Episode 292 - Paul Woodbury on DNA: When Is A Match Not A Match? / Ron Fox On Finding Where Family Heirlooms Are Now

podcast episode Jul 28, 2019

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  David and Fisher both had exciting finds this week. Hear what they dug up! The guys begin Family History News with the story of a unique jewel pulled out of the dirt in North Carolina with a remarkable connection to the Revolution. Then, a wallet has been found that went missing 75 years ago. Hear the unique story of this time capsule keepsake. Next, some special records are being released… by Russia! Those who have Soviet-era family members will want to know about this. David then shares word that Ireland is adding a first time feature to their upcoming 2021 census that has never been done before. Catch what it is. Also, the guys have word that a new study shows that Europeans aren’t necessarily Europeans. Hear what has recently been learned. 

Then, over two segments, Fisher visits with Paul Woodbury, DNA Specialist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. Paul talks about his techniques for using DNA matches to open brick walls. He also explains when a match isn’t really a match and why. 

In Ask Us Anything this week, Fisher talks with Ron Fox, whom he calls the “finder of all finders.” Ron talks about how he uses old records to identify special family items and then finds out where they are today with hopes of obtaining them. 

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

Transcript of Episode 292 

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 292

Fisher: And welcome to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. And it’s great to have you along. If you’re new to the show, of course we love to share expert advice on how to find your ancestors and learn their stories, and of course hear stories that other people have found as well. We’ve got Paul Woodbury from Legacy Tree Genealogists, the DNA specialist coming up. Later on in the show, we’re going to do an “Ask Us Anything” segment with Ron Fox. He’s one of the expert finders of everything historical and he’ll have some great advice for you coming up answering your questions. Hey, just a reminder, if you haven’t signed up yet for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” you can do that at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. You get a blog from me each week. You get links to past and present shows and links to stories that you’re going to be fascinated by as anyone who’s interested in tracking down their family. Right now it is time to 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. Hello David.

David: Hey, how are things with you sir?

Fisher: I am grand and glorious and I hear you’ve been celebrating.

David: Ah yes. I had a conversation with my mom’s first cousin. She’s 87, lives out in Alberta, Canada, and she happened to mention, “Would you be interested family bible of my grandfather?” And I said, “Pardon? It exists?” This is a family Bible that was presented in 1900 to my great grandfather by his great aunt, who would have been the sister of my third great grandfather and daughter of my fourth great grandparents.

Fisher: Wow, whoa man. Hold on. I’ve got to get my flowchart going.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: But it’s in your family. That’s the only thing we need to know, right? It’s your direct line. 

David: It’s my direct line. It came to Canada when we came over from England in 1910.

Fisher: Oh wow! And you’re going to have that. How cool is that!

David: It should be a great treasure and there’s family records in it too, like Christmas for a genealogist.

Fisher: Isn’t that fun? And I had a little fun find this past week as well. I was online late one night and discovered that my fourth great grandparents in Fairfield, Connecticut, one of my Revolutionary soldier ancestors and his wife were mentioned in a deed. And they were transferring land to somebody else there, and it mentioned what boxes it was in, in the collection. If you’ve ever been to the Fairfield County Archives, their Museum and History Center, it is fantastic. So I made a note what it was, looked up the phone number, called the director the next day. She took a picture of the two documents with her cell phone and texted them to me, so I had them in like twelve hours from the moment I found them online. And they each had signatures on them from 1790. I’m thinking this is fantastic! What an era we live in you know.

David: Oh, the digital ages has made accessibility so much better for people.

Fisher: Well, we have a lot of Family Histoire News today, so let’s get started David. What have you got?

David: Well, let’s dig in to an 18th century burnt tavern which was recently dug up. This is in a town of Brunswick in North Carolina where British troops destroyed this important port   town and they found in it something about the size of a pea. It was actually a jewel that says Wilkes and Liberty in regards to John Wilkes who was a rebel and this is sort of like a little piece of propaganda jewelry. 

Fisher: Yeah, this John Wilkes, he was a member of Parliament in England and supported the American cause. And this little jewel would stay like in a ring, and this is how people would identify each other as belonging to a secret society that wanted to overthrow King George III. How cool is this.

David: It is very, very cool and something so small could have easily been lost years ago, but now has been rediscovered and has a whole new story about it. You can find that on ExtremeGenes.com. Finding things don’t always happen to be with archaeologists. Sometimes it’s when you pull down a wall. Betty Sissom, age 89 received the gift of a lifetime. She received her wallet from the mid-1940s that was in her former high school in Centralia, Illinois.

Fisher: Yeah, it had been stolen 75 years ago, and after they took out the money, somebody took it and threw it like in a heating vent. And so, as they were renovating the high school, they found not only her wallet, but like fourteen others there. But she’s 89 years old and is finding all the old photographs and all the old documents and she’s just having a ball with it.

David: Truly a time capsule brought to you by a thief.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s right.

David: Another time capsule I want to talk about actually has to do with something we won’t see in our lifetime Fish. But in 2121 when the folks in Ireland are researching their own ancestors or abroad, the 2121 census has a space where you can write in a message to your descendants. This time capsule is a new thing. I’ve never seen it on any census before.

Fisher: No!

David: And I think it is something we should do in the American census.

Fisher: Oh absolutely. I mean, they’re still kicking around what’s going to be on that one, so maybe that will be an inspiring idea. I love that. Wouldn’t it be fun to supply a note to your descendants for a hundred years from now?

David: I actually put a note on the last census to my descendants in the border. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Good stuff

David: Well listen, going way, way back, you know a lot of us have European roots, but you know, they weren’t always in Europe. A great story by National Geographic talks about the first Europeans were not who you think they were. The upcoming August issue will talk about roots and bloodlines going from Africa, the Middle East and the Steppes of Russia. Do you know what the fun part of this story is? It talks about technology. It’s come such a way that you can find a bit of an old skeleton and for around $500 you get the DNA sequenced. I’m really hoping Fish this will not lead our listeners to get backhoes and go visit the cemetery to get a bit of old great, great grandma. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah, yeah that could be very, very challenging. That is amazing, five hundred bucks for a full genome. And then we just got word a little bit ago here about this. The Ukraine and Soviet era records, including some KGB records are being opened up online for everybody to enjoy. [Laughs]

David: That’s true. And that’s another story you’ll find on ExtremeGenes.com.

Fisher: Yeah. So, if you have Russian ancestry this is opportunity to find out what happened to people.

David: Exactly. That is about all I have from this week, but just remember if you’re not a member of American Ancestors, you can be a member. Go online and save $20 by using the coupon code “Extreme.”

Fisher: All right, thank you so much David. We will talk to you again next week. And coming up next we’re talking DNA with Paul Woodbury, the DNA specialist from our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists. We’re going to really try to keep it kind of basic here, and talk about those matches who aren’t really matches. It’s all coming up in two segments starting in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 292

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Paul Woodbury

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, very happy once again to have my friend Paul Woodbury back on the show. He is a DNA specialist with Legacy Tree Genealogist. And Paul, great to have you back.

Paul: Thanks for having me, Fish.

Fisher: I thought we’d give a little fundamental lesson today talking about DNA for people who are just getting into it. And this is really interesting to me because I find that in my experience, 90 to 95% of my matches have gone on there with no tree, suggesting what they’re really looking for when they do their test is their ethnicity results. They want to know where they’re coming from, what their results are, what percent come from Ireland, and what percent comes from France. So, anybody who is listening right now who hasn’t tested, and you’re thinking, “Hey, I want to do my DNA test” we understand that may be all you’re looking for. But in the process of doing that you’re going to run into some things that could actually change your life potentially, right Paul?

Paul: Absolutely. And this topic is interesting to me because when I tell people that I work as a genetic genealogist, the first thing they say is often, “Oh, like those commercials on TV you know, the ethnicity thing?”

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah. 

Paul: And I say, “Yeah, exactly.” And they say, “Well, what do you do with that?” I say, “Well, I help to identify people’s biological parents. I help with the trees. I help solve historic research questions about who great grandpa’s parents were.”

Fisher: Right.

Paul: And they kind of look at me and they say, “How do you do that with those ethnicity result tests? How do you get the ethnicity to figuring out an actual person?” And the answer is, well yes, we use the ethnicity for broader context but there’s a whole other process that we actually go through when using those genetic cousins to really make some fascinating discoveries about a person’s family tree.

Fisher: Yeah. And recently I had that myself where a friend of mine, long time friend, she called me and said, “Hey, I did the DNA test. I wanted to see my ethnicity, and now I have a half aunt and a half cousin. Can you come over here?” I said, “Yeah. Let’s take a look at that.” And it didn’t take too long. We figured out that her grandfather had fathered a child back in the 30s. And they now have had a little reunion and this woman, who is in her 80s, has met her half sisters and it’s been a really fabulous thing, but completely unexpected. And so for those of you who are intentionally taking DNA tests to try to figure out some of the answers of your ancestry, we thought we’d go through, you know the basics of how this thing works with Paul today. And Paul, where would you start?

Paul: So, in an adoption case, where for an unknown parentage case, a situation where you have a very recent ancestor who is unknown, whether that be a parent, both parents, or a grandparent, you are going to probably be using most of those genetic cousins in your DNA match list to figure out how they’re related to each other and how you fit into their family tree. And that’s fairly straight forward. But it gets a little bit more difficult the further we get back.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: When you’re dealing with a case that’s your immediate family, every one of your matches is going to be pertinent in helping you to find clues and piece that puzzle together.

Fisher: Yeah, that makes sense. Now, the one thing about this though, I’m sure the question a lot of people will ask is, when they get their results they see hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand matches back there. How far back are the matches still relevant to your quest for something within the last three or four generations?

Paul: So, in your quest, which is for something within the last three or four generations, I typically focus on those that share a larger amount of DNA, those sharing more than about 20 centimorgans as DNA. Now, typically if you are from the United States for example, you’re going to have a lot of matches closer than that. And so, I prioritize matches based on the total amount of DNA that they share and that’s measured in centimorgans, and I think that we talked about that previously on the show.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Paul: But you’re going to want to focus on those closes matches first and then move down and dip down into some of the more distant matches. And as you move down the list that will hopefully help you to prioritize the ones that are going to be most pertinent. And hopefully you’ll be able to solve your case before you have to dig into the weeds where there are some cases where we might not have matches that are true matches that are pertinent to your research questions.

Fisher: You know, this is the thing, I think a lot of people listen to this who have never done DNA before, and their eyes cross and their hair falls out when they hear about all this because it sounds complicated. First of all, it’s really fun. It’s like putting a puzzle together. And if you find that okay, I have this person who is a match to me, and we’re sharing a match with this unknown person, now you know, well potentially, which side of the family that unknown person comes from. And how they relate to your match and how they relate to you, can help be a part of that puzzle in assembling just where you all tie in and maybe where these birth connections come from.

Paul: Absolutely. And you know, I’ve often thought as I’ve been engaging in genetic genealogy research, particularly for these autosomal DNA match lists, how much it reminds me of when I was a kid and I loved those logic puzzles.

Fisher: Yeah.

Paul: And I loved those Sudoku puzzles and kind of working through, okay, based on the logic of who is matching who, how do they fit into the family tree. And it really is a puzzle. It’s a game. And it’s really fun.

Fisher: Yeah. That’s the bottom line. And so, for people who are sitting there thinking, “Oh, this is so scientific and I never did well in science in school.” You don’t need any scientific knowledge. You just need to understand what some of the rules of the game are. One is, as you mentioned, measuring centimorgans. That’s kind of the measuring stick for matching DNA. In other words, how much DNA do you share with somebody you matched to, and then what does that mean? How does that translate? So, what do you use for that Paul?

Paul: So, when I’m looking at how much DNA a person shares with me or with a client, I look at those centimorgans and I take that total and I bring it over to a calculator that’s available at DNAPainter.com. And you just type that in and it pops out a set of probabilities for different levels of relationships. You can say, I’m going to type in, oh this person shares a 120 centimorgans with me, and it’s going to tell you this person is most likely related as a second cousin once removed, a second cousin or a third cousin, somewhere in that range.

Fisher: Um hmm. It gives you a variety of different potential relationships, because as we’ve talked about, everybody inherits differently.

Paul: Yeah. Everybody inherits differently, and there’s a little bit of an overlap between these relational levels. So, a person sharing a 120 could be a second cousin. It could be a second cousin once removed, or they could be a third cousin, but one of those is going to be more likely than the others. The other ones are still possible. So, you just kind of have to weigh your options there, and consider that evidence within the context of any other information they provide, their family tree, their age, any surnames that you recognize, how they might fit into your family tree.

Fisher: Well, and you have to consider, as you mentioned, the age there. The fact that somebody could be from a generation before you, or a generation after you that can affect what that relationship ultimately is as you try to, you know, put this whole puzzle together. 

Paul: Exactly. And so, you start with that. The next thing that I often will pursue is I begin to look at the relationships between my genetic cousins. I’m looking for how my genetic cousins are related to each other. And that is the key steps in helping you to isolate the genetic cousins that are pertinent for your particular quest too because you go into your match list, if you’re an adoptee, you’re looking for a recent parent everyone is going to be pertinent. But if you get a little further back, let’s say we’re trying to figure out who the parents of great, great grandpa John are, only a portion of your match list, only a portion of your genetic cousins are going to be related through great, great grandpa John and through his unknown parents. So, your first task is to figure out who are those genetic cousins who are likely related through the ancestors of great, great grandpa John.

Fisher: Yeah. This is where it starts getting a little more difficult because you’re much further back. 

Paul: Yeah. And so you know, in an adoption case, everything is pertinent.

Fisher: Yes.

Paul: You’re using your own DNA and everyone is going to give you clues about your ancestry. But in this case, I only got maybe 6% of my DNA from great, great grandpa John. So, I’m trying to use 6% of somebody’s DNA to figure out who their parents are. One thing that you do in order to figure out who is pertinent from your list is you search for other people who descend from great, great grandpa John. Who are the other people who also inherited DNA from great, great grandpa John? So, first we look for who has already tested that also descends from that individual. If you don’t find any, then there’s a great opportunity to go and search for some more people who descend from great, great grandpa John and invite them to perform DNA testing. Because what that’s going to do is when we have a group of people who all descend from the same person who is our research subject, then we can begin to look who are the people who share DNA, who is at least two or three descendants of great, great grandpa John. The next step that you want to pursue after you’ve got that first group of people, you may have identified people who are related to the descendants of great, great grandpa John, but if great, great grandpa John only had one wife, then all of those descendants are going to be related to her too.

Fisher: That’s right.

Paul: So, your next step is to figure out of those people who match multiple descendants of great, great grandpa John, which ones are related through his wife’s family, and which ones are the leftovers?

Fisher: [Laughs]

Paul: Who are the people who are left over? And those leftovers are the people who you want to focus on, because they are probably related through the unknown ancestors of great, great grandpa John.

Fisher: A great breakpoint right here. We’re talking to Paul Woodbury from Legacy Tree Genealogists. How to do it, how to find those matches, how to use them to solve your long time cases, we’ll continue in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.      

Segment 3 Episode 292

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Paul Woodbury

Fisher: We are back on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I’m Fisher, talking to Paul Woodbury. He is a DNA specialist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. And we’re talking about the fun of putting the puzzle together and figuring out who were grandpa’s parents. Who were the great grandparents’ parents? How far back can you go? I’ve gotten various opinions from experts over time, Paul. How far back to you think autosomal can solve a parentage problem?

Paul: So, the further you go back in time the more difficult it becomes, certainly.

Fisher: Yep.

Paul: But, I have found that I’ve been able to use autosomal DNA to find evidence at least of proposed relationships. I don’t know that I would say that we’ve proven them, but we’ve got really strong evidence for those relationships and I’ve some in the 1750s. I just recently had one where we were finding some genetic evidence for proposed relationships in the 1650s.

Fisher: Wow! I did not expect that answer. [Laughs]

Paul: [Laughs] Yeah. So, certainly the further you go back in time, the more careful you have to be because we have lots of ancestors at that level. In this case with the 1650s, the client actually descended from that ancestral couple, I think five different times through his ancestors. So, he had lots and lots of chances to get DNA from those ancestors.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Paul: So, that may have contributed to why we were able to use it back that far. But, as you’re back that far it’s important to consider all of the ancestral lines for the matches that you’re comparing against, and to make sure that there’s no other potential ways that you could be related to those people through other lines.

Fisher: Okay. I want to talk about this question. I think even for those people who are very familiar with DNA research, this comes up. When is a match not a match? And this has to do with identifying matches as either identical by descent which is most matches. And those that are what they call, identical by state. And that means basically it’s just a coincidence that you happen to share a certain amount of DNA that looks the same or just goes from way back, and you had some complicated explanation of it. But, how many matches can you expect are identical by state or basically a coincidence?

Paul: So, certainly we begin to see some matches that are identical by state or just by coincidence from very, very distant ancestry outside of genealogical timeframes. When they’re sharing on a single segment that is quite small, I’d say under 10 centimorgans typically.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Paul: Although, I have heard of instances where it’s possible to have matches where it’s showing up with much more DNA that are also identical by state. So, you want to be careful putting down a hard ancestral and saying, anything lower than this is false and anything higher is good. Certainly, anything over about 40 centimorgans is going to be a true match and in most cases down to 20 and 15 centimorgans we’re dealing with real matches. Matches who share DNA with you because they have a recent common ancestor with you, matches who are identical by descent.

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: But, anything lower than that, we enter into the realm of being very distant related, to sharing a common population history and being quite distantly related.

Fisher: You know, it’s interesting you say that because I once had somebody tell me, “Yeah, I had a first cousin match and we couldn’t figure out where we came together.” And I just told him, oh it was a mistake. Here’s the bottom line, there’s no mistake at the first cousin level, agreed? [Laughs]

Paul: Yes. [Laughs]

Fisher: There’s no mistake at the second cousin level, or the third, or the fourth generally, right Paul?

Paul: Fourth generally there are some exceptions. But, yeah typically if they’re an estimated fourth cousin or closer they’re going to be related within a genealogical timeframe.

Fisher: Right. And then you start getting beyond that. You might pick more and more of these identical by state matches. And they’re not exceptionally helpful to you, are they? They can really throw a wrench into your research.

Paul: They can yeah. Particularly, if you’ve got a lot of them and they form a nice cluster, sometimes they don’t tie in. They’re the puzzles with the missing pieces.

Fisher: Yeah, right. So, let me ask you this, periodically I see these long lines of shared matches and I don’t know where any of them fit into any of my lines. And I’m thinking, well is it possible for somebody who is identical by state to share that many matches with me?

Paul: Um, it’s possible. And one of the reasons for that is because some of these identical by state segments or segments that are small, are from very distant ancestors that may have been quite prolific.

Fisher: Hmm.

Paul: And there’s lots of people sharing on those particular segments. Sometimes, companies can refer to these segments where lots of people are sharing, as pile-up segments. They’re segments that are shared with many members of the population, maybe because of a very prolific ancestor, maybe from a very distant ancestor, or maybe because it’s a conserved sequence that have evolutionarily advantageous that can just be used to get passed on and passed on and our biology just holds onto it.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Paul: So, there are certainly situations where you may have a segment that you share with tons of people. Just because you share it in common with lots of people doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily identical by descent, but you’ll be able to identify the common ancestor who was the source of that DNA.

Fisher: So, this is perhaps why when I go through all these various trees, I can’t find anybody in common among any of them, many generations back.

Paul: Yeah, that sometimes does happen, typically at lower levels of sharing.

Fisher: Right. So, you’re talking about if you’re on Ancestry, the fifth to eighth cousin matches?

Paul: Typically. But, I have seen it in fourth cousin matches as well, 25/30 centimorgans as well.

Fisher: Hmm, but not very commonly?

Paul: Not very commonly. It’s much more common in that lower range of matches.

Fisher: It’s good to know that some of these matches might not be matches, right? And you have to start to consider what these numbers are and go, okay, well maybe I’ll just put that aside for the time being until I can really prove that this is real what I’m looking at.

Paul: Yep.

Fisher: So Paul, you have any idea when Ancestry is going to actually tell us how many centimorgans we share with matches and our matches share with each other because we’re only seeing it to us as it stands right now.

Paul: That’s true. So, we only see it to us. There are some ways that you can get some hints or clues regarding shared matches. So, we know that if you and one of your genetic cousins have a shared match at Ancestry, what that indicates is that all three of you share at least 20 centimorgans with each other. We know that you share at least that much. Now, it could be that I share 20 centimorgans with person A, and they 120 centimorgans with person C, and person C shares 50 centimorgans with me.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Paul: That would be useful information. There’s no way to find that out right now at Ancestry. But, we do know that we share at least 20 centimorgans between all of us.

Fisher: Right and anything beyond that it just doesn’t show up as a match but there are other services that do let us see that, among them GEDmatch and My Heritage.

Paul: Exactly. And 23andMe also will indicate the amounts of DNA shared between you and shared matches with a genetic cousin. So, that is very useful information. I don’t know if Ancestry plans on sharing that information in the future. If they do, I’ll be very happy. If they don’t, I’ll still be happy with what they are providing us that we can use for family history.

Fisher: Well, they certainly provided a lot. Not to mention the fact that they’re like what, 15 million testers on there right now? Far bigger than anybody else in the world.

Paul: Yeah. Just by size alone we can get some great benefits by testing by Ancestry. And each of the companies, each company has its pros, its cons, and its strengths and weaknesses.

Fisher: He is Paul Woodbury, DNA specialist at Legacy Tree Genealogists.  Thanks so much Paul, always great chatting with you. I always learn something, and I hope you have a great summer.

Paul: Thank you.

Fisher: And coming up next it’s an Ask Us Anything segment with the finder of all finders Ron Fox. He’s got some great tips for you coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. 

Segment 4 Episode 292

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ron Fox

Fisher: We are back! It is America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Time once again for our “Ask Us Anything” segment of the show, today with Ron Fox. He is, in my mind, the finder of all finders, because Ron not only does great genealogy, but he loves to track down objects that he learns about, you know. Where have they gone since 150 years ago or 200 years ago or 100 years ago? And he's had amazing experiences with this in discovering them, not only for his own family, but for others and also for business. And Ron, it’s great to have you back!

Ron: Thank you, Scott.

Fisher: And we have a question here from Patricia in Denver. She asks, "How do you use local universities to track down photographs?"

Ron: Well, local universities are great repositories. Colleges, universities, they will have, for example, the local university here has some 2 million photographs in it. And a lot of the problems sometimes is getting them catalogued properly.

Fisher: Yeah.

Ron: But the fact of the matter is, they have them. And you can go and search family names on universities and you'll find their papers will be there. And you'll find that with the papers will be photographs and many times they'll keep them together, but they haven't organized them yet. But most universities are going through and scanning almost all of their documents and their photographs. But they prioritize them from the standpoint of, you know, the earlier stuff first and secondarily they'll go for architectural photos of homes, houses, downtowns, buildings, but it’s all very helpful, because you can piece things together and you can make amazing finds in these university collections. There's one that I'm familiar with that was a manager of a major theater in a town, and every artist that came in to perform, he had every one of their photographs autographed. You know, anybody who was in the theatrical era that actually traveled, this guy probably has a photograph of your great grandfather in this collection. So you know, you never know what you're going to find.

Fisher: Well you know, this is very interesting you mention that, because I know David Lambert has talked about the fact that he went into an archive once and found that there was a collection. He thought it was a poor collection, in other words, a collection of poor families, you know, those who were destitute. No, it was the Poor family, POOR, and that was their family name. And so it was misfiled and when he got into this thing, he actually found one of his ancestor's diaries talking about the battle he was just in, in the Revolutionary War. And you know, that was not catalogued correctly. It was hidden as a result of that. So it really makes a big difference if you can get in and look into some of these things, because there's often more than is just catalogued, right?

Ron: Absolutely. The thing is people donate large groups of materials to universities and colleges and those have to go through a process of sifting, you know, for the standpoint of importance. Is this person, was he an important person in the community or was he just a citizen that wanted to give their scrapbooks and their other papers that may be associated with their life and or family bibles or whatever they may be. But then they have to catalogue them and that takes a long process. And sometimes, you know, you can find things also through looking through geographic sites in a university where they have groups from certain small communities that they would have them collected as a community. And what's so wonderful about today is everything is online. You finally have to go to the place, you know, where it’s being held at a college or university. But just being able to go into a register and take a look at the holdings of a college or a university and how they organize it and pulling up a name or even picking up a neighbor’s name, if you knew there was a prominent neighbor. And the neighbor might have had a journal and talked about his neighbor who was your relative next door. You just never know!

Fisher: All right, Ron, I'll tell you what, we're going to take a break, and when we come back, I want to talk about the specific process of identifying an item from way back and how you find where that is today within maybe somebody's household. We'll get to that when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 292

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ron Fox

Fisher: Hey, back at it for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher here with Ron Fox who is a specialist in tracking down items and photographs and information in unique ways, often items he discovers through his research from 100 years ago, 150 years ago, 200 years ago, and then he tracks forward to find out where they are today. And we're not talking about just libraries and archives, often it’s just somebody’s home, right Ron?

Ron: That's right. You know, you hear in families all the time about Aunt Betsy's silver set or you hear about grandpa's old gun, and you really wonder, what happened to that, you know? So the best way to do it is, you track it down. A lot of times you can use family histories that are printed, other times, you can go to Ancestry or Family Search or any of the others. You can find and pick up a name and then you think, "But how can I find it going forward?" You get to a person from the 1940 census and then, "What do I do from there?" Well, then you go over to the newspaper services. And those newspaper services will pick up their deaths, their daughter's wedding, the birth of a son, and you just keep going, following the newspapers down generation after generation. And then you can go to a white pages service or something else and you'll find a relative or you'll find that individual, and you pick up the phone and you call them. I mean, I tried to track down a photographer from the 19th century to find any of his rare photos with another family member, and I went down to the great, great, great grandchildren and I was successful in finding that one of them had one photograph that he had taken. It was surprising to me that there were not more photographs out there that he had taken during his lifetime, so something happened to him.

Fisher: Huh! Sure.

Ron: I personally had a thing where I found an 1820 Kentucky long rifle that was owned by my great grandfather and I traced it down to doing each line. It took probably a week to do, but it was all worth it.

Fisher: [Laughs] It took a week, that's it!

Ron: And now it’s in my home.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah. So how did you know that the rifle existed in the first place?

Ron: Just by a mention in a journal about great grandfather had kept his rifle. And now another member of the family had owned it. And this was a journal note from like 1958 or something like that. And so I had to go find their children and their grandchildren and I found it. This is one thing I can tell you about family, they will keep things that are important to their family. And they may not look at them very often, but it may be in a box or it may be in a trunk or it may be something and it gets taken from generation to generation to these homes. And they're just looking for somebody who would ask for something. If that person really just appreciates that item, the likelihood of them just giving it to you or selling it to you is very great.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I know what you're talking about, because I remember reading an application by my father's second cousin. He wanted to join the Sons of the American Revolution back around 1919/1920 and he referenced in there his sources for his application for his family lines back to the ancestor was a couple of family bibles. And he mentioned who was in possession of that at that time, and that was his aunt. Well, I was in touch with her grandson who only passed away in 2013, and as it turned out, he had those bible records and I was able to obtain them after his passing. It’s unbelievable, once you're able to kind of narrow down where these things could go, how you could actually learn about some item from back in the day and then find where they are today and obtain them, it’s unbelievable.

Ron: It is. And of course, the more prominent the person is, the more likely that they were kept.

Fisher: Right. Ron, thank you so much. We appreciate having you on the show. And you've, I'm sure inspired a lot of people with this. And you've got my juices flowing again to find some stuff. So, thank you so much. We'll talk to you again soon!

Ron: Very good. Thank you.

Fisher: All right, that's a wrap up on this week's show. Thanks so much for joining us, Genies. And we will catch up with you again next week. Hey, don't forget to join our Patron's Club, will you? We have all kinds of great benefits for you, including bonus podcasts. We're going to be talking about the Homestead Act and the records that has generated over the centuries on the bonus podcast this week, so check it out. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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