Episode 230 - State “Archive In The Attic” Project Nets World War I Family History GoldApr 01, 2018
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fisher, who is struggling with a lung infection, is told by David that if the situation gets real bad, there is a place in the world that he should not go to. That’s because it is illegal to die there! Hear where that place is and why the law exists. Next, a New York Times story explains how it was determined at what point in time, Americans stopped marrying their cousins. David shares some of the story and why it happens. Then, it’s another halted project in Rome, Italy due to an incredible subterranean discovery. David then pivots to another story of the discovery of a World War II battleship, the second announced this month. Hear which one it was, who found it, and its significance. And final, DNA is being extracted from ancient human remains. Harvard is at it again. Could one or more of these people be your ancestor? (It’s more possible than you think!) David’s blogger spotlight then shines on DNA expert Blaine Bettinger. Blaine is a figure in the DNA field that everyone wants to hear from. See what he’s got to say at thegeneticgenealogist.com.
In the next two segments, Fisher mines some incredible World War I stories obtained by Christine Pittsley, a World War I Project Coordinator for the Connecticut State Library. Christine explains how the state went about obtaining this material from people’s homes as we recognize the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War To End All Wars.”
Then, Tom Perry is back to answer more of your preservation questions. Hear what about one woman’s recent find of old war photos, and her concerns for preserving them.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 230
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 230
Fisher: I’ve got to tell you it’s one of the stranger things. I got some messages on Facebook from people saying they were singing along in the shower to the theme of Extreme Genes. And somebody else said, “Yeah, me too.” It’s like, “Really?” I’m glad to know it’s catchy. Hey, It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show 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 segment of the show is brought to you by FamilySearch.org. First of all, before we go anywhere we want to welcome a new radio station to our long list of radio affiliates across the nation. KATO 1230 AM in Safford, Arizona. We’re proud to be part of Reid Richen’s outstanding weekend line up and we know there are going to be some great family history stories to be found in Safford, Arizona. Well, coming up a little bit later on today, we are going to have two great segments with a woman named Christine Pittsley. She is the project manager for a World War I effort, a gathering for material from people’s archives and attics and old letters and materials for the Connecticut State Library. And you are going to want to hear what she’s doing, how she’s doing it and what materials and stories she’s come up with. It’s intriguing stuff since this is the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War To End All Wars.” Right now let’s head out to Boston and talk to my good friend David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How are you David?
David: Hey, I’m not doing too bad. How about yourself, Fish?
Fisher: You know, I’m just dealing with a little lung gambu but we’re getting through it.
David: Well, do me a favor. If you’re going to have any major problems please don’t visit the village of Longyearbyen in Norway because it’s illegal to die there.
Fisher: What? [Laughs]
David: Yeah, apparently because of the very cold temperatures, bodies don’t decompose all the way and there are a few people that had died during the Spanish flu back in 1918. So, if you accidentally disturb the earth nearby you might release the bacteria which was responsible for killing over 100 million people worldwide.
David: So this village does not want you to die there. So, if you’re dying you must leave. You obviously are not going to be buried there.
David: So, for genealogists who are looking for those fresh DNA samples of ancestors, if you’re Norwegian and have roots from there you may be able to get something from your great, great, great grandparents.
Fisher: [Laughs] Because they’re still there.
David: Literally. We all have those family trees that kind of come together occasionally you know, when our ancestors married their own first cousin.
David: Doubling up of ancestors, it happens to everybody.
David: A great story from the New York Times if you go to Geni.com and one of the things that they talk about is when people start marrying their first cousins and it’s actually when mobility started going forward.
David: So, 1825 to 1875 you get people that are moving west, more opportunity you know, either the same town or village. Populace doesn’t say, “Well, my cousin is kind of cute. Why don’t we get married?” I have third great grandparents who are first cousins.
Fisher: Me too.
David: But as far as I know my great, great grandmother only had ten fingers and toes, two eyes and a nose.
Fisher: [Laughs] And you know, to that point actually, in all seriousness there are studies that show that there really aren’t dramatic increases in risk of birth defects or anything if you were to marry a first cousin.
David: That’s very true.
Fisher: Siblings is a different story obviously. But, first cousin marriage, very common. Like you mentioned. I had the same thing happen. My third great grandfather’s parents were first cousins which actually made him his own second cousin.
David: [Laughs] Makes me want to sing the song “I’m my own grandpa.”
David: Well, my next story is “roaming through the subways in Rome.” Rome is building a new subway system and they have found, sometimes as many as fourteen rooms from buildings from 271 AD. And every time they build a new station well, they have to stop so the archaeologists can get in there and find some amazing treasures.
Fisher: Incredible. And wasn’t one of the rooms heated? Wasn’t there some evidence of that?
David: Yeah, one of the rooms is actually heated. [Laughs]
David: It’s possible that this may have been high-end property.
David: Last week we talked about Paul Allen from Microsoft, one of the founders who has been responsible for finding the USS Indianapolis, the USS Lexington last week. And many of you may have heard of the fighting Sullivans, the five brothers who died on USS Juneau back in 1942. Yeah, they just found the Juneau which was amazing.
Fisher: That is incredible. So, this guy’s found the Lexington, the Indianapolis, the Juneau and who knows what else.
David: He also found the Ward from Pearl Harbor.
Fisher: Wow! I mean, what a legacy Paul Allen has created himself using his billions for really good stuff.
David: He really is and I think that it is fascinating that we can see the images for a vessel that has not seen the light of day in 75 years.
Fisher: That’s right.
David: For the descendants of people who were on the Juneau there were more than just the Sullivan brothers. There were actually 687 people perished. Going to Harvard University, the laboratory run by David Reich has had a fascinating run recently. They’ve actually extracted the DNA from 900 people, 900 ancient people.
David: Including a 2,500 year old sample from Britain, a Bronze-Age person from Russia and some samples from Arabia. So, these bone fragments are being extracted, the DNA of these 900 people. One of our listeners can have their ancestor out there.
Fisher: Maybe more than one of us, you know, when you think of it from that far back, maybe all of us.
David: Correct. It’s nice to know that my ancestor may be right across the river at Harvard University being studied this very moment.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.
David: Well, my blogger spotlight this week goes out to a good friend of ours, Blaine Bettinger who has been on the radio show before. Blaine is an author. It is the Genetic Genealogist and his website by the same name TheGeneticGenealogist.com has his insight and discoveries in his own research as well as overall news from the field. I always like to hear his lectures and also like to read his blog for he will too. That’s about all I have from Beantown but before I leave I do want to mention that if you’re not a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, We’ve been around since 1845. We’d love to have you as one of our members. In case you’re a listener of Extreme Genes mention the code “Extreme” on your checkout as a coupon code and save $20. Well, that’s about all I have for you. I have got to run and get a snow shovel out here because we’re going to get some weather in Boston once again.
Fisher: [Laughs] All right David, great to talk to you as always. We’ll catch up with you again next week.
David: Talk to you soon my friend.
Fisher: And coming up next we’re going to be talking to Christine Pittsley. She’s a World War I project manager for the Connecticut State Library. She’s asked people to dig into their attics and see what they’ve got on their World War I ancestor as we celebrate the century mark on the end of the “War To End All Wars.” That’s coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 230
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Christine Pittsley
Fisher: You know, for those of us who have been around for a while, and many years ago may have actually known a World War I vet or two, it’s hard to imagine that it is this year it’s been a 100 years since the end of World War I. Hi it’s Fisher, this is Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com and this segment is brought to you by LegacyTree.com/Genealogist. And I am really excited to have Christine Pittsley on the line with us right now. She is the Project Director for a World War I project going on at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford, Connecticut right now. Hi Christine! Welcome to Extreme Genes.
Christine: Hi Scott. Thanks for having me on.
Fisher: Tell us about this project and how you got into it, how you became the project director, and what you’ve learned from it.
Christine: So, back in 2014 our former State Archivist asked the State Librarian and myself, what we could do with this incredible connection of glass plate negatives we had from World War I. So, we started looking at it and started kind of coming up with this plan on how we could digitize those and maybe see what people in the state had in their attics and closets.
Christine: So, we held a few pilot projects in the fall of 2014 where we invited members of the public to bring us their World War I stuff, And that was photos, and uniform items, and that first event we had someone brought us a grenade.
Fisher: Ha! Now wait, wait, wait...
Christine: It was an empty grenade.
Christine: But for some of the folks sitting around that didn’t know that. I went a little bit wide and we kind of put the kibosh on bringing any weapons after that.
Fisher: Right, right. Good call.
Christine: So, we asked these folks to bring us what they have, and we would sit down with them, we would record the stories about their parents or their grandparents, and then we’d scan everything they brought in or as much as we could.
Fisher: Right, or photograph it.
Christine: Yeah. And then we would give it back to them.
Fisher: That’s incredible. So, this went on for how long and what year was this?
Christine: That was fall of 2014.
Christine: And we are still going. We’ve held over forty events now all over the state of Connecticut, in museums, in libraries, and American Legion halls, and community centers. We’ve collected somewhere between four and five hundred individual stories of soldiers and sailors and nurses from all over the world. We’ve got Italian soldiers, and British. We had a Slovakian Red Cross worker, you name it, been soldiers from all over the country as well. With all of those people, I think we’ve probably got somewhere upwards of five thousand images at this point.
Fisher: Incredible. Wow.
Fisher: From back in the day? And you’re digitizing these things. Is this a state funded thing?
Christine: We are actually funded this year through a grant from the National Endowment of Humanities.
Christine: It’s a common heritage grant that allowed us to do about twenty of these events. And that funding allowed me to hire staff. The first two years we did this it was all volunteer based so all of the people that came and worked at these events were volunteers. This year and last year it’s all been funded so we’ve hired students and veterans to come and work at these events to do the interviewing, to do the scanning, and I have a great staff at this point. They know what they’re doing and I can rely on them to help me get things done when things get really busy.
Fisher: Sure. Wow. So, what were some of the best stories you’ve heard from this thing?
Christine: So, one of my favorites, a gentleman came into an event in Wilton and he had a ton of stuff, photos and some maps, and this tiny little thing. It was maybe an inch and half, two inches long and it was just a little cylinder. I’d never seen something like this before. It was the cylinder that would be attached to a carrier pigeon’s leg. And some of those maps were these tiny little maps that were folded up inside of the cylinder.
Christine: And somehow, it weighs all of an ounce, and somehow this has survived for a 100 years.
Fisher: So, this is something that they use basically to communicate positions of the enemy, or wherever they are stationed themselves, right?
Fisher: Getting that information back. And so this guy’s ancestor was involved with these pigeons?
Christine: Yeah. His father was in charge of the pigeons and he told us the story how his father needed to be a sharp-shooter because if the pigeons started flying in the wrong direction you’d have to be able to shoot it down.
Fisher: [Laughs] Right. Because you don’t want the enemy to get your positions that are on the map.
Christine: Yeah. So, he also said thankfully his father never had to shoot any of the pigeons down. But you know, that was one of those things that you don’t think about.
Christine: So, that’s one of my favorites.
Fisher: Isn’t that interesting? Because World War I to me seems within reach, right? The Civil War doesn’t anymore, and yet with a war like World War I that was in reach yet you’re still communicating with carrier pigeons. I mean, it seems just so ancient.
Christine: Yep. Well, when I talk to students now, I always ask, “How do you think you got your news back then?” And I’ve had students answer, “Oh, television.” Well, no. There was no television.
Christine: “Well, movie reels.” Well, there weren’t really movie reels around per say. So then they go to radio. Well, radio didn’t really exist either.
Fisher: No. 1920s.
Christine: Yeah, and radio was a military tool at that point. So, communications in the trenches were by runners, guys literally running back and forth carrying messages or these carrier pigeons. So, it’s a world away but like you said, many of us growing up knew World War I vets.
Fisher: That’s right.
Christine: So, the stories are still very alive for a lot of the folks we have come into our project.
Fisher: I’ll bet. Now, I grew up in Connecticut and I had a neighbor who’s name was Douglas Campbell and he was America’s first Flying Ace in World War I, flew alongside Eddie Rickenbacker, and actually he had kids late so they were my age, my kid brother’s age, as we used to play with them and my dad because he was a recreational pilot, had a nice relationship with this man and it was just an amazing thing to know him at the time. I think he passed about twenty five years ago. But I would imagine his stories would fit in well with your project.
Christine: They do. And believe it or not, when we did an event earlier this year in Greenwich at the Bruce Museum, his widow came in with some of her children, and you know, came to remember his service.
Fisher: Wow! I had no idea she was still around. [Laughs] That’s amazing.
Christine: Yeah. She’s in her 90s. She was very young when they married. I think she was twenty and he was fifty nine.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Christine: That’s why the kids are older. And when someone said that there was a widow of a World War I vet I kind of shook my head and said no, they must be mistaken. She must be a World War II veteran widow.
Christine: No, she was World War I veteran’s widow.
Fisher: Well, and then that happened a lot with the Civil War people. I think there may be a widow from the Civil War or two, still out there right now.
Christine: Oh wow!
Christine: That’s incredible.
Fisher: I know. You read about those things and they’re still getting veterans pension quite often. I know there are a couple of daughters of Civil War vets you know, born in the 1920s, old, old veterans... who are still getting some money. So, this is incredible. Where do you see this going, and is this something happening in other states as well? Are you coordinating with other people?
Christine: You know, we did an event a couple of weekends ago on Rhode Island with the Rhode Island World War I Centennial Commission and we worked with the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago. So, we ran the event. We had a great turnout. People all over New England came, so it was a really nice test to see if our model would work elsewhere. We’ll be continuing our events here in the state throughout the rest of the year and we’re going to try and get everything up online as soon as possible. I would like to see this continue because there’s a lot of stuff still out there.
Christine: And we are still getting our class for more events this year. And there’s only so much time left. I would really like to see it kind of expand as well into a larger veteran’s memory project, where we’re talking to World War II vets. That’s one of the questions I get asked at event I do is, “When are you doing this for World War II? My dad is still alive and he fought in World War II.” You know, when can he come and tell you his story.
Fisher: Right. We still have them, that’s right.
Christine: Yeah. I think about how incredible this would be if we still had World War I vets to talk to. And I don’t want to miss the opportunity.
Christine: If I don’t do it I would love someone to do it.
Fisher: Someone to step up. Well, I love the idea of what you’re doing, asking people to come forward. And we’ve talked about this on Extreme Genes a lot lately using the hashtag #ArchiveInTheAttic and getting people to participate by sharing with us stories of things they found that they didn’t even know they had.
Christine: And that’s a lot of this. We try and do a public program a week or two weeks before one of digitization days so that we can let people know what we’re doing. And time after time we have people come back and say, “You know, after your presentation or after this event, I went home and look at all this stuff I found.” Or, “I called my mother, and look at all this stuff I found.”
Christine: We do have a way for people to submit things online if you’re out of state. We can only collect things from Connecticut, if you live in Connecticut or if you have a Connecticut soldier. But if you’re elsewhere in the country and you have a Connecticut soldier in your background and you’ve got photos, you can submit them to our project online. We have a whole form and mechanism to help you do that.
Fisher: All right. And you know, you mentioned that I wound up with a collection of letters written by my dad’s second cousin that came in a whole bunch of family history stuff I obtained in 2014, letters from the trenches in France. And this guy talked about the experience over there. And when the war was over, there weren’t able to get them back home real fast. And so, they’re just basically on leave for five months or something waiting for when the boats are going to come take them back and they can get back to their lives. It was an amazing thing.
Christine: Yeah. It was. For these boys it was an experience because a lot of them had never left the small the towns that they came from.
Christine: And here they were going to a foreign country where a different language was spoken and it was an experience of a lifetime for so many of these men and women.
Fisher: Now, one of those stories did come out of Connecticut that I guess they’re making a movie out of here.
Fisher: Something about a dog. Give us the background and we’ll get to the full story after the break.
Christine: Sergeant Stubby, as he’s known today, is the most decorated war dog in American military history.
Christine: And he has a story that seems like it came out of Hollywood.
Fisher: We’re going to talk more about Sergeant Stubby the dog, and what’s becoming of his tale, well, of his story, [Laughs] coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 230
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Christine Pittsley
Fisher: Hey, we’re back! It is Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And we’re talking the Great War today, World War I. It’s the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of the war to end all wars. And, Christine Pittsley is on the phone with me right now from the Connecticut State Library. She is the Project Director for a World War I commemoration that has gathered all kinds of material from people’s attics. This is what we talk about on the show, look and find what you’ve got and write about it, and hashtag it, #ArchiveInTheAttic. And let people know that maybe they can find some things like you’re finding, in their attic or in their basement, it doesn’t matter. But Christine was just telling us before the break about a story of a dog, and this is a Connecticut dog that was, what was it, on the loose, Christine? This was not owned by anybody, it was just kind of a renegade dog.
Christine: He was. He was just a stray roaming the streets of New Haven.
Fisher: And some man adopted him and took him along to World War I.
Christine: Yes. He was adopted the summer of 1917 by a New Britain soldier named Robert Conroy.
Christine: And he apparently was smuggled on board the ship when they left in September of ’17.
Christine: He was smuggled aboard under...
Fisher: Now wait a minute, was he drafted or did he volunteer? Robert.
Christine: Conroy volunteered.
Christine: He had volunteered I think it was April or May of ’17, so not long after war was officially declared. They were camped out at Yale Field which is right by the Yale Bowl.
Christine: For about two months. And yeah, Stubby kind of wandered into the camp and Conroy fell in love. So they smuggled him on board. They wrapped him up into one of their field coats and got him on board and taught him how to salute.
Christine: And there’s a story that one of the officers found him on board and Stubby saluted, and it just kind of melted the officer’s heart.
Fisher: Oh yeah.
Christine: He finished the journey with them to France, but that time he had really become the mascot of Connecticut’s 102nd infantry.
Christine: Which were the Connecticut contingent of the 26th Yankee Division.
Fisher: Right. Now a lot of divisions had mascots, did they not? But not necessarily a living creature.
Christine: Um, you’d be surprised at how many of these divisions and regiments had their own mascots.
Christine: Dogs, there’s a story of a lion, one regiment had a lion.
Christine: Yes. Company K which was a Hartford regiment, had a goat that they called Mademoiselle Fanny.
Christine: But Stubby was really the mascot that stuck. You know, he was this lovable dog. He was this Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier, kind of mutt, and he was incredibly intelligent. He was gassed.
Christine: And that gas allowed him to kind of sense the gas before it came.
Christine: So he would run along the trenches alerting the soldiers to incoming gas attacks before the gas alarms even went off.
Fisher: You’ve got to be kidding me.
Fisher: That’s incredible.
Christine: He’s credited with saving one soldier, Sergeant John Curtin’s life from this gas attack. There’s also a story that he was able to distinguish German soldiers from American soldiers.
Fisher: [Laughs] Really? He knew the uniforms?
Christine: He either knew the uniforms or he knew the sound of the language, or something.
Christine: There’s a story, there was a German officer or German soldier in the American camp and Stubby found him and kind of grabbed hold of his butt and held on until the American soldiers came and captured this German spy.
Fisher: That’s incredible.
Christine: Yeah, and he did a lot of things like that. He really earned his place as a hero.
Fisher: Well, it sounds like it. It sounds like no other animal I’ve ever heard of in the war situation.
Christine: And the thing is you know, it almost sounds like a Hollywood story.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Christine: Something that Hollywood made up. This amazing dog who also became kind of the original therapy dog. He would go to the American Red Cross Hospitals over there and kind of cheer soldiers up. So he became a therapy dog, though they didn’t call it that at the time.
Fisher: Sure, of course. Did he survive the war?
Christine: He did. He came home and was given a hero’s parade here in Hartford.
Fisher: No kidding. So the stories were out there about him?
Christine: I think it was more verbal stories.
Christine: And then by the time they came home in 1919 he was hitting the newspaper and he was very well known. He did some vaudeville shows at Paula’s Theatre in New Haven and Hartford.
Christine: Yeah, we don’t know exactly what he did yet on the stage but he is billed in these Paula’s Vogel Shows.
Fisher: That’s incredible.
Christine: Yeah. He went on to become a lifetime member of the Edith Glover Post of the American Legion in New Britain. The American Red Cross gave him a lifetime membership, as did the Hartford YMCA. He met three different presidents. General John J. Pershing personally decorated him.
Christine: Yeah. There is a story that he saved the village of Château-Thierry.
Fisher: Now how did he do that?
Christine: By alerting them to an incoming attack. So, the women of Château-Thierry made him a blanket. It’s a shemwai blanket that they sewed patches onto, and he has a blanket full of metal.
Fisher: That’s incredible. Has that blanket survived?
Christine: It has. It’s not in great shape and it is at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, along with stubby. Stubby died in Conroy’s arms in 1926, and Conroy worked with the museum to preserve him, so Stubby is currently on permanent display in the Price of Freedom Gallery. The blanket is out for conservation. It’s too fragile to be displayed at this point.
Christine: But it’s still there.
Fisher: That’s incredible. Now, you were telling me now during the break, we’ve got a movie coming out about Stubby, the dog sergeant Stubby?
Christine: Yes. It’s called Sergeant Stubby: An American Hero. It’s being produced by Fun Academy Motion Pictures, which is a group out of Columbus, Georgia, and it’s an animated film, so we’re really excited, because we’re going to be hosting one of the premiers here in New Haven just two blocks from the New Haven Grain where some of these troops camped and trained.
Christine: On streets that Stubby once roamed. It’s slated to open in over 3,000 theatres on April 13th. The film starts Logan Lerman as Robert Conroy. Helena Bonham Carter plays his sister, who is the narrator of the film, and Gerard Depardieu plays one of the French soldiers.
Fisher: Oh, wow.
Christine: So we’re not talking an indie house kind of film.
Christine: It is a national release.
Christine: The trailers are in the theaters. I have been hearing reports that they are also on television now, and we’re really excited because we have been working with the studio for over a year, and we have provided a lot of background material for them, and you know, we’re working with them on the premier. You know, it’s exciting to have this Connecticut story come to life on the big screen, animated.
Fisher: I’m looking forward to it. When did you say it’s coming out again?
Christine: April 13th.
Fisher: So it’s right upon us. Fantastic! [Laughs]
Christine: Yeah, it is.
Fisher: Well this sounds like an amazing project you’re involved with. Kind of a life changing thing for you, I would imagine.
Christine: It is. I’m excited I get to leave for France the day after the film comes out, to follow in the footsteps of Connecticut soldiers. And I will be visiting the places where a lot of the folks who have come in and taken part in our project, I’ll be visiting the places that their fathers and grandfathers photographed, and visiting the graves of the men who didn’t come home. And, we’ve got one woman who really never knew anything about her uncle. All she knew is that he died in the war so on her behalf we’ll be photographing his grave in France. It’s going to be a really humbling, life changing trip for me, but it’s going to be fun too, because I get to take a plush Sergeant Stubby with me, and we’re going to be following in his footsteps, and people can follow our journey on Instagram, and Twitter and Facebook.
Fisher: Unbelievable. She’s Christine Pittsley. She’s the Connecticut State Library Project Director for the World War I commemoration on the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War To End All Wars.” Christine, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for coming on.
Christine: Thank you so much for having me on. This was great.
Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 230
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: Welcome back, it's 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 MyHeritage.com. And it’s time once again to talk preservation with my good friend, Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority. How are you, Tom?
Fisher: And as always, we're getting lots of questions about preservation. I was really intrigued by this one from Patti Vitale. She said, "Help!! Yesterday, I was going through boxes of old photos while visiting my dad and we found this plastic bag full of my great uncle's photos from World War II just thrown in a plastic bag and sitting in the bottom of a box. And every photo is curled. However, uncle Dom took the time to write on the back of most of the photos to identify who's in the pictures. Last night, I looked up a couple of the guys on Fold3." What a great thing to do, Patti. "And then found then in family trees on Ancestry.com and emailed the tree owners to see if they'd be interested in seeing the pics. So, clearly I need to digitize these as soon as possible. Is there anything that can be done or should be done about the curling? And some of the photos are faded. Can anything be done about restoring those? And included in this pile are some of the original negatives." A lot of pieces to this question. "What do I do with those? Some look really faded and not useful, but some negatives are clear and seem well preserved. Best, Patti." What say you, Tom?
Tom: Okay, this is awesome. This is a goldmine. I'm jealous! [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah, no kidding. This is great!
Tom: What I would suggest, since she has some negatives is, the first thing you want to do is, if you have like a photo studio in your area, take all the negatives over to them and see if they can make what's called a contact print. What they do is, they just make a small photo of each one, so you can see which ones are clear, which ones aren't and then you can go through and figure out, "Okay, we've got a negative of this one that looks good. We've got a negative of this one that looks good." because if you can find all the same photos that are the good quality ones, the ones that you want, you just want to take those negatives and scan those instead of going through the expense of scanning the photo and then having to restore the photo. So if your negatives are in good condition, that's what you want to do. Or if you've got a home negative scanner, of course you can just scan them yourself. But the first thing I would do is find out where they match up. And then if you have any photos that aren't in negative, then you definitely want to scan those. I would not worry about the curling, because a lot of times when you have curling, you have to go through the distilled water bath and make them flat and all this kind of stuff, but if they're just basic curling right now, you can also get away at putting them on a flatbed scanner and scanning both sides of them, because the weight of the scanner itself will kind of pretty much flatten out the photos. So that way, you can scan them together.
Fisher: Would that cause any cracking, Tom, to do that?
Tom: Well, it shouldn't. It depends how badly they are curled, because the thing is, if you're going to have problems and they are going to crack, they're going to crack no matter what you do.
Tom: I would go with that first. That would be my first solution, versus going through and going through the wetting stage and maybe damaging somehow the emulsion on them.
Fisher: Now what about the process that I've gone through with some materials that were wrinkled or whatever, where it relaxed the paper. I think it was more of a steam process. Could that work?
Tom: Oh yeah! A lot of people do that. You want to be really, really careful. Keep it so the steam is really, really low, because you don't want to burn your picture, just like it’d burn your hand. That's a process, too, but if this is your first experiment, I wouldn't suggest those kind of things, unless you have some pictures there that are curled also that are like of scenery, the stuff you don't care about, then go and mess around with those. Because then if you damage them, it’s not going to be any big deal. But always practice on the reels that aren't important. Just like we tell people when they do film, if you want to watch some of your old film and you don't want to go through the steps, find something that's not important and check out that first, so if its damaged, it’s no big deal.
Tom: And make sure when you scan them, you scan the front, then the back, so then when you have your digital files, you'll know for sure which information went with which photo. So if you go through and do all the fronts and all the backs, you're going to drive yourself nuts figuring out which one went with which.
Fisher: Boy that makes a lot of sense! All right, there's a lot of pieces to this question. And we're going to dig into it just a little bit more as we come back when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com.
Segment 5 Episode 230
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: We're back for our final segment of Extreme Genes for this week, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com, talking preservation with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. And you know, you've been listening to this segment for a long time. I hope you're paying attention in rescuing a lot of the photos. And we're kind of dissecting this question we got, Tom from Patti Vitell, asking about this old box of her great uncle's photos from World War II and negatives, and the pictures were curled and they're fading. We were talking about the curling thing before the break, and then during the break, we were kicking around this concept of taking them perhaps to a craft store where they do this relaxing process professionally and then mount them on foam core, which I've done several times. It’s fantastic. It makes them perfectly flat and frameable, except, it is a little bit thick when you put it on the foam core.
Tom: Right, and there's a lot of different options, like we were talking off the air. If you want to do something like some shadow boxes or you want to do some frames that maybe don't have glass on the front of them that they are three dimensional. You put some really neat colors behind them or some other photos that have kind of gone along that era. You can make them really, really cool. So it kind of depends on what your end goal is, which we talk about all the time. If you want to make some works of art, I would definitely recommend that. Go the relaxing way, put them on foam core. If you want just something a little bit simpler, you want just standard frames, nothing fancy, then go the way and scan your negatives first to see which ones you have and then other ones that you don't have, then go and do the photos. But just again, make sure you do them back to back, so you know where the information is from one photo to another photo and then go in and frame them. And sometimes you can actually type up a little, teeny piece of paper that has the information that's written on the back and you can transcribe that on a real small like a two point font and put that actually on the front of the picture, so when people are looking at your photo gallery or your photo album, they can actually see the print that was on the back side of them, too and say, "Oh, yeah, this was Uncle Ed in World War II, you know. He was a flyer and he was in this many different air lifts and did these kinds of things." It just adds a little bit of personality to it. Well, I've even seen it where they do the foam core where they kind of do that and then right below that on another piece of foam core is where they put the description. You put in a little bit on an oversized frame and then below that foam core on a smaller piece of foam core, you put the description, which is on the back. And it'll look really, really great, especially with the kinds that don't have glass on the front.
Tom: It actually makes it three dimensional. It looks really sweet.
Fisher: And it also tells the story and gives you context to the picture. The one thing that I would say though is, sometimes it’s actually better to frame your digitized copy, because you mention that some of these are faded. The one way to really correct the fading is to go in and Photoshop the picture. And you can clean it up and you can make it bigger and do whatever you want with it. The other aspect of framing an original picture is, it tends to fade. So if they're already faded and even if you put it behind UV glass, you might have some problems with that over the long haul. So think about it that way, Patti. Would you agree, Tom?
Tom: Oh, 100%. That is the absolute truth. I would never take an original photo and put it any place that's going to be exposed to any kind of light. I don't care what kind of UV glass you have. You always want to keep those in a safe spot. Do the prints off of the scans that you do, because if they fade or something happens to them, no big deal. You still have the digital file. Make a new one. But yeah, never ever display your originals. That's a big no-no.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Patti, great questions. I hope we answered every facet of that. And I'm sure it applies to a lot of other people's thoughts about some of the things they may have uncovered over time. And if you have a question for Tom Perry, it’s really easy to reach him. All you have to do is email [email protected] or you can go to his Twitter page @AskTomP. Tom thanks so much once again. And we'll talk to you again next week.
Tom: My pleasure.
Fisher: Hey, that's it for this time around. Thanks so much for joining us. Thanks also to our guest, Christine Pittsley who came on from the Connecticut State Library, talking about her amazing project to recapture all the histories of the World War I vets in her area and how she's going about it. Hopefully it’s something that will be duplicated in other states and cities. And by the way, if you haven't done it yet, signup for our Weekly Genie newsletter, it is absolutely free. We give you a blog each week and a couple of links to an old and new show and links to stories you'll find of interest to genealogists. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!