Episode 290 - The Georgetown Memory Project / Lambert On Researching Revolutionary AncestorsJul 14, 2019
Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fisher begins with a tip of the hat to David’s 50th birthday which he celebrated last week. In Family Histoire News, the boys discuss the news that CeCe Moore’s first solved case has ended with a conviction in the 1987 double murder in Washington state. Then, David shares an interesting story about the late Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain. Cobain apparently had an interest in his family history. Hear what he learned. Next, turning back the clock much further, another high profile figure also traced his genealogy. Find out who it was and why, and where this 18th century record can be seen. David then adds the story of a woman who was the wife of one signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the daughter of another. Learn about her connections.
Fisher then opens his two part visit with Richard Cellini, founder of the Georgetown Memory Project, and Claire Vail, Director of the GU272 Memory Project at AmericanAncestors. Hear about this remarkable project, identifying the over 300 people sold as slaves to plantations in Louisiana by Georgetown College in 1838, in order to financially save the school, as well as all their descendants. It’s a multi-faceted story you’ll want to hear.
Then, David Lambert returns for Ask Us Anything about researching Revolutionary War ancestors. There are a lot of resources waiting for you out there!
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 290
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 290
Fisher: And welcome America to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Independence Day weekend, I know a little bit after the fact but nonetheless, I think we’re all still revelling in that. And we’re going to be talking to David Allen Lambert about that coming up a little later on in the show. Of course, after our first segment coming up here in a few minutes we’re going to be talking about researching your revolutionary ancestors. Plus, today we’re going to talk to the people who are behind the GU272 Memory Project, Richard Cellini and Claire Vail. She is the connection with American Ancestors right now. This is the story from 1838 about Georgetown University who sold some 300 enslaved persons down into Louisiana in order to save the institution, and Richard and Claire are part of a project to basically trace down all the descendants and bring them back together. It’s an incredible story. We are going to have it for you in two parts coming up in just a little bit. And by the way, while you’ve got us on your mind, please sign up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter.” It’s easy to do. Sign up at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. You’ll get a blog from me each week, links to current and past shows and to stories that you as a genealogist will find fascinating! Right now, let’s head out to Boston and talk to David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, big day for you the other day. Birthday number... can I reveal this?
David: Oh sure.
Fisher: Number 50.
David: Yep, half way to a hundred. [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah, you’re like three weeks and a day from when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Were you watching?
David: [Laughs] You know, it’s funny you mention that. I was always told as a child by my mother that when the moon landing happened, they propped me up in her lap to watch our television, so I did witness the moon landing.
David: Well, in Family Histoire News this week we have our friend CeCe Moore whose first case pertaining to a “person of interest” in a double murder, all that work has paid off. The jury has convicted this person based on CeCe’s research.
Fisher: Yeah, this is her first case. She solved it over a weekend, from a Friday night to a Monday morning. Last year we talked to her about it at that time, and CeCe of course, is pretty excited about it. And I’m excited to tell you that she’s going to be on the show next week for two segments. We’re going to talk about this, other cases, the situation with GEDMatch, the re-growing of the database that’s so necessary for this kind of work. It’s going to be a great show next week with CeCe Moore.
David: Well, I’ll tell you, genealogy, it kind of rocks my world. And back in the 1990s we lost Kurt Cobain from Nirvana who died tragically at the age of 27. But he actually was looking into his own genealogy. In fact, before the days of the internet and DNA he actually located a lady and in San Francisco, California, who had been researching his family for years.
David: Did it by the telephone.
Fisher: He talked about actually playing concerts in Ireland and feeling like it’s almost an out of body experience, and being in tears, just feeling that this is where he was from.
David: I know that feeling when I go across the pond, that’s for sure.
David: Well, in other Family Histoire News. Let’s go back in the “way-back machine.” Leave the 1990s and back to the, say the 1740s. The father of our country, George Washington, actually created a genealogy of the Washington family in Virginia. They believe this document that is at the Library of Congress in Washington DC was written in the late 1740s or early 1750s, about the time he was going into the military.
Fisher: Wow! And you look at this thing, there are pictures of it online. In fact, you can find the story on ExtremeGenes.com, and you can see his writing it out. It’s a very rudimentary family tree. It lists all of his siblings and his parents and the children of one of his siblings, and then it goes back like three generations to his great grandparents, so it’s all right there. And the article is essentially about the fact that genealogy for wealthy planters and people of that ilk in those times, their genealogy was very important to them in making connections and marriages and business transactions and things like this. So, fascinating to think that George was working on his family tree back when he would have been, I believe, a teenager!
David: Um hmm. That’s really the truth because in the 1740s, late, he would have been a teenager, in the early twenties or late teens. A very interesting story to know that he was concerned about his own family tree.
David: The Father Of Our Country. So, in keeping up with Independence Day weekend, I just want to toss out that you may know that the last signer of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll. In fact, there’s a cameo fictional role of him in National Treasure that he knew where the treasure was. But, the real secret lies with Julia Stockton, who was the last widow from what I can determine, from the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Julia, born in 1759, died July 7th 1848. Aside from being the wife of Benjamin Rush the signer, her own father Richard Stockton was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Fisher: Wow! When did the last Revolutionary soldier pass, David? You know about this stuff.
David: Well, I wrote the book with Maureen Taylor, The Last Muster and one of the images that we included was Daniel Frederick Bakeman who died April 5th 1869, and he was the last veteran receiving a pension. However, fast forward a little bit to 1906, and we have a lady in Vermont. Esther Sumner, who married in 1855 at the ripe old age of 21 to her husband who was 75 years of age, but she died in 1906, 131 years after Lexington and Concord. She was the last widow of the Revolution.
Fisher: Wow! What a great story and we’re going to talk more about Revolutionary ancestors coming up later in the show with David as we explain how you can do certain research and where some of the great sources are to find some of those stories.
David: Well, it’s always a great thing to have people coming to Boston to research your roots, and if you happen to have time this summer, come to our American Ancestors headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, the New England Historic Genealogical Society welcomes you to become a member and you can save $20 on you membership if you use the checkout code “Extreme.”
Fisher: All right David, thanks so much. Talk to you a little later on.
David: Sounds good.
Fisher: And coming up next in three minutes we’re going to talk to Claire Vail from American Ancestors and Richard Cellini. He is the founder of the GU272 Memory Project talking about Georgetown University, how they saved the institution by selling people into slavery. It’s an amazing story bringing people together, descendants from all around the world. You’re going to want to hear it next on Extreme Genes, America’ Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 290
Host: Scott Fisher with guests Richard Cellini and Claire Vail
Fisher: And we are back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And as you are probably aware from listening to Extreme Genes over the past several years, there has been an interesting story that came out of Georgetown University about their history back in 1838. And from this has come the Georgetown Memory Project, and we have the founder of that project on the line with us, Richard Cellini. How are you Richard?
Richard: I’m terrific and I’m pleased to be here. Thanks so much for inviting me.
Fisher: And we have Claire Vail. She is the Director of Creative and Digital Strategy for AmericanAncestors.org. And she’s also the Director of the GU272 Memory Project at American Ancestors. How are you Claire?
Claire: I’m great, Scott. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Fisher: You know, we’re got so much to cover here. For people who are not familiar with the story, let’s just kind of review it and Richard, you want to start? I think it was what, 2015 that we first started hearing about the discovery of the records of the 272 enslaved people who were sold off to basically save Georgetown, which was then known as Georgetown College.
Richard: Well, that’s exactly right. It’s never been a secret or a mystery of Georgetown that Georgetown and the Maryland Jesuits had once owned and enslaved people. But it was all sort of hazy. Nobody really knew the details. Well, in November of 2015, a bunch of undergraduates started protesting the 1838 enslaved sale. And they brought it into very high relief. They put a lot of detail that had never been there before. That it was more than 272 enslaved men, women, and children. In fact, it turns out it was about 314 enslaved people who were sold. And they were sold all at once to three different sugar plantations down in Louisiana. And they were sold to basically rescue Georgetown University from bankruptcy. So, you know, suddenly something that has sort of been just kicking around in Georgetown’s attic, was really sort of thrust into the forefront of modern day consciousness.
Fisher: Well, certainly because of the fact that Georgetown would not exist today, apparently, had they not done this, right?
Richard: That’s exactly right. Georgetown University was founded, built, and operated for the first 50 years of its existence with proceeds from slave labor. And in 1838, about the 50th anniversary of Georgetown these enslave people were called upon involuntarily to save Georgetown literally, to save it from financial bankruptcy. So, they were involuntarily sold and their families were broken up and they were all sold to three different plantations in Southern Louisiana, taken away from their homes in Southern Maryland where they had been together for almost 200 years before the 1838 slave sale.
Fisher: So basically, the story kind of revealed a rotting foundation basically for Georgetown University?
Richard: Well, not only that. I mean, it completely displaced Georgetown’s founding story. I mean, you know, the founding story of Georgetown it had been founded by rich white Catholics, either from Maryland or America, or maybe even England, and that it was founded by white Catholic priests. Well, none of that is true. We now have a replaced founding myth with the founding fact that Georgetown University was founded, built, operated, and paid for by the involuntary labor of hundreds and hundreds of African American families.
Fisher: Yeah. Now Claire, how did American Ancestors come to work with this Georgetown Memory Project?
Claire: So, back in 2017, Richard approached us and said that he had genealogical research prepared by two genealogists, Malissa Ruffner and Judy Riffel. And Malissa is based in Maryland and Judy is based in Louisiana. And so they both had lots of experience and access to the archives in those respective states. They had compiled the genealogies under Richard’s direction for these 314 people. And so, Richard had asked one of them, “Where should I go to get a searchable database built out of this material?” And I think it was Judy who said, “Well, the gold standard for genealogy is American Ancestors. Go talk to them.”
Richard: That’s absolutely right.
Claire: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s nice to know that people say that about us. We take that as a compliment.
Claire: So, he came to us, we had scheduled I think an hour long meeting that turned into a three hour meeting. And we were honored to work on this project. So, that’s how it came about. And then we started getting the research delivered to us and before long, I think six months, we had our searchable database.
Fisher: And now, I see on AmericanAncestors.org you actually have a section there for the GU272 Memory Project where living descendants can find out where they might fall into this project. So, I also see that there’s a GU272 Descendants Association that has a website as well. So, there’s a lot of action happening here and I guess so much to talk about too because I know Georgetown University kind of has to own this now for the first time in their history. And tell us Richard, what are they doing?
Richard: Well you know, it’s been an interesting journey for Georgetown. In fact, I got involved in this back in November of 2015 quite by accident. You know, I had heard about these student protests in the fall of 2015 about this 1838 slave sale. But I’m just a Georgetown alumnus. I’m nobody. I’m not rich. I’m not famous. I’m not powerful to Georgetown. But anyway, I emailed a very senior member of a working group that Georgetown had established. The president of Georgetown had established a working group to look into this 1838 slave sale. And I wrote to a very senior member and I said, “My question really has nothing to do with Georgetown, my question is, what happened to the people? What happened to the more than 300 men, women and children who were sold to Southern Louisiana in 1838?” Because you know, the working group was talking about putting plaques up on campus or you know, changing the script to the campus tour, or changing names on campus buildings. And while not trivial, I did not think that was central. What I thought was central is what happened to the people. Anyway, even though I’m nobody, I got an answer back from this very senior member of the president’s working group and here’s what he told me, and I’m virtually quoting here, he said, “Richard, Georgetown University looked into this just a couple of years ago, and what we discovered was that they all immediately succumbed to a fever in the malodorous swamp world of Louisiana.” In other words, he was saying they all died immediately and they left no trace and no descendants. So, that’s just two or three years ago.
Richard: Two or three years ago Georgetown sort of folklore was, and even a senior member of the working group believed, that there was no point in going to look. They all immediately died of a fever in the malodorous swamp world of Louisiana.
Fisher: Where did that come from?
Richard: [Laughs] Well you know, that’s an interesting question we all have to ask ourselves. I think what’s remarkable about that statement is not that he said it knowing it to be false, that would be too easy. I think what’s remarkable about that statement is that he said it believing it to be true. I think what you’re hearing there is almost 200 years of Georgetown University trying to make itself feel better. It’s sad enough to think that 300 men, women and children were sent to Southern Louisiana and immediately died, but it’s truly terrifying to imagine that they survived. It’s truly terrifying.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Richard: And so I think Georgetown just sort of told itself that oh, there’s no trace. They didn’t have names. They didn’t have families. They didn’t even survive. So there’s just no point. And of course, genealogists know the truth.
Fisher: Right. [Laughs]
Richard: Genealogists know that it’s highly... even I at the time thought even the Titanic had survivors, you know?
Richard: The chances of all 300 people just immediately dying of a fever, is next to nothing. But again, genealogists know the truth, right? Genealogists know that gigantic groups of people in the hundreds don’t just disappear and leave no trace.
Fisher: No. Not all of them all at once. That’s just insane. And to think that somebody really at that highest level of education would even think that, you know, no matter where it came from, they didn’t analyze where they got that information is just astounding to me. So Claire, now, you’ve put together this project team and now you work together with Richard, and you guys put together this amazing link on the site, what can people find there if they feel that they might have a connection to the GU272?
Claire: So, there’s lots and lots of information that descendants or people who think they’re descendants can find on this website. There’s so much. There’s the ancestor’s spreadsheet, there’s individual PDFs of each family’s family history, there’s graphical trees built out with family histories. It’s such a deep site. I want to make one point about what Richard just said. So, we knew that when Richard approached us that the genealogists and Richard had identified more than 4000 living descendants, and we thought wouldn’t it be amazing if we could speak to these people and understand what their opinions are about their ancestry, find out what they know about their ancestry, find out how they feel about the whole situation, about their ancestors having been enslaved, ask them how they feel about Georgetown.
One of the things that Maxine Crump, who is a reporter in Louisiana and a descendant, has said and it’s always stuck with us. She said, “Nothing about us, without us.” And so that became very essential for this project. We didn’t want to put up a searchable database and have done with it. We wanted to build a monument that celebrated the legacy of this group. And so for this project, we traveled to Oakland, California and to Louisiana at least three times. And then we also did interviews with descendants in Maryland.
Claire: So those are some of the major areas where descendants are living. And it was amazing working with the descendants. Having the descendants bring their voices to this project was really a hugely critical piece. Because you can have the data, but if you don’t have the human part of the story, I think you’re really missing something. Particularly with a story like this with a group of people whose ancestry doesn’t get that Mayflower treatment if descended from John Alden or William Bradford. Generally, many people in your family have known that’s part of your family folklore. A lot of African Americans don’t have that privilege. So, this was an attempt to put the data alongside the stories of the modern descendants. If you go to the homepage, the URL is GU272.AmericanAncestors.org.
Fisher: All right. We’re going to take a break. We’re going to talk more about this. I want to hear some of the stories that you’ve heard back, some of the comments, some of the feelings. Talk about what the school is doing, because I know they’re involved with a lot of these descendants. And we’ll get to that when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 290
Host: Scott Fisher with guests Richard Cellini and Claire Vail
Fisher: We are back, talking about the GU272 on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am talking with Richard Cellini. He is the founder of Georgetown Memory Project, and also to Claire Vail. She is the American Ancestors person tied to this whole project. This has just been fascinating to me. If you missed the first segment, the story is basically that Georgetown College back in 1838 sold off over 300 people into slavery, into Louisiana and as a result of that it saved the institution that was struggling financially at that time. I would imagine that was all part of the economic downturn of 1837, correct?
Richard: Correct. Absolutely right.
Fisher: And so you guys, Claire, you were going around the country, you were interviewing many of the descendants, let’s just start with you. What were some of the things that you were hearing from them about their people and how they felt about this?
Claire: So, perhaps not surprisingly, because this is the case with many African Americans, their family line only stretches back so many generations. And not to generalize, I’m confident that there are exceptions.
Claire: But most of the people we spoke with could go back two or three generations and at that point there was a wall and you know if we pressed for more information people would say, well my great, great grandmother never talked about her people or she didn’t know who she was descendant from. So, we heard a lot of that kind of stories but what really came through was the self reliance and the resilience of the people and their families. So, if you wanted a house built, you built it yourself or you had your uncle or your father, or other men in the family would come over and build the house. If you needed medical care, your grandmother or another woman in the community would bandage your toe if you broke your foot. So, there was a lot of reliance on one another rather than some sort of infrastructure because that just wasn’t available. So, we heard story after story like that. We also heard lots of stories of joy, love, and faith being the glue that helped people together. And those interviews are all captured and available for people to listen to on the website.
Fisher: And I’m assuming that’s just an ongoing, growing thing, yes?
Claire: It is. We spoke to about fifty people. Fifty descendants in Maryland, in Louisiana, in Oakland, California, and then there are a few other interviews from other places in Washington State, and a couple of other places around the country. Our intention is to keep interviewing people and if people would like to be interviewed they can fill out a form on the website or write to our email address and we will respond and try to setup a time to come to them.
Fisher: Richard, you are the founder of the Memory Project. So, you’re the one who’s been reaching out and finding these descendants and obviously now partnering with AmericanAncestors.org, tell me about the community of the descendants and how do they get together? Is it mostly through social media? Are they physically having get-togethers, reunions, and are they interacting with Georgetown?
Richard: Well, it’s all of the above. I mean, literally these families have now been reunited for the first time in more than 180 years. In some cases these families were split in 1838 between a branch in Maryland and a branch in Louisiana and they were all separated from each other. It wasn’t just 272 distinct, isolated individuals. These families had been together for 200 years before Georgetown sold them. So, there was a high degree of inter-marriage and inter-relationships, even the Jesuits themselves in the 1838 period called them, “The Family.” So, you can just imagine there’s been this explosion of kinship and family reunion and reunification that’s been going on. I myself about a year ago this summer, attended the first ever reunion of GU272 descants. It was in Southern Louisiana just a few miles from one of the plantations they were sent to in 1838. And more than 600 GU272 descendants attended from all over the country.
Richard: It was deeply, deeply emotional. I mean literally, I was just shaking afterwards for about a week and everybody else was too. In fact, I called a GU272 descendant and I said, “Gosh, it’s almost like post-traumatic stress syndrome but it’s positive.” I said, “What’s a positive word for that?” And there was a long pause and she said, “The word for that is grace.”
Richard: So, that’s how it feels. I mean, one descendant said to me, “Richard, I no longer have to watch the movie Roots, anymore, 150 times trying to imagine my own family history. Now, I know my family’s history.” Another woman said to me, “Reparations? We don’t want reparations. Right now I just want my family tree.”
Fisher: Wow! And has that come together basically for them?
Fisher: How many generations back to do you have that tree?
Richard: Well, on average it goes back four or five generations and for some families it goes back even before that. We have been able to establish the genealogy for some of the GU272 families back starting in the 1750s all the way forward.
Richard: I mean, there’s a tremendous amount of original written, archival material about African Americans in this country. The sad truth is that, whenever black people are most treated like property that’s when the record keeping is the best, whether it’s mortgages, or ship manifest, or taxation records, or wills and state inventories, suddenly everybody has a first name and a last name. They’re grouped in family groups, people’s age, their height, even their skin color. So, I think it’s been a shock to everybody how much information is available about enslaved African Americans before emancipation. Sometimes 100 years before emancipation.
Fisher: So Claire, other universities and institutions can be involved in this project or similar ones correct?
Claire: I don’t see any barrier. We know that the universities have been involved holding slaves and using slaves to their advantage, there’s a history of that. Brown and Harvard, there’s businesses as well that participated in this that have a long history in the US. I mean, it’s all one big complex economic story and slave owning is a part of American history and its economy. If institutions have their hands on data, the best thing they can do now is take that data to a genealogical organization like ours and let us do the work that we do and make that data available to descendants so that they can do their family history. I mean, that’s one way of taking steps towards repairing that breach.
Fisher: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. And from what you were saying Richard, it sounds like that is a huge deal for these descendants now. Realizing the strength of those who came before them to endure this and where they are today.
Richard: Absolutely true. There’s no question about it. It’s also remarkable how many of the GU272 families had preserved through their oral tradition bits and pieces of the story of the slave sale from 1838. I mean, it’s really uncanny and eerie and it does send shivers up and down your spine when you hear about the little facts and details that had been passed down over five/ six generations from 1838 till the present day about the 1838 slave sale. So, this history just means the world to them. But, as I always say, if you love American history, you’ll definitely like black history because it’s just more of what you love. Black history is American history and American history is black history, it’s all bound together.
Fisher: Oh, yes.
Richard: And you know honestly, when it comes to other universities and Claire is absolutely right, there’s at least a dozen major American colleges that have a legacy connection to slavery and human trafficking. I would say, when it comes to finding the living descendants of your university slaves, the hard part isn’t the finding. The hard part is the looking. It’s hard to look, but when we look, we find.
Fisher: He’s Richard Cellini. He is the founder of the Georgetown Memory Project. And she is Claire Vail. She is the American Ancestors side of this amazing thing. You can find out more at GU272.AmericanAncestors.org. There’s also a descendants association that has their own site, GU272.net. Sounds like a lot of ways to be involved and it’s a story that’s going to carry on for a long time, you guys.
Richard: We hope so.
Claire: Yes, absolutely.
Fisher: Thank you so much. And coming up next it’s Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert, talking about finding the stories of your Revolutionary ancestors, in three minutes.
Segment 4 Episode 290
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: Hey, we're back with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth along with David Allen Lambert from AmericanAncestors.org. He is the chief genealogist there at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. And David, we have a question from Patty in Atlanta, Georgia. And she says, "Are there free databases by which we can research our Revolutionary War ancestors?" Good question, Patty.
David: Patty that is a really good question. In fact, I can think of two right off the top of my head, but ladies go first, so I'm going to mention the DAR website. So, the Daughters of the American Revolutionary website, if you go to DAR.org/National-Society/Genealogy, you will go to where they have their genealogy research. The GRS system has an ancestor search, a member search and a descendants’ database search. So, you can search for people who have joined, search between your ancestors who had patriotic service and your ancestors who picked up a musket and fought during the American Revolution. Now on the same token, and I have to give just cause, because I'm the state historian for the Massachusetts Sons on the American Revolution. The SAR website is www.SAR.org/Genealogy/Genealogical-Research-Services. And what you can do there is, you can search for your ancestors who were soldiers and patriots. Just keep in mind though that if you are a DAR or an SAR application match, you are still going to have to do the actual research. And if they're older applications, your patriot or soldier may have been disproved.
Fisher: Oh wow, so you've got to deal with that. By the way, for the websites, you don't have to remember it if you're driving somewhere as you listen to this, because it’s in the transcript that our good friend, Taahira puts together every week for the show and you can find that at ExtremeGenes.com with this episode. David, how about paid sites? Of course there's always Fold3.
David: There's Fold3, there's Ancestry.com. Even American Ancestors our website for the New England Historic Genealogical Society has Revolutionary War related items. The other thing to keep in mind and just steering a little bit away from paid sites, a little bit of a tip, if you're looking for muster rolls, on occasion, you will find that the Family History Library has digitized military records for the Revolution may be published books. You can go state by state in the catalogue, scroll down to military records and find muster rolls in the catalog as well.
Fisher: Wow! And that would be at FamilySearch.org. That is the official site of course for the Family History Library. And just explain what a muster is, David, and how that worked.
David: Sure. A muster roll is essentially the list of the soldiers that are there at the muster roll, the calling of the soldiers. And a muster would have been called, the names would have been read off, and it would be present or absent, some cases, dead. You will find that these muster rolls carry on throughout the war from 1775 right to the end of Yorktown. And it’s a tradition that didn't change very much straight on through to the 20th century.
Fisher: Yeah, that's right. So these are really valuable, too, because you can find out other people then who served with your ancestor. And sometimes those other people can reveal stories about your ancestors as a result of their applications for pensions.
David: Exactly. And speaking once again of free sites, don't forget FindAGrave.com and BillionGraves.com are websites that are free that you can search for gravestones. How about the gravestones of Revolutionary War soldiers? Many people have gone out to these cemeteries and photographed the patriots of the Revolution and you can find them online and again for free.
Fisher: Boy, I love that! That is a great suggestion. And a lot of them put the flags next to them and it’s really decorative and it’s another great way to determine if your late 1700s era ancestor was among those who fought for independence. All right, and coming up next, we are going to take a question from one of our listeners talking about the pension records and what the stories are that might be revealed about your Revolutionary War ancestors.
Segment 4 Episode 290
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: Hey, back at it for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. We're doing our Ask Us Anything segment with David Allen Lambert, the chief genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And by the way, if you have a question on any topic in genealogy, you can always drop us an email at [email protected]. And David, this one comes from Allan down in Dallas, Texas and he's asking about the best way to find stories. And of course we touched on that just a little bit. We're talking about Revolutionary ancestors. The pension records, boy if your ancestor had one of those or his widow, there's a lot of material to be found there and eve among those who served with him.
David: That's true. In fact, I go over the pension file and I make a list of the associates. First off, I was to figure out how they know them. And sometimes it’s pretty obvious, they're in the service. But then they mention about a battle. But sometimes they're doctors or they're ministers and they're giving their account or somebody's a witness about a marriage. What's interesting is, if your ancestor was born overseas, came to America then fought, someone might be a sibling that may have been over in Scotland or Ireland that witnessed the marriage and its right in that pension file.
Fisher: Oh wow!
David: Sometimes soldiers also mention where they were born overseas or when they were actually born. So, sometimes it’s the only primary source on their birth or marriage.
Fisher: Yeah, these things are just really rich with information. I will say though, I've run into many where there's a lot of false information in there. And what I sense from that is, lawyers trying to get their share of the money from the pension for basically padding the resume a little bit. [Laughs] Have you run into a lot of that, David?
David: Yeah, I have. In fact, the service extension where the solders served for two weeks and all of a sudden, now he's serving two months or two years and, "Oh, we can't find any proof for that." But it’s just their word verses the pension office. And I can tell you, if your ancestor wasn't granted a pension and only applied, there's no certificate number, sometimes you're going to find more paperwork than a regular pension that got approved, because they're fighting for it. And the stories can be lengthy.
Fisher: Yeah, it’s interesting. One pension that I went through involving an ancestor showed that the lawyers had actually gone and interviewed people who were associated with a man with a similar name. Not exactly the same. My guy was Samuel Pease and they were interviewing about somebody from the same area [Freehold, New Jersey] named Samuel Pearce. And so, I'm getting all these fabulous stories and then some of the details didn't start to sync up with what was in the military records. And suddenly I'm having to figure out how do I sort this out? Which stories had to do with Samuel Pearce and which ones had to do with my Samuel Pease. So, be careful when you find these things that you don't take everything at face value. Also, memories have been affected by many, many years. In fact, that last one I was talking about, the interviews were done in the 1840s. So these were very aged veterans and relatives. And who they served under and where they fought and how long they fought and all those things don't necessarily always match the military record itself.
David: Very true. And within any part of historical research you really want to try to prove, as the pension office said, if there's any validity to their claim. I mean, now we have access to muster rolls we've talked about earlier and other resources that are in there, such as DAR and SAR applications, so you can see if the service was right.
Fisher: Yeah, exactly. Well David, thanks so much. This is the time of year for looking into the Revolutionary ancestors. It’s a great time. Of course anytime's a really good time for these guys. They're fascinating people and I think all of us are always excited to learn about a new one and what their service was about. Thanks so much for your time.
David: Always a pleasure, my friend.
Fisher: Talk to you next week.
David: All right.
Fisher: Hey, that is a wrap on this week's show. Next week, it’s a big one, a two-part interview with CeCe Moore from Parabon Nanolabs, talking about her work on DNA cold cases. We're going to talk about what's going on with GEDMatch, we're going to talk about her first conviction of the very first person she was able to pinpoint in a double murder that dated back to 1987. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!