Episode 299 - Genealogy And Crime: Descendants of Kidnap Victim Found Through DNA / Finding Ancestral Mug Shots / New Podcast Investigates Mob WifeSep 22, 2019
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys open Family Histoire News with the story of the discovery of a 3,200 year old sword! Hear how and where it was found. Then, a stash of 18th and early 19th century family letters have been donated to an archive in Connecticut. Hear which family benefits from this great gift. Then, the guys talk about an 1890 scare involving library books and disease. Learn what triggered the concern and how long it lasted. David then reveals the new genealogical television show that’s coming soon. Find out which network is carrying it and what it’s about. David’s blogger spotlight this week shines on Amie Tenant’s blog on FamilySearch.org about the 1930s WPA interviews of formerly enslaved African-Americans.
Next, Fisher visits with Michael Seligman and Jessica Bendiger, hosts of Stitcher’s episodic podcast “Mob Queens.” Michael and Jessica have been using genealogical techniques to research the history of the wife of mob boss, Vito Genovese. The story is garnering a lot of attention (though parts of the story could be considered “adult” in nature).
Then, Terri O’Connell of Chicago tells the story of the kidnapping of an infant relative in the 1890s. It’s a tale that’s been told in the family for well over a century. But now, thanks to DNA, she and her family now know what became of the kidnapped baby!
In Ask Us Anything, we keep with the crime theme as Photo Detective Maureen Taylor answers a question about how you may be able to find your criminal relatives’ mug shots.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 299
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 299
Fisher: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. Oh, do we have a show for you today, because I think most of us will admit to the fact that we have criminal ancestors or criminal relatives, somebody in that family tree. And so, we devote today’s show to crime, and we’re going to start out in about ten minutes with Michael Seligman and Jessica Bendinger. They are the hosts of a podcast called Mob Queens that gets into the story of the wife of Vito Genovese. Now, Vito was the model by which the Godfather was created. You remember Vito Corleone. So, you’re going to hear what they’ve done using genealogical techniques to develop the story about Vito Genovese’s wife, which is fascinating. And then later in the show we’re going to talk to Terri O’Connell. She’s a Chicago woman, an ordinary person with an extraordinary find because she had a kidnapping in her family back in the 1890s. And her research, along with another cousin, has developed what happened to that infant throughout his life. Interesting stuff. And then at the back end of the show it’s another “Ask Us Anything” segment. We’re going to have Maureen Taylor on, the Photo Detective, talking about mugshots. If you’re looking for the mugshot of one of your criminal relatives or ancestors, she’ll tell you how you might be able to find them and some of their records. Right now, let’s check in with Boston and David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David do you have criminals in your background?
David:[Laughs] Yeah, unfortunately I can say that both my grandfathers were incarcerated. My dad’s father more so than my mother’s father, but he was a bootlegger.
Fisher:A bootlegger during the ‘30s?
David:‘20s and ‘30s yeah. In fact, there’s one court case where it says Mr. Lambert has requested to give up the liquor business.
Fisher:[Laughs] I had one that was in San Quentin. He wasn’t a direct ancestor, but he was a cousin and I did find his mugshot. That was pretty cool. Really interesting stuff.
David:Well, you can have any of my black sheep ancestors I have. I’ll be glad to lend them to you for any family occasion.
Fisher:All right, let’s get going.
David:Well, I’ll tell you the first story we have for Family Histoire News, of course brought to you by the News on ExtremeGenes.com is an accidental find. 3200-year-old Late Bronze Age sword found under some rocks and the video is right there on the News story. This is on the island of Majorca, and this site had actually been excavated as early as the 1950s. And this just goes to show you “leave no stone unturned.”
Fisher:Right. And this sword is 3200 years old. It goes back to 1200 B.C. And the handle’s actually sticking out of the rocks and they were able to get this thing out, not in great shape, but they consider it a monumental find.
David:And it’s really the only historical sword ever found on the site, so I guess better late than never.
David:Well, and you know, It’s funny how things show up if they’re returned to the appropriate place. So, of course letters are something we cherish in genealogy. Of course, if I mail you a letter, I’m mailing it from Massachusetts to your home, and it ends up there. Sometimes they return back and I do that on eBay all the time. I’m always buying stuff from my hometown. But in the town of Avon, Connecticut, the librarians recently got a call from a gentleman in Ohio who had 60 letters. These are from the 18thand early 19thcentury from a Holly family that had a minister and they moved out west. Well, now the letters have gone back home.
Fisher:Isn’t that great? They’re going to be in the archives, so anybody from that family, whoever wants to review them or obtain the content, I mean, this is going to tell a lot of stories.
David:It is. And the other thing is, it also gives you, besides your own family, the people that your family associated with. So, the associated connections are great because it can help tell the genealogy of somebody who may have not even realized it was a letter about their ancestor.
David:You know, when you look through libraries you think of holding a book that has been around for a long time. But in the 1890s there was actually a book scare that people believed that you’d catch tuberculosis, even cancer, from books that have been handled by somebody else.
Fisher:Yeah, in the libraries. This scare actually went on into the 19 teens and this story that is on ExtremeGenes.comtalks about the origins of this scare.
David:Yeah, there’s a young gal by the name of Jesse Allen who died in 1895. She was a librarian in Omaha, Nebraska, at the public library and she died of tuberculosis, and they believed it stemmed from a book that she was handling.
Fisher:So, people were not going to libraries because they felt they were going to get sick and I would imagine that would probably put a real strain on the system for many places.
David:I think so. In fact, I started at NEHGS in 1993 in our book loan circulating library. Just think, if it really had been a big thing, nearly a hundred years later I wouldn’t have a job.
David:I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you right now. [Laughs]
Fisher:[Laughs]That’s probably true. Imagine that. You’ve got to wonder what, from our era, will people say a hundred years from now, will look back on and go, “Really? They thought that?”
David:How about vaping?
Fisher:Vaping, yes. I think that’s got to be the thing because that’s got to go. I mean, let’s face it, they’re killing people all over the place and it’s being presented to children as being 99% safer than cigarettes.
David:The only thing that’s safer than cigarettes is not doing anything at all.
David:Breathe in the air that’s around you. [Laughs]
Fisher:Yeah, like it was meant to be.
David:We have a new genealogical TV show on the horizon starring Daisy Fuentes, a new TV show called “A New Leaf.” This show premiers on NBC on October 5th and will be giving the stories of average, everyday people learning to create a new leaf on their family tree and find great discoveries.
Fisher:How cool is that. Well let’s see how it is, right?
David:Exactly. Well, you know I love to give a blogger spotlight, but sometimes our bloggers don’t have their own blogs. So, if you go to FamilySearch.org/blog, you can find guest bloggers such as the one recently by our good friend and genealogist Amie Tennant where she wrote about the WPA interviews of former enslaved African Americans during the WPA era. They did a lot of interviews of former enslaved individuals and they’ve been transcribed and available, and Amy kind of gives you the details in regards to that.
David:Well, that’s about all I have from Beantown this week. But if you want to find out more about where I work, AmericanAncestors.org, you can check out our website for free, but if you decide to join, use the checkout code “Extreme” and save $20 on a membership.
Fisher:All right David, thank you so much. And coming up next we’re going to Michael Seligman and Jessica Bendinger. They are the hosts for the podcast called Mob Queens talking about the wife of Vito Genovese of the Genovese crime family. It will be great stuff coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 299
Host: Scott Fisher with guests Michael Seligman and Jessica Bendinger
Fisher: And welcome to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. You know, as we go deeper and deeper into the 21st century there are so many more places for us to get great stories and great information and genealogical ties. And one of them that’s in development right now and doing really well is a new podcast called Mob Queens, and this kind of combines true crime, and genealogy, and history, and biography. And I have the hosts on the show right now, Michael Seligman and Jessica Bendinger are on the line. How are you doing guys? Nice to have you!
Michael: Hi Scott. [Laughs]
Jessica: Hi Scott. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] How did you guys get into this? I mean, what’s your background? Are you genealogists? Are you historians? What’s your story?
Jessica: We are amateur sleuths, and I have to give Michael credit because he worked on an infamous show called E-Mysteries and Scandals years ago. And so he would always tell me highlights from those shows that he worked on and I was just completely dazzled and so curious about the trivia that he knew and the factoid that he had dug up. And so, when we found this story, we were instantly kind of bonding over it and delighting in the prospect of becoming amateur PIs and figuring out this untold story of a totally true mob wife from the 1930s ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s.
Michael: Yeah. I mean, I spent my early days in TV as a research producer and this was back really before the internet was as robust as it is now. And so, I had to go to libraries and I had to find old books, and I had to go into archives to find information that wasn’t posted up online.
Fisher: Well, how 20th century of you is that. Wow. [Laughs]
Michael: [Laughs] It’s very 1900s, yeah.
Fisher: So, tell us about this background. Now, you’ve gone into genealogy as I understand it Michael, and you’re using this to put the story together. First of all, let’s describe the podcast because it’s episodic as I understand it, right?
Michael: Yeah. I mean, it’s an unfolding story, like we’re sort of building the plane as we’re taking off here.
Michael: We had a full sort of a framework that beefs up the story that we knew, but really this podcast is about us filling in those blanks and going out and talking to people, and finding out more and trying to connect all these dots to tell as big of a story as we possibly can and as true of a story.
Fisher: Now, how did you stumble on this story about this mob wife, because that isn’t just something people casually talk about?
Michael: It’s kind of a long story. You know, some friends of mine had discovered this archive of letters a few years ago in a friend’s storage unit who had passed away and he was in his 70s. And these letters had been written to him in the 1950s when he was a young man.
Jessica: And so we started looking into the letters and it turns out that the letters all refer to a club where these performers performed for years and years. And in finding out who ran the club, we discovered it was the mob.
Fisher: Oh wow!
Jessica: And that the mafia controlled all of these night clubs and employed all of these performers back in the day.
Fisher: So, what gave you this interest that you wanted to fill in the stories? And who was the mob wife that you were so intrigued with?
Michael: Well, the woman who ran the club was Anna Genovese. And so we thought, oh, interesting character.
Fisher: You mean from the Genovese crime family?
Jessica: That’s the one.
Fisher: Oh wow!
Jessica: And there’s been some interesting titbits about her on the internet but not a full buffet. And we just started digging and digging and we found, oh my goodness, she has quite an original story. And it’s the kind of story that’s been left out of history books. Let’s put it back in.
Fisher: Yeah, and if I’m not mistaken, I think the Genovese crime family was the one on which the Godfather was based. Is that true?
Jessica: That is correct.
Fisher: And so you guys started digging into this, and when did you decide, oh this is going to make a great podcast?
Jessica: Well, we’ve been researching it for a couple of years. We tried to develop it as a TV series and we met Claire Rollinson, our show runner and producer at Stitcher at the On Air podcast festival last year. We told her the story, she loved it, and we went into development with them as a partner and began developing the series over a year ago, and then started production this year and we’re about, I’d say, eight to nine episodes in to a 12 episode order.
Jessica: So, as Michael said, the story is unfolding as we go and we’re finding out lots of new information from people hearing the show, writing in via email, calling our voicemail, hitting us up on social, on Instagram @MobQueensPod. If anybody wants to follow us, we’d love to hear from you.
Fisher: When you do your research, do you use DNA, do you just use the standard you know, the census records and the standard material you might find online? What sources have you used and what have you discovered as a result of that?
Michael: Well, we started with Ancestry.com and that was so helpful because we were able to find the 1910 census which is the earliest record we have of Anna. She’s five years old and living in New York City and so we could see who her parents were. Where she lived, who her siblings were, and then you just go to 1920 and then 1930, and you can see the sort of evolution of a person’s life, oh she moved here, she moved there. And then we actually used somebody on a website called Fiverr. Genealogy Hunter is his handle, and he helped us actually track down some of Anna’s actual descendants who are still alive.
Fisher: And you’ve had conversations with them, and how do they feel about this?
Michael: I think they were a little taken aback. The way that we reached out to them was by sending them this huge research package and just saying, “Hey, we’re kind of obsessed with your grandmother, and would you be willing to talk to us?” And they were just so surprised that we had done so much work on this woman that obviously is so close to them.
Fisher: So, you’ve been talking to people then who actually knew her to help put this story together, yes?
Michael: That’s correct, yes. Family members, people that worked with her.
Jessica: And Michael used 23andMe as part of a new health plan. And I’ll let Michael tell it, but he has some new news of his own.
Fisher: Really? Kind of spinning off of this whole thing?
Michael: Well, in the same week that we discovered this living relative of Anna’s, my sister and I were both adopted when we were babies and it was always kind of a question mark about our ancestry, you know, where we came from.
Michael: And I was able to find a cousin who was able to fill in my entire life story prior to me being born, [Laughs] which is pretty thrilling and sort of part and parcel of this unfolding discovery.
Fisher: Wow! So you start working on a story of a mob wife, and it turns into you discovering your own origins.
Michael: That is true. Yeah.
Michael: And then the connections that are there you know, coming from the same regions in Italy as Anna and her husband Vito. And it just sort of brought our story of what it means to know your history and to know where you come from.
Fisher: So, you’re well into the episodic series at this point. Is this something that’s going to be told in one season?
Jessica: So, we’re on episode 6 as of next week and it should be the beginning of November, end of October, we should be in the home stretch.
Fisher: And then so you’re going to take it to the time when they lay her to rest?
Jessica: Well yes, we will.
Jessica: You know, interestingly, there was no obituary for Anna, Scott.
Jessica: You know that obituaries can be such a treasure trove of information, but in this case there’s no grave marker, and there was no obituary so we had a little bit of a harder…
Fisher: Now wait, why was that? Is this just the secretness of the Cosa Nostra?
Michael: You know, it’s a good question. Because some mobsters have these big elaborate funerals, and there’s lots of people, and there’s lots of press, and yet like Jessica says, there’s no graver marker, there’s nothing that acknowledges that she passed. We were only able to discover this by going to the cemetery and looking at the records there to see the date she died.
Fisher: The burials, yeah.
Fisher: You got her death record though I assume?
Jessica: No. We’ve been actually just had a helper go to probate court to try and find more, and we have actually not gotten her death certificate yet.
Jessica: We’ve talked to her granddaughter who was there in the hospital room and who is a first person narrator for us about it, but no, we are at a loss with the paperwork.
Fisher: You know, as a volunteer deputy sheriff that digs into a lot of these things to work on cold cases periodically, I mean, I really appreciate what you’re doing. And it’s so fun to put this together because I think there is such a fascination with the mob. And did Vito, by the way, die a natural death?
Jessica: He did die a natural death. He died of heart failure in prison in Springfield, Missouri, on Valentine’s Day 1969.
Michael: Yeah. He had been in prison for about I think 12 or 13 years at that point.
Fisher: Wow. You know, a lot of mobsters die on Valentine’s Day. Did you ever notice that?
Jessica: [Laughs] No, I didn’t know that. Interesting!
Jessica: Well Scott, I wanted to say, do you have amateur researchers out there? We have two little pieces of research that we’re trying to solve, and they can hit us up @MobQueensPod on Instagram.
Jessica: But we’re trying to figure out if Dom Frasca, the author of King of Crimes, is related Gus Frasca, same last name spelling, who was a Genovese Capo, who died several decades earlier before Dom wrote the book. And if any of your sleuths out there feel like helping us, we’re trying to figure that out. And we’re also trying to figure out if, we came across a piece of information that told us Donata Ragone Genovese, Vito’s first wife was, to quote, “Sister, or sister-in-law of Anna Petillo Vernotico Genovese, Vito’s second wife” and we’ve been unable to research siblings successfully to see how that might have been true and indeed, if it is true.
Fisher: Right. Well, we’ve got a lot of genies listening right now. Maybe somebody wants to take it on, you know. It sounds really fun.
Fisher: And obviously they’ll be able to share that with you on the podcast, so that will be great.
Michael: We would love to have them on, yeah.
Fisher: Well, the name of the show is Mob Queens and it’s about the mob wife of all mob wives, Anna Genovese or Genovese as I think a lot of them called it back in the day.
Fisher: And you can catch it on Stitcheronline. And guys, thanks so much for coming on. This is Michael and Jessica the hosts of the show. And it sounds like it’s quite an adventure involving all of the things we in genealogy love, the research, the history, the biography, and in your case, true crime.
Michael: [Laughs] Yeah.
Jessica: Thank you so much Scott. And thanks genies.
Michael: Thanks Scott.
Fisher: And as you must expect with a true crime story, you might hear some content that is sensitive. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Terri O’Connell. She’s a genie from the Midwest and she has her own real life true crime story involving one of her ancestors and a recent discovery. You’re going to want to hear it coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 299
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Terri O’Connell
Fisher: Oh, do we love those crazy stories that we dig up as we get back into our families past. Hey, it’s Fisher here. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. One of the crazier stories I’ve heard in a while came to my attention through a woman in Chicago. Her name is Terri O’Connell. Twenty one years a genie, and Terri, welcome to Extreme Genes! I’m really excited to share this story with everybody because it’s incredible. At what point in your research did you discover that you had a kidnapping in your family?
Terri: I’ve probably known most of my genealogical time. It was a story that my grandmother and her sisters always talked about. They always wondered what happened to Harry, who was their mother’s brother.
Fisher: And Harry was how old when he was kidnapped?
Terri: He was an infant. This was the late 1890s. He was born roughly between 1895 and 1898 in Ohio. So, after Harry was born his mother Suzie had to go into the hospital. There’s many different stories as to why she went into the hospital, but she went into the hospital and her husband John was bringing Harry back and forth to the hospital to nurse daily. In doing so, he couldn’t work. He couldn’t provide for his family. So, he went next door to Suzie’s best friend who had just lost a baby and asked her if she would care for the baby and if she would wet-nurse for the baby, and she agreed. Every day he would wake up in the morning, he would go over and check on the baby and make sure that this woman had everything she needed then he would go to work and, you know, go about his day. And every day everything was fine. On the day Suzie was due to come home from the hospital, he got up and went to go check on the baby and the house was empty.
Fisher: Oh, my gosh! So, this has been a mystery now for 120 years or so, and along comes our good friend DNA.
Terri:Right. So, this past March I have a cousin Tim, who lives in Tennessee and he descends from this family as well, and he found something rather odd in his DNA.
Terri: He found this match and this match had all these Norwegian names, except for one and it happened to be Hilton, which was Harry’s last name.
Fisher: Oh, wow! Okay, so the match had other people who had Hilton on their tree, and that’s how he was able to figure out that this might be the connection you were looking for all these years?
Terri: Well, when he found it he was very adamant. I really don’t think it has to do with the missing baby. He sent me an email saying, go in your DNA matches, look for this gentleman John and take a look at his tree, then come back and tell me what you think. And I emailed him back and I’m like, Oh my gosh, the missing baby! And he was like, “No, I don’t think it’s him.” I was so excited but it was March and March is my big time because I focus on Irish research. So, I really didn’t have time to play with DNA, and we went back and forth through emails. And Tim was a trooper all month kept going and looking for records, trying to find things, and every once in a while he would email me a little update. Well, just after St. Patrick’s Day passed I got another email from him and it said, “Hey, I’m back to thinking we’re on to the missing baby here.” And I’m like, Oh my gosh, that’s cool. Keep me updated. I’m still really busy. He was like, okay, that’s cool.
Fisher: Right. [Laughs]
Terri: So, another week or so passed and I happen to have gotten sick from being overworked through March. I was sitting on my couch and I was like, I should go take a look at all this DNA stuff and see what I can find because obviously I’m intrigued. We have this 120 year old kidnap case, everybody wants to know what happened to poor Harry and it’s unfolding in front of us.
Terri: So, I pulled up my tree and I went and looked at this gentleman John who is now our genetic cousin. I mean we’re just trying to fit him in.
Fisher: What is the relationship for John? Have you figured that out or what is it predicted by Ancestry?
Terri: Um, I want to say John might be like a second cousin.
Fisher: That would be about right, I mean for that time period especially if you sharing great grandparents.
Terri: Right. So, I looked at John’s tree and I thought, okay, so I know that we’re matching on the sly. Obviously, it’s going to be the Hilton DNA because that’s the only other name in John’s tree that’s going to connect to my tree and it’s going to connect to Tim’s tree as well.
Terri: Now, here’s the interesting part. So, John and I share the Hilton DNA, and we’re sharing the Scarlinger DNA, but Tim, the cousin who found all this only shares the Hilton DNA, though, he also descends from that Scarlinger line as well.
Fisher: Well, you’re not sharing it. That’s all it means. You didn’t inherit the same DNA.
Terri: Right, exactly. So, without the two of us, we wouldn’t have been able to put it together.
Fisher: Yeah. So, now have you been in touch with John and have you figured out who Harry was, what the new name was?
Terri: [Laughs] So, we have emailed with John back and forth, Tim and myself. So, this is what we know of Harry’s life. Harry moved to Iowa.The woman that he put down as his next of kin we are assuming is the woman that took him. The name isn’t the same but it looks close.
Terri: He never changed his name. He went by Harry Hilton.
Fisher: He went by Harry Hilton the whole time? How did he even know his name? They must have told him obviously.
Terri: [Laughs] So, we were like, okay, this makes absolutely no sense. Who kidnaps a child and doesn’t change his name, especially as a baby?
Fisher: Yeah. [Laugh] who does kidnap.... so did you find them in the census records? What is that showing?
Terri: So, there’s been a couple of records that Tim has found.He’s been on that search and he’s found some military stuff like draft cards. I don’t think he found them in the census yet. The only thing that we can figure out is that because of this woman who took him, was best friends with Suzie, and according to family stories the only thing that comforted her about Harry being gone, was that she knew he was loved.
Fisher: Um hmm. Yes.
Terri: So, on the flip side, my thought process is that she really loved Suzie so much that she also just loved this baby, and after losing her own, couldn’t give up another.
Fisher: Of course.
Terri: She probably just told him that maybe his parents died and she promised to take care of him.
Fisher: Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, your parents died, I’m taking care of you and your real name is this. Okay.
Terri: Yes. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.
Fisher: Yeah, that does make sense. That would fit very nicely, but to find him in the family grouping in the 1900 census, the 1910 census before he’s an adult. I mean, that would be really interesting to see, wouldn’t it?
Terri: It would and I have to go look. I know I have a ton of emails from Tim of the things he found when we were going through this, last March. It would be very interesting because we do have addresses from the draft cards.
Terri: And we know that he was career military. The first marriage didn’t last. John’s family story tells us that Harry did marry again and there are other children out there. We just haven’t found them yet.
Fisher: You just haven’t found them yet. Have you seen photographs of him yet?
Terri: Of Harry? We have.
Fisher: Wow! What was that like the first time you laid eyes on the picture of the baby that was kidnapped?
Terri: I can’t remember if it was a military picture or not, but my cousin sent it to me and he sent it with a picture of another one of the Hilton brothers. And they all have this like little point in their eyebrow.
Fisher: Okay. [Laughs] That’s the distinguishing feature, huh, the little point in the eyebrow.
Terri: It is and Harry totally had it.
Fisher: Okay. And he was a full brother to the others, so that’s really interesting.
Terri: Yeah. But what is really weird, so John and Suzie, all of their kids are registered, all their births in Ohio, and I found them, but Harry’s is not.
Fisher: Ha! But you’ve got the DNA, so you know for a fact there’s no question as to who his parents were.
Terri: We’ve got the DNA. Yeah. Unless, the only other way it could go is if John had an affair with one of Suzie’s siblings.
Terri: That would be the only other way he could have both of the DNA.
Fisher: Uh, yes that would be true, I suppose. Nonetheless, it would come in a little differently though. The DNA match would be off if that were the case.
Fisher: I don’t think that would be it. You know, that’s really cool.A 120-year-old cold-case solved by DNA, and just by an ordinary person with an extraordinary find. Well done! I’m impressed Terri.
Terri: Thank you. The family feels the same way. They’re like, we can’t believe that you guys figured this out. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] Well, it’s been part of your family lore for literally over a century, and now we have these amazing tools that you could do this stuff with, and really anybody can learn how to do it. It’s an amazing process and so much fun and its life changing, that’s the thing.
Terri: It really, truly is.
Fisher: Terri thanks so much for coming on and sharing your story. I really appreciate it.
Terri: Oh, thanks for having me.
Fisher: And our crime theme continues in three minutes when we talk to Maureen Taylor the photo detective when we talk about mugshots, on Extreme Genes.
Segment 4 Episode 299
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Maureen Taylor
Fisher: Back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And we're talking crime today. Wow, we've had some great stories on today! And kind of to wrap it up for our “Ask Us Anything” segment, I've asked my good friend, Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective to return and talk about this a little bit, because we do have a question from Jill in St Pete, Florida. She says, "I have a black sheep ancestor who was in prison. How do I find his mugshot from the 1930s?" Hello Maureen. What do you think?
Maureen: Hey Scott, how are you?
Maureen: Oh, my, my, my, so, photos of people who have gone on the other side of the law can be literally anywhere. So, I have found them for sale at flea markets. I have found them for sale at antique shows. I have found them for sale at high end photo shows. One was all mug shots of everyone from prisons in California.
Maureen: Oh yeah.
Fisher: And so, do those become public somehow? Because obviously this person's looking for a specific ancestor.
Maureen: Right. So, I think what happens is, they get discarded. I've bought a couple over the years just to have them as an example. And one of the ones I bought, I bought at like the Brimfield Antique Show, and the guy had literally milk crate upon milk crate of the New York State prison and these were mugshots with criminal records attached.
Maureen: So, I'm not actually sure how they get discarded, but they do get discarded sometimes. So, whether or not she can find the ones from the 1930s relies on whether or not her police department that arrested him has kept those records or not.
Maureen: Sometimes they end up in archives, like the Providence City Archives for instance. Just check all of the records from the Providence Police Department and those are now in the city archives, which is great. It’s hit or miss.
Fisher: So, how far back were mugshots created, do you know?
Maureen: Well, there was that whole 19th century thing you know, about the shape of your head.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
Maureen: You know, phrenology. So, photography was used in the same way we use it today all the way back in the 1840s and '50s. So, you might end up with a picture of a criminal ancestor from way back then, like the western criminals.
Fisher: Oh yes, yeah.
Maureen: Those gunslingers.
Fisher: Well, that's because nobody knew who they were from town to town. There was so much distance between them, right, so they had to make the wanted posters.
Maureen: Exactly. And then there was a guy in the 19th century. His name was Thomas Byrnes and he was the inspector of police and the chief of detectives in New York City and he wrote a book called "Professional Criminals of America" and he wrote that in 1886.
Fisher: Oh, wow!
Maureen: And he wrote about mugshots and how you could identify a criminal based on the way they were dressed and, you know, obviously today, that would be called profiling. [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah, exactly.
Maureen: But it’s interesting, like in particular, I focused on women criminals. And so, women were often criminals in the typical ways of being a shoplifter for instance.
Maureen: And she dressed the part. So she would go into a department store and look like she was a legitimate customer and then shoplift.
Fisher: And so this guy described what to look for if you're a shopkeeper then if somebody's intending to rob you?
Maureen: Not only that, he included pictures of some of these notorious criminals.
Fisher: Oh, fun!
Maureen: And you can buy the book on Amazon. There is also a book by Mark Michaelson on Amazon called “Least Wanted, A century of American Mugshots” if you want to get a feel for what the mugshots look like overtime.
Fisher: Right and what you might be able to find. It would be interesting if somebody could create a sourcebook that says, "Okay, here's where you might get the mugshots for this period for this place." I can't imagine anybody do it, because I don't think anything could be more niche than that, right?
Maureen: Maybe. It’s not really niche. I mean, it’s a very popular research topic. The authority for criminal ancestors is Ron Arons.
Fisher: Oh yes, yes, the black sheep guy. All right, we've got to take a break, because we're out of time on this segment, Maureen. We'll be back talking more about criminals and mug shots and what you might be able to find, when we return with Maureen Taylor in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 299
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Maureen Taylor
Fisher: All right, it’s a crime and we're here to try to solve it. Hey, it’s Fisher. It’s Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. And we're talking criminal activity all through the show today. You know, most of us have either an ancestor or a relative who wound up on the wrong side of the law. And that's why we're talking crime today. And I've got Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective on the line answering questions for “Ask Us Anything.” And this one comes from Paul in South Carolina. He says, "Is there any resource available for researching a criminal from the 19th century?" Maureen?
Maureen: Oh boy! There are lots of resources available. So, Ancestry.com has some criminal records and if your ancestor was from the UK, there are databases on FindMyPast that you can use as well.
Fisher: Oh yes.
Maureen: They don't include photographs.
Maureen: They only include the actual records.
Fisher: And state websites too periodically have the criminal records going back to a certain period. Usually though, it’s to a point where all of them are deceased so they're not humiliating people who were arrested as kids in the ‘40s, you know.
Maureen: So, here's a strategy. You should Google the name of the person or you should Google where they were arrested criminal records, because as I mentioned in the earlier segment, these records are everywhere and some of them are in private collections, some of them are in public archives.
Maureen: Some of them are on auction sites, because they've been auctioned off. So if you search for criminal records for, say, San Quentin, you might find some very interesting records. Now, while you may be just looking for a photograph of your ancestor, if you find that photograph, it may be attached to a card that contains their entire arrest record.
Fisher: Yeah, that's right. I've seen a lot of those. You know, the other thing is, is digitized newspapers. I mean, they're so obvious. And as you mentioned, Google too. A lot of people just overlook Google, because it’s so obvious for every type of genealogical research. But digitized newspapers will often give you the details of what went wrong. I mean, right down to speeding tickets that people may have received, you know.
Maureen: Oh, you can use the newspapers to find evidence of 18th century criminal activity.
Fisher: That's true, huh? Yeah.
Maureen: And the little notices would include a complete description of the person.
Fisher: Yeah, I've got one that is either my third great grandfather or his son of the same name, I'm not sure which. I suspect it’s the son now. But, they gave all kinds of descriptions of what he looked like and how he escaped from prison, and was not seen again and how he escaped and the trouble that his jailers were in for letting him get away. He was a shoplifter. He was a thief in New York City. And then there was another guy in England in 1818 who abandoned his family, which was considered a crime, because now that meant the Anglican Church there in that area had to take care of the wife and kids. And so, they were looking for him, so that he could be held accountable for that and they could get the family off of their donor list.
Maureen: There's an amazing amount of descriptive information in those early newspaper accounts, from like a scar over the eyebrow to actually a description of how a person walked, what they were wearing, what they looked like.
Maureen: And then obviously some editorial comment about their character. [Laughs]
Maureen: I think that a person who is looking for a photograph of their criminal ancestors should never give up hope, because there were mug shots, at least beginning in the late 19th century, most criminals, because it was a database that the police departments could then refer back to and they could annotate the cards with more information on this person. So, don't give up hope. Just keep looking.
Fisher: All right. She's Maureen Taylor, she's the photo detective. You can follow her at MaureenTaylor.com. Thanks so much, Maureen. Great talking to you as always.
Maureen: Thank you, Scott.
Fisher: Well, that is a wrap on this week's show. And by the way, if you don't have a criminal in your past, so sorry about that, but most of us do. So, if you missed any of the show, of course catch the podcast. You can listen to it on iTunes, iHeart Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. And don't forget to sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter. Do it today at ExtremeGenes.comor through our Facebook page. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!