Episode 204 - The Biggest Disaster You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

podcast episode Aug 26, 2017

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fisher and David talk about the eclipse, and one in particular that occurred during the Revolutionary War that military leaders used to rally the troops. David then shares the remarkable story of the discovery of a uniform of a World War II vet and how it found its way into the hands of the vet’s granddaughter. Then, another World War II story has had another chapter written. The ship involved in one of America’s great naval disasters has been located. David then talks about the upcoming conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Pittsburgh and shares a blogger spotlight on Robin Lacey’s spadeandthe grave.wordpress.com, where Robin talks about digging up a graveyard of ancestors.

Then Fisher begins his two part visit with his first cousin, Joann (Fisher) Schmidt, of Dutchess County, New York. When Fisher and Joann began collaborating on their shared family history back in the 1980s, Joann also looked into her mother’s side. There, she discovered a horrible family secret. Her grandfather’s family had been decimated in a disaster on a steamboat in 1904 in which ten family members were killed. It is called the General Slocum disaster, and it took place in New York City. The tragedy marked the greatest single loss of life in New York City history prior to 9/11. In this two part interview, Joann shares her story of how she learned the details of her grandfather’s greatest trial, and how he endured the aftermath.

Then, Tom Perry checks in from the road as he continues his Preservation Tour, scanning genies’ pictures for free at sites around the country. Where is he now and where will he be next? He will tell you.

Tom then answers another listener question concerning the best way to be sure your material will still be around years from now.

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

Transcript of Episode 204

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 204  

Fisher: And you have found us! It’s 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. And this episode is brought to by BYUtv’s Relative Race, Sunday nights at 9 o’clock eastern, 6 o’clock Pacific time. Nice to have you along! We’ve got a great guest today and I must say I’m a little tainted in that because she’s my first cousin. Her name is Joann Fisher Schmidt and she and I started collaborating in family history as far back as the 1980s. You know when we were kids we used to have Thanksgiving together. Well, I was the kid. She was already an adult, but she found out a fascinating story about her mother’s side of the family that is something that just made my jaw drop when I first heard about it. It was a disaster called the General Slocum Disaster. It was a steamship in New York that was taking a large church group from a German Lutheran Church in the Lower East Side to a picnic on Long Island in June of 1904. The ship caught on fire and more than 1,000 people died. You probably never even heard of it, but up until 9/11 that was the biggest loss of life in a single incident in New York City history. So, we’re going to talk about Joann, how she discovered that, her response to it, her family’s involvement in it, her family’s loss in it, the stories that were passed down. That’s all going to start in about eight minutes or so. Hey, just a reminder by the way, don’t forget to sign up for our “Weekly Genie” Newsletter. It is absolutely free. And if you get signed up by the last day of August, you’re going to be eligible for a drawing we’re going to do for some free software from Heritage Collectors. And this will allow you to tag faces in your pictures and to organize them, maybe even make them into calendars, whatever you want to do, but it’s great software. Just sign up on our website ExtremeGenes.com or on our Extreme Genes Facebook page. Let’s head out to Boston right now and check in with David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: How are you David?

David: I’m in Beantown ready to take off again for another trip, but I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

Fisher: Okay. [Laughs]

David: The first thing I want to ask you is, did you have the correct lenses over your eyes when you were watching the recent eclipse?

Fisher: Yes, I did. And believe me I checked it out very carefully. My daughter sent me on an assignment to go to some guy’s house, who claimed in an ad that he had a bunch of them, and he did, sold them to us for like two bucks a piece. But there was a government code on there, and I doubled and tripled checked it and still I was kind of nervous about it. But yeah, it turned out great and nobody was harmed. But we were not too far from the path of totality. A lot of friends went in to that and enjoyed that experience, but I thought it was fantastic.

David: We had about 70% coverage.

Fisher: Sure.

David: But you know, that actually historically ties into a previous eclipse back in 1778.

Fisher: Really, during the Revolution?

David: Um hmm. In fact, George Washington was holding a war council meeting and told his generals not to worry about this and tell his men that it’s not a bad omen. In fact, George Rogers Clark told his officers of the Virginia militia that this was a good omen. In fact, a couple of weeks later it worked to their benefit having this positive omen. They won the Battle of Kaskaskia in Illinois on the 4th of July 1778.

Fisher: How cool is that, [Laughs] taking that and using it as a weapon of war. How unique!

David: Next, in our Family Histoire News I have a story from Spokane, Washington. Bruce Campbell was out perusing the racks of a local thrift store when he came across a green uniform. It’s a World War II uniform and occasionally these do show up at thrift stores. This one had the name of the colonel inside, Colonel A.L Shreve. After a little bit of genealogical research he was able to track down Heather Shreve who is the granddaughter and now she has her grandfather’s uniform.

Fisher: Isn’t that the coolest thing? I mean, to go to a thrift store on one end of the country, buy it because it has a name in it, research it, track down the descendant and then pay to ship it to them all out of respect.

David: I just hope that somebody would do the same thing with my dad’s uniform from World War II.

Fisher: Sure.

David: Nothing in the mail yet. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: George Lambert Army Engineer Construction Corps send it to Dave. [Laughs] The next story has a World War II slant. On July 30th 1945 the USS Indianapolis sank. And out of the 1196 crewmen, 317 survived. Most of them died from being in shark infested waters and sadly they drowned. And of those 300 plus crewmembers, 22 are still alive today.

Fisher: Wow!

David: They found the Indianapolis this month.

Fisher: Incredible. What a story. My wife was in Indiana. She’s an Indiana native, and she was back there in 2011 and had the opportunity to attend the reunion of the survivors of the Indianapolis at that time. And she came back with some autographed brochures and pamphlets and stories of these amazing people.

David: We’re losing so many of the WWII Veterans that it’s nice to know that this chapter has some closure for some of them. Next week, I’ll be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the Federation of Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference. In fact, I’m going to probably be doing it live from the floor, so stay tuned. And one of the people who’ll be there is Tom Perry who was just here in Worcester, Massachusetts for our Preservation Road show with NEHGS so it will be nice to see Tom again.

Fisher: Yeah, and he’s going to be doing free scanning at FGS as well, so this is going to be a lot of fun. You can bring up to 100 photographs, up to a size of say 8×10, so bring them by and see Tom if you’re anywhere near the Pittsburgh area. It’s a rare opportunity.

David: One of the things I like to talk about each week is our blogger spotlight. And the blogger spotlight goes out to Canada to Robyn Lacy who has a blog called SpadeAndTheGrave.Wordpress.comShe’s an archaeologist and her blog is about death and burial through the eyes of an archaeological lens. She is working on trying to locate the 1600s cemetery that was in Ferryland, Newfoundland. Just an interesting thing because so many of our ancestors are buried in cemeteries and we can’t find them, archaeologists may be the key in helping identify these bodies of perhaps your ancestors.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Well, that’s all I have for this week for you. Hope to see some of our listeners at FGS next week.

Fisher: All right David thanks so much and we look forward to catching up with you then and hearing about what’s going on in Pittsburgh. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Joann Fisher Schmidt from Duchess County, New York about her discovery about her family and its losses in the General Slocum Disaster of 1904. You may have never heard about it, but it was almost as big as the Titanic, details next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 204  

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Joann Fisher Schmidt

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and this segment is brought to you by FamilySearch.org. You know, I think back sometimes on my youth and I’m sure many of you do the same, and sometimes you think about an individual that perhaps was involved in a historic event and you didn’t realize it at the time. You just go, “Wow! I wish I’d known. I wish I could have asked questions.” And every year my family would go from our home in Connecticut to New Jersey to have Thanksgiving with our cousins and my aunt and uncle. And at the dinner table were members of the family from my uncle’s wife’s side. One of them was a man named John, who was very quiet, didn’t have a lot to say. And I later learned the reason why through my cousin Joann who is on the phone with me right now. Hi Joann, how are you?

Joann: Hi Scott! This is great fun.

Fisher: Jo and I are related through our dads who were brothers and musicians together and we both lost our dads in the year 1972. But as you and I over the years bonded from afar and got into family history together, we learned a lot of things about not only my mother’s side but your mother’s side, and one of them had to do with Uncle John. Now tell us the relationship to Uncle John to your mom and how that all worked out.

Joann: Uncle John was my mother’s brother. He was always part of the family. He was always included in all of my mother’s family events. He was always at our Christmas gatherings on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve was a German celebration not Christmas day… German family celebration and their name was Muth, M-U-T-H. They were all Germans.

Fisher: So let’s fast forward a little bit now to the early 1990s and you and I by that time were interacting quite a bit on our mutual family history and you started working on your mother’s side. Your mom had passed in 1989 and now you started to find out some things about Uncle John. One thing you didn’t know was he was a half brother to your mom.

Joann: Well, I didn’t realize that until I learned about the General Slocum disaster. I somehow, after mother died and after I retired, I had time to go through old papers of my mother’s and I found a hand written letter that she had sent to me, and it said something about a family cemetery in Brooklyn. Because I had done so much research for a reunion for the Fisher family, I thought it was about time I started looking into my mother’s family history. And I contacted different cemeteries in Brooklyn, New York and there was nobody with the last name Muth. And I was talking with my brother about my mother’s family and somehow he remembered that Uncle John one time at the seashore had said to him, “Well, it’s really tough learning how to swim when you just get thrown in the water and you have to survive.”

Fisher: Wow!

Joann: I think my brother Jack told me that there had been some kind of accident on a ship. I came to go to the Merchant Marine Academy under the Throgs Neck Bridge in New York City. My husband Dave and I found a ship’s model in there of the General Slocum and it told about this horrific event of fire and how all these people died, and mentioned there was a cemetery in Middle Village which is in a section not in Brooklyn.

Fisher: No, it’s in Queens.

Joann: But of Queens, the borough of Queens.

Fisher: Right.

Joann: As children and growing up, our family never visited that cemetery. It must have been mother visited the cemetery while my grandmother was still alive perhaps. But I learned that it was a Sunday School picnic that happened once a year at this German Lutheran Church, that all the family in lower Manhattan that lived in Kleindeutschland which was the German…

Fisher: Little Germany, right, and I think the church was St. Marks.

Joann: St. Marks Church, yes. And it was in lower Manhattan and every year they had a Sunday School picnic in June. It was a great big event and they sold tickets and hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of families looked forward to this outing where they would get all dressed up and there would be a band on board and there would be food and there would be beer and they would go to a spot on Long Island. They would just go across Long Island Sound and over to a spot for the day and then they would come back again on this paddle wheeler. And they had done it for many years. So because it was on a Wednesday, my grandfather was able to attend and come with the family also because he didn’t have an office job where he had to show up at a certain time every single week day.

Fisher: Sure.

Joann: He was in real estate.

Fisher: So it was mostly women and children that were on this ship then?

Joann: There were some men, but mostly women and children yes because it was a Wednesday. And what happened was, after it left the dock it was still in the East River, somehow a spark ignited down in the boiler room or the lower level of the ship, but anyway, the packing for all the glasses for the party for all the food and plates, in those days it was called excelsior, it was like wood shavings as packing.

Fisher: Okay.

Joann: They didn’t have bubble wrap back in those days.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Joann: And that’s what kept the glasses and the plates from breaking. And a fire started. It caught very quickly. It totally engulfed the ship. The captain tried to hurry to shore to a dock but the docks were wood, so instead of going to the dock he headed for the shore. But in speeding up the boat the flames just flew to the rear of the ship, the stern, and people were just engulfed. And they tried to get the lifeboats off but they had been painted and wired shut on to the ship. It had a fresh coat of paint and it was just glued. You know how windows are when somebody doesn’t paint carefully and you can’t open and close the windows.

Fisher: Sure.

Joann: And the life jackets had been inspected but because of greed they were just paid to inspect but they didn’t really inspect and the life jackets were made of cork and the cork just crumbled…

Fisher: Oh no.

Joann: … and became water logged so when mothers put life jackets on their children and threw them overboard they sunk right to the bottom.

Fisher: Ugh! This was in 1904.

Joann: 1904.

Fisher: June of 1904.

Joann: Most women didn’t know how to swim and children didn’t know how to swim.

Fisher: Well and think about those big skirts they would wear back in the day, right?

Joann: This was Victorian times. Most of them wore black or dark and they became water soaked of course. Then, when they tried to put the fires out with the hoses, the hoses were rotted. They all broke apart. It was just so awful.

Fisher: Ugh.

Joann: So, of all the people on board, more than eleven hundred all perished.

Fisher: Yeah. Somewhere I think it was between a thousand and eleven hundred out of thirteen hundred something. And there were three hundred some odd survivors that came out of that.

Joann: Very, very few survivors.

Fisher: Including Uncle John.

Joann: Uncle John was rescued by his father because he saw him. He was in the water himself and he saw this little boy with a little red jacket with brass buttons. He had made that little red jacket for him. And he rescued him. He was two and a half, three. And he survived, my grandfather survived, and his brother Conrad survived. They were the only ones out of the party of thirteen that survived.

Fisher: The Muth family, thirteen members and only three survived. So, who did your grandfather lose in this?

Joann: My grandfather on that day lost his mother, his wife, his three daughters, his sister in law, and her daughters.

Fisher: Wow.

Joann: I just can’t even begin to imagine how anyone can deal with that kind of tragedy. You realize how hard it is to lose a parent and even worse to lose a child, but to lose all those people in your family.

Fisher: Right.

Joann: And you yourself having been there and having been unable to rescue them yourself. I just…it’s unbelievable.

Fisher: Now Joann, you said that you weren’t aware of this until after your mother passed away, how did you get the details about the clothing that John was wearing when his dad rescued him?

Joann: I was on the phone with my cousin John, Uncle John’s son, when I discovered this about the Slocum disaster. And when there was going to be a 100th anniversary event in 2004 commemorating and memorializing this event, I got in touch with him and I invited him to participate.

Fisher: So he told you about it.

Joann: Yes. I have a second cousin who is a granddaughter. She was not on the ship. She was supposed to be on the ship but she had a boyfriend and she wanted to spend the day with her boyfriend so she did not get on the ship to go with her family.

Fisher: Boy was that fortuitous.

Joann: Yes.

Fisher: So Joann, this was one of the great disasters in the history of New York. In fact, up till 9/11, this was the single greatest loss of life in one incident. And it’s kind of been forgotten to history.

Joann: In New York City.

Fisher: In New York City.

Joann: Absolutely.

Fisher: Yes. And there were two other incidents that happened not long after, one was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that killed all these workers in a building, and then the Titanic the next year. And between those two things I think the General Slocum Fire has been forgotten. Let’s talk about the aftermath of that fire, the reunions you’ve attended, some of the survivors that you’ve met, when we return in three minutes all right?

Joann: Sure.

Fisher: On Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 204  

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Joann Fisher Schmidt

Fisher: And we are back, America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. This segment is brought to you by 23AndMe.comDNA. It is Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth, and today I’m talking to my cousin, I mean, not a fifth cousin or a ninth cousin that I found through DNA, my lifelong buddy cousin, my first cousin, Joann Schmidt from Duchess County, New York. And, Joann and I kind of teamed up, starting in the ‘80s and ‘90s to research the family, and she went off on her own, of course, on her mother’s side, and discovered this horrible disaster concerning her grandfather and his first family that she knew nothing about, and it was the disaster of the General Slocum, a side wheel steam ship that was carrying a group of church goers from the Little Germany section of New York City, on a church picnic this day, in the middle of June in 1904. 1300 people on board, only 300 survived as the ship caught on fire and tried to race ashore which only fanned the flames, throwing a lot of people and heavy clothing into the water, folks who couldn’t swim. There was bad emergency equipment on board, as we talked about in the first segment. And you lost, what, 10 members of the family, your grandfather, Joann, out of 13?

Joann: Yes.

Fisher: Boy and that was the biggest loss of life in a single incident, until 9/11 in New York. That’s the record for New York.

Joann: Exactly.

Fisher: And obviously it wasn’t quite as big as the Titanic, which occurred eight years later. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire that took place in 1911, of course, that caused a lot of change in the way buildings were put together and how people worked as well.

Joann: The Slocum disaster changed the laws for safety on ships.

Fisher: And what were some of those changes?

Joann: Well, it had to do with the way the inspections were done, it had to do with the way the lifeboats were secured. It had to do with the fire hoses. It had to do with the life jackets. And not just one person inspecting and getting money for the inspection. There were definite changes as a result.

Fisher: Many.

Joann: Of course, legal actions, lawsuits against the owners of the ship and against the captain.

Fisher: Who survived, by the way, which I thought was interesting. There are pictures of the General Slocum disaster all over the place, and for days, bodies were washing up on the shore. There were many who were unidentified, and of course many who were identified and then marked in graves and of course put in that cemetery that you mentioned in Queens, New York, Joann, and you’ve been there and you’ve been part of the reunions as well. There was a centennial reunion in 2004. Did you get to ever meet some of the other survivors of the disaster?

Joann: Well, at that time, at the 100th anniversary, one living individual, a woman who was just a very small child at the time, her name was Chippy Liebenow. Her married name was Wotherspoon. And, the Chippy was a nickname for Adella. So it was, she was at that time living in Watchung, New Jersey, which was so interesting to me because my husband’s father grew up in Watchung, New Jersey. His uncle was mayor of Watchung, New Jersey. And when I met Adella, Chippy, I found out that as a child, she was great friends with my husband’s aunt, Helen. So, I visited her at her house. She had a huge scrapbook of all the Slocum events. We met on three different occasions, Chippy and I, at different luncheons, out on Long Island, but this Middle Village Cemetery where so many of the Slocum deceased are buried, there’s also a Muth family plot. And when I visited it the very first time, not only were there the names of all these people in the family that I never knew… my mother had half sisters!… there were red begonias all lined up in front of the stones, and I was so confused because I hadn’t ordered any flowers and I didn’t know why there were flowers there. I went to the office and they pulled the card and found out that my grandfather, when all his family were buried there, he not only purchased perpetual care, but he purchased perpetual care with flowers, and to that day, they were still putting flowers every summer at the grave.

Fisher: Isn’t that incredible. To think that was the result of your grandfather’s order. When did he pass away?

Joann: He passed away in 1938, the year I was born.

Fisher: [Laughs] Wow!

Joann: He passed away in January and I was born in November, so I never knew him.

Fisher: That’s amazing. And so, you show up and the flowers that he ordered are there.

Joann: Yes.

Fisher: So are there still reunions going on, Joann, for the Slocum family descendants?

Joann: No, I haven’t been aware of anything. There probably will be another one sometime or another. There’s also a memorial in a park in New York City, to this disaster, in a children’s park.

Fisher: And yet, as many people as can name the Titanic disaster, and the Triangle Factory fire, very few would know of the General Slocum disaster.

Joann: But you have to remember that Germany was not a friend of the United States through the first half of the 20th century. You know, there was World War I, there was World War II, and these also were immigrants.

Fisher: Sure.

Joann: These also were not wealthy people like the Titanic, and the Triangle Shirtwaist was so awful because they couldn’t escape through the fire escape. The doors were all locked shut. So, no, not many people knew about the Slocum disaster. Not until 9/11 when they would compare it to this other great disaster.

Fisher: Exactly. What an incredible time. Was it emotional for you to come to the Muth family cemetery within that memorial, at that time, the first you saw them?

Joann: Of course. It was not only emotional, it was almost other worldly, because I had no idea that my grandfather had been married once before. I didn’t know that my uncle had a different mother. My Nana, my grandmother, I just thought, growing up that they were husband and wife and that my mother was born and she had an older brother. I just never knew that there was another family, and then to see all of these names and to see three Muth girls’ names and their ages, and, it was emotional, yes absolutely. And then, I immediately wanted to find out more, and I went to this New York Historical Library and saw the original newspaper stories from when the event happened.

Fisher: And your family name is mentioned in there quite a bit, isn’t it?

Joann: Yeah. Just thinking about how a person can continue to go on. But my grandfather, I guess, had to go on, because he had a son and no wife, and he didn’t know how to cook, probably, or how to clean house, or how to….

Fisher: But he was probably also part of that German community, and a lot of people lost folks, so maybe they all kind of came together, right?

Joann: No, well, yes and no. The whole section of lower Manhattan became totally transformed. It was quiet, there were no children laughing and running around in the streets. My grandfather left. He left that part of New York and went up town to escape it, to get away from it.

Fisher: To start it all over again.

Joann: Yeah, and the church became a Jewish temple. Yeah, it was one of those really awful, awful tragedies.

Fisher: She’s Joann Schmidt, from Duchess County, New York.

Joann: Joann Fisher Schmidt!

Fisher: [Laughs] I’ve got to get that in there, Jo, absolutely! She’s my cousin, and I love you Jo. Thanks so much for the story. I can’t imagine why we’ve never talked about it on the show before, because, I think it is one of those incredible disasters that’s worthy of mention, that happened in the course, not only of New York history, but in the United States as a whole.

Joann: You’re absolutely right.

Fisher: Thanks so much, Jo.

Joann: Okay, Scott. This was fun.

Fisher: And coming up next, it’s Tom Perry’s Preservation Tour. Where is he doing his scanning parties this week? Where’s he going to be next week? He’ll catch you up, some great benefits for you. Keep listening. He’s up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 211

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Welcome back, its America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. This segment is brought to you by FamilySearch.org. Talking preservation with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority. Tom it’s been a while since we talked about audio.

Tom: Oh it has. We’ve had so many things with all the floods and the hurricanes and the earthquakes, how to prepare for them, how to take care of them. And we’ve totally neglected audio for weeks.

Fisher: Well, you know, audio is one of those things I think a lot of folks think it’s just irretrievable when something isn’t the way it used to be. For instance cassettes, right? You must hear about that all the time.

Tom: Oh yeah. People come in, and in our showroom, we have some tapes that are like major melted damage, all kinds of things, and people go, “Oh, you can fix those?”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: “Oh yeah, you know.” And I show them the sample of one, here some little girl put this on the top of a lamp and it melted. And it was something very important to them, the people had passed on that had made the tape, and they go, “Is there any way you can recover that?” And I go, “Yeah, sure!” Because the thing you have to understand is, a flashpoint of the case, whether its audio or video and the tape itself are a lot different. So you can have a case totally melt on you and the tape is usually still good. Sometimes we might have to go in and repair the tape, which is no big deal, but we surgically take the cassette apart, put it in a brand new shell, and 9 out of 10 times, it just plays fine.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing. But sometimes I know the tape gets caught up inside either the audio or the video cassette case. That’s usually a problem for the ordinary person.

Tom: Exactly. In fact, preventative maintenance on that is, if you find an old tape and you find an old tape recorder, don’t put that tape in that old tape recorder, because even if it sat for two or three years, there’s gunk that’s going to get caught on the pinch rollers, on the heads, all kinds of things. And what will happen, as soon as the tape touches it, it’s going to start wrapping around it instead of going back through the other place.

Fisher: Ahh!

Tom: Then you pop your cassette open and you see this tape going everyplace. If you’ve already gone too far, don’t try and take the tape out and bring it to us. Bring the whole cassette in to us, and that way we can probably recover more, because we know how to take it apart. So bring the whole thing to us if that happens. But if you have a whole bunch of tapes and you want to listen to them before, you can always have them cleaned. We can clean them. There’s probably places in your local area that does repairs. Talk to them and say, “Hey, I’ve got an old cassette machine. Can you clean the heads?” Most people can do it themselves, just not hard. And I’m sure there’s YouTube videos that show you how to do it. Just make sure that when you do it, you use a good quality isopropyl alcohol. Use ones that are at least 90%. Don’t use the dollar store types that are 50%, because you’re adding too much water in there. So go in and clean them with some good Q tips. And then you can go ahead and run it. But make sure you don’t just put it in a machine you have no idea what the history is, because it could ruin your tapes. If you can’t do that, look at your tapes and read and see which one is the least important and try that one first.

Fisher: Boy that’s a great idea! Are cassettes the most common bits of old audio you receive at your store for digitization?

Tom: Absolutely. We receive more of those than anything. But then second place is really kind of interesting. The second most one we get are what they call the wire recordings. It looks just like fish line, but it’s made out of wire. And the neat thing about it is, the wire doesn’t degrade like a tape does. And so, we have people that bring these in from the turn of the century and you’d swear the person’s standing right next to you that’s talking, because they last forever.

Fisher: How old is the oldest one you’ve had in that you’ve been able to listen to?

Tom: You know, I can’t actually put a date on them. I mean, I’ve had stuff that’s been like way, way, way old. And I would say, you know, pretty close to turn of the century type stuff. And the strange thing is, we’ve had it on display and people have come up to us at one of our scanning parties or at a family history conference we went to, and they go, “Oh, we had some of those. We thought they were old fishing line of grandpa’s, and we didn’t even know he fished!”

Fisher: Oh no! And they had thrown them out?

Tom: They had thrown them out. And those things are priceless.

Fisher: What’s the quality like on those?

Tom: Oh, it’s amazing!

Fisher: Really?

Tom: Oh, it’s better than an audio cassette.

Fisher: Yeah, I would say it had to be, right? Because it’s metal.

Tom: Exactly. And so the metal doesn’t degrade like a tape would, so it lasts forever and ever and ever. These things will be around way after have just totally flaked away.

Fisher: Well, next time you come in Tom, you’re going to have to bring one of these wire recordings as I’ve never seen one.

Tom: Yep, they’re cool. They look just like the old fish line, except they’re metal.

Fisher: And we’ll find out some of the other items you typically see that might be a little more unusual to our listeners and me, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 211

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: We are talking preservation with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, our Preservation Authority on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. It is Fisher here. And Tom, last segment we were talking about the most common audio that you get in for digitization at your store and that would be cassette tapes. And then you mentioned the second most common thing were old wire recordings, which I’ve never seen. And how amazing they are and how far back they go. What else do you get? What’s the next thing?

Tom: Okay, number three isn’t a big surprise, but its vinyl records. And when I say vinyl, I’m throwing everything into that batch, because it’s not just vinyl. We have the old steel records, the aluminum ones. We have all kinds of things. In fact, I even remember back when my oldest brother was getting ready to go to boot camp during the Vietnam era, there was a little, almost  like a phone booth that you go in, you drop a quarter in, you talk to it and a record pops out.

Fisher: Sweet! And then you drop it in the mail. They have a container for you.

Tom: Exactly. We have people that were over in the service wherever around the world, and they would send them to their family, their family would send them to them, and thank heavens they preserved them. And so, we have a lot of people that bring those in. We even have people bring in the old cereal boxes back. And I think it was during the ’60s.

Fisher: Yes, yes! I remember those!

Tom: They’d have like little Christmas songs on the back whatever, and you’d cut them out, put them on your turntable. And all they were, were, you know, kind of a varnish type stuff on the back of the cardboard, so they didn’t last long, they cracked easy, and so they weren’t the best in the world. And an interesting thing about that is, I’ve always told people, “Don’t throw them away if they’re broken or chipped, because one day they’ll come out with it because they have the technology of a record player that’s a laser!”

Fisher: Um hmm.

Tom: And lo and behold, about a year ago, they actually came out with one. The only problem is, it’s for really high end people, because it’s like fifteen grand for the machine.

Fisher: Oohh!

Tom: And there’s no way we can justify it. So hopefully one day, just like anything that’s new, in a few years, the price will come down, because I would love to have one of these, because every once in a while, we get warped records in or records that are severely scratched or broken. But I’ve always told people, “Don’t throw them away, because one day the technology will be here.” It is here now. We just need to wait for the price point to drop or get a winning lottery ticket.

Fisher: [Laughs] So when you come across an old record, an old piece of vinyl, obviously a personal recording, not a problem for you to copy. But when it comes to commercial recording, that’s a problem, back to certain date I would assume. What date do you go by?

Tom: We don’t actually go by date. There’s a law that’s called The Fair Use Act, and it will allow you to take one media and change it to a different form of media, which is called a Convenience Factor. So if you have an old album, an old Christmas album or something like that that you’d like to get transferred to CD, we can do that, but the law requires you, you cannot sell that CD, you can’t give that CD away, you can’t give the record away. Legally, you’re supposed to keep the record and the CD together at all times. It’s more like they’re allowed… it’s a convenience factor. “I don’t want to get out my turntable. I want to listen to a CD.” So that’s fine, as long as you keep the things together. But if you try to copy it or do anything like that, then you’re going to run into copyright violations.

Fisher: All right. That was number three. We’re running out of time. What’s number four?

Tom: Number four is really strange. It’s called “wax cylinders.” It’s called the Edison wax cylinders.

Fisher: Oh wow! We’re talking way back now.

Tom: Oh yeah! Oh way, way, way, way back.

Fisher: Were they voice recordings or the commercial ones or do you get them both?

Tom: Yes! We get them all.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: They’re really interesting. The biggest reason we don’t get more of those is, because since they are wax, if you don’t take good care of them, they’ll melt, they’ll get abrased. They won’t work right. But even if those are cracked, we can usually fill them in with a polymer and still transfer them. So that’s always an option. And then the weirdest one I would say is, you cannot believe the number of eight track tapes we get in.

Fisher: Really?

Tom: And we do eight track tapes actually both directions. We have people that have like a ’69 collector Mustang that want to have new music on their eight track, so we make them an eight track out of current music and that blows the minds of the people of the car shows.

Fisher: [Laughs] That’s great stuff. Thanks so much Tom. We’ll talk to you next week.

Tom: My pleasure.

Fisher: Hey that’s a wrap for our show this week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we’re a nice, normal family!


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