Episode 263 - Blaine Bettinger Talks Ancestral Spit & Police Use Of DNADec 09, 2018
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David begins the segment talking about how you can preserve the history of your Christmas ornaments. David recently observed that he still has ornaments from his mother’s childhood in the 1930s, and several from his own youth, and notes, what happens when they are lost or broken? The guys then kick off Family Histoire News talking about a recent story where an African-American woman was shocked to receive DNA results indicating she was not African-American. Then, facial recognition technology is being used to help identify unidentified Civil War photos. The guys explain how the tech may help you in other areas in the future. Who would have ever thought a toy monkey could reunite a family separated by the Holocaust? It has happened! Hear the details. David’s Blogger Spotlight this week shines on Claire Santry of Irishgenealogynews.com. Claire is constantly keeping Irish researchers up to speed on Ireland’s ongoing efforts to share records for free on line.
Next, Fisher visits with renowned DNA specialist Blaine Bettinger. Blaine is excited about new DNA technology that may be able to reveal to you the full profile of your long deceased ancestors through the analysis of old, licked envelopes. Hear what Blaine has to say about the benefits to your research and the potential costs. In a second segment, Fisher and Blaine talk about the ethics issues involved in the use of DNA on GEDMatch for solving horrific cold cases.
Tom Perry comes on next to talk preservation. Fisher has discovered some ancient equipment in his home… an old reel-to-reel tape recorder and a movie projector and screen. Hear what Tom says Fisher should do with these items and similar old equipment.
Tom then talks about proper storage for the materials you’re still waiting to have transferred.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 263
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 263
Fisher: Welcome to another spine-tingling episode of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Nice to have you along. This segment is brought to you by Legacy Tree Genealogists. Check them out at Legacytree.com. And coming up for you later today, we’re very excited to have back on the show after a couple of years, DNA specialist Blaine Bettinger. And Blaine is going to be talking to me about a really new exciting thing happening in DNA, and that is ancestral DNA. I mean, not just through you, but through the ancestors themselves and perhaps the letters they’ve left behind. Who’s doing it? How much does it cost? What’s the benefit? Blaine’s going to get into that with me coming up in about ten minutes or so. And then later in the show, he’s going to talk about some of the ethics questions that have been coming up about DNA and police investigations. Hey, don’t forget by the way, to sign up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter.” Yeah, it’s a growing community. We’d love to have you as part of it. It’s absolutely free, and no, we don’t share your email address with anybody. All you have to do is go to ExtremeGenes.com, fill in a little box and you get it for free. And it includes links to previous shows, current shows, a weekly blog from me, and links to stories any genie would be interested in checking out. Right now, let’s head out to Boston and check in with 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: I’m doing well. In fact, we just put up the Christmas tree, and it gave me a new idea. How about the genealogy of your family Christmas tree?
David: Not the tree itself, because you know, of course we don’t always have the same tree, the ornaments. So, my wife has a great memory. She’ll pick up an ornament and say, “You know Aunt Jesse gave us this one. We had our fifth wedding anniversary.” And some of them I know, like my sister had a plastic white and black snowman that she’s had since childhood and a red bell and she always is the one that hangs him up, but some of the glass ornaments left over from my mother’s childhood of the Great Depression, photographing them, telling the story and putting it in your genealogy. I’m going to blog about that this week on thepastfinder.wordpress.com about how we should cherish these family heirlooms, that way the next generation knows the significance.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, here’s the thing, things get lost, things get broken, things get thrown away, and if you’ve got pictures of them and a little explanation of what they are, yeah that could last a lot longer than the items themselves.
David: Yeah, I know one of the ornaments broke a few years ago, and I was heartbroken. And some of these glass ornaments you just can’t glue them back together again.
Fisher: Boy, you’ve got some old stuff there buddy.
David: I do. Well, I’ll tell you, let’s start our Family Histoire News with a great story about DNA. This is on ExtremeGenes.com, so you can get the whole story. Sigrid Johnson, an African American did a DNA test and it says she wasn’t black. And this really opens up that whole can of worms about you know, how accurate are ethnicity tests and how they vary from company to company.
Fisher: Yeah, that’s true, and if you average them, you might get a better number than what you were looking for if it’s that significant to you. But, when you consider how many people actually take their test specifically for the ethnicity, it is a little troubling. And really this has to do with the base populations our DNA is compared to, and how those numbers come up. But, I believe she went and tested elsewhere, and found some of the African American roots she was expecting, but can you imagine the shock?
David: It really is a bit of a shock especially when it’s changing the whole dynamic of what you think your ethnicity is. And again, testing with another company is going to often reveal percentages different or you might even get ethnicity that you didn’t even think you had. I shouldn’t say let the buyer beware, but let the buyer multi-test. [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
David: Next up, I want to talk about photography and how we are using facial recognition software to identify people from the pictures in the past. In fact, there’s a great story on ExtremeGenes.com in talking about how facial recognition is being used for Civil War photographs. So, you have a photograph that is not identified, you use the facial recognition, bingo! It matches up with one that might be. And this is perfect for family historians because how many pictures do we have that, well, grandma didn’t write out who it is. But maybe your third cousin has a picture of the same person and if they all scan them together, you can maybe find one that have names or stories connected to them.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. And you think about this, it doesn’t necessarily have to be another Civil War era picture. It could be from later in life.
Fisher: And then you use the facial recognition and tie it together and you could come up with an amazing find.
David: It’s true, and you know, it’s funny because sometimes you look at the faces of your ancestors’ children. Like I have one of my wife’s great, great grandfather taken in about 1860 with his St. Bernard and I looked at it and said wow, it looks just like her sister when she was a little kid. Obviously a boy versus a girl, but the face! And you might be able to pick up family facial characters that sport a broad nose or a Romanesque nose, or something that runs a trait in your family, so it’s really exciting stuff.
Fisher: Well, I’m just hoping that this will actually apply to far more than Civil War photographs, but there’s a lot of optimism that this is going to break open a lot of identities in tons of unmarked Civil War era pictures.
David: That would be great. I’ll scan up the ones that I have and see if they can put names to the faces. [Laughs]
David: You know, sometimes DNA has been a way to reconnect families, but would you ever think a toy monkey would actually reconnect family?! This is a story that actually happened for Gert Berliner, who is a survivor of the Holocaust, who has a toy monkey that he donated recently to a museum. Now, in this museum was his last name. Somebody visiting, saw the toy monkey and realized that this is their own surname. It turns out they’re cousins.
Fisher: Wow! And he didn’t know that he had any family left. Just shipped out of the area when trouble began with the Nazis. He wound up safely getting through it. His family did not and he thought there was no one left, but found out that other children got out as well, and so that’s how they reconnected through the toy monkey.
David: I love it when I hear these reconnecting stories maybe through DNA or [laughs] or in this case a toy monkey. This week’s blogger spotlight shines on Claire Santry and her great blog called Irishgenealogynews.com and that’s an up to date blog on what’s going on at Irish genealogy and local history and I think you’ll find it entertaining as she brings us all the latest news in the genealogical world from Ireland. I do want to add that if you’re not a member of American Ancestors and you’re looking for a great holiday gift, you can use the checkout code “Extreme” and save $20 on a membership at AmericanAncestors.org.
Fisher: All right David, thank you so much. We’ll talk to you again next week. And coming up next we’re going to talk to DNA Specialist Blaine Bettinger. We’re going to be talking about saliva left by your ancestors and what you can do with it, how much will it cost and what will be the benefit. He’s got the answers on the way in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 263
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Blaine Bettinger
Fisher: Well, my next guest I met for the first time only a couple of months ago in Indiana, for the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, and it was a great time, to finally meet Blaine Bettinger, and Blaine is someone I’ve spoken to before, we’ve had him on the show before. He is the guy behind DNA-Central.com, where you can sign up and learn all kinds of things from one of the great masters in the field. He is a professional genealogist. He is a DNA specialist. Blaine Bettinger, welcome to Extreme Genes!
Blaine: Thank you very much for having me.
Fisher: You know, there’s a lot of things going on right now that are a little bit different, that are kind of exciting, and I know that you’ve been working on one of these right now, the artifacts testing that’s happening in different areas. Didn’t you just send off an envelope somewhere?
Blaine: I did, so I now have, and let me tell you it’s such a great time to be a genealogist.
Blaine: I just sent off a couple of envelopes to a company in Australia called ToTheLetter DNA, and they are offering artifact testing, they’re really focusing on envelopes right now, and I sent off a couple of samples, one that was an envelope that was in my collection, and another that was written by my adopted mystery great grandmother, and so I’m hoping to get DNA extracted from those and learn a great deal.
Fisher: Isn’t that interesting. You know, I did this recently myself. I tried with a different company on a letter I have with the envelope, written by Thomas Edison, and there are pieces of the flap on the back. Not the flap itself, but where the flat would have touched, hoping there would be enough DNA on there, but it did not come in, unfortunately. The letter is from 1885. Wouldn’t that have been fun, to have a profile of Thomas Edison’s DNA? That didn’t happen, but I do have one from my great grandfather in 1912, and I’ve been thinking about this. So, when you get this result in, let’s just say it does come in, what do you think are the ultimate benefits of having a DNA profile of a great grandparent?
Blaine: Well certainly, we often talk about how testing the oldest generation is important, because they have more DNA from your ancestors typically than you do, and so by testing my great grandmother I’m going back two generations further than I currently have. I’ve tested my parents but I was not able to test any of my grandparents. Having a great grandmother should very much help me on that particular line, and considering that it is almost completely a complete brick wall, then hopefully it will give me some new clues that I didn’t have before. And even if this was a line that was well established, we are always trying to add new evidence to our genealogical conclusions.
Blaine: And so if I can test someone in that line and add that DNA evidence, why not go ahead and do that?
Fisher: My question for you is, would you not need maybe somebody else at some point to submit an envelope of somebody close to that person, to come up with a result that would really help you establish evidence that might be worth the money here, because I know it is a little bit pricey?
Blaine: Well, what I expect to happen, and again, this is a case-by-case basis of course.
Blaine: In my particular example, what I expect to happen is that she will have matches that are going to be closer than they are to me, and not only that, she will have additional matches that none of her descendants have.
Blaine: And so by using those I’m hoping to get more clues that I can add to the overall body of evidence.
Fisher: Well I guess you’re right. As I think about it, because if she is a 50% to somebody else, as a sibling or as a child or as a parent, then the potential to match closer to one of your living descendants is there, isn’t it?
Blaine: That’s absolutely correct, and you know, it’s another thing that people often worry about with this type of artifact testing is that, well how do we know that it’s going to be my great grandmother’s DNA, and it’s definitely a valid concern because we know that often times, specially maybe an older person might ask a relative to lick the envelope or bring it to the post office and the post master will lick the envelope. But in my case, having tested myself, it will be immediately obvious how much DNA she shares with me and whether or not it’s a great grandparent or whether this DNA profile that I now have is of some mystery person.
Fisher: Now, ToTheLetterDNA.com is going to test this. Is it the stamp, or the flap?
Blaine: Right, so, this is fascinating. They’re actually using the flap, so what I did is, rather than send in the whole envelope, I cut out the flap.
Blaine: Trying not to contaminate it any more than it is contaminated, and I just used that flap. Now, that’s nice because I can keep the entirety of the rest of the envelope. Of course, I can keep the letter, but I can also keep the addressed part of the envelope. That isn’t to say it wasn’t physically painful for me to cut up this family artifact.
Fisher: [Laughs] I know what you’re saying. I did the same thing. It’s like okay, I can’t touch this. I wore plastic gloves to make sure, like you say. And that’s another thing, a quick question, I don’t want to interrupt your train of thought here but, how much risk of contamination is there as we handle an envelope from somebody who may be as far back as three generations?
Blaine: There’s a ton of risks for contamination. Just think about how many people have potentially, I mean, it went through the mail for crying out loud.
Blaine: And who knows what’s in the mail system.
Fisher: You might get the mailman’s actual DNA, right?
Blaine: [Laughs] That’s right, that’s right. But, the benefit of a flap, in particular, is that especially if it’s sealed, then the hope is within that sealed area there’s lower risk of contamination.
Blaine: Because frankly it’s been sealed, and so that, and then the things are stamped, hopefully because it’s been sealed it lowers that risk of contamination.
Fisher: Well that makes sense, and you know, in my case, I was looking at the envelope that I have: it’s in my great grandfather’s handwriting. So I’m thinking, okay, he wrote the letter, he wrote the envelope, he must have sealed it, and like you say, the flap on the back should protect his DNA from real contamination that might be on the outside. So do they somehow pry it apart? How do they get inside there without getting involved with the DNA that might be on the outside of the flap, the contamination?
Blaine: Yeah, so, getting back to your previous point, I wanted to point out that I recently shared a blog post about my experience today. I don’t have results yet, it’s still processing.
Blaine: But interestingly, I just thought of this as you were speaking. I went back and looked at the picture. The envelope flap that I mailed in, my great grandmother wrote her return address over the flap, which is I think a very strong suggestion that she in fact must have licked it herself and then wrote on it.
Blaine: You just made me feel a whole lot better about that just now, thank you.
Blaine: But certainly, what they will try to do is, and at least, this is my understanding, is they will try to get DNA from underneath that flap in order to try to minimize the effect of contamination.
Fisher: Sure. You can wind up with a mix I would assume, right? Would that change percentages somehow?
Blaine: Yeah actually, that won’t work out very well, so, the chips that they use don’t work very well if there’s a mixed sample on there, because essentially they’ll have all results for everything. So as a result, if it’s too mixed they’re just not going to get a good result from the chip when they run it.
Fisher: Could they wind up getting certain DNA from one part of that flap where it’s not mixed, whereas on another part it might be?
Blaine: Yeah, that’s definitely a potential, the problem is that typically they’ll have pulled some of the DNA, and it will kind of all be in the sample they run on the SNP chip. So, it’s definitely a little bit of a gamble there.
Fisher: I’m talking to professional genealogist and DNA specialist, Blaine Bettinger about artifact testing. It’s kind of a new thing that’s coming along. We’ve talked about it a little on the show in the past, but not nearly as in-depth as we’re doing right now. How much do they charge, by the way, at ToTheLetterDNA.com, Blaine?
Blaine: I don’t have the exact price here in Australian dollars. Actually I do, it’s about $780 Australian, which works out to somewhere around $575 US, depending on the conversion rate.
Fisher: Okay. So it is pricey. This is not something everybody’s going to be able to do, afford to do, or want to do at that price, but that’ll hopefully come down over time, right? Because you’re thinking, how many envelopes have got to be out there from a century, a century and a half ago or even longer.
Blaine: I think there are enormous amounts of envelopes. I speak to people all the time and they’re always asking about this, so I think there’s huge potential. On the other hand, I don’t expect the price to drop dramatically, because this process is so much more labor intensive than traditional DNA testing. When you send a sample off to Ancestry, for example, it goes in a robot along with 50,000 other samples, and a human hand never touches them again until they get dumped out. For this type of testing, it is very labor intensive. You have a lab tech who’s doing all of this work on individual samples, and so as a result, the price is always going to be considerably higher.
Fisher: Man, I’m just thinking about this. I have a few. I have love letters between my parents who are both deceased. I never got their DNA. My dad passed 45 years ago, and I’m thinking, boy that’d be great to get dad’s DNA. I wish I had something from his parents, but boy, you look at it, you might kind of have to divide the baby here, right? Do a little Solomon thing. Which one are you going to do? [Laughs]
Blaine: Yes, it really is physically painful to do this, but when you think about the potential benefits, it could just be such a wonderful thing to have these DNA profiles.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. So, as we go forward, how many people do you think would actually take part in this? Are you seeing a lot of people doing it now? Have you spoken to many?
Blaine: I have not spoken to many people that are actually doing it. I think there is a little bit of a wait and see attitude to see how successful the companies are in doing these extractions, and I think that’s a fair thing to do, because these are precious artifacts and so, people don’t want to send them off unless they have some indication that there’s at least some probability of success. And so, at this early stage those of us that are sending off the samples, we do so knowing that we are the pioneers and there is a very high risk that we will get nothing from this process.
Blaine: Those are really the two organizations that I’m familiar with that are offering this for genealogists, because one thing that is really important is, before anyone can consider sending off their sample, they want to make sure that the company is using a SNP chip to analyze the DNA. Because a lot of companies will do this but they’ll be looking at, for example, CODIS markers, which is a different type of DNA marker that isn’t compatible with the genealogical markers that we use at Ancestry or 23AndMe or GEDmatch, so don’t use a company unless you’re sure they’re going to be looking at it with the SNP chips they called it, the testing companies use.
Fisher: Wow. This is all fascinating stuff and it’s got me very excited. I’ve got to talk to these people and see what we can do here. [Laughs] I would like to try several of them. Like you say, it would be really fun to see if you could get some more matches as a result of getting further back. All right Blaine, before we continue here and take the break, why don’t we talk about ethics here, coming up? I ask all the DNA specialists about this because everybody’s got an opinion about what’s going on, especially with law enforcement and all that, and I know you do too.
Blaine: That’s right. Absolutely. It’s a very challenging area right now for sure.
Fisher: All right. We’ll get to that, coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 263
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Blaine Bettinger
Fisher: Back at it. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, talking to Blaine Bettinger. He is a professional genealogist and DNA specialist, the guy behind DNA-Central.com, one of the best known DNA specialists in the country. We were just talking about artifacts testing, which is fascinating and now we’re going to do a little switch here over to talking about ethics and police work right now, because there’s a lot of debate on that among the genealogical specialists around the country. And Blaine, I know we chatted a little about this over lunch in Indiana, it’s a complicated issue.
Blaine: It really is. There are a lot of different sides to this issue. There are a lot of ethical dilemmas that are involved. There are no easy answers.
Fisher: Yeah. I look at this and I think, okay, for people who are not following this you need to understand that there’s really one site, only one site, that’s openly available for police agencies to match DNA to, and that is GEDMatch out of Florida, and they’re all about it at this point. They’re all in. They were very worried about it in the beginning as you may have seen on, what was it, 60 Minutes, or was it Sunday Morning on CBS?
Blaine: That was 60 Minutes I believe.
Fisher: Yeah, I think it was 60 Minutes, and then they talked to the founders of GEDMatch and they were kind of horrified. They felt maybe like they had betrayed the purpose of their site to their customers, who by the way get in there for free. And then realized, oh my gosh, there’s overwhelming support for this, but that doesn’t mean that all the questions have been answered. So, let’s start with this, what are the concerns, Blaine, when you talk to people, the first thing that comes up?
Blaine: Well, what I’m experiencing now is a concern about a potential chilling effect on test taking. So, one of the issues is that as these crimes are essentially solved or since none of them have really gone to trial yet, I think we have to technically say, this is what my lawyer is saying, “The suspects that have been identified.” As these are potentially solved, they are getting a lot of publicity and people are looking at this potential law enforcement use of DNA and have some privacy concerns, or have some concerns about the use of their DNA in that manner. Now again, as you point out it’s really only one database that is, and it’s a third-party tool that’s enabling this type of law enforcement use.
Blaine: And so technically people really shouldn’t be concerned about testing their DNA at companies like Ancestry or 23andMe, or Family Tree DNA for law enforcement use, because these databases they don’t really make it easy for that type of use and in fact many of their terms and conditions specifically prohibit that type of use. So, again I’m getting more and more comments about people saying that their family members are refusing to test as a result of the recent news coverage than I’ve ever received before. So, some of us may be concerned that there may be a chilling effect inadvertently as a result of this use.
Fisher: Well, I would have thought, the chilling effect, if it was going to come, was going to be specifically with GEDMatch. They’re the ones who say, “Hey, this is open for anything.” It’s in their Terms of Service, and they made sure after the Golden State Killer case came out that they let everybody know, “Hey, this is being used for this purpose.” And I guess they had a net gain as a result of all the publicity surrounding that, so I hope that’s a good sign, right?
Blaine: Well, I think it could be. The issue is whether people that are uploading to GEDMatch are a more biased group in one direction or another.
Blaine: For example, people that have already undergone DNA testing may be people that are less concerned about potential law enforcement use. And indeed, when you poll people in GEDMatch or in DNA focused Facebook groups, for example, there is indeed overwhelming support for law enforcement use of our DNA test results in an ethical way, to identify suspects. But the question is, is it a biased group, is that the population as a whole or is it not? That’s an issue that no one really has any good answers for.
Fisher: I would think the ethics question really has to come down to this, are you going into your DNA testing through GEDMatch specifically, with your eyes wide open, aware that you may implicate somebody that you’re related to at a fairly close level, in a crime, right?
Blaine: I think that’s absolutely right.
Fisher: That’s basically the gist of the whole thing, because it’s not, like you say, it’s not the case for Ancestry or 23AndMe or Family Tree DNA. It’s only for GEDMatch. They obviously make their terms available. I would think the real question right now is, is everybody who is in GEDMatch before this came up, are they aware that their DNA is being used for it? Because everybody since certainly does.
Blaine: Right, so, anyone since then, since the Terms and Conditions changed, obviously they have to review those and accept those Terms and Conditions, and it’s spelled out what uses that could include, and that definitely includes law enforcement use. It’s very explicit in that, actually, and that it is an on-going question over whether or not people that were in the database beforehand and then uploaded their DNA there before that was made explicit, whether they have sufficient informed consent. Now, the Terms of Conditions did imply that there were potentially uses other than say, traditional genealogical research that DNA could be used for, but it did not spell out explicit uses such as law enforcement. So, that is an on-going question about whether or not those individuals have given their informed consent.
Fisher: I would think, though, that there has never been a more publicized Terms of Consent that’s been out there, concerning DNA though, since this whole thing came out, so that those people who aren’t paying much attention to it, that they don’t have a huge excuse really not to know, right?
Blaine: Yeah, I mean well, in the traditional world of informed consent, there really isn’t this concept of informed consent by the news. So, you know, I’ve seen that argument that it’s so widespread that everyone should have knowledge of this by now, and certainly that is very much the case, many, many people are going to be aware of this as a result and have the option of removing their DNA, making it private, and other things at GEDMatch. But the question is, does adequate news coverage equate to informed consent, and I think many people that deal with informed consent would say that’s probably not the case.
Fisher: From a legal standpoint.
Blaine: From a legal standpoint.
Fisher: Do you think there’s a risk, for GEDMatch, from a legal standpoint, for those who are in the system since before the change, and I think it was more of a tweak really than a change, just further clarification, that somebody might go after them and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I didn’t agree to this?”
Blaine: No. No, I don’t think so, because again, this is, I’m not, I don’t want to give legal advice.
Fisher: Right, sure.
Blaine: This is just my opinion, but I don’t think so because there’s no evidence of harm. The individuals in the database are unlikely to have standing, and so it’s not a situation where it’s, this is not so much a legal issue, it’s more just the ethical issue associated with it.
Fisher: Sure, as far as it goes. Well you know, in my mind, and I’m sure many, many people feel the same way, hey, if I could catch a second or third cousin that’s done some of the horrendous things that the people have done that have been nailed as a result of this technology, I’m more than happy to help, you know?
Blaine: Yeah, that’s certainly, I, it’s hard to argue with what’s being done with it, right?
Blaine: That is both a blessing and a curse, in a way, because it makes it more difficult for ethical discussions to happen, because we see that the worst of the worst are being identified using this process.
Blaine: And so it’s really hard to say there might be problems with this process, because the outcome is just so getting these individuals off the street if they’re ultimately shown to be guilty, right? So, getting them off the street is obviously a very important outcome, but maybe that has the potential for, it’s hard to even say this, it has the potential to blur our vision a little bit when we discuss some of the ethical issues.
Fisher: He’s Blaine Bettinger. He’s a professional Genealogist and DNA Specialist. He’s the guy behind DNA-Central.com. Blaine, it’s great catching up with you again. We’ve got to get you on sooner next time.
Blaine: Absolutely, and it’s always a pleasure speaking with you.
Fisher: Enjoyed it. Always so much to cover when we talk about DNA. And coming up next, we’re going to delve into preservation with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. He’s our Preservation Authority. We’re going to talk about some of that old equipment that’s cluttering up your house. Do you get rid of it, do you sell it, do you give it away, do you junk it? What do you do? He’s got some ideas on that coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes.
Segment 4 Episode 263
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: Hey, welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And we're talking preservation as we do every week with Tom Perry. He is our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com. Hey Tom, welcome back.
Tom: Holidays are getting close. We've got a lot of things going on.
Fisher: Boy you sure do! And I've got a question for you. You know, I've been doing a lot of purging lately in anticipation that in a few years, we're going to downsize our house, and we don't want to be dealing with it all at once. And so, in the process of that, I discovered something I didn't even know I had, which is an old film projector and film projector screen! Well, what am I going to do with that!
Fisher: Because I've had Tom digitize all my stuff, so I don't really need that anymore. Is there any reason that I should keep that?
Tom: In your case, no. What you have to really remember is, a lot of times, heads get out of alignment. That's the part of the camcorder or the tape recorder or whatever that actually records onto your tape or your film or whatever you're doing. And what these heads do, sometimes it’s not perfectly aligned, so what you need to do is, make sure that all your stuff gets transferred before you start getting rid of your equipment, whether you're going to sell it or donate it to a local transfer area in your neighborhood. You need to make sure it’s all done, because we have people sometimes bring in a tape to us, and most are fine then we get to one that will just not play. And what happened is, they had dropped their camcorder and so it got recorded a little bit out of alignment, and so when it’s on our machine, which is perfectly aligned, it won't play.
Tom: So basically, we tell them, "Hey, do you have your old camcorder or your old tape recorder or whatever this was recorded on?" And if they do, they can bring it in, and generally the heads will still be locked to where they were, which is out of alignment, so we can tie their equipment into our equipment and go and make a perfect transfer for them.
Fisher: Wow, that's great! You know, because I also have a reel to reel tape machine, and this was great 15, 20 years ago when I would pull out some old reel to reels and be able to find out what's on some of these tapes, because it's not always one thing. It might be a series of different things and different people and different eras. And so, it’s a struggle for me to get rid of these things, but as you point out, you really don't need them once these things are digitized, and you've digitized all of my reel to reel tapes. So maybe it’s time for me to give it somewhere or to sell it or something. But I mean, as far as money goes, there's really nothing in these things anymore, is there?
Tom: No. We have a lot of people that come in and say, "Hey, I've got this old tape recorder. I'll let you record all my tapes for me and I'll give you the machine as payment." And we laugh hysterically. [Laughs]
Tom: And we say, "Okay, we'll go ahead and have it done. You can have the machine anyway." And usually what we do is, we just cannibalize it, because a lot of this old equipment is so heavy, if you shipped it to us to have it fixed, it could leave our place perfectly repaired, but if it’s going clear back to Iowa or something, just shaking in the UPS truck could get it out of alignment. It’s called the azimuth and the zenith. It’s kind of the tilt of the heads gets out of alignment and it’s no good. So if you have stuff like that and you don't have a boat that needs an anchor for it, I’d just donate it to somebody. Somebody like us might be able to scavenge some parts off of it.
Fisher: Yeah, so if you have a local digitizer somewhere, you've mentioned to me that you've looked for materials many times. You buy things off of eBay, right?
Tom: Oh yeah. Even if they're not working and it says right in there, for parts only, because hopefully the one part that's still working on that machine is the part that's not working on ours. And so, we can steal parts off of it and do things. We've even fixed our reel to reel machine with old rings off of motorcycles.
Fisher: What really? Are they similar sizes?
Tom: Oh yeah, they're similar sizes, and it’s just amazing. And one thing you want to remember in your reel to reel too is, if you want to listen to them before you go and have them transferred that's a good idea, however, I really recommend, don't do it in one room and go to another room and listen to it, because a lot of times, the old reel to reels can start flaking off. And if they start flaking off the magnetic stuff, you're going to lose everything. So if you have a tape doing that stop immediately, bring it in to us or ship it in to us. And we can do what we call the shake and bake, and make it so we can replay your tape over and over again and get the transfer proper.
Fisher: Wow! All right, Tom, what do you want to talk about next segment?
Tom: Let's talk about your tapes and things that you need to store until you can get them all put together and get them transferred.
Fisher: All right, good stuff, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 263
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: Hey, we're getting close to the finish line here on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, talking preservation with Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com. And you know Tom, we were just kind of hinting at this at the end of the last segment, talking about maybe doing a little piecemeal work to make sure that your material can all get digitized. You can't often do it all at once, because it’s very expensive. What's the best way to stage this so that you can get your most important things done first and also keep them on some kind of schedule?
Tom: Right. And as we're getting closer to Christmas and Hanukah and the different holidays, you want to get stuff, whether it’s sending to us or to your local transfer place ASAP, because a lot of people are actually getting fuller right now and they're not going to be able to do a lot of stuff. So I always recommend, anything that has a dye in it, like slides and film, you want to give those number one priority, because those are going to fade the quickest. Your next priority would be videotapes, like if you have VHS tape or you have the old commercial U-Matic tapes or any of these kinds of things, then you want to do those. Then after that, you want to go to your audio cassettes, because they're the most stable of anything. And the most important thing to do is, if you are going to store them, store them in a clean, dry place, preferably in Ziploc bags. If you're in a high humidity area, you want to get some uncooked long grain rice, wrap it in some cheesecloth and tie with a string and put it in the Ziploc bag with your tapes, so that it can absorb the moisture instead of your tapes absorbing the moisture. And keep them away from heating ducts, keep them away from exterior walls, keep them in a cool, dry place the best you can, but not a high humidity place. So not in a food cellar, in a place that has a lot of humidity.
Fisher: You know, we've talked in the past a lot about bugs getting into materials, usually though that has to do with prints, like photographs, right? Do we ever see that coming into play with audio?
Tom: Sometimes they can get into that also. And the thing is, with film, a lot of times you get these little, teeny worms that actually eat the emulsion. So you see these little, it looks almost like scratches across your film that are these little worms. That's why I recommend the Ziploc bags, and that's why I recommend the long grain rice, so you don't have mice and things getting into it. I've heard some people just go get a bag of rice, pour it into cheesecloth and just leave it in a box. You've got to realize, if it’s just in a cardboard box, mice might chew through it, might not eat these stuff inside, but now there's a hole where worms and mites and different things like that can get into it and can chew on your film.
Fisher: There's so many ways to destroy your stuff here, it’s kind of freighting, and that's why we touch on it quite often, on all these key points. All right, Tom, so if I had bunch of stuff, I'm thinking, I would want to prioritize those things that are most important, and part of that would be, knowing what's on some of these things, right? And not all of them are labeled. What percentage of stuff that comes into your shop is labeled?
Tom: I would say probably about 70%. Somebody's written something on the case, but so we have options too, if somebody has all this film they found in Aunt Martha's garage and has no idea what it is, we and a lot of places out there has little machines that you can rent for the day or for the week or whatever. But they're not projectors like you were talking about in the first segment. They're little hand crank machines. So you don't have old brittle film that's going to go through a projector and its going to shatter your film. This way, you can just hand feed it and there won't be any damage to your film, because if it’s old and brittle, it will shatter going through a machine. So that's why we recondition all the film before we ever start the transfer.
Fisher: So this is how you can go through and determine what's on that film, so you can determine what you want to transfer, because it is a pricey thing.
Tom: Oh, absolutely. Same thing with VHS tapes. If you don't have your own VCR, come into our place or most of the places out there. We'll have a sit down area where you can watch your VHS tapes and listen to your audio cassettes. And as I said earlier, make sure as you're doing this, pay attention to what's going on and actually look at the tape as it’s going around. And if you start seeing dust and things coming off your tape, you need to stop immediately and go through a restoration process to stop anymore of that magnetic particles falling off your tapes.
Fisher: All right, Tom, you're saving a lot of people a lot of grief, and we appreciate it. We'll talk to you again next week. Thanks bud.
Tom: My pleasure.
Fisher: Hey, that's our show for this week. Thanks once again for joining us. Of course, keep up with us on ExtremeGenes.com and through our Facebook page and through our Weekly Genie Newsletter. You can sign up for that, it’s absolutely free at ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice normal family!