Today's story indulges Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin’s fascination with the stars. She even has an Artifct or two about it. You can read one of them here. If nothing else, just like the act of creating an Artifct, let this story help remind you to take a pause to look up and enjoy the vastness of the universe and the potential within each of us every day to play an oversized role in it from our little slice of the universe.
Close your eyes.
Picture a lighthouse.
Is it hanging out alone on a rocky bluff or stony beach? Is it sun-shiny daytime or deep dark night?
Would it surprise you to learn that most photographs of lighthouses only show these sentinels by day? Until recently, that is.
Lighthouses today are largely on private land or public park spaces, both with controlled access. Even with access granted, you have weather, water, and other environmental conditions, including wildlife (Porcupines! No joke. Read the book USA Stars & Lighthouses.), to contend with if you want a close-up view. So logically most of us capture pictures of lighthouses only by day and often by boat or from some distance as in the photo shown in the Artifct Our Cape Cod Whale Tale.
We had the good fortune to connect recently with David Zapatka, who has spent his professional life behind the lens of high-powered video cameras that bring the world everything from investigative news from the field to NCAA men's basketball tournaments and the Olympics. Privately, however, David was hooked on photography from the moment he realized his passion would be supported by submissions to his school yearbook, feeding him a constant supply of film and access to the people and places of the moment.
Access and control - two of the most critical factors in photography. Control is about lighting. David preaches to his students: control - control - control. As for access, well, you know, can you get close to it? The third critical ingredient for David is passion. Conservancy, national history, community, all of these play into David's work to at last capture lighthouses at night, doing the work they were designed for, bringing ships safely to harbor, providing hope in a sea of dark, and reminding us we are infinitely small in this vast universe.
David is creating a personal legacy in this work. For his kids and grandkids, for all of us, he'll know he left us something special.
For each lighthouse in his book USA Stars & Lights: Portraits From the Dark David includes the story behind the shoot. Who owns and operates the lighthouse, how did he get access, what were the conditions when he went once (sometimes twice) to get the shot, and for budding photographers, even the technical details. Because there is no hocus pocus or photoshop here. You need to earn every bit of it.
With no further ado, enjoy these special Artifcts from our friend David Zapatka.
ABOVE: Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse. Serendipity! Sometimes David comes across lighthouses that have been turned back on. The Little Red Lighthouse of storybook fame many NYC children of the 1960s are familiar with was relit several years ago. While on the Hudson River for another lighthouse shoot, David discovered its resurgence and returned in September 2022 to photograph it at night. Click the image to view the Artifct.
ABOVE: Assateague Lighthouse. Often shooting lighthouses at night involves critical timing. Sometimes you can't gain night access to lighthouses if the gates are locked. At the Assateague Lighthouse in northern Virginia, only at certain times of the year is the park open long enough into the night to photograph the lighthouse before you must leave or get caught locked in for the night! Click the image to view the Artifct.
ABOVE: Romer Shoal Lighthouse. Some lighthouses will never be captured at work. Super Storm Sandy destroyed Old Orchard Shoal. Luckily neighboring Romer Shoal remains. For now. Extreme weather threatens the future of many other lighthouses even as the fate of this one is uncertain. Click the image to view the Artifct.
Rhode Island native David Zapatka's work regularly appears on national news and sports programs for ABC, CBS, CNN, HBO, NBC, and PBS. He’s covered six Superbowls, 20 years of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, four winter Olympic Games for which he won two National Sports Emmy awards for his contributions to the NBC coverage of the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. David's lighthouses work began in 2013 as a project that became so much more.
For many in the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday increasingly brings together friends and family in a potluck format that opens the door to more time to hang out together and less stress on any single home chef. This means you might have to gamble on whether cousin Patrick or your neighbor Amara will bring the version of cranberries, green beans, or stuffing that you love best.
A delicious cranberry compote could easily turn off those who hang on to the canned version with a sly grin. Green beans for some must be creamy and topped with fried onions, making others turn and run for something a bit … healthier. Oh, and the pies! Forget it if you are committed to pumpkin pie and someone dares to suggest apple, pecan, or something truly unconventional – mincemeat anyone?
Equally divisive and diverse are the stuffings of the world! Do you use white bread or cornbread? Does seafood like oysters make an appearance in the ingredients list?
If you are opinionated on stuffing, or any other staple of Thanksgiving, you better get your game face on and Artifct and share that recipe in advance to sway the crowd in your favor.
Our co-founder Ellen Goodwin’s family circle on Artifcts is already full of recipes people are volunteering for Thursday, including her father's stuffing recipe. Artifcts co-founder @Heather already shared her mother's apple pie. Now they’ll be ahead of the game this year and for years to come! Will you?
Please share your recipes on Artifcts.com or with us on social media!
There's a fear factor motivating some adult children to prematurely help - some more aggressively and/or cheerfully than others - their parents downsize, whether to downsize and literally move into a smaller home or downsize at home to more minimal possessions. The end goal for these adult children is sort of "Not it!" Do not send all that stuff to me. I don't have room for all my own stuff, never mind your stuff, too.
The question for the parent in this scenario becomes one of legacy - will you leave a burden of stuff, or one of memories, rich with who you were in your lifetime, and who you were together, too? Shared now and shared later, maybe through these stories and memories you’ll help release people from holding onto so much stuff that the stuff becomes that burden the adult children fear, clouding the memories.
Simple everyday objects, with meaning. But will you keep them always, or maybe just the memories?
On that note, meet Sue, a member of the Arti Community. And not just any member. As she approaches her first anniversary with Artifcts, she is also our top Artifcter, surpassing even the founders of Artifcts who had a head start and a natural predilection for Artifcting.
Who is Sue? If you search @Sue on Artifcts, you won't see a single Artifct. We did promise everyone that your Artifcts need not be made public. Everything is private by default, and Sue loves this freedom.
Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin sat down with Sue to learn who she is, what she Artifcts, and most important of all why she Artifcts. It was such a treat to chat with an Arti Community member directly and a fascinating conversation. Enjoy!
Ellen Goodwin: Hello Sue! We want to know all about you. Who are you, and what brought you to Artifcts?
@Sue: I am a piano teacher. One of my personal collections is miniature pianos. I am also my family’s keeper and a genealogist. I have collections from both sets of grandparents, my parents, and of course my collections as well as my husband’s. This house is like a museum! Name anything, practically, and I probably have something of that.
I keep wanting my daughter to come down to North Carolina and go over things with me. Find out what she wants, and what she’s not interested in so I can do something with it. But there’s never enough time. And my son-in-law really doesn’t want all this stuff. So he gave me Artifcts as a Christmas present last year.
Sue shared this reality with grace and humor. Watch now!
Goodwin: What did you Artifct first?
@Sue: Christmas ornaments! Well, all things Christmas, really. I have heirloom ornaments, multiple Santa Claus figurines, and other items, so before I packed them up last year, I Artifcted them.
Goodwin: And then you continued Articting, focusing on collections or at random?
@Sue: As I have bits of time here and there, I have just started. No particular order. Just what my eyes light on in a moment in time. Sometimes Artifct collections. I laid out all my jewelry one day and enjoyed working my way through it, sometimes Articting pieces individually, sometimes Artifcting collections, like brooches.
I have Artifcted my grandfather’s weapons collection as well, including antique knives, some of which date back to the late 1800s. My grandson caught sight of the knife collection, and was interested, so he’ll inherit them. His great grandfather’s collection!
Goodwin: And we hope you’ll share the “why” behind this knife collection with your grandson, as well as the “why” of all of your own collections, like your pianos!
@Sue: Piano has been a passion of mine for a long time. I found out recently through my genealogical research that my middle name Beth is for Beth of Little Women, the pianist of the family. I don’t remember who gave me my first miniature, but my mother kept adding to it, and then I did eventually, too. Each is very different. Now my senior graduating piano students get to choose one from the collection, a remembrance from me to take with them. I have only Artifcted the very unusual pianos, like one from ivory, another from Dresden. I am Artifcting the ones that are special so my daughter knows which are which.
Goodwin: You told me that you Artifcted a collection of family bibles, nearly a dozen. I’m curious. What’s next for them?
@Sue: I inherited 40 boxes of heirlooms, pictures and genealogy papers, which I am still going through. These bibles were among the boxes and now sit in the open air on top of a family cabinet in my genealogy research room. I love the Cheatham Apocrypha Bible in particular, so that is the one I’ll definitely keep. It’s also the only one that still has the family pages in it. As for the rest, I don’t know what to do with them. I might see if the state genealogy archives wants them.
Goodwin: You have 100s of Artifcts. Are there some really marvelous stories among them that stand out?
@Sue: Yes! Well, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I was really surprised to find a lock of Gertrude’s hair. Oh, and great grandfather’s bowler hat. That’s an heirloom with a great story.
@Sue: "I found this in one of the boxes that I inherited (all genealogy based).
With it was a card signed by Gertrude which probably dates to the same year, 1904.
Gertrude Cheatham married August Johnston 24 Apr 1905."
@Sue: This hat belonged to John Mortimer Cheatham who lived in Missouri his whole life (1843-1915).
The hat box is signed by Eugene Scherman of New York, so I imagine this is who made the hat.
Today, Grandmother Gertrude's fox lives with the hat.
Goodwin: How do you Artifct? Do you use the app, a tablet, both?
@Sue: I take the pictures on my phone, because it allows me to skip the step of transferring the photos from my nice camera to my computer. If I want to add more details or long stories, then I edit the Artifcts later on my desktop computer.
Goodwin: Have you tried new features as Artifcts has announced them?
@Sue: There is so much I haven’t fully taken advantage of yet, but I did recently ask for my first estimate from Heritage Auctions with your “What’s it worth?” feature. It was a set of four meerschaum smoking pipes. Each used. They had significant market value!
My daughter and extended family will inherit the items they wish to keep; she can always sell the remaining items. I think it’s important, however, to keep at least some of these things in the family—especially the older things. Maybe someone will choose the pipes.
Goodwin: As the co-founder of Artifcts, I'd be remiss not to ask ... What would you tell those who have yet to Artifct? Why should they do it?
@Sue: Watch and listen to her response! (Or read below.)
It’s mainly the stories about the stuff. Nobody else is going to know what it is. I am trying so hard to get them written down and on Artifcts with the pictures, too, because otherwise once I’m gone, the story is gone. I think it’s important for the children to know what was the most important to me, what meant the most to me, and why.
Now, they may not want to keep it, but if it’s Artifcted, it’s there FOREVER. So, they will always have that memory even though they may not have that item, because who wants 300 miniature pianos?!
And on that note, what's your equivalent of "300 miniature pianos?"
Today we are inviting you to delve into the world of Artifcts with us through what we fondly refer to as “chasing histories.” What we mean is chasing the details about objects that pass through our lives. Why would we do this? Because we suspect they should have meaning and value if someone has chosen to hold onto them and yet no one you talk with seems clear on the details. The keepers of these objects have lost the thread of the histories behind them.
And these lost histories leave us, the keepers, to wonder – do we even keep the thing? Why not sell, donate, or rehome it instead? One may think, “It has to go, because I have a small home, it’s ugly, it smells funny, it’s something I don’t want, …” unless maybe you give me a good reason!
In a period of history when story is king, we still somehow find we have a lot of stuff and relatively little meaning to go with it. We’re stuck chasing histories to bring back heritage and bring forward memories.
As you might imagine, the Arti Community has done a lot of history chasing since Artifcts was launched last year, so we thought we would introduce the idea of chasing histories with a few of our own. We hope to inspire you along the way to Artifct those histories now—the ones you know, the ones you are creating daily—to avoid the potential pain, uncertainty, and loss later. And we certainly hope that you have fun doing it.
The gold watch was in a bin of pegs.
This was my mother's watch. I found it cleaning out one of the spare bedrooms. It was buried in a box with the old wooden pegs we used to have/use to hang plant baskets. We can't remember her ever wearing the watch. Read more >
Click either image above to view the related Artifct.
But where did this silver come from?
A well worn jumble, seldom polished nowadays. And, I love it. Just think of all the family members whose hands have touched these through the years. Read on >
This brooch is so special.
So special that we know almost nothing about other than the aunts each wore it on their wedding days. Where did my grandmother get this brooch from? And when and why was it made? I tried all my aunts. I tried reaching out to my grandmother's sister through a cousin, but no luck yet.Read on >
Click either image above to view the related Artifct.
Why, yes, my bible is shedding.
My siblings and I have a lot of questions but few answers with these Bibles. We weren’t overly religious growing up, so imagine our surprise finding them on a bookshelf in the garage, nearly adjacent to a set of golf clubs and a snowblower. And one is in German. If only we knew. Read more >
Go get your histories! And happy Artifcting.
Maybe you see a bit of yourself and your family in these stories?
We'd love to hear from you at Editor@Artifcts.com. We may feature your experience in a future story here on ARTIcles.
My Great Aunt Muriel is 97 years old and has spent roughly 75 years of her life in Tucson, AZ. For the record (and in my defense), I grew up in Wisconsin. We weren't exactly neighbors.
This visit to Great Aunt Muriel was born out of curiosity, frustration, and fear.
To me, she's somewhat of a legend. I've heard my parents talk in awe of her in recent years, remarking on her independence and mental sharpness. Others told me she is feisty and opinionated. I was curious. I also kept thinking, "You do know that I think I missed my calling as a lawyer, right?" I bet she and I will get along just fine!
My frustration was about how difficult it is to gather and preserve family history without it being your primary occupation or hobby. Chasing histories, I call it. And I'm not talking about black and white details that sit in databases behind paywalls of newspapers and genealogy sites. I'm talking about the stories that connect those details - the lives lived, the legends created, the humanity of it all. Within my own family I heard drips and drops about distant relatives going off in the gold rush, for example. Who were they? When did they go? What became of them? Any details at all or am I really just stuck with family lore?
And, of course, fear - Aunt Muriel's now an only. She's the last of her generation. My cousin put it into interesting perspective, "Just think, she's the last who knew our parents as infants!" Time is absolutely our enemy if I want to know her and to know pieces of the family's past. If I wanted her insights and advice, her laugh-out-loud replays of historical moments, the only time was now.
If you stop reading here and venture like Alice down the rabbit hole of Artifcts we created together and are featured below, let me tell you what you'll discover from these Artifcts: This woman was radically more than advertised. I hope you have a Great Aunt Muriel in your life. Go. See. Her. Today! And listen, a lot.
Click any image below to view the related Artifct.
When I arrived in Tucson, Great Aunt Muriel was prepared. She had photos and mementos, stories and family lore, all ready to share. And with her permission, I'm sharing a few of those Artifcts we created together with you. Of the many worries Great Aunt Muriel had for the future, lost connection and family bonding was clearly chief among them. Let these Artifcts inspire your own conversations with loved ones.
You could say this was time well spent. Well spent visiting. Well spent Artifcting.
Sometimes collections sneak up on you. You may not realize it as you browse through tin spoons in a souvenir shop, or rummage through stamps at a yard sale. Yet, when you get back home, you might realize as you go to put your newfound treasures away, wow, I have a lot of those spoons, stamps, you name it!
This is the story of@Grandmom, and her secret-not-so-secret coin collection.
Grandmom never set out to collect coins per se. She's a world traveler, and enjoys bartering in local markets, from Kathmandu to Liberia. Grandmom has always found that she can get a great deal if she offers to toss in an American coin or two. And, when she’s lucky, she gets back local coins and currencies.
Forty years and just as many (if not more) countries later, Grandmom has quite a coin collection. Not just a couple of bowls of coins by her bedside table. Nope, we’re talking bins and bins of coins and currencies from all over the world. Some date back to the 1800s!
Forty years and just as many (if not more) countries later, Grandmom has quite a coin collection
The funny thing is, she never explicitly told anyone about it. Her grown sons vaguely recall, “Yeah, she might have had a coin collection.” Her grandkids had no clue either. Imagine our surprise one Sunday afternoon when she pulled out the bins (and bins) of coins and asked for help to identify a couple of her favorites as she can no longer remember when or where she got them, “It was so long ago.”
Got a secret-not-so-secret collection on your hands? Don’t know where to start? Grandmom’s got a couple of tips to share when going through collections that may have snuck up on you over time.
Start with your favorites. Which ones do you like the most? What can you remember about them? Don’t worry if you can’t remember everything. You can always go back and add more details later. This is one of Grandmom’s favorite coins.
Are there any unique pieces that you think others should know about? Grandmom has all the stories in her head, but she’s started to Artifct some of the more unique pieces of her collection to make sure that her family knows the details, like these Victory nickels.
Pair travel photos with coins from that location to tell the story. It’s a great way to connect the “what” (the coin) with the experience (the trip, the memories). Can’t remember the exact details? Knowing just the trip and some of your favorite memories from that trip is easily enough to tell the story and connect the dots.
Have a surprise collection to share? We’d love to feature you! Reach out to us at Editor@Artifcts.com.
From the ages of five to nine, little Nancy lived in the farm country of Missouri on a parcel of land with a house, corn bin, smoking shed, and barn all built by her grandpa. Life for her grandfather had been simple by today's standards. If he needed something, and it wasn’t easily accessible from the farm, he built it. If only we were all so resourceful!
Some of the artifacts of his life speak directly to the resourcefulness of this everyday inventor. The screwdriver does not fit well in your hand? I’ll make a new handle. The meat needs efficient parceling in the smokehouse? Here’s a one-of-a-kind twine winder. The cabbage shredding makes a mess of the kitchen during each batch of kraut making? Here’s new tray to contain and slice it. Check out the Artifct Inventions of the Everyday Inventor. > The biggest tale Nancy grew up hearing was how her grandparents were the first in the area to have electrical power and running water. Her grandfather had installed the wiring and plumbing on the farmstead himself. Of course he did.
The tale no one thought to share was that Grandpa was not just an everyday inventor. Documents show that Stark W. Craddock held patent #1,418,778 for the “Permutation Lock,” issued on June 6, 1921, by the US Patent Office. He truly was an inventor even in the professional sense. “But never mind that,” he’d surely have said.
This history had faded from Nancy’s family lore. In some ways it was a sad tale, too, which may have been partly to blame. Nancy’s mother grew up following her father around, talking through his projects and processes with him. But back in the 1940s, little girls could not grow up to be engineers. No. So when her little brother Jr. eventually came along, it was he who trailed after their father and grew up to be an engineer for IBM.
Fast forward to the present day and the discovery, “Great Grandpa was an inventor!” It was when his great grandson Andy was pursuing his own inventor's path that he uncovered his great grandfather’s and layered in another piece of family history for all the generations to share. Maybe you have an inventor in your family’s past. Maybe you have an artist, an explorer, a historian, a solider. You will never know until or unless you ask. Happy Artifcting!
When was the last time you pulled out that box of photo negatives, or rifled through your family’s vintage home video collection? If you’re anything like me, the answer could even be never. Yet, I haven't had the heart to toss any of them out.
Over the last 20 years, I have carted around from state to state, house to house, a plastic bin full of film negatives and VHS tapes with family home videos my parents took with the original giant camcorders that you propped on your shoulder. I realized some of them were testing their lifespans. Tapes degrade, first getting dark, then with the color shifting and bleeding. If you were lucky and chose high-end tapes, you might have bought yourself a bit of time but don't count on it. The audio may be the best of what remains on those tapes. Negatives are the same story, especially when stored in their original packaging.
(Above) A few home videos lost in the mix of old VHS tapes where no one has a hope of viewing them.
(Below) A plastic bin with what turned out to be more than 1,400 photo negatives.
Enough was finally enough. I wanted to reclaim every last bit of space in my limited closets, protect my negatives and tapes from complete loss, and share the results easily with friends and family. Decision made, I dropped off my collection at the offices of preservation and digitization specialist Monocurate. (Yes, I'm lucky, no shipping required!)
Why are you choosing to digitize?
Actually, back up. Before I dropped off the negatives and VHS tapes, I casually looked through the negatives. Glad I did! A quick review helped me come to terms with what I wanted out of this digitization work. Why bother with digitization?
Cost. At between $0.40 and $1 per negative (usually according to volume) for basic digitization, it can cost a small fortune to digitize an entire collection! Just think, I only had a 3.5 x 12.5 bin of negatives, organized inside the original envelopes the processor returned them to me in. What if my parents wanted to digitize their boxes, boxes, and still more boxes of negatives?
Relevance. Then there’s the fact that somewhere in the mix was old boyfriends. I did not want to pay to digitize every part of my history. Some history is better left to faded memory. I tried to quickly hold up the negatives to the light and remove those from the collection.
Quality. To top it all off, many photos frankly weren't even very good, because they were blurry, too dark, etc.
Well, I already told you, I brought the negatives to Monocurate anyway. I simply decided that the investment was worth the couple dozen or so digitized photos buried in the collection that would be worth their weight in sentimental gold. Within two days I had an itemized estimate. It detailed my options for digitized formats along with all the other lovely details about what to expect. I was shocked by how many negatives were in my very small bin once Monocurate itemized them. I confirmed I was ready to digitize the negatives and home videos, signed the digital contract, and let the wait begin.
Before I even looked through the photos, I jumped directly into the videos. I knew that 30+ years was too long to expect much.
The results were still exciting. Seeing yourself as a kid. Seeing your siblings and parents from your now adult perspective. Seeing family members who are no longer with you and hearing their familiar voices. Or learning, "So, that's when I got that special doll!" Or, "Ha! The truth about what I thought of my first day of kindergarten." I don't even have that on video for my own daughter. And that was actually the key for me. It was really interesting to see which moments my parents each chose to videotape, from the ordinary of hauling wood, painting the house, feeding the sheep, and playing with our outdoor cats and dogs to the special, like when family would visit from Illinois, there was enough snow for cross-country skiing in the yard and sledding in town, and Christmas holidays.
Then, the photos. With the videos I was ready for the feeling that technology has changed. The photos took me by surprise. I wasn't thinking about how much less crisp and life like they would be compared to modern digital-native photos. My hopes for a few worth their weight in sentimental gold, however, was met. Kodak moments from ages 16 to 26, digitized.
Beyond the obvious rewards of having these videos and photos digitized as I'd hoped, I learned a lot in this process about understanding my motivations, as already described above and the ins and outs of selecting the right company to bring my media to for digitization. Here's my parting gift to you all in the form of a few quick tips if you are considering digitization.
Before you Digitize
Avoid disappointment when digitizing negatives and tapes by getting clarity on each of the following four points before you hand over this sentimental gold.
1. Find out the digitized formats and resolutions your files will be provided in. Avoid proprietary formats. Guidelines from Monocurate:
Photo negatives. Look for .JPG or .JPG2 files at 72-300 DPI resolution (depending on the use case). If you want .TIFF format (at 600+ DPI) for any reason, who knows, maybe you're putting up a billboard, make sure you ask!
VHS tapes. The goal here is avoiding a result that is squished, stretched, or fuzzy, coloring that is not calibrated to look like the original, and has audio missing or not synced. (Many companies will not even digitize sound on film and may not warn you in advance!) So, look for high resolution, high bitrate, no/minimal compression, with audio sync. Your new VHS files should be around 352x480 resolution; S-VHS will be around 704x480 resolution (same as hi8). You can't really convert VHS to HD, much less 4k, with current technology, so watch out for claims in that regard.
It's worth repeating: Know that you may be too late and the video image quality will be so deteriorated that the sound quality is the best of what remains. Is it still worthwhile to digitize? Only you can make that judgement call.
2. Do you want the originals returned?
Be sure to confirm they will be returned if you want them and the cost, if any, to you for shipping or local delivery.
3. Where will the work be done and by whom?
Is digitization performed onsite or shipped out (with some additional risk of loss)? Are the personal devices of employees and visitors to the facility kept outside the work area? No one wants their private videos or photos leaked.
4. Do you want basic digitization of your media "as is," or do you need organization and touch up, too?
If the negatives are jumbled mess, do you need them organized and an index created? Do you want to first have dust build-up, grime, etc. removed to capture a clean copy? Archival indices and preservation are not typically the work of big box digitizers. If you think your collection needs some love, look for preservation and archival specialists who offer digitization services, like Monocurate, who is a member of the Artifcts partner network.
Consumer warning: By going through the process to digitize personal negatives and VHS videos, we were disappointed repeatedly by the fine print and general lack of detailed information of some popular, mainstream online digitization services companies. Read the fine print. Check reviews and FAQs. Know what is important to you and make sure the services match your expectations. If you have any doubt, write and ask questions before you send off your materials for digitization.
We’ve all heard the expression “greeting card holiday,” sometimes even used against one of your personal favorites, no doubt. So many love-hate relationships out there with national days for everything from your dog to your sibling to tacos and doughnuts.
Then there are the months generally preserved for themes of broad societal significance, like heart health, breast cancer, black history and even … family history – October! And this is a special year for this honorary month because Senator Hatch, who sponsored Senate Resolution 160 to officially recognize family history month, passed away in April. Among the justifications for the month was “an ever-growing number in our Nation and in other nations [who] are collecting, preserving, and sharing genealogies, personal documents, and memorabilia that detail the life and times of families around the world.” Now that we understand!
This October we’re sharing a few ideas from the Artifcts Community to help even those of you who may think you have no interest in family history to find some value in a month dedicated to exactly that. Use the month as an excuse or opportunity to get to know and capture your own family history and legacy a bit better.
Hello, Family Genealogists (In the Making?)
“I’ve spent so much time and money researching all of this history, and I have the files, but I really haven’t taken that next step to share with my extended or even immediate family. Without me they’d have to start over.”
And, womp, womp, she told us that all her research is locked up behind a subscription-paywall. Hmmm. If you can relate, here are some tips:
Purchase a second research subscription for someone who can pick up the research alongside you to carry it forward to the next generation. Guide them through the myriad of resources online and through special archives and libraries as well as in your own family collection.
Take a class or catch a speaker! You can find a plethora of them by searching online or go local. Check your library, community center, museums, or local genealogical society for special events this month (and beyond). In Austin, Texas, for example, the Austin Genealogical Society has regular speakers and research resources covering the state. Likewise, the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural, and Genealogy Center has resources available to help people get started.
Create a family videography to highlight key moments in your family’s history, roles family members have played in historical events, and the modern-day family branches. For beautiful, professional videographies, we adore Lori and her team at Whole Story Productions.
Self-publish a book(let) to document your research findings in black and white. Distribute during a family reunion, taking preorders (and payments) ahead of time. If you need an assist in your family history, we recommend our partner at Family History Intelligence.
At Artifcts… you can share Artifcts publicly or privately, including with family members who are not Artifcts members. Import your contacts to Artifcts, create family invite-only circles for easy group sharing, and off you go! Plus, free members of Artifcts can contribute up to five Artifcts to the family history. We recommend using a special tag like #MayFamily52 to easily sort your collection. You can also preserve sensitive information in the 'Documentation' section of an Artifct where only you, the owner of the Artifct, can see or access it. Some of genealogists at Artifcts also use the ‘Location’ field when they create an Artifct to list a URL or folder path where additional information is stored.
Experiences Only, Please!
You’ve been away from home for months or years, you return, and as you walk in the door, dinner is on, and you get that first smell of your favorite dish. Do you have the recipe? Who came up with it? Do you know the key steps? Special or secret ingredients?
Some family favorites are born very directly out of the original farm-to-table concept, before it was so hip, and those origins become a key part of the family recipe story. You grew potatoes and found a million ways to prepare them. You had fresh citrus, wild asparagus, or vibrant rhubarb all around you, and the specialties of your youth reflect it. Capture that history!
Start a virtual family dinner club. You could create a group online to swap recipes or go a step further and once a month someone is the virtual host. Send the recipe ahead (as an Artifct!) so everyone has the ingredients on hand. Then run your own cooking show and enjoy the spoils together after. You might even play some theme-related music from the 60s or 70s or from the German, Czech, Sri Lankan, Indian, Brazilian, Chinese or other roots of the meal!
Road trip! Whether literally or figuratively, go to the original homestead, watch a family member perform live music at a local hotspot, visit a museum that hosts a family member’s artwork, visit each tombstone at a local plot or somewhere like Arlington National Cemetery, or maybe attend a cultural festival that ties to your origins.
Collaborate on a special photobook. We’ve said this before, we’ll say it 100s of more times – photos cannot talk. You can morph them into sharper images or even make them move nowadays, but no photo can tell you its story. Create a photobook that builds all the family history and the stories that go with those photos. Refuse photo-only contributions. Details matter! You’d be surprised, but even one generation removed, family members will start to lose track of who is who in photos never mind recalling the relevance of the photos.
At Artifcts… photos, recipes, and objects come alive through stories and histories, but also with supplementary video and audio snippets. Each is easily accessible and reusable from Artifcts – no digging through chats, emails, cloud folders etc. And you don’t get just one crack at it. You can edit and share through time, collecting more information, and more versions of the ‘real story,’ as you go.
Share the History
The reality is not all families have a family keeper, that person who by choice or default holds onto the heirlooms, photos, recipes, and slews of documents that represent sometimes generations of a family’s history. Or maybe you are the last keeper or recent inheritor of all this family history and are thinking, “Now what? I really don’t want this stuff.”
There’s a second reality that is then important to recognize: family history is not only family history. Sometimes family history is part of local, national, or even global history. It offers clues to key figures, ways of living, and the social, political and religious practices of a place in time in history. So, consider sharing pieces of your family history with the big wide world through donations.
Philanthropic Donations. Consider galleries, libraries, research centers, foundations, and museums with specialties that may overlap with your items. Donations are not necessarily only in the realm of inherently valuable objects. Often, you guessed it, the story behind the object is the key. Don’t know the story either? That’s okay. Reach out to an institution, share your items, and give them the opportunity to tell you!
Archival Donations. Transform your personal family history into elements of a shared community history by offering your items to professional archives. What types of items might fit this category? As a starter: original works of fiction or non-fiction; scrapbooks, journals, letters, and diaries; original business materials (certificates, advertising, shares, board documents, voting records); media (photographs, slides, film, even websites too). You can learn more at the Society of American Archivists.
At Artifcts... Before you donate, Artifct to retain the family lore and history that’s relevant to you, and then share with family. Make sure no one else is interested in the item. And attach any documentation related to your donation to the Aritfct. It could add to the story about the full history of that family heirloom and where it ended up as well as support potential tax deductions. And then, rest easy. Your family’s history will be in the capable professional hands of institutions that will preserve and protect them for generations to come.
Talk Wills, From a Happy Place: Your Legacy
Yes, yes, wills are about death. But what they are really about is easing the burden on those we leave behind. What we love to ignore to our detriment is all – that - stuff. And, no, it will not literally all go into a dumpster or a local donation shop. First someone must go through it all, a family member or two, or maybe a specialist hired to help. And in the end, someone will have to make 1000s of decisions about what becomes of every single item. Do you really want to leave a burden as your legacy?
Wouldn’t you rather everyone be better prepared and informed? Not only will making a plan and creating documents make it easier for your family to pick up the pieces, but they can also help loved ones understand why you valued the items you are leaving behind. For example, wouldn’t you rather share THAT was the guitar Dad used to serenade Mom on their first date? THAT was the medal you were awarded for your last promotion in the US Navy. THAT was part of a costume you wore in your first school play (before you became an actress!).
Wouldn’t you rather reminisce together than leave friends and family to wonder and have no way to get answers later? Maybe even know each other a bit better, now, while you can still enjoy?
(Dramatically) Simplified checklist:
Don’t have a Will? There are many wonderful estate planning attorneys in each community who can help you with this process. But this is an industry transformed by the digital revolution, and then some. If you are looking for a digital, self-guided approach, check out the results of an independent review by Investopedia here.
Haven’t really, um, seen your Will in a while? Give it a checkup. There's no time like the present, truly. Add it to your to-do list this month!
When editing or updating your Will and related documents, see if you can add some non-legal, advisory language to help to explain why you made the decisions or gave the gifts you did.
Confirm: Are the major themes covered?
Relatives with disabilities
Powers of Attorney
Stewardship of digital assets (profiles, accounts, photos, web pages, etc.)
Is there a list of tangible assets referenced in your Will? Your Will may provide for a separate “Memorandum” that can be updated and changed at any time without making any changes to your Will.
No list? Start. Just take a first cut by looking around the house (or your Artifcts collection!).
Already listed? Are you sure it covers at least those items of greatest financial or heart (sentimental) value? Do you want to leave something to your favorite charity, neighbor, your best friend, your … you get the idea. And, if so, did each person and item get listed? Double check!
At Artifcts… pick three or four of your most treasured items and create and share an Artifct for each with your friends and family. It could be priceless family heirlooms and jewelry or sentimental letters and cards. Anything that has meaning to you. In the description, let loved ones know what you would like to happen to this item after you are gone. Will it be passed down? Rehomed? Sold? You can even export or share the Artifct with your estate planner or attorney to list with other tangible assets referenced in your Will.
You’ve started an Artifcts collection. You know stuff and stories go better together! Now what?
Artifcts already take your stories and memories beyond anything you can do with traditional photos, inventory lists, or social media. Now we have released a set of new features we hope will make it still easier to bring families, friends, and stories together across time and distance.
But First... Remember Networks?
Earlier this summer we introduced Artifcts networks so that you could easily import your contacts from your email or add individuals one by one to create a network and make sharing easier. You also gained one-click access to 'Invite' others to join you at Artifcts free and share in the Artifcting experience.
If you haven't created an Artifcts network yet, we encourage you to start building yours now (or click to learn more >) so you can easily take full advantage of all these new features!
Introducing Sharing Lists and Invite-Only Circles
Now your Artifcts networks can also help you instantly share Artifcts with lists of people and form invite-only circles. Why would you create lists and circles? Save time, connect easily and privately with all the people you want to, and gain access to more Artifcts you care about no matter who has them and where.
Lists save you the step of sharing an Artifct with each of your nearest and dearest over and over again as you build your collection. Simply create a list, choose it when you share, and each person on the list will instantly receive your Artifct in their inbox. Popular sharing lists among our early testing group included: immediate family, neighbors, friends from school, colleagues, and travel pals.
Think of circles like group chats, but here your language is objects, photos, recipes ... and their stories! Anyone you invite into the circle can share Artifcts with the circle for all circle members to enjoy. The sky is the limit: train car collectors group, ceramic artists network, church groups, quilting circles, virtual family reunions, and more.
And, as always, list and circle members only need to have a free Artifcts membership to view Artifcts you share!
The joy of each Artifct you create is that it is so much more than a photo with a caption, scrapbook, or video. Each Artifct weaves together any combination of photos, video, audio, text, and documents in one place to give more color and meaning (and usefulness!).
Did you know that the singer Adele required Spotify not "shuffle" the songs on her newest album, ensuring the playlist mirrored the curated sequence on her album? She tweeted in part: “We don’t create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason. Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended.”
While we don't "shuffle" your Artifcts, they do appear in the order you created them ... until now! If you feel the same as Adele, go ahead and customize the order in which your Artifcts appear, as co-founder Ellen Goodwin shows in this video on YouTube.
Change the position number or click and drag to reorder your Artifcts.
Find yourself scrolling back through your mobile device's photos in a trip down memory lane and wish you could instantly add a photo (or video or audio snippet - even a voice message!) to Artifcts? Now you can!
With the photo you want to use selected, click the share button, and scroll through your apps to find the Artifcts app. If it's your first time choosing the Artifcts app, you might need to click "more" or a three dots (...) symbol to find the Artifcts app. Don't worry, your phone will learn to show the Artifcts app after you use it a few times.
That's all for now. We'd love your feedback, always. You can contact us at Hello@Artifcts.com.
Do not dismiss the power of answering the “Why?” Without the why, does the what even matter? Here are four of superpowers of why:
If you are going to make your niece cart around a sitting Buddha sculpture for her remaining days as part of your last will and testament, you could at least tell her why!
Wills and estate plans by nature focus on the what and often neglect the why. And that’s if the will even references an itemized list of tangible assets! The reality then is loved ones may act out of obligation to respect your wishes and hang onto the items you give them but with a tinge of disgruntled acceptance.
2. REDUCED CONFLICT
Imagine two people who feel equally attached to an object that once belonged to a deceased loved one. In the will, the object goes to one of those people. To squash any potential disappointment or misdirected anger at the recipient, the owner could share the why and explain the bond between the person and/or object and recipient. Closure, in this case, is another great gift of the why.
3. LASTING MEMORIES & LEGACY
Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle. And sometimes, that's your own doing. Did you make up three different versions of events as to how that painting came into your collection? Did you ever tell the story? Set the record straight with any combination of photos, video, audio, and a brief (or long!) story as you Artifct the truth of that object.
Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle.
4. BETTER PREPARATION
How many of you reading this have an up-to-date will or estate plan? Odds are you do not, at least according to a report from Caring.com, which said that two out of three US adults and half of UK adults do not have a will.
Introducing items you cherish into your plan and/or at least into the discussion if you're working with a real live estate planning attorney helps to ensure that your assets will be directed to the correct people, your wishes carried out. It also helps the professionals you rely on to guide you to better understand you and support the full scope of your financial, insurance, tax, and estate plans.
Join us tomorrow as we discuss these themes and more during Evenings with Artifcts, with guest speaker Dutch Miller. RSVP now >
Did we miss a superpower of “why?” Let us know at Editor@Artifcts.com and we may feature your addition!
He's authored 1000s of articles, several books, and what's maybe the first known travel blog. And on Thursday night during Evenings with ArtifctsJeff Greenwald shared with us simple but powerful tips, and a healthy dose of perspective, to help us craft our own stories behind the objects of our lives.
It is hard to write about an object with no personal meaning but even harder when it has tremendous personal meaning. Bear that in mind and go easy on yourself.
Start with something true. This is the trick to writing anything nonfiction. For example, start with a little line about where you got the object: “I bought this in a street market in Istanbul.” And from there go on to describe the scene a little bit and what happened there that connects you with the object.
Start with something true.
Other starters for your Artifcts:
Where were you when you acquired the object?
Was it a gift? Who gave it to you? Tell a bit about them. What was your relationship with them that they felt they should give you a gift like that? “The moon Rocket was a gift for my friend Dave Mccutcheon, and he and I have been friends for many years and share a love of robots and spaceships and dinosaurs... all those things we loved when we were kids.”
Why is it important to you?
What feelings does it evoke in you?
If a story comes to mind, you can just start jotting it down anywhere. Let your thoughts go where they will. It can be a collection of random thoughts that you can look at later and put together into some sort of a story structure.
We all have stories. Writers block comes from our internal critic. It challenges you with, “Why would anybody want to read it? What could you have to say? What makes you think you're so great that anyone should listen to anything you're telling them?” You have to tell yourself, “I have a right to do this because I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told whether or not you, my internal critic, thinks that it does.” Push the internal critic aside.
I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told.
If you value the stories and need motivation to begin capturing and preserving those stories with Artifcts, make a deal with yourself like Jeff did. Jeff made a pact to give away the objects once their stories were told. Maybe you’ll choose to Artifct twice per week. Or perhaps you’ll start with those items that are most meaningful to you.
A bit of advice Jeff shared from esteemed author Kurt Vonnegut: Write your stories as though you are writing them for one person, as if you are telling this person each of the stories. It gives all the stories a similar tone, a singular voice.
Always include when and where the object was acquired. These are important details.
Struggling with a title? Write out 10 of them. It will help you to start to shape your story, too.
Our stuff, the objects that we collect, that inspire us, they are really not what's important. We do not need to keep them. The only thing that is important are the stories, and the only way to keep the stories is to tell them.
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We promise not to fill your inbox because that frustrates us, too!
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