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:


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. 


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.”

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.”

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…