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 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!

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.

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

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

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.

Need a 2012 resolution idea? Start preserving, sharing your stories now as a gift to the future

The Home History Book™ archival journal is primarily designed for users to fill in the “current” history of what is happening in their home. No research required — just tell your story. In other words, it will be a first-person account — invaluable information for future home historians and homeowners.

The Home History Book™ archival journal Deluxe Mahogany: Built to last

Simply fill in one of the book’s 10 repeating “Our Home’s Stories” sections as often as you like (we recommend once every few years) with photos and information. Essentially, it’s a baby book for the home … that stays with the home. And because it stays behind — even as owners come and go — it allows future owners a glimpse into what happened in the home before they lived within its walls.

Whether you decide to purchase a Home History Book archival journal or not, please start preserving and sharing your home’s stories now. Just keep them safe and accessible! Think of the value these memories will have for those who may live in your home just 10 or 20 years from now.

It is our passion to inspire home genealogy. After all, the more you know of a home’s history, the more likely you are to take care of it. In other words, we hope our product encourages stewardship — both in terms of the environment (caring for what you have, as opposed to simply throwing it away and starting over) and cultural stewardship (protecting stories for generations to come).

For more information — including free research materials that will help you discover your home’s beginning history (before you lived there) — visit www.homehistorybook.com.