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

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

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

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

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

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

Gommy in the garden on Lopez Island.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The back page of my Lopez Island Cookbook.

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

Rowhouse Tour: ‘Four Homes for the Holidays’

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

Houstory, DIY Del Ray, holiday, homes, holiday homes, houses, holiday houses

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!

Houstory, DIY Del Ray, holiday, homes, holiday homes, houses, holiday houses

Photo courtesy of DIY Del Ray

A different kind of December: Say ‘no’ to more ‘stuff’ — honor what you already have

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Sales and Marketing Director

Editor’s note: I can break the rules. I’m off-topic before I begin. Just give me second, ok? If you are ever bored and have time to waste, Google “stupid gifts for pets.” Better yet, do an image search. You’re welcome in advance, and this will actually make sense if you read the article below. Enjoy!

It’s ironic that as the sales and marketing director of a company I helped create, I originally had to sell myself on my own product line.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always thought the concepts we champion (telling the stories behind houses and heirlooms) are fascinating.  After all, research, writing and crafting stories have been pillars of my professional life for the past 15 years.

consumerism, consumer culture, houstory, heirloom registry, shopping, holidays

Our products (The Home History Book™ and The Heirloom Registry™) are steeped in story, and I’ve always been sold on these ideas. How can you not appreciate learning the background of a unique relic, the chair grandma used to sit in every night after dinner, a grandfather clock — or the intimate details of a 1920s Craftsman home?

Concept was never the problem. No, my issue was much more tangible.

Simply put, I didn’t want to put more “stuff” into the world. Now, stuff is a broad term, but in my mind it has a reasonably clear meaning: items that hold little or no value in terms of practical use, sentimentality or enduring entertainment.

If an item falls into one of these three categories, I don’t believe it to be just “stuff.” Let’s break this down.

********************

Practical Use

These are items you genuinely can’t live without, and probably use more than a couple times per month.  They may include everything from a vacuum cleaner to a pair of shoes to a computer and all sorts of things in between.

Sentimentality

Admittedly, this is in the Houstory wheelhouse. These include items that you are holding on to simply because they inspire and move you. Family keepsakes, photos and heirlooms would fall into this category, of course.

Enduring Entertainment

I’m not the “stuff police,” ok? If you want to buy a flat screen TV, or spend money on a new camera, book or electric slippers, more power to you. I would simply ask that you consider the item’s true value to your life before pulling the trigger. Will you still be using these items in five years, or will they simply be discarded in a landfill  in a few months?

********************

I realize I run the risk of sounding preachy, but I’m not trying to. I just think if I’m going to make such a declaration, I need to define my terms.

Heck, I’m writing this from a laptop, and my home is filled with things – including stuff. Did I truly need that box of Dog Cigars (see “stupid gifts for pets” reference above)? No. That’s a poor example, actually. I don’t even own a dog.

However, I think it’s safe to say most everyone has stuff, including me.

Which brings me back to selling myself on Houstory. Before I invested time, money and started down this entrepreneurial path, I needed our products to meet this self-imposed “anti-stuff” criterion.

In particular, The Home History Book – a substantial coffee table book with 244 pages and an engraved brass plate – gave me pause for introspection. Being built to last, which the book certainly is, requires effort and natural resources. While we did our level best to build the book responsibly (see “Built Responsibly” link at bottom of home page), we also wanted to ensure it would be something that provides long-term value to its owners.

Happily, in the end, not only did I conclude we are not just selling stuff, we are actually helping people to transform their items from being “stuff” into valued belongings.

We believe the more you know about your possessions– whether they are houses or heirlooms – the more likely you are to hold on to them, and not just demolish or discard and replace them with newer, shinier stuff.

family history, conservation, preservation, houstory, heirloom registry

Why are most historic homes valuable? Quality construction? Perhaps. Location? Maybe. Or is it history? Every day, homes are saved from demolition because of the stories behind them.

What about family heirlooms?  Picture two identical grandfather clocks, side-by-side. However, you know that one clock was purchased by your great-grandfather as a wedding gift for your great-grandmother.  You know nothing of the other clock. Which one would you probably keep and maintain?

Undoubtedly, historical preservation leads to conservation.

Sadly, the term conservation has become highly politicized, divisive and attributed to more liberal-leaning factions. I’m not quite sure why, as the term “CONSERVative” is derived from the very same root word.

In reality, I think all parties are on the same page: We want to leave things better than we found them for future generations. If you do feel this way – and we think you do – do something about it.

Which brings us to our “No More Stuff/Preserve. Conserve.” campaign this month. Here are some things you can do right now.

houstory, heirloom registry, home history book, shopping, holidays

Preserve. Conserve.  And say “no” to “more stuff.”

Do it differently this December.

 

Let us know what you think. Do you agree with our campaign? Do you think we are full of hot air? Do you have too much stuff? Do you think buying stuff  — as we’ve defined it — is even a problem? Do you own Dog Cigars? We want to hear from you. Let’s get this conversation started.

Saving legacies: How to document the stories behind your family heirlooms

Last month, Houstory® Publishing, creator of the The Heirloom Registry™,  was an exhibitor at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree.

While there, we were fortunate to meet lots of folks who were passionate about the importance — and joy — of discovering, preserving and sharing family stories. Additionally, after reading their blogs and listening to their podcasts, it was fun to meet genealogy “powerhouses” such as Thomas MacEntee, Lisa Louise Cooke, Caroline Pointer, Drew Smith and George G. Morgan, among others.

heirloom registry, houstory publishing, heirloom, heirlooms, family stories, the family curator, Denise May Levenick, Family Tree Magazine, antiques, provenance

Another name on that list is Denise May Levenick, also known as The Family Curator. We met Denise while behind our booth at the show, and we’re glad we did!

Denise is a writer, researcher, and speaker with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes (Family Tree Books, 2012) and creator of The Family Curator blog, voted one of the 40 Best Genealogy Blogs in 2010 and 2011 by readers of Family Tree Magazine.

Recently, she penned a fantastic article for Family Tree Magazine — where she is a frequent contributor — about keeping family heirlooms’ legacies from getting lost by documenting the stories of their pasts. Obviously, as creators of The Heirloom Registry™, this idea resonated deeply.

heirloom registry, houstory publishing, heirloom, heirlooms, family stories, the family curator, Denise May Levenick, Family Tree Magazine, antiques, provenance

In the piece, she gives simple, clear steps on how to do this — and even provides an example of what a finished provenance, or heirloom history, might look like. She calls these stories, “Treasure Tales.”

“Unlike letters or documents with names, dates and places, family artifacts are often left unlabeled and their histories get lost,” Denise wrote. “Without a past, that treasure and its untold history may be tossed out. Time you spend today to identify and record the history of your treasures will give them a better chance to survive into tomorrow.”

Obviously, if you have a passion for historical preservation, the power of story and conservation, we encourage you to follow The Family Curator. She may help you — and future generations in your family — view your precious belongings as far more than just “stuff.”

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 (www.heirloomregistry.com), 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 www.heirloomregistry.com

‘Home is where the heart is:’ Share your interesting house photos with Houstory

Home, Paktika Province, Afghanistan
(Photo by Goldsboro Williams)

A reader working in Afghanistan (who, for security reasons — and a bit of fun — asked to be identified by the pseudonym “Goldsboro Williams”) recently submitted this photo of an interesting home in that country’s Paktika Province. His post to us was labeled simply, “Home is Where the Heart Is.”

Mr. “Williams” is right. Wherever it may be, whatever it looks like, I think we all share the same feeling: home is where the heart is.

Bless them all.

And thanks, Goldsboro, for sharing.

If you’ve come across an interesting home — particularly one that really shows off that that often indefinable quality of “heart” — we’d love for you to share it with us and our Houstory readers. Please post your photo on our Facebook page, or shoot us an e-mail (info@houstory.com) with the title “Home is where the heart is.” We’d love to share it with our readers.

StoryCorps: Every voice matters

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

This week, we will briefly touch on the idea and importance of preserving stories today for future generations. This is really the heart of what Houstory is all about: recording and preserving those often small, everyday — but very much unique and important — stories that make up our lives. By doing so, you can help ensure your legacy can be shared with those who follow.

While, naturally, we think the Home History Book archival journal is a great way to do this — specifically regarding all the interesting stories that happen at home — it is by no means the only way.

For example, I recently started recording interviews with family members — specifically asking my mom and dad, as well as a few of my married brothers and their wives — to reflect on how they first met and eventually got together. My goal is to eventually put these audio stories  into a nicely produced and edited podcast so the family will always have them on which to look back.

Today, in that style of conversational historical preservation, I wanted to share one of my favorite resources and examples for effectively recording and preserving unique life stories and legacy: StoryCorps. I’m guessing if you are reading my blog, there is a good chance you’ve heard of this group, as it is quite popular.

As its Web site states: “StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress…We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters. At the same time, we will create an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.”

Yes, it is as fascinating as it sounds. In fact, I met a StoryCorps representative a few months ago in downtown Austin, Texas. She was was travelling around the country in the StoryCorps van, recording people in the different cities she visited. To say I was envious of her was an understatement. But I digress.

If you have not had a chance, head to the StoryCorps Web site and take a listen to a few of the great stories they have catalogued!

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know —what are your favorite resources for saving and sharing stories for future generations? Have you ever listened to StoryCorps, or participated with the group?

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

Also please be sure to visit our Web site at www.homehistorybook.com

Yes, it’s true: Not every house has a happy story to tell

By Rick Read — Special to the Houstory Hearth

Last week, genealogist Rick Read shared his insight into how to effectively take “then” and “now” photos of your house using an older home in Bellingham, Wash. as the example. This week, he returns to tell us about the heartbreaking story behind those photos.

Rick has nearly 40 years of experience as an award-winning TV producer. He is also an avid still photographer and genealogist and was, for five years, the research aide for theWhatcom Genealogical Society (Washington state).

My previous blog entry focused on creating a “then” and “now” display of old and recent photos of your home.  What I did not talk about in that article was why the original “then” photo was taken in the first place.

Credit: 1995.0001.019938 Photo by Jack Carver Courtesy: Whatcom Museum

Jeff Jewell, Whatcom Museum photo historian (Bellingham, Wash.), asked me to research the photo, taken by veteran Bellingham Herald photographer Jack Carver. The photo was catalogued into the museum collection with a one-sentence description that included a surname (that I will not reveal for privacy reasons); a time frame (“spring 1958”); and a word (“murder”).

Not much to go on. So, how to proceed? With an approximate date, I could have simply looked through three months of newspaper microfilm to find the event. My experience has been that, depending on the magnitude of the event you’re researching, it can take up to an hour to scan through a month’s worth of newspapers. OK, so I could have found the article in about three hours. Fortunately, there was a quicker method.

The surname mentioned in the photo description was more uncommon than common – a big help. The event in question was a murder, so I knew I could check the state death index to find that surname. That would lead me to a first name and date. That would cut my research time considerably. But was there any quicker method?

If your subject was born, married or died in Washington state, the answer is “yes.” The Secretary of State’s office has created a wonderful online resource – the first of its kind in the country – called, “The Washington State Digital Archives” (http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov). By entering a first and/or last name, you can find birth, marriage and death records – as well as additional information – for almost anyone who was born, married or died in the state.

In this case, I did not have a first name, but I did have an unusual surname and an approximate date. So, I entered the surname, clicked on “Death Records,” then sorted the records by clicking on “Death Year,” and up popped a single death record for 1958. Suddenly, I had the victim’s full name, date of death, and even the names of her parents.

Minutes after arriving at the Bellingham Library, I was looking at the reason why Jack Carver had taken that photo back in the spring of 1958. Turns out it was front-page news.

Background: Sam and Ethel had lived with their three children at the house on “I” Street for three years (I found this information by researching their name in the city directory). On the night before Father’s Day, Ethel walked her daughter to a babysitting job just a few doors down the street. When Ethel didn’t return promptly, Sam became concerned. He went outside and discovered his wife, beaten and unconscious, lying alongside their home. She passed away the next morning. An 18-year-old man was arrested later and he confessed to the random killing.

This turned out to be on of those “be careful what you wish for” stories. It can be a fascinating process to research the stories associated with your home. Just keep in mind that not all of those stories may be happy ones.

Editor’s note: While it is true not every house has a happy story to tell, we still believe it’s important to document the past and present. After all, history is not always pleasant — but it does help to give us context and insight — which is why it holds value. 

For more on disclosure of your home’s past, Inman News — a great resource for independent real estate news — recently published an article on the topic entitled, “Disclosing crime when selling a home.” 

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know — would you want to know the full history of your home, warts and all? 

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

Bring your home’s history to life using these simple photo tips

By Rick Read — Special to the Houstory Hearth

Occasionally, the Houstory Hearth will feature guest authors who have knowledge and expertise related to the world of Houstory Publishing. This week, we feature Rick Read. Rick has nearly 40 years of experience as an award-winning TV producer. He is also an avid still photographer and genealogist and was, for five years, the research aide for the Whatcom Genealogical Society (Washington state).

One of the great aspects of the Home History Book archival journal is that it encourages you to take note of the changes that occur in your home over time. And what better way to demonstrate those changes than to compare old and recent photos – “then” and “now” photos. You can make the comparison even more dramatic by taking your “now” photo from the exact location at which the “then” photo was snapped. I will refrain from becoming too detailed here.

If you want the details, check out this great Web site.

I am using a “then” photo furnished by Jeff Jewell of the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash. (There’s an interesting story about this photo – I hope to share it with you in the future.) The first thing you’ll want to do with your “then” photo is to scan it and print a large black and white “work print.” This print will become your guide for lining up your “now” photo. Printing in black and white will also help you focus on the details of the photo.

Take a close look at the photo. Note the relationships of features that might still exist today:

  1. How the front left part of the porch exposes the house behind the subject house
  2. How the vertical end of the porch railing (on which the young boy is sitting) lines up with the window behind the rail
  3. How much of the building in the back right of the subject house is exposed

You may find it helpful to draw a grid pattern over your “then” photo. The horizontal and vertical lines can be helpful when lining up your “now” shot. Avoid using relationships to transient items, such as the height or width of a tree. You’ll quickly discover that these relationships will only lead to frustration.  Another thing about vegetation: winter can be a better time for taking “now” photos, as any leaves that block your subject will be gone.

THEN PHOTO — CLICK TO ENLARGE 1995.0001.019938; photo by Jack Carver; courtesy Whatcom Museum

Once you’ve made note of several physical relationships on your “then” picture, you’re ready to take your “now” shot. You will find a tripod especially helpful for this process. It’s tough to hold your camera in one hand and your “then” photo in the other, while trying to get the shot lined up properly. Keep in mind, too, that the position from which the “then” photographer took his photo may have changed. He may have positioned himself on a hill that is long gone, or he may have been standing in what is now the middle of the street. (You might want to take a partner with you to serve as a lookout.)

When you’ve found that “sweet’ spot, click away. Take a few shots, move slightly and take a few more. Continue to refer to your “then” shot, as you make adjustments. You can present your finished photos side by side or as a blended image.

Check these Web sites for more examples:

* Leningrad Seige — Then and Now

* Normandy 1944 — Then and Now

NOW PHOTO — CLICK TO ENLARGE

Whichever display method you choose, you’ll have some great images to add to your Home History Book archival journal and to share with future owners of your home.

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

POLL: Do you have any significant home renovations planned for 2012?

As we progress into 2012, we at Houstory Publishing are curious: What changes do you have planned for your home this year? Maybe you’ll be painting the bedroom, replacing your kitchen cabinets or putting in new wiring? Or perhaps it will be something even more demanding — such as the addition of a new wooden deck, or a comprehensive living room makeover?

We want to know what your plans are, and so do other house lovers! Make sure to take the poll below, and leave a comment with some specifics.

And if you do have renovation plans, hopefully your project won’t end up being a nightmare.

Renovations are important components of your house’s story, so make sure you are safely recording and preserving them somewhere! Take photos (before and after); log key dates; cite materials used (such as paint colors) and document any other information you think may be beneficial for those who may live there in the future.

They will thank you for your efforts later.