The Houstory Herd: ‘Seeking Family Heirloom Stories’ Edition

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

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Do you know of someone who owns a family heirloom with an interesting story? As you know, family heirlooms can take many different shapes and sizes, and monetary value often plays little or no role in the item’s designation as a family keepsake.  If you were to take even five minutes to look around your home, I guarantee you could find several items you hold onto solely because of sentimental value and story. One way to make this determination: what would you take with you if your home was burning?

With all this mind, I have a favor to ask of our readers this month: We are creating a new, professionally produced podcast that will tell the stories behind family heirlooms. But to tell these stories, we need your stories.


family heirloom, keepsake

Collectibles are often sentimentally valuable, but not always financially so. (Photo: FOR FLORIDA TODAY )

Can you help us spread the word? Our mission is to preserve the stories behind as many family heirlooms (and houses) as possible, and to make sure they are not only documented but also accessible to the future.

And this all starts with you.

If you hear of or have stories you think might make the grade, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet.


online poll by Opinion Stage

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

Natural Resource

Author: Story of Stuff

Title: “Sailing Past Plastic” – Podcast

Herd-Worthy Because: How do we end the, “take, make, waste cycle”? The Story of Stuff podcast, “The Good Stuff,” tries to answer this very question. On this episode: An interesting conversation about consumerism and one man sailing the seas on a journey to battle plastic pollution.


Author: Detroit Free Press

TitleWhen floods ruin family keepsakes, you can still hold on to the memories

Herd-Worthy Because: When disaster mixes with family keepsakes, the results can be tough pills to swallow. “How do you put a value on the things that hold memories? To most, that sewing machine looks old and uninteresting, with a replacement value of a few dollars. To me, it’s invaluable.”


Author: Referred by NGS

Title: “Soup to Nuts: Tracing family history via great-great-grandmother’s skillets

Herd-Worthy Because: One woman’s reflections on her great-great grandmother’s keepsakes, and their place in her family history. “I’ll cook with them knowing that I am only their temporary caretaker. Some day, I’ll pass along the skillets – and the stories – to one of my nieces, and it’ll be her turn to ensure that the memory of these strong women lives on.”


Author: Florida Today

Title: “Care, communication key to deciding on keepsakes when loved one dies

Herd-Worthy Because: “It’s important, because this is the very thing that can tear a family apart — fighting over the one thing everybody thinks they should have.” Sad, but very true. Plan now so you don’t have to later.


Author: Referred by NGS

Title: “Saving New York’s Neighborhood History One Interview at a Time

Herd-Worthy Because: A very cool oral history project to save the legacy and stories of a quickly changing city of vibrant neighborhoods. How are you saving the stories behind your city, neighborhood, home and family?


Until we “Herd” again…

The Houstory Herd – August 2014

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

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You know you are getting old when you start referring to folks  as “young people.” (Actually, you might achieve that designation when you start writing, “folks” in blog posts, too.) Well, I guess I’m getting kind of old because today I’m going to write a little bit about young people and their role in the world of historic preservation.

For some reason, over the past month I’ve seen a slew of stories about the younger generation getting involved with historic preservation projects. As a fan of history — especially history in my own back yard — I love seeing the younger generation take an active interest in the past. To me, that curiosity is something that carries over into many areas of life.

By my estimation, if you are curious to hear about how grandma and grandpa first met, then you are likely pretty curious about lots of other things, such as local politics, world news and the general notion of staying active and making a difference in your community.

To me, curiosity and an effort to understand our history — at whatever scale — is among our greatest virtues.

Take a 14-year-old preservationist by the name of Bridget Brady. Bridget was among a handful of kids who devoted a large chunk of their summer to saving a 167-year-old mansion in Massachusetts. Talk about an inspiring story. It reaffirmed my belief that not every person under the age of 18  is glued to a smart phone 24-7 (although, I do think many are). In fact, some kids are not only offline, they are plugged into the community around them.


Vancouver Columbian, house history, washington state

College students have been carefully excavating at Fort Vancouver in Washington state. Photo Credit: Vancouver Columbian

This notion that young people (see, I’m still old) simply don’t care about history got me thinking: What can we do to help inspire the younger generation to care? Taking it a step further, what have you done to help your kids care?

At Houstory, it’s no secret that we primarily focus on saving family history through family heirlooms and house history, which explains our question this week. We would encourage you to sit down, and talk to your kids. Tell them about the things that matter to you. You might be surprised by the results.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Take the poll below, and let us know what you think.


online poll by Opinion Stage

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) Environmental sustainability issues. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet


Author: CBC Radio (#WasteWarrior, @DrTorahKachur)

TitleWhat a Waste: Waste Warriors

Herd-Worthy Because: “If you’ve found space junk in your yard, make kindling out of orange rinds or cure your own urine, we want to hear your story!” A radio series about reducing waste. Aside from the cured urine, we’re on board!




TitleFiguring out history of family heirlooms in Shanghai

Herd-Worthy Because: “There were 109 (figurines) in all, invariably 10 to 12 centimeters in height. But Macaux could not trace their origins, until something caught his eye.It was a label on the trunk, written in French, that read “Orphelinat de Tu Se We, Shanghai,” — the Orphanage of Tu Se We, Shanghai. A date followed: June 23, 1938.”

A story, a label. The Heirloom Registry says, “yes!”


Author: The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

TitleNew life for the family heirloom: Decorative painters help passed-down furniture blend with today’s taste

Herd-Worthy Because: Great ideas for folks looking to revamp awkward family heirlooms. 


Author: Miami Herald

TitleCuban immigrants share precious family heirlooms to show history of Cuban exiles

Herd-Worthy Because: Memories of a life since past, experienced through heirlooms of all kinds. “These are not only memories but items of everyday use when Cuba existed as a nation…[These shirts] were on the streets of Havana. They lived there.”


Author: The Sydney Morning Herald (Contributed by the New England Historic Genealogical Society)

Title: “Foster kids to get digital ‘memory box’ to store their precious keepsakes

Herd-Worthy Because: Read this one if you have time.

To help store the keepsakes of the state’s 18,000 children in foster care, leading child welfare agency Barnardos Australia has developed a digital ‘memory box.'” 

What a great and important concept to protect the memories and family histories of our most vulnerable.


Author: The Emporia Gazette (Referred by the New England Historic Genealogical Society)

TitleOne heck of a hand-me-down: 1928 Model A Ford passed to fifth generation

Herd-Worthy Because: The story behind a 1928 Model A Ford that has trickled down through the same family since it was bought fresh off of the assembly line.



Author: The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

TitleFarewell to my great-grandpa’s house, and my sort-of history

Herd-Worthy Because: An interesting — and honest — account of the author’s ties to his grandfather’s central Pennsylvania home. The author discovers how sometimes one’s connection to a place sounds better on paper than it actually feels in real life and how part of honoring a connection is sometimes letting go of it.


Author: The Cheerful Word

TitleWhy your stories are worth telling: Part 1” 

Herd-Worthy Because:  As the author explains, “You may know your mother or father from a child’s perspective, though you are all now adults, but you may not know much about your parents as the rest of the world experiences them.”

A short piece that discusses collecting and sharing family stories, which the author notes, 86% of boomers (age 48-66) and 74% of elders (age 72+) agree that are the most important aspect of their legacy. 


Author: Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

TitleAn Obituary Begins With “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead

Herd-Worthy Because: At 70-year old Joanna Scarpitti’s request, her family wrote her obituary with the first line being a quote from the Wizard of Oz.

Which, of course, got me (and other commenters) thinking about what famous line I’d like to open my obituary….



Author: The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

TitleHouse’s history dug up

Herd-Worthy Because: Another example of young people getting involved in preserving the past.


Author: Richmond BizSense (Richmond, Va.)

TitleThe historic old house lady

Herd-Worthy Because: A Virginia realtor known as the “historic old house lady” talks about the market for historic homes and the challenge of finding the “unique buyer” who “understands old houses, appreciates the history of it and… wants to be a good steward of it.”


Author: English Chinese News Service

TitleHistoric house partly demolished ‘by mistake

Herd-Worthy Because: “Honey, did you remember to hold the mail and the newspaper?” Yes Dear. “Did you remember to give the neighbor a key a leave the lamp on the auto timer?” Yes Dear. “Oh, and did you notify the city not to demolish the house while we are away?”


Author: PreservationNation Blog

TitleHow I Spent My Summer Vacation: An Interview with Teen Preservationist Bridget Brady

Herd-Worthy Because: I’m trying to reflect on how I would spend my summer vacations in comparison to this amazing teenager. The only thing I preserved was my parent’s sanity when I left the house.


Author: New York Times

TitleHome of Johnny Cash Hopes History Will Help It Rise

Herd-Worthy Because: The Man in Black.

The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess, Ark. has been refurbished and opened to visitors.


Author: Metro Weekly (Washington, D.C.)

TitleLiving in History: 5 Great House Museums in Washington (D.C.)

Herd-Worthy Because: If you live near our Nation’s Capital and you like old homes, you  will want to print this out for some fantastic day-trip destinations. Describes how the “old home experience” has been freshened up for today’s visitors at many house museums.


Until we “Herd” again…

FamilySearch Genealogy Video Series Highlights Importance of Preserving Stories Now

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

Too often, genealogists and family historians don’t consider their own stories — or even their own family members — as valuable branches of a family tree until its too late.

Sure it’s great to research the “big branches” of ancestors hundreds of years ago, but why not look a little closer to home in terms of both proximity and time? Yesterday, I stumbled across a great video collection produced by FamilySearch that really illustrated this point.

The “5-Minute Genealogy” series episode I came across, called “Learn From Family,” drove home the importance of sitting down with loved ones to share family history before that option no longer exists. It included tips and techniques for completing the task.

Take a looksy. Let it soak in.

And then DO IT!

Have a great week…

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.
family heirloom, radio, heirloom registry, new year's resolution, houstory, family history

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 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!

Can something be considered an heirloom without a story?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

As we head into the “lazy days” of summer, some questions for you to ponder in the hammock…

Do you have anything in your home that has a story behind it? Maybe it’s a quilt handed down from mom; a clock given to you by a favorite uncle; a coffee table received as a wedding gift; or a set of dishes passed down through the years?

In my living room, I have a simple fountain lamp that was purchased for me just a few years ago. It’s not old (in fact it was new when I received it), and it’s not monetarily that valuable. If you saw the lamp, you may think it was nice — but probably not much more.

The Heirloom Registry

The story of my lamp is now safe and accessible in The Heirloom Registry

You wouldn’t know where or when it was purchased, or by whom — or that it has traveled with me around the world since it was acquired. In other words, you would not know why this lamp is much more than just a ‘thing’ to me, and is one of my most precious belongings.

I think it’s safe to say that without its story, my little lamp would just be more “stuff” in my home.

With this example in mind, how can we make sure the stories and provenance  behind the things we truly care about — those relatively few, irreplaceable belongings you would want to grab if there was a fire in the house — will always remain with the items?

Or, in my case, how can I make sure that my son, daughter or relative in the year 2075 will know that my lamp purchased in 2005 was not just a piece of junk — but was something of great sentimental value that marked an important period in my life?

Enter The Heirloom Registry (, the latest offering from Houstory Publishing, creator of the Home History Book archival journal.

What is The Heirloom Registry? The Registry allows you to pass on the story of your treasured belongings to future generations using high-quality labels and brass plates in conjunction with registration codes and a secure online database.

In other words, it will help make sure that if someone sees my little lamp decades from now, they will have very easy access to the story behind it.

To learn how it works, please watch the short video accompanying this post. If you’d like to test out the site for free, please sign up for a free account at

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!