Episode 285 - Tips For Tracking Your Ellis Island Ancestors / Researching the National Archives/ An Ordinary Person With An Extraordinary FindJun 09, 2019
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David opens “Family Histoire News” with a salute to the 200th birth anniversary of one of the UK’s most beloved royals. Hear who it is. The guys then chat about the rule changes for law enforcement with GEDMatch. Why did they come about and what might you need to do? Hear the story. Then, David reveals a fascinating find on FindAGrave that few have ever heard of. And finally, a women’s exhibit has opened at Plymouth, celebrating female Pilgrims and Native Americans. David then shines his blogger spotlight on Laura Nelson of TenaciousGenealogy.com. Her motto? “You can die but you cannot hide!”
Next, Fisher explores the assets available in Ellis Island research with Jackie Schalk, Director of the American Family Immigration History Center located at Ellis Island. There’s a lot to visit there in person and on line!
Fisher then visits with Arkansas resident Kelsey Dum who was inspired by some Extreme Genes stories to locate his grandmother’s family in France. Hear how the more than 60 year mystery of her origins was finally solved.
Then, Bernice Bennett, author of “Tracing Their Steps,” and long time expert on the National Archives, handles our Ask Us Anything segments for this week.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 285
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 285
Fisher: And welcome to 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. Great to have you along. If you’re new to the show, this is where you get inspiration and information about how to find your ancestors and discover some of those stories. In fact, later on in the show today we have an ordinary person with an extraordinary find and he’ll explain exactly how he did it. Plus, we’re going to talk to Jackie Schalk. She is the Director of an organization at Ellis Island that is so long that I can hardly even say it. Nonetheless, she’s going to tell you about their database, and how you can find out about your immigrant ancestors and what’s going on there in New York since their recent gala celebrating the opening of the museum on Liberty Island. It’s going to be great fun with Jackie. And then later in the show we’re going to talk to Bernice Bennett. She is a researcher at the National Archives. She’s going to answer some of your questions. It’s another “Ask Us Anything” segment on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. Hey, just a reminder if you haven’t signed up yet for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter.” Now is the time to do it while you’re thinking about it. Just go to our website ExtremeGenes.com or to our Facebook page, and you can sign up. It’s absolutely free. I give you a blog each week, some links to some stories you’ll be interested in as a genealogist, and of course links to past and present podcast as well. Right now it is time to head out to Boston, Massachusetts and talk to my good friend David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And Dave, we have some news today, Family Histoire News. Where do we start?
David: Well, let’s go to jolly old England where they have just celebrated the bicentennial of a former Queen, the birthday of Queen Victoria born May 24th 1819.
Fisher: And you know, she still has so much influence on the culture of the world to this day I’m thinking. First of all, my great grandmother was named after her, Victoria, who named her daughter Victoria. There was a granddaughter Victoria as well, but she of course changed the morals of society at the time because there were so many illegitimacies.
David: I mean, here’s a woman who was an infant when George III, her grandfather, was alive, who was, you know, involved in the American Revolution. And her great, great granddaughter is still on the throne longer than Victoria.
Fisher: Yep, and approaching...
David: She’s almost a hundred.
Fisher: Yeah, approaching her 100th birthday. It’s unbelievable!
David: Well, you know, one of the intakes that a lot of the genealogists are taking now or the outtake is what are you going to do about your GEDmatch? I opted in. I’ll be straightforward and honest. I went in, selected it. My feeling, I’ve long believed, is that if my second cousin was a murderer and you want to catch him with my DNA, go right ahead.
Fisher: Well, you know, I feel the same way and I also recognize that people at least need to know what the terms of service are. And if you’re not familiar with the story, it just happened a week or so ago. GEDmatch, which is the linchpin to solving the DNA cases, cold cases with police and other authorities, they decided to opt everybody out and then adjust the terms of service to what they wanted it to be and said, all right, if you want to help police with these cases you have to opt in now. So, if you’ve had a GEDmatch account and you haven’t visited it in a long, long time, you need to go back in and make your decision. Are you going to opt in or opt out? At least it’s your choice.
David: And here’s the predicament that I’m facing. Now, all the people that allowed me to take the raw data and put it on there, do I contact them and say, listen, you’re currently opted out but do you want to opt in? And how about is some of them now in light of all this news, decide that they don’t want into it at all? I’m going to lose all that data.
Fisher: Well, they could certainly back out as far as the police stuff goes and even make the account private. There are lots of settings there now.
David: That’s very true. That’s very true.
Fisher: So there are lots of options. I don’t think you’ll lose anybody.
David: I hope not. Well, you know I love FindAGrave. In fact, I’m actually editing my cemetery book on Massachusetts, doing an eBook version with all the hyperlinks. And then I made a realization when I looked at FindAGrave.com and was looking for information on a particular town in Massachusetts, I said, “Is that what I think it is?” Sure enough, on FindAGrave you can find pet cemeteries.
David: And the keyword search Fish, I put in the word “pet” and came up with 320 pet cemeteries. That really goes to show you that genealogy is going to the dogs.
Fisher: Yes. [Laughs] I had no idea.
David: And the cats, and the canaries.
Fisher: Did you know this before?
David: Nope. No.
Fisher: Three hundred and twenty pet cemeteries on FindAGrave. What about BillionGraves? Do they do that?
David: I don’t know. I never tried that. That’s one I guess we have to check out too.
David: So, if you’re researching the King family, remember it could be for Fido’s father, not your grandfather.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes, that’s right. You ever know.
David: [Laughs] I think one of the hardest parts of researching in the 17th century, for me, is the ladies, the stories. And I think that Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts with the 400th Anniversary right around the corner has a wonderful exhibit about women and the women of Plymouth Colony, including the Native Americans as well as the ladies that make up our Pilgrim ancestors.
Fisher: Yeah, this is kind of exciting and I know there’s not a lot there unless it’s a court case, right? Because women will often show up that way.
David: Remember the shared ancestor I have with your wife, Tristan Coffin’s wife, Diana Stevens who was selling ale on the wrong day? [Laughs]
Fisher: Oh yes, you can’t sell ale on Sunday, right?
David: That’s true. I like the ancestors that get into trouble. They show up in more records.
Fisher: [Laughs] They do show up in more records! You’re absolutely right! Well, this is going to be fun and I know that a lot of the Pilgrim wives are going to get their due here because obviously they were as much a part of everything that happened to establish Plymouth Colony as any of the men, and it’s going to be interesting to see what they’re going to display there.
David: It’s very true. Well, that actually leads me to my blogger spotlight talking about people that are rabble rousers. How about the blog of Tenacious Genealogy? “You can die, but you can’t hide.”
David: And this is a great blog by a lady by the name of Laura Nelson and she is a person who is in the library studies and has her MLS in Archival Administration and Digital Curation, but she’s also a genealogist. And her blog is rather interesting, has some fun stories in it and you might want to check it out and that is at Tenaciousgenealogy.com. And don’t forget, if you have plans for the summer that involves coming up to Boston, why not become a member of American Ancestors before you come to visit? And if you want to save a little money, use the coupon code “Extreme” and save $20 on membership on AmericanAncestors.org.
Fisher: All right, thanks so much David. Good stuff. We will talk to you again next week. And coming up next I’m going to talk to Jackie Schalk. Jackie’s going to tell you how you can take advantage of the Ellis Island database to find your missing immigrant ancestors. That’s coming up for you in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 285
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jackie Schalk
Fisher: Well, it’s time to head out to New York City on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and you may have heard about the big gala that went on at Liberty Island. It was the grand opening of the museum there, and we’re excited to have on the line with us Jackie Schalk. She is the director of the American Family Immigration History Center located at Ellis Island. Jackie was part of the gala. And Jackie, this is a big deal because I think there’s so much more from Ellis Island that’s becoming available for people who are into their family history, and certainly know that they have people who came through not only Ellis Island but Castle Garden and other spots around New York before Ellis Island opened up.
Jackie: Absolutely. And we have records from 1820 to 1957 for the Port of New York.
Fisher: And there are a lot of records out there. Well, it’s great to have you on the show. This is a very long title here, Director of the American Family Immigration History Center located at Ellis Island. Does that all fit on a business card?
Jackie: No! [Laughs]
Jackie: Especially now that we’re the “National Museum of Immigration” since 2015. So, now it’s located at “the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration,” which is a little bit long for the title.
Fisher: [Laughs] Wow. You need a two-sided card at least!
Fisher: Well tell us, this gala recently was a very big deal. Oprah Winfrey was there and of course Dr. Henry Louis Gates.
Jackie: Actually, Skip Gates is also a board member of ours so you named two big celebrities that just happened to support us at the foundation.
Fisher: That’s fantastic. Well, I’m just looking at the party that night and it was black-tie, everybody was dressed to the nines, and you know, what a big deal too when you think about it to honor all those immigrant ancestors who came through Ellis Island and Castle Garden before that. And what kind of things now can people expect to see in this museum? First of all, where is it located on Liberty Island?
Jackie: So, it is by the statue. Like at the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. It’s on the west side of the island. And it’s to serve approximately 85% of 4.5 million visitors that aren’t able to get that full experience of Liberty Island when they come. This is a museum that you don’t need a special ticket or security clearance for. It makes it accessible to everyone and all the artifacts that tell the story of the Statue of Liberty and America.
Fisher: Wow. Yeah. So, what are some of the artifacts that you might see there? One might expect to see.
Jackie: I can tell you a personal favorite of mine. There’s a gala, and it’s by invite. And this is a gala that they had to raise money for the pedestal. I think it was October 22nd 1885 and it was at Madison Square Garden. And so, there’s pieces of history telling the story of how Americans all grouped together to raise the money in that period to have the pedestal created for the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France.
Fisher: Yeah. And they knew it was coming but they didn’t have the pedestal for it. Weren’t there school children involved in this as I recall... pennies?
Jackie: Um hmm. Yeah. Donations were never more than a dollar. These people saved pennies. Joseph Hollister had put out an ad in the New York World. So, anyone who made a donation, their name was listed in the newspaper as a shout-out.
Jackie: So it really was America’s first crowdfunding campaign.
Fisher: Yeah. It was the first crowdfunding campaign. And you know, the parade that celebrated the dedication to the Statue of Liberty was the first ticker-tape parade in New York as well. In fact, my great grandfather was among the marchers in that. He was one of the volunteer firemen who were part of the whole thing. It’s just an amazing thing how it was recognized at the time. And the statue has never lost its luster.
Fisher: At least in terms of its reputation. Obviously, physically its gone through deterioration and a rebuild and a fix, but it’s just a remarkable symbol of our country. So, people can get out to Liberty Island to see this and see these amazing artifacts that are there, which really I think for a lot of people they cannot get up the stairs of the Statue of Liberty that might really be the only experience they have there, right?
Jackie: Exactly. But we have an immersive theater and when you go in it allows you to feel like you’re going to the very top of the statue. So it makes you feel like you are making that climb up to the crown which is amazing.
Fisher: It is amazing. I’ve done it before, and I just remember looking out there and thinking, “I cannot believe I’m looking out the crown of the Statue of Liberty!” You don’t get to stay there very long because there’s usually a long line of people behind you. But it’s quite the time. So, how does Ellis Island and Liberty Island how do they tie together in terms of how you serve the tourism?
Jackie: So, there are two ways to get to the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. One is through New York and the other is New Jersey and they take a ferry. And so, coming from New York City you would go from where Castle Garden once was, that’s where the tickets are and the security lines and you’ll board a ship there, a ferry, and it takes you to the Statue of Liberty and there’s another ferry that takes you to Ellis Island.
Fisher: Wow. So you can catch it all in the same day. But it really is a same day kind of experience I think for most people, right?
Jackie: Oh yes, absolutely.
Fisher: I mean, you do it all in one day. But it’s a long day.
Jackie: Oh yes. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] This is not the kind of thing you go, “Okay, I’m going to go out there, then I’m going to go tour and do Broadway.” I mean, you cannot do it all and to catch it all and to really fully appreciate it. You’ve really got to do this over the course of one long day starting early preferably.
Jackie: Preferably yeah.
Fisher: All right. Now, you are the director of the American Family Immigration History Center located on Ellis Island. It’s a very long title.
Fisher: And let’s talk about that a little bit. Because as genealogists, a lot of people of course have had their family come through both Castle Garden and Ellis Island. Tell us about your Center.
Jackie: Right. So, the Center is located on the west wing, first floor. We serve probably somewhere in the ballpark of 55,000 families a year. And that’s out of two million that visit Ellis annually. And you can come in, sit down have a session. We have research assistants available at the History Center so you can go in and sit down with your family, have a research session, and get tips and tricks on how to successfully find your family in our database.
Fisher: Wow! That is a lot of fun. You know I mean, it’s just come such a long way just in the last 20-years for how to research that. And I’ve seen pictures of people with their ancestral photo of somebody standing inside Ellis Island, and the descendant standing in the exact same spot, which just blows my mind.
Fisher: How many people came through Ellis Island?
Jackie: Nearly half of all Americans can trace their family to Ellis Island. But we have 64 million records in our database including those who worked on the ship etc.
Fisher: Oh wow. So yeah that’s right. They would have to come through as well, right.
Jackie: Yes. We opened the History Center the same day that we launched our line. It was April 17th 2001. We chose the date because it was the one day that we had more people processed than any other day on Ellis Island and its history. 11747 people in one day.
Fisher: Oh wow.
Jackie: Yeah. [Laughs]
Fisher: Was there a place to hold people back if they came across with an illness? I know there was a lot of inspection of people for their general health, a very cursory inspection. Where did they hold these people?
Jackie: There were islands, two or three. We had dormitories. There are the hospital buildings, of course, quarantine. Yeah. There are many, many buildings on Ellis Island although they’re not open to the public. Just the main building is what’s really for people to visit. And then they have tours. They’re hospital tours that are conducted through another non-profit organization other than the one I work for. I work for the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island Foundation.
Fisher: Um hmm. So, you’re back and forth on the boat between both islands.
Jackie: Yes. [Laughs] And then there are administrative officers of course like there was this morning.
Fisher: Sure. So, I’ve got, for instance, a couple of sets of great, great grandparents that came through New York. I know they didn’t go through anywhere else. They both preceded Ellis Island. They came in the 1830s and 40s yet I’ve never found any record of these families anywhere. I’m sure I’m not alone. There must have been others who’ve run into this many times over. Can you explain why that might be?
Jackie: Yes. First of all, I do explain. There is the 80/20 rule so it is to be expected that some entries are mis-indexed. And there are reasons for it. One could just be that it was simply a miss, that we’re missing the last name in the database. We need to put a pin, it’s just a slip. There’s also the possibility that we couldn’t read the name. Maybe the pages were actually missing. Pieces of the pages were missing so that there is no name any long in the photograph that was in the microfiche.
Jackie: Then there’s also Patrick could be spelt PTK or PAT or just a letter P. So, there are different reasons as to why it’s missing. But I really don’t believe that there are manifest missing per say. I think they do exist. It’s just finding different ways, wild cards etc. to find them. And I actually can give a suggestion or tip I don’t think many users know about how website, about the EIDB (The Ellis Island Database) so on our website, you have to have a last name or at least two letters of the last name to do searches. But there’s a way to bypass that. A lot of families may have the name of the ship and the date that they sailed, but they’re not finding successfully the manifest on the database. And what you can do is, you can go into our filters, the field is called the PID, or Passenger ID, if you put in a digit like a 0 or a 1 or 9, it will allow you to search without a last name.
Jackie: Um hmm.
Fisher: So you can look through just by first names only and maybe by a certain date and narrow it down, and maybe have several pages to go through and ultimately find the person you’re looking for, hopefully recognizing something that somebody else didn’t.
Jackie: Yes. And also, if you have the name of the ship, sometimes the name of the ship is actually entered more than once or spelled differently. City of Columbia, City of Columbia with two AAs, or maybe it’s intentional, or maybe those records they actually put two AAs. I don’t know. It’s just an example. But yeah, you can search with the name of the ship make sure there’s not duplicates of a name of the ship and then a date and no name. And that is one way that you can sometimes find success on our database.
Fisher: She’s Jackie Schalk. She’s the Director of the American Family Immigration History Center located at Ellis Island. Jackie, great tips. Great ideas. I know there’s going to be a lot of people right now hoping online going, “Oh, I’m going to try it.”
Fisher: Thank you so much for your time. Great stuff.
Jackie: Thank you.
Fisher: And on the way next, we’re going to talk to an Extreme Genes listener in Little Rock, Arkansas who’s had a family mystery 60 years in duration that has been cracked. You’ll hear how, coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 285
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kelsey Dum
Fisher: You know, I love sharing with you ordinary people with extraordinary finds and how they found it. Hi, it’s Fisher. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And very excited to be talking to one of our listeners from Little Rock, Arkansas where he listens to Extreme Genes on KARNFM102.9. Kelsey Dum is on the line. Kelsey, I’m excited to hear about this story because I know you had a really difficult time figuring out who your grandmother was because of the fact that she was from France.
Kelsey: Yeah. My mom and them have been trying to find any kind of information on that side of the family for 60 years and I managed to do it in a few weeks.
Kelsey: Mostly by luck I’ll say.
Fisher: That’s pretty fun. Give us a little background now here. Now, this is your mother’s mother. Your mother’s mother was from France but you just didn’t know anything beyond that and nobody else in the family did either. What do you know about your grandmother or what did you know?
Kelsey: Well, all we really knew at first was obviously she was born and raised in France and met my grandfather during the war.
Fisher: And he was a soldier?
Kelsey: Yes, in the US Army. She came to America through the War-Bride Act. And what I understand of that was during that war, basically, if you met somebody over there and you became engaged or got married they could come over here and kind of pass up the process of citizenship. Even if they were just engaged they could still come over here but they would have to go through a certain process to become a legitimate citizen.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Kelsey: And she apparently didn’t do that.
Fisher: Not a lot of records then.
Kelsey: Not a lot of records at all and she did somehow come to get a Social Security number here but all we knew was that she had a brother and a sister and I think we had her parent’s names but they were very, very common French names.
Fisher: Oh boy.
Kelsey: So, it was really tough to hunt them down.
Fisher: [Laughs] So, what did you do?
Fisher: Yes! Yeah, which covers France very extensively.
Kelsey: Yeah, a lot of good resources through Europe in general, I guess but French particularly. So, I just basically ran through it and see what pops up and one thing would lead me to another. I stumbled across a man’s family tree that he was doing and of course he was French and spoke no English. So, Google Translate was my best friend there for a while, but he was doing a family tree for his wife.
Kelsey: And it turns out his wife had the same last name as my great grandmother.
Kelsey: So, I’m just looking at his tree and a lot of names are kind of lining up. The number of people weren’t right on point but then again his tree wasn’t completed. He hadn’t finished doing research but it was enough to give me the information I needed. When I started looking up some of these names, I found my grandmother’s brother’s wife.
Fisher: Oh wow! Still living?
Kelsey: Still living and I actually found her on Facebook. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] Great tool, right? Anywhere in the world.
Kelsey: Yeah. And at that point it was just a shot in the dark. So, I sent her a message. She had a daughter and a son and I was looking at the children’s names, and the son had the exact same name as the father I was looking for. So, I had to assume this is probably Pierre junior.
Fisher: Right, name for his dad, yeah.
Kelsey: Yeah. So, I found the daughter on Facebook as well and kind of asked them some basic questions. If they knew much about that side of the family, their knowledge was pretty limited as well. So, we just kind of got to talking and the daughter which is actually my mother’s first cousin, she sent me some pictures of what would be my great grandmother.
Fisher: Oh wow!
Kelsey: And it just blew me away.
Fisher: [Laughs] I’ll bet.
Kelsey: I had a picture of my grandmother in almost the exact same pose but probably 25 years later.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Kelsey: I mean, talk about a dead ringer, identical. And I went I think I may have found something here.
Fisher: Wow! How did you figure out that you had the right people for sure?
Kelsey: Once we got to talking more and trading information, everything started lining up. I have to thank the good man on Geneanet that was helping me because he actually was going down to the French Archives and accessing records that I obviously couldn’t access nor read French.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Kelsey: And he was really a big help in pointing me in the right direction and giving me more concrete evidence and paperwork, and birth certificates and stuff like that.
Fisher: So, you got the documentation then that proved everything you were looking for?
Fisher: Wow! So, you got great grandma’s picture. What about great grandfather?
Kelsey: Yes, they did send me a couple of really cool photos of my great grandfather when he was in the French Army in World War I in 1917 I believe it was.
Fisher: Wow! [Laughs]
Kelsey: Yeah. And they even actually sent me a photo of my grandmother when she was 12 years old and that’s kind of when things started to get emotional and kind of set in because I think my mom and her siblings had never seen a photo of their mother any younger than about the time when they were born.
Fisher: Right. Yeah, childhood pictures. So, now you’ve got this big bonding thing going on with these folks in France, have you had any visual communication or have you gone over there?
Kelsey: Yeah, actually we did a 4-way video chat through Facebook and people were getting choked up a little bit. It was funny when I was trying to put two and two together and I was asking them, I said, are you related to a Georgette Albertine de la Rey? And they said, well, Pierre had a sister but we didn’t know much about her. All we knew was that her nickname was “Zazette parti in the USA.”
Kelsey: And I went, hmm, why is that? They said, well, she left at a pretty young age to America and we just kind of lost touch. No one ever heard from her again or anything. And I went, “That’s got to be grandma!” [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah, right? Unbelievable. Could they speak any English when you did the video call?
Kelsey: Yes. My mom’s first cousin and the daughter of the first cousin both speak pretty good English. I’ve been working on my French too. I’m actually teaching myself. So, hopefully I can learn a little bit.
Fisher: Wow! [Laughs]
Kelsey: But I guess it would be my first cousin once removed, is that what they would call I would say, third cousin?
Kelsey: But I think the technical term is second cousin once removed, I think.
Fisher: Well, your mother’s first cousin would be your first cousin one generation removed.
Kelsey: Okay. The daughter of her.
Fisher: Okay, that’s your second cousin.
Kelsey: Yeah, she’s really close to my age and she’s supposed to be bringing her 2-year-old daughter to come visit in August.
Kelsey: We’re really, really excited for that.
Fisher: No kidding. Well, what an incredible journey and life changing kind of stuff. How’s your family feeling about all this?
Kelsey: My mom was the only one that knew I was doing anything and she wasn’t really aware of the amount of information I had gathered. So, Christmas day is when I called my aunts and uncles. One lives in Wisconsin. One’s in Seattle. One’s in Alaska. So, I got to treat them to the information all separately.
Kelsey: But I kind of got the silence and they were kind of astonished because they thought they would leave this world not knowing anything about Nonie, is what we called my grandmother. I guess they didn’t think they would ever find anything about Nonie or that family. So, it’s been really important for myself because I’ve always been really interested in finding our family.
Fisher: Wow. He’s Kelsey Dum. He’s from Little Rock, Arkansas and has quite the breakthrough getting his family back into France and connecting with relatives. Good job Kelsey!
Kelsey: Thank you! I appreciate you and your show helping to inspire me to do all this. I appreciate that.
Fisher: Well, I appreciate you sharing the story with everybody because it’s great stuff. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Bernice Bennett. She’s an expert of course at the National Archives in Washington D.C. It’s our Ask Us Anything segment and you can find out what it takes to do some research in Washington at NARA, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 285
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Bernice Bennett
Fisher: And we are back! Its America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And it is time once again for another Ask Us Anything segment. And this is where we answer your questions. And this is a fun one today, because my good friend, Bernice Bennett, she is the author of “Tracing Their Steps,” where she goes back and verifies oral history about her own family. She is in the National Archives like every day, so we're going to take all kinds of questions about the National Archives, because I'm thinking, there are a lot of people who have never been there, myself included. So Bernice, welcome to Extreme Genes, great to have you!
Bernice: Thank you so much. Glad to be here.
Fisher: And you know, I know that you use the National Archives for your book, because you were verifying this oral history. And you finally found that one document there. When that moment arrived, did you just jump up and down and scream and make people frightened?
Bernice: No, I cried. [Laughs]
Fisher: Did you? [Laughs]
Bernice: I was soo excited, because you know, my grandmother told me that her grandfather owned a lot of land. And so, somewhere throughout my research process, I said, "Perhaps he was homesteader." And I requested that record at the National Archives, and yes, he was a homesteader. And when they brought this box of records to me and I started going through all of those records, I could feel my grandmother, my great grandmother and my great, great grandfather, who was born in 1855 standing over my shoulder.
Bernice: I had chills, I was excited and I opened it up and there it was, Peter Clark. He's 38 years old, a citizen of the United States over the age of 21 and from Louisiana, a very exciting moment indeed.
Fisher: Well, and you know, there are so many moments like that waiting for everybody, right?
Fisher: All right, so let's start with this. I mean, the simplest question that anybody could ask and I’m sure you hear it all the time, "What can I find at the National Archives?"
Bernice: What I like everyone to understand is that if your ancestors interacted in any way with the federal government, then records concerning that interaction would be at the National Archives. And some of those records are now digitized, I mean, they're on microfilm, but some of their records are original documents that you can request. And when you start opening these records, you realize, "My ancestor touched this document!"
Bernice: And so, we're talking Civil War pension records, we're talking about Freedmen's Bureau, which is on the microfilm. Of course we're talking about the census records of which you can get those online, but you also can go to the National Archives and pull out the census if you want to see it. Not only that, but do you know, you could get a certified census record?
Fisher: No! Really?
Bernice: Yes! Yes!
Fisher: Wow, how fun!
Bernice: Which is a nice artifact to leave the National Archives with.
Bernice: A certified document with a ribbon on it and stamp from the National Archives.
Fisher: So this kind of answers another question we got here, "Is there material there that is offline that can only be seen at the National Archives?" Obviously so, lots of it.
Bernice: That's right. And as I mentioned, the homestead records, but those records are not online. Civil War pensions records, not all are online. And so, those are things you want to request, World War I information, World War II information.
Fisher: She is Bernice Bennett. She is the author of “Tracing Their Steps.” You can get it on Amazon.com and GenieBRoots.com. We are going to be back with more questions for you about the National Archives, all right, Bernice?
Fisher: In three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family Show.
Segment 5 Episode 285
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Bernice Bennett
Fisher: Hey, we're back at it for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. This segment is brought to you by Legacy Tree Genealogists. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. We're doing Ask Us Anything with Bernice Bennett, She is the author of the book, “Tracing Their Steps” and she is a National Archive person. I can say that you're not only an expert you practically live there, Bernice. And this is why it’s so great to have you on for this segment today.
Bernice: Well, thank you. You know, if I could put a cot there, I would just sleep! [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] I think you're right. Well here's another question for you, "How do you best prepare for a trip to the National Archives?"
Bernice: Well, first of all, I tell people, go to the NARA website, and that's NARA.gov and just look at it. Look at what NARA states they have available, their holdings. And then kind of map out what you think you want. So if you know you're going for Civil War records, then at least find out first of all, was your ancestor in the Civil War? And you can even find that out on Ancestry.com. They may have a pension file index. Get that index card, write down those numbers, so that when you enter the National Archives, you know what you're looking for.
Fisher: This is really kind of like for any research trip then, isn’t it, I mean, because time is your real currency when you go on a research trip. I mean, more important even than money, because you have such a limited amount of time and you're trying to get oriented and you're trying to figure out what you're looking for. And you mentioned to me off air that there are certain times where they actually bring your records out. So it’s really important that you're prepared before you leave. And try to find things that you can find online before you actually go to the Archives.
Bernice: Absolutely. I mean, you also need to understand, when you walk into the Archives, you have to go through security and you also must have your ID, because in order for you to get an official research card, you have to have your ID just to go through the door into the research room to get your card.
Fisher: That's a good point. Do they allow you to have pens and pencils in there?
Bernice: Yes, you can have pencils in there.
Fisher: Okay. Just in case something actually touches a document, which would be horrendous.
Bernice: Yes. And you really want to remember, you're dealing with old records, so you want to treat those old records as if they're the most fragile thing that you've ever come across.
Fisher: Right, right.
Bernice: Because you don't want to damage any record.
Bernice: And once again, there is security, so even when you leave the research room, one room is a room where you go and you request your document. There's another room where you retrieve the document. And when you retrieve that document, you're going through security again. And then you're getting your document. And when you return it, you're walking back out. You have to then show evidence that you're not walking out with a document. In other words, we want those documents to remain at the National Archives! [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah. No kidding, right, absolutely. And real quick, is there pretty good help there for people when they get there?
Bernice: Yes, you will find volunteers that are available on the first floor to assist and then there's a finding aids room where you can go in and request to meet with an expert on various documents, military documents, homestead documents, anything that you cannot find online and the people that I will call in the front room, can't help you with, there is a room that you can go in and speak to an expert to help you.
Fisher: Love it, love it. She's Bernice Bennett. She is the author of “Tracing Their Steps,” a great new book, it’s on Amazon.com and GenieBRoots.com. Bernice, thanks so much for coming on Ask Us Anything. I'm looking forward to my first trip to the Archives.
Bernice: Well, the day you come, I'll be there with you. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] I love that!
Bernice: Okay, great!
Fisher: Hey, that was way too fast! Thanks for joining us, Genies. If you missed any of the show, catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio or ExtremeGenes.com. And once again, sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter at ExtremeGenes.com. Once again, thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!