Episode 291 - Genetic Genealogy: CeCe Moore Reacts To First Cold Case Murder Conviction / Ask Us Anything: Tips On Canadian Research

podcast episode Jul 21, 2019

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin with conversation about Fisher’s recent experience with the California earthquake, and appearing on stage with ventriloquism great Terry Fator in Las Vegas. In Family Histoire News, David shares the news about the flooding at the National Archives recently. Next, he covers a story about researchers who have learned that the descendants of the enslaved families of former President James Monroe haven’t gone very far. And now they’re getting together. Then, it’s the discovery of a pair of Viking era men that has researchers talking. Hear all about the two “boat burials.” David then shines his Blogger Spotlight on Julie Goucher at anglersrest.net. Julie has a lot to say about the importance of journaling.

In our second segment, Fisher begins the first of his two part interview with CeCe Moore, the principal researcher at Parabon Nanolabs, working cold cases and rapes. Hear her reaction to the first conviction using genetic genealogy in the case that was her very first one year ago. CeCe and Fisher then talk about GedMatch, the opting in process, and how many participants she believes will be needed to make the site viable again for bringing closure to families of crime victims. The ethics question of the technique is also discussed.

Next, Melanie McComb of NEHGS returns for Ask Us Anything, answering questions about Canadian research.

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

Transcript of Episode 291

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 291

Fisher:And welcome to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes 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 we talk to expert guests and we teach you some ways by which you can trace your ancestry. And we’re very excited today to have CeCe Moore on the show. She is with Parabon NanoLabs. She is the researcher predominantly behind these cold case murders and rapes that have been solved in the last year. And we’re going to talk to CeCe because just a year ago she had her first case, and this past week that case resulted in a conviction of the person of interest she fingered using genetic genealogy. So, we’re going to talk to her about that. We’re going to talk to her about GEDmatch and the controversy with that. We’re going to talk to her about ethics and where this is all going and how many more people, we need to have opt back into GEDmatch to get a viable database for use for helping victims’ families get the closure they need. So, that’s all coming up and then later on in the show we’re going to talk to Melanie McComb from New England Historic Genealogical Society talking about Canadian research. Melanie’s got some great insight for any of you who have Canadian ancestry. Right now, let’s check in with David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How are you David?

David: I’m doing good. I had a very strange dream over the weekend.


David:Now, it could be all a mirage, but you reckon we got a dummy out in Vegas? [Laughs]

Fisher:[Laughs] You know, we had so much fun. It was the 4th of July weekend, the long weekend there, and so I went down to see my cousin with my wife Julie. And we were staying just outside of Las Vegas and we went to the Terry Fator show at the Mirage. Terry of course, was the winner of America’s Got Talent back in 2007, signed a five year with the Mirage in 2008 for $100,000,000 (a hundred million dollars).

David:That’s a good paycheck.

Fisher:Yeah, it’s a good paycheck. He signed another one since then, at least one other because this is his eleventh year now. It’s unbelievable. And they plucked me out of the audience to become his live dummy on the stage.


Fisher:And they put this device on your face, and then he can push a button and it opens your mouth and then he puts the words into your mouth. It was so much fun and we put a video of it up on our Facebook page, so you can check it out.

David:Oh wow.

Fisher:But I will never forget that one as long as I live. Yes, I was a live dummy. “Fisher Live at The Mirage!” on the strip in Las Vegas.


Fisher: You never know, right?

David:Oh, I’ll tell you, Frank Sinatra had nothing on you pal.

Fisher:Nothing, nothing!


Fisher:By the way, we went through the earthquake too, the second one, 7.1.

David: Oh, right!

Fisher:We’re just in the furthest reaches of it and it’s fascinating because my cousin’s home just rocked for like 30 seconds. It was like we were on the high seas. And there was furniture hopping around the room and she had some hanging lamps over an island in her kitchen and those things swayed for at least two minutes after the whole thing was over. It wasn’t scary, but it was fascinating and you’re just thinking okay, is this going to get any stronger? Is this going to go any longer? It was an amazing experience. Never been through anything like that before.

David:Well, I was going to say from the first part of the story I was going to have you be my travel advisor.


David:But with the other part I think I might renege that idea.

Fisher:Hmm, yeah.


Fisher:Well, let’s get on with our Family History News today David. Where do you want to start?

David:We’re going to start at the nation’s capital out at the National Archives building, the beloved home of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and countless records, probably on your ancestors. They’ve had a flood, but have no fear. They closed because the main power to the vault of the National Archives got flooded. An electrical outage forced the closure of the building, but they inform us that everything is safe and sound.

Fisher:That’s what we like to hear. That’s the most important thing. You know, you hear about courthouses destroyed by tornadoes and there was the Archive up in Albany that got destroyed by fire. Boy, when you talk about the National Archives, you cannot allow anything to happen to that.

David:Well, the Family History News continues a little further south to Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, many people have heard about the enslaved people of President Thomas Jefferson. But one of his near neighbors, James Monroe, also one of our US presidents and governor of Virginia, when he was living in Highland, which was his plantation between 1799 to 1823, this property he purchased. It was his home for a quarter century there. Here’s the surprising thing. The descendants of the enslaved people are still in the area within ten miles of a place called Monroetown. This community has many of the descendants and they now are realizing their genealogical connection. They’re working with local researchers Miranda Burnett and Martin Violette, who are working to try to get the whole story and track down all the living descendants.

Fisher:Unbelievable. That’s a great story.

David:Well, my next story is going to go a little further east. This is going to go all the way out to Sweden. Sometimes when you do archaeology and you dig a little deeper you’ll be surprised what you can occasionally find. Below the remains of a 16th century cellar were Viking-era ship burials, two of them in fact.


David:Yeah, and one of the graves were intact with the remains of a man, a horse and a dog.

Fisher:Ha! And you say ship burials?

David:Yeah, most of the cremations were done at that point in time, but people of higher stature in the community were occasionally buried with their belongings in a ship. They weren’t like set on fire all the time. They occasionally were buried with the ship and then a mound built over them.

Fisher:That’s crazy.

David:Well, you know what’s funny about it is because my dog that passed away about ten years ago, I had to cremate his remains. Now I’m really tempted to put King in with me.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So now in fact I will say I’ll be buried with a king.

Fisher:Yes. Fantastic David. You’re thinking.

David:Oh, I try. Well, my blogger spotlight now shines upon somebody who’s an ambassador for Roots Tech, London which is coming up in October. Her name is Julie Goucher and she has a blog called AnglersRest.net. And what Julie brings up besides being a blogger, she’s a journal keeper. And she talks about the importance of keeping a journal or a diary. So, I think that’s so important as we’ve talked about in the past.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: Well, remember if you happen to be coming out to Boston, or if you can’t, you can also take part of American Ancestors where I work. And if you want to join you can save $20 by using the coupon code “Extreme” at AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: All right David. Very nice. Thank you so much. Carry on. And coming up next we’re going to talk to CeCe Moore. She’s with Parabon NanoLabs talking about genetic genealogy. The very first case that she worked last year has resulted in a conviction. We’ll get her reaction to that and talk about a whole lot more when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 291

Host: Scott Fisher with guest CeCe Moore

Fisher: Welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. It was about a year ago at this time that we had a conversation here on the show with my very good friend CeCe Moore, she of Parabon NanoLabs now. She of course, has been one of the leading figures in the genealogy space for many, many years, especially dealing with DNA. And at that time, a year ago, we spoke about a case she was working on involving a young couple from Canada that was murdered in Washington State in 1987. And over the course of a weekend she was given a DNA kit that was placed on GEDmatch, and over the course of that weekend she was able to identify a person of interest. That person’s name was given to authorities on Monday morning. And CeCe, you had to have had an amazing rush of energy this past week when that person of interest was actually convicted of these murders.

CeCe: Yes. It was a really big step forward for the use of investigative genetic genealogy. We have had some convictions from guilty pleas already, but this was the first jury trial. So, it was the first time genetic genealogy would be on trial. It turned out they didn’t even object to it or challenge genetic genealogy, but we didn’t know that that’s how it would go until the very last minute. So, I was supposed to go up and testify then I was cancelled because they decided to just stipulate to genetic genealogy being a tip, which is great for the future of using genetic genealogy in these cases. It was a really big deal. I know the families personally now, so for them to finally get justice and resolution in both of their children’s cases, it’s just such an amazing thing for these families. So that’s what it really comes down to, for me.

Fisher: Well, there is a lot of different aspects to this case for you and for Parabon and for GEDmatch for that matter, because of that question of whether they were going to challenge the methodology. And I would imagine you expect at some point somebody is going to challenge that. And what is the thought going on within your circle now as to what will happen as a result of that challenge?

CeCe: Well, every defense attorney is going to have a different approach. The ones so far where we’ve seen a conviction, obviously determined they didn’t think there was a basis to challenge the genetic genealogy work that was done. But I’m sure there will be defence attorneys out there who’ll make a different choice. I’m not quite sure how they will challenge it. They could bring up a fourth amendment question, but mostly the experts feel that that will be successful. And you know, the fourth amendment would be illegal search and seizure.

Fisher: Search and seizure, yeah.

CeCe: Yeah. And then of course if there was evidence that came from that, it could be ruled as fruit of the poison tree and be thrown out. So, that would be worse case scenario, but it doesn’t seem like that’s likely to be a legitimate defence or objection to be used. I’m not sure what else they would do. I guess they could challenge my lack of credentials. There’s no genetic genealogy degree. There’s no certification for it. And so, if I were the expert witness, I would imagine my credibility could be challenged in that regard. But what it keeps coming back to is this is just a tip.

Fisher: Right.

CeCe: No one was arrested on genetic genealogy work. So, it doesn’t really matter what my credentials are. It doesn’t matter who the genetic genealogist is if they get that match to their forensic crime scene DNA profile, that traditional profile that they’ve had for many years.

Fisher: So, is there really any difference between what you’re doing, and say a neighbor who witnesses somebody maybe washing the side of somebody’s house, or washing their windows, and then later a burglary was reported at that house, and then this neighbor says, “Well, this is what I saw. And this is who I think did this.” Right? I mean, it’s just a tip to a person of interest, right? You’re not saying this is the one, you’re just saying, “Take a look at this guy.”

CeCe: Absolutely. And sometimes it’s brothers. Sometimes it’s cousins. You know, it’s not always the case where we can narrow it down to just one person of interest like in this case because there was only one son. And so absolutely they have to build that traditional case. They have to do that gumshoe detective work that they do always in order to investigate a person of interest and build a case or rule them out. And I have worked cases where I’ve been successful in identifying the contributor of the crime scene DNA sample, but they ruled that person out of being the perpetrator of the crime.

Fisher: Why would that be that they were able to eliminate them?

CeCe: Well, I can’t go into details specifically, but your DNA could be at the scene of a crime without you being the killer. It’s certainly possible.

Fisher: Sure.

CeCe: Like the situation with the case up in Snohomish County that we just got the guilty verdict. It’s a lot harder to explain away when it’s involved in a sexual assault. The only thing you can argue, which is what they tried to argue with, that it was consensual.

Fisher: Which is so insulting.

CeCe: Totally. And some of the things they said were so insulting. It made me feel so terrible for the family. But in the end, the family got justice, and they tried. But it’s horrible that they have to go through it. So I just heard about another guilty plea on another one of our cases yesterday. And obviously that’s a better outcome for the family, so they don’t have to go through what the Cook and Van Cuylenborg families went through last month. But in the end they were triumphed and genetic genealogy was triumphed.

Fisher: Wins again.

CeCe: Yeah. But in a case, going back to what you asked, if you’re using DNA that wasn’t necessarily on the body of the victim or you know, there can be other DNA anywhere.

Fisher: Sure.

CeCe: I mean, we all leave our DNA everywhere we go. And so it’s possible to identify DNA from a crime scene and rule that person out. They might have another reason their DNA was there, or have an alibi for that specific time period. And so, it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because we identify the contributor of DNA that they’ll end up being arrested.

Fisher: Right. Have you ever had any cases yet where you’ve actually disproved somebody? Found maybe somebody who was accused and found them innocent?

CeCe: Well, there’s the Angie Dodge case where we recently had an arrest. And there is a man who spent 20 years behind bars on that case. He hasn’t been officially exonerated yet, but obviously when you are able to identify the owner of the crime scene DNA and he is implicated in that crime and arrested, then it seems the next step would exoneration for someone that was previously accused of that crime or even convicted of that crime. And I think it’s a big part of the future of genetic genealogy and law enforcement. I have spoken in an innocent project conference already. I’ve had a lot of discussions with post-conviction attorneys where there’s someone in jail but they don’t match the DNA from the crime scene. So, if we can identify who the contributor of that DNA is at the crime scene, and it’s determined that they are actually the killer or rapist, then there’s every reason we should see exoneration resulting from genetic genealogy work.

Fisher: Yes.

CeCe: And it’s one of the things I’m super excited about and invested in working on, if not more excited about getting innocent people out from behind bars to putting guilty people behind bars.

Fisher: Yeah. It’s just as important, maybe even more so. It’s got to be the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done in your life to help these families and help law enforcement to close these cases. I mean, you’re saving a ton of money for tax payers when you consider how long these cases go.

CeCe: Yeah. It’s always been one of my arguments that people might forget, is these unsolved homicides in particular are incredibly expensive for society. I think there’s one statistic out there that says 17 million dollars for an unsolved homicide. And that’s probably not even a really old cold case. So, if we can address these cases earlier in the investigation, we can save a significant amount of public resources and allow law enforcement to focus more on the things that they really need to be focusing on. I mean, they need to focus on the cold cases, but if we can get those resolved quickly and any newer very violent crimes that frees law enforcement up to focus on other things, or maybe there isn’t DNA from the crime scene, and there’s other ways they’re going to have to try to resolve those cases.

Fisher: Sure. Okay, let’s talk about Centerville, Utah and this was the case of the young man who allegedly attacked the organist who was practicing at 9:45 on a Saturday night getting ready for church services the next day. And he allegedly broke into a church and strangled her to unconsciousness several times and then left. And as a result of that case GEDmatch of course made an exception to their terms of use and allowed genetic genealogy to be used to work that crime. And as a result they wound up with a suspect, 17 years old, and they’re still trying to determine whether this young man is going to be tried as an adult or as a youth. But GEDmatch got a lot of heat, shall we say, for that decision by people who question the ethics of genetic genealogy. And I know this has impacted you a lot too.

CeCe: Yeah. I think it was a relatively small number of people who thought that that was a misstep but they were very vocal. And so GEDmatch was influenced by that. But the vast majority of people that I have spoken with and seen statements from, have said that they thought that this was a very worthy case, and that that person did need to be caught because although the woman survived, we shouldn’t just be prioritizing crimes where someone happened to die versus someone happened to survive.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

CeCe: I don’t know if that should be the line there. And if, say a woman successfully fights off a rapist, that crime is still just as important as if he has been successful in raping a woman, in my opinion.

Fisher: Sure. Sure.

CeCe: So, attempted rape and attempted homicide is to meequally as important as successful homicide and rape. I mean, I don’t know how a person draws the line.

Fisher: Well, I think it was presented as an assault, and I think a lot of people just thought of it as like somebody got mugged, you know, now we’re going to do this and the slippery slope is here. So now we’re going through the process of getting all the people who were on GEDmatch to opt back in. And I know that that’s certainly reduced the pool from which you can do your important work. Can you hang on for another segment and we’ll talk more about that and the ethics question?

CeCe: Sure.

Fisher: All right. We’ll get to it in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.            

Segment 3 Episode 291

Host: Scott Fisher with guest CeCe Moore

Fisher:All right, back at it. I’m talking to CeCe Moore, she is with Parabon NanoLabs. She is the person behind so many of the cold case discoveries that have taken place since Golden State Killer. And CeCe, of course, the reason we’re talking today is because the case involving Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, that case was resolved this past week with a guilty verdict for the person that you pointed to as a person of interest. Your very first case, in fact last year and we talked about it at that time.

CeCe: Yeah.

Fisher: I know that’s got to be a thrill for you because as you mentioned in the first segment, we had a couple of people who had pleaded guilty, several people actually that you were able to pinpoint with your team at Parabon and now things are moving forward. We’ve got to talk about the impact of GEDmatch’s decision to opt everybody out, 1.25 million users, admittedly many of them were duplicates and some of them of course were going to overlap anyway. What’s the number that you think that GEDmatch needs to get up to so that you’re at least at the level you were before this decision after the Centerville, Utah case?

CeCe: Well, I really think that critical mass is around one million profiles to compare against. I’ve been saying that for years with unknown parentages as well. So, that’s certainly the goal. We need to get back to that to be close to where we were. And I know Curtis has said that some of those were duplicates, but still that is the number to shoot for. And he recently told me, “We’re at 90 thousand now.”

Fisher: Okay.

CeCe: So, maybe we’re at almost ten percent of that. But, we still have a long way to go.

Fisher: Well, we all need to let people know that if they want to opt in, they really need to do it and it’s not hard to do.

CeCe: Yeah.

Fisher: And if you don’t have a GEDmatch account you can just sign up, it’s absolutely free. And then you can help people like CeCe do their incredible work that brings closure to these people. And this is your decision going in with your eyes wide open. And of course CeCe, there’s been a lot of talk about the ethics as a result of GEDmatch’s decision to allow the Centerville, Utah police to work on an active case at that time. As you mentioned, I think it’s true that it was a small vocal group that feels that way, but I really question where the issue would come up from a legal standpoint.

CeCe: As far as using it for attempted homicide. 

Fisher: For somebody to come back, say on GEDmatch, and say, “Hey, you used my DNA.”

CeCe: Yeah. Well, I’m not a legal expert but my understanding is that the person arrested cannot raise invasion of privacy for the matches. Not for a third party. And so those matches themselves would be the only ones that could raise that issue and I’m not sure how you would incorporate that in a murder trial or a serial rapist trial. I just don’t even know how it would be entered.

Fisher: Yeah. It would be very complex, wouldn’t it?

CeCe: It would.

Fisher: And you think about that because first of all, I would imagine that many of the people that you discover as matches, have no idea that they were part of these cases, right?

CeCe: Right. The vast majority of the time they’re not being made aware of that. But, Parabon, our policy is that we don’t reach out to anyone who is a second cousin or closer for fear of tipping off the suspect.

Fisher: Um hmm.

CeCe: And we typically try not to contact even the more distant matches. We occasionally do so to clarify something in the family tree but it’s by far the minority of times that we do that. So, unless the police have reached out to those matches for some reason, which I don’t think is typically the case either. They would just have to figure out on their own. They would have to realize that they were related to somebody that was arrested or identified. If you know you uploaded to GEDmatch and you’re the second cousin of someone that gets arrested, you could deduce that it was used, but it’s not something that you would be notified of.

Fisher: Right. And I can’t see, I mean, like yourself, I have no legal background at all but there’s a certain amount of common sense, you kind of figure things out. I mean, a listing on a public database like GEDmatch isn’t a whole lot different than having a name, an address, an occupation, and a phone number in a directory, is it? I mean, it’s available to the public to be used.

CeCe: Right. And that is the argument and it’s certainly my stance on this. I think people that are concerned about their genetic privacy should be much more concerned about their social media accounts.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

CeCe: Because just having your DNA on the site doesn’t help me much if I can’t learn about you and your family. And we can’t connect most genealogical records until we get a ways back in your family tree. So, if I’m going to use these matches and figure out who they are, figure out who their parents and grandparents are, and build their tree back and then forward again and find their living cousins, then I have to use a lot of resources that have absolutely nothing to do with DNA or GEDmatch. And one of those is social media, and people put a lot out there. I’m not asking them to stop but you know they list their relatives.

Fisher: [Laughs]

CeCe:They post pictures of their ancestors and their families. They tag people. There’s a lot of information being shared that has absolutely nothing to do with genetic information that is very valuable to these investigations. And that’s true in any investigation even outside of the ones where genetic genealogy is being used.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, isn’t this how we solve a lot of issues involving adoptees, right? I mean, I’ve helped several just in the last few months and it’s all the things you’re describing.

CeCe: Well, it’s exactly the same work. This is a whole other topic but that’s why I say the people that are qualified to work with law enforcement are the expert unknown parentage genetic genealogists and no one else.

Fisher: Um hmm.

CeCe: It is one hundred percent applicable in every way. Every single skill that has been developed for unknown parentage is exactly what we’re now applying to law enforcement cases.

Fisher: So, in essence, if you used a match to connect parents and adoptees and birth families, really there’s no legal implication there. I guess, the question would be, why would somebody consider there’s an ethical or legal question when it comes to law enforcement?

CeCe: I don’t know the answer to that either. When I first started pioneering these techniques for unknown parentage work there was a little bit of push-back. There was a few people who said, hmm, should we really be doing this? But, the vast majority of genealogists really bought into it and supported it because they understood that everyone had the right to know their own heritage. Now, I guess what’s different here is that it’s not about genealogy. It’s not the end result of discovering your family tree and being able to research your own genealogy. So, I guess that would be the one difference, but otherwise, it is the same. It is revealing secrets. Often times someone’s deepest, darkest secret comes out through unknown parentage search, especially when they work through family and there are people who are the product of incest. And so this is just a different type of secret and that’s what consumer genomics has done. It has shined light in those dark corners. No matter what that is, whether it’s unknown parentage, whether it’s unknown ancestral origins, and now whether it is that people are committing violent crimes and leaving their DNA behind for us to be able to identify them. So, I don’t see a huge difference. I mean, I know that there are distinctions, when you’re putting someone behind bars versus approaching someone about being the parent of an adoptee. But, I don’t think the line is as distinct as some might have us believe.

Fisher: Well, and you consider too that maybe there’s a birth mother out there who is going to be furious that somebody figured out who she was. There’s always the potential of secrets being revealed and the more DNA that’s out there, the more secrets are being revealed every single day.

CeCe: Yeah, and there are some grey areas because we’ve certainly identified rapists in the past when we identify unknown fathers at times. You know, the mother has told us that this person was a product of rape and it’s hard to determine if that’s always the situation, but I’ve worked on cases that were undoubtedly true and the person that we’ve just identified through this adoptee’s own DNA as her birth father, is a rapist and sometimes they’re in jail for being a rapist. And so, as I said, the line is not as distinct as we might think.

Fisher: Yeah. She’s CeCe Moore,Parabon NanoLabs and of course the person behind, what’s your count up to now, cold cases?

CeCe: We have 59 successful identifications so far in 13 months and that’s just Parabon. So, there’s probably 80 or so out there thanks to genetic genealogy, there’s also some victims of violent crimes in there.

Fisher: Great stuff. CeCe, thanks so much for your time, and keep going.

CeCe: Well, thank you so much. I always enjoy being on your show.

Fisher: And coming up next, it’s “Ask Us Anything” with Melanie McComb talking about Canadian research in three minutes on Extreme Genes.

Segment 4 Episode 291

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb

Fisher: And we are back! It is America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on our 6th anniversary show. Who can believe that! Started in 2013 and thanks to so many of you who have been following the show since the beginning on our 70 some odd radio stations and on the podcasts. And it is great to be doing another Ask Us Anything segment here with my good friend, Melanie McComb from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. You know, we've had Melanie on before for “Ask UsAnything” talking about Jewish research and Irish research. And you have Canadian background, too?

Melanie: Hey Scott, that's correct. And Happy Anniversary!

Fisher: Thank you!

Melanie: So, my father was actually Irish, but the family went through Prince Edward Island before coming through New York and even Kansas.

Fisher: So he was Irish, Canadian and American as far as all the records are concerned, wow!

Melanie: [Laughs] Yes.

Fisher: That's good stuff. All right, we have a question here from Ally in Kansas and she says, "We know about Ellis Islandin the United States. Where did immigrants from Europe come into Canada?"

Melanie: Okay, that's a great question. So, depending on where they decided to settle, there were a number of big ports in Canada. One of the largest ones that I've done a lot of research with is St John, New Brunswick. That would be one of the ports they came in. And then one of the smaller harbors was also Charlottetown, PEI (Prince Edward Isalnd). And that was very popular if the families were going off to Nova Scotiaand other maritime provinces.

Fisher: So was this a big area? Was this kind of like New York was as far as the number of people who came through these places?

Melanie: I don't think it quite reached the level of New York though, but in terms of Canadian immigration, it definitely was very high coming in. And when the families weren't coming in directly via ship, they would actually cross the border from the US over into Canada as well. There actually were a number of people that would cross over the bridge or even taking railways in when the railway started becoming a bit more popular. That was another way of getting in over the border.

Fisher: So they would come in from Europe maybe to New York or Boston and then they would head north?

Melanie: Correct. Right, or in some cases, they might have even just went right to Canada first, because it was actually a lot cheaper to go to Canada than to go directly to like a port like Boston or New York.

Fisher: And why was that?

Melanie: Because they felt that it was not as big an area to grow the population. So the cost of buying a ticket was just significantly lower.

Fisher: Wow! Okay. So this means people of Canadian descent would actually want to look in New York or Boston records potentially for the immigration of their people.

Melanie: Absolutely, yeah. So, it’s probably a good possibility that they didn’t just come directly over and they might have, you know, stopped over from another area.

Fisher: Having never thought about that, I think that's really kind of a new thing to me, so that's very interesting.

Melanie: Another thing to note too between the border of Canada and the US, it was largely open and there wasn't even border crossing documents that were created if you crossed the border before 1895.

Fisher: Really? So you just kind of went back and forth? It was just wide open?

Melanie: Exactly. So you could just cross the border into another country. And there wasn't documenting like a ship manifest or any other documentation noting that you came over and who you were seeing and who you left behind, which is really crucial when you're doing Canadian research, because those border crossing documents once you start getting back past the 1895 point, you can actually start tracking when the families decided to pick up and start splitting out and coming over to America from Canada.

Fisher: Wow, that's really interesting! We have so much discussion in this day and age about border crossings in the United States. To think that there was a wide open boarder in Canada at that time is amazing. Are the documents after 1895 pretty complete?

Melanie: Yes. They actually are very complete and they're available on sites like Ancestry and Family Search and they really get very detailed,I mean, down to your height and you know, your description, so you could almost visualize your ancestor coming across. And because you have the list of who they were going to meet over in the other country, you actually had down to an address. So, you could actually track them though when you're in those years in between census records.

Fisher: All right, we're talking to Melanie McComb. She's an Irish and Jewish and Canadian expert. We're taking Canadian questions today on “Ask Us Anything” on Extreme Genes. We will continue in three minutes on America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 291

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb

Fisher: Back at it for our final segment of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fish here, talking to my good friend, Melanie McComb from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, talking Canadian records on “Ask Us Anything.” And this question is emailed from Allen. And he asks, "Are records in Canada similar to those in the United States?"

Melanie: Yes and no. The one thing that you need to keep in mind is around civil registration and censes records. Based on the period where they're allowed to take place, civil registration started out very late in Canada, where it wasn't mandatory until 1906 to record birth, marriages, and deaths.

Fisher: Oh wow.

Melanie:And because of that, a lot of the records that are being kept for those events are usually found in like church records.

Fisher: Okay.

Melanie: For example, like a birth certificate, you actually have to wait 120 years to get a copy of a birth record. And they don't start until about, roughly some of earlier ones can go out even as early as 1840 that might have been kept. So, if you're like my family and your family's kind of already left Canada at that point, you might be out of luck with finding a birth record at least in the civil records.

Fisher: Okay. So this is where you go to the church records.

Melanie: Exactly. Right. So, it’s very crucial to know the religion of the family, where they lived and find the nearest parish registers that are available, and a lot of them are online, so you don't even need to actually take a trip up there to actually see a baptism record to verify some of the information. A lot of them are going to be digitized and are available at sites like Family Search and also at our place, at American Ancestors. We have them available on microfilm.

Fisher: Oh, that's awesome! So what is the majority religion in Canada? Has it been the Church of England?

Melanie: Actually, I found that it’s been a pretty good even mixture between, I would say, Roman Catholic and then probably Presbyterianwould probably be the next closest one.

Fisher: Okay.

Melanie: So yeah, there were some Anglican churches that did exist, but in terms of just the number of churches that were in the area, they mostly kind of went between Presbyterian and Roman Catholic

Fisher: And the French?

Melanie: A lot of the French actually were usually Catholic that I found.

Fisher: Okay.

Melanie: And when it comes to census records, they're another valuable source of information. So when you can't get those civil records, the census records can be really crucial to look at. And they were taking roughly every ten years or so. And what you need to understand about Canada too is that even before Canada became a country and all the provinces become part of what's called confederation, they all were still capturing their own census records.

Fisher: Right.

Melanie: So even though they were maybe like a British colony or a French colony at the time, depending on the history, there usually was some kind of record that was still kept recording their information.

Fisher: So, are they in sync with, say, England that does their census record every ten years on the year that ends with a one?

Melanie: Correct. Right. So,they started running, possibly 1861 to '71 is when you start seeing it being consistently every ten years. And then occasionally there was more of a provincial one that might have been done in certain towns in some of the off years.

Fisher: Sounds very similar to the United States in a lot of ways, doesn't it?

Melanie: Yes. The one thing to note though too, is that, unfortunately they don't catch all the way up to the United States. So, the latest one available in Canada for the federal census is 1921.

Fisher: Hmm, okay a lot more like England then as far as that goes.

Melanie: Exactly, right. And in the US we go up to 1940. So, we see there's quite a bit of a gap here between when the next record is available and that's just due to the privacy laws they put in place. It’s just a lot longer than our laws.

Fisher: All right. Thank you so much Melanie. She's Melanie McComb. She's with the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Thanks so much, Melanie and we'll find out what else you know about. You seem to have an awful lot of different cultures in your background.

Melanie: Well, thank you. Thanks for always having me.

Fisher: All right. And if you have a question for “Ask Us Anything” on any topic concerning genealogy, just email us at [email protected]. Hey, that's it for this week! Thank for joining us for our 6th anniversary show. It is absolutely unbelievable to me that this has gone on this long, but it’s sure a lot of fun. And we plan on continuing for many, many, many more years. Thanks for joining us. If you missed any of the show, of course catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio or ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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