Always wanted a Home History Book? Now is your chance…

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

Since 2010, Houstory’s Home History Book archival journals have helped Real Estate agents, bed and breakfasts and homeowners around the world tell the stories behind their homes.

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Now, we want to say “thanks” for your support while clearing out our inventory.

Now for a limited time, we have drastically reduced the cost of all original Home History Books in our Deluxe line. Regularly $300, all Deluxe books are just $149. This includes free shipping in the U.S., a free bookstand and a personalized brass address plate.

Quantities and styles are limited. When the original Deluxe books are gone, they’re gone.

Order yours HERE!

 

4 Easy Steps to Prepare for Your Death, Family History Style

Someday—I hate to break it to you—that “loved one” who passes away will be you. Family history prep starts now.

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

I’m guessing there are probably more than four steps that you can take to prepare for your death. In fact, the list is pretty much endless. For example, unless you die naked, who is going to clean the clothes you are wearing? What about the enormous pile of dishes you may have left in the sink? Do you have someone lined up to destroy your gutty attempt at a novel? In reality, none of us can fully prepare to die, right? But what about preparing to die when it comes to passing down family history?

Unique Obit

Luckily, there is some pretty low-hanging fruit out there that you may want to consider if you have a little time on your hands. And by “a little,” I mean a few hours.

I can hear you already: “But Dan, I don’t have time. I mean there is some much going on with the kids and work. Plus I need to take out the trash.”

I hear you. Don’t worry: what I’m proposing will not get you in trouble with Child Protective Services, your boss or the local sanitation department. As you’ll see below, following these steps take less than a sliver of time. The best part is that once you finish these tasks, you’re done for the most part. And trust me, you family will be really, really grateful that they don’t have to go searching for your legacy when you’re no longer around.

As a point of reference, I’m going to throw out this number:

8,760.

That’s the number of hours in a normal year. Each task will take time off this total. So, let’s do this thang. No better way to kick off the new year then to write about death, dying and all that jazz!

(1) Write you own obituary (2 hours)

This is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit of all. Creepy? Maybe. Important for passing on your family history? Definitely! Who better to write your story then… you? Hopefully, if this finds you in good health and you’re not risking your life on the job, this obituary will be very incomplete. In other words, you’ll have a lot left to write and you’ll likely need to update it in many, many moons.With that said, even if you were to take two dinky little hours this year to write down just a few basic details, such as where you had lived and what work you had done during your life, imagine the value that would provide for your loved ones. Not everyone knows your story, and don’t assume they do. Once you are finished, store it with your other estate-planning documents (life insurance, will, advanced directives, etc.). As someone who knows, having to scramble for obituary information about a recently departed loved one in the hours, days and weeks after they die is rough. Someday that “loved one” will be you.

Extra creditAnd if you get swept up in the idea of telling your own story, record a video/audio file talking about your life: How do you want people to remember you? Do you have life lessons, advice and stories you would like to pass on to family and friends? Doing this well takes time, so plan it out. Much of the time allotted for this task is pre-planning: decide what you want to say and what order you want to say it in. Keep it clean and simple. Otherwise—like a friend returning from an overseas trip in which they decide to share 1,700 photos of their trip to Turkey with you— this might be painful for people to watch. Make sure you designate where this personal history is stored and who is in charge of presenting it to family members and friends. You can also hire someone, too, like these guys.

(2) Gather your vital records (birth & death certificates; wedding & divorce records) (1 hour)

Just good practice, people. And easy peasy. Store them in a safe place and make sure your loved ones know where they are.

(3) Register 5 family heirlooms (1 hour)

Yes, this is a direct call for you to buy our stuff. But it’s only because we believe in the service and there is no one else out there doing it. There is a reason we’ve been around for nearly a decade. We’re serious. When you mark heirlooms with physical ID numbers, the story and the family heirloom stay together so that anyone can understand the item’s significance and look it up at any time, now or in the future. Don’t you want your kids to appreciate the items in your house as much as you did while you were not dead (i.e. alive)? Hint: It’s not as overwhelming if you start one room at a time. Make it your modest goal to take a walk through your house and pull aside five items that matter to you. 

(4) Make a favorites/dislikes/hobbies/day-in-the-life list (1 hour)

It may seem boring to you, but imagine if you recorded in writing or audio just one day in your life. Sure it may seem dull that you spent the first half of a Saturday in your boxer shorts making breakfast while listening to This American Life on NPR, then went to the grocery store to pick up groceries for the week that cost $53 (including $4.89 for a gallon of milk) and then came home to take a walk around the neighborhood before eating a dinner. But imagine how gold these details will be to your great-great grandkids.

Or, if you don’t like angle, make a Top 10 list of your favorite books, movies or food. For those with darker dispositions, you can do the same thing with dislike lists.

It’s all about hidden insight that people can’t derive from genealogical records alone. Time capsules baby!

Extra credit: Write some Love Letters. Death, I believe, is much, much harder on the living than on the dearly departed. Hopefully, all of your significant others already know how much they mean to you. But that’s not always the case. And certainly, putting those thoughts down in writing now—and tucking them away—would make for a beautiful, comforting and lasting gift right when they need it the most and for years to follow.

That’s it! In just 5 hours (.0006 percent of the year’s total) you’ve now prepared a SUBSTANTIAL gift to the future.

And great news! You still have 8,755 hours remaining that you can waste or use in whatever way you’d like. The nice thing is you can spread it out. There will be plenty of rainy weekends or times when you don’t want to deal with other humans. By going through this list, you’ll have a little fun traveling down memory lane; you’ll make life easier for your family who have to clean up after you (it doesn’t matter how great you think you are, it’s a pain); and you’ll effectively be able to share and save a family history that will live on well after someone has cleaned your last load of laundry.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

“The Hearth Herd” is a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

Family History

Author: MyHeritage blog

Title: Create a Family Memory Jar for 2016

Herd-Worthy Because: “What is a family memory jar? It’s a glass jar or any container in which you can store family memories. It can be filled with short messages, everyday moments, photos or just about anything you want to preserve.” What a wonderful idea! Essentially, this is “Houstories” in a jar and an instant family heirloom. The day-to-day things are what makes a house a home.

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: Ancestry.com, The Family Curator

Title: Plan Ahead: Protect Your Genealogy from Disaster

Herd-Worthy Because: Our good friend Denise Levenick wrote this last spring, but it’s still pertinent. Also, we appreciate her mentioning a certain service that we happen to be big fans of. “Digital images of photographs, family letters, and treasured heirlooms will never fully replace a lost keepsake, but pictures and stories can preserve the memories of a special piece of furniture, a quilt, or a framed photograph… After you’ve assembled your heirloom history, share it widely with family, friends, and other researchers. Consider uploading images and stories to genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com or to the online heirloom history site The Heirloom Registry.”

Let us know what you think. If not us, then let that guy next to you in bus know what you think. After that, call your mom and tell her how great the Houstory Hearth is. Or you can just leave a comment. 

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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!

Three great ideas to reduce family heirloom clutter

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Making Lemonade Blog: Quick Ways to Display Heirlooms

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

 

The Heirloom Registry

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

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

Houstory reviews Flip-Pal: Mobile scanner with many tricks and treats for home genealogists, family historians

In our never-ending world of gizmos, the Flip-Pal portable scanner is one that actually can make your life easier

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

First off, Happy Halloween everyone!

So, today we are talking Flip-Pal because we have been considering joining the Flip-Pal affiliate program.

In the off-chance you haven’t heard of it, the Flip-Pal is a compact, purely portable (no computer or extra cords required) scanner that has essentially taken the genealogy community by storm. “Simple” is the description that seems to come up most often in reviews of the product, and – from the buzz it has generated – it clearly fills a need.

But before we jumped on the rapidly growing Flip-Pal affiliate bandwagon and recommended it to our customers, we felt it important to test drive one ourselves. Flip-Pal agreed to send us a test model.

Part One: Love at first sight — almost

It arrived a few days ago, and I had a quick project for which I thought it might be perfect, so I opened the box.

My first impression: I wish they had used more environmentally friendly packaging. It’s shipped in that PET plastic covering, which I can’t stand. I know it’s cheap and effective, but it’s often not very user-friendly and it’s not great for the environment. I’m not alone in this.  Fortunately, it was a higher-grade plastic which is, at least, recyclable. (That’s not always the case with PET plastic.) That made me feel better.

Interestingly, in discussing this with my brother Dan he mentioned that Gordon Nuttall, CEO of Couragent, Inc. (the maker of Flip-Pal) was recently interviewed by Lisa Louise Cooke on the Genealogy Gems podcast.  Dan highly recommends you listen to it if you are considering purchasing the product yourself as they go into more detail about Flip-Pal’s various bells and whistles.

During their conversation, my brother said Nuttall addressed the packaging issue and pointed out how it is essentially re-usable (and very “shippable,” in his words) if you send the scanner between multiple people because of its durability and the ease with which it can be opened and closed.

I still wish there was an alternative to PET plastic, but “re-usable” is certainly a step in the right direction. (We admit to perhaps being pickier than many when it comes to sustainability issues.)

And definitely no Styrofoam peanuts![1] (SEE FOOTNOTE BELOW)

Part Two: Ready to go

 

So not having seen it up close before, I was a bit surprised by how small it was.  I know its big appeal is that it is small and portable. I’ve worked with lots of scanners and this one, which was about the size of the brand new Apple iPads, really was small.

My curiosity was piqued.

It was, for all intents and purposes, “ready to go out of the box,” as they say. The only thing I had to do was remove a couple pieces of protective shipping tape and then gently tug a plastic tab in the direction indicated by its arrow, which “activated” the four AA batteries, which were thoughtfully included and pre-installed.

Wait a minute: The directions say something about applying some Optional Protector Sheet (OPS). Apparently the OPS came with its own “installation sheet” and I was supposed to read it “for detailed instructions.” Even worse, I didn’t see the aforementioned sheet anywhere. Suddenly the sweet pleasure of this “ready-to-go-out-of-the-box” experience felt like it might be in jeopardy.

But then I remembered– the OPS is optional.

Moving on!

Part Three: Getting to work

So the unit powered up quickly and easily by sliding a single power switch.

Then – a surprise – it asked me to put in the current time and date. You only have to do it the first time you start the unit and then each time you change the batteries. It’s a quick and easy process. Once set up, the cool thing is that scanned information can now be date/time stamped, helping you remember when – which helps greatly with the “where” – you obtained your research information.

 

So today, in putting together a Halloween-themed post, I simply want to scan in an older photo that came before digital cameras and therefore doesn’t yet exist in digital format. Looking at the Flip-Pal Web site, it appears the scanner can be a part of much more advanced scanning projects (specifically, digitally “stitching” together a large document or flat object, such as a quilt, from multiple scans). I’ll test drive those features during future uses. Today, I just need the photo.

To scan my photo I have a couple options. First, if the photo (or document) is 4 x 6 inches or less — and loose — the easiest thing is to simply scan the material as you do on more traditional, larger scanners by putting the photo on the Flip-Pal scanner bed, closing the top and hitting a big green button. Easy as pie.

In fact, I pretty much unpacked the scanner, looked at the instructions and e-mailed the photo off to my brother – using a cleverly designed USB stick, which came with my Flip-Pal and acted as the bridge between my scanner and my computer – in less than 5 minutes. The actual scanning took about five seconds and the quality of the scanned photo was good – it scanned in at about 650KB using the 300 DPI setting. The colors were very close to the original.

However, if your photo is in a book, glued in a photo album or if your document’s location makes it difficult to scan, you can detach the unit’s top, flip the unit over and scan items by simply hovering over them and pushing that same big green button. (See photo). To me, this is what sets the Flip-Pal apart from your father’s scanner (or mine, purchased a couple years ago). It’s more difficult to explain in words than it is to do. Trust me, it was a piece of cake — and very handy and clever. And the quality of the scan was pretty much the same as the first image.

However you position the unit, once the green button is hit, the material is scanned to a removable memory card (a 2GB SD-formatted card ships with the unit), where it is converted into a full-color JPEG-formatted file and can be viewed as a large thumbnail-sized image on the Flip-Pal’s built-in display screen.  You can scan hundreds of images before having to empty your memory card using either an SD-card reader or the Flip-Pal’s cool USB stick. You can then treat the scanned file the way you treat any other photo or image, including playing with it in Photoshop or photo restoration software. As a Macintosh user, I simply put it in my iPhoto folder.

That’s pretty much it. I wish I’d had it sooner. This summer I completed a basic house history of my sister-in-law’s summer cottage in Lake Elmo, Minn. I was in a number of libraries, the courthouse and the local historical society. In most places, I was left to take handwritten notes and, if available, pay for photocopies of photos in books. The Flip-Pal would have nicely avoided that. Instead of putting a bunch of photos, books and documents in a pile to copy or process – and then later taking them back to be filed —I could have simply seen something I wanted to make a record of, flip my scanner on top of it and hit the green button.

The Flip-Pal is not going to replace traditional scanners. If you have a big scanning job, with lots of full-sized pages, you’ll probably want to keep using the bigger flatbed. But for genealogists, family historians and house history researchers – who are often researching on-the-go and have perhaps more modest scanning needs – the Flip-Pal is an impressive tool. I am happy to recommend it to the Houstory Publishing community.


[1] You know, most things being fairly equal, I have intentionally passed on doing repeat business with vendors that ship using those expanded polystyrene “peanuts,” or “Styrofoam” as the product is officially known. I can only conclude that a company isn’t thinking of me, their customer, when it ships me a carton full of non-biodegradable, toxic carcinogenic, petroleum-based packing material that — no matter how painfully careful I am in opening the box — tumble forth into my office and home where — thanks to the static charge they often come with — they evade capture. Such companies also clearly aren’t thinking of how their decision to go “cheapo” with the peanuts also means it is now my responsibility to reuse (trust me, I’ve got bags of peanuts now cluttering my basement), recycle (according to the search engine on the Plastic Loose Fill Council’s Web site mine have to go to a special recycling facility that requires a half-hour trip from my house) or somehow dispose of in an environmentally friendly way. Thanks!

 

VIDEO: Built to Last — The Making of the Home History Book Archival Journal

We are proud to unveil a wonderfully shot, concise video that examines the steps involved in the creation of Houstory Publishing’s “Deluxe” Home History Book archival journal.

Thank you to Kentucky-based photographer Chris Witzke, who did a great job capturing the care and passion that goes into each of our books, and photographer/video editor Matt Read, a Bellingham, Wash.-based talent!

Dear Photograph: 22-year-old starts a ‘new-age nostalgic’ storytelling movement

Not long ago, we came upon a concept that immediately resonated with us: A Web site that urges users to blend the past and present together using photography.  It’s a notion very similar to our Houstory Hearth post from March (“Bring your home’s history to life using these simple photo tips“). In that article, we talked about the magic of shooting pictures of your house from a similar vantage point to one done in the past, and then blending the images together. The results were impressive and fascinating.

Dear Photograph, nostalgia, photography, family stories, genealogy, preservation

Dear Photograph, the book, features more than 200 photos submitted readers.

Dear Photograph, which was started by 22-year-old Taylor Jones, urges a similar call to action — except with more of a focus on people. No digital manipulation is required, as submitters simply hold up a current photo against the background of an older photo — lining up the angles as best as possible — and snapping a shot of that image. These juxtapositions are not only fun, but also elicit a lot of emotion .

Maybe it’s revisiting the site of your senior photo and reenacting a similar scene 20 years later, or going back to grandma’s dining room to take an updated photo of a family dinner 30 years past.

Listen to a story on Dear Photograph — including how Jones developed the idea (spoiler alert: Winnie the Pooh was involved) —  from earlier this week .

Over the past year — since the conception of the project — thousands of people have contributed photos to his blog, and earlier this month he published a book entitled “Dear Photograph” highlighting some of these photos.

The project is a modern-day testimony to the power of storytelling — and preserving legacy.  If you’d like to contribute photos, you can do so at http://dearphotograph.com.

UPDATE: Genealogist and family historian Caroline Pointer (www.4yourfamilystory.com) pointed out Dear Photograph’s similarity to another site – HistoryPin.com – which we wrote about last October (“New site allows millions chance to explore the past, share the present). Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Caroline!

POLL: When was the last time you received a handwritten letter?

How would you feel if one day, wandering around your home’s attic, you stumbled upon a box full of documents belonging to the home’s former owners?

Inside the box: plot maps, deeds, census records and stories – documented in handwritten letters (revealing a cherished piece of the author’s personality) – of what life in the home was like day-to-day, as well as significant events that may have occurred.

Handwriting: An endangered species?

Most would call this discovery a treasure — particularly the handwritten letters. In this age of digital media, tweets and blog posts, the simple beauty and depth a handwritten letter conveys is in many ways priceless because of how seemingly rare it is.

One of the things that makes a Home History Book archival journal different from digital media, such as software and Web sites, is the ability to display the handwriting — and in turn — the personality of the people who use it. While raw genealogical information in the form of spreadsheets, digital records and maps are fascinating of course, there is an added dimension of personality and texture that handwriting conveys.

In honor of National Handwriting Day earlier this week (Jan. 23), we are asking you a poll question. We’d be very interested to see what you have to say.

Need a 2012 resolution idea? Start preserving, sharing your stories now as a gift to the future

The Home History Book™ archival journal is primarily designed for users to fill in the “current” history of what is happening in their home. No research required — just tell your story. In other words, it will be a first-person account — invaluable information for future home historians and homeowners.

The Home History Book™ archival journal Deluxe Mahogany: Built to last

Simply fill in one of the book’s 10 repeating “Our Home’s Stories” sections as often as you like (we recommend once every few years) with photos and information. Essentially, it’s a baby book for the home … that stays with the home. And because it stays behind — even as owners come and go — it allows future owners a glimpse into what happened in the home before they lived within its walls.

Whether you decide to purchase a Home History Book archival journal or not, please start preserving and sharing your home’s stories now. Just keep them safe and accessible! Think of the value these memories will have for those who may live in your home just 10 or 20 years from now.

It is our passion to inspire home genealogy. After all, the more you know of a home’s history, the more likely you are to take care of it. In other words, we hope our product encourages stewardship — both in terms of the environment (caring for what you have, as opposed to simply throwing it away and starting over) and cultural stewardship (protecting stories for generations to come).

For more information — including free research materials that will help you discover your home’s beginning history (before you lived there) — visit www.homehistorybook.com.

If you love your home and you love history, you’re at the right place

Welcome to the first edition of The Houstorian’s Hearth blog, and thanks for visiting.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: This may be the only posting for a little while, as we are not quite ready to poke our heads out of the door on a regular basis just yet.  But, soon enough, we will be regularly updating it with information on all things home genealogy, including but not limited to: historical preservation (specifically regarding property and documents), historical home real estate listings, home genealogy conferences, contests, events, scrap booking, book binding, the latest in home history research information and technology, renovation and construction practices as related to home genealogy…you get the picture.

Please check back soon!