Episode 288 - Service Through Research: Iowa Woman Spearheads Headstones For Baby Graves Effort / Connecticut Woman IDs Murder Victims, Aids Authorities /Archives AUA

podcast episode Jun 30, 2019

Extreme Genes host/creator Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fisher begins by talking about his recent visit to St. Joseph, Missouri for the Northwest Missouri Genealogical Society where he gave four lectures. David visited a sale of ancestral clothing and other stuff in New York City that brought in millions. It was from the family of Babe Ruth!  The guys then talk about the importance of the recent email sent out by GEDMatch about law enforcement. Find out what you need to do to support authorities with your DNA.  Next, the guys talk about three World War I soldiers whose remains have been found in France. Two have been identified by DNA and have received military funerals along with the third a century after their deaths.  David then talks about NEHGS and their involvement in creating a website for descendants of the 272 Africans sold into slavery by Georgetown University. (They’re now up to 314.)  Hear more about the project.  David’s Blogger Spotlight this week shines on Angela Buckley of Victorian-supersleuth.com. David describes Angela’s fascinating blogs.

Next, Fisher talks with Kristine Bartley of Des Moines, Iowa. Kristine explains how she came to spearhead a project to put tombstones on the graves of over 300 children in a local cemetery who died over a hundred years ago.

Fisher then visits with Rebekah Heath, a Connecticut woman whose hobby is… er… unusual. She researches missing persons and tries to identify them. Recently, she had her first big success. Find out what she did.

Then, The Archive Lady, Melissa Barker, joins Fisher for another Ask Us Anything session… this time on archive family history research.

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

Transcript of Episode 288

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 288

Fisher: Hey, and welcome to America’s Family History Show. It’s 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. We are here to inspire you, to educate you, to tell you how you can go about finding your family history. We have expert guests and a lot of people by the way this week who have done some amazing service in the way of genealogy and research. We’re going to talk to a woman from Des Moines today who has been responsible for getting graves marked for babies that died over a hundred years ago. You’re going to want to hear her full story about how that came about. And then later in the show, a Connecticut woman we talked about last week briefly, who’s got a strange hobby tracing down the identities of missing persons. And recently she had a breakthrough that helped authorities in California. You’re going to want to hear her story coming up as well. Hey, don’t forget to sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter. Great blogs there, and links to stories that you’re going to enjoy as a genealogist, and of course past and present podcasts as well. Sign up at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. Hey, let’s head out to Boston right now. David Allen Lambert is on the line from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. He is the chief genealogist there. David, how are you?

David: I’m doing good. I’m actually in London, Ontario, Canada as we speak.

Fisher: Really?

David: Yeah. The Ontario Genealogical Society Conference, I’m a keynote out here, and having a great time on the other side of the border. You were traveling too, weren’t you?

Fisher: Yeah. I was at the Northwest Missouri Genealogical Society Annual Conference. I gave four lectures there at the edge of the Missouri river in St. Joseph, Missouri. In fact, the building we were in couldn’t even be accessed a couple of days before that because there was so much flooding going on in that area, and it was just great to be with Deann and Kelly and all the people there. I very much enjoyed their hospitality. It was a great time. By the way, St. Joseph, Missouri. This was the founding site of the Pony Express and they’ve also got the house that Jesse James was killed in there.

David: I know. He was hanging a portrait on a wall or something.

Fisher: Something like that, yes. Well, let’s get on with our Family Histoire News my friend. What do we have?

David: Well, besides traveling to Canada, I was actually in New York. In fact, this Boston Red Sox fan set foot in Yankee stadium because of the Babe Ruth auction, my dad’s big idol, growing up. I got to actually see first-hand the jersey that sold for a record-breaking $5.64 million.

Fisher: Oh my gosh.

David: I got to swing the bat that’s probably going to go for a million and a half. They didn’t realize I’ve got the whole Babe Ruth cleats and even put my hand into Mickey Mantle’s glove that sold for $100,000.

Fisher: Oh wow! The thing was, is this was from Babe’s family, his grandkids have been auctioning this off. And I love the comment from one of the granddaughters saying, “Hey, we don’t have to worry about being robbed in the middle of the night because of all of our memorabilia.” So, you know, some family history being sold off there, and I don’t think there’s anybody out there, any family that could sell their stuff for more than that.

David: No, that’s true. I don’t think any of my sports jerseys are ever going to fetch that type of money or anything. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] But what if it has Lambert across the back? Maybe that would up the price.

David: I have one from my heritage I got to hold on it.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] Well, we talked about GEDMatch last week in regards to the opting in for law enforcement. A hundred and fifteen thousand plus people are opting in and the campaign still continues because it’s only a little more than 10% of the users from GEDMatch and I know that you feel strongly as I do that if our DNA can help law enforcement, more power to it.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. I mean they had 1.2 million people there, and obviously there was a big flap over it. They were making an exception for their terms of service for a recent active case in Utah. But they just sent out a letter actually right after we recorded our previous show asking people to opt back in. So, I’m hoping that people will choose to do so, and certainly have to respect the wishes of those who do not wish to do so. But, from 1.2 million now down to zero and then back up to 150,000, we’ve got to keep going if you want to use your DNA in helping law enforcement as they try to break cold cases and a whole lot more.

David: That’s right. In fact, speaking of things of long ago like cold cases, let’s go even further back to World War I. There were many World War I soldiers who were never brought home. However, just a few came home in the UK recently including Private Henry Wallington. Their bodies had been found and now reinterred.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing? They found them on the battlefield.

David: It is happening all the time because they wore dog tags. A lot of times in, of course, regimental buttons there’s enough information, and of course DNA can also get into the mix to help out too.

Fisher: Isn’t that something? They bury somebody 100 years after they died. I mean, that’s like you or me passing away in 2040 and being reburied in 2140. [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] Kind of an afterthought I think.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Well, hopefully they get it right the first time for both of us and may be many years from now Fish.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Well, I know that we talked briefly about NEHGS/American Ancestors efforts to work with identifying the descendants and family members of the Georgetown University 272. Now the 272 number is actually the number originally thought to be the enslaved individuals that were sold by Georgetown University down to Louisiana sugar plantation back in 1838. But now we believe we’ve identified 314 individuals and the website gu272.americanancestors.org is something we’re very proud of and very excited to announce, and this website will be searchable online.

Fisher: That’s awesome. That’s really going to be good. In fact, we’re going to do an interview next week with one of your people from NEHGS about this project and some of the things that have been learned, some of the stories that have come out of it.

David: I hope that many of the descendants can reconnect to their past now. Don’t forget our blogger spotlight shines around the world and this it’s shining over to the UK to Angela Buckley. Her blog is www.victorian-supersleuth.com. We talk about cold cases all the time. Her cases are really cold. The one she just blogged about was from 1844 about a murder that occurred in England, so she’s going through the cold cases. Maybe she should team up with CeCe Moore. They can find some old DNA.

Fisher: Wouldn’t that be fun? [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] Well, I’ll talk to you next week from Beantown my friend.

Fisher: All right. Thank you so much David. We’ll catch up with you. And coming up next in three minutes I’m going to talk to a woman named Kristine Bartley. She is from Des Moines and she’s got a cemetery project you’re going to want to hear about on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 288

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kristine Bartley

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and I got to tell you, I love hearing from listeners and experiences that they have, and then getting those people to share some of those things with you so you can get some ideas about some things you can do in your community, in your own family, and how you might go about these projects. And I’ve got Kristine Bartley on the line with me right now. She’s from Des Moines, Iowa. And Kristine, welcome to the show. I sure appreciate you reaching out to me.

Kristine: [Laughs] Well, thanks. It’s fun to be on your show and share this interesting story.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, you have really gotten yourself deep in the weeds on this, actually literally, right?

Kristine: [Laughs] Oh my goodness.

Fisher: Talking about the Woodlands cemetery, right? Tell us about what happened.

Kristine: Well, several years ago, historic Woodlands cemetery was started in 1848 when five farmers donated the first five and a half acres to this little teeny town of Des Moines, Iowa. And over the years it sort of went into disrepair, and it was, I think, late 80s they put in a big new four-lane roadway, and all of a sudden the cemetery was back in people’s minds again because they could see it.

Fisher: Right.

Kristine: This man Gerald LaBlanc, who had been a retired teacher, he was just very upset that the cemetery was in disrepair and he started this effort to restore it. And one of the things that he found was that there was a plot of land that was called Baby Hill, and there were 536 babies buried there.

Fisher: Oh.

Kristine: But they had been in unmarked graves for over 100 years.

Fisher: Wow. That’s emotional.

Kristine: Oh, completely. There were 35 that had headstones but the rest had been marked with little wooden crosses. But over the years of cemetery neglect, some wooden crosses disintegrated.

Fisher: Sure.

Kristine: Anyway, he started this effort to raise money to put headstones on the unmarked baby graves. Well, his health failed and he reached out to our DAR chapter and we took on his project. And we raised enough money to place, I don’t know, maybe 146 headstones. When you have these endless fundraisers, you know, people lose interest, so we ended it on a Mother’s Day. But I personally could not let it go. My grandmother used to take me to this cemetery to put flowers on them. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] How did you like that when you were a kid?

Kristine: Oh, I was like 8 years old, 10 years old. It was like ugh please, not again.

Fisher: [Laughs] And now it’s yours.

Kristine: Yeah. Okay, so now I get this whole cemetery. I’ve got all these baby graves. Anyway, I couldn’t let go of the fact that there were still like over 300 graves unmarked, and so I started my own little effort. And this one afternoon I was pulling weeds and Meals on Wheels pulled up for the elderly lady that lived across the street. And the Lieutenant Governor got out of the car and I thought, I looked like I’m horrible. I’m covered in dirt. My hair is everywhere. Anyway, I approached her and I said, “I understand that Governor Branstad has a history fund, and I’m wondering...” and I explained about the baby graves, if this would fit the profile of his fund. And she said, “Here’s my card. Contact me, and I’ll hook you up.” Well, she did. And I wrote a request of funds to the governor. I forgot about it. About a month later I get a phone call from his assistant who said, “He wants to meet with you.” Well, long story short, he not only gave us money, but he raised the additional funds left to put a headstone on every single baby that was buried at Baby Hill.

Fisher: Wow!

Kristine: So, we had a dedication, and you know, I was on TV and I had all these newspaper articles. On the exact anniversary of the dedication that we did for these baby graves, I got a phone call and they did leave a message. So, I listened to it. The woman who was calling was calling about the fact that we had done these baby graves. So, I called her back. Well, I’ve got to tell you I had goosebumps. I was crying, talking to her. She sent me an email after our phone conversation. So, in her words I want to tell her story accurately.

Fisher: Sure.

Kristine: I would like to read a little bit of this email. And what she said was, “I cannot begin to tell you what this means, and will continue to mean for our Law family. My father-in-law and his sister are going to just break down and cry with joy when we present them with all of this. The family has been searching for baby Frank for over a hundred years.” She goes on to say that after a family wedding she was starting too. One of the other family members that does a lot of genealogy and baby Frank came up again. So, she went home and started researching again. But this time, I put my historian’s hat on and started searching for historical events happening during that time, and found articles about the huge loss of life due to cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, fever, etc. She goes on to say, “I thought, bingo! He must have died from one of these.”

Fisher: Right.

Kristine: It fits the time frame. So, she goes on, “I then kept combing through the Des Moines register newspaper and up pops your article on beginning the pioneer grave project. I read through it and saw that it was in historic Woodland Cemetery. I don’t know why, but something made me think that this may be a lead. So, I followed it all the way through to each article until the article and video of the dedication ceremony coverage. There I saw your interview. I was convinced that he had to be there. I then looked up Woodlands Cemetery and put the last name Law into their search engine and there he was. Oh my goodness!

Fisher: Wow!

Kristine: I was running all over the kitchen at 11pm at night screaming like a fool, “I found him! I found him!”   

Fisher: [Laughs]

Kristine: You know, I’ve told this story and I’ve read this email and I still get choked up. I immediately woke up hubby to tell him the good news and they called the cousin in Beaumont. It was a huge deal. And you know, [Laughs] you never know what the impact of your actions.

Fisher: You know, that is really true, but I will tell you, in the course of the six years almost now we’ve been doing Extreme Genes, when people do these things the ripple effect is just absolutely incredible. Were all the children identified? Did you know which ones were buried in which graves?

Kristine: [Laughs] And that’s the other thing. Gerald LaBlanc had contacted the cemetery so we had a list of every baby and every spot where they were, so we knew exactly who was where. And after the dedication ceremony, I reached out to Find A Grave and said, “Hey, you know, there’s 536 new headstones. And apparently, they’re now on Find A Grave.

Fisher: Wow!

Kristine: Yeah.

Fisher: Isn’t that great?

Kristine: It was an amazing experience for me to have been unable to let go of the project, and then to have it validated a year later by this.

Fisher: Yeah. Right.

Kristine: It was inspiring.

Fisher: Oh sure. Absolutely. Now, you said that you used to go there with your grandmother and put flowers on graves. So, do you have family that’s actually in the cemetery itself?

Kristine: [Laughs] I have a ton of family. And it was interesting because when my great grandmother died in 1958 there was this giant family argument because Woodland Cemetery was in such disrepair that they didn’t want to put her there, even though we had tons of family, so they sent her to another cemetery. So, in doing these baby graves, other people had stepped up to help do some big restoration work of riding the stones. People were thinking that it had been vandalism that people were pushing over headstones. But I’ve gotten so involved with the cemetery, I had this whole big experience with one of the men there who has been digging graves for, I think he was telling me, 38 years.

Fisher: Wow!

Kristine: Yeah. He was saying that it wasn’t necessarily vandalism, that what happened was they buried people without those concrete bolts. And they just put the wooden caskets in the ground and everything would disintegrate, and the earth would cave in and the stones would tip over. Well, some of what’s been happening in the cemetery since all this stuff has been going on, they’ve been finding headstones that had been buried with like five and six inches of earth on top of them, so they weren’t stolen. They weren’t vandalised. They just tipped over and then the earth and the trees swallowed it up.

Fisher: Swallowed it up.

Kristine: It’s been fascinating and I have a film background and the city asked me if I would go and film some of the restoration work. So I was there, and I was standing at my great, great grandfather’s grave, and I was noticing there was this big cement curve around it. I went back to the city and said, “What’s the story there?” Well, they looked it up and in 1876 he purchased eight plots. [Laughs]

Fisher: Eight plots?

Kristine: Eight plots for $37.

Fisher: What a deal!

Kristine: [Laughs] Yes. What a deal. The person at the cemetery said to me, “You know, there’s only four people buried there you know. Do you want them?”

Fisher: Oh no. [Laughs] They’re yours. They’re paid for. [Laughs]

Kristine: [Laughs] You know, now that I spend a fair amount of time at this cemetery and we’re in the process of trying to raise enough money to buy wreaths across America for the parents that are buried there. There are about 750 of them.

Fisher: Sure.

Kristine: Some of them from the War of 1812. There are Civil War soldiers there. There’s one guy, Preston Jackson. He was born a slave, escaped and fought for the Union Army, and he’s buried with all the other Civil War soldiers. So, my grandmother, I can see her smiling, and she is laughing.

Fisher: Yeah. She’s howling at you. I mean, look at that history and all of a sudden now you are the cemetery. They have to rename it after you.

Kristine: [Laughs]

Fisher: It would have to be Kristine Bartley Cemetery. Who’s Woodland for Pete’s sake, right?

Kristine: [Laughs] Exactly. Well, she truly would drag me there, and I was patient sort of. I was a kid that was like rolling my eyes. I know she’s having a good laugh.

Fisher: She is Kristine Bartley. She is from Des Moines, Iowa. And she’s a cemetery angel if there ever was one. She’s taken over Woodland Cemetery and making a difference. Thanks so much for sharing your story and reaching out, Kristine. It was fascinating.

Kristine Oh, well, thanks for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to another woman who is devoting her time to helping a great cause, a cold case, missing persons. Who were these people? Rebekah Heath from Connecticut has her story coming up next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 288

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Rebekah Heath.

Fisher: All right, we are back at it. Today we are just flooded with people who are out there doing great things and one of them is Rebekah Heath. She is from Simsbury, Connecticut. Rebekah, welcome to Extreme Genes, nice to have you!

Rebekah: Thank you.

Fisher: I was so intrigued when I read your story just a week or two ago. That you got involved in a missing person’s case and I guess this is your passion. What got you started in missing person’s cases and seeing what you can do to help?

Rebekah: Well, it started off as what I assumed was a hobby. In my spare time I would try to find names for unidentified Jane Does and John Does because it seemed like there was a large amount of these individuals that were unnamed and for years and years, and these cases had gone cold and I wanted to give them a voice that they no longer had.

Fisher: So, had you been able to identify some of them previously to this case we’re going to talk about?

Rebekah: Oh, no, no. This was the first time. I would generally just reach out to missing person’s requests that I would see on message boards.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Rebekah: And track down people looking for missing loved ones and if they happen to fit into this timeline I would collect them. 

Fisher: So, let’s talk about the case because it’s very tragic and I guess this dates back to right around when you were born.

Rebekah: It does. The first barrel was found November 10, 1985 and I was born on the 13th.

Fisher: This barrel contained human remains and it was up in New Hampshire. So, this is a true crime story and you learned about this when?

Rebekah: I would say about ten years ago. I came across the article in the newspaper and it stuck out to me, not only because of the date it was found but that still no one had known who these victims were.

Fisher: Right. Now, you mentioned the first barrel. So, there were two others?

Rebekah: There was one other. It was found in 2000.

Fisher: So, how many victims in all were in these barrels?

Rebekah: So, there were four. The first barrel contained the adult female and the oldest child. The second barrel contained two young children which were both girls.

Fisher: And so over time police were finally able to figure out that it was a man named Terry Rasmussen. Was it an admission of guilt or was it they actually tracked him down? How did they figure out who did it?

Rebekah: Unfortunately, he never paid the price for this crime. He was imprisoned for a completely unrelated case. He had murdered and dismembered his wife that he was living with in California. They kind of back-tracked him by a couple of different ways, when he was in jail, he was known as Larry Vanner at that time. They ran his finger prints and said, hey, wait a second, that matches a record we have for a man, I want to say in ’86, who was going by the alias Gordon Jensen.

Fisher: Oh, this sounds like a really complicated case to me, Rebekah. [Laughs] I mean, a lot of moving parts here because he’s on the West Coast. He’s on the East Coast. You’ve got barrels up in New Hampshire. So, you wanted to try and figure out who these people were in New Hampshire. So, what did you do?

Rebekah: So, I started making a list of any potential matches for any family missing person’s boards that I could find that would kind of fit within the timeframe. I would pull any potential list and put it in this list and then go back and forth on this list to see if I could find like a public record of them living.

Fisher: Sure.

Rebekah: And if I couldn’t I’d cross it out and go to the next.

Fisher: Did you use Facebook or other social media?

Rebekah: I actually would. People would post that they were looking for missing loved ones, on Facebook and I would certainly use those as well and try to find if I could find any info.

Fisher: Sure. So, time goes on and what happened?

Rebekah: In 2017 I came across one listing that seemed like it was a pretty good match and I had posted it in one of my social network groups on Facebook and it was following this case. And I said, “Hey, does anyone think this is them?”  Nothing really happened from it. But then, last year I was listening to a podcast on the Bear Brook Murders and it just brought me back to that specific listing that I remembered looking at before and I said, you know what? I got to reach out to this woman. I’ve got to figure out if she found who she was looking for.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Rebekah: The posting was from 1999.

Fisher: Oh, wow! So, she could have been gone. She could have moved. She could have had a different account.

Rebekah: Usually one of the email addresses are broken or whatnot. So, I tracked her down through Facebook and I just sent out a message. “Hey, you the same woman that was looking for a missing half sister?” And she responded back, “Yes, it is.” And I gave a little background on what I do. I like to help people find missing loved ones and I thought maybe I could help. After some more details and I would say in about ten minutes of speaking with this woman she had responded back. Oh, and she married a guy with the last name “Rasmussen.”

Fisher: Oh my gosh! Rasmussen, that’s the same name. Well, that must have made your jaw drop.

Rebekah: I did. I remember I started shaking. I couldn’t type anymore. I was trying to type but I was shaking so much. It’s like, there’s no way somebody goes missing with two young girls that has the same last name.

Fisher: Yeah. Right, the same last name. Unbelievable.

Rebekah: I should mention that this was probably like 10 pm at night.

Fisher: Wow! No sleep that night, huh? [Laughs]

Rebekah: I could not sleep. I was up. There were two sides of the family looking for this woman and her two girls because she had two daughters by two different fathers.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Rebekah: So, different sides of families were both looking for this woman whose name was Marlyse.

Fisher: Sure.

Rebekah: So, I reached out to the other side of the family that was looking for the other girl and the sister of the adult female who was looking for Marlyse said that she had left with a man named Terry. She knew his first name.

Fisher: Oh, wow! So, you got the first name and the last name now.

Rebekah: Yes! I mean, at that point you’re like “Okay, this is it. It’s done!”

Fisher: You know you’ve got it. Yeah. Were you then able to identify all four of the victims?

Rebekah: Unfortunately, it was only the adult female and her two biological daughters.

Fisher: Okay.

Rebekah: One little girl that was linked to the serial killer as his bio child, is still unidentified.

Fisher: Ha. So, you reached out to then to the California police I assume.

Rebekah: San Bernardino, yep.

Fisher: What did they have to say to you?

Rebekah: [Laughs] Well, I tried explaining my story and I didn’t realize how unusual it was for people to just search these message boards and reach out to people but I was questioned. “So, this is a hobby?”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Rebekah: “Let’s get this straight, you just do this?”

Fisher: [Laughs] Yep. Some people go bowling and I do this. Absolutely.

Rebekah: Exactly.

Fisher: So, once they got over the shock of that and came to realize that you were a serious player here, did they go through your material?

Rebekah: Oh, it was taken seriously because I had never initiated anything about the case whatsoever. The information was all given freely. And by the next week family members from both sides were getting DNA tests done to match them.

Fisher: Oh, wow.

Rebekah: Yeah.

Fisher: And then it all kind of came together. Then this is the first one you’ve ever actually broken with your little hobby. Nonetheless, it did a lot of good.

Rebekah: [Laughs] Yes.

Fisher: And you use a lot of genealogical practices in what you. I mean, you’ve been telling me off-air that you’ve got an Ancestry account. You use Family Search. Do you do family history research on your own lines?

Rebekah: [Laughs] Oddly enough, no I don’t. I like to help other people find their roots.

Fisher: To find their missing people and get them back together.

Rebekah: Yeah.

Fisher: You’re amazing. I’m talking to Rebekah Heath. She is a hobbyist into missing persons in Simsbury, Connecticut. And recently was responsible for helping identify three or four missing people who were lost to a murder back in the 1980s. Incredible work Rebekah. Great work.

Rebekah: Thank you so much.

Fisher: I’m sure it’s very satisfying for you. Congratulations. Hope you keep it up because I know there are a lot of people that could use your help.

Rebekah: [Laughs] Absolutely. Thank you.

Fisher: And coming up next its Ask Us Anything today with Melissa Barker, the Archive Lady. When we return, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 288

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melissa Barker

Fisher: And it is time for our Ask Us Anything segment this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and always excited to have my good friend, Melissa Barker on the line. She is The Archive Lady. And great to have you back, Melissa!

Melissa: Hey, great to be back, Scott. Glad to be on the show.

Fisher: I know you've been out visiting National Archives. And we've got to talk about that sometime soon, because you had some great experiences there, but we have some questions to answer. So let's start with this one from Nancy. She says, "Hey, if I go to a local archive, what kind of records should I expect to see?"

Melissa: You should expect to see some fantastic records first of all, but normally in archives, you're going to find that most of the time are not online, they're not microfilms, they've been donated by others and others doing research. So you can find records about your ancestor in vertical files. Those are a hodgepodge of records that could include family group sheets, obituary clippings, things like that or you might find records in a manuscripts collection.

Fisher: You could sometimes find things there that people have contributed that just somehow landed in their lap, like off of eBay or something. And typically, they're kind of obscure, at least in my experience.

Melissa: They are. You know, and I have people that walk into my archives all the time with things in their hands and they say, "Do you want these?"

Fisher: [Laughs]

Melissa: And its, you know, its unique things that we don't have. And so, "Yes, I want those." And so, we have them here, so when researchers come, they can find them.

Fisher: Now I know you mentioned for instance, you have school records in your Houston County, Tennessee archive there, right?

Melissa: We absolutely do. And it depends on the area and if they were saved. But we've been very fortunate in that our local board of education saved a lot of the older records dating back to the late 1800s. Their school board minute books and their class register books. And it’s just been a fantastic resource for us, because it goes back to when those one room school houses existed in all those little communities.

Fisher: Wow! And where there notes in there also or just names?

Melissa: Well, there's names, there’s their grades, their days that they were present. And in a lot of the earlier ones, there are their father's names that's listed in there and their father's occupation.

Fisher: Wow! Those are not the things you see usually in government outlets.

Melissa: No, absolutely not. And you know, I'm a county archivist. And many county archives only deal with the county government records. But there's many of us that choose to collect historical and genealogical records, because they don't have anywhere else in our areas that's doing that.

Fisher: So here's your next question. And this is from Sandy, and she asks, "Photographs. What kind of photographs are normally kept in a county archive collection?"

Melissa: That is kind of like for me the hidden gems. Many of our county archives, our historical societies, genealogical societies, have a fantastic collection of photographs, because they're trying to document their local history and the photographs can do that. They could have family photographs, photographs of local schools, churches, maybe even just photographs of events that happened in the community. There are many times you’re going to find a large collection of photographs that are not online of course, but they're here in the archives. And also, don't forget to ask about unidentified photographs. We all have a collection of unidentified photographs.

Fisher: Yeah, that's really true. And this is a great place for them to go. And sometimes, for instance, I've been into an archive where I found a picture of my grandfather holding his little son, because they got the collection of the photographer from way back in the day. And what a gem that was for me to find.

Melissa: And I'll tell you another thing that happened. Because of our many newspapers now have gone all digital. They have a storehouse of photographs that are sitting in filing cabinets, and many of those get donated to local archives.

Fisher: Oh, wow!

Melissa: Yes. And we received ours from our local newspaper and it was about ten boxes worth of just loose photographs that have been taken over many decades. And they've gone digital now, and so they don't use them anymore.

Fisher: All right. She's Melissa Barker, she's The Archive Lady. We're going to continue with our Ask Us Anything segment, coming up when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes.

Segment 5 Episode 288

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melissa Barker

Fisher: We are back for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here with Melissa Barker, she is The Archive Lady. And we're doing our Ask Us Anything segment, answering your questions. And this one comes from Parri in North Dakota, and he says, Melissa, “Tell us about donations. How do you donate and what kinds of things have you received in donations?"

Melissa: Donating to an archive is one of the best things you could do, especially if your children and grandchildren just have no interest in your genealogical records. Please seek out an archivist to see if they'll take them. It’s important to make plans ahead of time. Call ahead. See if they even accept records donations. And if they do, find out what kinds of records they accept. I, in my archive accept just about anything, because I'm the only repository that's trying to save these kinds of stuff. But I have had a tremendous amount of different things walk into my archive that people don't even know if we want, but they find out that we do.

Fisher: Well you know, I went to an archive in Fairfield, Connecticut a few years ago and was blown away by a collection that somebody had donated on one of my ancestral families that dated from the 1600s to the mid 1800s. It had been collected over many generations. And one of the things that were in there was a sword that my ancestor had in the early 1700s. I couldn't believe it! And I got to hold this thing and get pictures with it, and poke people, no, I didn't poke anybody, but I had a good time with it.

Melissa: You know, it’s amazing what people donate. I'm amazed every day. We had a couple of sisters walk in one day and they had a couple of boxes with them. And they told me they were on their way to throw these away. When I went to look at it, it was their mother's life research. Her mother's life genealogy research in those boxes and they didn't want it. So we gladly took that information. To think of the work that the woman put in for 60 years doing genealogy research and her daughters didn't even want it. They were going to throw it away.

Fisher: And you know, Melissa, that is just a common thing and its every genealogist's nightmare that everybody looks at it, rolls their eyes and go, "Well, what's this, it’s just really boring. We're going to get rid of it." In fact, I had somebody fish a family Bible out of a trash can years ago that led to me connecting my third great grandmother into her lines, and it goes way back in early New England. And without that Bible, I would have no way of having connected her to her parents.

Melissa: Absolutely. And you know, one thing I've learnt too is, I need to pay attention to what people are giving me, because not too long ago, I had a gentleman walk in and he had a shirt box that was probably from the 1950s I guessed, and he said, "This was just in an old storage building." And so I took it and I set it aside for a couple of days, didn't look in it. Once I finally got back to look into it, they were original records dating from about 1804 to 1868.

Fisher: Oh wow!

Melissa: So now, when people bring me something, I open it immediately to see what's in it.

Fisher: [Laughs] I want to know what were in those records, what were they of?

Melissa: They looked to be the personal papers of a gentleman by the name of James Scarborough. And they were receipts and invoices, some financial records, but they all dated back to 1804. This was a local gentleman, and he came in, he was very nonchalant about it. He didn't want, you know, me to talk too much to him about it. He said this was being stored in an old building and he thought that we'd like to have them and he left them.

Fisher: And that was it.

Melissa: That was it. The box he brought it in wasn't any kind of a special box. And once I looked in there, I thought, "Oh, I should have looked at this two days ago!"

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, there's so many great things that come through. And you never know what's going to be in your local archive or the archive of your ancestor's areas. So it’s a great reason to check into the archives. As always Melissa, great job! Thanks so much for checking in with us from Houston County, Tennessee for Ask Us Anything.

Melissa: Thanks, Scott, I appreciate it.

Fisher: And you know, we rotate all kinds of expert guests through these segments, so if you have any question about any topic relating to genealogy, just email us at [email protected]. Well, that wraps up the show. Thanks so much for joining us. If you missed any of it, catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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