Episode 282 - DNA: What’s Next? / Ask Us Anything: Military RecordsMay 19, 2019
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David begins with news that former CBS News anchor, Dan Rather, was recently presented with a lifetime achievement award and his family history by NEHGS. Then, the guys talk about a family that has had a male descendant of the same name, now, for ten straight generations! Might an eleventh be on tap? Next, who would imagine that Bonnie and Clyde are still making news 85 years after being gunned down. Find out what’s happening. Fisher and David then talk about one family where Muhammad Ali wasn’t the only notable relative. Find out what they recently learned about The Champ’s direct ancestor. Then, two late 19th century London figures of note… The Elephant Man and Jack The Ripper… are receiving new attention. Catch the latest. 60 Minutes recently did a piece involving family history… but who knew it was all over Easter Island? Find out from the guys what’s been learned.
Fisher then visits with the woman behind Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard. Diahan answers the question that everyone asks… What’s next in DNA? Fisher and Diahan talk about the recent changes in ethnicity test results and new tools from the various companies to help us make the connections we’re looking for.
Brandt Gibson from Legacy Tree Genealogists then joins the show to discuss a recent research case for a client, and how they were able to reunite an adoptee with a delighted birth father.
Then David Allen Lambert returns for another Ask Us Anything segment answering questions about Civil War service and pension records and how you might be able to personally handle your Revolutionary War ancestor’s original records!
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 282
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 282
Fisher: And welcome to another spine-tingling episode of 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 episode is brought to you by Relative Race on BYUtv, Sunday nights at 9 o’clock Eastern, 6 o’clock Pacific. Hey, it’s great to have you back Genies! We have a very DNA-like slant to the show today. We have one of America’s foremost experts who’s going to be talking to us about DNA, and some things you should be looking for as things continue to evolve in that realm. Diahan Southard is going to be here on the show coming up a little later on. And we’re going to talk to a guy from Legacy Tree Genealogists about a recent project that resulted in a remarkable reunion for one of their clients. Brandt Gibson is going to talk about that. And then later on in the show, of course another edition of Ask Us Anything, with a military slant this week, some guy with the name David Allen Lambert. Yeah, he’s a Bostonian who knows a little about that. In fact, I have him on the line right now. And you’re not in Boston. Where are you?
David: I am at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Saint Charles, Missouri.
Fisher: Wow! All right, you’re traveling the world because I know you were in Alaska last week.
Fisher: When was the last time you were in Boston?
David: For about two days last week.
Fisher: [Laughs] And of course David is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. I know some stuff was going on back at NEHGS while you were gone David. Who did you celebrate this time around?
David: Well, our annual meeting this year was to celebrate the news reporter Dan Rather where he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New England Historic Genealogical Society as well as a prepared genealogy on his family.
Fisher: Very nice! All right, let’s get started with our Family Histoire News today and where do you want to begin David?
David: Well, let’s start with confusion. How about if you work on your family genealogy and you get lot of the same names? How about if you were William Williams the 10th?
David: Yes. The conundrum of do you name your son William Williams the 11th? No pressure there. This Welsh family has had family members living in America since the 19th century. In fact, they have William Williams the 4th’s family Bible from 1854! So, hopefully they have nicknames to separate them or maybe they just call them by the number like the presidential number of the Bushes.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, right, forty one, forty three, exactly something like that. This could go on a while yet because William Williams the 10th has a girlfriend. They are getting serious and she says, “I understand the responsibility that would be mine to produce William Williams the 11th because it’s gone on now since the 18th century!” Unbelievable.
David: It really is. Well, another family story goes back to the 1930s and of course the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde will be well remembered probably by our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. But one of the nephews and one of the nieces of Bonnie and Clyde are trying to reunite them, well, actually reunite them in the same cemetery. [Laughs]
Fisher: Yes! And this is not going well with the cemetery that has Bonnie because she is like the big attraction there. But they’re going through the legal procedures and undoubtedly they will ultimately prevail and there just happens to be a grave available right next to Clyde.
David: You know, the funny thing about it is they wanted to originally bury them side by side but Bonnie’s mother said he could have her in life but he’s not going to have her in death.
Fisher: By the way, it’s been a real tough haul for that family ever since the killings of Bonnie and Clyde in 1934, and it’s a great article, and you can find it on ExtremeGenes.com.
David: And on the same wonderful website ExtremeGenes.com you can find out about Muhammad Ali’s ancestor, who in fact was a Civil War hero. Archer Alexander was an enslaved person from the St. Louis/Saint Charles area, actually where I am right now. And he actually informed Union forces about a planned sabotage that was going to destroy a bridge which could have led to the death of many soldiers that would have been crossing it at the time.
David: Muhammad Ali was the greatest, but apparently so was his ancestor.
Fisher: Isn’t that something? They’ve got two great ones in their family.
David: It’s true. Well, you know, back in the early 1980s I saw the movie “Elephant Man” and I worried about the horribly sad life of Joseph Merrick, a man who had a rare genetic disease, and was a freak show attraction, then he was hospitalized in London. Well, ultimately his skeleton was donated to science, but his remains other than his skeleton were buried but lost to time. That’s until recently when Jo Vigor-Mungovin, a British Author, located where his other remains are buried. Now there’s a push to see if they can reunite his skeleton with the rest of him.
David: Speaking of 19th century London, around the same time that the “Elephant Man” was in the city, there was also a man we really don’t know too much about yet, Jack the Ripper. And that is my blogger spotlight, not really a blog by Jack the Ripper, but Jack-the-ripper-tour.com has a great blog on Victorian East End London, the lives of the people who live in the spy fields area where the Ripper operated and is an intriguing anthropological and social history look in England, especially in London in the late 19th century.
Fisher: I think that would be great fun if you were going to London to take that tour. It would be really interesting.
David: I did it three years ago, and I did it twice because I went and did it myself at night which is a better time to do it!
Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, of course.
David: [Laughs] All right well, I know this is a late wish for Easter, but let’s talk about Easter Island which may have genealogical ties to it. The statues that have been there for so many millennia are actually ancestral statues according to one researcher on whom we have a great story featured on ExtremeGenes.com.
Fisher: All right. Yeah, it is a great story and you’ve got to see this and it was featured recently on 60 Minutes. Good stuff.
David: And don’t forget if you can’t make it to Easter Island, you may be able to make it to Boston, to the New England Historic Genealogical Society and you could become a member and you could save $20 before you come here by using the coupon code “Extreme” on AmericanAncestors.org.
Fisher: All right David. Thank you so much. Have a great time on your trip and we will talk to you again, actually later on in the show, as we do another Ask Us Anything, talking about your military expertise. That’s going to be a lot of fun as we cover Civil War and Revolutionary Ancestors. And coming up next we’re going to talk to one of America’s premier DNA experts, one of the great teachers too who can really take the complicated concepts and break it down into simplicity. Diahan Southard is coming up here in just a couple of moments. We’re going to find out about what she sees as the next big thing in DNA because it’s always changing, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 282
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Diahan Southard
Fisher: Hey back at it at Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, so excited to have my good friend Diahan Southard back on the show. She’s one of America’s premier DNA experts, one of the great speakers you will ever hear anywhere, as she proved once again at RootsTech this year. And Diahan’s based in the Fort Lauderdale area in Florida. Diahan, great to have you back on the show.
Diahan: Scott, thank you so much for inviting me. It’s always a pleasure.
Fisher: Always great to have you on. And let’s talk about what’s next because we’re always hearing so many rumors and thoughts about what could come from DNA in the not too distant future. We certainly saw this recent comment by Ancestry. They did a blog talking about the changes in what’s going on with the ethnicity results and I’ve been seeing comments from a lot of people who are really thrown off by that. And I think there really needs to be a clearer understanding about what this ethnicity result actually mean.
Diahan: Well, when I see announcements like this and I hear all the questions Scott, I just think job for security.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.
Diahan: There is no end to the updates. I don’t think there will ever be an end to the updates, which means there’s always going to be the need for someone like me to help everybody understand what they really mean.
Diahan: So, I mean updates by their very nature sound like a positive thing, right? Don’t we want the newest and latest and best?
Fisher: Um hmm.
Diahan: And I think in other areas like TVs they cost though. I mean you walk in there and they’re bigger, and brighter, and more clear every time. And you see people just standing and gawking.
Fisher: And cheaper. And cheaper.
Diahan: And cheaper. Yes.
Diahan: So updates, we tend to think of them as very positive, and yet somehow in this arena and the arena of ethnicity updates, I don’t see that. I think a lot of people think of them as a negative thing, and here’s why. I think when they see the update, they automatically have to think well, if this number is new, then that old number, was it wrong?
Fisher: Um hmm.
Diahan: And that’s the dilemma that people are having.
Fisher: Well and there’s an identity question too that comes along with that. People are either getting their identity validated or they’re learning something new and they’ve shared these results with their friends and their family, and “I did the test and this is what it tells me.” And then all of a sudden you got to go back and tell them... what? [Laughs] You know?
Diahan: Yeah, un-tell them.
Fisher: Un-tell them. How do you do that?
Diahan: Right. Yeah.
Fisher: And you can see why it could be somewhat of a negative for a lot of people. They spend a certain amount of money to accomplish that. And often really, ethnicity is all they went there for in the first place. Most of us as genies think, hey, we’re going to go and we’re going to find cousin matches and we’re going to validate some of our research with the records with this. But in their case, often it’s just for the ethnicity. And like you say, it becomes a negative when they make the changes. How do we turn that around?
Diahan: Yeah. And that’s a very good question. I think the best answer is education. It’s just helping people understand that when our companies are giving us our ethnicity information, it is just an estimate. It’s a prediction. There is nothing ironclad about the numbers that they’re giving us. So then what good are they? How reliable are they?
Diahan: Well, they’re as good as the data they’re based on. So, one of the things I like to encourage people to do is, every testing company they give you your results but there’s also always a little link that says something like “show all populations” so then you can see all of the populations that are being tested by your company. So for example, for a very long time none of our companies were giving any results on German ethnicity. It was always grouped into some other category. So, so many people would get their results and they know they are German, they have their documentation, they have the paper research, and yet their DNA were saying British and Irish, or Eastern European, or something, and they were confused, where’s my German?
Diahan: Well, most companies just didn’t have that category. So if you’d clicked on see all populations you would have seen that there is no German category. It’s not that you have 0% German, there is no German. And I think most of our companies have now updates so that there is a German category. And so, your results that once had to be sucked into a different category, now have their home. Now they have a place to go. So, people who are seeing their German ancestors suddenly show up in their ethnicity results are thrilled and they see it as an update, right?
Fisher: Yeah, and a positive. [Laughs]
Diahan: And a positive. Exactly. So, when you think of it that way and you think oh, well, this is happening to me even though maybe I don’t have any German, the same principle applies. That if the population where my family comes from is under represented in the database at the testing company, they aren’t going to be able to tell me I’m from there. And because of the way their algorithms work, they have to put me somewhere and so they’ve thrown me into the nearest category, which probably isn’t correct. So, as our updates are coming out, we’re seeing this rearranging of our numbers and for a lot of people it is a positive because most of the time our testing companies are becoming more refined in their categories and more refined in their ability to tell us where we’re from. And it’s a good thing.
Fisher: And they’re getting it generally from increased base population samples right, and better algorithms?
Diahan: Yes. Those are definitely the two biggest factors whom they’re comparing you against, and the math. So, the math is very complicated. You think it should be really simple, right? You test a bunch of Irish people and you identify Irish DNA. Then we look at you, Scott, and we say “Scott, do you have this Irish DNA?” If you do, you’re Irish, if don’t, you’re not. But that is not how it works. That’s not how it works at all.
Fisher: No. And of course we’ve talked about this, many times you’ve got a lot of people going back and forth across various boarders and various categories, you know, what are the Eastern French, right, what are the Southern French, because they may be closer to Portugal, the Eastern French are right there against the Germans, so you’re going to get all kinds of material from there and you might not identify with the one you’re getting.
Diahan: Yeah. That’s so true. So, later in June, in mid June, I’ll be speaking at the German Genealogical Society. It’s a national, actually it’s an international conference in Sacramento, and I’ll be giving a talk for the first time called “It’s Getting Easier to be Genetically German.”
Diahan: And we’re talking about that. I’ve seen some preliminary data from the testing company Living DNA and they are working really hard to do exactly what you just said, to say well, people from Germany don’t all look the same genetically.
Diahan: Southern German, everybody looks different.
Diahan: So let’s define those categories specifically. And so it’s been really fascinating to see some of their initial results and how you can tell the difference between different places in Germany based on genetics if you have the right reference populations and the right math.
Diahan: And it’s been really cool to see that. So, if anybody is going to be around Sacramento in June, they can come listen to that talk and learn a little bit more about that algorithm.
Fisher: And you’re going to want to hear Diahan talk. She does a great presentation. So, what else? What’s next in DNA you see coming around the corner?
Diahan: All right. Well, so we just talked about the one kind of result, your ethnicity results. The other kind of result that you mentioned is your match list that lists your DNA cousins. We’re seeing updates in both areas. And one of the biggest updates we’re seeing in our match lists is automation. So, at RootsTech, both Ancestry DNA and MyHeritage DNA released a fancy way of viewing your matches. So, Ancestry calls it True Lines, and MyHeritage calls it The Theory of Family Relativity.
Diahan: So, both of these companies have very large connected family trees. And what they’re trying to do is merge this record-based research with you DNA research in ways that are valuable to you. So, it’s a collection tool. It’s based mostly on your trees actually, and just a little bit on your DNA, which can cause some problems. For example, an Ancestry tool, what they do is they gather anybody they can see who is a descendant of a particular ancestor. Like my great grandfather, he actually had five kids and most of those lines represented the database. I think I have like 13 people who are his descendants in the database.
Diahan: So, True Lines gathered all of those people together for me and showed me their relationships and it’s really handy.
Fisher: Yes. And I’ve had great success with it myself and I’ve really appreciated it. But it’s Beta though. It’s still getting developed and it changes every few weeks the way they present it. But nonetheless, you can see that this is going to be a really useful tool.
Diahan: Right. But it’s also really dangerous.
Fisher: It is.
Diahan: It’s dangerous because it’s based on tree data. And we know that not everybody is as diligent as a researcher as we would like them to be.
Diahan: And so, if a lot of people insert the same wrong ancestor into their tree, the tool doesn’t know that. The tool just sees the same person.
Fisher: And it validates the wrong person as being the right person, unfortunately.
Diahan: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s not good. So, there are definitely ways that we as genealogists need to go in and validate the True Lines tool and say okay, I see that you’re saying that, Scott, you are my match and you are supposed to be my fourth cousin, how much DNA are you sharing with me? There are ways that you can go through and look at the total amount of DNA that you are sharing and your relationship and determine if it all makes sense or not. So, there’s definitely some education that needs to go in here.
Fisher: Comparably, the MyHeritage version of this, The Theory of Family Relativity, actually shows in little squares or diamonds exactly how different people relate to one another which really gives you a triangulation tool there, which is really helpful.
Diahan: It definitely is. I wish we could just make one tool out of the both of them because they both have really good features.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes they do.
Diahan: And I wish we could just have one tool that had everything we wanted in it. But I love how they’re stepping out. They’re saying there’s ways that we can automate finding our ancestral connections. And they’re making strides in that direction using their considerable resources both in the ways of family tree data and in the way of genetic data, to try to present us with something that’s a little more useful than just a list of matches.
Fisher: She is Diahan Southard. She is the owner of Your DNA Guide and you can find her at?
Fisher: All right. Thanks so much for coming on Diahan. You’ve made my mind explode and I’m always thrilled to have you on the show. Talk to you again soon.
Diahan: All right Scott. Thanks.
Fisher: And up next, we’ll talk to another DNA specialist from Legacy Tree Genealogists talking about a recent case with an adoptee and an amazing breakthrough. You’ll want to hear how it was done coming up in five minutes.
Segment 3 Episode 282
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Brandt Gibson
Fisher: And welcome back! It is America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. And you know, on this show we talk to experts like Diahan Southard who was just on, talking about where DNA is going. And then there’s that practical application of DNA in solving cases and in many cases identities, especially of people who were adopted. This goes on everyday but it’s interesting to follow the process that takes place. If you’re listening and you’ve considered perhaps that you want to pursue your birth family if you’re an adoptee. We have Brandt Gibson on the phone right now and he is a caseworker with Legacy Tree Genealogists, located in Tacoma, Washington. Brandt, it is great to have you on the show. How you’re doing?
Brandt: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me. Fun to be here.
Fisher: You know, it is always a fascinating thing to help somebody who has struggled finding their birth family because it’s a life changing thing to do for someone, isn’t it? And it’s not something that just anybody can do. You have to have a certain level of expertise. So, let’s talk about this recent case you recently had and I know that the person you were working with has given you permission to talk about it. So, let’s explain exactly what the situation was.
Brandt: Yeah, sure. The client that came to us last year, she had been adopted as an infant and when she came to us she had already identified her birth mother but she needed some assistance figuring out who her birth father was.
Fisher: Obviously she had a positive experience with the birth mother, I am assuming.
Brandt: Yeah. She had a great experience and was interested and excited to try and identify her birth father’s side of the family as well to try and expand her family circle.
Fisher: So, why was she struggling with it? Obviously she did pretty well in tracking down the birth mom. Did she use more conventional ways? Or was it when she got into DNA she found herself a little over her head?
Brandt: I think so, yeah because she had tested at a number of different places and she saw centimorgans and possible relationships and everything and it was just so much data to sift through, so many possible relationships to all of these people that she didn’t know. She didn’t know how to pull all of it together to tell her what she was really looking at.
Fisher: Sure, okay. And had her birth mother given her any clues as to the birth father’s identity?
Brandt: She did. She gave her two names of her likely birth father. The client had actually gone out, identified descendants of both of these individuals and they had agreed to DNA testing and the results came back as no matches for both of them.
Brandt: So, she was really struggling on who her dad could be because her mom was offering no more information.
Fisher: Well, yeah those are those challenging times when people don’t want to look back. So, what happened now? You had several different pools you were fishing in as far as the DNA goes. Where did you get something to work with?
Brandt: Right. She tested at My Heritage, Ancestry, a couple of other places and her best matches were actually at Ancestry. That’s not really a surprise because they are by far the largest of all the testing databases out there.
Brandt: But her closest match was at Ancestry and he shared enough DNA to possibly be maybe a half first cousin, or a first cousin once removed, somewhere around there, so a really close relative.
Brandt: And he didn’t match any on the mom’s side. So, right off the bat we’re thinking, okay this is going to need a lynchpin in solving this thing.
Fisher: Sure. But with only one it’s a little challenging unless this person knows that his relative had a child sometime many decades ago, right?
Brandt: Well, it helped too that he had a really well documented family tree going back to at least his great grandparents on all of his lines and most of them went much further than that.
Fisher: Nice! Okay, so you had the potential to get some candidates especially if you could find another match.
Brandt: Exactly. So, we started looking through the shared matches. The shared matches featured on all of the DNA testing websites. It’s by far the best tool that you have in identifying connections between not just you and your matches but your matches to each other.
Brandt: So, that’s what we started looking at first. Saying, okay we’ve got this really close match, who else matches this client and this cousin?
Brandt: We started looking for surnames in common between the match and the shared matches.
Fisher: And were you fortunate enough to find a bunch of those shared matches?
Brandt: We did actually. There’s one line that was only back to his great grandparents and he only had their names, no dates, or places, or anything. And when I saw that couple I just held this little tug of tagging him, give a look at these people and when you get that little nudge in that direction you’ve got to follow that, right?
Fisher: Sure, absolutely.
Brandt: I started exploring that and the connections I was finding were all related to this couple. It really helped that they were both immigrants from Poland and they had unusual names for Midwest America in the 1930s when they lived. So, it made identifying the connection to these shared matches a lot easier.
Fisher: I mean, to some extent this is almost like the criminal cases, right? Where you’re just trying to figure out, all right, where did these people all come together? Especially when you consider the relationship, it’s kind of like a little puzzle as you put those puzzle pieces down on the table.
Brandt: Exactly! So, finding these connections even though they were a bit more distant, probably like you know third, fourth, fifth cousins, or maybe beyond. They all share that unusual surname so it’s kind of like when you’re building a puzzle you start with the edge pieces, first do the corners.
Brandt: So, you can get a framework so you can have an idea where this thing is going to go. So that really helped in this case, having that unusual surname, finding these connections, it all pointed back to this one immigrant couple from Poland in the 1800s.
Fisher: And so how did you narrow it down to one particular descendant of that couple?
Brandt: Well, that came in with some other shared matches with a close match where we found connections through his great grandmother’s side. As we looked, we started finding relatives that also matched to his great grandfather’s side which fortunately also had an unusual surname.
Brandt: This guy hit the rare name jackpot as far as this kind of research is concerned.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] Absolutely. So, you found the father, you presented her with the information and now the fund begins.
Brandt: Um hmm.
Fisher: And that is the breathtaking act of actually contacting somebody and saying, “Hey, I think you’re my father.” Tell us about that.
Brandt: Right. Once we had the couple narrowed down, the timeframe said it had to be one of the sons of this couple. They only had two sons, fortunately both were still living. So, we got contact information for them, gave that to the client and said, “We believe your birth father is one of these two brothers.” So, we gave her the contact information. She reached out to them and one of them came back and said, “Yes, I believe I’m your birth father.” And he agreed to do a DNA test at Ancestry immediately which was amazing.
Brandt: And 6 -7 weeks later the results came back and he was the father.
Fisher: Wow. Did he reach out to her with the news or did she reach back to him? Who saw the results first?
Brandt: I believe she did. I think he gave her access to the results.
Brandt: So that she could see them when they came in. So, once the results came in she called him up and said, yes you’re my father. And from what I understand the reunion was just amazing. The family was very accepting. She has I think 3 or 4 half siblings, one which lives really close to her.
Fisher: And where is she located?
Brandt: In Illinois, I believe.
Fisher: Okay. So, she’s now met her birth mother and had a good experience there and had a great experience with the birth father. I love hearing that.
Brandt: Oh, I know. Me too. You get so worried about how accepting is the family going to be? What’s their reaction going to be? But, apparently they were all just open arms and you know, we love to have you in our family kind of thing. So, it’s just really fantastic, really gratifying to hear that.
Fisher: Well, there always is the chance that it’s not going to work out that way and often does for people.
Brandt: Um hmm.
Fisher: But I think the majority of them do work out well and I’m always happy to hear about that. And now she’s kind of become an expert herself on how this is done and can probably help others. There are a lot of search angels out there dealing with adoptees, aren’t there?
Brandt: Oh, definitely. The search angels do amazing work and all for free in helping people like this in trying to identify their birth family.
Fisher: Absolutely. Brandt Gibson from Legacy Tree Genealogists, always great to talk to you, thanks so much for the story and it’s great to hear a positive outcome.
Brandt: Thank you. Thanks for letting me share that. It’s a pleasure talking to you.
Fisher: And coming up next, it’s another “Ask Us Anything” segment. We’re going to talk to David Allen Lambert about military records, finding them for your Civil War and Revolutionary War ancestors, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 282
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back at it. Its America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and it’s time once again for our Ask Us Anything segment. And this week, with David Allen Lambert, now wearing his military expert hat. And David, it’s great to have you back.
David: Honored to be here.
Fisher: And our question comes in from Robert. He's a KTAR listener in Phoenix, Arizona and he says, "How do I get the Civil War records of my ancestors?"
David: Well, the real question to Robert is, are they Union veterans or are they Confederates? Now, the Union records are pretty much easy to find. In fact, the National Park's website actually has combined with Confederates sort of minimal information. Basically, you can find your “William Fisher” with the 12th Connecticut Infantry or the 5th New York Heavy Artillery or the 3rd Alabama Infantry. However, the records are another thing. Now, they're starting to be digitized. In fact, on Fold3, they are really the Federal record repository digitization I would say, of Ancestry and also for NARA. NARA is basically not able to digitize everything under their own auspices. They basically will allow you to go to the Archives and you can digitize and put on their website your individual ancestor, but they're not going to do everybody's. That's where Fold3 is coming in. So for instance, all the service records for Massachusetts to my satisfaction have been digitized and are already online on Fold3. Other states, not so much, like New Hampshire and other little places that your ancestor may come from. Take a peek at Fold3. You know, it’s very easy to get your Civil War ancestor's service file, because you can get it for $27.50 from the National Archives. You can order them right from the NARA website. It’s really quite easy. Confederate records are on microfilm, and those are available from the National Archives as well. The Confederate pensions are a little different. You know, obviously with the Union, I mean, you're going to get a pension for disability or your widow might get one, obviously if you're killed in the line of action or you died and your widow collect after that.
Fisher: That was from the Federal government, right?
David: That’s right. And the Federal government really didn't give pensions to the Confederacy. So, the states that had Confederate forces would then in turn give them state awarded pensions. So, like Virginia Confederate pensions are all online for free.
David: You can get those online. Those are great. There are other states like Texas and Arkansas and other states that you can find that they either have a finding guide to them or an index or some of them have also have them online. So, more and more of the digital age. Robert, you won't have to worry about in the coming decade or so looking for the original records, because they'll all be online. The other thing that I always say when you're looking for pension files, you're going to find affidavits, Fish. And what the affidavits are, is like if you are I served together in the war.
David: You were a witness of my ancestor getting injured. You write a letter on my behalf to help me get my pension.
Fisher: Yeah, we have one of those for one of my wife's ancestors who was killed in the Civil War.
David: Well, here's an angle, why don't you look up the pension of that person to see if your ancestor wrote a letter on their behalf, getting a different angle on a battle that your ancestor may have not even been injured at, but was present. And I tell people to adopt the company and then ultimately the regiment to get a full story of what their ancestor's life was like during the war.
Fisher: Wow that would be a great way to go! And what about for the South? Did they do that same kind of letter for them?
David: They sure did. You would get affidavits to support your claim or affidavits from a local minister or a family member that was there when you married your wife, because now she's a widow, and it’s to prove that she is in fact your widow. Maybe the court house got burned down by the Union forces and there's no marriage record left. But her cousin was present in 1857 and can swear and did so in front of Justice of the Peace that she was there when the widow married the former Civil War veteran.
Fisher: Wow! All right, David, coming up next, we're going to talk about Revolutionary soldiers as we continue our Ask Us Anything segment, talking military records today on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 282
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: Hey we're back! It is our Ask Us Anything segment on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And we're talking military records today with military expert, David Allen Lambert from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And this question is from Sally in McLean, Virginia. And David, she says, "Can I handle my ancestor's Revolutionary War records?" Wouldn't that be cool! I think it’s a great question.
David: Well, I’ll tell you Sally. If you own them, you probably can touch them, but if you want to go to the National Archives in Washington DC and look at the original muster rolls that they happen to have of the army or go to state archives to look at the original muster rolls, they're going to probably be a little standoffish in pulling the original for you. But there is a group of records that you may want to take a peek at. Now these are called, the final payment vouchers. Now these are for the Revolutionary War. And with the exception of Georgia and Delaware, which are on Fold3, the other ones you can still request. These are pretty neat, Fish. For some reason, they were separated from the actual pension files, and they deal with the years of 1818 to 1864, and mostly everyone that has a Revolutionary War pension, has a final payment voucher. It’s essentially kind of like the last check if you will.
David: It varies. Some of them can have the actual pension certificate mailed back to the war department. Some of them will have receipts. Some of them will just be a slip saying the soldier died. For me, I got a surprise of a lifetime. Now I had been already telling people about using the final payment vouchers in person at the Archives for about a year at that point in time, but then I pulled one of my ancestor, Joshua Whitney of Maine and I opened up the folder and there was his final payment voucher signed by an officer of John C. Calvin's office in the war department, his original slip. And I'm holding it in my hand, wow, this is amazing! This belonged to my ancestor. This is how he got his minimal pension that he got when he was really downtrodden in life. But then there was a letter, and the letter listed all of his daughters with their signatures and their marks, including my third great grandmother, as well as the married names of children of his that I didn't even realize he had!
Fisher: Oh wow! Isn't that amazing! You know, some of them are just lost in time, because the census records didn't name everybody, and that's really the best resource for most everybody getting started. And here they are, these people named there. Were you able to go and find more information about them?
David: I did. I tracked them down, got some death records. I mean, unfortunately a name like Whitney is very common up in Maine. An old New England family could travel all over the place. But now that I had their married names, it compounded looking for them in the 1850 census altogether easier, because this is the death of a soldier who died in the 1830s.
David: So I was able to find them. Some of them living in Toledo since the Civil War, as my third great grandmother did. She died in 1866.
Fisher: Unbelievable. So these are called the final payment vouchers, and are they also available for other wars?
David: Well, you know, it’s funny, you would think that there might be, but in the case of other wars, they seem to be mixed in. So it’s one of the things you find in Civil War pension that we were just talking about. You'll find them in the end. It’s sort of like the letter returned from the postmaster saying that the veteran or the widower had died. So that technically is the voucher closure against the Civil War pensions. And of course World War I, World War II veterans didn't get pensions. You'll also find those similar post office returns for Spanish American war, as well as the Indian wars, but not separated, so they're included. And this collection's huge, its 610 layers deep. They're only at the National Archives, except Delaware and Georgia, which are now on Fold3. And of course as we speak, there's probably another one being popped up there.
Fisher: You know, that's absolutely unbelievable. That's great stuff. Thanks for the question, Sally. And if you have a question for us for an Ask Us Anything segment on any particular topic, you can email us at [email protected]. David, thanks so much. Talk to you again next week, buddy.
David: All right, my friend. Talk to you soon.
Fisher: Well, as we say in the business, we’re running long! So we've got to get out of here. Thanks so much for joining us. Catch the podcast if you missed any of this or you want to hear it again on iTunes, iHeart Radio or ExtremeGenes.com. We'll talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!