Episode 114 - A History of The Mayflower with Robert Charles Anderson

podcast episode Nov 23, 2015

This week on Extreme Genes/ America's Family History Show, it's a salute to our Pilgrims and Puritans!  Robert Charles Anderson, creator of the Great Migration series, joins Fisher for two segments on the beginnings of the European settlement of North America, and our Thanksgiving tradition.

Fisher opens the show in the first segment with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  As a Mayflower descendant (John Howland) Fisher talks about his first hand impressions of Plymouth Rock. David then talks about Queen Elizabeth's approval of DNA testing to resolve a British Peerage problem.  (These are different times!) David also talks about a stash of undelivered mail from the 17th and 18th centuries that has been discovered.  He'll tell you where they are and how you can find out if any of your ancestors were among the senders or intended receivers.  David also tells you about a new audio digitization program that will allow you to hear thousands of recording cylinders from the 19th and early 20th centuries!  He'll also have new free databases and another tech tip.

Next, Fisher visits with Robert Charles Anderson, who created the "Great Migration" series of reference books beginning in 1988. They'll talk about what inspired Robert to devote his life to this great work, and how his research has allowed him to debunk some Pilgrim myths.  What were they?  Listen to the podcast!

Fisher and Robert continue their conversation with an explanation of the Winthrop Fleet and how it changed the course of the European settlement of North America in the 1630s.  You'll also learn exactly when and why it ended.  Robert also talks about what information is yet to be found concerning the immigrants of 1620 to 1640.

Then, Tom Perry of TMCPlace.com, the Preservation Authority, talks about how you might be able to salvage your old VHS tapes.  It's a tricky and dangerous endeavor, but if you're sure you want to try, Tom will tell you what it takes to succeed.

That's all this week on Extreme Genes / America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 114

Host Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 114

Fisher: And welcome back to another spine tingling episode of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com.  I am Fisher, the Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out.  Very excited about this week, Thanksgiving week of course, and we have I think a first ballot genealogy Hall of Famers on the show for two segments today.  Robert Charles Anderson, the man behind the “Great Migrations Series” for the last 25-30 years. And he’s got so much to share with us about, what’s out there?  What you can find now about your ancestors and what he’s learned about the Pilgrims. So we’re going to get to that in about 8 or 9 minutes. And then of course later on in the show our Preservation Authority Tom Perry will be back with some advice on how you can preserve your precious heirlooms.  But right now we head to Boston for David Allen Lambert. He’s the Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: Happy Thanksgiving my friend!

David: Happy turkey day to you from Beantown. Where I’m about 20 miles from where it all started.

Fisher: You are, aren’t you?!  I hadn’t thought about that. By the way if you ever go there and look at Plymouth Rock, I was just so bitterly disappointed, David.  I’m a Mayflower descendent but that rock is just way overstated!

David:  You know I think it’s all the people who were chipping away sections of it over the years for souvenirs. New Englanders are known for, “Let me take a piece of that with me!”

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] You might be right. Well what do you have for us today?

David: This is an interesting story. You know in the newspaper occasionally you see ads for, “Letters in the post office.” You’ve probably seen a search from your own family, that maybe their names pop up. It’s not exciting but they kept letters, back in the day you had to go and pick it up at the post office.

Fisher: It’s actually kind of disappointing because you look at it and go, “Oh there was a letter, what did it say? Who was it from? Where did it come from?”

David: Or where did it go? Well apparently in the Netherlands, a trunk has been discovered that has over 2,600 undelivered letters that were written between 1680 and 1706.

Fisher: Wow!

David: And they’ve come to light. They’re being digitized right now, and there’re from artists and merchants and even spies.

Fisher: Cool!

David: And it’s a project called, “Signed, Sealed and Undelivered.”

Fisher: Right.

David: [Laughs] So it’s amazing to think what could be in the contents of these letters, and maybe some of our listeners are descended from the person who wrote the letter or be the unfortunate person who never received it.

Fisher: Right.

David: Out of the 2,600 letters, 600 of them are sealed, and they’re going to use technology to x-ray or scan them digitally and read what’s in them and not break the wax seal. Maybe they’re concerned with privacy.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] Going a little further west from the Netherlands to jolly old England, the Queen is getting involved with a DNA story that I think we remember chatting about earlier this week.

Fisher: Oh the baronet?

David: Yeah! It’s interesting to think that the Queen has to get involved in a paternity event. But now with technology we can turn to DNA to solve it. Apparently this situation is one person who is heir to the Baronetcy of Stitchill, which dates back to the 1680s, may be held by the wrong heir.

Fisher: Uh oh.

David: And so we have the oldest son Simon who is 56, expected to become the 11th Baronet, until Murray Pringle, a 74-year-old accountant, claimed that he is the true heir based upon DNA.  So it’s going through a process called, “The Judicial Committee Act,” which has been seldom used since 1833, but the Queen has signed off a letter to have the investigation done and see what turns up.

Fisher: With the DNA? This is like Downton Abbey modern style, I love it.

David: Exactly. Whatever the results are is going to be music to somebody’s ears.  And that turns me to my next story coming out to the University of California, where they have taken over the efforts to take over 10,000 songs from 19th century and early 20th century wax cylinders...

Fisher: Oh wow!

David: ...and run it through their edits and records. And this is fascinating because we just don’t know what is on these, and to think that people will be able to download them and listen to them.  These are recordings of people from the 19th century whose great, great, great, great grandchildren can probably hear them for the first time, and of course it’s in the public domain.

Fisher: Yes.

David: I’ll also talk about the upcoming NEHGS free guest database but before that I wanted to mention a WWI database which has just been launched this week by Scotlandspeople.gov.uk.  And this is the military service appeal to tribunal records. Essentially if you were between 18 and 41 you basically had to register for the draft because of England’s involvement in WWI. This is over 7,900 individuals who claim that they had an exemption to not be part of the draft.

Fisher: Ha.

David: And these records have been digitized. The index is free and that’s available online.  I’m excited because I know that my wife’s great grandfather was in Dundee, Scotland back in the day. I know he didn’t serve so maybe I’ll find out why.  

Fisher: Right. You’ll have to pay for the record I assume but it would give you the information about what was wrong with him.

David: Correct. At least in this case on the index you might know if you have the right person before you have it, like test driving a car before you buy it.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Which I think is great with the indexes being out there.

Fisher: There you go.

David: And of course speaking of things like travelling, I just got back from Disney World with the family, and one of the things I like to think about is, “Now what do I do with everything?”  My iPhone has photos, my digital camera has photos how do I preserve them?  What do you generally do with your pictures? Do you print them out? Do you do books?

Fisher: Well I like to first of all save them onto my desktop and then into at least two clouds so that they can’t be lost, following Tom Perry’s regular advice. Then I will put them together eventually in an album, maybe for the year, or maybe if it’s a big enough event you could make a separate book just for that event. That’s what I like to do.

David: Yeah I like the photo books that they produce now. They remind me of the days of the old photo corners and the black albums that people made back in the 1910s and ‘20s.  Technology is wonderful. And that brings me to our NEHGS free guest user database on AmericanAncestors.org.  And this week we are offering in conjunction with FamilySearch.org, South African records, this includes Dutch reformed church registers from 1660 to 1970.  As well as Free State Dutch reformed records from 1848 to 1956. So our little pre-Thanksgiving gift from NEHGS and American Ancestors to all of our listeners.

Fisher: All right, great stuff David! Thanks for coming on, we’ll talk to you again next week! And don’t overeat.

David:  I will try not to, you the same my friend.

Fisher: [Laughs] And coming up next, Robert Charles Anderson, he’s the man behind the Great Migration series that’s been coming out in volumes ever since 1988. What does he have to say about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving?  And all those who followed in the 20 years after the arrival of the Mayflower, you’ll find out next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 114

Host Scott Fisher with guest Robert Charles Anderson

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com.  It is Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth. And if ever there was the first ballot Genealogy Hall of Famer, my next guest has got to be one of them. His name is Robert Charles Anderson.  He is the man behind the Great Migration series, and it is a series of incredible volumes, tracing New England ancestry, and how they link back to the old countries.  And Bob Anderson, it is great to have you on the show and an honor, sir.

Robert: It’s good to be here.

Fisher: So, you started this. Let’s just get into that a little bit. Back in 1988, what inspired you to get this thing started?

Robert: My inspiration actually came probably in the mid 1970s, when I was a relatively new genealogist. I’d been in a number of other academic disciplines in biochemistry and in the military and electronics intelligence. And in those disciplines, I was accustomed to having up to date finding aids and reference works and so on. In the mid 70s, when I got interested in genealogy and started to train myself, I discovered that all the reference works or most of the reference works, that I had to deal on, were a 100 years old and more.

Fisher: Right.

Robert: I mean the genealogical dictionary of “Doing Good,” by James Savage. Which is still valuable, was published during the Civil War. And in academia or a tactical area that would be unacceptable.  Furthermore, as I developed my genealogical practice in the late 70s and early 80s, I just got frustrated with the difficulty of not having one place to go to find out what research that had already been done on a given family.  So it was out of that, that I conceived the idea of The Great Migration study project of creating a single reference work that would provide a platform that current researchers could build from. 

Fisher: And that is going to be the case obviously for decades and centuries to come, and hopefully it will continue on. I’m just looking at the list here. We’ve got The Great Migration Directory, The Great Migration Begins, covering the emigrants to New England from 1620 to 1633.  Emigrants to New England 1634 to ‘35. The Pilgrim Migration, which we’re going to get into here in a minute.  The Winthrop Fleet, Massachusetts Bay Company, Emigrants to New England 1629 to ‘30. I mean, it’s an astonishing accomplishment and series, and you continue on today!  How much more is there to find, Bob?

Robert: Oh immense amounts. Two of the items you mentioned... The Great Migration Begins, which is three volumes. And then The Great Migration volumes that cover 1634 and 1635, that is seven volumes.  They cover less than half of The Great Migration. They cover three quarters chronologically, but less than half by numbers of emigrants.

Fisher: Wow.

Robert: So there are, well in the directory, my most recent book, I conclude that there are roughly 5,600 either families, or isolated individuals.  And that’s a minimum number.  I’m very conservative including people, and I had done about 2,300 of those in the ten volumes I mentioned. So there’s 3,300 left to be done.  Now it’s taken me twenty five years to do what I’ve done. So someone is going to have to pick up some day and do the rest. I won’t be doing those other volumes.

Fisher: Right.

Robert: I will be doing some special projects henceforth. But then even that, within the 5,600, for only 1,800 of those do we know the English origin. So that’s immense, even with the volumes that I have completed, there’s an immense amount of work to be done yet in discovering English origins to complete the picture of The Great Migration.

Fisher: Well it’s an invaluable resource for anybody who gets going in genealogy and people need to be aware of it, if they’re not already.  Let’s talk about The Pilgrim Migration since we’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week and this month.  Tell us a little about that. Some things that we may not know, that you discovered in your research.

Robert: Let me tell you first of all, although I do some original research for these books, the primary purpose I say is to review previous research and to provide the platform for people to do additional research.  The Pilgrim Migration volume was published in 2004 and it’s actually an updating of sketches that I did in The Great Migration Begins series, a decade earlier.  The Great Migration Begins series had covered all of New England from 1620 to 1633.  And that obviously comprehends the Mayflower and the other Leiden and associated arrivals who came through the rest of the decade.  So what I did to create The Pilgrim Migration volume, was to take the 200 and some odd sketches that I’d done in the mid 1990s and updated them and improved them a little bit because I was still learning on those first volumes how to do it and so on. What did I discover? I would have to think about that. My best discoveries are finding patterns.

Fisher: Right.

Robert: And you know the Pilgrim area has been mined so deeply. We always think of New England in general as being the most heavily mined area of genealogical research in this country for the first period.  And within that, the Pilgrim and Mayflower area is dug into the most. So I think my work in this volume was really to put in one place what previous people had done.  Also, one of the things that I do in my volumes is try to get rid of old myths. You know it’s the case that once something gets in print, it’s almost impossible to kill it.

Fisher: Oh it’s even worse now with the Internet.

Robert: Exactly. So I tried very hard to look into every claim. You know many of these claims are romantic stories that popped up in the nineteenth century and need to be beaten down.  It’s not one of my discoveries certainly, but it’s timely one of the stories that popped up in the Mayflower community in the nineteenth century was that when the Mayflower arrived off of Cape Cod at Provincetown, one of the first people to die was William Bradford’s wife, Dorothy.

Fisher: Yes.

Robert: She died while the ship was in Provincetown harbor before they’d even, other than a few of the men, anyone had gone on shore.  And somehow in the 19th century a myth popped up that she had committed suicide.

Fisher: Yes, I’ve seen that.

Robert: Right, and two researchers in the twentieth century, George Ernest Bowman, who founded the journal Mayflower Descendent, and Eugene Stratton who wrote one of the better books on Plymouth Colony.  Both worked very carefully to show that, that was just the imagination of someone in the nineteenth century. So I was careful to include the statements made by Bowman and Stratton.  Someone once described my work as clearing away the underbrush, getting rid of all the myths and the misstatements, again to provide that sound platform for future research. And I should say just for the moment, I think a number of your listeners, during the coming week or two, will have the opportunity to see two films on the Pilgrims and the Mayflower. One called “Saints and Strangers” which is being filmed on the National Geographic Channel. And the other whose title I don’t know, but it’s going to be on CBS. And I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced filming of the Saints and Strangers story a few nights ago, and I have to say that they were very careful in not continuing that myth about Dorothy Bradford.  They handled it very carefully and very cleverly. So it’s good to see it. And maybe my work in Gene’s and George Bowman’s work has had some effect.

Fisher: Isn’t that great that you can, at this point. Because it does make you wonder how in the world you ever get rid of some of the things that are out there. There are just so many volumes and volumes of it, but that’s where your credibility becomes such an important thing, and you certainly achieved that.  When you think about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, how does that affect your Thanksgiving now?  Because you got to feel like you know them probably better than anybody else on the planet. 

Robert: Well, I wouldn’t say that. There’s other people who studied the Pilgrim story more closely than I have. Such as Jeremy Banks at the Lightner Museum and people like that.  But sure, our Thanksgiving celebration is coming right up in a few days here and I’ll be with my family. And I do think back. I do think about it.  Thanksgiving, you know, we have a very particular image of it here in our culture, but it was a standard feature of the Protestant Church in England and of the Puritan Church.  It wasn’t just a once a year thing. It was something that they could proclaim any time they felt the need to. Any time they felt that something good had happened.  So it wasn’t just limited to one time a year in the culture of the time. It’s portrayed as such now.  Now that I’ve seen that film, the Saints and Strangers film, I have seen what the Pilgrims went through in that first winter of 1620 and 1621 and into the summer.  It was a starving time. It was a time, half and more of the passengers died and so on.  And they were of course in an area that they knew nothing about really, and surrounded by the Natives who didn’t really want them there.  It’s just astounding that they would do it, and that they really did survive and built something out of it even with all that.  So it makes you more appreciative. Not just for the Pilgrims, but for all of our ancestors who made the sacrifices to give us what we have now.

Fisher: And for the natives and all that they endured and to accommodate the Europeans as they came aboard.   

Robert: Yes. The Indians in New England had just suffered a terrible death by various infectious diseases in the years just before the Pilgrims arrived.  And those infectious diseases were undoubtedly brought by sailors and fishermen of the previous decade or so, so it wasn’t pleasant for any of them.

Fisher: I’m talking to Robert Charles Anderson. He is the man behind the Great Migration.  We’re going to continue our conversation and find out more about what’s going on with New England research, coming up for you next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Segment 3 Episode 114

Host Scott fisher with guest Robert Charles Anderson

Fisher: And we are back! Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com.  I am Fisher, with my special guest Robert Charles Anderson, the man behind the Great Migration series, volumes, and volumes and decades of work in bringing together the records of those earliest ancestors who came to New England the Pilgrims and then those who followed. What year are you up to right now Robert?

Robert: Well the volumes in which I have tried to treat each individual extensively go from the Mayflower in 1620 until 1635.  And the Great Migration itself essentially ended in 1640 with the coming of the English Civil War.  At which point the Puritans felt they might be able to attain their religious goals back in England, rather than have to be away from England.

Fisher: Hmm.

Robert: And so the Migration pretty much stopped in 1640, so there’s five years left to be done, 1636 through 1640, but just because the pace of the migration was uneven over that period. Very little in the 1620s, picked up in the early 1630s, and then full steam for about 1634 to about 1640.  Most of the work remains to be done.  It would take another dozen volumes of the size of the previous ones of 600 pages each or so to cover the remaining passengers, the way I would like to have it done.

Fisher: Do you work with a team or are you on your own?

Robert: I’m pretty much on my own.  I’ve had assistance from time to time and a couple of people I worked with at the middle stages. But one of the values I believe of my project is that it filters everything through one mind.

Fisher: Yes.

Robert: If that makes any sense.

Fisher: It does.

Robert: That is to say it gives it continuity and a consistency of approach.

Fisher: And a voice I would think.

Robert: And a voice. And also if you had a team working on it even if there was a top editor who went over everything, one of the problems with a huge project like this is using the same bit of evidence for two different people.  Which it would be impossible to apply let’s say a freeman ship record or a church admission for a John Smith and apply it to two different men with the same name and so on.  And having one person do it doesn’t eliminate that totally but it helps cut that back. And I’m just an independent kind of guy it has worked better for me over the years.

Fisher: I’m not sure that many people recognize the significance of the Winthrop Fleet and what took place there. Because that was where it picked up after the 1620s, wouldn’t you agree?

Robert: Yes, absolutely. Of course the Pilgrims only brought a hundred people, and half of those died in the first year.

Fisher: Right.

Robert: And they picked up a few dozen more over the 1620s as more of their lightened congregation came piece meal and a few fishing communities sprung up but there really wasn’t that much, only a few hundred in the whole of the 1620s.  And in 1630 when the Winthrop Fleet came, which was about a thousand individuals to Massachusetts Bay, rather than further south to Plymouth, that the whole project of English colonization became much stronger and much more massive.  And then after that, after a couple of slow years, for the last six to seven years of the 1630s that people were coming at two or three thousand a year.

And so the Winthrop fleet solidified the settlement process and laid the foundation for even bigger things.

Fisher: How many ships in the fleet and how often did they come?

Robert: Well in the Winthrop Fleet there were four main passenger vessels led by the Arabella, which is the famous ship that’s always mentioned.

Fisher: Yes.

Robert: There were seven other ships that sailed just behind them, organized by the same group that were more laden with provisions and cattle although there were a few passengers there.  Then there was the Mary and John which was a separate operation that came out of Weymouth with the Dorchester contingent on it, which was Puritan also but organized by a different group.  And then there were a smattering of smaller vessels set out by independent merchants of the Puritan persuasion.  So there were about 17 vessels in all and we think about a thousand people plus their provisions and other things.

Fisher: So they would all come at the same time?

Robert: Pretty much the same time. Passenger vessels didn’t want to be on the North Atlantic in the middle of the winter.

Fisher: Right.

Robert: And so they generally sat at London or one of the smaller out ports in England, in April and May and gathered their passengers and provisions and then would set sail sometime in May.  And the crossing was generally 8 weeks plus or minus a bit. And so they would begin to arrive in June and July and August, and so on. And then the arrivals would tail off after that. In 1631, ’32 and ’33 there was much smaller migration.  But then from 1634 to 1640 there were probably twenty vessels every spring that would line up in London or Yarmouth or somewhere and bring passengers over, and that went on for six or seven years.

Fisher: That had to be quite the sight for people waiting on the East Coast of North America, looking out to sea, when suddenly these masts start to show over the horizon.

Robert: Right, and one of the things that amazes me is that, specifically in 1634, remember that I said there were about a thousand on the Winthrop Fleet, and then in ‘31, ‘32 and ‘33 there may be only a few hundred more.  Even in that time period there were fewer than two thousand I would say. And then some of those died and some went back.  So the whole population of New England, even including the Plymouth people, was two thousand or twenty five hundred.

Fisher: Wow!

Robert: The pace picked up in April of 1634. That many people arrived, so in a space of six weeks the English population of New England doubled. 

Fisher: Wow. And then at the same time, of course, there was populating going on in the New Amsterdam area by the Dutch.

Robert: That’s correct.

Fisher: And down in the Virginia area as well. But still I mean the population was so small. I mean by 1650 where were we, for the European population?

Robert: For New England, this would be a rough guess, I would say thirty or forty thousand.

Fisher: I mean we could fit the entire European population into a small college football stadium.

Robert: That’s right.

Fisher: Unbelievable.

Robert: Yes. And they were spread from the Maine coast all the way down to, you know, Stamford, Connecticut basically.

Fisher: Um hmm. So now you’re continuing on, how many more years do you still think you have in you to do this?

Robert: However many years it is. It won’t be the same pace as the last twenty five I can assure you of that.

Fisher: Sure. [Laughs]

Robert: But I’m hoping about ten more years that I can keep going. I’ve got a book in the works right now that builds on the directory.  The directory is a straightforward reference work. Its three or four lines devoted to each individual emigrant.  And my next book, it’s going to take me the next two years or so, is a narrative history of the origins of the Great Migration.

I’m calling it “Puritan Pedigrees.”  The deep roots of the great migration to New England. Then I’ll take it all the way back in to the reign of Henry VIII and show how the network of ministers and laymen who made up the Great Migration came together over the century from the 1530s to the 1630s. 

Fisher: Are you finding it easier to research now because of more material being made available online?

Robert: Somewhat.  The problem is, and I’ll say it’s my problem and not anyone else’s problem, is that all the commercial outfits that are putting so much online and even the nonprofits, for very good reasons have focused on the nineteenth century, with all the census and all the emigration records and so on.

Fisher: Sure.

Robert: And that makes perfect sense because that covers a larger portion of the population and gets at some of the difficult areas.  And so the amount of material that’s been put online for the seventeenth century, both here and in England, is not as much as for the nineteenth century.  But it’s getting to be more and more. Some of it is very beautiful. For instance, the Essex Record Office in England has a site called Seax, SEAX, it’s a subscription site but not that expensive.  And within the last few years they’ve beautifully, beautifully in color imaged all their parish registers.  And so I could just sit at home and work with all of the Essex Parish Registers to my delight and not have to go to England for that particular job. So it’s getting better.

Fisher: Well, its great work and you’re creating a legacy for yourself as well as for all these people. We thank you for it.  Robert Charles “Bob” Anderson, he is the man behind the Great Migration.  And if you haven’t checked out this series, you don’t know about it, you need to learn about it, find out more online of course through NEHGS as well. Thank you so much for coming on, Bob.

Robert: You’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure.

Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry our Preservation Authority, on how to preserve those damaged VHS tapes. In three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 114

Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: You know Tom, I have come to the conclusion that preservation is like a big swamp. [Laughs]

Tom: [Laughs] That's so true!

Fisher: It is just full of all kinds of stuff, trying to deal with saving stuff and fixing stuff.  Hi, it's Fisher here at Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. And that's Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, our Preservation Authority. And we're going to talk about damaged stuff and how you preserve it and how you can get it back to where it's functional, especially videos.  Because you know, we're coming to that time of year where we're actually going to start them again you know with the holidays.  And there're so many of the old ones that we'd really like to enjoy now and see what we looked like back in the day, ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago.  We had those big honking video cameras.

Tom: Oh absolutely!

Fisher: But some of those tapes are damaged. And it can be expensive and time consuming to fix them. What is your best advice?

Tom: The best advice is, "Don't throw anything out." We have had people bring stuff in to us that are just crazy. And now it’s getting so close to Christmas people are thinking, "Hey, what am I going to do for, you know my kids? What am I going to do for my grandkids for Christmas?"  The absolute best thing that you can give them is memories that they will be able to use forever and ever and ever. You buy them a new wide screen TV, "Oh Wow! That's cool!"  But what's it going to mean to them in three years from now? It's going to mean nothing. And it's like you know, “swamp monster” that you described as coming out with all this green stuff hanging off of him. And that's how some of your tapes look.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: Whether they've been through heat problems, water problems, there's so many things. Sometimes they just sit there and they fall apart.  Back in the day when you bought VHS tapes or BetaMax tapes, you look at the tape, “Hey, this one's five dollars, this one's three dollars. Well duh, I'm going to buy the three dollar one.” Well, nine out of ten times there's a reason that one was only three dollars.

Fisher: Hmm.

Tom: And most of the tapes that we get in that are damaged, the first thing that happens to them is, the little clear plastic at the end of it, it snaps off the hub.  And once that's off the hub, you can't do anything with it. The worst thing you can do is if you don't know what to do is opening it. Because once you open it there's springs, there's all kinds of little deals in there. And if they get caught into the tape, we've had that happen.  Somebody said, "Oh, I can fix this myself!" They popped it open, one of the little aluminum pieces got set back into the tape they didn't know it.  And then as they start playing the tape, the tapes starts getting wider and wider at the point until it doesn't fit in the case anymore and starts scratching the tape and actually tor the tape into pieces.  It's heartbreaking you know to have stuff like that. It's heartbreaking. So what you need to do is either send it to us, find somebody that really knows how to fix VHS tapes.  If you're a little bit scared about sending it off to us, be very, very, very careful. How you want to open them is flip them upside down and very carefully, get a grease pencil or China marker and mark where the screws are so you'll remember where they go.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: Because there's a lot of holes in the bottom of a case where different equipment goes through to tell the tape, “Oh, it's this kind of a tape. This is what I need to rewind, da da da da da.”  And you might put the screws in the wrong place and lose your screw in there and cause all kinds of problems.  So just mark with a China marker where all the screws are, then gently take them out. Make sure you have the right size screw driver. You don’t want to strip them out either, because you can't run to the hardware store and buy a screw for a VHS tape.  And then what you want to do is, just very carefully take out all the screws, then hold the top and bottom together and flip it over and then lift off the top very, very carefully.  Okay, now once you've done that, set that down with the top basically upside down in front of it. And then see where your tape is and pull out your tape. And I recommend you wear white gloves or something like that, so you don't damage the tape or get your fingerprints all over it.  And take the tape out and get a good razor blade or scissor or whatever and kind of overlap it a bit, so when you cut it on about a 45 degree angle the two pieces will fold back together.

Fisher: So this is like old fashioned editing.

Tom: Exactly!

Fisher: With tape, yeah.

Tom: Right, yeah. That's what we were raised on. We were raised on razor blade and tape.

Fisher: Yes. They called me “Dr. Blade” back in the day!

Tom: [Laughs] That's great!

Fisher: Because I was good at it.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: So it wasn't you were a roller-blader or a roller-skater?

Fisher: No.

Tom: So that's what you want to do. And you want to make sure you get a good quality tape. You want it only half inch. You want it the exact same size as your tape.  And basically when a tape goes into a machine, it’s the outside part of the tape that actually comes in contact with the heads, so it’s best to put the tape on the other side. And we'll go into a little bit more detail after the break of exactly how to do this.

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

Segment 5 Episode 114

Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: You know Tom, when I was a kid I was always working with construction paper and doing these little projects.  And now I feel like working with you, I'm right back to the beginning.  Hey it's Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. This is Tom Perry over here. He's our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com. And we're talking about repairing your own VHS tapes, which sounds like a very dangerous operation.

Tom: Oh it is! You know if you're not good at putting models together, and as you mentioned making different things as a youngster, this is something you don't want to take on.  It seems simple, but we have more people that cause more damage than if they were to have just brought it to us.  It’s like the old scene at the auto place store. If you bring your car in to have something fixed, it’s this much an hour.  If you watch, it’s this much more an hour. If you help, it’s even this much more an hour. If you started on it before you brought it up, then it’s really expensive!

Fisher: Sure, that makes sense. And you don't want to take it to just anybody to fix it, too.  Personally, I wasn't very good at some of the things you talked about but I'm not going to take it to some kid who's just out of high school at a big box store, "Oh yeah I can fix your tape, Mr. Fisher!"

Tom: Oh exactly.

Fisher: No, I don't think so. We need to find the local person who's been doing it for decades, as you've done.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: But if other people are saying, "I can do this!" where do we proceed from where we left off in the last segment?

Tom: Okay. So what you want to do is, like I told you, get a good quality tape. If you don't buy editing tape online off of Amazon or something.  Find the right kind of splicing tape, otherwise you need to go to a good quality tape that you can get from an art store, but make sure its half inch tape if you're using VHS or Beta. Because if it’s wider or narrower it’s not going to work right, and as I was mentioning in the last segment, you want to kind of flip it over and tape it on the back side, not on the front side. You can do it on the front side, it's not a catastrophe, and it will still work. Just be really, really careful with it, because the problem is, it comes in contact with the heads inside the VCR and if it grabs on them, it can damage your heads.  And once your heads are gone, you know what it’s like trying to find a brand new VHS machine today.

Fisher: Ohh. Yeah, you're right.

Tom: So you want to be really careful with that. And make sure when you're cutting the tape, you cut it with a scissors.  Don't use that jagged thing that comes on a tape dispenser, because that just added like six or seven more ways to catch your heads and damage your heads or get caught on something.

Fisher: Right. Good point.

Tom: And so be really careful, you don't want to overlap the tape. You want to put the tape right together.  And one thing that kind of works; because a lot of times the tapes will fold and it’s, "I can't get it to lay flat to put the tape on it!"  Get a Q tip or any kind of cotton swab and some isopropyl alcohol and get just a little bit on the Q tip and put it on the desk where you're doing the editing.  And then with your gloves on, just push the tape down to that. And that alcohol will hold the tape flat long enough for you to put the tape on and rub the tape really well.  And then when you pull it up, the alcohol will just dissipate and it'll evaporate and it will be great.

Fisher: Good tip.

Tom: The higher the alcohol content, the better. Don't get this cheap dollar store stuff that's 50/50. You want to make sure its seventy five percent or higher.

Fisher: Wow! Stuff that can almost get you drunk smelling it.

Tom: Right. [Laughs] Exactly!

Fisher: Got it.

Tom: One thing that helps a lot is, take pictures of your case as you take things apart. Take a picture, take out another part. Take a picture, take out another part.  Because if you're like a lot of us that are visual you'll see, “Okay where did this piece go?” Go back to your picture and look.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Tom: So take pictures as you go, because that will show you how to wrap it around. Because you'll say, "Okay, there's all these little cylinder things, does it go inside this one or outside this one?  The little rubber thing goes inside this, or outside this?"  Take pictures, and then you can go back and look at it. And so just very carefully set the thing down. Don't force it!  If the top doesn't go back on very smoothly, something's out of alignment.  Take it back off. Look at your picture and find out, "Oh whoops! There's a spring missing."  And that will also keep you from getting things caught in the hubs, that when you try to rewind it or fast forward it, it's going to shred your tapes.

Fisher: So at the end of this whole thing, you've got pictures of it. You know how it goes. You know how it fits. You want to put it all back together just as it was.  And hopefully it works out. But it sounds like it’s quite a risky operation.

Tom: Oh it is! Do not try this with VHSCs! Don't try this with mini DVs! Don't try this with Video8s unless you really, really know what you're doing.

Fisher: All right. Great stuff. Thanks Tom!

Tom: Thank you!

Fisher: See you next week.  And that wraps it up for this week. Thanks for joining us.  And I hope you have a great Thanksgiving week and a great Thanksgiving dinner filled with all kinds of stories and great times, especially with those senior members of the family. Make sure you get them all on tape.  Thanks once again to Robert Charles Anderson, the man behind the Great Migration series, for coming on and talking about the Pilgrims and the Puritans.  If you missed it, make sure you catch our podcast.  Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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