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CONVERSATION
Everything You Wanted to Know About Appraisals, But Were Afraid to Ask

Reading time: 12 minutes

In honor of National Estate Planning Week, we thought we’d take a deep dive into the world of appraisals with an Ask Me Anything with our dear friend, colleague, and Ally of Stuff, Sarah Reeder, Founder of Artifactual History Appraisal.

In addition to being an expert on ‘stuff,’ and specifically the value of ‘stuff,’ Sarah is also author of the book Ray Eames in 1930s New York, co-editor of Worthwhile Magazine™ and co-creator of The Art Elevator Collector’s Club. Read on to learn more about what she does as an appraiser, when to contact an appraiser, and even those questions we all want to ask (but may be afraid to!) such as what the difference between an appraisal and a valuation is.

For our members who are new to the appraisal process, how would you sum up what you do?

Reeder: I like to think of what I do as being part lawyer, part accountant, and sometimes even part therapist! It might surprise some people, but appraisals are nothing like what you see on TV. My work entails numerous hours of research, the preparation of legal documents, and meeting meticulous professional requirements for appraising items to establish a value in a specific level of the market on a specific day (called the effective date) for a specific intended use. (We’ll come back to that later!)

Appraisals are nothing like what you see on TV...

The work appraisers do is a very specialized type of professional service akin to an attorney or an accountant that requires a lot of time and focused research, so the very quick and informal “off-the-cuff” depictions of appraising we all see on television have edited out the lengthy preparation (because it would be pretty boring to watch!) that goes into those short segments we see. But I wish it was more widely known that there is so much more work that goes into appraising than the 2-minute clips we see onscreen.

The therapist part sometimes comes into play because as you know so well here at Artifcts, objects can hold powerful memories and inspire strong emotions, totally independent from what their monetary value might be. Sometimes it’s a delicate conversation when the “heart value” and financial value are not aligned, and that is where I rely on market data and research to help individuals understand the current market conditions and corresponding value of the item. I always emphasize that market conditions should not diminish the positive sentimental associations they have with an item—they just happen to be the lens that appraisers must use in our professional work.

So, getting down to the nitty gritty, can you walk us through a typical day?

Reeder: There is no one typical day. That is one of the many things I love about being an appraiser, you never know what you’ll be working on next! There are two types of appraisals I spend most of my time on insurance appraisals and estate appraisals. And yes, they are different!

When I am working on an insurance appraisal, I am creating a legal document that will protect you and your items in the event of damage or loss. These appraisals are for the retail replacement value of the object and in doing so, pins that object and that value in time. That specific moment in time is called the effective date of the appraisal, and all appraisals have effective dates.

The effective date of appraisal is so important in all appraisal report intended uses, because it provides critical context for the numerical appraised value. The markets for art and antiques are always changing, much like the stock market we are more commonly familiar with, so the appraised values need to be contextualized to a specific day, because on the day before or the day after market conditions may have been different. For insurance appraisal reports, the effective date is typically the day I inspect the items in person as it establishes the condition I witnessed on that day.

The markets for art and antiques are always changing, much like the stock market...

When working on these types of appraisals, I spend a lot of time researching the object, documenting it with photos and a detailed description, cataloging it with a standardized format that will allow future users of the appraisal report to know the characteristics of the appraised item, researching the specific level of the market for similar items for the appraisal report’s intended use, and then developing an appraised value based on all the above.

In the case of insurance appraisals, the appraised value is generally the replacement value of the object (i.e. what would it cost to acquire the same exact or very similar object in a short period of time from a retail dealer). For example, if I am appraising a painting by a particular artist for insurance purposes, I’m going to identify which galleries represent that artist or sell paintings by that artist, and then compare their available inventory and pricing (which often is not publicly available and requires outreach to the galleries) to the appraised painting in terms of subject, size, condition, era of the artist’s career, and other factors.

Based on the current retail data I can obtain, I then make adjustments up or down if needed relative to the appraised painting, and document all relevant research for my appraisal client workfile, which I am legally required to keep for a minimum of 5 years. The final number after the specific adjustments from the comparable records accounting for differences from the appraised item is the appraised retail replacement value. So it’s all a lot more complicated and research-intensive than what the public typically sees in popular depictions of appraisers on television.

Insurance appraisals are very different from estate appraisals. Estate appraisals are not used for insurance coverage.  Estate appraisals are prepared at fair market value and are required in some situations to be filed with the federal government or relevant state and local governments for estate tax filing. The legal professional handling an estate is the one who determines whether this is required in specific estate situations.

While insurance appraisals are typically prepared at retail replacement value, estate appraisals are prepared at fair market value, which is often quite a bit lower. The United States government defines fair market value as

"The price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts." According to Technical Advisory Memorandum 9235005 [May 27, 1992], fair market value should include the buyer's premium. [Source: Treasury Regulations Section 20.2031-1 (b).]

For estate appraisal reports, the effective date is typically at the time of the death of the deceased. This is very different than with insurance appraisals as it could take an executor months and months to close out an estate and yet the value is still pegged to the date of death. There is something called the “alternate effective date” which is 6 months after the date of death, which the estate can elect to use if the market has changed significantly in that time period. I always like to confirm which effective date the estate is using as this is a critical factor in guiding my valuation research.

Can you tell us a bit about the tools of your trade? What do you take with you when you visit someone’s home to start an appraisal?

Reeder: I always like to take a good camera with me for capturing documentary photos, a tape measure so I can obtain the dimensions of artworks and the other items I am appraising, a clipboard and paper so I can take notes on-site that will later be expanded with research back in my office, a blacklight for examining artwork for inpainting and other restorations, a jeweler’s loupe for studying silver marks and other small details, and a flashlight for studying artist signatures and providing additional ambient lighting for my photographs in dark locations. I carry multiple flashlights and measuring tapes with me so if one breaks while I am on-site, I have a backup available to be able to continue working.

I have to make sure I capture all the precise details that make your object unique. If it is artwork, is there an artist signature? Any blemishes or marks? Water or sun damage? All of these things are important to ascertain the value of an object, and I need to be able to document them while onsite.

 

Worn leather bag used for appraisalsSarah's trusty go-everywhere appraisal bag full of her tools of the trade. 

Some people, and I admit, I was one of them at the beginning, may not know the difference between valuation services and an appraisal. Could you help explain what makes the two different?

Reeder: Sure! The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) define valuation services as:

“A service pertaining to an aspect of property value, regardless of the type of service and whether it is performed by appraisers or by others.”

An appraisal is defined by USPAP as:

"(noun) the act or process of developing an opinion of value; an opinion of value. 
(adjective) of or pertaining to appraising and related functions such as appraisal practice or appraisal services.
Comment: An appraisal is numerically expressed as a specific amount, as a range of numbers, or as a relationship (e.g., not more than, not less than) to a previous value opinion or numerical benchmark (e.g., assessed value, collateral value).” 

In terms of the general popular context of these two words outside of their specific USPAP definitions, a valuation is typically more closely associated with ballpark estimates and not with a legal document. Think of it as something that will get you basic guidance, such as getting an approximate sense if an inherited collection is simply sentimental and has no monetary value, or conversely, if it might have significant monetary value.

A valuation is typically more closely associated with ballpark estimates ...

Appraisals are legal documents.  A verbal ballpark numerical range cannot be used in court to settle an estate, with the IRS to document tangible assets for tax purposes, or with an insurer to document items for an insurance policy. USPAP-compliant written appraisal reports are needed for those intended uses.

Are there any red flags our members should watch out for when looking to hire an appraiser?

Reeder: One of my personal red flags is if the appraiser essentially says, “I will tell you how much it is worth and then purchase it from you.” There is a major conflict of interest there, and their interest may not be in your best interest.

Another major red flag is if an appraiser is not USPAP-compliant. USPAP is a very important professional and ethical standard regulating appraisers to help protect users of appraisal services.

It’s always best to look for an independent appraiser who is USPAP-compliant, and ideally is also a member of one of the professional associations for appraisers such as the Appraisers Association of America (AAA), the International Society of Appraisers (ISA), or the American Society of Appraisers (ASA). I am a Certified Member of the Appraisers Association of America and a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers.

You also want to make sure that any appraiser you hire has expertise in YOUR object(s). A jewelry appraiser may be great for your jewelry collection, but not your collection of mid-century modern furniture and vice versa. In USPAP, this is called the “Competency Rule”—basically, is this appraiser competent to appraise your items? If they aren’t, they shouldn’t do it.

You also want to make sure that any appraiser you hire has expertise in YOUR object(s)...

When should people hire an appraiser? Are there any life transitions that may necessitate an appraiser?

Reeder: Life transitions are a great time to take stock of what you have and what’s it worth. Some common life transitions where it can be useful to engage an appraiser are:

      • If you have inherited potentially valuable items such as artwork. An appraiser can provide expert guidance on their value and prepare an insurance appraisal report so they can be scheduled and protected with your insurance company.
      • If you plan on moving it can be very helpful to have valuable items appraised for insurance purposes in advance or to update an existing appraisal to make sure the insurance coverage is current.
      • For estate filing purposes when someone has passed. The estate’s attorney will direct whether an estate appraisal is needed.
      • For proactive estate planning purposes—if you have large collections, it can be helpful to get a sense of their value and how they might be structured in your estate plan for maximum tax efficiency for your heirs (again, your attorney will be a very helpful resource in this process).
      • Sometimes divorces are another life transition that may require an appraiser for the equitable distribution process. 

And finally, you’ve experienced firsthand the joy (and usefulness!) of Artifcting. Any advice for our members or thoughts on how Artifcting can aid the appraisal process?

Reeder: Yes! Artifct your ‘stuff.’ Don’t wait! The details, photos, even video can help an appraiser get to work immediately determining an appraisal scope of work and sometimes even using the Artifcts as a resource to appraise items that may now be damaged or lost. It can save a lot of time and back and forth emails if you Artifct and share your Artifcts with your appraiser. Artifcts really is perfect for an appraiser’s workflow!

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Sarah Reeder is a Certified Member of the Appraisers Association of America, a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers with the Private Client Services designation, and a graduate of New York University's Program in Appraisal Studies in Fine & Decorative Arts.

© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Photos + Stories Go Better Together: A Conversation with Cathi Nelson, CEO of The Photo Managers

Reading time: 6 minutes

One of the great things about being in the ‘stuff’ business is that you never know who you’ll meet! Over the past few years, Ellen and I have had the joy of getting to know and working with Cathi Nelson, Founder & CEO of The Photo Managers. We met Cathi by way of Matt Paxton, who told us upfront that she is the end-all, be-all expert on all things photo managing and organizing. Several years and many conversations later we wholeheartedly agree!

In honor of Save Your Photos Month, we thought it would be fitting to highlight one of our many conversations with Cathi, who really is the undisputed expert on all things photo organizing. 

Heather Nickerson: Tell us a bit about yourself! What led you to get into photo managing?

Cathi Nelson: Reflecting on my career, I realize there has always been a common theme: My love of photography and storytelling. Prior to starting The Photo Managers, I spent 17 years teaching people how to create meaningful scrapbook photo albums. I hosted large events where hundreds of women would come and spend the entire weekend working on albums for their families. Walking around the room, I realized this was more than people cutting photos into shapes and adding decorations. This was a way for people to share their legacies, and photos invoke memories and stories. 

By 2009, I noticed a significant shift in the photography landscape. The rise of digital photography meant that fewer people were printing their photos, and this change impacted my business. The turning point came when a customer asked how much I would charge to organize her digital and printed photos. It was at this moment that I realized there was a growing need for assistance, and I started a business called Photos Simplified.

Nickerson: So you started your own, wildly successful business, why not stop there? Why start The Photo Managers? You were obviously very busy with your own work, raising your family, and authoring your book! What prompted you to create a global network of like-minded professionals?

Nelson: The response from clients to my new business concept was overwhelmingly positive. As other scrapbooking professionals and residential organizers started learning about my success, they came to me seeking guidance in starting their own photo-organizing businesses. I realized that to ensure this emerging profession continued I would need to create a code of ethics, certification, and best practices, thus The Photo Managers was born. I chose a membership model, and over the years we’ve grown into a global community of hundreds of professionals dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich tapestry of memories in our digital age. 

Nickerson: And then you did it again with Save Your Photos Month (SYPM)! Tell us a bit about how and why you started SYPM. I think a lot of people take for granted that SYPM is the month of September, except it wasn't until you built it!

Nelson: I launched Save Your Photos Day for the first time in 2014 as a one-day event. The concept grew out of viewing news stories about people being united with lost photos from Hurricane Sandy and the Joplin Missouri tornadoes. I would watch the news and it was so heartwarming to observe how people rose up to help, bringing food, water, clothes, and kindness.

Once the initial shock wears off a new wave of recovery efforts evolves, finding and restoring lost photos. Hundreds of volunteers have helped in these communities, carefully washing and restoring photos. Their efforts pay off when a family that has lost everything is reunited with even one precious photo. Thus, the concept of International Save Your Photos Day began.

The original concept was to save thousands of photos in just one day. Yet we found that one day just wasn't realistic and realized, why not make it a month!  So, in 2016 we rebranded it to Save Your Photos Month and each year we expand the variety of topics, classes, and conversations. Today this is even more important as the news is full of extreme weather disasters that impact family photos and priceless belongings.

Nickerson: Any tips for our Arti Community Members who are feeling overwhelmed by digital and physical photos? They know they want to do something with them, but don't always know where to start or what to do.

Nelson: First you aren’t alone if feeling overwhelmed. Most do, including me! Second, it didn’t take a weekend to create all those photos, so it does take time to sort through and organize them, but it’s worth it! 

Here is a quick summary of our 5 tips for photo organizing.

      1. DEFINE YOUR GOAL, what would success look like?
      2. GATHER EVERYTHING and ACCESS what you’ve got. This can be as simple as “3 hard drives,” “4 iPhones,” and “5 boxes of printed photos.”
      3. SORT and CATEGORIZE—sort the photos into categories that make sense to you. Categories might include location, date range, events, products, or something thematic like “landscapes.” Edit your collection as you go, discarding or deleting duplicates and any blurry or “not so great” images.
      4. If you have any printed photos or slides, now is the time to scan. Decide if you want to do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.
      5. SHARE . And the options are endless … Artifcts, photo books, websites, slideshows, even the collection itself!

Nickerson: When should you consider hiring a photo manager?

Nelson: When life happens! I just hired a photo organizer myself because my son was getting married, and I wanted to create a video montage of his early years and his fiancé's early years set to music. I just didn’t have the time to scan the photos or sort through hundreds of images. It was so worth it! So, my advice is don’t put this off, hoping someday you’ll have the time.

Nickerson: We've heard our own Arti Community Members say—when they first learn about photo managers —"Ooh, they're like magic photo fairies, how cool." We know they work magic with photo collections large and small, but what are two or three things that make photo managers so special?

Nelson: This is a great question, and I have thought a lot about this over the years. There are two common traits I see in professional photo managers. They are curious about history, stories, and people, otherwise they wouldn’t want to look at someone else's photo collection. Plus, they are usually lifelong learners, because technology keeps changing and to be successful you have to keep up.

Nickerson: Do you have any particular project that you especially liked working on over the years? Something our members may be able to relate to?

Nelson: I really like working on themes and using photos to tell stories. A few years ago, I created a mini photo album as a gift to the important people in my life. I added a few photos, the story of how we met and what I appreciated most about each person. I then sent it to each of them as an invitation to a party to celebrate my milestone birthday and the gift of friendship.

Nickerson: What's next for you and The Photo Managers?

Nelson: The need for professional photo managers is only increasing and I recently formed an Advisory Board of members to help us envision the next 10 years. When I started this over 15 years ago, I never dreamed that I would build something that would live long beyond me. I feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure that this profession continues to thrive for the members and the customers we serve.

Nickerson: Last but not least, you know all about Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help photo managers with their work?

Nelson: I love Artifcts because early on I realized that photos are just one piece of the puzzle. People also keep letters, children's artwork, babies' first shoes, medals, and other objects. Having the ability to share those items and stories for future generations fits perfectly into what I intuitively observed all those years ago. We are a people of stories, and we tell our stories and what we care about through photos and keepsake items.

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You can learn more about The Photo Managers and even where to find a Photo Manager to help you based on where you live by going directly to the official website.

© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Three Tips for Elevating Your At-Home Artifcts Photography

This week, as Save the Photos Month continues, we asked interiors and brand photographer Linda Pordon to share three tips to help elevate your at-home Artifcts photography.

Linda is a recognized interiors and brand photographer based out of the New York/New Jersey area. Her work has been published in outlets including Better Homes and Gardens, Domino, Elle Decor, and the NY Times. Additionally, Linda is the owner and founder of Proppe Shoppe, a collection of curated vintage and one-of-a-kind decorative objects and furnishings for the home. (Maybe you'll nod with understanding when you see some of these one-of-a-kind finds didn't even make it to the store front but are instead futured in Linda's public Artifcts collection!)

Through her photography, Linda aims to convey the feel and depth of the pieces and spaces she photographs but, more importantly, she aims to create emotional connections to these subjects through her lens.

Hear from Linda directly for a few easy tips you can try at home to elevate the photography of your cherished objects without any fancy equipment (or frustration!). 

1. FIND THAT LIGHT

Let's start off by going against what you may think ... the "best light" does not necessarily mean find the brightest light possible (or upping your exposure on your phone editing mode) to make it all "light and bright."  I have photographed and sold $800 sculptures that look like they were taken inside a dark closet. But oh they were sexy. The shadows made you feel something when you looked at it. Sometimes, less is more. So a few tips for lighting:

It may seem counterintuitive but TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF. Use natural and only natural light if you can.

      • Bring objects outside. The perfect weather to photograph items is an overcast, cloudy day.  It gives even but bright-enough light.  If it’s sunny out, find a spot in the shade to place your object.  When outdoors, you want to make sure your light is even and not too bright.  Watch out for dark shadows that will overpower your images and distract.
      • When photographing inside, just open your shades and set up near a window ... just not directly in the sun.  If your brightest room is too bright, use a bedsheet to hang or tape over the window to diffuse the light a bit. Get creative!
      • If you can't move your object, make sure you try to minimize the artificial lighting that is needed or opt to bring lights closer vs have the orange glare and reflection of overhead lights.

Play with (gasp) shadows.  

I said it. Use objects near or in front of your light to create shadows. A window pane. Hold a stem of flowers in front of the light. A raffia hat. You get the point. This is so easy to do and creates such high drama and can be done with things you have around the house. Your images will be looking "editorial" in no time.

White wood interior home staircase down to open foyer with pale oak flooring

 
 
I was photographing my Artifcts on a very rainy and dark day, so I used the space in our home that has the most windows and late afternoon light - our foyer.
 
 
© 2023 Linda Pordon. All Rights Reserved.

 

2. KEEP YOUR BACKGROUND SIMPLE AND MAKE IT CONSISTENT

If you're photographing several objects or an ongoing collection, try to make sure your color story and mood are consistent.

Do you want all bright pops of color behind your objects? Simple white? Dark and moody? The world is your oyster. My absolute favorite backgrounds are Replica Surfaces Boards (not sponsored but they should be!) which are lightweight and completely wipeable. The marble truly looks like marble and I have photographed it in every lighting possible. I wouldn't lie to you.  

If you don't want to invest in purchasing backgrounds, you can grab cheap poster board and keep it white or paint it any color or texture you feel like. Or hang a sheet against a wall and drape it down onto the floor. You would be shocked at how many brands are keeping their backgrounds pretty organic and homemade these days, but the images still look stunning and professional. 

Bright open foyer with small table and ti-fold white paper board

 
 
Here I just added a table for height (even any stool with a fabric over it would do) and then a rather cheap white tri-fold poster board to cover the trim work detail on the back wall.
 
 
© 2023 Linda Pordon. All Rights Reserved.

 

3. THINK (AND PAUSE) BEFORE YOU SNAP

The biggest advice I would give you is take your time. Really think about your shot. Take your time holding your camera (even if it's your iPhone).  Look around at the light. When my kids photograph with me for fun, I always have them walk around and take pictures with their hands to really see things before they get distracted with clicking the shutter. Think before you get snap happy!

A few concrete things to focus on:

Composition: This is a really big part of photography and a hard thing to break down succinctly, but try to be mindful of the following:

      • Leave negative space. It lets the eye breathe and actually makes your object more of a focal point.
      • Group smaller objects closer together to give them more "weight" on camera (groups of 3 are generally pleasing to the eye).
      • Vary up your angles. Make sure you get at least one head-on shot. Stand on a stool and take some overhead.
      • Watch your sight lines. Make sure key details aren't blocked. Try to see what your eye is drawn to and how it moves across an image.  

GIF carousel of photos of the same object from different angles

 
 
All taken by an iPhone 11 Pro Max (yes, I'm waiting for the new phone); edited on Lightroom mobile.
 
 
© 2023 Linda Pordon. All Rights Reserved.

Gridlines: My #1 tactical PLEASE PLEASE do this is get your picture straight.

If you are taking pictures crooked, panned up or down and not taking a minute to get as straight as possible, your images are always going to look more amateur. I can forgive almost any sin above the crooked image. An iPhone trick here is to turn your gridlines on (Settings -> Camera -> Grid set to green), and voila! The Lightroom app (available on iOS and Android) also has a great feature to auto correct gridlines (Geometry -> Upright click this toggle -> keep to "Auto," generally).

Editing: If you looked at a professional photographer's images, they should look pretty good SOOC (straight out of camera), but we would all be lying if we said post-production editing isn't a large part of the creative process.

There are some horrible filters out there, but there are also some good free and cheap phone apps you can use for your camera phone photos.  Lightroom is my favorite for photo editing. I also love Color Story. Your iPhone's built-in camera editing tools aren't all that shabby either. Try to keep your highlights down, your shadows up, and play with the contrast and warmth as much as you want. If you find settings you love using, try to consistently apply them to your images.  

iPhone vs DLSR - Which final photo would you choose?

Taken by iPhone 11 Pro Max; edited on Lightroom mobile  Taken by Nikon Z6 mirrorless DSLR; edited on Lightroom desktop

 
 
(LEFT) Taken by iPhone 11 Pro Max; edited on Lightroom mobile.
 
 
(RIGHT) Taken by Nikon Z6 mirrorless DSLR; edited on Lightroom desktop.
 
 
© 2023 Linda Pordon. All Rights Reserved.

 

Last, but not least, have fun with it.

Photography is such a beautiful way to tell a story about something or someone you love. My favorite photos are the ones where I wasn't overthinking, I wasn't hyper focused on the technical pieces, and I was just inspired by what I was shooting. Enjoy the gift of translating things you love for others to see and enjoy.  

Original Clay Sculpture, Earth, Linda Pordon

 
 
Pop over to Linda Pordon's public Artifcts collection to view the "finished" Artifct from her rain-filled day of Artifcts photography. A bonus Artifct is there awaiting you with an oh-so-sweet story.

Share with us Artifcts you've created putting some of Linda's tips to the test at Editor@Artifcts.com. Or share directly with Artifcts on Facebook or @TheArtiLife on Instagram - we love videos too! 

Happy Artifcting!

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ABOUT THE FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER

Linda Pordon is an interior and commercial brand photographer based out of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. She has a B.S. in Finance and started her career in forensic investigations at PricewaterhouseCoopers before pivoting to marketing as an executive at American Express in the premium product space for 15 years. Linda draws on her 20-year tenure in corporate marketing and strategy to enable her to better translate the visions and stories of businesses in her photography work. When she's not behind the lens, Linda has her hands full with her favorite ever-moving subjects, her three young sons, 5, 7, & 9 years old.

© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Genealogy for the New, the Frustrated, and the Reluctant: Our Conversation with a Professional

Reading time: 7 minutes 

We see you! You’re curious about something in your family history but are no genealogy pro. You are strapped for time and fear the complexities and cost involved in getting started and doing the research right.

The good news is that you do not need to become a genealogist to benefit from the voluminous records available online and via traditional hardcopy archives of old. We always encourage you to start “old school” with what you may have at home. Check out our Genealogy Gems checklist.

Notebook paper with list of genealogy research items in your home

In today’s conversation, you’ll learn about how professional genealogists can support your efforts to gain new information no matter if you are a highly experienced researcher or an amateur family historian who loves a good story. Who doesn’t after all? Myths, legends, campfire tales are all about good stories. Even better when they stories are your family’s stories!

Genealogy Research with the Pros

Sheri Bennett, a professional genealogist and project manager with Legacy Tree Genealogists, knows a thing or two about genealogy. A practicing professional for nearly two decades with a degree from Brigham Young University (BYU) and first-hand research experience in Mexico and Chile, she’s seen a lot. Enjoy our chat with Sheri as we explore what professional genealogists bring to the table to resolve your family history puzzles and curiosities. 

Ellen Goodwin: It’s not every day I get to chat with a professional genealogist. I’m hardly even a hobbyist. More an admirer! And you have a deep professional background and interesting specialties, too.

Sheri Bennett: Well, you’re in good company with Legacy Tree Genealogists, because we work with all types of people interested in genealogy. But, yes, you gave my technical background, and that’s been bolstered by my own family research while I was at BYU and over the course of my career. My dad was from Tennessee and my husband the south as well, so between researching their ancestry and my own time in Chile and Mexico, I have developed specialties in the US South and Midwest as well as supporting Spanish-language research.

Goodwin: In your experience, is there a common theme as to why clients hire professional genealogists?

Bennett: The specifics vary but, in general, they simply want to know – what are our stories, who were my people, where did they live and work, why did they move? They want concrete answers.

Sometimes to get these answers you need help that stretches beyond a passive hobby, because as we all know, not all information is created equal. I was shocked when a professor once told me that all those many many many family trees out there are only ~40% accurate! People think they are related to people they are not related to if they accept others’ trees.

Goodwin: That sounds … messy. Does that mean you spend a lot of time correcting trees?

Bennett: A lot of time, no, not necessarily, but it is a very common request from clients. We use two documents per relationship to validate and/or correct a relationship. One document is never enough. Someone else’s tree is never enough.

Goodwin: I think that’s a major draw for people like myself: In seeking these answers, you offer reassurance. Your work meets standards that mean your clients have concrete answers and can avoid passing down inaccurate information.

Bennett: As professional genealogists, the genealogical proof standards from the Board for Certification of Genealogists are the cornerstone of our work and our core values at Legacy Tree Genealogists, too: Care – Cooperation – Accuracy – Respect – Efficiency.

We have an obligation to undertake “reasonable exhaustive research.” The key word being exhaustive. What record could contain the needed information? Tax records, probate, … may all be relevant. And what archive, where, would hold that document?

Goodwin: I love how excited and passionate you get about this work as we’re chatting. Even a document is not just a document to you. For so many, it’s hard to breathe life or context into a piece of paper.

Bennett: Documents are so exciting. It’s a connection! They aren’t just paper – if you know how to interpret them, they can tell a story. Where they were born, to whom, was dad not even listed and was that normal for the time? If you’re lucky, like in some Latin countries, even grandparents are listed in a birth certificate, and you get three generations in one document!

Audio icon on beige background labeled "Listen in!"

Stories are there, hidden in those documents.
 
 

Goodwin: I’m excited just imagining what all that information you research could mean for today’s descendants. I can picture it: here's the city so-and-so was born and raised in, and the church where she was married—see their signatures on the marriage license—and the location where the bakery she and her family operated once stood, and so on.

Bennett: Yes, seeing it all in black and white, it’s amazing. And to your point of envisioning it, we even map those locations out for clients. You could use it to plan a family heritage trip! It’s another way we can bring the research to life for our clients – real people, real places, real relations and roots of yours.

Goodwin: Your specialties, local knowledge, and archival access across your global team must be an incredible asset to your clients. I know that in my mother’s family, the paternal line was the subject of a self-published book in 1992, but the author mentions at the outset all sorts of gaps where no matter how many letters she wrote to archives in England, Germany, and elsewhere, she never found certain records.

Bennett: Absolutely. We have researchers who specialize in different areas across the world. Often when hobbyists or amateur genealogists hit brick walls like your family member did, it’s because they are working online and cannot access the old churches, tax offices, and other archives where original records are kept.

Goodwin: Thinking about those original records, validating places of birth and marriage, for example, are more black and white sorts of records searches. Surely people also come to you with information more akin to family lore that they want you to explore?

Bennett: Ha, yes. And I’m sure you read a lot of family lore at Artifcts, too. Curiosity certainly motivates people. They want to know if the family legends are true. Do we have a Cherokee princess in the family line? Are we really related to Jessie James? Did my ancestors come over on the Mayflower? They are curious, but they don’t have time to unearth this information themselves.

They want to know, are the legends true?

Goodwin: In seeking these answers, you deliver insights and the proof we spoke about earlier. Clients receive a written report, along with a fan chart, copies of the original documents, and even a data file that they can upload to genealogy software to update their tree. Did I miss anything?

Bennett: All of our findings are delivered in a binder and a password protected website, too. And, keep in mind, it's all the research findings along the way, too.

One of our clients in Cuba was trying to trace his family’s origins back to Spain. But it wasn’t as simple as going one or two generations back. Ten generations back and at last we landed his family in Spain. All of our research discoveries along the way, even the dead ends, were valuable and validating.

Nil results are still progress!
 
 

Goodwin: What’s one detail about family history and genealogy research that people might easily overlook?

Bennett: The photos. Often clients want us to find photos of their ancestors, and here there’s an important “yes, but” to consider.

Audio icon on beige background

Was your ancestor in the newspaper? That would help.
 
 

Goodwin: I know exactly what you mean about the feeling of connection when you discover new details and context. I Artifcted a family brooch after a lengthy episode of chasing family history and had I known more about it earlier, I would have worn it on my wedding day.

If I were a client of yours, could I share that Artifct with you to support your research? 

Bennett: Yes! We prefer clients to share files with us digitally, if possible, so we can easily access and review them and avoid duplicating any progress they may have already made in their family research.

We certainly do not want you to send us a brooch or original photo or document. If those resources are Artifcted, all the better! We can weave Artifcts into the biography along with the photos and documents within each Artifct, too.

<<End Interview>>

There’s that age old saying, working smarter not harder. And sometimes, yes, that means calling in a professional genealogist for a course correction, powering through a brick wall, or inspiring your search down paths you’ve never even caught a glimpse of. We love that your Artifcts can capture and boost those genealogy discoveries and sharing and hope you’ll have a lot of fun as you continue your family history research!

Happy Artifcting!

______________

You may also enjoy these additional ARTIcles by Artifcts:

Did You Know Great Grandpa was an Inventor?

Grandma's Secret, Not-So-Secret, Coin Collection

She's the Last of Her Generation

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© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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How Two Sisters Overcame the Guilt to Lighten the Load of Family Heirlooms

Reading time: 6 minutes

Up until a few years ago, Rachel Donnelly, founder and CEO of AfterLight, and her family owned their old family home that had been in their family since 1890. Imagine the history those walls could tell! This home, in Eastern Tennessee, was where Rachel’s great-grandparents lived, where her grandmother was born, and where her mother was raised.  
 
After Rachel’s mother died, the family made the difficult decision to sell this beloved turn-of-the-century Victorian home that was in Rachel’s words “slap full of absolutely everything from our family's life. China, silverware, crystal, knickknacks, handwritten letters, newspaper clippings, coin collections, and of course, countless pieces of big brown furniture. You name it, it was in this house.”  
 
Buckle up, ladies and gents, we're going on a guilt trip. 
 
Rachel and her sister grew up with the expectation that the items filling this family home would one day fill their own homes, including the big brown furniture. Their mother made them swear they'd never get rid of these items that, in her mind, were priceless and irreplaceable. So, for years, Rachel and her sister were on a never-ending guilt trip.  
 
Fast forward, and the sisters’ homes have indeed become orphanages for the big brown furniture and knickknacks that their mother passed down. But guess what? Guilt be darned - the sisters are fed up! The time has come for them to unload the stuff of generations past to homes where families will cherish the pieces of their mother’s estate that simply do not fit with their own lifestyles. 

The sisters’ homes have become orphanages for the big brown furniture and knickknacks that their mother passed down.

We can all do better for the next generation.
 
What if we skip the proverbial guilt trip we create by unloading our stuff on our family, intentionally or not, and instead make a plan that will allow everyone to enjoy a trip down memory lane instead? At AfterLight, Rachel guides her clients down these planning paths every day. In honor of Make-A-Will Month this August, read on to learn some ins and outs that may help you on your way.   
 
Ellen Goodwin: I imagine that based on that fun introduction to our conversation, people can easily picture you and your family in good ol’ southern U.S.A. And that’s really important context for our readers. Our family relationships as well as the types of ‘stuff’ we tend to collect and pass down as family heirlooms often differs by region. 
 
Rachel Donnelly: Even though dealing with it was quite burdensome, I feel so fortunate to have had this family home as part of my childhood. This home was beloved by generations of my family and was full of so much history. The town in which the home was located was referred to as the "Utopia of Temperance," as it was a planned community where alcohol (aka the Devil's Drink) was strictly prohibited and any trace of liquor would lead to the property's confiscation by the city. Well, if walls could speak, they'd have tales to tell! I've always cherished the stories behind the various items in the house and what they symbolized in our heritage. My grandmother was an incredible cook and one of my prized possessions is her index box of recipes.  
 
Goodwin: What is universal in life is loss. And you are at the very forefront of helping people in modern times get through the planning and after-loss realities. It’s complex! Please help our readers understand the “why” and “what” of AfterLight. 
 
Donnelly: I like to say I received an immersive MDA (Master of Death Administration). After my own experiences with loss, including the death of my parents, and serving as the primary caregiver for and eventual executor of my uncle’s estate, I struggled to manage all the unavoidable administrative tasks that accompany aging, end-of-life, and after loss.  
 
It can take over 500 hours of effort and 100+ tasks for an executor to settle an estate. And executors are expected to complete these tasks, which are for the most part ones they have never done before, all while trying to grieve, work, take care of their family and/or prioritize their mental health. 
 
I searched for help with the tasks, paperwork and logistics in the weeks and months after my losses but struggled with where to turn. I experienced this struggle personally and noticed that there was a gap in the market of businesses meeting this need. 
 
They say that need is the mother of invention, … At AfterLight, our goal is to provide overwhelmed executors with practical, personalized support. We’re on a mission to help the living deal with dying, fostering lighter hearts and lighter loads. AfterLight assists clients in managing the unavoidable administrative tasks associated with after loss and legacy planning. Whether you’re facing an unexpected loss or want to prepare your legacy so your family can grieve in peace and settle your affairs with ease, AfterLight is the answer to your overwhelm. 

After my own experiences with loss, [...] I struggled to manage all the unavoidable administrative tasks that accompany aging, end-of-life, and after loss.

Goodwin: An interesting parallel between your work at AfterLight and the act of Artifcting is that both are about human behavior and habits. If we want better outcomes, we have to take steps proactively to do something about it, whatever the “it” is. What do you find are the one or two most challenging steps for people to take in terms of planning and preparedness? 
 
Donnelly: In my opinion, the primary challenge is our discomfort with the fact that we know how this ends – i.e., that we’re all going to die someday. Therefore, many people avoid thinking about it or taking action, as though doing so might somehow become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
 
The second challenge is that organizing one's affairs can be overwhelmingly complex, because people don’t really understand how it works and therefore, it's easy to be unaware of all of the steps they need to take to not leave a flaming dumpster fire for their family. Along the same vein, legacy planning is often filled with misconceptions. I've come across various attitudes, from "My kids are smart, they'll figure it out," to "My estate isn't significant enough to warrant planning," or even "I'll be dead and won't care."

I've come across various attitudes, from "My kids are smart, they'll figure it out," to "My estate isn't significant enough to warrant planning," or even "I'll be dead and won't care."

Goodwin: So, it is Make-a-Will month. Obviously, some people don’t even have wills (yet), while others simply need to update their wills. But there are also those of us who have wills that check the box only. Wills can and should do more to help people through grief by very intentionally addressing legacy, memories, and even anticipated points of … ahem, contention … among family members and other heirs. In your view, how can folks take a good, better, best approach to life preparedness this month? 
 
Donnelly: I believe that approaching life preparedness with intentionality and strategy, rather than simply treating it as a checklist of documents, leads to a more comprehensive and meaningful end-result. 
 
When working with our clients one-on-one, we take on the roles of accountability partner, coach, and organizer. Our aim is to help our clients to explore critical questions they may not have considered, procrastinated on, or underestimated the importance of. Some of these important questions include:

    • If you do have estate planning documents (such as a will, trust, financial power of attorney, and advance directives for healthcare), does your family know how to access them? Where are these documents located?
    • Have you shared the unlock codes for your phone and computer with a trusted contact?
    • Are your beneficiaries correctly designated and up to date?
    • Do your loved ones know your funeral wishes?
    • Have you communicated with your family about who will inherit specific items of personal property and when? (Hello! Get going on Artifcts!)
    • There’s no better solution to convey what everything is, what it means to you and your family, and WHY you are gifting it to the person you’ve chosen.)
    • Does your family have a clear understanding of your debts and assets, including a comprehensive list?

@rbdonne is a "family keeper" for family heirlooms big and small.

Vintage oak icebox by stairwell in modern home

 
 
 
 
A vintage oak icebox and cricket cage, each brought forward through generations. Click an image to view on Artifcts.

An antique cricket cage

By addressing these questions and actively engaging in the planning process, we can each achieve a more well-rounded and thoughtful approach to securing our legacies and ensuring our loved ones are better prepared for the future. And who knows, you might even have some fun in the process, especially if you share as you go via Artifcts.

______________

You may also enjoy these additional ARTIcles by Artifcts:

Gift Your Loved Ones a "Why"

What Have You Done for Your Legacy Lately?

Storytellers, Beware!

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© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Because Who Wants 300 Miniature Pianos!

Not you? Then read on. This one is for you!

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. 

A blue bowl and red handle thin metal spatula

 
 
 
 
 
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. 

Costume jewelry - rhinestone brooch

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.  

Read our story about gifting your loved ones a why > 

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. 

A lock of hair tied with a blue ribbon

@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." 

Bowler hat in hat box, padded with fox scarf

@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. 
Even co-founder Ellen Goodwin discovered a lock of hair her mother squirreled away. Read her humorous take on it. > 

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! 

a set of four meerschaum smoking pipes

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?"

Happy Artifcting!

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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