Episode 227 - Woman Shares Joy Over Find Of Ancestral Civil War Letters

podcast episode Mar 04, 2018

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys talk about their first experiences with their genealogy “trading cards.”  Then, they kick around two February holidays, including their interactions with US presidents and the growing problem of flowers stolen from cemeteries for Valentines Day! Next, it’s another self written obituary that has drawn the attention of the world. Hear what the recently deceased has written. He clearly won’t soon be forgotten! And then, it’s a DNA test for the ages… literally… as it is found that two mummies are related!

In the next two segments, Fisher visits with Massachusetts resident Ellen Alden, who went in search of an early photo of herself for her daughter’s school project. But while up in the attic, she discovered something she had never seen before… 19 Civil War era letters from her Irish immigrant ancestor. Hear some of what they said, and how the find has changed her life.

Then, Preservation Authority Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com answers more listener questions. As always, you’ll want to pay attention to Tom’s vast knowledge.

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

Transcript of Episode 227 

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 227

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 segment is brought to you by LegacyTree.com/Genealogists. You know, it’s just a couple of weeks ago I think it was that we talked about this woman in Massachusetts who went up into her attic on an assignment. It was her kid’s homework assignment. She had to find an old picture of herself and in the process discovered a whole bunch of letters from her Civil War ancestor. She had no idea they were there. We’re going to talk to her about that experience today, what she has done with those, and some of the spin-off stories that have resulted from her incredible discovery. Ellen Alden is going to be on the show in about 10 minutes or so, and she has some amazing stuff to share. Hey, just a reminder if you haven’t done it yet. Get signed up for our free “Weekly Genie” newsletter, just go to ExtremeGenes.com. You’ll find the sign up right there at the top right of the page, and we’d love to have you following us. We’ll give you a free blog each week, a couple of links to some great shows from the past and links to stories that are going to fascinate you as a genealogist. And of course, we want to give a shout out to our Patrons Club, those people who help support the show. You can go to Patreon.com/Extreme Genes or click on the Patron Club link at ExtremeGenes.com. Right now, let’s head out to Boston and talk to my buddy David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How are you David?

David: I’m doing great. It’s been a busy week but I’m surviving. Hey, I want to ask you, have you made your ancestry DNA trading card yet?

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes, I saw that. That is really a fun idea.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: You and I are both big baseball collectors and baseball fans and of course, having had those trading cards as kids, actually have a genealogical trading card is a pretty fun thing.

David: Well, what I say is what’s in your DNA wallet? Now you can pull it out and tell me. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Exactly. All right, let’s get going with our Family Histoire News today. What do we have?

David: Well, you know, I do a lot on Twitter @DLGenealogist and I toss up really interesting questions on my ancestor challenge 2018, so I ask people, “What president have you met?”

Fisher: What president have I met? I’ve met actually four of them. The first time I actually got in a group picture with Gerald Ford and Bob Hope.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: And they were playing in a charity golf tournament and I was up there. My wife was the photographer. And one of the golf teams that was part of this fundraiser was short a guy, so I popped in the picture [laughs] and later got them both to sign those pictures so that was very fun. I’ve met Bill Clinton. I met George W. Bush. I met his dad and I saw Reagan who actually waved to me along a rock wall once as he was driving past after giving a speech. So, I’ve met four and I’ve seen five.

David: Well, there you go. I’ve seen two. I was in the Kennedy Center when I was a kid when I saw Jimmy Carter and his mother, a surprise appearance for a play, watched them more than the play.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: And then I also got to see Ronald Reagan give a speech in the early years for George Bush and I got the Secret Service Agent to give me the sign off the podium afterwards and I kept it as a souvenir.

Fisher: Very nice, very nice.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: Very nice. So, that’s it, as you celebrate Presidents Day you think about things like that, so, hopefully you had a good one.

David: I did. I did. But listen, one holiday that just passed us of course is Valentine’s Day and a really disturbing story from Orlando, Florida about people stealing flowers off the graves and giving them to their spouse, not the one that’s in the cemetery.

Fisher: Is that unusual, really? I mean, I know that this guy in Florida tweeted about this thing, giving warnings to guys that you know, you’re giving bad karma to your lady by giving her flowers stolen from a cemetery for Valentine’s Day. But that goes on year round everywhere, doesn’t it?

David: It really does and it’s not so much their giving it to the living, sometimes people are stealing shrubs and flowers and putting them on their own lot because they’re too cheap to buy them.  I think it’s disturbing. I’m on a Board of Directors for a local cemetery in my town and this doesn’t happen as often, but it does occasionally occur.

Fisher: That’s just crazy.

David: Well, my next story kind of ties into cemeteries, well, at least the announcement that one will be placed in one Terry Ward in De Motte, Indiana who recently died, wrote his own obituary. Now, that’s not uncommon, but to the comic tone of this I think you’ll enjoy. “Terry Ward aged 71, died January 23rd, 2018, leaving behind 32 jars of Miracle Whip, 17 boxes of hamburger helper and a multitudes of other random items that will prove helpful in the event of a ‘zombie apocalypse.’”

Fisher: [Laughs] He’s gotten a lot of attention for that and he should. And what a great way to be remembered, right, by his descendants?

David: I think that all of us should write comical to let them laugh in a 100 years when they find the obituary for genealogical purposes.

Fisher: Yes!

David: Well, you just never know who your daddy is, and sometimes, well, a mummy now knows that their mummies are the same.

Fisher: What?

David: Yeah! Two mummies in the University of Manchester, England, they did the DNA of the mummies to find out that they’re actually brothers of the same mother but of a different dad.

Fisher: Really?

David: Yeah, I think it’s fascinating that we can look back now and look at our ancient Egyptians and do DNA and find out these connections. I think they did the same thing with Tutankhamun not long ago.

Fisher: Right.

David: So, what I really want is to find a living descendant that says, “Wait, a minute, that mummy is my mummy.” [Laughs]

Fisher: Ooh, that’s true. Yeah, the question is, do they belong to a DNA circle?

David: That’s true! That’s true. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, every week I like to give a blogger spotlight. This one I want to call out to Jeanie Roberts who does a blog simply called JeaniesGenealogy.com. That’s J-E-A-N-I-E-S Genealogy.com. It basically says, the questions you may not want to ask, but this one you always wanted to know about colonial life. Did they actually bathe?

Fisher: Oh, yeah.

David: So, it’s an interesting story to get a good laugh and get a little information. By the way, if you’re not a member of NEHGS and you’re ever considering it because you’re listening to me ramble on for so long, go to AmericanAncestors.org and for your checkout use the coupon code “Extreme.” You don’t have to tell them that Dave Lambert sent you, but it will save you $20 on membership.

Fisher: [Laughs] Very nice David. All right, thanks so much. Have a great day in Beantown and we’ll talk to you again next week.

David: Talk to you later my friend.

Fisher: All right, and coming up next, she’s a lady who went up to the attic to find an old photo of herself and found something even more incredible. You’ve got to hear how it’s changed the life of Ellen Alden in Massachusetts. She’ll explain coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 227

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ellen Alden

Fisher: It wasn’t that long ago that David Allen Lambert the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and I were talking about this next guest and her amazing find at her home in Andover, Massachusetts. Hi, it’s Fisher. We’re back, it’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. This segment is brought to you by MyHeritage.com. And Ellen Alden, you were just having kind of a normal day. I bet you had no idea Ellen that your life was going to be changed by your daughter’s homework assignment.

Ellen: [Laughs] No I didn’t, especially since she was in first grade. I never knew that this would be something that we’d have to be doing at this moment, but yeah, it certainly did. And you know, my daughter came home and said that there were doing a little project on families and she said, “I need a photo of you when you were a baby.” And I was thinking that’s really something that your parents would have, I don’t know if I have a picture of myself when I was a baby. So I gave my mother a call and I thought, this could be tricky because they moved out of New England and they moved all the way to Hawaii. So, I thought boy, if she had to send something it could take a while.

Fisher: Yeah right.

Ellen: But luckily she said, “Well, remember when we moved out we didn’t have room for all our things and so we decided to leave them in your attic.”

Fisher: Hey.

Ellen: We left fifteen boxes of stuff which I never went through, that was thirteen years prior and so I had never gone through any of the boxes. But my mother said that our family albums were up there. So, Jillian and I, my daughter, trudged upstairs and went through the dusty boxes, and I found what I needed, I found a picture of myself. And then, I was going through one of the last boxes and you know, little lights coming through the attic and you know its dusty and I see this old leather box but it’s tiny, very small peculiar looking box. And I don’t know what really made me decide to take it out, but I did and brought it downstairs and it’s so dusty. I dusted the whole thing off.

Fisher: You didn’t even look at it in the attic. You just took it downstairs.

Ellen: I couldn’t even see it. And really, I didn’t know if I was even that interested in it. I was just like, “Well, this is out of the ordinary that’s for sure.” And there was oh, someone’s name engraved on the top but I couldn’t read it because it was so dark and in was in this penmanship that I had never seen before. So anyway, brought it downstairs and opened it up and the first thing I saw were that there were two tin type photos, and those are the old fashioned but they were in great condition because they were so hard you know and very sturdy.

Fisher: Yeah.

Ellen: And it looked like a man in his thirties was wearing a Union Army uniform.

Fisher: Oh, okay. We’re back in the 1860s here with this one.

Ellen: Yes! With that picture, and then there was another picture where, a photo where there were these three very skinny young men, looks like they were lining up for a photo, and I didn’t know anything about them either. So, I opened the first letter though, there was nineteen stack letters, it said, “To my dearest Ellen” and I said to myself, “What the heck? Who’s this? That’s my name.”

Fisher: That’s your name, yeah.

Ellen: So, I just needed to know more. So I called my parents once again and said I found this old box and wasn’t sure who these people are, but have you ever seen it and how come you never told us there was this cool box? And they said, my father said, “Of course, that’s your great, great grandfather, Florence Burke. He’s an immigrant from County Cork in Ireland.” And I said, “What? Oh my goodness. And his wife’s name was Ellen?”

Fisher: You didn’t know anything about this? Your parents never taught you some of your heritage concerning these people? 

Ellen: Not really. You know I mean, I have red hair so of course they’re like, “Oh you’re Irish” You know, those stereotypical things like that over the years. I had heard County Cork too but nothing really made me want to talk about it.

Fisher: Connect with you, right.

Ellen: Right. And I’d asked my father about that too. I said how come he didn’t show us these letters? He said, “You know, I was more concerned about keeping that box safe and it in the dark and well protected. So, I guess over the years I just kind of forgot about it.”

Fisher: So, this was the same day you got the picture of yourself for your daughter’s project, now you have the letters, where does it go from there? Did you start reading through all of them, or did you just take one at a time, one a day a day, what did you do?

Ellen: I waited for a rainy day actually because I wanted to really feel, to delve in at a certain period of time. And I had my three children at home and I was a teacher, so I didn’t have time to do it right away but when I did, oh my goodness, I read one which made me read through another which may have led to another. They weren’t in perfect order and they’re from January of 1864 and I discovered that my great, great grandfather was in Virginia writing back to his wife and children. They had two sons and a little baby. So yeah, it was just so compelling. I couldn’t understand when I was reading it, why he was there. Because I knew my parents had said he was an immigrant so he was not fighting for his own country.

Fisher: No.

Ellen: And then he clearly loves his wife and his children, and that they were having some hard times back in West Springfield, Massachusetts where they had immigrated.

Fisher: When did he come to America? What year?

Ellen: Oh, he came over in the year 1848.

Fisher: Okay.

Ellen: And he came over because he was fleeing the famine, but guess what? He was only nineteen years old and he came with his seventeen year old brother. That was an original picture. I actually have a photo from the immigration station in New York in Staten Island. So, that’s pretty amazing.

Fisher: Wow! That is amazing. [Laughs]

Ellen: And he looked so skinny, and they’re in ragged clothes, and he was very lucky to have fled and survived the trip over on the famine ships and on the immigration ships.

Fisher: So, had he naturalized by the time he was in the service?

Ellen: No, he still wasn’t a citizen, no he wasn’t. I think maybe it was because he wasn’t a land owner. I’m not exactly sure that, but my parents did know and had heard, my father had heard through his family line that he didn’t go and enlist just to enlist. He didn’t get drafted. He actually went in place of another person. He went as a substitute for a wealthy man.

Fisher: Yeah, the substitutes. Three hundred bucks usually is the number on that.

Ellen: You’ve got it. Three hundred dollars computation fee, and he used that money because this man who he went for and saved his life, he took that three hundred dollars right away to pay for a very small portion of land so that they could be land owners and they could gain citizenship and education.

Fisher: Wow! What an amazing story. So you had nineteen letters, what time period did this cover, the earliest to the latest.

Ellen: The time period of the letters is just January of 1864 to June of 1864.

Fisher: Okay. So, he was in for six months before they ended.

Ellen: Right.

Fisher: And what happened to him? So what was the story, what battles was he in?

Ellen: Well, the letters start from where he actually trained right in Boston, which was pretty cool. And then he got the boat going down to Virginia by boat. And then there was winter retreat for a little while, that was good because he didn’t have to do any fighting then, but then in March everything restarted up again. And you know, I can tell from the letters that in 1864 he thought that this is the tail end of the war so that’s why I think he thought that would be a good idea to get this exchange and go down there and catch the tail end and then come back, and live out the rest of his life on his new farm. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at all and as we know, Lincoln had just made Grant the commander in March so things didn’t wind down they actually escalated. And he fought some of the worst battles, which was the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, there were about three or four... it wasn’t like it was in Gettysburg, this is after, this is 1864.

Fisher: Sure.

Ellen: And then the last battle which lasted like a year and something is where he died and that is the Battle of Petersburg.

Fisher: Wow. And has this caused you and your family to study some more of the Civil War than perhaps you have in the past?

Ellen: Oh my goodness yes. Well, I mean I thought in the fifth grade, but it was really the North and the South, and Grant, and Lee, and the different battles, but boy, to have someone who is a family member experience this first hand and by the way, ends up a private on the frontline, was just amazing to me. So, of course I went to the different places in Virginia where he had been and I found like the Massachusetts vital statistics, you write to them they will give you... they gave me a whole book on 37th Regiment that he was in, and I found the enlistment papers and of course the papers of his land worth, pension, all that kind of stuff, you can get just by sending $10 in. 

Fisher: Boy, look what you’ve done though. I mean, that’s the thing, you find something like this, you connect to it, and then you start basically pulling in the tail to see when you get the rest of the tiger in. And you’ve got all of his papers, that’s fantastic.

Ellen: But I still wanted to know how on earth, you know, how it all got started. And that’s why I knew I had to have a research trip to Ireland to see how the decision was made and how’d he come without his parents, and did they make it over too, and where they ever together. But I found out, this is why I wrote historical fiction, I wrote a story based on the letters and their whole experience. And that was because there was such a great love story going on. He actually left when he was nineteen with his brother to go find the love of his life Ellen, [laughs] because she left a year earlier with her family. And they settled in West Springfield and he wanted to find her and marry her and that’s exactly what he did.

Fisher: And that’s the true part of the story? She actually knew him back there and he followed her here?

Ellen: Yes. She knew him back there. They were in the same town.

Fisher: Wow! What an incredible thing for you. So this took place when? When did you actually find the letters?

Ellen: I found the letters four and a half years ago.

Fisher: Okay. And then you did all this research but it really exploded here fairly recently and you shared these letters with some local archives?

Ellen: Right. That’s when we really found out with the Boston Globe, and the Irish Times, and the Daily Mail, you know picking up the story and I think it’s because it is so unusual that someone will find the window into their past, these amazing Civil War letters, and not only is it amazing to get an archive of nineteen of them together, a collection of nineteen, but to have nineteen from an Irish immigrant, I guess that’s very rare.

Fisher: Right. It is. 

Ellen: And so that’s why Boston College was more than happy to take them and I feel like they’re going to be in a good place. The only reason I’m donating them also is that I have been taking the letters around with me all over the place in talks, author talks, around New England, outside of New England, Midwest, and Ireland, and they are beginning to fade a bit even though I have them in their archive paper and acid free things, I can’t do it the way that Boston College could do it.

Fisher: We’re going to take a break though Ellen. We’re going to come back, I want to continue this conversation because it’s absolutely fascinating and exciting what you’ve done, and what you’re still doing as a result of this life changing discovery in her archive in her attic. We’ll talk more with Ellen Alden of Andover, Massachusetts coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 227

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ellen Alden

Fisher: We are back! It is Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and this segment is brought to you by 23andMe.com/DNA. And continuing our conversation with Ellen Alden, she’s a former school teacher from Andover, Massachusetts and she’s made a lot of noise lately because a while back she discovered in her attic some letters. 19 letters from her Irish immigrant ancestor who fought in the Civil War, was killed in the Civil War and contributing those to a local archive she’s wound up making a lot of news worldwide and it’s kind of changed your life, Ellen.

Ellen: It really has. Even writing the book based on the letters changed my life. I mean, actually just finding the letters changed my life because I was going in a certain course and I was very busy and all of a sudden I was just so inspired and got a little obsessive, I just needed to know how this whole deal went down with them and how their life ended up here in America and joining the American Civil War. It was incredible and the thing is, I was also wondering how am I going to take these letters and get my children into learning about their first generation Irish immigrant and the struggles that they had?

Fisher: Right. Well, you mentioned at the time that you found this, that your first grader was just doing a little project. Now it’s been four and a half years later and she’s what, fifth grade?

Ellen: She’s in sixth.

Fisher: Sixth grade, okay. How has she responded to this? Is this a cool thing to her or is this just some interesting thing that happened but it doesn’t much matter.

Ellen: Well, it was really fun to see her through this whole process and how I would read the portions of the letter and she knew that there were two older boys and a much younger daughter. And she said, “Mom, I have two older brothers and I’m the younger daughter so this is kind of like our family and your name is Ellen.” And her name was Ellen, so it’s been pretty cool.

Fisher: There’s a connection.

Ellen: There’s a connection. And then seeing her in Ireland during our research trips and we just went back for our promotional tour in September and seeing her take in the culture. And one of the presentations that I gave was actually in a pub on culture night in Ireland.

Fisher: [Laughs] How fun!

Ellen: And what a fantastic night. She couldn’t believe that children were allowed in a pub you know after eight o clock at night because you know it was in a small little town and the whole families show up.

Fisher: Sure.

Ellen: So it was really incredible for her to see how wonderful this culture is and how friendly they are, and how family orientated it is, and how beautiful and green, and everything that I would describe in the book to her when I would read her a little passage. She would say, “Oh my goodness the clothes are just like you described then and the beaches are beautiful, the people are so friendly, and the roads are so narrow.”

Fisher: Wow! Isn’t that something? Look at how you’ve taken this and exploded this. By the way, we’ve got to get you to do a DNA test. Have you done one yet?

Ellen: Well, I just got one for Christmas.

Fisher: Oh good.

Ellen: But I haven’t done it yet and I got my parents one too.

Fisher: Well here’s the thing, my wife’s ancestors, her mother is a Burke and they’re from County Cork. [Laughs]

Ellen: Ah! You think we’re related?

Fisher: Who knows?! That’s why we’ve got to do the DNA thing. So that’s kind of crazy. So, I would like to hear some of the quotes from your letters. You’ve got 19 letters, many from the battlefields ad obviously some of them have probably touched your heart as you heard this man express not only his love for his family but just measure his emotions as he goes through the battles and the course of the war that ultimately took his life. Share with us some of those things.

Ellen: Sure. Well, you know it was interesting when I found them because they weren’t in order. So I had to put them in order and I was sort of reading them at first because I wasn’t really processing what I was reading and I wasn’t really looking at dates. I was just looking at the words and then when I put them in order you could really see the evolution, the progress that he was making as he was getting closer and closer to the front lines and the battles, and all the casualties that were piling up. The tone completely changed from a confident man into someone who was really anxious and worried about his life, but, one of my favorite things, kind of like in March when they were little into a winter retreat he was still doing a lot of marching. This is March 4th, 1864, “My dear wife and children, in earnest I have commenced the life of a soldier. The day after I sent my last letter, we were ordered to pack for a march and a march we had for certain. We left camp about eight o clock Saturday morning and fully equipped with forty rounds of cartridge, haversacks filled with hard tack, pork, sugar, and coffee, canteen of water, and a knapsack stuffed with clothing, a load for a horse. We were forced to march quick time, 18 miles to a place called James City, where we bivouacked at night on an open lot. On my arrival to camp I found a letter containing your well known features.” He received a photo from them and that of the children. “Mingled tears of joy and sadness welded my eyes.” And you know it was just wonderful that he was so happy.

Fisher: Wow!

Ellen: To get back after that horrendous 18 mile march and find that his family had sent him a photo of them all together.

Fisher: Unbelievable. Do you have that picture?

Ellen: No. You know what he sent it back to her because I think he knew that he was in really bad fighting. And so I think he wanted her to have the picture of the three children and so I don’t know what happened to it.

Fisher: Sure.

Ellen: But the things that were kept were all the letters and also, a couple of her letters that happened to be on his person that when he died they took off what they call a haversack and that’s where the three letters from his wife were.

Fisher: And those were among the 19, the three letters from her?

Ellen: No. There’s 19 of his and then three of hers. But the reason I didn’t really include them is that they were damaged and ripped, and I couldn’t read them very well but I do have some excerpts from them. It didn’t sound like she was nearly as educated as he was because the writing was really hard to read but still, she obviously loved him.

Fisher: Yes. What an amazing time in our history. You got another quote for us?

Ellen: Sure. So, this is when you can tell that he is regretting going in place of another man for even the money and even the lend. He wasn’t sure if it was the best idea. It was March 13th, 1864, “My dear wife, I just received yours at the 19th last night and was glad to hear from you as I always am. But as I enjoy tip top health, you must not fret a bit about me nor blame anyone but myself for my being here away from you, for no one enticed me to enlist nor should I have enlisted but to avoid the draft which I felt sure would take place and gobble me up and I’d be compelled to go from home and get no pay for it. But as I now see the draft is not likely to take place, I’m sorry that I was in such a hurry, for I might be home with you. But now, it’s too late to cry for spilled milk and we must both keep up good courage and all yet be well.”

Fisher: What an amazing thing. Obviously trying to give it the stiff upper lip to make sure that she wasn’t in too deep a depression over this thing, and it just ended so poorly. Oh my goodness, what a story.

Ellen: Right. Yeah, do you want me to read this last one? This is like one of his last letters.

Fisher: Yes! Yes, go ahead.

Ellen: This is June 1864, “I am in no spirits to go into battle without hearing from you and the children for so long. I hope dear wife that you may try to take good care of yourself and the children. And may the good God watch over you and them. And if I am doomed to fall in the fields of battle and we are destined to never meet again on earth may we be so prepared that we may meet in heaven.”

Fisher: Oh that’s beautiful. Wow. You know it’s interesting because my wife’s Burke ancestor was killed in the Civil War too, in battle in 1864.

Ellen: Where did he leave from?

Fisher: He was from Indiana, though, different place all together.

Ellen: Ah, okay.

Fisher: But it would be interesting to see if they come from the same source back in Ireland at some point, you know?

Ellen: Right.

Fisher: But that’s where the DNA stuff comes in. Ellen, this has been an absolutely fascinating conversation and I sure appreciate your time with us and congratulate you not only on the discovery of the letters but all of the things that has spun off of it and have enriched your life and your kids. This is really what it’s all about. And last week, David Allen Lambert and I were talking about this discovery of yours and how we really ought to encourage people to do similarly, with a little hashtag called “#ArchiveInTheAttic” and let people go up and look and see what they can find and share it with everybody, as you have done which is fantastic.

Ellen: I mean, you never know what you’re going to find up there.

Fisher: [Laughs] Very clearly. Well, thanks so much. Good luck in the future. I hope your book sells a gazillion copies. What’s the name of it, by the way? Where can people get it?

Ellen:  Okay, it’s, “Yours Faithfully, Florence Burke.” Because that’s how he signed the letters and it’s available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Goodreads.com, iBooks, everything digitally. You can just get it online. 

Fisher: That’s awesome. Great chatting with you, thanks for joining me.

Ellen: Oh thank you very much.

Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry talks preservation on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show, in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 227

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: It’s time to talk preservation on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and this segment is brought to you by FamilySearch.org. Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority is in the house from TMCPlace.com. Hi Tom, how are you?

Tom: Super duper!  Excited for RootsTech!

Fisher: Yes! It’s coming right up. And we do have another great email question, this from Mary Lee Call. And she said, "Thanks for all the great advice you give on Extreme Genes. I began at the first podcast and I'm now at 197." Just listen on the radio Mary Lee. Just keep up with us each week. Anyway, she said, "I have films that my grandfather shot in the 1940s. They were digitized to VHS format over fifteen years ago." So we're talking, back at the turn on the century.

Tom: Yep, yep.

Fisher: And she said, "I have converted them to MP4s using VLC Media Player." She said, "Could you tell me if I should have the films re digitized hoping for better quality or will it not make much difference?"

Tom: Absolutely. I could equate this, walking from Los Angeles to New York versus flying.

Fisher: Yeah.

Tom: Absolutely. Go for it. You will not believe the difference. In fact, we have people that we did film for, like yourself that we did like ten years ago and it looked great, it looked really awesome. That's when we used to have a candle, you know, for lights.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: And we did them and they looked great. However, now when we scan them digitally, we don't just digitally transfer them, we actually scan them frame by frame. The colors are so much better. They're so much better in focus, it’s incredible the difference. So when you do this, you will be absolutely blown away no matter how old your films are, no matter how much the color shift, even if they're black and white, you will not believe the difference.

Fisher: Well, when you consider she didn't have them done frame by frame in a jpeg.

Tom: Oh absolutely.

Fisher: Let's start with that, right?

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: And that's going to make all the difference in the world right there. And then you have the computer processing that brings them into better focus. And you also get the full width of the screen now, don't you, which you wouldn't have had back then?

Tom: Absolutely. Because you need to realize that back in the day, they had the little 3x4 televisions, so when they transferred your film, they just made it 3x4, because that's all you could watch it on. You didn't own a movie theatre. But your films, 8s and super8s are wider especially the super8s are actually a wider film, more like the theaters. So we can scan them edge to edge or we can scan them over scan where it actually shows the holes in case you want to do your own editing. So many new options that we can do because of that and like you say the colors are better, they're so much clearer. And we have a lot of people that say, "Well, my stuff's black and white, it doesn't matter." And we say, "Look, we'll do it for you. If you don't like it, you don't owe us anything." And they go, "Oh, okay, can't pass that up!"

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: And they come in and say, "Do you take MasterCard or American Express?"

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Tom: Because I mean, it’s amazing! And like you mentioned, the jpegs, since she has the film, she knows what the content is, so if there's any special frames in there that are really, really special of maybe grandma and grandpa that don't exist anyplace else. If you have us do jpegs for you as well, you'll be able to make incredible photo prints from them. And it’s a little, teeny negative, but since we scan it, you can make beautiful 5x7, 8x10s like the one you have on your desk.

Fisher: Yeah, it’s really fun. There's a ten second clip and I've talked about this before and what is it, 24 frames per second?

Tom: Generally. Correct.

Fisher: So in that ten seconds, I had 240 frames to pick of my family, me as a baby, about a year and a half old with my dad, my brother who passed away when I was eight and my grandfather, who passed away only about nine months after this was shot. So here are the four Fisher guys sitting there at the picnic table. And there's one frame out of those 240 where we were all looking up at the camera at that same moment. If you go before or just after it, one of us is looking down and one of us is looking up and then it’s the other way around. But from that, I was able to make a 5x7 of the group of us that I absolutely treasure. And it’s up in my office in the house, and I've had it there for years and I love looking at it.

Tom: You know, I spent kindergarten and first grade hanging out at my grandparents' house after school, because my mother worked. And I had no photos of us together. And then when I transferred my dad's old film, I found some pictures of us standing in from of a rosebush, just like we were being shot straight with a photograph, but it was film. And so I decided the same thing, I did a frame grab. And that picture's worth more to me than anything.

Fisher: Isn’t' that incredible! All right, we'll take another question coming up when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 227

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: All right, we're back. It’s our final segment of Extreme Genes for this week, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Tom Perry is in the house from TMCPlace.com. He is our Preservation Authority. Tom, this is a real quick one from Jenny. And she said, "Tom, what is the cost of converting a VHS tape to digital file and how long is the turnaround?" As short as that question is, there's a lot of ramifications to that, right?

Tom: Oh yeah. We could fill a whole page on Wikipedia just on this one question. First thing you want to do is, check with the local people that do transfers there and find out what their offerings are, because there's so many different ways you can do this. It’s like asking somebody, "What do you want for dinner?"

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: Well, there's a ton of different things. There’s a ton of different options here. With VHS tapes, I always recommend a digital transfer, a real time digital transfer, which means you're not using the computer. You have a tape player that's playing in real time. You have a DVD that's burning real time instead of going through a computer. Most computers aren't built to take analogue information and convert it to digital. A computer is designed to deal with digital information, whether you're editing it, whether you're transferring it, whether you're copying it, you know, Photoshop color correcting and all these kinds of things. So if you skip the step from analogue to digital and going straight to a computer, often you get lag times. You ever see that little psychedelic ball pop up there and spin or a little click that turns.

Fisher: Right, right, right.

Tom: And so that's basically saying, "Hey, pause for just a second. I need to get caught up here." And so, when you're dealing with something like video, just a couple of seconds can make glitches and make all kinds of problems happen, especially if you have an older tape that's been played so many times, like the kids watch it over and over and over again because its mom and dad's wedding forty years ago, so it really gets worn out. And then it even has a harder problem stabilizing it. So what we do and a lot of other people out there, they have a special device that can actually enhance the signal before it ever gets into the machine, which is our DVD burner that turns into a digital image. So we can kind of stabilize that so you don't get the lines going through it. But if you go straight to your computer, your computer's going to say, "Hey, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do here."

Fisher: So you want to do it in real time, both in the way it’s played and the way it’s recorded. What else?

Tom: Okay, so once you have this as a digital file, now it’s perfect for your computer to manipulate. So as you have it on a digital file, which can be an MP4, you can do it as what we call a TS file, which is basically a playable DVD, you can do it as AVIs, you can do it as MOVs and then that's where Wondershare comes in, because Wondershare will let you now take this digital format that you have and turn it into anything you want. You can make a file for you iPhone, you can make a file for your Android, for your tablet, for whatever you want or you can go in with Photoshop or DaVinci and go in and do color correction of these kinds of things. So it makes so many options for you to do. So you need to see what your end desire is, what you want to end up with this, and then that will tell you how to do everything in between. But always, I highly, highly, highly recommend you go from a machine that does it real time from your tape to a disk and then that disk, you can turn it into anything you want.

Fisher: Yes and I did this with a video of Muhammad Ali giving a hug to my kids back in the '90s and it was kind of a dark room. But because of Wondershare, I was able to actually brighten the digitized video and make it much better. Then I shared it of course on YouTube in a way that my family can access it now.

Tom: That's exactly why you want to keep your transfers as clean as possible. If you do too many enhancements on the front end, it kind of limits what you can do on the other end. So you want to keep it as clean as possible and then do, you know, DaVinci or any of these kinds of programs. And then you can make frame grabs from it, you can use a Shotbox and get frame grabs. They can just do incredible things.

Fisher: All right, Tom, as always, great advice and we'll see you again next week.

Tom: My pleasure.

Fisher: Hey, I get the idea this guy actually knows what he's talking about! Thank so much, Tom Perry. And thanks of course to our guests and all the experts and of course to you for being part of Extreme Genes every week, no matter where you listen, no matter how you listen. And by the way, if you haven't signed up yet, we've got a free Weekly Genie newsletter. I do a blog in there every week and share an old show with you and a new show and of course links to interesting stories relating to family history and research that you might enjoy as well. And don't forget to sign up for our Patron's Club. This is where you can support the show for as little as the cost of a Mc Donald's breakfast and you get all kinds of bonuses and benefits. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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

Email me new episodes