Episode 301 - Man Who Learned That His Dad Was Not Dad To Nine Kids Writes Book / Dan Debenham On New Season Of Relative RaceOct 06, 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 begin Family Histoire News with word that another casualty from Pearl Harbor has been identified through DNA and brought home to be buried with honors with his family. Hear the details. Then, a new document has raised a question. Did George Washington fire the first shot of the French and Indian War? Hear how this new take on history was developed. Next, a flea market in Texas has yielded a photo album of 19th century pix that have now found their way back to the family. A story in the Washington Post talks about the joys of researching peoples’ own homes. It ties closely with family history. Hear some of the info you’ll find in the story linked to at ExtremeGenes.com. Then, hear the story of a scientist who is learning how to collect DNA from hair without the roots! He’s been collecting follicles from unknown crime victims and unknown killers.
In the next segment, Fisher catches up with Dan Debenham, host of KBYU’s Relative Race. Season Six is underway and Dan will tell you what’s new for this go-round.
Then, Steve Anderson joins Fisher for an update on his most bizarre family story. Steve first appeared on Extreme Genes back in 2015 when he revealed that DNA showed that his Dad, the head of a family of nine children, was not the bio-dad to any of them! Hear the latest, and hear about Steve’s new book A Broken Tree: How DNA Exposed a Family’s Secrets.
Fisher and David then field a question on “Ask Us Anything,” talking about an interesting probate record called a “Petition for Administration.” Find out what family history gold these documents can reveal!
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 301
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 301
Fisher: And you have found us! It is 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. And this episode is brought to you by BYUtv’s Relative Race, Sunday nights at 8 o’clock Eastern, 5 o’clock Pacific time, and the new season is underway. In fact, later on in the show, in about ten minutes, we’re going to talk to Dan Debenham. He is the host of the show. It’s the new season. He’ll give you the run down on what’s happening, what’s new, where they’re going and all kinds of great stuff. Then later in the show, we’re going to talk to Steve Anderson. You may remember him from Episode 100 where he talked about the discovery of the fact that he, among his nine siblings, were not fathered by their dad. In fact, they were fathered by many different people. And now Steve has written a book about it. We’ll tell you the full story and tell you where you can get the book, coming up later on in the show. Right now, let’s head out to Boston where my good friend David Allen Lambert is standing by. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David’s got our Family Histoire News for you today. David, how are you? Great to have you back.
David: Always a pleasure to be on the show, and as we approach the next 100 episodes.
Fisher: Yes! [Laughs]
David: This is great. [Laughs]
Fisher: That’s true.
David: Well, I’ll tell you, with the discovery of how we can use DNA in genealogy, it’s been remarkable. But, for family members the discovery of DNA has brought veterans home, and I mean specifically in this case, Pearl Harbor. At least a few years, if not more, I’ve had new stories on and yet again another Pearl Harbor veteran, an 18-year-old who died aboard the USS West Virginia, who laid in an unidentified grave for 78 years is now home in New Jersey. And the great thing about the story about Harold Costill is that he has siblings alive, but also his buddy that joined the US Navy in 1940 was there to give remarks and be at his friend’s funeral.
Fisher: Wow! They’re both in their 90s now.
David: Exactly. In fact, in this case, I mean, Harold would have 96, so I would imagine that his buddy, Mr Snyder, he is probably the same age.
David: They joined in 1940.
Fisher: I wonder if at some point we’re going to start to identify soldiers from earlier wars. Right? World War I, maybe the Spanish American War, the Civil War, is that possible?
David: I would imagine so. I mean, the thing that I’m hearing, correct me if I’m wrong, the federal government basically does not consider anything beyond World War II a concern. So, I mean, the Unknown Soldier of World War I, he lies at the tomb in the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, should be able to be identified, shouldn’t he?
Fisher: You would think so.
David: You know, speaking of soldiers, the Father of our Country, George Washington of course, is well known for his role in helping win the Revolutionary War, but he may have actually started another one. The mean, the first may have started the French and Indian War was pretty heavy.
Fisher: Right. It is.
David: And it looks like it may have been a misinterpretation because the French looked like they were just wanting to give him some paper work, and well, he fired the first shot.
Fisher: It’s a great story. You’ve really got to read this and it is linked to from ExtremeGenes.com.
David: My next story has to do with Mike Rodriguez who is an X-ray technician, who likes to scour flea markets for photographs. He bought an album for $8, really old 19th century photos, all identified, even pictures down to the latter part of the 20th century with family members gathering in front of the old homestead in 1896. So, it really kind of made him curious. Why would someone give up this history? So, he started to do some research and showed it to the last surviving son of the person who owned the album and in turn he connected them.
Fisher: Oh wow.
David: It’s great!
Fisher: Isn’t that fun? So, the album’s going back home. This was found in San Antonio, Texas and the album’s from Ohio, and nobody knows how it got down to San Antonio.
David: You know, I’ll tell you, eBay is an amazing thing for reconnecting and bringing things back. My own Historical Society, we just purchased for a little under $100 an account book from 1805, but it has countless people in it. But, the person also included their family record when all their kids were born, when they were born, when they were married, all written in the back of this account book.
David: So, it was the best $100 we spent. And now it’s a matter of how did “that” end up in Indiana?
Fisher: [Laughs] Right?
David: So, we get the same mystery in our way.
Fisher: Sure. Yeah.
David: You know, one of the things about mysteries and especially with houses, you never know what’s going to be found when a house is sold or some wall is torn down. But this next story on ExtremeGenes.com is regarding your own house history. For me, I was an 11-year-old finding bottles in my backyard. I went to our local historical society to find out who lived there, why did they put them there, and how old my house was? And that led me into my history career at an early age.
David: But even if your house is not 100 years old, have you ever researched the land, Fish? I mean, this is like amazing, like where you live. Have you gone back and said before there was a house, who may have been on that property or owned it back 100 years before or so?
Fisher: I do know because it was just basically used as farm land and we built our house that we’re currently in. And the house that I grew up in my parents built. So, I really haven’t lived in an old house. But I did have a buddy in Connecticut when I was growing up and we found a packet of Indian head pennies buried in his backyard.
David: That’s amazing.
Fisher: That was so fun.
David: Was that with the metal detector, it was just by pure luck by digging holes?
Fisher: Pure luck, pure luck. I just stumbled on it.
David: That’s great. Well, people find things all the time, and sometimes are given to a Paleogeneticist of the University of California. It’s usually hair of victims or hair of possible serial killers. Dr. Ed Green, who is out in Santa Cruz, California receives his packages form law enforcement all the time. And he’s helping identify who these people are by using hair but not with the root which is a real revolutionary thing because for the longest time we’ve already heard that hair’s of no use unless you have the root of it. He’s finding that’s not the case.
David: He actually helped in 2010 with the sequencing of the entire Neanderthal genome from shaft to bone. It was 38,000 years old.
Fisher: Oh wow. That’s a smart guy.
David: Well, that’s about all I have for this week from NEHGS in Boston. But if you’d like to become a member of American Ancestors, you can always save $20 by using the coupon code “Extreme” on your online checkout at AmericanAncestors.org
Fisher: All right David. Thanks so much. Talk to you again later in the show as we do our “Ask Us Anything” segment. And coming up next, Relative Race is back on BYUtv for season 6 and we’re going to talk to the host in studio, Dan Debenham next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 301
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dan Debenham
Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And that season has arrived once again, Relative Race on BYUtv and the host is here with me in the studio today, Dan Debenham. How are you Dan? Good to see you.
Dan: I’m good. Did you say radio roots sleuth?
Fisher: That is me. Yes.
Dan: Wow. I’m impressed. Say that five times real fast. That’s tough.
Fisher: [Laughs] I’ve had a lot of practice!
Dan: That’s impressive.
Fisher: 300 previous episodes. You know how that goes.
Dan: I love it. We’ve only had 60 episodes of Relative Race.
Dan: With the most recent ten episodes that just got underway.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m excited about this because in season 6 we got a whole new group of teams. Let’s explain the show to people who are not familiar with it. Because I know anybody who follows Extreme Genes, they’ve probably heard of it but maybe don’t know how it works. And you created this.
Dan: That’s a great point. Yeah we did. We were asked to create a show that could demonstrate in a very compelling, dramatic, wonderfully entertaining manner what DNA could do for someone who is trying to find family. And so our show is ten episodes featuring ten days of racing. We choose four teams, four couples. We fly them out to an undisclosed location. We take away all of their technology, everything.
Fisher: I’m shaking just thinking of it. How could it be?
Dan: It’s true. Smart phones, Bluetooth, everything’s gone. We give them old fashioned flip-phones and paper maps. We give them identical cars and then we provide them with clues every day. And as they follow those clues, they arrive in a different city every day and ultimately, on someone’s doorstep. When they arrive at that doorstop their clock stops. Now they’ve been timed from the time that they got their first text in the morning to the moment when they arrived on that doorstep. After the clock stops, the door opens up, they look up at somebody in the door, a complete stranger, and say, “Are you my relative?” Typically, as a result of our research, that person in the door says, “I am.” And then the obvious follow up, “Well, how are we related?” And that person on the doorstep is typically saying, “I’m related to you Scott, and I’m your brother, or, I am your father, or, I am your mother.” And it’s really beautiful. It’s amazing. It’s interesting. It’s fun. It’s compelling. It’s dramatic. It’s humorous.
Fisher: It’s competitive.
Dan: It is competitive.
Fisher: Sometimes some of these teams you know, I think they start out sometimes thinking oh, I can win $50,000.
Dan: It’s a good point.
Fisher: We haven’t even gotten to that point yet, but they’re all about beating the other team and then suddenly they’re finding out oh no, no, no that isn’t what this is about.
Dan: And that’s what you’re going to find in this most recent season that started just last week. You’re going to find the teams coming together in a way that we have never seen before. So, every single night we wind up in a video conference call and the host of the show, which is me in this case, has all four of the teams in different locations streaming video back to my computer. They can all see each other and they can all see me, and I can see all of them. And you will find as every episode continues over the next nine weeks, you’re going to see that they are more and more supporting each other in various ways. And you’ll see it in a very real visual manner during those video conference calls every night, which is at the end of every episode. Each day, everyone has a different allotted time, because they’re all going to different cities. But if you go over your allotted time the most, you receive a strike. Three strikes and you’re out of the race.
Dan: But if you make it all the way to day ten and then finish in first place on day 10, you pick up $50,000. So, you would think there’s this great competition, but as you noted, more and more they are actually rooting for each other because they’re all looking for family. And they’re affected by others finding key members of their family each and every day.
Fisher: And it is amazing. I think these folks represent a lot of people that we all run into in our lives, right? And as genealogists or family history researchers, how many of us have helped friends find their birth parents, or find a parent’s birth parents, or connect to connect to a line, or even go through the travesty of finding a parent wasn’t your parent and finding out the truth. I mean, there’s so much drama in everyday life, and I think all of these different couples, these teams, represent the same thing that all of us deal with on a regular basis. It is dramatic, it is fun, but it’s all life changing.
Dan: Agreed completely.
Fisher: Every season you’ve done has changed lives.
Dan: Yeah absolutely. And in fact, we are now for the first time going back over the past six seasons and we’re revisiting key couples throughout the past six seasons to see how their lives have changed since they were on the show.
Fisher: Wow! What a great idea, a great follow-up. So, now you’re in season 6, what is new in this season that you’ve never done before?
Dan: I can tell you that for the first time all four of our teams are searching for parents, for birth parents. That’s never happened before.
Fisher: Oh wow. No. Uh-uh.
Dan: Their stories, their back stories, their purpose for being on the show has varied over the past seasons, but this time for the first time at least one member of each team is looking for parents. And so it’s really going to be interesting to see if we’re able to find them, if they’re able to discover them. Team Green is the DeShae and Chris and they’re from Louisiana. Team Blue this year is Paul and Anitra. I got to tell you, he is hilarious. He’s a psychologist and he plays mind games with his wife, and she ain’t having none of that. She gets on to him.
Dan: They’re from North Carolina. Team Red, Raymond and Nicole, they’re from Maryland. And then Team Black J.D. and Jenn are from Utah. And so it’s really going to be interesting to watch these teams. They’re a little older than past seasons, but their stories are so compelling.
Fisher: So, do you think the birth parents theme basically, with this show has to do with why these people are so supportive of one another? Because every person I’ve ever dealt with and helping them with DNA analysis and connecting with their birth families, often they’ll start out saying, “This is impossible. We can never do it.” Then I’ll say, “On no, it’s entirely possible. We can do it in an hour.” And they go, “Oh no, no, no.” Sometimes I’ve had people say, “Oh, and it’s not going to really make a big difference in my life. My family is my family.” Which they are, but when they get that information, when they make that connection, it’s inevitable that they’ll admit yes, this is life changing. And part of it is this is a way they psychologically protect themselves against disappointment.
Dan: Sure. You know, that harkens me back to I think it was season three, when we had Michael and Dillon, a father and son team from North Carolina. Michael was in his late 40s. He was adopted at birth. Both of his adopted parents passed away by the time he was a teenager, by the time he was 13 years old. And so, when we did our back story, I think his comment that was used in his back story is the most telling, almost chilling, but certainly the most revelatory comment we’ve ever had, as this grown man looks into our camera, and he said his purpose for being on the show, as his lips started to tremble in emotion, he said, “I just want to know if there’s anybody out there that actually loves me.” You think about that.
Dan: Yeah. That’s all he wanted to know. Is there somebody out there that loves me? And his journey was life changing. And he’s one of the teams that we’re going back to revisit.
Dan: But that’s what this show is about.
Dan: It’s about changing your life forever.
Fisher: So, moving forward now Dan, how does your team put these themes together, these ideas together, okay, this season we’re going to do this, this season we’re going to change that? Take us inside your creative team meeting and how that came up.
Dan: [Laughs] We’ve had people say, “That should be a reality show” behind the scenes at Lens Works Productions creating Relative Race.
Dan: We do have a theme each season. It’s a loose theme. This season the theme is on racing. The name of the show is Relative Race, and so our theme is racing. We start as you saw at Virginia International Race Way, and yours truly is racing down a track and they race around the track, and then you’ll see what happens as they get to day ten. I’m certainly not going to give that away. But on day ten I will tell you that there is some intense racing taking place.
Fisher: And yet there’s no speeding allowed.
Dan: Yeah there’s no speeding. There was at Virginia International Race Way and there is on day ten.
Dan: So if that doesn’t peak your interest. You’re correct, when they’re out trying to their family, they cannot break any traffic laws.
Dan: In fact, if they do they’ll receive a strike. But on day 1 and day 10, yeah the rules are off because they’re not on a public roadway. And so yeah, we’re racing on both those days. It’s fun. It was fun.
Fisher: Did you notice how Dan avoided the question about how they came up with this stuff?
Dan: Well, every season it’s a challenge. It is driven by what locations can we start and finish at. That even is determined by what is our weather going to be. I mean, we have to take in all of these things. And when we cast the four couples, is there something that we think, a theme that would be fun for them to tackle and challenge, and try to pull from day one to day ten? But again, this season is all about using the word “race’ and using it in a very real manner on days one and day ten.
Fisher: Okay. Now, we’ve got to let everybody know that the time has changed this year.
Dan: That’s a good point.
Fisher: It is Sunday nights, still Sunday nights, moved up 8 o’clock Eastern Time, 7 o’clock Central, 6 o’clock Mountain Time and 5 o’clock Pacific Time.
Dan: I’m not sure why the network has made that change. I’m sure it’s for the best of our viewers and for the show.
Fisher: That’s because you’ve won all these awards.
Dan: You know, we’ve been very lucky.
Fisher: So you can watch it on BYUtv. You can follow it on the BYUtv app. You can stream it with BYUtv.org. You can go to RelativeRace.com. I mean, there’s so many different places. And of course, follow it on Hulu and all those places.
Dan: Basically, if you have electricity and a screen, you should be able to watch this in some way, shape, or form. [Laughs]
Fisher: It’s season 6 of Relative Race with Dan Debenham the host.
Dan: I love it!
Fisher: And I’m excited it’s back on BYUtv. Thanks for coming in Dan.
Dan: You bet. Relative Race rolls on.
Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Steve Anderson. And Steve is the guy that probably came up with the most incredible story we have ever had in the history of Extreme Genes over six years. He’s written a book about the experience, and you’re going to want to hear everything he has to say. He’ll give you a review of what happened as well. That’s on the way coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 301
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Steve Anderson
Fisher: And we are back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. I am so pleased to have back on the show again today my good friend Steve Anderson. Now, if you’re a long time listener to Extreme Genes you may remember back in Episode 100, a nice round number. [Laughs] Steve came on and told us his remarkable story. He’s a member of a family with 9 kids and started to discover that dad wasn’t dad. Dad wasn’t dad to any of them. In fact, there were many different dads to all of them and what a story it was. Now, there’s a new development in this and we thought we’d get Steve back on the show to talk about it. How are you Steve?
Steve: I’m doing great, Scott. How are you doing?
Fisher: Awesome. It’s been a while here. I’m thinking we talked in 2015 for the first time and you revealed this story because at that point DNA was becoming kind of a big thing.
Fisher: I want to give a brief revision of this story because I know a lot of people maybe weren’t listening to Extreme Genes back at that time. Of course they can go back and find it and hear you tell the whole story because it was just unbelievable then and it’s just as unbelievable now. You had nine kids in the family from Minnesota, that’s where you grew up, in a farming community. Just give us the brief rundown of this.
Steve: Sure. We just wanted to find out through DNA who was related to who because of some stories we heard when we were growing up, and we started to do some research using DNA and thought that we might find one of two of my siblings who were not related to our father. Over the course of doing the research we found out that none of us 9 children were related to our dad. Although, he had never said a word about it, never told us anything that would give us the idea that he wasn’t our dad or who the dads were if we found out that. In the course of about two or three years the DNA testing on all the children, we found out that three of them have the same dad, and then another two, myself and my younger brother have the same dad but none of them were the dad that raised us.
Fisher: And then there were four others in the middle, each fathered by a different father.
Steve: Right, right.
Fisher: So, originally I remember you were thinking there were 9 children, 8 different dads and I think since then you’ve gotten a little more refined with the DNA and you’re down to 6 different dads but none of them your father.
Steve: Right. Once we found out who wasn’t related to the dad that raised us then the mission became, okay, who are the real dads? We started working with Ancestry DNA to see if we could get some matches out of their database and we were able to locate the fathers of all but two of them and we know who those two fathers are. We just have not been able to cap into that.
Fisher: Okay. I remember at the time when you came on, I was encouraging you to come on the show and you were really hesitant about that, and then you got on the show and we were talking about the potential of writing a book and you’ve done it. I’m very excited about this. It’s called, A Broken Tree: How DNA Exposed a Family’s Secrets. Steve, this is a great accomplishment and I’m really excited for you that you’ve been able to do this.
Steve: Well, it’s been a lot of fun to do it but it’s also been good therapy. It started out as just keeping a lot of journal entries. It was a lot cheaper than going to see a therapist every week for three years.
Fisher: [Laughs] Right.
Steve: After about two or three years, I’ve been reading those and thought, you know, this really would make a fascinating book. I talked to a few people about it and they kept saying, Steve, you need to write a book. You need to write a book.
Steve: So, I finally sat down and did it.
Fisher: I’m so proud of you and I’m very appreciative by the way, you mentioned Extreme Genes in there, as you’ve been on a couple of times about this because there have always been new developments and we like to keep up with that.
Fisher: So tell me now, over the years, we started talking about this in 2015, you were concerned about siblings and you wanted to make sure that they were all ready to handle the information that you and your brother developed as this started. How’s everybody doing? How are all the siblings doing with this?
Steve: Some better than others. I think our generation the nine of us are too close to it. The nieces and nephews all think this is a great story.
Steve: They’re not at all upset. They’re not at all concerned. In fact, they’re quite grateful to know what their real DNA is. So that if we have issues they can be climbing up the right DNA tree and not some other one somewhere.
Steve: But, we’ve had a couple of siblings that really don’t want anything to do with this. Don’t want to read the book. The rest of them, they tolerate me doing this and have been interested in finding out what the truth is.
Fisher: Right. And I remember you confronted your mom who was in her 90s at that time.
Fisher: Did you find that most of the information she shared with you about the various fathers has turned out to be accurate?
Steve: [Laughs] Well, we found that about twenty percent of it was accurate.
Fisher: Oh, boy.
Steve: Now, given that she was 90 years old, her mind was really quite sharp even at 90. But, it had been half a century or longer since she had these experiences, so I don’t know how much of it was just forgetfulness and how much of it was, you’re not going to get the truth from me.
Fisher: [Laughs] Well, maybe she thought she could hide it, of course in this day and age it’s really hard to hide a secret quite like this one.
Steve: She learned that.
Fisher: How much longer after you confronted her did she live?
Steve: She lived another three years. She died at 93.
Fisher: Okay. And how did this affect her relationships with everybody?
Steve: Well, the people that were close to her I think were very careful not to let this drive a wedge between them and her. Some of the kids really didn’t want to be a part of her life just because of a lot of issues from childhood and through the years. So, I think as far as my mom was concerned, it wasn’t a dramatic change. I think emotionally inside each one of us, yeah it was a big deal. I know for me, I was always really close to her but after this there was this sense of betrayal and it was really hard to talk to her every Sunday night. Every Sunday night I’d call her and see how she’s doing. It was kind of like, now I was talking to a little more of a stranger than my dear mother.
Fisher: Yeah. I’m sure that’s absolutely true. So, have any of your siblings or yourself actually had any contact with one of the birth fathers or their families?
Steve: Well, the birth fathers are gone now.
Steve: But, interesting enough the last one to know the truth about what we were doing, we were able to make contact with her father’s daughter, a half-sister.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Steve: Actually, that was kind of an accident, but it was a good accident.
Fisher: Wait a minute, how does an accident like that happen Steve?
Steve: [Laughs] I was calling up people trying to locate a relative of my sister’s biological father. After a couple of phone calls and you go see this person, go talk to this one. I finally got hold of a woman and I was explaining what I was doing and I said, when I find this woman that is supposed to be this person’s daughter, I want to explain to her that her father had another child and he had a half sister and I’d like to introduce them to each other. She said, “Oh, by the way, you’re talking about my dad. I am the sister.”
Fisher: Oh, wow.
Steve: I thought that this was only one more thing to finding that sister.
Fisher: Has that worked out well, the relationship?
Steve: Well, the sister is 73 years old and then my sister I believe was about 70. So, yeah it turned out pretty good. I think it was good for both my sister and her to find out about this but I still think at this age, this half sister is just not sure she wants pursue this too far.
Fisher: Sure, of course.
Steve: So, they text each other and email each other but I don’t think at this point there’s an interest in meeting each other.
Fisher: I see. Well, it’s just incredible and once again if people want to hear Steve tell the entire story at the beginning, it’s Episode 100 of Extreme Genes. You can find it on iTunes, iHeartRadio, and of course through ExtremeGenes.com. The book is, “A Broken Tree: How DNA Exposed a Family’s Secrets.” The author is my guest Steve Anderson. It’s from Rowman and Littlefield and it’s coming out October 7th, Walmart, Target, Barns& Noble, Amazon, all over the place.
Steve: Yeah, it won’t be hard to find.
Fisher: Steve thanks again for staying in touch and keeping us informed on this most unusual story.
Steve: Thank you. I enjoyed this very much.
Fisher: And up next, David is back with your questions for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 301
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: And it is time for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here along with David Allen Lambert, the chief genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, we have an email from Tracy in Pensacola, Florida and she's asking about letters of administration. She says, "Guys, I've received the letters of administration from my great grandfather and it certainly doesn't tell me much. Is there anything more I should look for?"
David: I mean, letters of administration are great, because they usually get you that petition citation decree, so it usually leaves out all of the heirs. That's more of a formalized document, you see in the 19th century, not so much earlier, but it’s amazing how many probate files people look at that are just in the record books, and they don't look for the probate docket.
Fisher: There you go.
David: The file papers that are rolled up. And that's the thing that you need to look for. Like, I’ll give you an example. So, if I wrote a will today, which I probably should anyways, I would leave to my wife and to my siblings and obviously to my children. Now, both of my daughters are unmarried and hopefully I'll live another 50 years or somewhere near that, and by then, if they're married, their surname may change. But in the old days when you did that, you would just have, "I leave to my daughter, Elizabeth, I leave to my daughter Hannah, to my daughter, Mary." and that's it. And if you look in the court record books that's all you're going to get. So you assume that they got their portion. If you look for the file papers, they have these little receipts generally that say, "I've received my portion from my father's estate." And they make their mark and they sign their name and it usually is the name that they're married under, so therefore connecting generations.
Fisher: Now this would be the same then for letters of administration. Just for people who don't know, letter of administration is basically when somebody dies without a will.
Fisher: And typically the letter itself just says who was assigned to be the administrator and I think that's what Tracy is talking about here.
David: Right, exactly, the intestate probate of which the person died without leaving a will for whatever reason, but they have the heirs that would be the people getting the estate. And in the case of her, she may have got just a record book page which would list them. But if you get to the file papers, and even not just the receipt signed by the kids getting their portion, you also get receipts for digging the grave, tolling the bell, whatever the case might be. Any receipts that were applicable to be debited against the estate itself.
David: That's what you're going to find in there, it’s great stuff.
Fisher: Well, the petitions for administration are fantastic, because it does name everybody involved and you get signatures on that and addresses. And I will tell you that a few years ago when I first learned about that in New York and of course it’s different everywhere, that's the thing you've got to be aware of. When I got a hold of the petition for administration of my second great grandmother's estate, it was signed by my great grandmother. I'd never seen a signature of her before. And then when I found the petition for administration of my great grandmother's estate, it had all of her three children listed there and one son who was from her first marriage, his name was James Moore. And in New York City, finding a James Moore is like finding John Smith. I mean, there's just a gazillion of them. And it gave his address and fortunately it was right before a census year, so I was able to place him in a family.
David: Oh wow!
Fisher: By the way, he married a girl names Moore, so that made it even further complicated.
Fisher: But because of this now, I was able to follow his family, his occupation, get him over into New Jersey when he moved. Now I have a photo of his grave and I've got his obituary, because I was able to identify the right person, because of this petition for administration.
David: When I did heir searching years ago, that would be the key document you'd want to find. I mean, it would be nice to list the will, but in the 19th and 20th century, those petitions citation decrees listing the heirs of law often said again where they're living.
Fisher: There you go. So hopefully that answers your question, Tracy. And I think we've got a lot more we can talk about these petitions for administration, David, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 301
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: We are back with Ask Us Anything part 2 on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert. And David, continuing this conversation we just had about probate and petitions for administration and wills, I think there are a lot of things that are really hard to figure out sometimes. For instance, people who died without probate, you know, what is there ultimately to find if they didn't have petitions for administration or a will?
David: Well, my third great grandfather, Henry Poor, dies 1853, doesn't have a will. So his widow stays on the house. She's on the state census of 1855. She dies in 1858. She has no will, but there's a deed and it’s the estate of Henry and Martha Poor. And the grand tour who’s selling it are all of their children and step children. And that is the petition citation decree, but it’s not through a probate. This real estate transaction is all I have for them. I don't know how many personal items he had or the trunks or pictures or whatever you might find in an inventory. He didn't leave that will. So, sometimes you need to look at land records. And in the case of your ancestry, I mean, a simple thing, the census, the 19th century census will usually tell you after 1850 whether they were in a house. If they're owning or renting, you'll find that in the latest censuses and sometimes that cash value of the personal in real estate of the person.
Fisher: Right. And then if you've got that, then you know that there's probably something that's going to show the sale of those assets or the transfer, right? I mean, what if somebody dies and they leave it or their child takes over?
David: And that's the case of my great, great grandfather who I couldn't find a birth record for the longest time, still haven't, but I did find a deed for his father, selling for love and affection to his son, the property they held in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.
David: So that connection is backed out of a different county completely. And then when my great, great grandfather does this, he is still alive conveying it and there is no will. So sometimes the conveyances are while the person is alive, and it will say, you know, "sold for a dollar" or "love and affection" or "given to my child", "our children".
Fisher: So the idea is, he wants to distribute the stuff before he dies. And so really, there's no reason for any record to exist.
Fisher: And so, we're talking about censuses of what, 1850, 1860, 1870 and maybe '80 to give us some clues?
David: Right, exactly. Look at all of those censuses, then you get into, you know, the owning and renting of the 1900, the 1910, the '20 depending on how far down you have to go.
Fisher: Boy, there's so much when it comes to probate, isn't there?
David: It really is.
Fisher: I mean when people die. [Laughs]
David: It looks like an onion. It’s like people think, birth, marriage and death, okay. But then you have them peel that back a little bit more, now you have probate and you've got deeds and then you pull it back again and you can get church, then you get newspapers. Then you get associations that they may have joined, the military records. So people think it’s just kind of dry, birth, marriage and death. No, there's more than just that dash and a gravestone and there's so many records to be found, even if you dealing with somebody from the 17th century, let alone the 20th century.
Fisher: Wow, yeah! And like I mentioned, you know, that petition for administration gave me a clue for something I'd be looking for, for years and it resulted in me finding my half great uncle and where he went and getting his obituary and where he died just because of that.
David: Well, and that's true. So you just never know what clue will turn up, because absolutely one clue leads to finding something else, as you had to do for your relative. You found out where he lived and then found the census. So it’s a never ending story, truly is, genealogy.
Fisher: It’s Ask Us Anything, and if you have a question for us for this segment, all you have to do is email us at [email protected]. David, as always great to talk to you. Catch you again next week.
David: All right, see you later my friend.
Fisher: We have come to the conclusion of another episode of Extreme Genes. Thank once again for coming along for the ride. Thanks to our guests Steve Anderson and Dan Debenham of course from Relative Race, because the show has started once again. Hey, if you haven't signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, make sure you do so. You can do it through ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. It’s absolutely free with all kinds of assets for you. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!