Do you have family heirlooms that have a dark side?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

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The family heirlooms universe is an interesting one. The stories behind these objects elicit a wide range of varying emotions — including some that fall on the “not-so-good” side of the ledger.

mein kampf, adolf hitler, family heirlooms

Some family heirlooms have very complicated histories.

 

I recently came across a dramatic example of this darker side of family history. Instructor Hinda Mandell, Ph.D., a Boston native, who teaches in the Department of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology, recently wrote an article about a family heirloom that was potentially disturbing: a copy of Mein Kampf.

 

Because of the mystery surrounding the provenance of the item, she was inclined to investigate what could be an important, if chilling, part of her family’s genealogy. As part of that process, her husband made a movie about the experience. Much like houses,  family heirlooms do not always have a pleasant story to tell. However, good or bad, I think these stories are all a part of the human experience. I suppose that’s the journalist in me.

I did try to come up with a dark family heirloom story of my own, but I was unable to do so. Who knows, though? I’m sure there are a couple of objects in my family’s possession that fall in this arena, but I don’t know because these backgrounds have fallen by the wayside with the passage of time. If stories are not documented, they are easily lost.

Do you have any family heirlooms with a dark backstory? Do you think these stories should be documented and shared? Or are they better forgotten? Let us know what you think. Leave a short comment, send an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, or say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet.

 

 

Junk vs family heirloom: How do you determine?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

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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.

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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!

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.

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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?) 

 

 

 

Family History, Pacific Northwest Style

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

I guess when you reside in a coastal state, you tend to go the coast a lot. And I guess when you live near your family, your likely to run into some family history from time to time. Well, family history and the beach came together recently when I visited Seaview, Wash., and Astoria, Ore. for a weekend getaway. Take a look below at some of the highlights.

Do any of you have pictures of your grandparents’ house? Share them with Houstory nation at www.facebook.com/houstorypub

 

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Jake the Alligator Man, a feature of Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach, Wash. A MUST SEE!

 

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!

Instant heirloom: A heartfelt Mother’s Day gift

Mother's Day 2013. Jessica, Gerri and Ally Hiestand.

Mother’s Day 2013.

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder 

One of the things we hear from folks when we tell them about The Heirloom Registry is, “But, I don’t have any heirlooms.”

It’s unfortunate that we had to attach a name to our registration service, but we did. And “The Heirloom Registry” just sounded catchier than “The Special Things in My Life Registry.”

But either would work. It’s not the age of an item that makes it an heirloom. It’s the story behind it.

The Heirloom Registry is simply a place to record the stories about the special things in your life. Those things can be old — or brand new. The key is that they have a story that gives them meaning. The Heirloom Registry simply ensures that story will always be easily accessible.

For Mother’s Day, my daughters created and gave their grandma a hand-painted hanging mobile. Of course, my mom absolutely loved it. An instant heirloom! By affixing a small tag and registering it, I was able to briefly tell its story and attach a couple photos (there is room for up to six) of my daughter painting it and presenting it to my mom on Sunday. It took 10 minutes. But now, if my mom would like to show it off to her friends tomorrow — or if my daughter inherits it 50 years from when she’s the grandma who “fills the world with joy”  — the story of how it came to be and the memories of a very special day are as close as the nearest computer.

It is an official, irreplaceable part of Hiestand Family History

An example of the Certificate of Registration — which users can view or print for free after registering an item on The Heirloom Registry — is below.

 

Registration Certificate from The Heirloom Registry

Registration Certificate from The Heirloom Registry

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

New Year’s Resolution: Take Ten Minutes (and Two Bucks) to Preserve Family History Forever

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

I’ve always loved radio. While I missed the so-called Golden Age of Radio in the 1930s and ‘40s, I’ve still always had the radio bug in me. From listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater with E.G. Marshall on my pocket transistor in my bedroom as a young boy to still enjoying “appointment radio” most Saturday evenings with Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, the medium has always called my name in a way television never has.
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The large floor-model radio operated for several decades in the family-run hardware store in East Chicago.

I think that’s why my in-laws thought about me about 25 years ago when they acquired a 1930s-era radio from my mother-in-law’s grandfather. The large floor-model radio operated for several decades in the family-run hardware store in East Chicago, Indiana where it would have certainly played hundreds of Chicago Cub games, broadcast war news from Edward R. Murrow through Chicago’s CBS affiliate WBBM and alerted shoppers looking for a particular nut or bolt of the death of John F. Kennedy. My mother-in-law, now in her late 70s, says she remembers the radio well from when she was a young girl visiting the store.

The radio completed its service in the mid-1980s and was removed by my in-laws shortly before the old store was torn down.

The radio still works, but since it only plays AM radio well — which I have reason to listen to less and less — I don’t turn it on too often. Still, it is an attractive piece and it has been in our house since before both of our daughters were born.

For my daughters – who I’m not sure even know AM radio exists – it’s simply been a part of their day-to-day lives. It’s a place to drop their books, or to store our outgoing mail as they walk past it every day on their way out the front door.

I’ve touched on the story of the radio a few times, but let’s be honest, when you’re a teenager, family genealogy and stories about relatives — most of whom are now gone and they’ll never met — isn’t a high priority.

But, if they’re like most of us, someday it will be.

And our radio, like all family heirlooms, is a tangible, real — and touchable — piece of family history that brings to life a story in a way that simply looking at a family tree and seeing their great-great grandfather’s name “Joseph Wadas” never will.

Joseph was a first-generation immigrant from Poland who arrived in his late teens.  He is my daughter’s link to a big part of their family’s start in the “New Country,” and this radio came from the store that truly was part of his American Dream.  While I don’t know the exact date the radio was acquired, I presume his fingers worked the well-worn dials and permanent radio presets (it looks like radio station WLS was a particular favorite, as you can barely just make those call letters out.) Over the years, those same dials were definitely much-used by Joseph’s son, Walter, who took over the store when Joseph died and probably touched by their great grandpa and their much-loved grandma as well.

So, for them, it’s not just another old radio. But without its story, that’s exactly what it would be.

Fortunately, I know the story (or at least the parts I’ve been told). So this morning I permanently recorded that story at The Heirloom Registry. First, I attached a durable, permanent sticker to the backside of the radio, which includes a unique registration number and the Registry’s Web address. (You can purchase stickers from the THR Web site or even make your own if you just want to purchase a registration number and save a buck.)

I then spent about ten minutes writing its history — its provenance as they say in fancier circles — and uploaded a couple of photos of the radio showing it in its present location (because that is certainly also part of its story.) I also made a mental note to try and get a copy of a photo of Joseph (and perhaps even the hardware store) the next time we visit my wife’s parents so that I can upload as well.

And, truly, that was that. Once I acquired a registration number and recorded the radio’s story, there was nothing more that I ever had to do and there’s nothing more that I ever have to pay. As long as the sticker (or metal plate, which you can also purchase) is attached to the radio, its story will travel with it for anyone to pull up and see. I actually felt some relief when I finished. I’ve always felt a modest sense of obligation, as the owner of the radio — and keeper of its story — to make sure it was preserved and shared with future generations. And now, with an investment of ten minutes and two bucks, it is.

To see the Heirloom Registry entry, including photos, for the radio, visit www.heirloomregistry.com and enter registration number: SNTS-256-996-3497-2012

 

In 2013, Houstory’s goal is to tell your stories – the stories of home. Do you have family heirlooms with a story? We want to share your family history with our readers. And make sure to follow us at Facebook, where we will be posting your “Houstories” all year long.  And please comment and share if you like what we have written!

Rowhouse Tour: ‘Four Homes for the Holidays’

This week, The Houstory Hearth welcomes a holiday-themed guest post from DIY Del Ray.

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Photo courtesy of DIY Del Ray

According to their Web site: “DIY Del Ray, a blog founded by Leslie, Katie and Sara, celebrates the art of small-space living and the creative spirit. We talk about interior design, unique storage solutions, living with kids, home improvement and craft projects, entertaining, and all the charming features of Del Ray, a neighborhood in Alexandria, VA.”

We first came across the blog a few weeks ago, when we found this great story they penned on using family heirlooms to tell your family’s story.

This week, DIY Del Ray takes a peak inside four, holiday-decorated rowhouses in the Del Ray community, and we wanted you all to come along. It’s title: “Four Homes for the Holidays.

“Living on a street of typical 1950s identical rowhouses, it’s always interesting to see how people decorate the inside of their homes — their paint choices, furniture arrangements and at this time of year, how they decorate for the holidays,” they write. “There isn’t much wiggle room in these houses – every last inch serves a purpose for something – but that hasn’t quelled the festiveness or desire to create a warm and cozy haven at home.”

To take the tour, read on. Thank you to DIY Del Ray for sharing your story with Houstory. Speaking of Houstory, Mike and Dan wish all of our readers a happy and safe holiday!

 

Do you use any holiday heirlooms to decorate your home? Do you decorate your home in a unique way? Share your photos at our Facebook page — we’d love to see them!

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Photo courtesy of DIY Del Ray

Happy Birthday Houstory Publishing!
Our first year in photos

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

I was talking with a friend the other day about our business, Houstory Publishing. As we were chatting, a couple of things dawned on me during the conversation: (1) Houstory was about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the “official” launch of our business  (more on that later), and; (2) Just how fortunate I have been to be able to follow my dream with my best friend — who also happens to be my big brother and Houstory founder, Mike.

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Mike and Dan Hiestand, taking a break while attending the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this past June.

Okay, before you break out the tissue and think this is a, “Hallmark moment,” it’s not. I sincerely mean what I write. I just genuinely like the guy. What can I say? When we first started the company way back in 2007 (wow, starting a business takes ages!), and I heard his idea for the Home History Book archival journal, I was hooked right away. A couple of years later, when he came up with The Heirloom Registry concept (yes, I didn’t come up with that idea, either, darn it!), again I became a believer. A big believer.

Essentially, our roles are these: He is the visionary. I am the implementer. This arrangement has actually turned out to be a great match. You never know what it’s like working with a best friend or a family member until you do it. That’s not to say it hasn’t been an at-times stressful year, or an experience  filled with steep learning curves and unforeseen circumstances. But, looking back at how far we’ve come, it feels darn good to know we made the right decision.

We have wanted to go into a family-style business for as long as I can remember — ideally with our three other brothers in the mix as well — and we floated many ideas around (remember the bagel shop, Mike?) before we hit the jackpot with Houstory. It just felt right. And it still feels right today, more than ever. In fact, over the next couple of weeks, we are going to be rolling out some big announcements which we are very excited about.

Much of our success, we owe to you, our supporters and customers. We really couldn’t have made it this far without your help, so thank you! We hope you stay with us for the ride. We think its only going to get better.

And finally, thank you Tasi and Patty, — our understanding, courageous and supportive wives — as well as Mike’s daughters, Jessica and Ally. We love you all very much!

After more than four years working on weekends and weeknights to turn our “dream” into real-life products that we’d be proud to stand behind,  we “officially” opened for business on Oct. 18, 2011, when we launched our social media. Below is a look at some of the highlights from that time until now. It’s been a very busy but exciting year!

After a year in business, I believe in two things more than ever: historical preservation, and conservation. What we do is steeped in these concepts. My belief is this: The more people know about something, whether a house or a family heirloom, the more likely they will take care of it. This means both the priceless stories and histories, as well as the physical materials, won’t just be discarded with trash. These are the things that drive me. Let us know what you think, and thank you again!