Episode 103 - Passionate Genie Buys His Own Cemetery & Solving the South

podcast episode Sep 07, 2015

Not many genies are passionate enough to buy their own cemetery, but Roy Schreffler of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania did!  Also, expert Karen Clifford gives us an overview on what it takes to research your southern ancestors.
Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors, who talks about the latest scientific analysis of an ancient 9 foot idol found in Siberia in 1890.  You will not believe how old it is!  Midwesterners will be interested to hear the latest on the upgrade to Indiana's iconic Allen County Genealogy Library.  David also shares his plans to test what we hope to be an awesome new app for photos, and he gives us another free database to check out.
Fisher then visits with Karen Clifford, President of Genealogy Research Associates, who shares her ideas on researching ancestors in the challenging 19th century southern states.  Yes, she says, it can be done!
Roy Schreffler, a passionate genie from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, then joins the show and talks with Fisher about just why he bought an old cemetery.  In serious disrepair.  As a hobby!
And Tom Perry, the Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com, answers another listener question about preservation.  Are you using the right kind of microphone to record your grandparent interviews?
That's all this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 103

Host Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 103

Fisher: And welcome back Genies for another edition of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the show where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. I am excited today because we’re going to take a little southern slant with Karen Clifford. Karen has written books, she’s a teacher, and she’s done a lot of research in the south. I know we’ve got a lot of followers in the south. We’re going to get into that and find out how different it really is there. No, not all the courthouses are burned. No, not all the records are gone. Karen’s going to fill you in on how to track down that missing and difficult southern ancestor. That’s coming up in about eight minutes. Later in the show, we’re going to talk to a man in Pennsylvania who bought a cemetery. Why? Why would he do this? What’s he doing with it? We’ll talk to Roy Schreffler about his experience, coming up a little bit later on. But right now of course it is time to check in with our good friend David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic and Genealogical Society and American Ancestors, in Boston. Hi David, how are you? 

David: Hey Fish, I’m doing great. How about yourself?

Fisher: I’m doing awesome of course still refreshed from my little excursion up to Alaska.

David: That makes reference to an email that you sent me with a photograph of you with a totem pole.

Fisher: Yes! You know, I didn’t even know that they put family history on totem poles, until I was there. It’s amazing!

David: Well it is amazing. Now, that wasn’t an ancestor by any chance was it?

Fisher: No, no, no!

David: Okay. We’ll one thing that may be an ancestor is something that was found back in the 1890s that directly links to the northwest totem poles. This is a wooden idol that was found back in 1890 in a peat bog in Siberia. Now the thing about this is this is older than you might believe it is, actually eleven thousand years old!

Fisher: Ooh! 9,000 BC really?! How’d they figure this out?

David: They’ve used radio carbon dating and because of this we know its eleven thousand years old, which actually makes it twice as old as the great pyramids of Giza.

Fisher: Wow!

David: The nice thing about this is that this actually gives a nice link between the time when the Native Americans were coming across the Barrier Land Bridge into North America, and of course the traditions as you’ve seen recently of the northwest with totem poles ties perfectly with this tradition in Siberia, which is eleven thousand years ago.

Fisher: Boy, that is just an incredible find. I love hearing this stuff! Every week there’s something new. Or old!

David: It really is exciting. It’s nice to know that old news becomes new with something found that long ago.

Fisher: Yes.

David: Well some new news is going on in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Allen County Public Library. You may have visited this wonderful facility.

Fisher: It’s like the number two biggest in the world to Salt Lake City.

David: That’s very true. And they are having a hundred thousand dollar plus renovation of the two thousand square foot Allentown Center. It’s going to make genealogists a lot happier. It’s going to go on in November so there’ll probably be some disruption with service. So check out their website to find out what’s going on before you head down to Fort Wayne.

Fisher: That’s great news for mid-westerners.

David: Exactly. Well you know it’s funny, I often don’t talk about my own dirty laundry but one of my black sheep ancestors that I may have talked to you about, my own grandfather, and at NEHGS I just did a little video which is up on YouTube, of a photograph. Remember a couple of weeks ago we talked about the alien registration files?

Fisher: Yeah, those are great.

David: Within that file I found the only photograph that we have of my grandfather.

Fisher: That’s fantastic.

David: Yeah. It’s a little passport size photo, it has a signature on it, but because I have no other photographs I cherish this probably as much as anything I do in my genealogical collection. But the ironic thing is I found it a year to the week my father died.

Fisher: Oh!

David: And it was his dad. He always said, “You know, Dave, can you find what happened to my father? He disappeared.” Unfortunately I think this bootlegger and person who sidestepped the law quite a bit, died on the streets of Boston.

Fisher: You think or you know?

David: I’m pretty sure.

Fisher: Okay.

David: He died as a John Doe. He isn’t in any records that I found. But it’s a nice little video and you get to see how much I don’t look like my grandfather.

Fisher: [Laughs] Well let’s link that video to our Facebook page from ExtremeGenes.com. That sounds great.

David: Yup I’ll be glad to do that. We have some exciting news at NEHGS. We have our Labor Day experience for September 2nd to September 9th . We’re offering to our guest users census tax and voter lists of over 40 separate databases. Those are going to be free to our guest users. And that leads me to a tech tip that you may have never tried. Have you – well you probably have... ever drawn the floor plan of your childhood home?

Fisher: It is so bizarre you would say that. I was thinking about this just a couple of nights ago because I have all these photographs from around our house indoors and outdoors, and I thought it would be kind of fun to take some of them and put them together and basically take a tour of the house. And then perhaps draw the layout of exactly how it all was and where the shelves were and where this was, and where that was. It would be quite fun I think.

David: Well I think with graph paper. But now with CAD programs that are pretty reasonable in price you could probably lay out the floor plan as if you were going to do a renovation of your house. How about doing a recreation of your old house?

Fisher: Right, or your grandfather’s house.

David: Exactly. Or interview somebody and sit down and have them draw out where the kitchen was, where the bedrooms were, who slept in what room. Great stuff. And last but not least, my weekly tech tip is an iPhone and Android app called “Photomyne.” This for $4.99 is a great little app. I’m going to download it and give you my review next week. You can take pictures of your photo albums. You know, the magnetic ones your pictures are stuck in and you’re afraid to lift out of?

Fisher: Oh, the 70s! What a great time! Who was thinking when they made those things?

David: Not archivists obviously. Well the one thing about it is you’re able to scan the pages, and then add auto, color, and contrast corrections. So those faded pictures from 50s, 60s, and 70s come to life again. And then you can use social media and share them with your family.

Fisher: So we’re talking with the cell phone?

David: With the cell phone, a cheap app for $4.99. I have an album from the 70s that I’m going to use and upload to Facebook and I’ll do it as my test.

Fisher: He’s David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors. Thank you David, talk to you again next week!

David: Very good. Have a good week yourself.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to a woman who knows all about the trials of researching in the south, in the 19th century. How are you going to get to your people in each state? Karen Clifford has some ideas for you, coming up in minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 2 Episode 103

Host Scott Fisher with guest Karen Clifford

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here the Radio Roots Sleuth with my guest Karen Clifford. She is President of Genealogy Research Associates Incorporated. She’s an author of a book called “Digging Deeper.” Using essential pre-1850 records, she teaches college classes. I mean, I can’t even imagine how you found the time to come on with us Karen!

Karen: It’s because you caught me at home.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Karen: I’m glad to be here.

Fisher: Well, I appreciate that. You know, we have so many listeners in the south, and of course those people who have Southern roots, that I thought it would be important to talk about how to get back there. Because, as we always hear, “Oh, all the courthouses were burned during the Civil War.” Well, I can’t believe that they all were, but there’s a lot of missing records. Tell us about what we need to know about researching in the south.

Karen: First of all, it’s very helpful if you have a clear understanding of the history of each state.

Fisher: Okay.

Karen: So if you find out from a census record that your ancestor was in Georgia, then you need to go online and find out what records still exist for Georgia? Are there any that you have to be careful of? Because in Georgia the federal census records up to 1830 were lost and so you know you’re going to have to use something like a substitute records.

Fisher: Alright. And what kind of records are out there like that?

Karen: Well, a substitute record for a census is another type of enumeration, which is a tax list.

Fisher: Right.

Karen: So you can use tax lists to pinpoint an ancestor in a particular place at a particular time, and that is more like a regional record too, because sometimes there’s federal tax records, and sometimes there are regional tax records, sometimes there’s a county or local license in town. That’s not the case in Georgia. Mostly they’re by county.  However, the federal government was dealing with a lot of people in the south who were returning from serving in the military. They had pensions that had to be forwarded. For example, they may have lived in Maryland or Virginia or North Carolina and were receiving a federal pension in those states so they had to inform the federal government that they had moved. So then they would look in those indexes for those people. Another thing is, churches recorded many vital records. In the south you have the Baptists, the Methodists, even the Quakers for a time. Later they were going to be moving up because of their stand on slavery.

Fisher: Right. Now tell me, were a lot of the churches lost during the Civil War?

Karen: No. One of the reasons they’re so devastating when you read about it is, for example, when Sherman came through the United States and went to town, he made this path right through to South Carolina. And in South Carolina it was so disastrous because the South Carolinians were the only state in the Union that kept all their records in a centralized depository in Charleston.

Fisher: Oh boy.

Karen: The counties really didn’t have their individual courthouse system set up until after the Civil War. And so in their fear of this whole group of people coming in, the South Carolinians burned their own records in some cases so it wouldn’t fall into the hands...

Fisher: Of the enemy.

Karen: Of the enemy.

Fisher: Right.

Karen: And so, sometimes people took records and they buried them or they just took them somewhere for safekeeping if they had the time to. I know of instances where, during the Civil War, records were stored in a courthouse outside of Virginia and sent to West Virginia for safe keeping. And it wasn’t until years after the fact that someone discovered that they were in the courthouse, and finally gave it back to the county that it belonged to.

Fisher: Isn’t there an assumption, Karen, I think that a lot of people feel like in New England or the north, there are a lot of the vital records that were going on in the 19th century. It doesn’t sound like that was going on in the south at all to begin with.

Karen: That’s right. And that’s one of the understandings that are nice to know about, because you can waste a lot of time looking for records that doesn’t exist.

Fisher: So what’s the solution to all this?

Karen: Well, one of the general ways we try and solve these problems is to look at manuscript collections. These are papers that archives have kept over the centuries, of the original writings of people. I held in my hand, an Old Farmer’s Almanac, where someone in the community had cut and pasted from an old newspaper that doesn’t exist anymore, news of someone’s marriage, or a death, or a birth in the family.

Fisher: Wow!

Karen: They glued them on those pages because they couldn’t afford to pay for scrap books. And they made their own paste, you know, from flour and water.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Karen: And then they stored all this. In fact, I’ve had clients whose given me these books to index. Because they’ve passed down in their family and they want to know if there really was anything in this whole book that had anything to do with their family, or if it was just a hobby great grandma had.

Fisher: That’s incredible.

Karen: Oh, I am a firm believer. I’m one of those optimists, and I think you have to be an optimist or you don’t even start looking. But I’m a firm believer, having worked in the field for so many years now that these records are out there. And we have to look at the unusual places, such as loose papers in an archive, or a manuscript collection which could be in a historical society. Every state in the south has an archive. It also has a historical society and they almost always have a state library.

Fisher: Wow.

Karen: Those are the three places that I look. State libraries mostly have published materials, but they have guides that lead you to these other two sources.

Fisher: We’ve got a lot of listeners in Alabama. Can you speak to that state a little bit?

Karen: Yes. One of the things you have to realize is that the Gulf South States, being brought up, were being trained how to do their records by the people in South Carolina and Georgia because South Carolina existed earlier. So, sometimes, understanding how they dealt with issues, there are laws that are passed in each state that tell you who is the next person to take over a probate.  For example, if the eldest son has died, because you wonder, you found a probate record on your ancestor and it doesn’t specifically give that ancestor’s relationship. The person has the same last name.

Fisher: Right.

Karen: So you’re trying to figure out what could prove this. Well, you go to a law library or something that has the legal status for the time period, and you find out who was supposed to take it over because the court would follow that guideline. So, a good thing for beginners to do, or even intermediate researchers, is get your hands on a good genealogy how-to book, or historical book, that covers the state you’re interested in.

Fisher: Right.

Karen: And the people from Alabama, they don’t stay a long time. The people in Georgia, they didn’t stay a long time because their state was giving away land in these land lotteries. So, you have a family with five brothers, they’d be in one county, the next thing you know they’d be in three states, because they were given opportunities to go somewhere else if they didn’t like that land very much. So they sold it to someone for a little bit more money and they went to the next good land that was being given away.  

Fisher: So how would you trace these people, Karen?

Karen: Land records and the lottery records, and every census record you can get your hands on.

Fisher: Boy!

Karen: And tax records. There’s several quirks about every state, and that’s why it’s not easy to just give someone a cart blanch, “This will help you in your research.”

Fisher: So when we talk about the south, we’re talking about basically a confederation. It’s almost like the Confederacy all over again, right?  Each state a little bit different, the whole thing very different than the north?

Karen: That’s right. In fact, when I teach my students in college, I let them know the regions of the United States. As far as genealogy goes, we’re set up based on the political jurisdictions that were around them. Because if you learn how to do court records, say, in New York, you’re talking about guardianship records, and they name something, the Orphans’ Court.

Fisher: Right.

Karen: And they’re a travelling court. But what do you do when you get to South Carolina when there are not even counties? All they have is legal jurisdictions, but they gathered all the records down to Charleston. People then think well, everything is destroyed, because when they talk to the courthouse, the court says, “We don’t have records” or “They were destroyed.” When they never had them at all!

Fisher: In the first place.

Karen: Most people don’t know that. Because the clerks are brand new, and they were just given a piece of paper and say “We don’t have records from this time.” But if you take initiative and you study the history, you’ll find out what is missing in... I’m sorry I have this little problem trying to remember if it’s Arkansas or Alabama. One of those two states has a wonderful pattern of doing their history on a regional level. They will take about five or six counties that are all clustered together, and that was for a reason, those people live close enough that they could share each other’s knowledge. You know what it’s like when a whole bunch of people move into a new area and they don’t have the lawns put in, they don’t even know where to get your water.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Karen: Well, this is what’s happening with our ancestors. They’re coming from subtle places, they’re going into the south and nothing is all set up for them yet. So you have to take, where would this ancestor go to get something approved? What court would they go to? Court records are just marvellous at this time because they were also fighting with each other over water rights. And so, sometimes the land disputes are some of the best ways we can get information.

Fisher: Wow.

Karen: The other problem in Alabama and Arkansas, there’s property in there that was being given up by territories and so the records are on a federal level.

Fisher: So they’re all over the place? Wow! That sounds enormously complicated.

Karen: It is. It seems really, really complicated. I keep saying one of these days I’m going to write a book on that, but I’m getting kind of old.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Karen: So I leave it to my students... learn what you learn and you become the professional researcher that they need to be if they stick with it in their state, or where their ancestors moved because today we’re all moving into DNA.

Fisher: Right.

Karen: And having those tools together are solving problems most people would not have been able to do a few years ago.

Fisher: Isn’t that the truth?! Karen Clifford, thank you so much for your insight on southern research. And you’re right. We get the DNA together with the records that are there, a lot of these things should be resolved.

Karen: Yes.

Fisher: All right, thanks for coming on!

Karen: You’re welcome!

Fisher: And coming up next – Maybe you’re one of those people that really enjoys cemeteries. But do you enjoy them enough to actually go out and buy one? We’re going to talk to a man in Pennsylvania next who has done just that... on America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com!

Segment 3 Episode 103

Host Scott Fisher with guest Roy Schreffler

Fisher: And we are back on America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth, and you know there are a lot of people in America I think many people even listening right now who are interested in cemeteries. I think they're great places to go, a lot of history to be found there, obviously a lot of family history and memories and touching feelings as well, but there are not a lot of people who take that passion and actually go out and buy their own cemetery. But the man on the line with us right now from Pennsylvania has done just that, Roy Schreffler on the line from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. How are you, Roy?

Roy: Hi Scott. Well I'm doing just fine here in steamy eastern Pennsylvania, thanks.

Fisher: Tell us about this. This was about seven, eight years ago that you decided, it's time to pick up a seven acre cemetery. This isn't even your living. You've never worked for a funeral home, but you are a passionate genie, genealogist. Tell us about this whole experience and why you decided to do it.

Roy: Well, two primary reasons. I got started in genealogy in around 2004 and then promptly, my company dispatched me to Wisconsin for two and a half years where I was living a bachelor life in an efficiency apartment and I had all the time in the world to do my family research. And around 2007, I decided to query the cemetery where I thought my great grandmother was buried and it happened to be the Fairview Cemetery, which is the one I now own. And the response I got from the owner at the time was, "Your grandmother's not here." And I said, "Hmm, it says here in her death certificate she's buried at Fairview." and he says, "I have no records of that." So I thought, "Hmm, how do you force the records to reveal themselves?" And it was a struggle and I let it go for a while. And then I came back home for a visit. And when I came, my mom said, "The cemetery's not looking so good," and I said, "Really?" Because she used to visit my father and some of her relatives. And I said, "Hmm." So about that time I got home into Wisconsin, I got a call from the owner and he said, "I'm losing interest, Roy." And I said, "I see that."

Fisher: [Laughs]

Roy: “The grass is up at ten inches. The city was about to come in and tell me I had to, you know, mow it.” And he said, “Remember when you said you wanted to buy it?” And I said, “You're absolutely correct. I did ask you that in 1994 when you buried my father, because I was a little bit uneasy at the whole arrangement.”

Fisher: Sure.

Roy: And I've no idea what compelled me to say, "If you ever want to sell this, you let me know." And he remembered it. And then he called me on it and being the guy that I am, I said, “Well, let’s meet." So the next time I was back in town, September '07, we met at the cemetery, stood in a circle and I said, "I'm new at this. What do we do? What have you got?" and he said, "Well...."

Fisher: [Laughs]

Roy: I made him an offer and he goes, "Okay. Let's go sign the papers."

Fisher: Whoa!

Roy: That was it.

Fisher: That was it? First of all, what kind of work do you do, Roy?

Roy: Well, I'm a business and a design engineer.

Fisher: Okay. And so you got into this. And what happened now? You take over the cemetery in Pennsylvania, you've got family there. There're records missing obviously or at least that they hadn't given to you. What have you discovered since you took the whole thing over?

Roy: Well, that was in the beginning of the interesting parts, of course. As I dug deeper and as you know yourself being a genealogist you make the connections and before you know it. Of course my wife was a local gal, in a sense, so then I start doing her genealogy and I come to find between us, I'm counting maybe a hundred people that are interred and that are still to be interred that have, like my mother, her name's already engraved on the stone. You know, she’s still alive, so she needed to go there and it's sort of unfolded.

Fisher: Harder than you thought to take care of it?

Roy: Its intense, I've got to say. I mean, I probably need to write a book or do some YouTube videos…

Fisher: [Laughs]

Roy: … because of what I've learned along the way. And one of the things I did to hone my skills with earlier on is the art of divining with coat hangers.

Fisher: Does it really work, divining?

Roy: Absolutely! My grave digger, he's about ready to throw in because when he comes out to dig and I say, "Well Bobby, we've got a tough one here." I said, "You know, there's no good land references." I said. “So I divined an array and put these little markers here. Let's see what you find.” And invariably he goes, “Roy, yeah, no need for me to probe anymore. You know, you're always right on the money.” So you know I do that, I've done that on quite a few occasions, located graves of people that were essentially, because the record keeping was so poor by the previous owners, I had to do a lot of CSI work, a lot of it.

Fisher: Wow! How many people do you have in the cemetery?

Roy: Well, there's over 4,000 standing monuments, but the records from the 1910s and then through the 1918 Spanish influenza, there are so many people that are just written in a continuous log, there are no stones or markers. I'm guessing I could be up to 5,000.

Fisher: And so you're trying to find out who they all are by going through the death records from that time and place.

Roy: Yeah, it's, you know, little by little and you know through serendipity. I'll get an inquiry and that will lead me down a trail and then I make another discovery. And as I do this, of course, I record everything in my software package. And I'm a records maniac and the integrity of the records is important, of course. And I actually did find my great grandmother on one of those pages. It was an entry and of course the previous owner didn’t take the time to look. She's in an unmarked grave as well.

Fisher: And so you don't know where she is exactly.

Roy: Well I do. It turns out that her one son died in 1942, and his grave, after a lot of triangulation, is right next to her unmarked grave.

Fisher: Ah, well, tell us about the Hilficker sisters.

Roy: Well, they're right outside my front door. I literally walk out my front door forty feet across...it's an avenue and they're the first three stones on the corner of the drive and the main road. And you know, I sit there and I eat my breakfast and look out the window and I see these polished little gems. And when the wind blows and the flowers flies, I mean its silk flowers you know, they take loft and they land you know and I don't know where they belong. So I would tell my grandchildren,”Go out and pick up the flowers and put all the errant flowers on the Hilficker girls.” There are no bigger members than them, died in the late 1800s.

Fisher: Right and they were little girls.

Roy: They were little. I think one year old, two years old, and five years old. And they were the first three children from this family. And they had five more after that. I can't imagine your first three children perishing and then you continue and had five more that lived to adulthood, which was good for them.

Fisher: Sure.

Roy: I mean that would have been discouraging.

Fisher: We're talking to Roy Schreffler in Pennsylvania. He bought a cemetery, the Fairview Cemetery. I guess we could call it a hobby, Roy, since you're not really in any profitable situation with this, right?

Roy: That's correct. I fought tooth and nail to become a 501c13 nonprofit corporation. I'm registered in the state of Pennsylvania.

Fisher: Do you have a lot of space left?

 Roy: Well, I have about 500 spaces left. I do about eighteen burials a year between full vaults and cremation on average I would say. But invariably when I'm travelling for my work which I do a lot, I'll get that call and then I have to pull out all the stops and try to find where to tell the gravedigger to dig. So that's been a little problematic, but you know in today's age of information, I’ve armed myself with thumb drives and remote servers. I made my own cloud so I can go up there and grab as much as I can remotely to help out while I'm away.

Fisher: Well I'm certain there have got to be some families who are enormously appreciative of all you've done to restore the integrity of the cemetery. Tell me a story of something that's touched your heart a little bit since you've taken over.

Roy: Yeah, I got some emails that were forwarded to me from the newspaper, really kind words. A local high school teacher actually said to the paper that they'd love to see more of these positive stories on the front page than the usual run of the mill stuff. And she said that she wasn't even aware that I was here. And she teaches one mile away. So she was going to go out of her way the first day of school to come by and you know, take a look see. So I mean, I'm getting all kinds of really positive responses and thanks yous and again, serendipity is really kicking.

Fisher: Not many people follow their passion to this degree. Roy Schreffler, enjoy your cemetery! And thanks for what you're doing, I think it’s important work.

Roy: Thank you Scott.

Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com talk’s preservation on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 4 Episode 103

Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here with Tom Perry right over there. Wave to the people, Tom!

Tom: Heeey!

Fisher: [Laughs] He's our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com. And Tom, interesting, we got an email from Jan Drexler in Savannah, Georgia asking about microphones. And she's apparently going to a family reunion and wants to know what kind of microphone would work best for video and for audio to interview some of the older family members and get their stories.

Tom: You know, that's a really good question, especially it's a timely question, because even though we're a few months out from the holidays, you need to start thinking right now about doing holiday gifts for your family, family history type stuff, preservation things. And audio recording is something that's really important. I remember back in the day, people used to always ignore audio and say, "Oh, we'll fix it in the mix. Oh, we'll fix it here. We'll do this." and it’s like "What!?" So that's why I went to Full Sail University and got an Audio Engineering certification so I could understand more about audio even though video was my main stay. There're so many different kinds of microphones. The wrong microphone can mess things up. If you have a group of people sitting around the table, it's going to be different than interviewing two people sitting next to each other. So that's a really good question. Let's talk about some different kinds of microphones. The first one I want to talk about is called an omni directional. It's "omni" meaning all the way around. So if you have a group of people sitting around on chairs and you want a microphone in the middle of them to get whatever sounds come out, an omni directional is the best, because it's going to pick up everything from every side.

Fisher: But the down side would be of course, it's going to pick up a lot of room noise.

Tom: Exactly. It's going to pick up everything. Now one thing, you'll never see one of these like in a church, because the churches have speakers in them also and you will get feedback. You'll get the "weeeeee" sound and all those kinds of bad things, so you need to be really careful. And as you mentioned, it will pick up everything. So you want to make sure you're in a quiet room. And again which we've talked about in previous segments, make sure whether you're recording it on a cassette player, as weird as that sounds, or your iPhone, make sure you put on headphones. And before you start recording, have everybody talk, sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” something… because you want to be able to know exactly what's actually being heard by your device, whether it's a camcorder or a cassette recorder or one of those new HD recorders, anything like that. Because you might hear a little hum from the air conditioner that you didn't hear normally, because your ears said, "Hey, I don't need to hear that. I want to listen to Aunt Martha, what she's saying."

Fisher: And then you have the issue of indoors and outdoors. If you're outdoors, you're going to pick up wind, and you're going to pick up children running around on the playground nearby. Same on the indoors, you don't want anybody else in the room walking around while this interview is going on.

Tom: Exactly. Because we have trained our brains not to listen to stuff like that, especially if you’ve raised children.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: And so you just totally turn them off. Even if you're not recording, go into your bedroom at night and just sit there with nothing supposedly on and listen. And you will hear things that you never knew existed before.

Fisher: Right, because we do tune it out.

Tom: That's why an omni directional microphone is very limited in its uses. You can do simple things, like if you have some barstools, put them around and throw a blanket over them, because the biggest thing you're going to hear echo is, most rooms have the four walls, the ceiling and the floor. And you're going to hear all kinds of echoes. If somebody moves a little bit, somebody’s smacking their lips or chewing gum or clipping their fingernails, anything, you're going to hear it. The omni directional will pick it up.

Fisher: [Laughs] Oh boy! Aren't most video camera microphones omni directional, Tom?

Tom: No, most of them are kind of more of bi-directional and some of them are even shotgun, like the ones that are built on top of a camcorder. The good ones are usually shotgun. Let's move into the shotgun microphones. A shotgun is like a shotgun. So it kind of goes out in a direction but it spreads out. So it's not straight, it kind of goes out. So if there're several people sitting there, like two or three people sitting together and you have a shotgun, it kind of goes out as you would imagine a shotgun shooting pellets would go out, so it will pick up all those people. So anything on the sides or behind you aren't going to be picked up. And in our next segment, we can go into more detail on that.

Fisher: All right, in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 103

Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: All right, I'm riding shotgun here. It is Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth with Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, the Preservation Authority. We're talking shotgun microphones for recording people at reunions, family gatherings, maybe over the holidays too. We mentioned earlier the omni directional mics. Now we're talking about the shotgun mics that kind of open up and spread the little further out they get, but that will keep some of the noise out, right Tom?

Tom: Oh absolutely. Any noise behind you, any noise at the side will go away. Like if you look at a shotgun microphone, you'll see the mic element on the very front and you'll see all these slats on the side. What those slats are, they take anything that's reverberating off the walls, they go into there and they see, "Oh, hey, this same signal is coming from the front." and they cancel out its own reflection.

Fisher: Wow!

Tom: So it lets the strong signal come in of you saying, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, but then the ones that are echoing off the walls come in and it says, “Hey, this is the same thing. This is a weaker signal. I don't want this.” So the wave patterns cancel each other out. So you get the strong ones coming from the front. That's usually what you kind of see on microphones like at a church pulpit as well.

Fisher: Right. And you know, I remember, I have one of these old Christmas tapes from the late '50s. I'm a little boy and it's pandemonium at Christmas time. My dad had a reel to reel tape and you could hear everything in the room. And I'm thinking, that was not a shotgun mic. [Laughs]

Tom: No, no, no.

Fisher: That was more like the first one.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: All right, what other kind of microphones should we think about as we get ready for these things?

Tom: Okay, the next one I want to talk about is called cardioids, which is basically if you know anything about surgery, that's a heart. This microphone is a heart shape. So these have the heart shape pattern that kind of picks up like you would imagine a heart coming out from the microphone with a point going away from the microphone. And these are primarily for people where you're going to have people on the front and the sides. And they're widely used in handheld microphones, like if you see somebody interviewing somebody on the news that's holding it out, it's a cardioids microphone, because it's picking up the two people. They're not exactly straight to the front of it. They might be a little bit to the side. So it's kind of like a heart shape pattern. And so that's a great one to use if you're just interviewing a couple of people. So that's an awesome one for that. Now there's another one that's called a super hyper cardioids and these are highly directional. They record almost exclusively from the direction in which they are pointed. Kind of like a pulled in shotgun so to speak. And these are found most often in the form of we mentioned shotgun microphones, which makes it directional, good for like filmmaking because usually when you're shooting a camera.

Fisher: Probably too professional though for most people, right?

Tom: Yeah, well, it can be. Just kind of think what you see in the lens of your camera is basically what this microphone is going to see. So if somebody's talking to you on the side and saying, “Hey, you know we need to do this.” Or “Hey, you know, I remember this story,” or whatever. They're not on film, so they're probably not going to be on audio either, unless they're really annoying like Aunt Martha.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: But otherwise, those are really good microphones, but you have to be really careful with them. There's a bi-directional one which just pick up a pattern. It records from both sides but not so much for the top or the bottom.

Fisher: So you'd put that, what, in the middle of a table between two people?

Tom: You could do that also. And I'm going to get to another kind of microphone that's actually better for table situations. But the bi-directional type is most often between interview subjects or for recording music and vocals, particularly duets, so two people are standing kind of on the side of the microphone.

Fisher: Okay, think Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

Tom: Exactly!

Fisher: Ooooooh!

Tom: Exactly. That's exactly what it is.

Fisher: All right, where do you get these mics?

Tom: You can go anyplace. I always recommend go to B&HAudio.com. They'll sit there and answer questions for you. If you want more research, go to VideoMaker.com and there are great interviews and articles about what kind of mics to use.

Fisher: All right, great stuff as always Tom. Hopefully that answers your question, Jan. You can always [email protected]. Thanks for coming on.

Tom: See you next week.

Fisher: Hey, thanks so much for joining us once again. That wraps up our show for this week. Thanks to Karen Clifford who came on to talk about her knowledge of researching the south. And it sounds like if you've got southern ancestry, you've got a lot of things to learn about. Listen to the segment again. You can get our free podcast app for iPhone or Android, just download it from your phone's store and you can catch up on that. Also thanks to Roy Schreffler from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the man who loved cemeteries so much, he decided to buy one! Yeah, what a great story that was. Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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