Episode 245 - Fisher Talks With “The Good Cemeterian”

podcast episode Jul 22, 2018

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, David Allen Lambert. The guys begin with a story from the Ukraine, where an 87-year-old man is being recognized as having, perhaps, the largest number of descendants for a living person in the world! Wait til you hear the figure! Then, a family in China is concerned. They’ve been in the taxidermy business for five generations, and they’re looking for who will take them into the sixth generation. David then shares the tale of Roland Gaines, a 97-year-old World War II veteran whose lost dog tags have been found. In Italy! Hear how the finders got them back to Roland. Next, it’s word that an 18th century “Irish Giant” (over seven feet tall!) may soon be taken off display and properly laid to rest. David’s Blogger Spotlight this week shines on Donna M. Moughty, host of Donna’s Irish Genealogy resources. As things continually improve for Irish research, Donna can point you in the right direction. Read her blog at moughty.com/blog.

Next Fisher visits with a man who has gained worldwide fame as “The Good Cemeterian.” Andrew Lumish has developed a passion for cleaning up tombstones in the Tampa area, especially military figures, and especially from the Civil War. Hear Andrew’s story and how you can learn to do what he does.

Then, Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com gives some important advice about microphones. You’ll need to know this if you are planning on interviewing your relatives at the next reunion.

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

Transcript of Episode 245

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 245

Fisher: Hello America, and welcome to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher, the Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Boy, we’ve got a great show today. I’m really excited to introduce you to a guy out of Florida. He’s in the Tampa area, and he cleans tombstones, particularly of veterans, especially Civil War vets from that area. And he’s training people around the world how to do the same thing. And he’s known as “The Good Cemeterian.” Yeah, “The Good Cemeterian.” You may have seen him on national TV talk shows. His name is Andrew Lumish and you’re going to love to hear what he’s got to say about what he does. And it’s fascinating really how he honors the dead in his area through his work. He’s a passionate guy. And later in the show Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority is going to be here. He’s going to be talking about microphones because, you know, when you go to interview your relatives at the family reunion, if you don’t get the audio right, nothing else much matters. You’re going to want to hear what he has to say later on in the show. Hey, just a reminder by the way, if you haven’t done so yet, you’ve got to sign up for our free “Weekly Genie Newsletter.” You can do it through our website ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page, and we give you all kinds of links to great stories that you won’t see anywhere else. I’ll give you a blog each week, it’s all interesting stuff, to people who are trying to track down their ancestors. All right, let’s check in with Boston right now. David Allen Lambert is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. He is the keeper of our Family Histoire News. How are you, David? Good to talk to you again.

David: Hey, I’m doing good. Just about to leave to go Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to lecture at the Army War College down in Carlisle and planning to shoot Thompson machine guns with World War II Veterans of the 43rd Bomb Group.

Fisher: Boy that sounds like so much fun. That is going to be a good time.

David: Looking forward to it.

Fisher: Yes!

David: Have a decent video for that one.

Fisher: And of course you and I will see each other next month in Fort Wayne, Indiana for the Federation of Genealogical Society’s Conference there. I’m going to be keynoting on Wednesday. You’re going to be doing some lectures. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we want to encourage everybody to come out and be part of it if you’re in the Midwest.

David: Well, I tell you my Family Histoire News really starts off with an interesting story, one that I had to read twice. This goes out to the Ukraine where Pavel Semenyuk who had 13 kids, who happens to have 127 living grandchildren, who happens to have 203 living great grandchildren.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: And three, including a recent baby, great, great grandchildren, for the grand total now of 346 descendants which puts him in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Fisher: Isn’t that incredible? Three hundred and forty six living descendants and the guy is 87 years old.

David: He’s 87. He’d be my mother’s age, and my mother only has, let’s see, one, two, three, four, five, six living descendants, so she’s 340 short!

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: Well, he had thirteen kids and then you see that next number 127 on the grandkids, so they all had an average of almost ten per child.

David: That’s right.

Fisher: If he lives another ten years, imagine where he’s going to be at.

David: I know. I mean, he could be breaking at a third and fourth great grandchildren at the rate he’s going. That’s amazing. Well, congratulations. I would not want to have to be in charge of your holiday card list.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] How about a family in China that has been in taxidermy for five generations? It starts back in the 1860s when Tang Shimin learned taxidermy from a British customs officer and the family’s been doing it since. They’ve done camels and panda bears and even giraffes.

Fisher: Wow!

David: I don’t know where there’s room to put a giraffe in at all.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Maybe a chipmunk. [Laughs]

Fisher: Maybe a chipmunk, yeah. You know, the thing is they’re struggling now because they want to find that sixth generation and nobody knows exactly where that’s going to come from. I actually had four generations of butchers in my line that pretty much covered the 18th century and the early 19th century and then it came to a conclusion as it often does, right?

David: That it does. Well you know, I’ll tell you something. I think I love most of our stories when we talk about World War II Veterans especially when they’re happy endings or when things are found. And this one goes out to 97-year old World War II Veteran Roland F. Gaines who lost his dog tags back in Italy in World War II. Well, guess what? They were found and returned to him.

Fisher: Yeah, it was a family in Italy who found them digging in their garden and they’ve been looking for the family since the ‘80s. And I guess since technology changed and everything they were able to track them down. Roland is now 97 years old and thrilled to get these back. By the way, all the accounts in the media call him Robert, Ronald, but if you look at the pictures of the dog tags you get the real name. I double checked it. It is Roland Gaines.

David: Well, I’ll tell you one story that I think is fascinating is of course we’re talking about taxidermy. Anatomists back in the 18th century would often take cadavers and study them. Well, there was a gentleman who was over seven foot tall, Charles Byrne, who was known as the “Irish Giant” who died at the ripe old age of 22 in 1783 had told his friends to bury his body in a leaden coffin at sea. Guess what? It was forwarded and John Hunter, an Anatomist from the UK in the 18th century got the body and his skeleton has been on display in the Hunterian Museum for over 200 years now.

Fisher: Oohh.

David: Guess what? They’re going to be closed till 2021and their board of trustees is actually considering having him finally laid to rest.

Fisher: You mean the way he wanted to be buried in the first place?

David: No, maybe buried not at sea in a lead casket, but probably buried in a graveyard someplace, but yes Charles Byrne who was known as the “Irish Giant” and well known in 18th century Europe may be finally laid to rest.

Fisher: Awesome.

David: So my blogger this week actually has a little bit of a tie to Ireland and that would be Donna Moughty. Donna Moughty has a blog called Donna’s Irish Genealogy Resources at Moughty.com/blog and she talks about Irish genealogy and resources and would be an interesting blog to follow if you have any Irish roots in your family tree.

Fisher: And you know the thing is that Irish genealogy is just getting better and better all the time. And I’m sure she’s on top of all the latest in terms of resources for Irish research.

David: She sure is. Well, that’s about all I have from this week. Just remember, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors you can save $20 by using the coupon code “Extreme” at AmericanAncestors.org. Talk to you soon my friend and see you at FGS coming up real soon.

Fisher: All right, thanks so much David. And on the way next we’re going to talk to a guy who’s called “The Good Cemeterian” and you’ll hear why he’s so good at cemeteries. Andrew Lumish will talk to us next, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 245

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Andrew Lumish

Fisher: Welcome back. It is America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and this hour is brought to you by Legacy Tree Genealogists. I got to tell you, I got this great link sent to me by a friend the other day and she said, “Well, you certainly must have heard of The Good Cemeterian,” and I said, “No, I really haven’t.” But I checked out the link and read the story and had to get this guy on the show immediately. And [laughs] I have him on the line with me right now from the Tampa, Florida area, Andrew Lumish. He is The Good Cemeterian. Where did that name come from, Andrew?

Andrew: The name actually was given to me by a friend who happened to be a client of mine and a local television evening anchor when we were having a conversation in his kitchen one afternoon and I told him of my hobby. He said, “I’d love to film that if you don’t mind.” And I said, “Sure, if you want. I never really thought about it.” And he coined me The Good Cemeterian on that day. And when they aired that particular segment which we thought would be aired between Dirty Dining and the weather and a few local folks would see it, it went viral and was the most viewed story in the history of ABC.

Fisher: Oh my gosh! Well, let’s tell people exactly what you do, and then I want to get into how this all got started.

Andrew: Sure. What I do is, I restore monuments of predominantly veterans, but we do branch out to other family members and other regular folks. So, I do a complete monument restoration, we do projects with others as well, I teach people how to do this, and in doing so we share it through different forms of social media while doing the genealogical research on every single individual from the day they were born until their final day on earth. So you’ll see a before photograph of what their monument looked like before, you’ll see the completed project which can take between two months and nine months to complete typically.

Fisher: Wow.

Andrew: And then you get to read a story of that person’s entire life. Not just their service to the country but their entire life all that’s involved that come along with any life.

Fisher: As best you can find obviously. 

Andrew: Yes.

Fisher: So you have people obviously working with you not only on the stones but on the genealogical research as well. How many people are in your organization?

Andrew: Three.

Fisher: Three. [Laughs] Okay.

Andrew: My son, who occasionally helps me.

Fisher: Yeah.

Andrew: He’s 21. He also helps with graphic design, imagery for different things that we share on social media. And my assistant, her name is Jen Armbruster and she helps with genealogical research and a lot of behind the scenes things that a lot of people don’t see or are not aware of.

Fisher: And how do you fund all this?

Andrew: Originally I funded it myself, but it’s grown exponentially, in doing so we have the non-profit. The reason we started a non-profit was because CBS Sunday Morning had reached out to us to do a story with Jane Pauley. And we did the story with Jane Pauley and it went crazy and we received four thousand messages that day after the story aired. And one of the messages, which we went through all of them, was from an individual in another part of the country who represented a philosophical organization who wanted to make sure that we were able to do this long term. That’s how come we started it non-profit to begin with. And that’s kind of how it started and they helped to fund it so we could grow and expand upon what we do.

Fisher: Wow. And it’s called The Good Cemeterian Historical Preservation Project, and you can find that link in an article that we’ve got linked on ExtremeGenes.com. And you can see the images of these before and after pictures of the tombstones. They’re absolutely unbelievable. So, let’s talk about, Andrew, the first one you did and why you did it.

Andrew: The first restoration I did. Okay, so it gets a little deeper because there’s reasoning behind why I do what I do. Now, the first restoration that I completed was a Union soldier from Ohio, and there are many of them here and again, I lived in Tampa, Florida which was a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War.

 Fisher: Sure.

Andrew: But if you start looking around you realize that there’s so many Union soldiers that are buried here as well and I call them the first “snowbirds.”

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes, that’s true. I’ve lived in Florida.

Andrew: It’s amazing. They came here in 1900, and I’m like, “Wow!” And it’s interesting too because it’s predominantly from that time period Confederate soldiers but they’re literally buried next to one another, Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers. There are actually two small cemeteries and a very large cemetery that I work in that are dedicated one to the Confederacy and the other to the Union. They are eight feet apart.

Fisher: Really?

Andrew: And I looked, and I think it’s very funny because I wonder how they would feel about that.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

Andrew: They were fighting against one another and comrades and shooting at one another, and killing one another, and they are literally eight feet apart.

Fisher: Eight feet apart spending eternity together. 

Andrew: Yes! It’s an interesting concept but I really do like it and I love to take people on little tours when people come to visit.

Fisher: So this was your first one? You saw one of these and said, “I’ve got to clean that up.”

Andrew: It was an exceptional monument. And I did research on him and learned of all his trials and tribulations of family, and they took a wagon trail from Ohio to Oregon, they lost several family members tragically along the way, his wife passed away. He followed his son here to Florida where he eventually passed away. And I had made connection with the caretakers and owners of that cemetery and they gave me free rein to restore everything in the cemetery. So I did.

Fisher: Wow! And how much was that? How many tombstones?

Andrew: In that one, probably about three hundred. I think I only did veterans there.

Fisher: Okay. And that was your first one. How many years ago?

Andrew: That would have been about five and a half years ago.

Fisher: Five and a half years ago. I’m sure people are thinking, “What do you do?” that allows you this free time to go out and do this. What’s your career?

Andrew: I’m a small business owner.

Fisher: Okay.

Andrew: But I would say that I’ve evolved somewhat so I’ve cast aside many things that once were important to me, and that included finances and where I was going to be at a certain age. I discovered something that I loved for a variety of different reasons, and it’s far more important than money to me. So, I don’t vacation, I don’t go out to eat, I have a business, I work fulltime, but this is far more important to me and far more satisfying not only for myself but because we have such a massive following across the world the way we’re changing and positively affecting other people’s lives. And as a father, it’s almost like constantly the joy of having the birth of a child when you are impacting people so positively.

Fisher: That’s right.

Andrew: And we receive hundreds of messages every week and currently thousands of messages in the last several days.

Fisher: So, how do you get permissions for this kind of thing? I mean, you mentioned you work mostly in one or two cemeteries in your area and you’re looking to expand and you’re obviously sharing these techniques with other people so that they can do it elsewhere. I’m sure there are certain cemetery officials who would say, “Well, you’ve got to get permission from the family.” And you probably get kicked around back and forth between the cemeteries and the families. How does that work?

Andrew: This is very true for most people. Now I always recommend and I tell everyone who is interested in doing what it is that I do in their community and making a difference, that you must receive permission from whoever the governing authority is.

Fisher: Yeah.

Andrew: My situation is unique. I’m well known in the area and across the country. So people seek me out. And sometimes I will go to a cemetery and if they don’t know who I am I introduce myself to them and offer my services to them free of charge, which is kind of mind blowing I guess to a lot of people. They are rather surprised that I would do what I do for free. And then they typically, once they know who I am, they welcome me to do pretty much anything. I have free rein. But again, you have to be careful. Make sure family members are aware if there are still living descents.

Fisher: Yeah. That makes sense. In fact, you were telling me before we went on air that you got a unique experience just today as you were going about doing some work.

Andrew: I did. I’m working in a new cemetery, I’ve added several cemeteries in the last month or so, but I was working in a new cemetery and the caretaker recognized me. And he saw me and greeted me and we began talking about projects. The owners and the caretakers want to get groups together, and I was offered two free plots today.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Andrew: So when I die I have an opportunity to have free plots here in Tampa.

Fisher: That’s awesome.

Andrew: Yeah really, it is for sure.

Fisher: Did you accept the offer?

Andrew: I took it into consideration.

Fisher: [Laughs] So, who would you have buried with you?

Andrew: I got a long way to go still but that’s to be determined. I don’t have an answer for that yet.

Fisher: But that could be changed, yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I’m talking to Andrew Lumish. He the founder of an organization called The Good Cemeterian Historical Preservation project. And he goes around and restores tombstones, mostly of veterans around the country and specifically in his area of Tampa, Florida, and making quite an impact there. What kind of chemicals do you use on this, and are people ever concerned about that, Andrew?

Andrew: Well, you have to use the proper products. The products that I use are the only products utilized in all of our national cemeteries. I’ve been recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs several times because I use the same techniques, the same products that I’ve used in every national cemetery in the country as well as Puerto Rico. So, the product I used is called D/2 Biological Solution. And D/2 Biological Solution is a product that...of course it’s the government so they did a six year study and this is the product that they chose to use for all of their monuments including, and it’s not just in their cemeteries, this is a product used on national monuments in Washington DC and other areas of the country for marble and granite, things that would be exposed to the elements outside. But it’s a very high quality product and it is environmentally safe. It kind of covers all the bases.

Fisher: All right. We’re going to take a break and we’ll be back in five minutes. And Andrew, at that time I want to hear some of the stories behind some of the people whose markers you’ve been working on, and also how maybe some of our listeners can actually do some of the things that you’re doing. We’ll get to that coming up on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. 

Segment 3 Episode 245

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Andrew Lumish

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, talking with Andrew Lumish, he is the founder of an organization called, The Good Cemeterian Historical Preservation Project and this guy is just followed all over the world. And Andrew, we were just talking about some of the tombstones you have restored, I’ve seen the images and it made my jaw drop. I mean, it’s absolutely unbelievable. I would be scared to death that I would damage something that would cause some kind of problem but you obviously have a very clear idea of what you’re doing and people trust you very much to do these things right. Having done that as you have, you’re obviously gathering these stories connected with these tombstones. So, fill us in on some of the most amazing stories that you’ve uncovered as you’ve gone about your work.

Andrew: How long do you have?

Fisher: [Laughs] We’ve got about nine minutes, how’s that?

Andrew: Okay, okay. I’m going to have to speak quickly. I am originally from New York so I think I can pull this off.

Fisher: You can pull it off, that’s right!

Andrew: So, we’ve got some that are very, very touching to me. There’s Louis Franklin Vaughn. Louis Franklin Vaughn just turned 18 years old in 1918. He wanted to serve his country during the First World War and as the war was coming to a close the 18 year old Vaughn he had joined the Coast Guard. He was aboard the USS Tampa and by the end of the First World War Germany was becoming quite desperate. So, what they were doing, they had a submarine force and they were torpedoing supply ships that would come into London and the different channels that would reach the United Kingdom. Their rules of engagement were out the window by late 1918. So, the USS Tampa, their main goal was to protect these supply ships that were coming from Portugal. They would guide them to the United Kingdom safely so that they wouldn’t be torpedoed by German submarines. On September 26th, 1918 the USS Tampa was torpedoed by a German submarine and all 131 people aboard were killed including 18 year old Louis Franklin Vaughn. I told this story, his body was never found but there’s a beautiful monument dedicated to him in this cemetery here in Tampa, dedicated by his parents. I told this story and it was a sad story but it was made even sadder several months later when I went back and took a look at his monument and dusted it off from the leaves and the trees and turned and saw three small monuments behind his on the other side. All with little lams completely unreadable and as I knelt down and looked at them, each of them was a little girl. One was born in 1898 it was Louis’s oldest sister she died in childbirth. He then had a younger sister born in 1903 she only lived for 14 months and died in 1904. Then he had an even younger sister born in 1911 and she only lived for 3 months. So, the Vaughn family had four children. Three daughters, the oldest lived to be 14 months old, one son who lived to be 18 years old, wanted to serve his country, sat down with his family who had already lost three children, convinced them that he should join the cause to support his country and then he was killed by the Germans.

Fisher: Boy, that’s got to touch your heart as you go about that work.

Andrew: It’s unbelievable.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: I make sure that, that family is taken care of all the time. I don’t forget about the Vaughns.

Fisher: I would imagine that if there are any survivors of that family out there they would simply be cousins of some sort.

Andrew: Yes, there are distant relatives. I’ve spoken to several descendants that are spread throughout the country.

Fisher: Now, have you run into some really funny stories along the way that you just can’t believe?

Andrew: There’s Joseph Robles and Robles is a big name here in Tampa from long ago. He was born in 1819 and he was from Spain. He was a stowaway on a ship. He came to the United States, he came to Florida. He went to Georgia and worked on a farm, fell in love with the farmer’s daughter and they moved to Florida and started to raise a family. During the Civil War he joined the Confederacy even though he was torn. I spoke to his family at length about this.

Fisher: Hmm.

Andrew: He loved his country but when the Civil War came about he didn’t know what to do because he lived in the south. He didn’t want to go against his country but he decided to serve with the Confederacy and in doing so he was a successful soldier. He was 5’4 inches tall.

Fisher: Okay.

Andrew: He was injured and didn’t want to give up his service so he joined another unit. One day he was guarding a salt mine which had been attacked by the Union forces earlier, so when he did so he was alone and the entire platoon that he was with went back to town. So, they went back to town and he was waiting as this unit ship came and he was all alone guarding this salt mine. They sent a reconnaissance in to see who was there. He began wildly yelling and screaming once they landed ashore and shooting everywhere. He then barricaded himself in a barrel to make his voice reverberate and sound like he was multiple people as he began running everywhere and they thought they were surrounded.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Andrew: He runs out onto the beach, pulls out his shotgun, points it at them, he is out of ammunition and they surrendered to him. They all surrendered. They thought that they were surrounded. They thought they had a gun to them and he threatened them and they surrendered to him and he marched the entire platoon into town and was forever a hero and legend in Tampa Bay.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Andrew: All 5’4 inches of him.

Fisher: 5’ foot 4 and you’ve cleaned his grave up?

Andrew: His grave. His wife’s monument, many, many descendants and lots of the descendants they went on as veterans in the First World War, Spanish/ American War. The Spanish American War was a short conflict but because of where we’re located in Tampa it was significant.

Fisher: Okay. So, Andrew, if somebody wanted to do what you do how do they go about finding out about it?

Andrew: They can come to The Good Cemeterian on Facebook. We have also TheGoodCemeterian.org, our website, Instagram. We teach people product and process information, how to do things properly, how to ask for permission and that’s what we do. So, what we do is we try to help people as best we can so that they know what they’re doing and are well versed. And we always recommend, if you’re going to start out to probably work on some monuments of your own family members and descendants before you start offering your services to cemeteries and other individuals. That’s what I always recommend.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] I would think that would probably be the safest way to go right. I mean, we’ve done that with actually cleaning up daguerreotypes and you don’t want to mess with the real good ones. If you’re going to break something, you might as well break our own, right?

Andrew: You know, it’s like anything, you become better. Sometimes someone will message me and tell me, “Oh, it doesn’t look as good as yours, the product doesn’t work.” I’m like, “No, you didn’t follow all the way through. Did you follow these instructions? Did you do this? When did you take these pictures?” And we give very specific instructions. Not everyone follows directions as well as they might. And again, I have what is a blessing and a curse but I have self diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder.

Fisher: Ah!

Andrew: So, it’s very good in doing what I do. So I’m incredibly thorough.

Fisher: [Laughs] I think most of us would call that just being a perfectionist.

Andrew: Yeah. [Laughs] I’m scared something’s wrong with me.

Fisher: How many stones have you done, by the way Andrew?

Andrew: In excess of 1,500 at this point.

Fisher: Fifteen hundred and many more to go. He is Andrew Lumish. He is the founder of a non-profit. It is called The Good Cemeterian Historical Preservation Project. And he goes around and just cleans up old tombstones, and the work you do is beautiful. You can see links to his site on ExtremeGenes.com and look at the before and after pictures and what a great way to honor the dead and especially remember those who served in the military.  Great work Andrew.

Andrew: Thank you so much for having me today. I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and to discuss a little bit of what I do.

Fisher: Well, I love what you do. Thanks so much for coming on.

Andrew: Thank you for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry our Preservation Authority to talk about how you can preserve your precious heirlooms in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 245

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Welcome back, its Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and every week we talk to Tom Perry, he is our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com about how to preserve your precious heirlooms so they last for generations on end. One of the things we like to talk about, especially at this time of year is how to properly record the seniors in your family, the stories, the material that you're not going to be able to have forever unless you make sure you get it recorded. And that's why it’s important to talk about microphones today, Tom. And I know this gets a little technical for some people, but it’s important!

Tom: It is. It’s one of the most important things. In fact, if you ever go to a movie and you don't like the movie. If you actually could break it down, it’s usually because of the audio. In fact, a lot of the big film festivals, one of the biggest things they rate a film on, whether they're going to accept it into their program or not, is the audio. Because they feel, if somebody's taken the time to really do the audio right, everything else is probably right. Because so many people say, and I grew up having people say this to me. In fact, that's why I've got an audio engineering degree, because I didn't like what they said. They said, "Oh, we can fix the audio in the mix. Oh, don't worry about it, we can fix the audio."

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: Well, to some extent, you can, but it’s just like the old saying, "If you can't get it right the first time, when are you going to have time to do it over again?"

Fisher: Sure.

Tom: So you really need to get audio as clean and pure as possible, because it is so important, it actually sets the tone for everything. You can kind of get back with YouTube videos and some videos that don't look too sharp. But if your audio is really, really bad, you're not going to view it, you're just going to turn it off and not like it. In fact, I remember a research study when I was in college that they got the exact same film, had different audio tracks and showed it to two audiences. They went through and made them as close as they could. And one of them they rated really high, gave high remarks to. The other one was really, really poor and the only difference was the audio.

Fisher: Interesting. Well, and this is the thing, we not only have to deal with microphones, we also have to deal with rooms and how many people are involved in the discussion. I mean, it is kind of complicated. But it’s important to narrow down which type of microphone for which type of situation. And of course we have to look at costs that are involved in this as people anticipate family reunions this summer.

Tom: Exactly. That's really, really hitting the nail on the head is family reunions right now. You want to get the right kind of microphones. And if you don't have the money to go out and spend $400 on a microphone, rent one! Or do the way we've talked before, buy one, buy it off eBay, buy a new one then just resell it when you're done with it. But renting is a good way to get a super good quality microphone at very little money. Like you can rent a $400 microphone for a whole week for like $25 and it will be the best $25 you ever spent on your audio.

Fisher: So what type of microphones would you recommend for starters? I mean, somebody's going to be in a home setting, okay? Maybe talking in a kitchen or in a bedroom somewhere, hopefully in a place where you don't get too much echo off the walls. What would be a good standard microphone for a one on one interview in that circumstance?

Tom: Okay, if there's just going to be the two of you, there's a good way you can go. You can always get what's called a lavalier, which you see a lot on the news people, the news anchors. They have it kind of clipped to their lapel when they're talking, because it’s right by their mouth. And so, the talking they do is going to be pretty much straight. So if they turn a little bit, as long as they're turning their whole body, they'll stay on mic and its going to sound okay. It doesn't have the dynamic range as a good microphone, like a good shotgun microphone, but for basic interviews, it’s great. And as you mentioned, the room's important. In fact, when I'm on the road, that's one thing, we have problems with our show sometimes. We're in a room sometimes that is very loud. Sometimes we're in ones that are very live. You're going to pick that kind of stuff up and there's not a heck of a lot you can do about it. But one thing we've stressed since day one of our show is, always have headphones on. Whoever's monitoring it, you need to have headphones. If you're doing a one on one and you're the only one that's there, it’s just you and the person you're interviewing and you set up the camera and you don't want a set of headphones on, get some ear buds or something like that put one at least in your right ear that's away from the camera, so you can hear it. Or at least put on headphones and talk to him back and forth till you get it exactly right. Then after the break, we can talk a little bit more about mics and where to get them and where to get more information.

Fisher: All right, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 245

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And we're back! It’s our final segment for this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, talking with Tom Perry, he's our Preservation Authority, talking about microphones. It’s been a while, Tom and we're getting ready for reunions for a lot of people. And you were just kicking around the idea, we've got to start with the headphones, so that you can make sure that if there's any noise in a room, you're going to hear that. Because basically the ear is trained to discount those sounds, right, the sound a refrigerator or the air conditioner or something like that, right?

Tom: Exactly. The circuitry in your brain says, "Hey, that's a sound I don't care about. Let's just ignore it." Like you do with your kids when they're crying and screaming for you. You know, you listen to what you want to hear. And that's just the opposite of what a microphone does, because it doesn't know what you sounds you want. So anything it hears, it’s going to vibrate the diaphragm within a microphone, it’s going to come back to you. So if you put on headphones, then you're not picking and listening just to what you choose. You're hearing exactly what's going to be laid down on your tape or laid down on your iPhone, your Android. Just because you're using an iPhone or Android, not a regular video camera or something like that, you still want to plug in the headphones and listen to what the sounds are, because there could be like a low hum from your refrigerator. And if your interview's going to be like an hour or even two hours, unplug your refrigerator, no big deal. It’s not going to mess anything up for that short of a time, but it’s going to make your audio sound so much better. And then you can plug it back in. If there's any kind of noise, you're going to say, "Wow I have never noticed that noise before!"

Fisher: Isn't that funny!

Tom: Just turn it off or unplug it for that time.

Fisher: Sure. All right, now you mentioned the lavalier mics that news anchors use and reporters and that's a good start. What else would you suggest is a reasonably priced mic that's going to get you where you want to be?

Tom: Shotgun mics are one of the ones I prefer. They're very directional and they get rid of the sounds coming from the sides. And one thing you can do, too, because we won't have enough time to cover it in this segment is, you can go to VideoMaker.com and click on "microphone reviews" and they'll show you some specific microphones. And like I say, if you see a microphone you want to use but it’s like, you know, one or two times you're going to use it, then don't buy it. Call a local audio place and rent it. And if you're in a middle of some small town, there's going to be large towns that you can rent them from that they'll overnight them to you, then you overnight them back, but it’s still going to be a lot cheaper. And it’s so important to get that audio right. So spend a little money and you'll be so much happier. You know, your dynamic microphones if you're doing an interview with two people that you can have a dynamic microphone that has a pattern that's like omni directional, it’s going to pick up both of you, but if you're in a very live room, which is like four walls a ceiling and a floor and there's no carpet, it’s going to be very, very loud, like a lot of ones we run into when we're on the road. So you can get blankets, you can get sleeping bags, you can get pillows, you can get anything that's going to absorb the sound, egg cartons even and hang them up to try and make the room not so live. You can do curtains, pull curtains, do all kinds of stuff, just stack up pillows around.

Fisher: Okay. So Tom, what if you're in an outdoor setting with a large group of people for this reunion, how would you handle that?

Tom: Okay, if you have a lot of people that are like at a giant table, you can do two different things. The one I really recommend is what's called a PZM, pressure zone microphone, and it just lays right flat on the table. You put it in the middle of the table or you have two, one at each end of the table. And what it does, it turns the table into a giant diaphragm and the microphone picks up everything that's said, because it reflects off of the table. And it’s not the best sound in the world, but it’s going to be complete and you'll be able to get everybody. And then once you have all that, you can get into some good audio software and go in and clean up the main person that's talking, kind of bring them up and put the other ones down. And people think that you're magic, and it’s just amazing what you can do with a PZM microphone and a little bit of editing software.

Fisher: Because group settings like reunions are very difficult, especially in an outdoor setting. But you're right, I mean, if you're going to get them all, you've got to have something that's going to be capable of doing it, and then you can clean it up in post. All right, Tom, thanks so much and we'll talk to you again next week.

Tom: My pleasure.

Fisher: And that is it for this week's show. Thanks so much for joining us. And thanks also to Andrew Lumish, our guest this week, talking about the work he's doing as The Good Cemeterian. If you missed any of the interview you're going to want to catch it on the podcast which you can hear on iTunes, iHeart Radio and of course ExtremeGenes.com. And one last reminder, don't forget to sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter at ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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