Episode 105 - Uncovered: Civil War Soldier Who Hid True Identity From Family / Meet "The Center for Home Movies"

podcast episode Sep 21, 2015

When when captured Southern soldiers were forced to fight for the North, they generally didn't want to talk about it.  But this guy took it one step further.  Ken Alford shares a great story he uncovered while writing a book.  And who ever thought there would be a "Center For Home Movies?"  But there is!

Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors.  David talks about the remarkable discovery of a young man whose remains were found hanging from the roots of a downed tree in Ireland... almost 1,000 years after his death!  Fisher and David also talk about the challenge awaiting young people in their research when they are unable to read cursive writing.  The problem has already begun.  David has a Tech Tip of the Week, and a brand new NEHGS Free Database.  You'll have to listen to hear what it is!

Fisher then visits with Dwight Swanson with the Center for Home Movies.  What do they do and how can your old home movies be a part of it?  Find out in segment 2.

Then it's another remarkable ancestral story.  Fisher talks with Ken Alford, a writer who came across the story of a "galvanized" Union soldier who took his true identity and Civil War experience to the grave.  Not even his wife knew!  Hear how his story was discovered by descendants and what the truth was.

Then Tom Perry, the Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com, helps another listener with a preservation problem concerning some recently found daguerreotype photos.  (Send your questions to [email protected].)

It's all this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 105

Host Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 105

Fisher: And welcome back Genies, to another edition of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and Extreme Genes.com. My name is Fisher, I am your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. And once again, very excited about what we’ve got lined up for you today. We’ve got an amazing expert on home movies. In fact, he is the founder of a place called “The Center for Home Movies.” And you may have seen this featured recently on CBS Sunday Morning. We’re going to talk to Dwight Swanson, about what they’re doing and how it might affect what you do with your home movies. And then, later in the show we’re going to talk to a man named Ken Alford. Ken was working on a book and found a guy who was a grandson of a civil war soldier, who was what they call a “Galvanized Union Soldier.” What does that mean? What was his story? You’re going to love it, coming up later in the show. But right now we head off to Syracuse, New York?... to talk to our good friend the Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors, David Allen Lambert. You’re supposed to be in Boston, what are you doing there buddy?!

David: Well, the New York State History Conference! It’s running through Saturday and we’re looking forward to meeting a lot of our Extreme Genes and NEHGS friends out here at the conference. So, I’m just here working the booth, selling books, and shaking hands and meeting people. Hopefully I’ll get some guests for us too, I’ll keep my ears peeled for some good stories.

Fisher: Oh there are always great stories to be found. You know what I’m amazed at? Every week I think, “Okay, where are we going to find...” there’s always another one, and it just leaves your jaw hanging. So I’m looking forward to that. What do you have for us today in our Family Histoire News, David?

David: Well, speaking of things hanging, hanging from a 200 year old toppled tree in the Irish village of Colony there was a thousand year old skeleton found recently!

Fisher: What?!

David: Yeah.

Fisher: Hanging in the tree?

David: Hanging in the roots of the tree.

Fisher: Oh in the roots!

David: Yup. Basically what happened, the tree toppled and within the roots itself, the ball of the tree, was found a skeleton of a male about the ages of 17 to25, and they said that he died probably between 1030 and 1200 AD.

Fisher: Wow!

David: But here’s the bigger catch, his body contained injuries inflicted by some sharp blade, so he died by some mysterious means.

Fisher: So, we’re not talking war, we’re talking murder here?

David: Perhaps, and then buried hastily in the ground, yeah. So it wasn’t in a church yard or anything like that. And you know, if that tree didn’t topple who knows if they even would have thought to dig there to find such remains.

Fisher: Sure, yeah.

David: It’s just a fluke but an interesting one just the same. The other thing I wanted to talk to you about and interesting thing that happened about three weeks ago. I’m always intrigued when people are having trouble researching their ancestry, but this time it was someone that came in because they couldn’t read handwriting.

Fisher: What?

David: A college student came in, had no idea about cursive handwriting. And I’m not talking 17th century early Latin handwriting. I’m talking deed books from the 19th century that were hand written. And I obviously worked with him and I understand it’s a complete learning curve. But then the following day another person came in with the same problem. And I’ve done some investigating and I think you’ll probably see this as the case. A lot of schools are not teaching handwriting anymore.

Fisher: That’s actually most of the country right now. And it’s going to be a real problem for people who do research in the future, there’s no doubt about it.

David: You think of Rosetta Stone, I mean, I would think that until there’s an OCR program that can read handwriting and translate it all over.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Everybody’s handwriting is different. I know that mine won’t be an easy translation that’s for sure.

Fisher: Well, the good news is, a lot of parents are getting very upset with this and a lot of other states now around the country are starting to teach it. If not in English, as actually a part of their art curriculum.

David: And that’s the best way to do it. I mean if you’re going to get it somehow, I guess it’s a lesser version of calligraphy.

Fisher: That’s exactly right.

David: That has to be it. Well, you know I’m out here in New York but if anybody’s out near Boston on October 3rd Saturday, at the Sheraton Boston hotel, we’re having a family history day out here, and that’s a full day of lectures and events and people can go to AmericanAncestors.org to find out. So maybe some of our listeners that are tuning in have some free time on October 3rd? Come on down. Here’s my Tech Tip. This is kind of fun. I think we’ve talked about Facebook and how wonderful it is to network with people and capture family stories. There’s a place called “MySocialBook.com” on the internet and for around $20 it will capture, publish and publish for you your entire year on Facebook, or multiple years if you wish. Of course the price goes up, and what it does is it captures all your newsfeeds, all your photographs, everything you’ve shared, obviously it doesn’t show the videos. But it’s a great way of preserving your social media history, and I’ve often thought Facebook is a great tool but how do we preserve it for future generations? So this is a nice little Tech Tip. I haven’t created a social book yet, probably will some time by the end of the year and I’ll report back, so no immediate news one way or the other but it’s going to be an interesting website.

Fisher: Well, isn’t that great because you actually will be able to preserve this stuff that is right now pretty temporary.

David: Exactly. Exactly. It’s sort of like taking a year on review of your own life and recording it. Jumping out to NEHGS databases for our guest users we’re going far afield and teaming up with the Family History Library and onto Family Search, and we have posted Norway baptisms, marriages, and burials from the 17th century right down to the 1920s.

Fisher: Nice.

David: And this is amazing. This has over 7.6 million baptisms, 3.8 million marriages, and 740 thousand burials, spanning the 17th through the 20th centuries. It’s amazing!

Fisher: And all available to you right in your home for the next week through NEHGS.

David: Right, to sign up as a guest user.

Fisher: And, one other thing we’ve got to mention here David, we are working right now, and this is so much fun, save the date. September 13th through September 18th 2016, leaving from Boston on a Royal Caribbean Cruise!

David: Exactly. The first of many I hope.

Fisher: Yeah I hope so. It’s our Fall Foliage Extreme Genes Cruise. David Allan Lambert from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors and myself Fisher, and we’ll be doing lectures on the cruise. We’re going to give people a chance to actually take a tour of the Freedom trail in Boston, and NEHGS before the cruise. We go up north to Maine and to Nova Scotia, it’s going to be so much fun. We’re going to have more of it of course on our Facebook page and on our ExtremeGenes.com website so check it out. And if you want to be a part of it, we’re going to have all the details ready for you in about another week. So this is going to be great stuff for next year. Make plans to be part of it!

David: Excellent. It’s a year away!

Fisher: All right David thanks so much! Have a great conference in Syracuse, New York and we’ll talk to you again next week.

David: Talk to you then.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to be talking to Dwight Swanson, he is one of the founders of a place called “The Center for Home Movies.” What is this about? How might you be involved? We’ll find out more coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 105

Host Scott Fisher with guest Dwight Swanson

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth, and just a couple of weeks ago, my wife was watching CBS Sunday Morning. It’s a great show. It covers a lot of things concerning arts and culture. And she said, “Oh, you’ve got to check this out.” It was a story about a place, or a virtual place called “The Center for Home Movies.” And so I thought, you know, she’s right, we’ve got to talk to these people. So on the line with me right now is Dwight Swanson, from Baltimore, Maryland. He’s one of the board members for The Center for Home Movies, and Dwight, nice to have you on the show.

Dwight: Thanks a lot for having me.

Fisher: How did all this start?

Dwight: The Center for Home Movies crew had a project called “Home Movie Day.” And Home Movie Day started around 2002. A group of my friends and colleagues who were all film archivists who were especially interested in home movies, we’re taking a looking at the field and our love of home movies, that working within archival institutions, and we were noticing that a lot of – not just a lot, the vast majority of home movies-- were not in archives. They were in people’s homes, and drawers and closets and attics. So we wanted to reach out to them and go out into the community and watch their home movies with them and share some preservation information. So we came up with this idea of a Home Movies Day, that one day a year, we would bring our equipment and bring our expertise into the community and just invite people to bring their home movies in, and watch them with their friends, their relatives, their neighbors, and get the theater or some community space and watch them all together. So we did that for a couple of years and it went fantastically well. Better than we ever imagined. And kind of because of that, we kept trying to grow Home Movie Day, but then because we had a lot of other ambitions and things we wanted to do with home movies, we soon after that set up a 501C3 non-profit organization called “The Center for Home Movies” where we could really take on any home movie or related projects that we wanted to do.

Fisher: Now, I’m thinking back in 2002, there weren’t a lot of options for doing stuff online quite to the level that can now. So this must have evolved obviously over time?

Dwight: Definitely. Yeah. Home Movie Day in particular was really based on those screenings. Just getting people together, getting projectors and inspect the equipment and get any old 80 mm projectors and 60 mm projectors, going and threading them and watching them. It’s only really been over the past several years with the kind of exposition and availability of watching stuff online, that there’s been a real change in focus about how people can watch home movies and share home movies with each other.

Fisher: Yep, for those of us who have actually inherited a lot of those old movies, how many of us actually have a projector with which to look at them, right?

Dwight: Exactly. And that was really one of the main motivating factors for home movie day. And it’s proven to be true over the years that we’ve been doing this, is that people generally hold on to their films. You know, if you see a can of film from your parents or your grandparents, you kind of feel that, “Oh, there’s probably something worthwhile on this and probably make a good family document,” but it’s really the projectors that have disappeared over time or more likely just broken down at some point. And people aren’t making new projectors. That’s why every year we get these amazing stories of people who have the films, who’ve been keeping them for a long time, but they just don’t have the equipment so they don’t really know what’s on them. So that’s what we were kind of helping to supply them with, was good, functioning, safe running equipment for them to finally look at these films again.

Fisher: So do you operate with people actually donating to your organization?

Dwight: We are not primarily a collecting organization. We would like to collect more, but we just don’t have the staff and the manpower to bring in a lot of stuff, so what we usually try to do is to connect people with other archives that maybe are closer to home. Because what we have found is that so many personal home movie collections really are tied to a single place and if there is an archive or library, or some type of collection nearby to them, they really are a lot more meaningful closer to the place that they were made and where the families lived. 

Fisher: That makes sense.

Dwight: So our first option when we hear about a collection is to try and hook the family up and hook the donors up with an archive that we’re aware of, where things will be available, but be available to the people that will really use them. In some ways, an archive is a last resort for collections that don’t have a better home to go to.

Fisher: That’s fascinating to me because I did not realize there would be archives for home movies in many local areas. Who are these people? Are they part of something larger?

Dwight: The first organization that started really being interested in home movies, were mostly film archives, but what is called in the archival field as regional archives. The film archives of a city or a state or a region.

Fisher: Ah!

Dwight: The history of so many of these cities and regions, especially more rural ones and small towns, they weren’t being documented by newsreels or photographers or TV photographers, the people who were doing the historical documentation really was the home movie makers. So that’s why those more locally based film archives are the ones that initially started paying attention to these films and these film movies. And so in the first cases, there were film archives, archives that specialized in collecting films, but more and more we’re dealing with archives that deal with manuscripts, and diaries, and personal papers that are developing the expertise to start to work with film collections and kind of building up their film and video collections as part of a kind of bigger collecting strategy. So those could be historical societies or museums or libraries or universities that type of thing.

Fisher: So are we talking sometimes about state historical societies?

Dwight: More and more yeah. Even early on there were several state archives where there was someone in the archive, an archivist who just took personal interest in learning about film and cared about film, so they grew those state collections within their archives. A lot of the state archives, we found were people who were trained in paper materials and manuscripts. And they were initially much, much slower and much more reluctant to bring in audio visual collections mostly because it was just not something they were trained with or used to. But we’ve been kind of chipping away at that, and not just us, but the whole kind of field just started to consider audio visual materials and film and video and audio and historical documents.

Fisher: We’re talking to Dwight Swanson. He is a board member of The Center for Home Movies, which is a virtual – shall I call it a repository or shall we just call it an asset?

Dwight: Sure. [Laughs] That’s good.

Fisher: A virtual asset to help you preserve your home movies. And where can they go to see The Center for Home Movies? Where is it online, Dwight?

Dwight: Go to www.centerforhomemovies.org Home Move Day has its own URL although it goes back to The Center for Home Movies website, so you can also look at www.homemovieday.com if you are particularly interested in home movie events and finding home movie days that are in your city or in your state.

Fisher: So this is an event that actually goes on? People gather together and share them at the same time and they do this in all the states?

Dwight: We are trying to reach all the states. We started out slowly thinking it was only going to be a small thing that just like minded archivists would do. It took off pretty quickly and so more and more actually we’re growing internationally. So there’s definitely going to be more events outside of the U.S. this year than inside. 

Fisher: Wow.

Dwight: These are all locally organized so The Center for Home Movies, we kind of act as a clearing house for information. And getting the information about the events and providing information to the host, but really is just people in the city who decide that they want to host one of the events and they have the projectors and they have the expertise.  And then we work with them so they can help develop their own presentation and their own event. So if you look at the list or the map, they really kind of are scattered around the country and around the world. I think last year we had seventeen different countries. We’ll probably have about the same this year.

Fisher: And Home Movie Day I take it, then, takes place on different days, just depending on the locale?

Dwight: Yeah, that’s right. We used to have one day a year designated as Home Movie Day and that was always the third Saturday in October. What we found is that, that day didn’t always work for everybody. Lots of people on college campuses didn’t want to conflict with the football game, so gradually we started saying, “Okay, just do Home Movie Day whenever it makes the most sense for you.”  So we encourage people to do it on that third Saturday which is October seventeenth this year. But really, our new philosophy is “Everyday can be Home Movie Day.” So they’re really kind of going on throughout the year now.

Fisher: Well, that’s pretty exciting, and I’m sure there are people listening right now who are thinking, “Boy, I’d like to actually organize one of those.” I assume they can get in touch with you through the website www.centerforhomemovies.org 

Dwight: Yeah, definitely. There are several pages in the Home Movie Day section of our website where they are designed for people who are interested in hosting an event for the first time. We’ve been doing this for a while so we’ve put together quite a few documents just to help lead people through the process.  But yeah, we definitely want to have these in as many cities and as many towns as we can. We just need interested people in your locale to just get things together, get people together, find a place, find equipment and just go out and do it.

Fisher: He is Dwight Swanson, one of the board members for The Center for Home Movies. Thanks for coming on Dwight, fascinating stuff!

Dwight: Thanks a lot for having me.

Fisher: Coming up next – From old movies to old soldiers. We’ll talk to a man discovered that a union soldier from the Civil War wasn’t quite who he claimed to be for his entire life, including to his wife and kids! Ken Alford will fill us in on this incredible tale on the way next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.     

Segment 3 Episode 105

Host Scott Fisher with guest Ken Alford

Fisher: And we are back, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with another great guest with another great story about an incredible find and that is Ken Alford. Hi Ken, welcome to the show!

Ken: Hi, glad to be here.

Fisher: You know I was very excited to find out about this. You were working on a book and came in touch with a gentleman who's actually a grandson of a Civil War soldier, is that right?

Ken: Believe it or not! A grandson and not a great grandson, he was in his late eighties when I met with him in 2011. His name is Robert L. Davis.

Fisher: That is insane! And you did a little research on his ancestor, his grandfather, and tell us about this incredible story, because I think there are others like it out there that maybe we could find if we dug a little deeper.

Ken: There are. And even the family themselves didn't know about this story during the lifetime of this Civil War veteran. A guy by the name of William H. Norman was born in April 1845. And when he was twelve years old, he lived down in Bibb County, Georgia. His father was a slave holder. They lived on a plantation and his father died when he was twelve. And then his mother died just two years later. So this kid, William, and his siblings are raised by grandma and he doesn't have a happy time with grandma. So there's secession… starting Georgia secedes from the Union. So as a sixteen year old kid, he goes and joins the Georgia volunteers, initially as a flag bearer and one of the drummer boys, but very quickly he says, "This isn't for me. I want to be where the action is!" So he actually joins the infantry and serves for eight months and then he's discharged. Goes back to Macon, Georgia, but that doesn't even last a month. He gets such peer pressure because of the war that he reenlists. And this time he does it for the duration of the war.

Fisher: Ah, youth, right? [Laughs]

Ken: He's having the time of his life. He was now with the first Confederate Georgia Volunteers and serves in Florida. Gets transferred up to Alabama, then transferred into northern Georgia under General Joseph Johnston. Now this is the time that Atlanta is being besieged by William T. Sherman.

Fisher: Right.

Ken: Atlanta falls. And so Johnston is relieved and President Davis puts General Hood, puts him in charge the army. They take basically that Confederate Army of the Tennessee up into Tennessee. And William Norman goes with them, has all kinds of really interesting stories, talks about a coffee pot being shot out of his hand and he’s shooting behind a tree and a sergeant comes and pushed him away and no sooner does the sergeant push him away then he takes a bullet between the eyes.

Fisher: Oh!

Ken:  And so William goes back to the tree and another guy pushes him away and no sooner does he push him away but that guy takes a bullet and dies. And so a third time he goes back to the tree and somebody else pushes him away and that guy takes a bullet and dies. And so William Norman says, "Well, by that point I just quit. I didn't go back to the tree."

Fisher: [Laughs] He might have ended the war right there!

Ken: Exactly. He gets measles outside of Nashville. And he's in a barn, they move him from the barn and just shortly thereafter, a Union artillery shell blows the barn up. I mean, this guy's got more lives than a cat!

Fisher: Right.

Ken: He's on guard duty, falls asleep, which is a capital punishment crime, but he happens to drop his rifle because he's sleeping standing up, leaning against the wall. He drops his rifle and it falls to the floor and wakes him up seconds before his officer comes to check on the guard. [Laughs]

Fisher: Oh man!

Ken: Really interesting guy. But his luck runs out along with thousands of other Confederate soldiers in December of 1864. Hood's army basically just melts away in front of Nashville and over four thousand are captured.

Fisher: Wow!

Ken: And one of them is William H. Norman. He's taken first to Nashville for processing, and then they send him up to Camp Douglas up by Chicago. And it's a horrible prisoner of war camp for Confederates. Estimates say that of quarter of the soldiers there died.

Fisher: Is this like the Libby Prison of the north?

Ken: It's the northern version of Libby Prison or Andersonville.

Fisher: Yes.

Ken: Just a horrible set of conditions. Most of them, if they have any blankets at all, it's one, it's threadbare. It's winter in Chicago. It's miserable. Well, the Union army doesn't want to keep these soldiers locked up any more than the Confederates want to be locked up. So somebody in Washington comes up with the idea that says, “Hey, let's offer these guys the opportunity to swear allegiance to the United States and let's enlist them in the Union army.”

Fisher: Ah ha!

Ken: So they do. They offer this and they call these guys that actually do this "galvanized Yankees."  And the reason they call them galvanized Yankees is because it's like a piece of metal. If you take a piece of steel and you dip it in zinc, it galvanizes it.

Fisher: Sure.

Ken: And the zinc is just the outside coating. And so these are Confederates that have basically been dipped in Union blue.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ken: They’re still Confederates if you cut them open.

Fisher: Right, right.

Ken: And so, William Norman goes and signs one of these statements saying that, "I didn't know what I was doing. I'm loyal."

Fisher: Yeah, he denounces the Confederacy.

Ken: He denounces the Confederacy. And they enlist him in the army. And that happens in early 1865. And so he puts on Union blue. Now the Confederates that are galvanized, they're thinking in the back of their mind, "Yeah, I'm putting on Yankee blue, but the first time I see Johnny Rebs, I'm going to strip off my Union blue, run over to the other side and say, "Brothers, I'm back!"

Fisher: Yes, of course.

Ken: But the Union folks doing this, they're not stupid either. And so what they do is, they send these regiments of galvanized Yankees out west.

Fisher: To fight the Indians?

Ken: To fight Indians. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ken: This isn't what these guys signed up for.

Fisher: No.

Ken: They never see a Confederate.

Fisher: Right.

Ken: And so, William H. Norman's out on the plains. And shortly after he signs up to do this, Robert E. Lee surrenders. And then very quickly all the other Confederate major commanders surrender and the war ends. So what he does, he deserts. Now you have to understand that deserters at the time were not treated very well.

Fisher: Right.

Ken: Some of them got branded with a letter "D" on their cheeks. Many of them were hung by their wrists, and they would have their heads shaved.

Fisher: It's frowned upon, then.

Ken: Oh, it was very much frowned upon!

Fisher: Yes. (Laughs)

Ken: And so he, at some point, and it may have even been the day of his desertion, changes his name and says, "I am now John E. Davis." To make a long story short, he travels west, ends up in Panache, Nevada, meets a cute little Mormon girl by the name of Rosetta Barney. She goes by “Rosie.” Two years after they're married, Rosie now knows him as John. He joins her church. And so he's baptized as a Mormon. And shortly thereafter, they go to the newly build and dedicated St George Mormon Temple and they're married there. And he does it under the name of John E. Davis. Then he is called on a Mormon mission as a missionary by the Mormon Church president, Wilford Woodruff, also as John E. Davis. He serves as the postmaster. He serves as Justice of the Peace, which is kind of ironic because it's his job to administer the law in this little town where he lives in Sevier County called, Annabella. And he basically is the law and he’s living a lie. [Laughs]

Fisher: Oh that's funny.

Ken: He never tells anyone.

Fisher: Never?

Ken: He was a galvanized Yankee.

Fisher: Well didn't his wife, his wife didn't know?

Ken: No! He doesn't even tell his wife!

Fisher: How long did he live?

Ken: He lives until 1935. Rosie died a couple of years before him. For thirty years the family doesn't know the secret. What happens is, in the 1940s, one of his descendants goes and tries to find census information in Georgia because she's living in Macon. She can't find any. There are no Davises in the entire county.

Fisher: Wow!

Ken: Fast forward another twenty years, she finds some records at the genealogical library in Salt Lake where he has written a note asking for Mormon temple ceremonies to be done for some of his friends. She starts investigating and notices that the names of the friends except for the last name are the same as the names of his parents. And she pieces it together. And then over the next ten years puts all the pieces together and figures out that William H. Norman and John E. Davis are the same guy.

Fisher: Wow!

Ken: So today there are four or five generations of Davises who should actually be Normans.

Fisher: [Laughs] Normans. Oh wow! And I would imagine DNA is being done and all kinds of things to dig into this.

Ken: They've had all kinds of fun things. There's a little ditty that was said back at that time that's just kind of fun, because William H. Norman is not the only guy to do this. And it goes like this, “Say, what was your name in the states? Was it Thompson or Johnson or Bates? Did you murder your wife and flight for your life? Say, what was your name in the states?”  His name was William H. Norman, but he died as Johnny Davis.

Fisher: He's Ken Alford. What a great story Ken! Thank you so much. You are Ken Alford, right?

Ken: I am indeed!

Fisher: Okay, I was just checking. [Laughs] Thanks for joining us!

Ken: Thank you very much. Have a great day.

Fisher: And Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com is coming up next with more suggestions on how to preserve your precious family heirlooms on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 105

Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority. How are you Tom? Good to see you again.

Tom: I'm doing super duper, thank you.

Fisher: We have an email to [email protected]. And this one is from Patty. She says, "Hi, I listen to you on Extreme Genes and would appreciate your guidance. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. And being the family genealogist, I've recently received from my in laws two Civil War era daguerreotypes." Awesome!!

Tom: Ooh that's awesome!

Fisher: Yes. "One in fairly good condition, one not so much, it's quite tarnished. Both are photos of Civil War soldiers, maybe the same person, can't tell, in uniforms. If the tarnished daguerreotype can be restored, I would be forever grateful to have that done. And perhaps the best way to do it would be to digitize it." Boy, there's really a lot of angles to this, isn't there? There's the shipping side of a very delicate item, Tom. And plus the idea of whether they can get them out of the cases to do the digitizing or you digitize it right through the glass. Where do we start?

Tom: Probably at the beginning.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: Like you say, there are so many facets to this thing. And you know you've done this before, yourself. The first things I want to tell them, before you do anything, "scan, scan, scan, scan, and scan. Photograph, photograph, photograph." If they're in a frame that's not flat and you can't really set them on a scanner, then get a good camera. If you have somebody in your area that's a good photographer, talk to them. Say you can get their Nikon and shoot some good digital pictures of it, and then at least you've got it preserved. If you can scan it, put it on a high resolution scanner, not one of these cheaper awful ones. And get it scanned professionally. If you're scared of leaving it at any place, a lot of places will let you be there while you're scanning. We have people sometimes come in with stuff that's very fragile, very specific that they need back ASAP, that we can set up appointments for them. So they can come in a certain time and we can scan it. This is something that's totally replaceable. You want to go overboard by taking care of this. Like I say, get somebody that's a good photographer that can set up his easel or if you've got a good camera, you can just set up your tripod. And then the part that actually goes up and down, flip it around and put it in upside down and mount your camera to that. And then it's shooting straight down on the picture.

Fisher: Wow, what a great idea!

Tom: I mean, and it's so simple. But you just want to digitize this. Just shoot the heck out of this thing, because you don't want to take any chances. You know, FedEx, UPS do a really good job, but you don't want to be the 0.1% that something happens to that you get a loss.

Fisher: There's no question. Last summer as you may recall if you were involved in the show last year, I received a package with nine daguerreotypes in it, tied to my family. It was great uncles and their wives and children. And one of the things that came about was, I had one that was quite tarnished. And we went about electrolysis on it. You can hear us talk about this on one of last year's podcasts. And also see some of the images on our Facebook page and on our website. One of them came out fantastic, so we went after the next one to try this electrolysis on it. The second one didn't come out nearly as well. But because we had digitized it, we had the image that we wanted and I was able to improve on that. So for the sake of the experiment, it was worth it. The one we really wanted to come out clean did, but the other one was damaged a little bit and I was not happy about how that came about. But it was worth the experiment.

Tom: Oh absolutely! And you did the perfect thing. You went and digitized the crap out of it first to make sure if something went awry you're covered. Not just when you send it to us, we try these processes on it to make it better, not that that's going to go awry. However, shipping, there's so many things that can go wrong. That's why you want to digitize the heck out of this. Once you digitize them you go into Digital Darkroom, Photoshop, anything like that and get them all made really nice. In fact, in the next segment, we'll go into a little bit more about how to get it here and make it so it's beautiful again.

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

Segment 5 Episode 105

Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: All right, final segment of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Talking preservation once again with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, and dealing with this question from Patty Von Broklyn, from Charlottesville, Virginia, talking about her daguerreotypes she just received. And that's always exciting stuff and you want to make sure that you preserve it properly and you're also able to get a better image from what is already tarnished, as she mentions in her email. And Tom, she also asks about shipping these things. Boy, that's a scary thing!

Tom: Yeah, it is. In fact, that's why a lot of people come to us or they go to one of our go and postal locations and drop stuff into us, because it's always scary. It's not just a shipping of UPS or FedEx. It's actually making sure you package it right. I won't go into a lot of detail because we covered this in an episode a few weeks ago. But what you want to do is you want to make sure you put paper between each one of these things, the archiveable paper, so you're not going to tarnish them anymore. Then I put sheets of Styrofoam on both sides of them, put them in a bag, and put those in a box with loose fill around them. Then make sure you put your name, address, phone number, everything inside that box, then put that box inside a second box.

Fisher: And this is all dealing with temperature and humidity and other circumstances that may affect this package on its way.

Tom: Oh exactly! That's why I say, use sheets of Styrofoam versus just normal Styrofoam bubble type things or bubble wrap.

Fisher: Exactly

Tom: Is because it's going to keep the heat out. Whether it's in an airplane or whether it's in a UPS truck, it can be susceptible to heat. But if you have it in that box, that's going to really keep it a pretty normal temperature. But then if you take that box and put it in another box, you're pretty much set. And worst case scenario, a FedEx truck or UPS truck going down the road crashes or something and the package is damaged, you can take the one box off, there's another box inside with your label and everything in it.

Fisher: All right. So let's talk about this daguerreotype. We know they all come in a case and it's on metal.

Tom: Right.

Fisher: Is this the kind of thing where you would actually want to take it out of the case to digitize or you digitize it with the glass still on it?

Tom: Well, it depends on so many different options. Like I've talked before, we had somebody that had a picture with a famous athlete with themselves. And somehow, some humidity had gotten onto the photo and so it had become permanently attached to the glass. And if we were to take it off, you'd ruin the pictures.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: So in that situation, we had to shoot through the glass. We have special polarizing filters, so you're not going to get reflection. You're not going to get any kinds of bumps on it. And so it’ll look beautiful. This thing, I want to do the same thing, once they send us the daguerreotype, I'm going to look at it, see how it's packaged, see how the thing's put together. But even before I do anything, even though she supposedly has taken all these pictures and scanned it, I'm going to do the same thing all over again. And then once that's done, then I'm going to look. And if the frame can be removed easily, then we'll do it. Sometimes a process, you don't even have to remove the frame. If when we scan and we shoot it you can't even tell that the glass was ever there and it's perfect, there's no reason to take it out of the frame because it already look wonderful.

Fisher: Too risky?

Tom: Oh, Oh, very risky!

Fisher: Yeah.

Tom: Very risky. And you don't want to go there if you don't have to.

Fisher: And sometimes these cases are actually falling apart already and it just makes it very simple. You'll take it out and you'll do that, then you'll try to repair the case and put the thing back together.

Tom: Exactly! Yeah, we have stuff sent to us all the time, we open it and the case that we were worried about is just basically falling apart. Even in books that people send us to turn into PDFs, they're falling apart. The good news is that makes it really easy to scan. The bad news is, then we have to rebind them if the people want them rebound. But there's just a lot of steps we take. And once we get the digital files you have the option to actually do the color correction, the fixing up, do whatever you want to do yourself or if you want us to do it, we have amazing people that they can take people out of photographs. We had somebody, their mother had died, the only really good picture they had was with her and her son at his wedding. And so they brought the picture in, but he just wanted to be in the obituary with her, so we actually had to cut his shoulder out of the picture, rebuild her shoulder, and give her a new ear that was being blocked by him. And you looked at it and you could not tell. It was absolutely beautiful! We have amazing artists that can do incredible things

Fisher: All right, great stuff, Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. If you have a question for him, just email us at [email protected]. And that wraps it up again for this week. Thanks once again to Dwight Swanson, one of the board members for the Center for Home Movies. They're doing great work to help us with preservation and enjoyment of our old home films. And to Ken Alford, the discoverer of a Union soldier who was actually a Civil War soldier who changed his name, but never told his family. It's a great story. If you missed it, make sure you catch the podcast. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

Subscribe now to find out why hundreds of thousands of family researchers listen to Extreme Genes every week!

Email me new episodes