a modest frame cottage and the political occupant. Every house has a story. And this is an especially good one.

HERD-FamilyHistory,etc.Author: Jess Gilley, Technology Tell

Title: “The Simpsons Family History is hitting shelves this year

Herd-Worthy Because: Who doesn’t at least appreciate The Simpsons. And like I said, I’m Springfield Proud!

HERD-FamilyHeirloomsAuthor: BBC News (contributed by the New England Historic Genealogical Society)

Title: “200-year-old recipe book heirloom given to family

Herd-Worthy Because:  Flummery. Calves head hashed. Shrewsbury cakes… Handwritten recipes, given to the author’s great-great-great-grandson. What’s not to like?


AuthorMaureen Taylor (aka “The Photo Detective”)

Title: “Saving a Slice of Family History“;

Herd-Worthy Because: Sometimes, family history is deliciously edible.


Author: Sue Doerfler, The Arizona Republic

Title: “Estate plan should pass down digital heirlooms

Herd-Worthy Because: “Digital-asset planning is a fairly new concern for consumers as well as estate planners.” Sounds like it’s right up our alley.


Author: Viralnova.com (referred to by Dick Eastman)

Title: “After His Death, This Grandpa’s Family Found a Trunk He Left Behind. What’s Inside is Fascinating

Herd-Worthy Because: A trunk proves to be a connection to the past. Unfortunately, as the article points out, much of the stuff — artwork, books —  left his heirs guessing. Every time I see or hear a story like this I think about what a gift an Heirloom Registry tag and just ten minutes of time to share the story behind the things he felt important enough to save in a special trunk would have meant to his family.


Author: Jill Scharr, Tom’s Guide

Title: “3D Printing Recreates Long-Lost Family Heirlooms

Herd-Worthy Because: As the author states: “Have you ever wished your family still had that old necklace your grandmother was wearing in her wedding photo?” CRAZY!


Author: Bustle

Title: “These Stilettos That Will Last 1,000 Years  Are Your New Family Heirlooms

Herd-Worthy Because: Even we don’t guarantee 1,000 years for our Home History Books (only several centuries). I wonder if the future will have any use for stilettos?


Author: Dale Hrabi

Title: “The Instant Family Heirloom

Herd-Worthy Because: “”What if you could buy new furniture that’s practically guaranteed to become a timeless treasure?


Until next month’s herd…



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!

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.

 Screen shot 2013-11-12 at 7.36.51 PM


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!

Share your homes for the holidays

Home and the holidays.

The two concepts just seem to go together effortlessly, don’t they? Kind of like awkward conversation and once-per-year family dinners. But it all adds up to the same thing: family history and tradition.

family heirloom, holidays

This year, we are asking you to share some of your family traditions — specifically your holiday family heirlooms and your beautifully (or at least uniquely) decorated houses. Let the Houstory Nation know what is happening out there.

Do you have a favorite leg lamp you break out every December? Perhaps a cookbook or family ornament? Or maybe you’ve spiffed up your house into a frenzy of wintery celebration?

Show us what you have, and we will share them with other Houstorians.

Simply e-mail photos to info@houstory.com by Dec. 15, and we will try to put them up on the Houstory Hearth sometime before Christmas, and share them with our social media audience.

Alright, now that’s out of the way, full disclosure: I’m totally going to steal the following from Cleveland.com, who are doing a similar activity. Why re-invent the wheel, right?

Here are tips they suggest, and we suggest, too, for taking great photos.


Be sure to include the full names of the people in your photo and the communities where they live. We also need to know who took the picture.

Here are some basic tips that should help make your shots rise to the top!

  1. If you’re outside shooting, it’s always best to have the sun at your back, or maybe off to your side. If it’s behind your subject, the photos won’t look good. If the front of the building faces east you’ll want to shoot early in the day, or morning, if it faces west, then later in the day.
  2. When you’re inside shooting you should have the windows behind you, not behind your subject. If you can see a window behind your subject, you need to move to the other side.
  3. Close ups are good and make very dramatic shots!
  4. If you get a variety of these three things then you’ll have short photo essay that tells the whole story of the event. An overall picture sets the scene, a medium shot , and then a close up tell a powerful story.


Looking forward to your contributions!

– Mike and Dan

Buying ‘stuff’? Try an alternative this season

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

When I was younger — particularly in college — I used to think the greatest thing in the world was the dollar store. After all, where else could you buy a grocery cart full of household supplies and groceries on a budget?

Need bathroom cleaner?


Peanut butter and jelly?


Cheap plastic gadget I thought was so cool and so essential that I had to buy it, but was forgotten about by the time I got home and was either given away or tossed in the garbage (and eventually the landfill) within a year?


This isn’t a post to bash dollar stores. On the contrary, discount stores are an essential component for many people looking to save a buck on vital household items.

Rather, this is a request to stop and consider what we choose to consume because ultimately it does matter. Regardless of your position on global warming, the environment or everything in between, I think we can all agree that waste is never a good thing.

no more stuff, #nomorestuff

Last year, we ran a holiday campaign that encouraged people to re-think the relationship they have with the objects and things that surround them before they head out shopping for things they may not really need or even truly want.

The campaign’s name: “No More Stuff/Preserve. Conserve.

Preserve, conserve, #nomorestuff

We’ve gained a lot more followers since that initial campaign, so instead of repeating what I said, I’ll simply direct you to my words from last December. I would encourage you to take a look.

Then, let us know what you think.

Do you agree? Is too much stuff a problem? Do you believe that we are over-hyping this? Let’s have a conversation.

House History? Family Heirlooms? Not This Week

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

Before there was Houstory, the Home History Book archival journal and The Heirloom Registry, there were only ideas. And the man behind these ideas — the company founder — is a guy named Mike Hiestand, who also happens to be my big brother.

Mary Beth Tinker, Mike Hiestand, Tinker Tour, Houstory

Mike and Mary Beth — aka The Tinker Tour — visit Syracuse University in October.

Before we officially launched Houstory in October 2011, both of us were involved in journalism: myself as a reporter and editor, and Mike as a media law attorney. We both believe firmly in the importance of a free press and the power of a well-told story, and have dedicated much of our professional lives to these causes. Admittedly, Mike has been at it a lot longer than me and in a much more targeted way.

Namely, he has spent 20-plus years affiliated with an organization called The Student Press Law Center (SPLC). During his award-winning career, he has provided free legal assistance to nearly 15,000 high school and college journalists/students and advisors in relation to laws regarding a variety of topics, including freedom of information, copyright, censorship, and the First Amendment. In other words, he has empowered a whole lot of young people with a civics education that they were able to take with them into adulthood and beyond.

Including me.

Now, you’re not going to catch me gushing about my brother very often in public (after all, he is my brother after all, right? That’s against unwritten brotherly code.) But this is one of those rare occasions.

Simply put, Mike is an inspiring guy. He’s not a person who likes the limelight, but he likes to know he is making a difference. He let this passion guide his professional life. And for him, that passion was empowering high school and college journalists and advisors with their rights.  The SPLC– a nonprofit just outside of Washington, D.C. — was his first job. It was also, as he says, his “dream job.”

Over the years, he became a prominent figure in the student press community. In fact, just last year, the Society for Professional Journalists named him the recipient of the prestigious SPJ First Amendment Award ”for extraordinary efforts to preserve and strengthen the First Amendment.”

Mary Beth Tinker, Mike Hiestand, Tinker Tour, Houstory

The Tinker Tour at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association convention in Boston last week.

Yeah, I’m proud.

So, what’s all this about you ask? Well, Mike is on the tail end of an historic civics education tour with American free speech advocate Mary Beth Tinker.

The pair have teamed up to travel the country in an RV on what has been dubbed The Tinker Tour — which officially started on Independence Mall in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center in mid-September and wraps up Nov. 25 in Kansas City, Mo. Working together, Mike and Mary Beth have reached out to colleges, high schools and other groups to “promote youth voices, free speech and a free press.” To date, as part of their fall tour east of the Mississippi, they have traveled more than 10,000 miles and have a couple thousand more to go.

As it states on their Web site: “The goal of the Tinker Tour is to bring real-life civics lessons to schools and communities through (Tinker’s) story and those of other young people.”

Mary Beth’s story started when she was a teenager in the 1960s and later became the basis of a Supreme Court decision (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District). This decision set the legal standard for student free expression for many years.

“It’s been a dream come true,” said Mike. “Mary Beth is truly a rock star in the world of student free expression rights, and this tour is helping to inspire a lot of kids and teachers.”


So, there you have it.

It may not be house history, family history or family heirlooms this week — but it is important. After all, Houstory is Mike, and Mike is Houstory. I think it is safe to say that as genealogists and family historians, we all have a vested  interest making sure the information we seek remains accessible.

Mary Beth Tinker, Mike Hiestand, Tinker Tour, Houstory, Heirloom Registry

Houstory’s Heirloom Registry: A proud sponsor of The Tinker Tour


Mary Beth Tinker, Mike Hiestand, Tinker Tour, Houstory, Heirloom Registry


Please take a moment to check out the Tinker Tour Web site at http://tinkertourusa.org/welcome-aboard/, and consider donating to the West Coast leg of their tour in 2014.

What do you think of the Tinker Tour? Do you think civics education is strong in the United States? Do you think its dangerous to empower kids with their rights? However you feel, let us know.

Is the family heirloom dead?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

Are family heirlooms still important?

This week, the Houstory Hearth examines two pieces of evidence — ironically discovered on the same day in a batch of Google Alerts — that contradict one another when answering this  question. It got me thinking: I should take the temperature of the family heirloom movement.

houstory, family heirlooms, heirloom registry

2 articles, 2 viewpoints.

First, the side contending that family heirlooms are a thing of the past for many.

According to an article at United Kingdom online lifestyle magazine Female First, the family heirloom may be on life support.

That Web site cited a survey released by DeliveryQuoteCompare.com, a moving company that recently reached out to 1,456 people (18 or older)  from around the UK to ask them what their “highest safety” priorities are during a move.

To that end, the company furnished  participants with a list of items they consider to be valuable items typically found in a home.  The wide-ranging catalogue included everything from computers to clothing to furniture, and, yes, family heirlooms. The big winner was — drumroll please — the television! Approximately 52 percent of respondents said they considered the television to be the most important item in their home, primarily due to high replacement cost. Not surprisingly, the PC/laptop came in second at 48 percent. Admittedly, if my house was burning, my laptop would be right up around No. 1 on my list, too.


family heirlooms


Family heirlooms didn’t even crack the Top 10, coming in at the No. 11 spot with 14 percent of the overall vote.

According to Female First, “Respondents to the study were given a list of potential items with the following question: ‘What items would you consider to be Family heirlooms?’ This revealed antiques to be the top heirloom at 51 percent , followed by jewelry at 48 percent and silverware at 36 percent.”

The article continued: “Brits were then asked: ‘Do you own anything that you would consider to be a family heirloom?’ to which the 59% of participants said ‘no’. The remaining 41% said that ‘yes’ they did own a family heirloom. When asked if photographs were regarded as heirlooms, 62% of respondents said that they ‘treasured’ photographs but didn’t consider them to be heirlooms. However, 46% of these said that they wouldn’t be ‘too concerned’ if they lost their photos as a large number were still available on social media.”

Even the study’s author, DeliveryQuoteCompare.com, seemed surprised.

“It used to be the case that the family silver came first,” said Daniel Parry, spokesperson for DeliveryQuoteCompare.com as quoted at Female First. “Now it seems that it’s the family television. Or possibly the laptop. It’s probably a modern take on society; priorities change over time, but it’s sad to think that we’ve gone so far that family heirlooms are no longer regarded as something precious.”

I would be curious to see the demographic information on the study, as in how many males were asked vs. females; how many 20-somethings were asked vs. 50-somethings? Let’s face it, often times the closer people are to facing their own mortality, the more important things like legacy and family heirlooms become.

So, there is that side, which highlights the naysayers who believe family heirlooms have little to no importance when it comes to family history.

The second article is much more anecdotal by nature. But I think it shows that asking that question, “Is the family heirloom dead,” completely depends on the respondent. If I were to ask my 16-year-old niece if she values grandma’s quilt as a family heirloom, she might say “yes,” — but probably for reasons that have much more to do with aesthetics than with sentimentality. You know why? Because legacy — and thankfully, the great beyond — don’t really matter as much to her right now as much as the latest iPhone apps, or filling up her car with gasoline.

Fast forward 50 years, and you’ll likely be singing a different tune. Developing legacy in kids is — much like forcing them to eat vegetables — something they may not like now, but something they will be thankful for later.

Which brings me again to the second article in The Guardian newspaper, entitled, “My family heirloom project.” The project, undertaken by a photographer named Joakim Blockstrom, attempts to catalog family heirlooms through story and photo (sound familiar?)

According to the article, the project has grown in popularity and scope, transitioning from a photographic endeavor to something about family history.

The article stated: “As word spread about Blockstrom’s project, he began to hear from strangers who had objects for him to photograph and their own stories to tell. Gradually, he concluded that we all have heirlooms, though they are not always what you would imagine. ‘I have one person who has nothing from her dad except for one of his teeth. It’s a bit gory, but does an heirloom have to be beautiful?'”

To see some of these stories, visit the article. To me, his project shows that interest in family heirlooms is a passion that exists, and can be tapped.

I can’t tell you how many hours Mike and I  have spent listening to stories about family heirlooms — told by complete strangers — at trade shows, local antique stores or genealogical society meetings. Coupled with hundreds of registered users at our own company, The Heirloom Registry, and shows such as Antiques Roadshow on PBS, and it’s clear to me that there is a large contingency of people who hold passion for provenance.

Family Heirloom

So, there you have it: two opposing views on family heirlooms, captured on the same day. I have my own opinions, but we want to hear yours.

What do you think — are family heirlooms dead? What are the factors that play into whether or not family heirlooms are important (age? gender?)