Zillow: Top 10 Haunted Houses in the United States

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

The next time you take a walk down a street in your neighborhood, take a close look at the houses and imagine the stories that have taken place within their walls. For most, it would probably be easy to envision relatively happy tales: newlyweds moving in to their first home, holidays around the table, etc.



For other homes, especially dilapidated buildings in a state of disrepair and decay, the stories envisioned may be darker by nature. In fact, some may be downright scary.

Today, in honor of Halloween, we will examine the top 10 haunted houses in the United States, as presented by Zillow — “a home and real estate marketplace dedicated to helping homeowners, home buyers, sellers, renters, real estate agents, mortgage professionals, landlords and property managers find and share vital information about homes, real estate, mortgages, and home improvement.” The site boasts a database of more than 110 million U.S. homes.

Last year, they developed a list of the 10 most haunted homes in the U.S.

On a related note, do you own a haunted house? A recent Wall Street Journal article says it may be a tough sell. Let us know your creepy house stories — and have a Happy Halloween!


houstory halloween

How far would you go to get your stolen family heirloom back?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

Ok, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea in retrospect, but we have to say we were impressed when we came across the story of a Utah woman who would stop at nothing to get her stolen heirloom back.

And we mean nothing.


Utah, family heirloom, family history

Debbie Harms’ parents. Photo courtesy of KUTV.


The following is an excerpt from a KUTV article in Roy, Utah, describing Debbie Harms’ actions after she tracked down the alleged thieves of her mother’s wedding ring through an online ad that posted the ring for sale.


Against advice officers would later give her, (Debbie) Harms made the bold decision to call the man who posted the ad and invite him into her home. She offered $900 for what he said was a family heirloom he was ready to sell. When he arrived, Harms realized the ring was hers. She slipped it onto her finger and her emotions took over.

“I told him that this was not his family heirloom. It was my family heirloom,” Harms said. “I told him his two choices were to take the $10 for gas money and run as fast as he could, or he could wait for the police to come while I gladly beat him to a pulp.”

The man, along with his friend who had come inside and a woman waiting in the car, took off.


That’s some serious passion and sentimentality. Also: I can’t believe she gave them $10.

According to Harms (I love that this is her last name), her father “went a full year without any lunch and saved all his lunch money to buy that wedding ring.”

That’s a lot of sacrifice, love and a serious lack of calories. I’m trying to think if I own anything that I would spend “hours” scouring classified ads for? Or if I possess anything I would risk personal injury for?

As The Kinks said, I’m a lover not a fighter. However, while I don’t condone violence, I can understand the passion. Unlike “stuff,” family heirlooms connect us to the past, and are often the only physical associations we have with loved ones after they are gone.

This heirloom was obviously worth a lot monetarily, but something tells me that if Ms. Harms was tracking down her father’s pocket watch, or a painting her mother created in kindergarten, she would have been just as up for a scuffle.

Legacy, memories and connections are powerful things – and not to be taken lightly. While we can’t say we recommend the Debbie Harms solution to heirloom retrieval, we certainly understand and respect it.

Obviously, some people are more inclined to go the extra mile. How about you? Do you own anything that you feel that passionate about? How far would you go to retrieve your family heirloom? Let us know!

Pay for permanence? Applying Dick Eastman’s logic to The Heirloom Registry

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

A couple of months  ago, influential genealogical product reviewer Dick Eastman (whom I’ve had the pleasure of  meeting on a couple of occasions) wrote about a company selling “long-lasting display plates containing QR codes.” These plates are affixed to gravestones, which users can then scan to reveal information about the deceased with data provided by the family that purchased the code. From there, they are taken to a dedicated Web page on the company’s server, where information is displayed.

Dick Eastman, Dan Hiestand, Houstory

Dan with Mr. Eastman at FGS 2012 in Birmingham, Ala.

Sound familiar? If you understand the goal of Houstory’s Heirloom Registry, it should.

I’m not going to get into much of his product review, but I would like to highlight a key point Dick made that I believe may resonate with the Houstory audience and customer base.

 “At first, this sounds like a good idea; but, then I wondered, ‘What happens if the company goes out of business and their web site goes offline?’ I assume the answer is that the customer has wasted the money he or she spent,” wrote Dick. “While I hope this company remains in business for a long, long time, I still don’t like the idea of depending upon any one corporation’s future success.”

This sentiment — or a variation of it — is something Houstory founder Mike Hiestand and I have heard on many occasions about our Heirloom Registry service.

And guess what? We completely agree, especially when a company is selling permanence, which is what we are doing. If the future cannot access the information you’ve taken time, energy and — most importantly — money to compile, what’s the point of the effort? There is good news, though: Mike and I have worked hard to solve this problem, and we believe we have.

No. 1: You are in charge of the information you save on The Heirloom Registry. While your family heirloom records are uploaded, edited and saved on our site, ultimately you can save them to your own hard drive, upload them to a Web site or print them out as a hard copy registry certificate PDF. This ability to save the record on your own is an important distinction. How you decide to make that record accessible is really up to you. Our job is to put that data in a format that is easily readable, logical and probably more attractive than anything you’ll take the time to make.

Registration Certificate from The Heirloom Registry

Hard copy of the Registration Certificate from The Heirloom Registry


No.2: Additionally, to ensure longevity, a portion of each registration number fee is deposited in a dedicated fund that will be used to pay for future operation of The Heirloom Registry. Of course, given our ever-changing technology, it’s difficult to predict exactly what form The Heirloom Registry will take in 10 years, let alone 50 or 100, but we are fully committed to our mission and promise to do our level best to ensure that whether “surfing the Internet” or “transbeaming the MetaCosmos,” the purpose and essential function of the Registry as a lasting and accessible source of historical information remains intact.

Screen shot 2013-08-17 at 9.22.41 AM

No. 3: Here are some hard facts: 1) We can’t guarantee The Heirloom Registry will exist in 100 years. That’s not a promise any company can honestly make.  2) No one else is doing what The Heirloom Registry is doing. 3) Our Certificate of Registration is a way for you to instantly create a physical, lasting record of your heirloom, impervious to changing technology. 4) We have taken concrete steps to protect the integrity of the Registry and the company’s longevity. To be honest, now that all our rather extensive research, site development and upfront costs have been paid, operating the site form day to day is pretty inexpensive. We are proud to say the company is paid for and is wholly family-owned and operated.  5) Your chances of passing on the stories behind your grandma’s handmade quilt, your uncle’s trumpet or your dad’s Brooklyn Dodger’s Louisville Slugger bat are significantly lower if the items are not marked or tagged with identifying information.



Are you worried about online services and businesses ceasing operation? Do you have any stories of this happening? Let us know what you think!

Good things — and houses — do come in ‘Tiny’ packages

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

What do you get when you combine a love of cabins with an adoration of small spaces? Tiny House Blog, of course! If you have any kind of curiosity regarding unique living spaces, you’ve probably already heard of  this popular blog. However, in case you are interested and you haven’t, you’re welcome. Be warned, though: time will pass and you may neglect your family for hours on end.

tiny house blog, houses, unique houses, house history

Image from Tiny House Blog

The site was started by small space/cabin lover Kent Griswold in 2007. According to the Web site, “The goal of the tiny house blog is to discover the different options available for a person looking to down size into a tiny house or cabin. I will be looking at different type of construction, from logs, to yurts to modern and the unusual. I will also do book reviews, look at alternate energy for heat and electricity. I also want to hear your story so please contact me with your pictures and your own experiences in living simply and small.”

If this universe sounds interesting to you, and you enjoy hearing about people living the “tiny house” dream (in addition to seeing a ton of cool photos), check it out.

As the co-creator of The Home History Book  archival journal and a self-proclaimed house history nut, it may seem ironic that what draws me to the Tiny House blog is my belief that many people have too much space, and too much stuff. Admittedly, a lot of the houses that I have grown to admire are huge, and much bigger than I would ever prefer to own. However, I don’t hold it against anyone with a 6,000 square foot home — that’s their business.

With that said, I do think we would be well-served, as a culture, to live simply in terms of resource conservation, environmental protection and our day-to-day mindset. There is a lot to be learned from this ‘tiny’ sub-culture.

What do you think? Did you know about the Tiny House blog? Do you think people can — and should — live with less? Do you own a tiny house? So many questions, and you’ve got answers. Let’s hear em!

Legacy through the stomach: Family cookbooks and family recipes as family heirlooms

This post originally ran Aug. 1, 2012. It details the importance that family cookbooks play as family heirlooms — and in turn as vital parts of family history.

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

For the better part of two decades, my grandparents lived in paradise. To find this “Eden,” pull out a map of the contiguous United States, and let your fingers inch up, up, north to the Canadian border; then left, left, west to the Pacific.

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you reach the part of Washington state that isn’t there. Or rather, only bits of land are visible  — tiny dots amid the cold, salty waters of the Puget Sound. It was on one of these specks, among the San Juan Islands on a place called Lopez Island, that I spent some of my most memorable childhood days.

Lopez Island, Washington state, San Juan Islands, houstory publishing, family heirloom, family cookbook, family recipe, heirlooms, heirloom, family stories, family history, genealogy, family cookbook, keepsakes, keepsake, heirloom registry, legacy, nostalgia, inheritance, treasured belonging, antiques, antique, provenance, heritage, tradition, historical preservation, family valuables, sentimental value, grandparents

Gommy in the garden on Lopez Island.

Lopez is a little less than 30 square miles in area, and is a biker’s paradise because of its relatively flat landscape. During the ’70s and ’80s, when my grandparents Tom and Gerri Walsh lived there, it was still a relatively unknown place compared to the vacation home-laden landscape of today — a retirees’ paradise where everyone (quite literally) waved to everyone they might pass on the road.

For me, what defined paradise as a kid was simple: spending summer days skipping glacier-flattened rocks on Fisherman’s Bay; upturning boulders to search for scurrying rock crabs; sailing to town for warm french fries and cold cokes with my brothers; hot dogs by the fire on the beach…you get the picture.  

Food, of course, was a centerpiece of my memories. I suppose that’s what having fresh Northwest berries with nearly every breakfast (picked straight out of my grandparent’s garden), or dining on crab caught just an hour earlier will do.

I still remember, very clearly, Gommy (“grandma,” for our audience) baking bread in the kitchen, and Gompy (grandpa) picking long, fresh green beans for the night’s dinner.

Lopez Island, Washington state, San Juan Islands, houstory publishing, family heirloom, family cookbook, family recipe, heirlooms, heirloom, family stories, family history, genealogy, family cookbook, keepsakes, keepsake, heirloom registry, legacy, nostalgia, inheritance, treasured belonging, antiques, antique, provenance, heritage, tradition, historical preservation, family valuables, sentimental value

What brought all this up for me was a video I recently watched over at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. In the piece, genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke interviewed Gena Philibert-Ortega, who authors the blog “Food.Family.Ephemera,”which looks at how food history and family history intertwine. You can hear the full interview at the Genealogy Gem’s podcast page (episode 137).

As Gena and Lisa discussed, knowing what past generations incorporated into their meals brings a family’s history alive in a way other bits of data (such as census records and obituaries) simply cannot. The “Rhubarb Torte” recipe that Gommy submitted to The Lopez Island Cookbook — a 189-page community effort flowered with the dishes of the island’s citizens — is now my “Rhubarb Torte.” Anytime I want to take my taste buds back to the driftwood-lined beaches of Fisherman’s Bay, I’m but a few ingredients away.

Through her palate and her cookbook, a vital part of my grandma’s legacy is alive. Now, it’s up to me to make sure my heirs receive this message.

It’s been more than 20 years since Gommy and Gompy sold their house on the island, and the Lopez of today has a much different feel than the one I grew up with. I think it simply doesn’t feel quite as small as it once did.  I’m glad I have my grandmother’s cookbook to remember it the way I want to.

Lopez Island, Washington state, San Juan Islands, houstory publishing, family heirloom, family cookbook, family recipe, heirlooms, heirloom, family stories, family history, genealogy, family cookbook, keepsakes, keepsake, heirloom registry, legacy, nostalgia, inheritance, treasured belonging, antiques, antique, provenance, heritage, tradition, historical preservation, family valuables, sentimental value, grandparents

The back page of my Lopez Island Cookbook.

For Gommy’s “Lopez Island Cookbook” Rhubarb Torte recipe, as well as some more photos, please visit our Facebook page. Do you have any family cookbooks that have been passed down, or you plan on passing down to your heirs? How about any family recipes? Please share it with our readers, and let us know what you think of our blog. Thanks!

RootsTech event stresses importance of documenting family stories that matter NOW, before it’s too late

Mike and I were thrilled to attend RootsTech in Salt Lake City. By the end of the weekend, we were both exhausted and energized. You can see why by reading this account by Dick Eastman, who writes the popular, “Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter:

“Sponsored by Family Search, the RootsTech Conference was held for three days at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. More than 6,700 people from 49 U.S. States (why was no one there from Delaware?) and 17 countries were in the Salt Palace Convention Center for the opening day of the RootsTech Conference on March 21. I never heard the final attendance numbers, but I saw a long line of people on the opening day waiting to purchase tickets at the door. Obviously, the final number was higher than 6,700.”

To say it was big is an understatement. And apparently, it’s only going to get bigger. Much bigger.

We saw and met lots of new friends at the conference; took in sounds of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (an event sponsored by RootsTech), mingled with genealogy’s bigwigs and heard an interesting presentation about the growing interest in genealogy of youth at the invitation-only VIP Breakfast sponsored by FamilySearch,  and simply enjoyed hearing tons of great stories behind family heirlooms and houses that attendees  shared with us.

The concept of preserving stories NOW before it’s too late was also a prevalent theme at the conference — and obviously something that resonated deeply with us. Below is a snapshot of some of the highlights. For more photos and info on the event, check out our Facebook page.



Grand Prize winner announced for Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt!

After a week-long event that included three hunts, 12 blogs and more than $500 in prizes, the winner of the Heirloom Registry Grand Prize Package is Deb Andersland of Gainesville, Mo.

Deb won a very impressive collection of products, including a Flip-Pal™ mobile scanner and books from genealogist Janet Hovorka and Antique TraderMike and I want to thank everyone who participated during the week, including our sponsor blogs. We hope to put together a hunt again in the near future. We also hope that you continue to follow all of these blogs that add such important voices to the family history and antique worlds.

houstory, heirloom registry, scavenger hunt

If the concept of saving the stories behind your family heirlooms resonated with you, don’t miss out on your chance to follow The Heirloom Registry on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and Pinterest. We’ll keep you up-to-date on the family heirloom/antique/family history universe, keep you aware of fun contests such as the scavenger hunt and provide exclusive discounts on our product line.

And remember: It’s not an heirloom without a story.

-Dan Hiestand, Houstory

Third Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt winner announced

The winner of the third and final leg of The Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt Week is Brenda Ciesla of Conklin, N.Y. Congrats to Brenda!

She will be awarded a prize package valued at approximately $70 that includes products from Marian Pierre-LouisThe Heirloom Registry, Antique Trader magazine, and Denise Levenick (“The Family Curator”). 

The grand prize winner will be announced on Wednesday, March 13, so make sure to check back then. Everyone who entered the hunt will be eligible to win.

Last day of The Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt; grand prize announced!

You’re cutting it mighty close, but you still have just enough time to enter the Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt for a chance to win two pretty darn impressive prize packages — including our grand prize!

In fact, more than $300 in great products are still up for grabs — including a Flip-Pal® mobile scanner.

As you may have heard, we’ve already given away a lot of good stuff this past week for Leg 1 and Leg 2 of the hunt. These final two remaining prize packages include a collection of items fans of family history, genealogy and antiques will truly appreciate. Your chance to win ends tonight when the Scavenger Hunt concludes at 11:59 PST, so don’t miss out.

Unless you don’t like cool, free stuff.

heirloom registry, houstory, scavenger hunt, family history, antiques, genealogy

For more information and to play, visit the Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt page. Good luck!

Another day, another Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt winner!

Houstory is happy to announce the second winner of the Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt Week: Caroline Shultz of Sherwood, Ark.! Caroline was randomly selected as the victor of the second leg of the scavenger hunt, which took place this past Wednesday and Thursday.

She will be awarded a family history prize package valued at approximately $185 that includes a pool of products and services from Maureen Taylor (“The Photo Detective”), genealogists Caroline Pointer and Marian Pierre-Louis, and The Heirloom Registry.

By entering, she is also in the running for the grand prize to be announced next week. Congrats to Caroline!

For the rest of you, more than $300 in prizes still remain in the mix — including a Flip-Pal® mobile scanner. The third and final leg of the hunt is currently underway — but will end Sunday at 11:59 PST, so don’t miss out on your chance to enter.

heirloom registry, scavenger hunt, houstory, family history


For more information and to play, visit the Heirloom Registry Scavenger Hunt page. Good luck!