Episode 17 – Author David Laskin on the Paths of our Family

podcast episode Nov 20, 2013

On this weeks show, Fisher shares several stories making news this week.  He talks about latest discoveries concerning the “Boy King,” King Tut, who is still making news after all these years.  Also, the story of the Lee family, which has been doing business from the same location in New York City since 1888. Author David Laskin then talks about "The Paths of Our Family."

Transcript of Episode 17

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 17

Fisher: I’ll tell you what genies what a surprise to me to learn my grandmother had once been engaged before she was engaged to marry my grandfather in 1923. Yeah I found that in a digitized newspaper the other day. I don’t think anybody knew about it. I don’t think it’s scandalous, but do I share that with people? Hey, welcome to this week’s edition of Extreme Genes, Family History Radio. I am your Roots Sleuthing host Fisher and as usual we’ve got a lot to talk about in the dynamic and changing world of family history today, brought to you by TMC, The Multimedia Centers preserving your memories for over 40 years. And this segment is brought to you by Heritage Consulting Genealogy Services, your family history resource. Call 877 537 2000. By the way it was interesting that last week we had Hudson Gunn on the show, President of BillionGraves.com. I never knew much about them before the visit and you can catch it on our podcast, Episode 16 from last week on ExtremeGenes.com or our iTunes Channel. But I was doing a Google search for an ancestor this past week and wouldn’t you know, Bam! Here comes a picture of that person’s grave on BillionGraves.com first time. Certainly found many on Find A Grave over the years but I love having more than one service out there saving us time and dollars so we don’t have to travel the world looking for our people’s graves. We also mentioned last week that Ellis Island has reopened after a year of fixing up after Hurricane Sandy. That of course is true and so we asked in our poll question how many of you had ancestors come through Ellis Island coming into the New World. Now the answer turned out to be about two thirds of you. My grandmother, yeah the one that had the earlier engagement than anyone had known about, went through there in 1912.

We’ve got a new poll up today on ExtremeGenes.com and I’ll tell you about that in a minute, but first just a reminder that if you have a story to share with the world about your big discovery or breakthrough, we would love to hear about it. Just call 1-234-56-Genes. It’s toll free. That’s 1-234-56- Genes and record your tale or your question or your comment. And by the way Genes is G-E-N-E-S, not like blue jeans. And by the way, if you leave the E off in ExtremeGenes.com you’ll get a horse breeding farm site. I’m not kidding. [Laughs] So spelling does count when calling or going to the website. I think you’re going to love our guest today, Dr David Laskin. He’s a writer and researcher and recently came out with a book called “The Family.” It’s about the descendants of his great, great grandparents, European Jews and their various paths. One branch ended up as Israeli pioneer, another ended up in the holocaust and yet another came to New York and established a well known company, three branches, three very different paths and a fascinating journey for David Laskin. After this I think he’s a full fledged genie for sure. And that’s coming up in less than 10 minutes. Here’s your Family Histoire News for this week from the exciting world of ExtremeGenes.com. We start with the news about King Tut. Imagine this kid becomes a king as a child, lives to be only nineteen, dies in 1323 BC and he is still making news. It comes from Science360. Cranfield Forensic Institute has determined that numerous injuries on the side of King Tut’s body were just like what one might sustain in a car wreck. Yeah they’re not saying that he was out late with his buddies, forgot to buckle up and things got out of control while behind the wheel. They believe it was, get this, a chariot accident. They think the chariot was going at great speed and he was crushed by one of the wheels. It may well be that he was texting. [Uh hmm] Read all about the scientists’ conclusions and there are more on ExtremeGenes.com.

Next up is the story of the Lee family of New York City. They’ve been doing business from the exact same address 31 Pell Street in Chinatown, get this, since 1888. How many families anywhere can say that? Very few. Douglas Lee is an Executive in film and television and he’s worked with 20th Century Fox and HBO. He and his sister Sandra recently went about gathering artefacts from his family’s safe for an exhibit at the Museum of Chinese in America in the Big Apple. Well, as is often the case, Douglas thought he knew all about everything. And then he found an old ledger book belonging to his grandfather Harold Lee. It was for a business called the New York Chinese Film Exchange. Yeah, his grandfather had started it in the 1920s. They were distributors of Chinese language films to theaters. Now their market was mainly of course immigrants. His grandfather’s brother, Douglas learned, financed another entity called The Great Wall Film Company. Douglas learned that his family got involved in these ventures in the early ‘20s. The Chinese community was aghast at that time by a movie released in 1921called “The First Born.” It portrayed the Chinese as indulging in Opium, both as users and sellers, participating in brothels and foot binding. Protests to Hollywood resulted in advice that if they wanted Chinese to be portrayed differently they ought to make their own films. Well, hence The Great Wall Film Company came about courtesy of the Lee family. They went under about 1930 after making about thirty films. Douglas also learned that Harold Lee his grandfather had taken over an English speaking theatre during WW II and converted it into the Silver Star which was one of the early homes for Chinese language films from China and Hong Kong. Douglas Lee is of course amazed that he was unaware of this great heritage in the very field he loves and makes his own living in. He actually found one of the films from The Great Wall Film Company online from 1928. That leaves about twenty nine others out there they’re still looking for. What a great story about the Lee’s and you can read it on our website ExtremeGenes.com, but of course. Are you an Irish researcher? Well I think there are a few of those around. IrishTimes.com says we’re on the verge of the release of tons of Irish records online but through Irish outlets as well as FamilySearch.org. This includes census records, what’s left of the ones from the 19th century anyway as well as wills, evaluation records, plus there’s going to be a huge update of the database of their indexes of births, marriages and deaths.

The link is on ExtremeGenes.com so read all about it even if you’re just a little bit Irish. I think the story that captivates me the most this week is the USA Today story about the massacre of eleven African American soldiers at the hands of the SS in the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. To summon up, most who died from wounds to the head from a blunt object probably at the back end of a rifle, and they had been bayoneted and shot as well. They were found by the Allies just as the Allies were moving in on Germany a couple of months later. The officer who wrote the report on the massacre noted immediately it was certainly the SS who had committed the atrocity and they were disappointed that they couldn’t identify exactly what unit it was so that they could be held accountable for what qualified as a war crime. There were too many things happening in the area militarily at the time to do a proper investigation, so his report basically wound up in a secret file. The families of the eleven men only received notices that their loved ones had died in action and that’s kind of where it stood. Most surviving family members believed that till the day they died. Only now is the story of their horrific endings coming to light calling attention again to great contributions of black American soldiers in WWII. The story would have remained in the old files except that a Belgian man who witnessed the soldiers being marched away by the SS would never forget what he saw. He was twelve years old at the time. He’d seen their capture at the hands of the Germans in Wereth, Belgium as they were found being hidden by his father in the family home. Most of the town’s people tried to forget what they knew or had seen happen in the spot not far from the house, but Herman Langer carried the events of that day with him for years. And then in 1996 Herman placed a cross in front of a cow pasture where the bodies had been found in February of 1945 after much fighting between the Allies and the Nazi’s. 

Well, by 2001 a band of area Belgians went about raising funds with which to buy the massacre site for a more fitting memorial for these men who died trying to liberate the land. Word of Langer’s cross and the story behind it became known in America in the late ‘90s and some interested people went about finding the soldiers’ descendants. Another man made a documentary about the war crime. So for about ten years now Americans, Germans and Belgians have participated in an annual ceremony at the site of the massacre honoring the eleven men. The body of one of them was returned home in 1947 but his grave remained unmarked for decades.  Now this wasn’t unusual because a lot of families couldn’t afford a marker. Well, a year ago the grave of this 22-year old Private Jimmie Lee Leatherwood was properly marked with a stone that described how he had died thanks in part to local supporters. Relatives of Private James Stewart called Aubrey were proud when they learned of the discovery of letters he had sent from the European Front. In one he asked his mother not to worry and he included his pay that he urged her to use as she wished. Back in Belgium the Langers are astounded by how the efforts of Herman to honor the men have grown from his simple marker from seventy years ago. Herman himself only passed away last year. He was a witness to a war crime and his family says all he wanted was to find peace. It is a great USA Today story. You can find the link on ExtemeGenes.com. And it is time to look at our new poll for this week. “Did you have an ancestor in either WW I or WWII?” Click on yes or no at ExtremeGenes.com and we’ll have the results next week. This segment was brought to you by Heritage Consulting Genealogy Services, your family history resource. Call 877 537 2000. And coming up next the man who followed the trail of three branches of his Jewish grandfather’s European family and the astounding stories he found about each. He’s David Laskin Author of the new book The Family. You’ll enjoy hearing what he has to say next on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 2 Episode 17

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Laskin

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. I’m your Radio Roots Sleuth Fisher, brought to you by TMC, The Multimedia Centers preserving your memories for over forty years. Author David Laskin, he is the author of the book The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century. Nice to meet you David, welcome to the show!

David: Great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Fisher: I’ve got to tell you I got the book ahead of time. Wanted to read this thing, and it is one of those things you cannot put down, not only from the researcher’s side of things but from first of all, your ability to write. You’re absolutely a brilliant writer and I congratulate you on your ability to keep the interest of the reader. And the stories are absolutely phenomenal! It’s really kind of hard to know where to start because you have to go back a ways.

David: Yeah. Well, first of all, thanks for the nice words. Appreciate that. You know, I was lucky in a way in that a lot of people go much further back when they’re doing their family research, but I was very pleased to go back as far as we did. So, we got back to my great, great grandfather and that doesn’t sound too impressive in terms of how some people conduct their research, but for me it was a great gift. And you know, I had a stroke of luck in that you know the story involves the three branches of my mother’s family. So, there’s the one branch that came to the US, came here through Ellis Island as immigrants and one of them, my great aunt, founded the Maidenform Bra Company. So the US branch went into business.  

Fisher: [Laughs] Right. 

David: Branch number 2 went to Palestine in the 1920s as idealistic Zionists farmers. Worked the land and made the desert bloom. That’s branch number 2. Branch number 3 was a branch I knew very little about growing up, and that was the branch that stayed behind in Europe and perished in the holocaust. So, back to my luck, you know, I was lucky in that I very quickly got in touch with my Israeli family who I really didn’t know well and they’re very family minded, very, very interested in our genealogy, in putting together this story. In fact, they had a website. And on that website there were photographs of pretty much everybody in the family that they knew about. And that was when I discovered that our common ancestor was born in 1835 in a town in present day Belarus called Valozhyn. 

Fisher: All right now, let me just interrupt you David. 

David: Yeah.

Fisher: You’re talking about going back to your second great and that’s not very far. I think for Jewish ancestry, the Belarus, you’ve done fantastic. [Laughs] 

David: Well, thanks. You know.

Fisher: It doesn’t get easy back there.

David: It doesn’t get easy and I’m glad you raised that. I gave a lecture last night and somebody said, who was also Jewish ancestry, and she said, “How did you get back that far?” You know, the assumption is the Holocaust just punched this giant hole in Jewish genealogy and for those of us who had family that were in Europe and were killed during that period of history the assumption is we’re not going to get anything. We’re going to hit a wall. And so yeah, I was very lucky and very pleased to be able to put those strands together and get back as far as I did. 

Fisher: Now your family it translates to Cohen.

David: Right.

Fisher: Which is basically like Smith to anybody, of say English descent, very common within Jewish ancestry.

David: Very common. You know, the name actually in Hebrew, the Hebrew name was Hacohen which just means the Priest. So the Cohens are the priestly cast. You know, there were twelve tribes and the leaders were the Cohens and the Levites.

Fisher: And this goes back to Aaron then.

David: Back to Aaron, exactly. Wow! I’m very impressed that you know that. So you know, that’s the Cohen line and that name has a lot of permutations over the years. So, if your name is Cagan, if your name is Kaplan, if your name is some variation of Cohen, and it changes by the language, you’re part of that caste. So, when I first started doing research and went on Ancestry.com or maybe it was Family Search, can’t remember which one, and entered my grandfather’s name Sam Cohen, and his city where he lived which was Brooklyn, New York, I came up with 341 000 hits.

Fisher: [Laughs] 

David: So yeah, how to get going.

Fisher: Time to narrow, time to narrow just a little bit.  

David: Time to narrow. That was when I really got my kind of genealogical boot camp.

Fisher: Right.

David: You know, I really didn’t know how to do it and I was kind of panicked like how am I ever going to narrow this down? Well, I went to the local library and you know librarians are fantastic and under used resource.

Fisher: Yes.

David: And we did have a research genealogist at our Seattle Public Library named John Lamont and he was fantastic. And he really was the one who guided me through and I lost all fear of going on Family Search and Ancestry and became one of those “crazy” people who spent all my time researching. [Laughs]

Fisher: And welcome to the club you know. [Laughs] No apologies.

David: Okay. 

Fisher: David, I remember at the beginning of the book you talked about the fact that you weren’t religiously or perhaps spiritually Jewish. It’s more culturally for you and so you lived in a different world basically than those who came before you as is the case for many of our generation. How did you discover all of this and when did you develop your interest in taking this journey?

David: You know, for me I really think the connection is through the Scribal Tradition as I discovered my grandfather, my great grandfather, my great grandfather and that’s as far back as I went but I’m assuming there’s many, many more greats in there, were all scribes. These were men who copied the scrolls of the Torah letter by letter, chapter and verse.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing?

David: It’s amazing and this is a beautiful art and craft that was part of my family. And in fact, my mother showed me a scroll that was written by her father. Now, unfortunately the ones that were written by her grandfather and the other ancestors have been lost although I suspect there are some synagogues in the US that have Torah scrolls that they wrote. So, you know I’m not a scribe of that type I cannot write sacred text.

Fisher: Right.

David: But I am a kind of scribe in terms of my profession. So I really feel that recording the deeds, the history, the passion, the tragedies of my ancestors, puts me in that tradition.

Fisher: Yes. 

David: So as you said, no, I am not an observant Jew. I don’t go to synagogue every Saturday. But I am a reverent Jew. I am certainly a reverent person when it comes to family. And I think this book has made me feel closely, deeply, connected with the traditions and the history of the Jewish people, and particularly my scribal branch. So I really have carried that scribal tradition down. 

Fisher: Obviously this is something that goes father to son, father to son, do you have any hint as to how far back, how many centuries this scribing may go?

David: Well you know, you traced the Cohen name back to Aaron and I think there’s another tradition that takes the scribal tradition way back to biblical times as well. 

Fisher: Are you the one who broke this? [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] You know it’s possible. You know, I think one of the things that’s really cool in modern science is that often times we get scientific confirmation for things that are in the bible or ancient beliefs.

Fisher: Yes.

David: One of them is, there have been DNA studies that show that the DNA of the Kohanim, the Cohens, this priestly cast, is very consistent through centuries, through millennia. So you know, these would be family stories that oh you know, your grandfather was a priestly cast and your father was too. It passes down through the men.

Fisher: And I’ve read, by the way David that they’ve actually found the Cohen DNA code in Africa and in different parts of the world that you would have never expected. 

David: Well you know, the Diaspora, you know the wandering Jew, they have been everywhere. You know this has surprised me about Africa in that you know there are or there were certainly a lot of Jewish people in Northern Africa. And when you think about the Mediterranean world, I mean Israel holy land, was right there and those were the countries that they went to. So that does not surprise me. And you know, when you go to modern Israel today which has had a great influx of Jews from all over the world, you see Jews of every color, every shape, every feature. I mean, they’re blond, blue eyed and black and you know dark as Africans, they’re all Jews. So that’s kind of an amazing thing.  

Fisher: We’re talking to David Laskin. He’s the Author of Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century. It’s called The Family. It is a great read and so David you made contact with your family back in Israel. Who is over there? How did you know about them? And how did you get in touch with them?

David: So the family in Israel are common ancestors of my great, great grandfather. Their grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother. Well, his daughter Sonia, and then another offspring of the same line, so these were first cousins, went to Israel, one of them 1924 and one of them in 1932. Now, I shouldn’t say Israel because back then it was Palestine because of the British Mandate. 

Fisher: Right.

David: They were pioneers as I said who went there to farm. They met or re-met because they knew each other a little back in the old country and they got married. So the family that’s in Israel are all their offspring. They had four children and all of those children married and had children, so I think there are about 110 of them now. You know, growing up my grandparents were pretty close to them and they used to go to Israel every year after they retired and spend a couple of months. In fact, my grandfather died in Israel which sounds tragic of course. Of course it was a tragic loss to the family but this was kind of a dream of his, you know, to die in the Holy Land. So this was something very special to him. But you know, growing up I did not really know these relatives. One of them came to the US briefly and I met him, but you know, as I said it was really through the book that we established contact. My first trip when I began working on the book was to go and visit them. I sent them some emails and they said, “Sure, come on over. We’ll be happy to receive you.” And you know, I have to say there’s a little piece of me that was nervous when I knocked on the door of my cousin Bennie. Perfect stranger you know never heard his name before I made this contact. We became family in ten minutes. I mean they were great gift to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Fisher: And that’s often the way it is with genealogical work and research and time together.

David: Absolutely. So you know, Bennie is also a family historian. Bennie became my partner and collaborator. He had family letters. He had family stories. He had interviewed his parents and really, really family minded. And you know, I think one of the unforgettable parts of that trip was walking with Bennie through the cemetery that is associated with a collective farm that his parents helped to found. And looking at the graves, and he would translate them for me and we would go through the dates and you know, really put the family tree together on the ground if you will by looking at the places where our ancestors were laid to rest. And that was very moving. It was a beautiful spot.

Fisher: I can only imagine it was. All right we’re going to take a break and come back in a minute and talk about the three branches discussed in David Laskin’s book The Family, on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 3 Episode 17

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Laskin

Fisher: We are back! Extreme Genes Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com, brought to you by TMC The MultiMedia Centers preserving your memories for over forty years. And this segment is brought to you by Heritage Consulting Genealogy Services, your family history resource. Call 877 537 2000. It is Fisher here with David Laskin, Author of “The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century.” And David comes to this whole thing more as a writer and then became a genealogist so we’re happy to welcome you to the club David. And what a story you have to tell and very few people can tell it as well as you have. Going back to your Jewish ancestry on your mother’s side to your great, great grandparents and then down into three specific branches and [Laughs] how unique they are. Let’s see, we’ve got people who were pioneers in Palestine which became Israel, people who got caught in the holocaust and then we have the founder of the Maidenform Bra Company. [Laughs] That is three very unique branches. And let’s go through each of them because e we have about ten 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David: Okay will do. So you know, I like to refer to my great aunt Itel as we called her, Ida Rosenthal to the world, the founder of the Maidenform Bra Company, as the brassiere pioneer.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

David: You know this was a woman. She came to the US in 1905. I found her Ellis Island records. She came with five dollars in her pocket and the address of an uncle who lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. She was nineteen years old and she was fleeing the Tsar. She was a socialist, revolutionary firebrand.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Yeah, so she was kind of hounded out of Russia. 1905 was kind of late Dress Rehearsal for the Russian Revolution. It was a massive uprising. They thought they were going to topple the Tsar, but that didn’t happen. So Itel comes over and you know a lot of immigrants from that period, women from Italy and Eastern Europe and Poland and so on came over and went to work in sweatshops. That’s kind of a classic story that you think of you now, with the lower east side.

Fisher: Sure.

David: But Itel was not going to work in a sweatshop.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: She was not going to take orders from anybody. She was a very, very fiercely determined, ambitious, brilliant and innovative woman. And being an immigrant, being a woman, having an accent did not stand in her way. Talking to her granddaughters and they said even though she was started as a seamstress, she was always an entrepreneur. She was a business woman. 

Fisher: Wait a minute. She’s a socialist capitalist?

David: Yeah I know.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: It’s a woman of many contradictions. She was four feet eleven inches tall. She smoked four packs a day.

Fisher: Oh!

David: She had a thick accent. She was just a force of nature.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Socialist, capitalist, seamstress, entrepreneur.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: You know, getting her in my family tree was a huge stroke of luck.

Fisher: And I love the quote you had in there about her too when somebody said, “I understand you’re with the Maidenform Bra company.” She said, “I am the Maidenform Bra Company.”

David: I am the Maidenform Bra Company.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So she was really going to do it her way. And you know, we hear a lot about lean in and women and business today and leading tech companies. Well, Itel was there first. You know, she really delivered and the other thing that was amazing in researching her was not only the fact that it was a real good luck hard scrabble, pull up your boot straps immigrant story, but also she delivered quality. You know, it was not just about branding and advertising and of course the “I dreamed I did so and so” and Maidenform Bra was kind of a classic of American advertising.

Fisher: Yes.

David: But also, she made sure every brassiere that went out of those factories was perfect and she really stood behind her product. So she was pretty easy to find. You know, I always say to people if you want to do your family story and you know, do your research, having somebody who was a celebrity in their day is really helpful. And then there’s encyclopaedia articles about her, there’s the Smithsonian Archives that’s dedicated to her company so it really was not difficult to put her story together. And you know, she was my grandfather’s sister and you know of course, my grandfather was not as successful or as high profile but he went into business with his brothers and I was able to find those company records and tell that story as well. So that’s branch number one. 

Fisher: You could have done a whole book just on that, you know.

David: Oh yeah, I know.

Fisher: Unbelievable.

David: Yeah it’s always fun to talk about it. In some ways I’m glad I didn’t because there's not much left over to discuss. And the other thing is there are great visuals. I would encourage the listeners to go online, go on say Google images and put in Maidenform Dream and you’ll come up with some great old vintage ads.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well really, my introduction to the mysteries of the female body, these ads that women wear their brassieres in public with nothing else on top considered very risqué in their day.

Fisher: Yeah, sure.

David: So that was the American branch. The Israeli branch as I said in terms of researching them, my lucky break was my relatives in Israel who really, especially Bennie, who the book is dedicated to, he’s really kind of a born genealogist, born family historian. And he was just kind of waiting for me to come along to unleash this. Bennie had in his possession two hundred and eighty one family letters. Most of them were written by the relatives in Europe who perished in the holocaust. Bennie had never read these letters because they were written in Yiddish. Now Yiddish is a language that is no longer spoken in Israel and disappearing fast from the US as well. Bennie speaks only Hebrew. I speak only English but I said, “Golly, wow Bennie, we’ve got to get these letters translated.” And between the two of us we translated all two hundred and eighty one into both English and Hebrew. And as you can imagine that was a fantastic gift. I mean, any family historian would just…

Fisher: Where did you find the translator?

David: Well, I found her through a friend here in Seattle. I have what I call my second Jewish mother here in Seattle, Jackie Williams.

Fisher: [Laughs] 

David: Shout out to Jackie. She’s a great genealogist. She’s been working away at her family history forever and she connected me with a woman who did the translation. You know, you were talking about the brotherhood that ended the family really, of family researchers. 

Fisher: Yes.

David: This is what my favorite thing about working in this area is, the collaboration you get from people who just pitch in, roll up their sleeves and help you out. 

Fisher: It’s astonishing, isn’t it? I mean, because they are strangers and then you come into their life and it’s like the bell goes off. 

David: Yep, absolutely and you know I posted on various genealogical sites including a great one for any Jewish family searchers which is called JewishJen and they have a great list serve and I would pose questions you know, really picky things which is what we family researchers are interested in, you know. How to find ship manifests from 1890.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: What does it mean if someone is detained at Ellis Island? How do you track down exactly, you know, the proceeds of their inquisition you know, from Ellis Island and people invariably would post back with great leads. So yeah I was hugely helped in all of this search by this wonderful community of researchers.

Fisher: All right, so now you’ve got the first branch which is the Maidenform Bra Company.

David: Right.

Fisher: You’ve got the second branch in Israel. By the way we’re talking to David Laskin, Author of “The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century.” The third branch is the one I think that really gives everything definition because it really shows how certain decisions affect where each branch wound up going.

David: Right. So the third branch was the branch that remained behind and what was then Poland. Now it’s Belarus and Lithuania. Now, researching them presented grave challenges. We had very little to go on in terms of…you know we had these letters, but the letters stopped in June of 1941 when the Nazis took over their section of Poland. They were prisoners of the Third Reich and there were no more letters. So what do we do? How do we trace them? I kind of assumed well it was just going to be kind of generalized. Well, we knew they were in Vilna which today is Vilnius, Capital of Lithuania. So I would kind of just write the history of that city during the war, but know I had some really good strokes of luck. I was able to find the name of Bennie’s aunt Doba and her two sons on a census of the Vilna ghetto published in May of 1942. So as I just said they became prisoners of the Third Reich in June of ’41. But now I knew they survived the first year of the Nazi occupation.

Fisher: Wow!

David: With their address I found how many people lived in that building. And I actually went back with Bennie and his brother Shimon and visited Belarus and Lithuania and we looked up the addresses of all the places that the family members lived and died. So that was one trace. The other trace that was really, really heartbreaking, but illuminating was Doba’s son Shimon. He was fifteen years old when the Vilna ghetto was liquidated. The Nazi’s took the remaining Jewish population and they basically sent the women to death camps but they did not kill the men. They took the men to a slave labor camp in Estonia called Klooga, and I with the help of researchers at Yad Vashem the holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and also the holocaust museum in Washington D.C was able to trace the cousin Shimon, this fifteen year old boy, through the final years of his life in Klooga. We found his prisoner number which was 641. We found his name on lists of work details so you know again I would never ever have found any of this without the help of this fantastic genealogical community. And there’s a man I just want to kind of give a shout out to him who works in Washington DC, named William Connelly, who sits at a desk with a bunch of computers in a US holocaust Memorial Museum and caps things in. He’s a magician. He caps things in and amazing records come out. I don’t know he does it but he’s one of those amazing people who all genealogists just thank their lucky stars to be connected with. So he helped me find the final traces, the last relative in my family to survive in Europe, almost made it to the end of the war. He died in 1944 right before the Russians liberated this camp of Klooga, the slave labor camp. And that was the end of the family. That was the end of the third branch. But thanks to this wonderful community I was able to trace him to the tragic end. You know, he could still be alive today. He would have been in his eighties about the same age as my mom. We’re able to find out exactly where he was and that he died at the age of sixteen.

Fisher: David how has this affected your life?

David: Well you know, it has really first of all, given me increased reverence for my family. You know, I have to say my first trip to Jerusalem I went to the Western Wall, the only remains of the Old Temple. And you know, the tradition is you write a little prayer and you put it in a crack in the wall and I did that. And I have to say when I touched that wall, put that prayer in, I felt my ancestors looking down at me. I mean, the generations were bridged, time vanished and I thought wow, I really have this deep visceral, spiritual connection with those who came before. So yeah, this book has really opened me to I would say the confluence of genealogy and reverence and spirituality. I mean, I think these are strands that we all have in our families and I think this is maybe the deep by-product of family research. You know, day to day we’re clicking away at computers, we’re searching census forms and it’s all about the date, the name, the place.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But when you step back from it I think it’s really about reverence. I think it’s really about who we are, where we came from and what we’re going to pass down.

Fisher: And appreciating life.

David: Yes, absolutely.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: Appreciating life and the gift that we’ve all been given. So I feel you know, that my family has been a huge gift and you know, I feel that my book is a kind of return gift that I’m able to give to them.

Fisher: The book is “The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century.” He’s Author David Laskin. David it’s a great read. I love it just from the story side and getting to know your family, what they went through and through your journey of discovery with that as a genealogist, just loved reading it.

David: I appreciate that. You know, one of my earlier reviewers on Amazon said, “You don’t have to be Jewish to like this book.”

Fisher: That’s right.

David: And I really appreciated this. This is a book about a Jewish family, but this is not a Jewish book. 

Fisher: No.

David: You know, I kind of compare it to Angela’s Ashes, you know, a book about a really colorful, kind of dysfunctional Irish family. But nobody would ever say, “If you’re not Irish don’t bother with that book.”

Fisher: Exactly.

David: You know, I think my book is pretty much the same universal, deeply emotional human story that anybody who has done any family research would get swept up in.

Fisher: I totally agree. Great job! David Laskin thanks for joining us today.

David: My pleasure. Thanks so much.

Fisher: And coming up next our Preservation Authority Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com with something you’re going to really want to hear about, 3D Printers and how they could affect your family history artefacts. You’re going to love this, coming up next o Extreme Genes Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 4 & 5 Episode 17

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: It is Extreme Genes, Family History Radio. Fisher here with our Preservation Authority Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. Welcome back, Tom.

Tom: Good to be here.

Fisher: It’s brought to you by TMC, the MultiMedia Centers, preserving your memories for over forty years. I am really excited about what you're going to talk about right now, 3D printing and how this applies to family heirlooms.

Tom: Oh, it’s crazy.

Fisher: [Laughs] Now, the first time you saw this was when?

Tom: I saw it last January at NAB.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: I was just, you know, going through there, that NAB's the National Association of Broadcasters.

Fisher: Yes.

Tom: All of us audio and video and TV people go. And I went by this one large booth where they had these great, big 3D printers. And my jaw was on the ground! It was like, totally blew my mind! And the thing that was really surprising, after I spent about an hour there just totally like a kid looking in front of a candy store, started going on doing some other stuff and found there were several exhibitors that had the same thing, and it just totally blew my mind. I didn't even know this technology was available and there's several people that have the technology.

Fisher: Now, we have seen 3D printing. Obviously it’s getting a lot of attention in national media right now, and there's some concerns for instance, because someone has already created a weapon, a gun that fires with a 3D printer.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: And that's kind of a game changer in a lot of things. But, let's just take this in the family history context. I have one of my great grandfather’s fireman medals from 1889, and a very rare thing. It was something the New York veteran firemen had received on a trip to Upstate New York. And they were greeted and celebrated by the local firemen there and they gave them all these little medals. And it said, "To the New York veteran firemen from" I think it was Poughkeepsie. And they shared that. Now, I could duplicate that with this 3D printer for all of my descendants who would want one, yes?

Tom: Oh, absolutely! Yeah, you could go to a family reunion and see who wanted them and either send them there or take your printer with you make them right there on the spot.

Fisher: Think about that, everybody in your family, distant cousins, relatives who got the one thing that great grandma had that you really wanted, but it went to somebody else. You could now take images of and create a 3D duplicate of it. And while you may not have the original, you could have this 3D version.

Tom: Oh yeah. In fact, similarly just like if you go to Mexico and go to the ruins and stuff and they have all these idols and dolls and stuff like that, you can't have the original, but in the gift store, you can buy duplicates. Well, this way, you can make your own duplicates of, you know, short runs, one two, three. You don't need to order a thousand of them.

Fisher: Wow! So what are the costs of these things, Tom?

Tom: Well, basically you can get into a scanner. First you have to have a scanner, because you need to scan your item. Like your badge, you want to be able to scan it. And you can get a scanner that will take anything up to 8x8x8 for as little as $1400.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: And that may sound like a lot of money, but when you're looking at this technology, that's nothing.

Fisher: Really? Oh, they get much more expensive from there I assume, sure.

Tom: Oh, right.

Fisher: And this deals with different kinds of materials, from plastics to, does it do metals?

Tom: Oh yeah, you can do just about anything. With the scanning, you can scan anything it has no idea what, you could scan an ice sculpture for all it matters.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: But then once you have it scanned, then the printing you can do them, the most popular right now with the 3D printing is an ABS type material, like what you see plastic pipes at Home Depot or whatever.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: But you can do it in many colors. There's all different kinds of colors. There's some higher end ones that are multiple colors. But you can get into kind of a ground level machine for only $1100.

Fisher: Okay, so there are different types of machines for different types of materials, obviously expensive, and maybe this is something that, to make it affordable if you were going to use it for a family history application, you spread that cost within the family.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: And then you make each other’s things. And, I mean, boy and you could use this for other stuff, like you know, parts around the house. [Laughs]

Tom: Oh yeah, we've talked about that. You know, so many times your toilet goes out and there's this one little teeny plastic part.

Fisher: Yeah, had that happen recently.

Tom: Yep.

Fisher: And you need the whole package.

Tom: Yeah, you have to go to Home Depot, spend twenty bucks on a whole package, where you could take this little part, glue it back together or tape it back together, put it in your scanner, scan it and print out a new part.

Fisher: And there're a lot of can of worms with this whole thing though, too in terms of, I guess copyright protections, their patents on various items that would still be in effect that people could. Think about museums, like you were mentioning off air.

Tom: Oh, it’s amazing what somebody could do. If somebody was a curator at a museum, I mean, they work after dark when nobody else is there, you know, doing things, filing stuff.

Fisher: Yeah.

Tom: Somebody conceivable could take in one of these scanners, scan some of these statues or whatever.

Fisher: Oh!

Tom: You know parts of pottery.

Fisher: You don't even want to think about this.

Tom: They go home and print it.

Fisher: Yeah. Oh my gosh! So, there's going to be a whole different world here that's going to be dealt with in many ways at many levels. These aren't going away either.

Tom: Oh no!

Fisher: This is going to be a big, new thing and its one of those life changing kind of inventions that I'm sure the prices will come down on later. But you know, keeping it within our world, you know, the family history world, this could be very exciting stuff for replicating various items that have been passed down different lines, so that you can have them yourself and everybody can have their own.

Tom: Oh yeah! Anything that's 3D. You could have old coins that are like not in circulation anymore that maybe grandpa had that are of no value, but personally to you, they have great value. Scan them, print them, hand them out as a favor at family reunions.

Fisher: Now do you have information on this on your information site?

Tom: Yes. You'll be able to go to our website. We'll have some different links on it where you can go check it out and buy it. And we are seriously considering buying one of these for our place, so if somebody has something, they don't have to go and spend, you know, $5000 to get into it.

Fisher: Wow!

Tom: They can, you know, send it to us, we'll scan it for them, send them how many copies they want. So it’s kind of in the infancy stages right now, but it’s going to be something that's going to be really cool.

Fisher: All right. And remember genies, if you want us to cover a specific topic in our preservation section, send in your suggestions or questions to [email protected]. And if we use your suggestion during the show, you will win the satisfaction of having your questions answered on the air and be admired by all of our listeners. Tom thanks for coming in.

Tom: Thank you.

Fisher: Good stuff! And we've got a lot more to cover next week as well. All right, that's it for this week, genies thanks for joining us. Thanks once again for David Laskin, the author of “The Family” a great book concerning his Jewish ancestry. You're going to want to hear more about this. Remember, the podcast is going to be on ExtremeGenes.com by Wednesday, so you can catch the whole thing again. And we'll talk to you again next week on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family. It’s a Fisher Voice Works Production!

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