Episode 162 - “The Legal Genealogist” On Divorce in the 19th Century

podcast episode Oct 24, 2016

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  The guys begin by discussing how DNA has tied the 300-year-old remains of a baby boy to his well known father. Then David shares news of a Spanish woman… age 62… who has given birth to a baby girl! You’ll be amazed by her story. Next, they’ll have the story of a pair of World War I soldiers whose bodies have only recently been recovered. They were thought to have been buried somewhere else. Hear the plans for their century-in-the-waiting homecoming.  Fisher then shares with David the news that Levar Burton will be a key note speaker at this year’s Roots Tech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. David will of course have another genealogy tip for you, and another free guest member NEHGS database.

Next, Fisher has discovered something odd about his great grandfather’s 1874 divorce in New York, which “proved” his wife’s adultery.  It turns out that one of the men who testified to having been with his wife was present with the great grandfather when he died nineteen years later, even supplying information for his death certificate. How could they still be friends after what was confessed to in 1874? What was going on here? “The Legal Genealogist,” Judy Russell drops in for two segments to explain why it’s probably exactly what Fisher thinks… a divorce by fraudulent testimony.  Judy then talks generally about divorce in the 19th century in various parts of the country, and what it took to get a divorce in those times. She also talks about the states and territories that were very much in the business of divorce and how they worked.

Then Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com returns to talk preservation. He discusses a listener question about the best do-it-yourself way to approach digitizing over 100 voice cassette tapes.

That’s this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 162

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 162

Fisher: And welcome, to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. This is segment is brought to you by our friends at LegacyTree.com. And... very excited today to delve into a question I have, dealing with a scoundrel ancestor, and maybe it’s going to affect you too. Yeah, I’ve got an ancestor who appears to have perhaps set up his wife for a divorce in 1874, with false testimony. What is that about? How do I know or why do I suspect it? We’ll tell you a little more about that later, and my guest the Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell’s going to take her shot at that and talk to us about divorce in the 19th century around the country... a very difficult issue back in those times, but there’s a lot more to it than I think any of us really knew, so I’m looking forward to talking to Judy about this.  By the way, don’t forget this week to sign up for our Extreme Genes newsletter, it’s our weekly newsletter, it’s called the Weekly Genie, and I’m going to talk a little in there about dealing with your scoundrel ancestors. What do you record about them? What don’t you? What rules do you follow? I’ve got a few ideas on it, you might as well. So check that out. You can sign up now at ExtremeGenes.com. Let’s head out now to Boston for my good friend, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. It is David Allen Lambert. How are you, sir?

David: Oh everything is wonderful here in Beantown. How are things with you, Fish?

Fisher: You know, going well and excited to be going into the indoor time of year. I think we get a lot more research done now that we don’t have all the yard work to do, you know what I’m saying?

David: Hopefully you did all the fieldwork in the cemeteries. And that leads me to our first story for this week in Family Histoire news. The Calvert family were the leading family in colonial Maryland. And a few years back they actually found lead coffins, three of them with members of the family. In one of the coffins were the remains on an infant boy. Now they’ve been able to use DNA to discover that he’s actually the son of Philip Calvert who is a colonial governor of Maryland. So, DNA has uncovered a CSI if you will, from a cemetery from over three hundred years ago.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing? And you think about it, there are ways to get DNA other than spitting in a cup.

David: That’s true. And hats off to 62 year old Lena Alvarez in Madrid, Spain. Ten years ago when she was in her early 50s she had a child and this boy is doing quite well. And at the age of 62 she has recently become a mother of a baby girl!

Fisher: Oh wow! This is her third kid, actually. The oldest is like 28 years old. I’m thinking we nominate her right now to become PTA president when this little girl is a senior in high school.  That year Leana will be 80 years old!

David: Oh that’s wonderful. Well, I hope that she lives to see her children and grandchildren, well maybe not great grandchildren. But hey, anything’s possible.

Fisher: Exactly.

David: As we approach 2017 it will be the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I. The Brits were already into the thick of things and over in the trenches in France many lost their lives including two men, Privates William Merman and Harry Carter both in their early 20s who were part of the 10th Battalion Essex Regiment. At one of the bombings their remains were lost and they thought that they were buried in a grave at the commonwealth grave. Turns out they were recently found.

Fisher: That’s incredible.

David: Some archaeological work discovered two men still with their kits in their uniforms, holding their rifles, and it’s amazing. So now descendants of the two men are going to be part of the funeral, where they’re going to be reburied.  And I think it’s wonderful and the surprising fact of this, Fish, over in France an average of 40 World War I veterans are found each year.

Fisher: That’s incredible isn’t it? And to think they’re bringing them home. Do we find that for Civil War vets around the country? I got to imagine once in a while.

David: They still come up once in a while. When I was a re-enactor over 20 years ago, we buried the remains of a Civil War veteran in Massachusetts that had been sent back to Massachusetts, were lost, and were put in a warehouse in a box!

Fisher: [Laughs] Wow!

David: Yeah, so government can neglect things occasionally. In local news, in Brockton, Massachusetts, the neighboring town to where I live, the recent car break in did not have a car stereo stolen, it did not have a pocketbook stolen, it had their mother stolen.

Fisher: What?! How’s that work?

David: Ha, well in the glove compartment was a container with the ashes of the owner of the vehicle’s mother.

Fisher: Ooh!

David: So the thought is that they’re hoping that the person doesn’t think they’re drugs and snorts the remains.

Fisher: Oh, and ingest the remains. Oh my gosh that’s terrible! Wow.

David: So, I haven’t heard any follow ups. So I hope someone returns the remains. And rule of thumb... don’t carry Mom and Dad around in the dashboard!

Fisher: Yeah. Yeah, well I’m sure they were doing that because they were looking to scatter the ashes in familiar areas around Brockton, right?

David: Exactly. It really is sad.

Fisher: Hey David, as an autograph collector you’re going to love this by the way. RootsTech has announced that Levar Burton is going to be a featured keynote speaker this year.

David: Really?

Fisher: Oh yeah!

David: Oh that’s great!

Fisher: Oh year, actor, director, producer, writer, speaker.

David: Well, you know with Roots, that was one of the pinnacle things that got me into genealogy over forty years ago, watching that on television. That’s amazing. Well, I can’t wait to meet him, hopefully get his autograph.

Fisher: There you go!

David: You know, we talked about cemeteries earlier with the burial of the World War I veterans and I guess my genealogy tip for the week would be a proximity photograph. If you’re going to put a photo online of a gravestone, sure, be close and take great detailed photographs so you can read it. But take another photograph and take the proximity maybe there’s a larger monument nearby, a wall, a building.

Fisher: Yeah. Something that helps you identify the location of that marker, right?

David: Exactly. Well, every week NEHGS brings our listeners a free guest member database and this week we’re sponsoring New England resources for free. So that will include Torrey’s, New England marriages in the 1700s, as well as the information from the Great Migrations study project. Hope that you check out AmericanAncestors.org and become a guest member. Well, that’s all I have for this week, Fish. I’ll talk to you soon.

Fisher: All right, David, take care. We’ll talk to you again next week. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to the Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell. Judy is going to help us understand a little bit about divorce in the 19th century. A whole different game than it is in the 21st century. And we’re going to talk about the possibility that my great grandfather had fake testimony given so he could divorce his first wife. We’ll get Judy’s take on that coming up for you in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.  

Segment 2 Episode 162

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Judy Russell

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show, it’s Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and this segment is being brought to you by MyHeritage.com. Recently I was working on some information about my great grandfather, and discovered that he was the first person in our family to ever get a divorce, and we’re talking 1874 way back in New York City, and I was actually able to obtain the documents relating to that experience and that event. And I must admit the papers that were in there were rather salacious. Sometime later, as great grandfather went through his life, he died in the arms of his lover in upstate New York, but the person who filled out the death certificate for him at that time, who provided the name of his parents and his age, and his occupation, was the same man who had confessed nineteen years earlier to having been with Andrew’s wife... the very one he wound up divorcing! So there was obviously a very friendly relationship between these people. What was going on? And that’s why I wanted to bring my good friend Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, back on the show and talk about divorce in the 19th century. A little bit different than it is today, because, Judy, that whole thing sounded like a set up to me!

Judy: It absolutely sounds like a set up, Scott, and the fact of the matter is, there was an entire industry created in New York for the purposes of securing divorces. The reason? The law?!  New York was very restrictive in the grounds for getting a divorce. Now, you think about the English system and whether you could get a divorce early on. It generally was for adultery only.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: And adultery by the wife!

Fisher: Yes.

Judy: The husband could cat around, the woman could not. Now, we came over to the colonies, we changed things a little because we had something the English didn’t have. We had “running room.”

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Judy: So desertion became accepted grounds for a divorce in most of early America but not New York.

Fisher: That’s interesting.

Judy: New York really restricted it to adultery. And with it being so restricted, if you didn’t have the proof of adultery, what did you do?  You didn’t want to just stick with a marriage, so you manufactured the evidence!

Fisher: So you got a friend together and said, “Look, these records are going to be sealed for a hundred years, nobody’s ever going to know, you’re not going to be prosecuted for adultery, so help me out.”

Judy: I’m not sure that they had been assured that they’d be sealed for a hundred years. The sealing is more of a modern thing. But the reality was that everybody knew what was going on.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: This was probably a single man at the time who provided the evidence, so what’s the downside to him? There was a congressional investigation in to this entire industry of New York in manufacturing the evidences for divorces.

Fisher: No kidding. And how far back did the manufacturing go?

Judy: I’m sure it went back practically to the point where the English took over after the Dutch left New Netherland.

Fisher: Wow!

Judy: Which by the way, was a very different legal system and much more favorable to divorce.

Fisher: Yes.

Judy: There were actual grants of dissolution of marriage under the Dutch, and then the English come in and change everything around and make it so much harder.

Fisher: Much, much more difficult. Now throughout the rest of the country, how about the south? How was divorce in the 19th century in the south?

Judy: Very difficult to get divorce throughout the south. I mean, we have places like Maryland where you didn’t even have a divorce law on the books until 1841. In Virginia you needed an act of the legislature until 1851.

Fisher: Wow!

Judy: In Georgia, you had to get a court conclusion that you were entitled to a divorce, and then go to the legislature and get a two thirds vote.

Fisher: Wait a minute, the legislature got to vote on individual divorces?

Judy: Individual divorces.

Fisher: Wow!

Judy: And if you think that’s bad, in South Carolina, there was never a single legal divorce until the 1950s. Not one!

Fisher: The 1950s!

Judy: 1950s.

Fisher: Wow! This blows my mind. 

Judy: It was unconstitutional to get a divorce in South Carolina. 

Fisher: Sure.

Judy: So it’s always been a commitment to keeping families together.

Fisher: So what did people do? They had to move somewhere but it doesn’t sound like there was anywhere really to go.

Judy: Two options.

Fisher: Okay.

Judy: One very common option was that they simply abandoned one family, took off, changed jurisdictions, went across the state line, sometimes just the county line, set up a new family and went on their way. Bigamy was not really an unusual event, particularly if you’re coming out of a jurisdiction where divorce was impossible or hard to get. You simply didn’t bother.

Fisher: So, is bigamy by definition a common law marriage, where you just move in with somebody, it starts as adultery and then over time it becomes common law?  

Judy: Sure.

Fisher: Really?

Judy: Sure.

Fisher: And that would be considered a bigamist situation.

Judy: It absolutely would under the law be considered a bigamist situation once it had reached the point of maybe rising to it, although, you would never get to a recognition of the second relationship as a common law marriage because one of the requirements for a common law marriage is you be free to marry.

Fisher: Right, right, right.

Judy: So it’s you’re never going to really get to... that’s one possibility.

Fisher: Sure.

Judy: We all have to look at that. It’s not at all unusual for there to be a marriage without being free to marry.

Fisher: All right. Number two.

Judy: Number two is the divorce mecca. Meaning... a place where the laws made it easier to get a divorce.

Fisher: Did both people have to go there, establish residency like say, they do with Reno today or anything like that?

Judy: That’s the reason why they were really meccas. We think about Reno, we think Nevada. We say, “Oh well, that’s the divorce mecca.” In the 1850s it was Indiana.

Fisher: Really?

Judy: And the reason why people went to Indiana was number one... no, you didn’t have to both go, only the one who wanted the divorce and he had to stay there for like a month.

Fisher: Okay wait a minute, you just said, “He had to go.” A woman couldn’t do this?

Judy: She could, but it wasn’t as easy for her. She was usually the one who had the care of the children. She was usually the one who didn’t want the divorce. It was much harder then and now for a woman to support herself outside of the marital relationship.

Fisher: Sure. What was so different about Indiana? What made their attitudes such that they had such looser laws? What was different about maybe their religious situation?

Judy: I don’t think it was religion as much that it was at the time, pretty much, still the frontier.

Fisher: Yeah, it was.

Judy: So you have a situation where the law simply favored letting people have a fresh start to clear the decks and clear the books. And once the law started, it became an industry.

Fisher: Okay.

Judy: There would be the hotels who would be able to put you up, and you would get your little part time job.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Judy: And the advertising and you did that by the way in the Indiana newspapers.

Fisher: Right, who was going to see that?

Judy: Exactly. But the Indiana newspapers loved it. They got all the legal advertising.

Fisher: So what era are we talking about here? What years?

Judy: 1850s, 1860s, big push in Indiana for this very liberal set of laws on divorce.

Fisher: So I’m assuming a lot of these guys already had the next one lined up. So they’re out there perhaps already with her, getting the divorce, then getting married and then what do they do? Inform the person back east that, okay, by the way, you’ve been divorced?

Judy: Absolutely. Here’s my certificate. And you then go back to New Jersey or New York, or whatever, certificate in hand.

Fisher: Wow! And then just present it to the person and say, ‘That’s it, we’re done.”

Judy: That’s it, “We’re done. I’ve had it!”

Fisher: And there’s no taking care of that person financially?  Or how did that work other than just the good will of the husband.

Judy: Essentially, remember we’re still talking “fault divorces.”

Fisher: Sure.

Judy: So, when he goes there to get his divorce, he’s going to be claiming that she deserted him. That she abandoned him. That she was catting around. So it’s a fault divorce, and in a fault divorce everything was done for the benefit of the person who was the victim.

Fisher: Of the victim. Um hmm.

Judy: You know, your guy was in New York.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: You do realize that New York law limited the right to remarry.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

Judy: To the “innocent” spouse.

Fisher: The quote from the judge in the divorce case in the file that I got, he said that my great grandfather Andrew, was free to marry as if he had never been previously married. Whereas his previous wife, Amanda, was not free to marry until Andrew was dead.

Judy: Or... under the law. New York did eventually relent a little and if Andrew had remarried...

Fisher: Then she could have, yes.

Judy: Then the ex-wife would have been entitled once some time had passed and she kind of “repented” of her misdeeds.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs] Man!

Judy: So this was an amazing situation

Fisher: Yeah.

Judy: And here again, you start with Indiana and then the reformers come in, and the churches step in, and they say, “Wait a minute, we don’t want this reputation.” So Indiana changed its laws and you had to live there for a year.

Fisher: Wow! So a lot of people probably just stayed, didn’t they, at that point?

Judy: No.

Fisher: No? They moved on to a new place?

Judy: A new divorce mecca.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Judy: You want to take a guess?

Fisher: No idea. Fill me in.

Judy: The Territory of Utah.

Fisher: The Territory of Utah, all right.

Judy: In the Territory of Utah, you not only didn’t have to actually be a resident, you only had to file an affidavit saying you wanted to become a resident.

Fisher: And with that, we’re going to take a break. We’re going to come back in five minutes and talk more about divorce in the 19th century with my good friend Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. 

Segment 3 Episode 162

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Judy Russell

Fisher: And we are back, Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It’s Fisher here, talking to Judy Russell. She is the Legal Genealogist. And we've been delving into this whole concept of divorce in the 19th century, which is about all it was at the time was a concept, very difficult to get. And we were talking about these bastions of places where people could actually go, Judy, to escape the east and the south. And you had talked about Indiana, and now you're talking about the Territory of Utah. Their rules were that you didn't even have to live there, you just had to show an intent to live there?

Judy: Exactly! You literally could establish your right to get into the courts there in the Territory of Utah if you signed an affidavit saying you "wanted" to become a resident of the Territory of Utah.

Fisher: That's incredible!

Judy: So again, it’s very much this frontier mentality and the whole notion of people being given the opportunity to have a fresh start and a new start. You know, if the other side is only getting, quote "notified" end quote, by a newspaper notice that's published in Salt Lake City and they’re in South Carolina, nobody is going to show up from the other side and contest it.

Fisher: Right. Ever! [Laughs]

Judy: So you have these uncontested divorces that are basically clearing the decks legally for somebody to start a new life.

Fisher: Now, did this go on just through the territory years? Did that continue through statehood?

Judy: No. It certainly didn't continue through statehood, as the Mormon Church worked very diligently to acquire the credibility with the Congress to get statehood recognized.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: It wasn't going to fight on two fronts.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: It was already fighting the issue of the polygamy question.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: And how that was going to be dealt with legally. So it fundamentally started closing it down. You had to be a resident. And as with everything else, when things get tougher in one location, it’s going to open up somewhere else.

Fisher: So, where did they go after Utah?

Judy: The “somewhere else” was another territory at the time, and it was the Dakota Territory.

Fisher: Okay. Boy! You talk about the middle of nowhere in the 19th century! [Laughs]

Judy: Except, that the railroads were coming through.

Fisher: Of course.

Judy: So it was not all that hard to take your railroad car and get yourself to Bismarck, North Dakota or Pierre, South Dakota and find yourself in a position to get the divorce that you wanted.

Fisher: Establish residency? Did you have to?

Judy: But again, a very limited establishment.

Fisher: Sure.

Judy: If you have to be there for a month or six weeks or six months.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: It was so much better than not being able to get the divorce at all in the east. South Dakota continued until about 1909, so that was a possibility.

Fisher: So was this something where people if they're looking for where a divorce took place, they might want to go to these places? And how available are those records in these various states?

Judy: Most states’ divorce records, if they are sealed at all, they're only sealed for like fifty years.

Fisher: Uh hmm.

Judy: So most of these records are widely available. They're all court filings.

Fisher: Sure.

Judy: So for the most part, these are perfectly accessible records.

Fisher: If you can find the indexes for them. And I would assume, not a lot of them are online yet.

Judy: Not a lot of the court records are online yet, although more and more and more are coming online. And of course we're all exceedingly grateful to FamilySearch for its concentrated effort to get court records of all kinds.

Fisher: Right.

Judy: Off of the microfilm and onto the digital side, even if it doesn't have an index. I want to take you through a couple of more options…

Fisher: Okay…

Judy: And then we'll take about, how do you find the record if you're not sure that there might be one?

Fisher: Okay.

Judy: Oklahoma.

Fisher: Yes.

Judy: And I'm talking now about Indian Territory.

Fisher: Yes.

Judy: And the Oklahoma territories. So, late 1890s, good place to go, and then of course, we all know Nevada was the next one. 20th century divorces… very big in Nevada. There's one more divorce record that a lot of people don't think about, but it was bigger than Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fisher: Really? And where would that be?

Judy: That was Alabama.

Fisher: Alabama!

Judy: There were three times as many divorces granted in Alabama in the 1960s as in Nevada.

Fisher: No kidding!

Judy: So it was THE divorce mecca of the 20th century.

Fisher: Sure.

Judy: So you've got a person who was married in New Jersey in 1850. And there's no divorce you can find in the east, but now they're married to somebody else in the 1870s.

Fisher: Sure. Yeah, what happened?

Judy: Where do you go and how do you find those records? One of the best things to do is look in the newspaper legal advertising columns. Now we all think to look in the news columns, but legal advertising where people had to put notices into the newspapers are about the best source of genealogical information that you can think of.

Fisher: So, ChroniclingAmerica, NewsPapers.com, GenealogyBank, right?

Judy: Old Fulton Postcards in New York.

Fisher: Fantastic! [Laughs]

Judy: This is a guy who has digitized more newspapers than the Library of Congress.

Fisher: Yes.

Judy: And he's done it all by himself.

Fisher: Yes, yes.

Judy: And now beyond New York newspapers. He's branching out to other states.

Fisher: Incredible!

Judy: Places like the Portal of Texas History, or Digital Missouri, the Library of Virginia.

Fisher: Each state seems to have its own place.

Judy: And so you want to identify the meccas, which again are Indiana, Utah, the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Alabama. If you don't find a divorce that you expect to find where you expect to find them, you want to go through the meccas and see if you can find it there.

Fisher: Then hopefully they've got the newspaper accounts there that are available online.

Judy: Exactly!

Fisher: And then, well, you probably just have to go to the courts at that point and try to order it by the date and the name.

Judy: That's it!

Fisher: Okay.

Judy: So it’s not rocket science.

Fisher: No.

Judy: But it’s the painstaking, following every clue and thinking about that mantra that I keep saying, "If you want to understand the records, if you want to find the records, you have to understand the law at the time and the place."

Fisher: That's why she's the Legal Genealogist. When did New York finally loosen up? [Laughs] We're going back all the way to our first segment here, Judy, when did they finally put an end to this thing where adultery with often fake witnesses is the only way to get a divorce? When did that finally end?

Judy: In the 1970s.

Fisher: The 1970s!

Judy: Fundamentally, there was an entire movement across the country to move to “no fault” divorces, that we were tired of people lying to try to place fault that only created acrimony and bitterness and really hurt the children. The notion was, if grown people can't get along, let's get them out of here and clear the decks. So the no fault divorce movement really started towards the end of the 1960s and spread throughout the country.

Fisher: Pretty much everywhere now it’s no fault.

Judy: Pretty close. There are still an awful lot of divorces that are granted on fault grounds, but no fault divorce is essentially available throughout the United States.

Fisher: And Reno today?

Judy: Even today, but it may be faster to get a divorce in one jurisdiction than another.

Fisher: Ah!

Judy: For example, in my home state of New Jersey, in order to get a no fault divorce, you have to have lived separate and apart for eighteen months. And if you're “anxious” to take care of your young friend, as your great grandfather was, you might want to move that process along a little.

Fisher: Yes, with a little help from his friend.

Judy: Exactly.

Fisher: …who stayed his friend for many years thereafter, incredible! Thank you so much, Judy. What a joy to have you back on the show. And my head is swimming with all the possibilities of where to research and what you will find out, especially when I consider the documents I found in my great grandfather's divorce file. Wow, great stuff! She's the Legal Genealogist. Go to LegalGenealogist.com to find out a lot more about Judy Russell.

Judy: Thank you, Scott!

Fisher: This segment has been brought to you by RootsMagic.com. And coming up next, we'll talk preservation with Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority. We've got a listener email about her 100s of cassettes that she wants to digitize. That's coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 162

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. That is Tom Perry over there. He is our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com. Welcome back, Tom.

Tom: Great to be here.

Fisher: Got an email from Mary Lee and she doesn't tell us where she's from. You know, when you email us, you've got to tell us where you're from, we want to know. She says "I have a 100 plus cassette tape collection, recorded voice, not music, that I'd like to digitize, probably using Audacity unless you recommend something else. I have a Hitachi dual cassette deck and an amplifier that are in good condition. The cassette deck has standard female right and left input and output jack ports in the back. I didn't try to take it apart to photograph the back." Photographing is, by the way, very good if you're writing to Tom, show him what you're talking about. She says "Will I be able to get a decent digital file using the cassette deck and a computer?" Tom?

Tom: These are really good questions because we have a lot of people that write in or call our store and say "Hey, you know, I've got audio questions." So this one's great! She covers so many things. Let's kind of take it, you know, piece by piece. Make sure you write me at [email protected]  and we'll get back to you and, you know, possibly read your questions on the air. All right, the first thing is, you have a lot of cassettes.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

Tom: When you have that many, she says she has 100 plus.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: This is time that I say this is a DIY project. Because you can buy equipment that's expensive as it is, but it's still going to save you money when you have this many. So if you have time or you have one of your kids that can help you, do these things because they're not hard to do, it's just time consuming.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: So if you're able to allocate the time to do this, this is a smart thing to do.

Fisher: Tom, is this something she would do at real time speed? You wouldn't do it fast, right?

Tom: I really hate that. A lot of people do that, but I tell people, you know, pretty much you're going to get what you pay for. If you going to somebody that's going to charge you ten bucks to do a 60 minute cassette, they're not doing real time, or they're not going to be able to keep store open, or they're doing it in their basement, you know, or are having their, they've taught their Pomeranians how to transfer tapes, or something. We'll talk about prices. I'll give you an estimate to what most people should be charging, but we ran into people who sent us "Hey, this sounds like it's too good to be true. There's this guy in southern Florida that transfers film for 5 cents a foot, could that be legit?" Run the numbers, there's no way somebody could do it for that. So you want to be fair, you want to do what you can do. And if you really tight on budget, sometimes it's better than nothing, however, if you're going to go really, really inexpensive, make sure you do with somebody local, don't take the chance of shipping something across the country to somebody that has these too good to be true prices, because they might be gone tomorrow and you may never have your stuff back again. That's the one case that I would say it’s not good to take the chance to digitizing your things.

Fisher: So you want to do this yourself?

Tom: Exactly. When she's got 100, that's definitely a good way to do it and she mentioned Audacity which is a great program, it's a good inexpensive program. However, as many as you have, this is another thing where I say invest a little bit more money and get Pro Tools, because Pro Tools is going to give you a lot of options. And this comes back to your question, Fish, about doing at high speed. There are a lot of people that are doing it at high speed. If all you want to do is get it done and get it transcribed, you don't really care about anything else, high speed's a great way to do it because you can do it at 10 times the normal speed, and then you go into Pro Tools and have that change it. And if all you're going to be is transcribing, who cares if, you know, Aunt Martha's voice is little bit high, or, you know, Uncle Jesse's voice is little bit low, it doesn't matter because all you're going to be doing is transcribing. Then that's a fine time to do it at high speed. But video, I would never do high speed, because you're going to run into all kinds of problems. With Pro Tools I love it because it has a lot of options, you can clean up your audio, you can make it sound so much better. A lot of times you're going to have noise in the background that you can't understand, and that's really going to help you a lot. After the break we'll talk a little bit about, you know, what you want on the front end as far as your cassette player that's going to transfer your things to your Mp3s, or your AIFs or whatever you want to do.

Fisher: All right. This segment has been brought to you by 23AndMe.com DNA. And I know Tom's got a lot more on this in his head, we'll get to in just about three minutes. By the way, if you have a question for Tom remember that email address, it's [email protected]. Back in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 162

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And we are back for our final segment of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. This segment is brought to you by FamilySearch.org and we’re talking to Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. He’s our Preservation Authority, talking about this great e-mail from a listener named Mary Lee, asking about these cassette tapes she has old audio, recorded voice cassette tapes. And she wants to work with an Attaché dual cassette deck and she wants to digitize. She wants to do it herself, Tom, and that’s incredible and that’s great and it’s going to save her a lot of money, but it’s going to take a lot of time.

Tom: It will. And like I say, I love it when people want to do it themselves. It’s a great opportunity. You get more into it and you can do a lot of fancier things, because when you hire us or somebody else that’s out there, you are going to have to pay someone else to do it. When you do it yourself, you can spend a little extra 10 minutes here, or 30 minutes here, and make it that much better. When you’re paying someone to do it for you it’s harder, because oh that 10% more is going to cost me. You know 25% more and cost is not worth it. So do it yourself as much as you can. An audio isn’t as critical as video. Audio is kind of hard to screw up on. You can go and do things like we’ve talked on previous shows, even though you’re doing audio, you can actually physically see the wave form. So, when you’re editing, you’re not just sitting there like in our old days when we used tape and razor blades. With a visual kind of tool you can see okay this reddened area I’m getting some bad peak, da, da, da, da. Oh I can see right where Mary finished saying what she was saying here, so it’s easy for me to edit there, put in a chapter mark because she’s talking about a new part of the family, and it makes it so much easier for search ability. So one thing that is important is whatever you have on your front end, micro cassettes are harder to do because there’s not a lot of equipment out there, and they can be in so many different speeds. In fact, she talks in her letter a little bit later about having some that are not on their normal speed. Now that’s where Pro Tools really comes in to be a big benefit for you, because they are not going to let you go and play with it.

Fisher: Yes, absolutely. I have an old tape from the 1950s of our family and my sister’s in there. And I know her voice, because she’s still with us and it still sounds very much the same. And when I could get her to sound right, then I knew all the others, who I wasn’t as familiar with, that they must be correct as well. And you can with these tools, actually pitch it up or pitch or down. And you don’t do it by speeding it up like an old tape, you know. You can do it with this great tool. And it’s the way it goes now and it’s fantastic.

Tom: Oh that’s absolutely true. It’s like going to college. You learn these little things, you get excited about them. You want to teach people. And the more you’re teaching people, the more you’re learning. And there’s nothing funner than going in with one of your elderly neighbors and say, “Hey, let me help you do your stuff.”

Fisher: Right.

Tom: Like you say, when somebody dies it’s like a library burned to the ground. So you can help these people preserve part of their library.

Fisher: So if you have a question for Tom, you can write him any time at [email protected]. Make sure you mention where you’re from and if you’ve got specific equipment you’re talking about it would be helpful to send in photographs of what that looks like so that Tom can better deal with that.

Tom: One thing you want to be careful with is, whatever machine you’re starting with, make sure it’s good quality stuff. Don’t go to a Good Will and get an old piece, and just assume it’s going to be good. You want to go over it. You can Google all types of repair tips and a lot of things you can do yourself. Just be very careful with what you do. If you get an old machine that’s been sitting around it can have all kinds of gunk on the heads. It could be basically grown into mould and you don’t even know that’s in there.

Fisher: And then you spread it everywhere.

Tom: Exactly. You run your tapes through, you ruin your tapes, especially with your reel to reel tapes. You start having flaking. That’s another really good thing about her email and audio. When you’re doing reel to reel, if you have your own machine, or you found a machine, if you start running that and you see it start flaking, stop immediately. We’ve talked about “shake and bake,” we can make it so we can transfer it, but don’t run and think, “Oh I’m going to record it right now, I’m going to record it right now.” Stop immediately. Get your tape baked so then you can transfer properly.

Fisher: All right. Great material! Thanks so much Tom. Thank you Mary Lee for the email and we’ll talk to you again next week, sir.

Tom: Thank you. Pleasure is all mine!

Fisher: And this segment of our show has been brought to you by FamilySearch.org. That is a wrap for this week. Thanks once again to Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, for coming on to the show and talking about divorce in the 19th century. Talk about a complicated thing, but it does leave some records of some very interesting things.  Hey, don’t forget to sign up for the Weekly Genie, our weekly newsletter. Do it at ExtremeGenes.com this week. Talk to you next week. Remember, as far as everyone knows we’re a nice, normal family!

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