Episode 283 - Got A Union Soldier From West Virginia? His Medal May Be Waiting For You! / One Woman’s Family Tie To The 150th Golden Spike AnniversaryMay 26, 2019
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with Brooke Ganz, organizer of ReclaimTheRecords.org, filling in for David Allen Lambert. In Family Histoire News, Fisher and Brooke first talk about an Irish woman who sought her birth mother for over sixty years. Hear the unique twist to this story. Then, a man was shocked to learn that his DNA results were the scientific equivalent of finding “Bigfoot.” Find out why. Next, a controversy has sprung up over the use of DNA and genetic genealogy in a criminal case in Utah. Brooke and Fisher review the concerns. Finally, Brooke talks about another lawsuit recently filed by Reclaim The Records against the City of New York. She’ll explain what they’re trying to do.
Next, Fisher visits with Randy Marcum, historian at the West Virginia State Archives. West Virginia has been seeking their Civil War Union soldiers and their descendants since 1866 to present them with a personalized medal to recognize their service. Out of 26,000 medals, some 3,400 remain. Hear the story behind these incredible family keepsakes and how qualified people can get one that was made specifically for their ancestor.
Then, McKell Keeney from Arizona talks about the recent celebration of the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike, connecting the United States by rail. McKell was present for the festivities at Promontory Point, Utah, and for a very special reason. Were it not for her grandmother, none of this year’s festivities might ever have happened.
Then, it’s another “Ask Us Anything” segment. Fisher’s special guest this week is… well… Fisher! Answering a listener question about discovering family history treasures on eBay. Then, another listener asks about the wisdom of DNA testing children.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 283
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Brooke Ganz
Segment 1 Episode 283
Fisher: And welcome to America’s Family History Show Genies! It is Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, 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 BYUtv’s Relative Race. The final episode is this weekend, 9 o’clock Sunday, that is Eastern Time, 6 o’clock Pacific and it’s going to be a great one to find out which team scores the $50,000. Well, it’s great to have you along today. I’ve got to tell you we’ve got so much to cover. First of all, there is a state that is making available to descendants of Civil War Veterans personalized medals that were made for these veterans back right after the Civil War. It’s in West Virginia. We’re going to talk to Randy Marcum. He is an historian with the West Virginia Archives and if you’ve got a Union Soldier from West Virginia, you’re going to want to hear about this. Plus later on in the show, we’re going to talk to McKell Keeney. She’s back. You know, just this past week or so there was a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah. And this is where the trains were joined to connect east to west and it really changed the economy of America, the economy of the world and the history of the world. And her grandmother had everything to do with making Promontory a nationally designated park and it’s a fascinating story. You’re going to want to hear that, and we’ll have a little to tell you about the celebration that went on as well. It was really quite fun. And by the way, if you haven’t signed up for the “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, let me encourage you to do so. It’s absolutely free. All you have to do is go to ExtremeGenes.com or to our Facebook page, and we share with you a blog each week and links to podcast and to stories that you’re going to find of interest as well. And right now, filling in for David Allen Lambert this week, my good friend Brooke Ganz from Reclaim the Records and Brooke, it is great to have you back on the show.
Brooke: Well, thanks for having me Fisher. Great to be here.
Fisher: You know, we’ve got a lot of stories to cover in Family Histoire News today. Some are fun and some are, shall we say, a little controversial.
Brooke: That’s true, and then the first one we have is the story about an Irish woman, who thanks to genealogists working very hard for her, was able to reconnect with her birth mother. But the thing that makes the story really unusual is that her birth mother is still alive and is 103 years old!
Fisher: Yeah, and almost 104! I mean whoever hears of an 81-year-old tracking down their birthparents still living? I mean that’s absolutely nuts. She’s been looking for 60 years. And as a result of her going on a television show, that’s how they got the genealogists involved, and how it all worked out. And she’s got half siblings, blood relatives, for the first time in her life, and she hardly knows how to act.
Brooke: So, there is a story coming out about DNA testing of a man who lives in Montana, who’s part Native American, and surprisingly when he had his DNA tested as many of us have done in the genealogy world, it was discovered that his maternal DNA, his mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, only down that maternal line is one of the oldest types of mitochondrial DNA, but does not come from the area of North America where he’s from. It may actually have come from Southeast Asia or South America.
Fisher: Yeah, they’re actually comparing this guy’s DNA results to actually finding Big Foot. [Laughs]
Fisher: I think it’s incredible. Then they say that they’ve traced his line back basically fifty five generations with 99% accuracy. Incredible!
Brooke: So there is a new case involving Parabon which is that organization that helps track down, using DNA and DNA test results, cold cases. It helps look at the cold case material that may have been saved 30 years ago when there was no mass DNA testing. The story that just came out though is a little different because in this case, it is a recent case, it is not an old cold case, and the person was not murdered although she was almost murdered. This is a situation that happened in Utah very recently where a woman who was practicing the organ in a church had an intruder come into the church and strangled her and almost killed her. She luckily survived, but the intruder left behind DNA at the scene. So, this is the situation where the police and GEDmatch were confronted with what do we do with the case where they really think it was a severe crime, where they think that he’s a high risk of doing this again. Can we still use DNA from a case like this to help narrow down the list of suspects?
Brooke: And would GEDmatch be willing to bend the rules this one time for the severity of this one case? Well, it turns out GEDmatch did after having a discussion with the people on the case, and they did find the assailant who has been arrested, or the presumed assailant who has been arrested based on confirmation DNA that he discarded at his high school. Because it turns out the person who has been for this crime is a 17-year-old high school student.
Fisher: Wow! And of course now the discussion is about well, one of the ethics of change in terms of service with GEDmatch and Parabon. So, it’s part of a national discussion going on right now.
Fisher: So, we’ll see where this goes. All right Brooke, Reclaim the Records, you guys are out there always stirring up trouble and as I understand it you have a new lawsuit going on. Why is this significant?
Brooke: Oh, first let me remind people who we are. Reclaim the Records is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. We are all Genealogists, Historians, open record fans. Open government fans and we use Freedom of Information requests to get historical records out of government archives, government agencies, and government libraries. Our latest lawsuit is in New York City. New York City has had a change in their rules recently to make it even harder for genealogists to get access to very old historical records about our own families. Right now, if you are looking for a death certificate in New York State outside New York City, it’s a 50 year rule but after that it is open to the public. It’s a historical document. But New York City changed the rules and said, “No, no. we’re going to keep these private for 75 years.” Well, what we at Reclaim the Records decided to do about this was file a lawsuit. We made a Freedom of information request saying we would like a copy of every scanned New York City death certificate, the actual certificate, but uncertified, just the scanned copy.
Brooke: We want every certificate between 1949 and 1968. The reason we picked those years is those are the records that are not available to the public, but are more than 50 years old. And if they had happened say in Yonkers or Alden near Buffalo, those records would be available to the public for research.
Fisher: Right. Wow!
Brooke: But because they are inside New York City, we’re blocked for 75 years which is ridiculous.
Fisher: So, hopefully it will result in a change of the rule as the judge looks at this. Good stuff Brooke, look at you go!
Brooke: Thank you.
Fisher: Brooke Ganz thanks so much for filling in for David this week. We’ll talk to you again soon.
Brooke: No problem.
Fisher: And coming up next, might you have an ancestor who was in the Union Army out of West Virginia, you might have his medal waiting for you. We’ll talk to Randy Marcum and his story and with the West Virginia Archives coming up next to talk about it in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 283
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Randy Marcum
Fisher: So, imagine for many years studying your ancestors and discovering that one was from West Virginia, served in the Union Army and then learning that West Virginia had personalized medals made for every single one of their Union Soldiers, their Union veterans and that many of them were never claimed, and that your ancestor’s medal may still be out there for you to claim as a descendant. Yeah, that could be the case for you, and this is why we’re talking to Randy Marcum today. He’s an Archivist with the West Virginia State Archives. Randy thanks so much for coming on Extreme Genes. This is a remarkable thing and I can only say I wish I had a Union veteran from West Virginia so I could claim his medal.
Randy: Yeah there was quite a few of them. I actually have a few in my family although they have long ago went out of the Archives control but they’re quite the medal actually.
Fisher: Well, tell us about them. First of all, there were like 25,000 or something in the beginning, correct?
Randy: Yeah, 26,000 plus. They had originally a contract for 26,000 but of course with misprints, some of the names being incorrect and things like that. It ended up going a little over 26,000.
Fisher: Did the state keep the ones with the misspellings?
Fisher: They ditched them, huh?
Randy: Yeah, they had them, I guess, recycled. They didn’t keep the actual dyes that cast them either. They actual dyes that they used to actually mint them. They sold those to, apparently, a private individual, but they’re out there somewhere.
Fisher: Wow! Wouldn’t that be something? So, the ones that you don’t have could actually be potentially duplicated, right?
Randy: Well, the face part and the backside could actually be duplicated. Now the names on the inscription part of it that will be a little harder.
Fisher: It would be different. So, when did this start? What year did West Virginia come out and say we want to commemorate each individual who served in the Union Army during the Civil War?
Randy: 1866 is when the legislature said this would be a good idea to go ahead and honor these guys, a little appreciation token from the state.
Fisher: Now, West Virginia was kind of right on the cusp. Isn’t this where a lot of the brothers would be on the one side and the other brothers on the other?
Randy: Oh my goodness, yes, quite a bit. Of course most of the soldiers were Union Soldiers, but a fair amount was Confederate also.
Fisher: So, it was, I would imagine, a little bit of a battle when it came to the legislature approving this Act.
Randy: Well, 1866, probably not quite as much as what it would have been probably after 1872 and the Confederates were given the right to vote again. So, it was definitely a bit more of a challenge, but 1866 it was pretty much many of the men that had set up the original government things. They were still in office, and 1872 that would have been a totally different thing there. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] So, I saw a picture of you. Of course you have a fabulous beard, a fabulous historian’s beard. I love that.
Fisher: But you’re surrounded by envelopes and files of these medals. You say you started out with over 26,000 and yet you’re down to what, 3,000 something now?
Randy: Yeah 3,392.
Fisher: But that’s a lot still. I mean that’s quite a few. And how often has West Virginia actually sought out descendants of the Union veterans in West Virginia?
Randy: Well, ever since they were minted they’ve been trying to get them out, the big push really, 1890 when the GAR became involved in it. All the adjutant generals for the state had pretty much said “No, we hid all the newspapers, we’ve done everything, sent letters and everything.” So, at that point, one of the Veterans Societies to get involved in the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic, they got them involved in it in trying to get these pushed out there. Of course, a lot of these commanders of the post of the GAR, the guys that were still close by and they knew and were able to get a lot of them out to them. Then after several years of that the GAR is like, “No, we’ve reached everybody we possibly can at this point.”
Fisher: [Laughs] Right. Well, the GAR, I want to say it died around the 1930s right, as the Civil War vets passed away? And so that kind of left it back in the hands of the states. Did they get at least more than half of them out by 1890?
Randy: Well, initially the state had gotten probably around 16 to 17,000 of them out right before the GAR. And then the GAR got a couple of thousand out and by that time probably around 7,000 of them came back to the State.
Fisher: Wow, so you still had quite a few and you still had to deal with that. And now recently you’ve made another push, and what was impetus for that?
Randy: Well, some of the folks that had actually received the medals for their ancestors, they were like, “Hey, now we’re going to get this word out there.” And I think one of the fellows that was involved in it, he had spoken to somebody in the media and it was like oh yeah, here’s one way to try and get this out a little bit more. Of course, some of the governors had become involved in it through the years, most recently probably Governor Rockefeller. I’ve been doing a few things where I go out in different communities when they have fairs and festivals and things, and I set my little things up there to show folks. If they say, oh yeah, my several greats grandfather was in the Civil War and was a Union soldier. And at that point I can take out the list and say well, what was his name?
Fisher: Oh boy. And have you had an experience with that and what was their response?
Randy: Oh yeah, they would give me the name and I’d say, “The name is right here,” which of course, a lot of these regiments were geographical where they were recruited at and things like that, and say “Oh yeah, my family is from up in the Ohio River Valley,” and like “Yep, this regiment was formed from folks from the Ohio River Valley,” and the possibility... and at that point we start doing the genealogy.
Fisher: Wow. And so you need the proofs essentially like I would imagine like the SAR and the DAR and the Mayflower Society. You want the documentation to ensure that it’s going to an actual descendant.
Randy: Yeah, definitely with the primary documents. That’s most important.
Fisher: Sure. Yeah. So, do you do a little ceremony with them when they receive it?
Randy: They actually do the personal appearance here at the Archives on the day, because there is a six months of waiting period on it. The day that it’s due, sometimes folks do come in. Of course, the Director Joe Geiger have the little “handing it over” ceremony type thing, and congratulating on their ancestor, what they went through and things, and take a few pictures and things and put them on our website.
Fisher: What fun! What is the most memorable response you had to one of those ceremonies and presentations?
Randy: Well, we’ve had a few where the recipient would actually be a military member and at that point they’re like “My gosh, he was in the army.” and that’s when we hear the little stories like, “Oh yeah, he had been in Andersonville” or something along those lines. And it’s like my gosh, the things they went through, and they’re just wanting to keep the memory of that guy and keep that around.
Fisher: Very much alive, absolutely. So, let’s describe to people what these badges, what these medals look like, and of course, we’ve attached the story that was on Fox on ExtremeGenes.com so you can see the pictures of it. But give us a little description of what these medals look like, their size and what they say.
Randy: Yeah, they’re kind of a brass/copper, very fine mintage. For the numismatic folks out there, when they were struck and things, they’re just a really smooth strike and very beautiful. They have a ribbon, you know, the red, white and blue ribbon, which time has been very pretty tough on some of them, over the course of the years they kind of faded a little bit. But at the top of them they have a little placard type of inscription. Most of them actually had “Honorably Discharged” on. That was the majority of the medals actually. ‘Killed in Battle” was one of the other inscriptions on top of it. Then “For Liberty,” this was one of the other inscriptions. They are about almost 2 inches across. They had the ribbon behind it, have the little placard at the top with the information there. And then the really neat part is, on the edge of it, it has the name and the unit of the soldier. When anybody sees the envelopes in the drawers there, we have the information actually written on the outside of those envelops so we can keep track of them. And they’re quite a nice, as far as the strike and things, they’re very, very nice.
Fisher: Unbelievable. Well, I’m just hoping that there’s at least one Extreme Genes listener out there who winds up getting one of these medals because I think that is just absolutely unbelievable. Do you keep them flat? Because obviously the ribbons would kind of bunch up with the medal on top, unless the medal part is down at the bottom of the envelope. How do you preserve those so they don’t get messed up?
Randy: Well, they’re actually in a little cardboard box.
Randy: And they came from the manufacturer that way. Of course, the engraver Abraham Demarest, he did the engraving part and engraved the dyes and the striking dyes and things. And then he contracted the actual striking part out. But when he shipped them, he always mentioned that so many cartons with so many medals, with the names written on the outside of them, and they were shipped in big cartons like 2000 at a time.
Fisher: Wow! That’s fantastic. So, you have a real good accounting of what was created.
Randy: Um hmm. A far as the paper collection, it’s of the archival collections that we have. A lot of the receipts from his firm, he was handling all the paperwork part of it also. That’s how we know that there’s more than 26,000 of them that was made. Because he said several of these were sent back for re-strikes or, the name was inscribed incorrectly, or something like that.
Fisher: And there are some I would assume that just there are no living descendants, right? The family line has ended and those will remain in the archives.
Randy: Well, the 45th U.S. CT (the Colored Troops) I would probably hazard that probably not very many of them will go out. Originally, there was a little over 220 of those struck. We gave out pretty good numbers down to a 168 of them remain actually within the archives. And the last one that was given out, that I have reference of was 2007.
Fisher: Wow, so a lot of dead-end lines there. Well, if somebody suspects that perhaps they have an ancestral medal sitting in your archives waiting for them, how do people go about obtaining that?
Randy: Well, of course online there at our website we have as far as the information, the application, the actual letter of application and everything. And then we have also what we’re looking for when you do this application as far as what kind of records, kind of a little hint page, different kind of census records, obituaries, births, death, marriages, that kind of things.
Fisher: Right. The standard stuff right?
Randy: Um hmm.
Fisher: And you just apply it online then and then contact you?
Randy: Actually, it has to be through mail. There is a fee associated with it.
Randy: They can just download that application form and fill it out and then get all their primary documents together and they just mail that to me and we take it from there.
Fisher: Sweet. That’s awesome. He’s Randy Marcum. He’s an archivist with the West Virginia State Archives and he may have your ancestor’s medal from the Civil War waiting for you. Randy thanks so much for your time, and good luck with the project. Hope you can get rid of a whole lot more.
Randy: Thank you very much and I hope so. It’s a great little thing as far as the memory for these guys.
Fisher: Totally. Absolutely. Thanks so much for coming on.
Randy: Thanks Scott. Appreciate it.
Fisher: And coming up next, I’ll talk to a woman with a family connection to the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike, in five minutes on Extreme Genes.
Segment 3 Episode 283
Host: Scott Fisher with guest McKell Keeney
Fisher: Well, just recently it was the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike in Promontory Point, Utah and it was quite the celebration. They called it “Spike 150.” And I had the opportunity to actually attend a huge banquet gala the night before the re-enactment of the driving of the Golden Spike and it was a lot of fun. The governor of Utah was there, as was the Secretary of Transportation of the United States, Elaine Chao, and it was a celebration of all kinds of cultures, many different people who participated in joining the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad that connected the country coast to coast, and not only transformed the United States economy but the world economy as a result as well. And of course all the towns that sprung up along the way, they just thrived as a result of this. One of our listeners who is also a passionate genie and a search angel helping people with DNA is McKell Keeney and her family has a connection to all that’s gone on here. Hi McKell, how are you?
McKell: I’m great. How are you?
Fisher: You know, I know were out there because I saw this great picture of you in period costume at the actual ceremony merging of these train engines, looked like you had a great time. What was your feeling about the experience?
McKell: Yes. It was wonderful as the theme was as one and the committee made an extra effort to make sure that all were honored and involved and made it a state wide event. So, school children could learn about this important, historical event.
Fisher: Yeah. When you think about it the Chinese were practically forgotten but they were really at the heart of all that it took to build this two thousand miles of railway. It started I guess right after the Civil War and they finished it ahead of schedule and under budget. It was two thousand miles. They went through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I mean, it was a really, really tough thing and it cost a lot of lives as well.
McKell: Yes. It was a big deal and so my family’s role is that my grandmother made it her life’s work. She was born in 1900 and she made it her life’s work, growing up in that area to have the site recognized and remembered because it was desolate and there was nothing there but the concrete obelisk from 1917 until 1969 or so when the Visitor Center was built. So, she wrote over three thousand letters and articles to presidents, congress people, and national park service, and anyone she could get involved and get them on the bandwagon to help support it.
McKell: For a long time nobody really cared but then she was able to get some support from the Box Elder Chamber of Commerce and started a non-profit called Golden Spike Society and then the National Golden Spike Association. Then, in the 1950s she was one of the first female members of the Box Elder Chamber of Commerce. She was smart and knew that as a writer she was a Salt Lake Tribune staff reporter and writer and that was a way to help people learn about this and know that it wasn’t just this stuffy little ground in the middle of nowhere, but that was like a pivotal event in American history.
Fisher: Yeah, it could be argued that it was a pivotal event in world history when you consider what it did for our economy and then what that did for the world economy as a result of that because people used to be able to travel across the continent but they could only do it by horse and wagon and it took months.
McKell: Right. It took six months.
Fisher: And all of a sudden it took days and you could haul stuff.
McKell: It was a game changer, for sure.
Fisher: It was. You know, we always talk about the Civil War being really the central event in American history. When you consider post-Civil War, this has to be as much an important part of our story as anything else you can think of.
McKell: Absolutely. So, she wrote her first telegraph to congress in 1926 when she was 26 years old and a young mother. She had grown up driving cattle with her step-grandfather along the railroad right of way through Promontory Valley.
Fisher: Um hmm.
McKell: So, she was very familiar from the time she was 5 years old and moved to West Corinne, with the stories and with the history of the railroad going through there and what happened for the wedding of the rails for the transcontinental railroad. So, she just built on that. It was a burning desire in her heart all this time to have it be more than just something the locals knew about, to have it recognized.
Fisher: Did she get responses back? I mean, you say she wrote three thousand letters and these telegrams. Who did she actually hear back from?
McKell: She wrote to President Eisenhower. She wrote to President David McKay of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She wrote to anybody that she could think of that might give her some support and a lot of these letters are digitized and online on the University of Utah’s Digital Collection for the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library and also the Box Elder County Museum.
McKell: It’s not hard to cash in on this because the National Park Service has 18 boxes of her personal papers and photos in their archives.
McKell: And the archivist down there told me a few weeks ago, it’s one of the coolest collections that he’s ever seen related to National Parks. And it wouldn’t be catalogued that way now if he was doing it, but back in the day they just threw it all in boxes I guess and called it good. So, he started scanning her largest scrapbook that used to be at the Visitor Center and I’m going to get it on a flash-drive soon as he told me to come down and use the research room and start scanning the rest of it. So, that’s my next project. [Laughs]
Fisher: Wow! [Laughs]
McKell: It’s going to take several research visits but, yeah.
Fisher: But among all these people that she wrote to, did she ever hear back from anybody?
McKell: She did and you can see some of the responses. She would always ask for them to send her back the original letter and the original pictures. It was kind of funny that she would do that. So, some of them would send it back and say, “As you requested, I’m sending this back to you. This is a national matter.” Like the State of Utah Governor would say, “This is a national matter, write to them.” The Congress people would say, “This is a state matter.” And some people would say, “This is a local Box Elder County matter.”
McKell: They just passed the back you know? We’re not really interested, for years and years.
Fisher: Right. Round and round, and round.
McKell: Um hmm. Then, in 1947, for the “Days of the ‘47” centennial somebody, I think Mary Judson from the Box Elder County, Brigham area wrote a script that I believe was the original re-enactment done at Hotel Utah in Salt Lake. So, my grandma helped with that because she was known as the historian and had the most original photos. She was the go-to person. You want to know about Golden Spike, talk to Bernice Gibbs Anderson. She’s the keeper of the flame. So, this re-enactment was done in ’47 and then nothing until, I believe 1952. And in that year my grandma was instrumental in getting the re-enactment started at the site. That was the first annual ceremony, like the one that was just a few days ago, on Friday. So, the one on Friday was the 68th annual ceremony. So, she was able to finally get the notice of the National Park Service. They sent someone out there, a man named Bob Burley. He’s still alive. He lives here in Scottsdale, Arizona. Very sharp, I talked to him recently. He wasn’t able to make it up there for the trip but he is known as a historian who wrote several books. He’s got one about Custer and my grandma is mentioned in that book. He tells the whole story about when he went out to the Golden Spike site and she took him around and showed him everything and why this should be in the National Parks Service system and he said, “You know, you’re right. I’m going to help you.” And he did help her and got it to be a National Park Service Historic Site at the time.
McKell: Until, this past spring as you probably heard, now it’s been elevated to be a National Historical Park in the National Park Service System, and that is amazing. Our family is so proud and excited.
Fisher: I’ll bet.
McKell: That was my grandma’s goal all the time. You know, she was happy that it was a site, that was good but she always wanted it to be a national “monument.” So, being National Historical Park, that’s as good as it can get. We’re just thrilled that it’s finally happened.
Fisher: So, how did you feel when you were standing there between these two rail engines, in your period costume with all these descendants of people who worked on this incredible project that changed the world?
McKell: It was a poignant moment for me just to think about what it was like back in 1869 and what it took to get twenty thousand people out there that day. It’s finally catching on. People are recognizing, hey, this is in the middle of nowhere but it’s worth a visit. We need to go out here.
McKell: I was asked in an interview at the State Capital, I happened to be up there in January. “Well, what do you think about the location of it being at the original site and not in Ogden, or Brigham City, or somewhere more people would visit it, not far off the beaten track?” And I said, “I never heard that was even a consideration.”
McKell: If you move it to somewhere else, to me, that would be like moving Gettysburg to a different site because it’s not convenient to visit. You know?
Fisher: Yeah. Very nice! Good answer. She’s McKell Keeney. She’s a search angel from Tempe, Arizona and the granddaughter of the woman who really made this happen over decades of effort. Thank you so much for sharing your story and always enjoy chatting with you.
McKell: Thank you.
Fisher: And coming up next, it’s another Ask Us Anything segment with special guest, me. I’m looking forward to answering your questions, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 283
Host: Scott Fisher
Fisher: I love it when you guys send questions, and that's why of course we do our Ask Us Anything segment here on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher, and we have an email from Libby, who sent us a note at [email protected]. And Libby's in Greenville, South Carolina. And Libby says, "Fisher, I've heard you talk before about how you find family history things on eBay. Can you go through once again the process and how that works?" Great question, Libby, and it’s always worth repeating. Here's the thing, eBay has never really shrunk in size. It’s only increasing in the material that's out there to be found and I think we tend to underestimate what the possibilities are there.
So, I learned this long ago, that if you put in search terms, periodically when you put them in they will bring up something that you're looking for, a family Bible, maybe a high school yearbook. I found all of my dad's four years of high school yearbooks from 1928 to 1931 on eBay and I paid, I think it was $55 for it. And he had signed them all, he'd written in them, and I found all kinds of pictures in there that I'd never seen of him before. It was very fun to find those. And I found other items, too. And the way it works typically though is not that you find them immediately, it’s you put in the search terms for what you're looking for and then at some point somebody lists something and then you get a notification email that says, "Hey, there's something here that matches your search terms." And maybe it’s just postcards from an ancestral hometown that go back to whenever, 1907 or the 1890s and these things are absolutely unbelievable.
If I started going through a list of all the things that I found on eBay that relate to my family, you wouldn't believe it. And of course you may have heard recently, we had a guest on the show in England who tried it based on what he heard here and he discovered as a result of that, the medals of his great grandfather's brother from World War I. And that brother was killed in World War I. So it was an amazing story and thrilling to hear about it. So it can definitely work for you as well.
Think about different things that might be out there that you'd be looking for, things relating to the hometown, maybe not specifically to an ancestor, maybe something as specific as bible records, maybe something like the yearbooks we're talking about. If your ancestor had a certain public profile, there might be some things out there relating to that. What if you ancestor belonged to certain organizations? I talk about me great grandfather a lot who was a volunteer fireman in New York City. So I like to look for things relating specifically to the fire unit that he served under. Once, using YouTube, I found this movie of my father playing in an orchestra in 1936. And by using eBay, I found an original film copy of that, which was a much better quality than what we'd seen on YouTube, and I was able to have it digitized and then take from that film individual frames that made photographs for me. So, as one thing led to the next, it led to the next.
So, you really have to use your imagination a little bit, but it can be the kind of thing where you can place a search term at one point in time and maybe over the years you get many, many false notifications. In other words, notifications of some things that you're really not very interested in or it doesn't really fit what you're looking for. But then, somewhere down the line, five years later, you find that one item that makes you say, "Man, this has all been entirely worth it!" So put in the search terms, and if you find nothing, it gives you the option to save that search term and get emails in the future. So you want to click that box. And by the way, you can save many search terms. There is a limit, but it’s a very high threshold, so you don't have too much to worry about.
And by the way, Libby, eBay is not the only place you can look for your family heirlooms. There's a place specifically for family history treasures that is used by antique dealers and members as well. It’s a site called JustAJoy. And if you haven't heard of this before, it is a subscription site. And they claim that 98% of surnames have some kind of match waiting there. So it could include bible records, photographs, all kinds of old things, trophies, who knows what's on there! But it’s certainly worth checking out. Thanks for the question, Libby. More coming up next on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 283
Host: Scott Fisher
Fisher: Well, we are back genies for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Great to have you along. This segment is brought to you by Legacy Tree Genealogists. They do such a great job by the way. And of course we're going to continue our Ask Us Anything segment.
This question comes from Larry in Florida. Larry is saying, "Hey Fisher. Doing a DNA test seems really expensive. Should I be testing my children?" Well, the answer to that would probably be, unless Larry you wanted to know that they were yours, probably not! And the reason is, because your children only have half the DNA that you have and you have only half the DNA that your parents have and your parents have half the DNA that your grandparents have. So you really want to test, starting at the oldest person first. If you're lucky enough to have a grandparent, maybe even a great grandparent still living, those are the people you want to test and see if you can't get some DNA matches going from there and then work on down. In fact, I have friends who are DNA specialists who have not even tested themselves, because they have parents and grandparents still living and they have tested them.
The further back you go, the more DNA you get from the past and the better the possibility of finding matches from further back, people that you won't match, because you only have half the DNA of the generation that comes before you. Now if you're looking of course to find out about ethnicity, if you have no way of testing the other parent of your children, then that would be a great thing to do potentially to find out where the ethnicity falls. But keep in mind, for the money you're spending, you're also seeing the ethnicity results changing every year or so. So it might be something you might want to wait on if you're just thinking about the ethnicity test.
Keep in mind also, yeah we talk a lot about DNA and how much fun it is and how important it is, but it’s only important in terms of how it relates to the records that you find. So, if you have your DNA test done and you have no records and you have no family tree, then you really don't have any records to validate through those. So, do all you can to connect records with your ancestors and put together as documented a family tree as you possibly can. And then, when you get your DNA test, you'll find that those can help you validate that your work is accurate.
And it’s a lot of fun after all these years. I've been doing it for 35+ years, that when you get those records together to find all these different people match from, say, a second great grandfather or a third great or fourth great grandparents to validate your work and know that you've absolutely been on the right course. And if you're thinking about doing DNA for, say, health reasons, consider you want to look at 23AndMe. If you're looking for matches like most of us want to do who are in genealogy, Ancestry would be the first place I would go, simply because of the fact that they have far more people who have tested, so you can find more matches there. But other sites are catching up as well. Many will take your raw results from Ancestry and load them up free, like My Heritage and of course GEDmatch is a third party tool as well that can give you even more matches. And the more matches you can get, the more validating you get on all the research you put into your family history.
So, focus on the old folks first and get your records together. Make sure that you validate it as many generations back as you possibly can, and then you'll find that the matches validate your work. And that's the best thing you can possibly do, it’s so much fun.
By the way, when you post your trees, make sure you keep them public, will you, so that we can see what's going on. Nobody's going to steal anybody's identity when they're dead, especially for many, many years. If you want to keep somebody private from more recent generations, just mark them as still living and the sites will not reveal their identity. But if you're going back to people who died many years ago, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. And it helps everybody else out and that's the whole name of the game. Larry thanks for your email. We appreciate it.
And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can email me at [email protected]. That is our show for this week! Thanks so much to Randy Marcum, the historian with the West Virginia archives, talking about the Civil War Union medals that may be waiting for you if you're a of a Union soldier who served out of West Virginia. If you missed any of the show, catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're nice, normal family!