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.
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?"
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