The Houstory Hearth Herd – April 2014

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history bookI consider myself a pretty organized guy. In fact, after several adolescent years spent making fun of my dad for his almost religious dedication and interaction with his Day-Timer Planner, I am a slave to The To-Do List. I’d go so far to say that if I didn’t have access to my Google calendar, I’d likely forget to wear pants or that I need to eat. 

Now, playfully fulfilling the role I once held opposite my pops,  my wife makes fun of the multiple lists I have laying around the house on a regular basis. (On a separate note, it’s amazing how much you become like your parents as you get older. But that’s another story.)

What does this peculiar set of facts have to do with you, the members of The Houstory Nation? Hopefully, a lot.

interview, family history

Photo by Maggie Fimia, My Edmonds News

I’ve been working on developing an editorial calendar so that my fellow Houstorians know what they can expect (generally speaking) moving forward at The Hearth. As an example, we are going to have a deals of the month post every month, as well as house history research tips, among other editorial features.

Today’s post is our first in a series which we call “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply going to be 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. On a related note, I just finished a Louis L’Amour book that had to do with a cattle drive. I’m not sure if that informed my series name decision or not. I’m also a huge fan of alliteration, which is sometimes a problem.

Anyhow, we will focus the Herd’s content 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

Now, on to the April 2014 Houstory Hearth Herd.

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AuthorLisa Louise Cooke

Title: “It’s the Little Things: Family Heirlooms are Family History

Herd-Worthy Because: Speaks for itself, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s safe to say this article illustrates why we are in business. If you haven’t listened to Lisa’s podcast and you appreciate family history, do check it out.

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Author: The Washington Post

Title: “Guess who lived here? Tenants embrace D.C. homes with famous history

Herd-Worthy Because: House history, with a twist. Our good friend and house historian colleague, Paul Kelsey Williams, was mentioned in the article. If you like D.C. house history, you know what you should do.

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Author: Gannon Burgett

Title: “100-Year-Old Negatives and Camera Found Inside Oklahoma City Time Capsule

Herd-Worthy Because: Genealogist, family historian and technology guru (and our good friend) Caroline Pointer provided us with this story. The concept of a time capsule is truly at the heart of both The Heirloom Registry and The Home History Book archival journal. Plus, it’s pretty darn cool.

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Author: Good HouseKeeping

Title: “13 Things That Make a House a Home

Herd-Worthy Because: As the article states, “Here are a few of our favorite things that transform a mere shelter into a safe haven.” Spoiler alert: this list includes family heirlooms!

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Author: Maggie Fimia, My Edmonds News

Title: “Family History: Tips for informally interviewing your relatives

Herd-Worthy Because: Stories, baby! If you don’t take time to sit down and listen, your family history will slip away. Family historian Maggie Fimia has great tips on how to prevent this slippage from happening.

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Author: The Modesto Bee

Title: “Modesto (Calif.) dry cleaner has collection of abandoned heirlooms

Herd-Worthy Because: One question: How in the  heck would you forget to pick up your wedding dress?

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Author: The New York Times

Title: “With Granda’s Ring, I Thee Wed

Herd-Worthy Because: Reusing and recycling family history is not such a bad thing! The article examines how many young people are using family “heirlooms or other vintage rings for more affordable, often more meaningful, alternatives to new diamonds and wedding bands.”

Until next month’s herd…

How to hire a house historian

So you’ve decided to enlist some help when it comes to researching your home’s history, and want to hire a house historian.

Surprisingly, house historians — in the purest sense of the phrase — are not as prevalent as you might think. Houstory (fittingly pronounced “House-Story”), has been around several years now (since 2007), and we’ve made it our business to track down a growing collection of house historians to add to the company’s house historian search engine.

house historian, hiring

 

These are individuals we have entrusted to help owners of our product, The Home History Book archival journal, fill in the details of their home’s past. For real estate agents seeking a unique closing gift, or bed and breakfasts trying to share their historic property’s background, time is often of the essence and help researching this history is well worth the cost.

A house historian can be employed to write your entire home history, track down just your old tax records, find information about a particular owner — or something in between. Before you hire a home historian, do your research. The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) have developed a handy checklist for the hiring process, as has historian Dan Curtis.

Are you a house historian? Or maybe you’ve worked with one you can recommend? We’d love to connect with you. 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.

House history: 11 tips to research a home’s interior

Our last house history post examined the “Top 12 House History Research Supplies” for house historians, or “houstorians,” as we like to refer them. This week, we will take a peek inside at what it takes to learn about a home’s interior history. 

Facelifts: Try to notice alterations, such as mixed materials or material scarring that may indicate structural deletions. Finding this evidence can be challenging for Houstorians – especially considering modern construction practices that make telling the difference between an original material and a substitute difficult.

house history, research, home interior

Notice the subtleties: Aside from more obvious modifications – such as new room additions – focus on more minor clues, such as signs of wallpaper replacement. This kind of detail may help indicate a room’s previous use.

Get familiar with interior design trends relating to your home’s beginnings: Houstorians should try to research interior design, using books and older publications, such as magazines and newspaper advertisements, if applicable. For example, advertisements may provide insight into a variety of interior-design issues, ranging from costs of materials and goods to appliances, heating and cooling systems.

Line things up: To get a full picture of a houstory, take a bird’s eye view of how your home’s rooms are laid out. Are the dominant line features curving, horizontal, or are they vertical? For example, many 18th- and 19th-century rooms emphasize vertical design by utilizing high ceilings, towering windows and oversized doors, whereas other styles may have more rounded features.

House plan books: These types of books have been around since the mid 1800s. They contain sketches or photos of homes, complete with floor plans – which can be invaluable from a Houstory perspective. Homeowners would simply send away for blueprints, and give them to their builders to construct. Libraries and some larger bookstores may have copies of the original books. Newspapers — and perhaps even some lumber companies, who produced the wood needed for homes — may also have the information. For example, from 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Company marketed and sold approximately 100,000 homes by catalog.

Get in there and get dirty: Get up close and personal with your walls – which may give clues to the timeframes of the building. Houstorians may have differing moldings in the same room for example, which may help to indicate modifications. Clues can be everywhere. For example, holes in walls may lead to observations about locations of paintings or lighting; unusual window shapes and sizes may help to clarify the locations of decorative windows.

Look at things in a different light: Original paint colors and wallpaper can be difficult to ascertain for Houstorians, as rooms can transform shades on a fairly regular basis. Often, outer fabrics – and sometimes even the wall itself – must be removed or disturbed to make these discoveries. However, sometimes – when walls are examined during various times of day in differing lighting conditions — different clues can become apparent.

Look to the pros: While you may be able to discover a lot on your own, paint chip removal should be done with extreme caution by Houstorians – not only in terms of home damage, but also information accuracy. Light, aging, pollution, glazes – all can alter the look of the paint. In many cases, professional conservators are needed for final evaluation.

Clues at your feet: Floors and floor coverings are often pages in the life story of your home. Details about furniture locations and room uses can be revealed to Houstorians by carefully examining floors for things like marks, burns, scars, and water damage. However, sanding, polishing and waxing floors – or replacing older carpet – can destroy or greatly compromise the accuracy of this information.

Apply your knowledge of appliances: Appliance styles – particularly in bathrooms, utility rooms and kitchens – can really help Houstorians gather valuable insight. These rooms are nearly always the first locations in a house to receive the latest and greatest in technology. Leftover clues, such as capped gas lines, electrical outlets, switches and lighting fixtures can also tell a tale.

Using public utilities: If permits are not available or accessible for some reason, public utility connection dates can help Houstorians to verify construction dates and potential improvements that may have occurred. Utility companies may have access to records and maps showing approximate times of when gas lines were laid, or electrical lines were put in place, for example.

For more on how to research your home’s history, and effective ways to make sure these stories are saved for the future, please visit www.homehistorybook.com.

Top 12 House History Research Supplies

Researching your home’s history is a lot of fun, but you don’t want to be caught flat-footed if an opportunity to research and collect value information on your property presents itself. In an effort to help out our fellow “Houstorians,” we’ve come up with a list of the top 12 supplies for house history research.

House History Research

 

Notebook/laptop computer: To keep track of everything, of course.

Tape measurer: Try to have one on-hand at all times. Whether it comes to creating a map for your home, or measuring a room – accuracy is of paramount importance.

Camera: A picture is often worth a few thousand words.

Recording device: When conducting interviews, it is helpful to have a device on hand — whether it is a tape recorder or something more sophisticated, such as a digital recorder — that will allow you to record (with permission) the people you speak to along the way.

Large folder: During your research adventures, you’ll likely run across a slew of loose papers/documents that need a home. Eventually, many of these documents can be showcased in your Home History Book, but in the meantime, a folder will do.

Magnifying glass: Tiny print — common in the types of documents you will likely be examining, such as maps or government documents — can strain the eyes.

Tracing paper: For those times when you can’t copy some of the truly historic and fragile documents, or perhaps they are too large.

Pencil: Oftentimes, libraries and historical archives will not let you use a pen on the premises if the documents they house are too fragile or old.

Stapler: Keep the loose stuff organized.

Flashlight: The home historians sometimes has to follow the research trail to dark nooks and crannies in a home to dig up elusive information.

Sharp knife: Need a sample of wallpaper, or paint? This can help.

Mirror: If you are trying to explore hard-to-see areas, such as under an appliance or behind a wall – mirrors can be invaluable.

Is this list complete? What do you like to use when you research your home’s history? For more information on researching your house histories, visit www.homehistorybook.com

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!

 

Zillow: Top 10 Haunted Houses in the United States

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

The next time you take a walk down a street in your neighborhood, take a close look at the houses and imagine the stories that have taken place within their walls. For most, it would probably be easy to envision relatively happy tales: newlyweds moving in to their first home, holidays around the table, etc.

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For other homes, especially dilapidated buildings in a state of disrepair and decay, the stories envisioned may be darker by nature. In fact, some may be downright scary.

Today, in honor of Halloween, we will examine the top 10 haunted houses in the United States, as presented by Zillow — “a home and real estate marketplace dedicated to helping homeowners, home buyers, sellers, renters, real estate agents, mortgage professionals, landlords and property managers find and share vital information about homes, real estate, mortgages, and home improvement.” The site boasts a database of more than 110 million U.S. homes.

Last year, they developed a list of the 10 most haunted homes in the U.S.

On a related note, do you own a haunted house? A recent Wall Street Journal article says it may be a tough sell. Let us know your creepy house stories — and have a Happy Halloween!

 

houstory halloween

Road trip to Oregon’s Elvis shrine, historic bridge house

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory

So, a few weeks ago my wife and I hopped in the car and took a drive from our home in Eugene, Ore. to the sandy — and much chillier — Oregon coast. Our destination was a sleepy town called Florence, a seaside community as well as a tourist destination for many in  the area. Situated at the mouth of the  Siuslaw River, Florence was the site of a barbecue competition my brother-in-law Eric was competing in.

 

DESTINATION: FLORENCE, OREGON. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Along the way, my wife Tasi and I were met with several welcome distractions — including a stop at Shake, Rattle & Roll Record Shop in Mapleton, Ore., and a photo op of a bridge house just outside of Florence at a place called Cushman Bridge.

First, Shake, Rattle & Roll: Not that I’ve been actively seeking an extensive collection of Elvis collectibles and memorabilia, but if I were this seems like a pretty good place to start. Darrel Dixon, the shop’s proprietor, was a super nice guy for starters. He said he got most of the collection “7 or 8 years ago” from an Oregon woman. She obviously really dug on The King, because the place is a shrine. Two rooms full of stuff. Personally, I have two  obvious connections to Elvis. First, my I share his birthday (Jan. 8). Second — and this is what drew me to the store — is my niece (and goddaugher) Jessica’s affinity for the man, which started when she was probably three or four years old. In my opinion, Jessica is an “old soul” in a lot of ways, which I completely love. Now at the age of 20, she still maintains a mini Elvis altar herself, so whenever I see a chance for her to add to the collection, I let her know about opportunities.

elvis, memorabilia, collectibles, antiques

Elvis Heaven

 

The second stop along the trip was a picture I snapped of an old swing bridge — unofficially known as Cushman Bridge — crossing the slow-moving Siuslaw River. According to information I could find (but not officially substantiate), it was built in 1914 near the unincorporated community of Cushman. On top of it is a house-like structure, which I thought made for an interesting house history shot — even though it was likely never used as a permanent residence.

house history, oregon, siuslaw, swing bridge

The historic bridge house.

 

The final leg on the trip was the barbecue competition. My brother-in-law is a genius when it comes to all things smoked, and his ever-expanding barbecue competition trophy case is a testament to that. This time, he placed first in the rib competition.  And yes, they were tasty. To visit his barbecue world, check out his Facebook page. But don’t blame me if you get slobber on your keyboard.

barbecue

Yes, I got free barbecue. It pays to be a relative.

barbecue, Florence, Oregon

Eric (right) with my father-in-law Jim, showing off his first-place trophy.

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

Company history: Before ‘Houstory’ there was ‘Hestia,’ Greek goddess of hearth and home

An early prototype of company logo — before we became Houstory.

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

Before there was Houstory, there was Hestia. Literally.

After the muse struck and we had shopped around the idea of the Home History Book with positive results, we figured the next logical step would be to give our dream company a real-life name.

In inspired fashion, Hestia came to mind.

I knew almost nothing about her at the time, but I learned that Hestia is the Greek goddess of Hearth and Home, charged with the important task of keeping the home fire stoked. Sounded like a pretty good fit for our company.

While I won’t go into the details of her birth (which like many God/Goddesses involves considerable oddness — in Hestia’s case being swallowed at birth and later regurgitated by her dear old dad), she is regarded as one of the 12 great gods of Greek mythology.

Specifically, she is goddess of domestic life. Of motherhood and child-rearing. She is the “mom goddess” – even though she never married. Curious that.

According to Wikipedia and other sources, she blesses one with domestic happiness. (Or withholds her blessing if not asked for it.) She is often thought of as the nicest goddess. As the goddess of the sacred fire of the altar, she feels comfortable in the kitchen and has a special affinity for cooks and bakers. Hestia has a keenly developed spiritual side and plays a special role in the rituals of the various gods and goddesses, always making sure that their temples are prepared and everyone is comfortable. She is a wonderful hostess.

While I’ve not seen it written down officially, I feel Hestia actually would have been very comfortable being the Goddess of the Heart. But that, of course, was a position firmly occupied by Aphrodite. So the next closest thing to the heart, she felt, was the hearth. While today we generally think of the hearth as simply part of a nicely designed fireplace, in historic times the hearth was essential. It was used for heating, cooking and cleaning. It was also the focal point for religious rituals. Both literally and symbolically, it was heart of the home.

Hestia and Aphrodite actually have an interesting relationship. Hestia rejected the marriage proposals by both Poseidon and Apollo, both much admired – and desired — “studs” at the time. She thereby rejected Aphrodite’s values and became, to some extent her Wikipedia article says, Aphrodite’s “chaste, domestic complementary, or antithesis.”

While the Goddess of the Heart and Goddess of the Hearth are both deeply loving beings, there often does seem to be some sort of inner war going on between them. Certainly their paths have been quite different.

One wonders if Hestia might not have been caught off guard at how much work it was going to be. Instead of passionately pursuing romance, lovers and adventures of the heart like Aphrodite, Hestia shouldered the heavier, more demanding job of making sure dinner was on the table, the home cleaned, the laundry done and the family and home operating smoothly. It was her energy that kept the family looking and feeling like a family.

Sandro Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus (aka Aphrodite) from the mid-1480s shows the goddess rising from a seashell.

While the work could be incredibly rewarding – phew! – it can also wear you out. As any modern day Hestia/Mom will tell you, the other heart — the fun loving, party-going, libidinous heart — often ends up taking a back seat due to physical exhaustion. (You hear about the same even happening with some Baby Daddies, though most of them I know still seem to make time for Aphrodite!)

In her book Love Magic, Laurie Cabot describes the various personality archetypes and says that Hearth Goddesses, which in addition to the Grecian Hestia also includes Brigit, Cerridwen, Vesta, Hera, Isis, Hathor, Frigg, Arianrod, Nanna and Juno, are “very centered, inner-oriented women who develop great wisdom concerning the importance and meaning of everyday things.” While they can enjoy an active, rewarding love life, Cabot says for some Hearth Goddesses it’s often with more of a “take it or leave it” approach.

In the end, in naming our company, we found that Hestia had already found a couple suitors in the all-important world of Internet domains so we moved on and soon landed on Houstory, which also felt good at the time – and is feeling better and better and better every day.

Still, it was Hestia who called to us first. And we thank her. She’s done a wonderful job keeping the home fire stoked and helping us at Houstory establish a strong foundation for our young company. But the time has come to take off the permanent apron and put on your party shoes, girl! Because, just like here at Houstory, it’s starting to feel more and more these days like you actually can have it all.

Let us know what you think. What’s your company name history? What was its original inspiration? Are you more Hestia or Aphrodite? We want to hear from you!

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.

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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?

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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.