Episode 306 - Hear About The Million Letters Campaign / Letters From The War FrontNov 17, 2019
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fresh back from RootsTech London, David fills us in on the experience and fresh announcements from the Big Three at the conference. In Family Histoire News, David talks about a recent article that expresses concerns about GEDMatch and how foreign powers might use it to their advantage. Then, it’s word of the passing of the oldest surviving Iwo Jima survivor. Hear who he was and how old he was. Next, Vancouver, Canada has a space problem. For the dead, that is. But they have a solution! Wait until you hear what it is.
Fisher then begins his two part visit with Andrew Carroll, the man behind the Million Letters Campaign. Andrew started this in the 1990s and the collection is now up to over 130,000 letters of military people writing home from the front in every war since the Revolution to modern times. Andrew explains how it started and shares content from a couple of his favorite letters. Fisher even has a letter with content that surprises Andrew.
David Lambert returns to wrap up the show with Ask Us Anything. David answers a question from an English listener about DNA results from Ohio. David’s possible solution to the curious result may surprise you. Then, David talks about prison records of relatives and ancestors. Where can you find them and what can they reveal?
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript for Episode 306
Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 306
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. And this episode is brought to you by BYUtv’s Relative Race. Season 6 is happening right now. What an episode just aired this past week! You’ve got to see it if you haven’t streamed it. We’ve got another one coming up Sunday night. And it is so good to have you along! Boy, we’ve got a great interview coming up. We touched on this last week a little bit, “The Million Letter Project.” The guy who started collecting a few letters that had been written by soldiers in the field and all the different wars of America, and now has collections over like a 130,000. And what has happened with that? We’re going to talk to Andrew Carroll about his project, how you can participate in it, where you can look into what he’s got in his collection. All coming up in about ten minutes in two parts. It’s going to be really good. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, please do so. You could do it through our website ExtremeGenes.com or through our Facebook page. You get a blog from me each week, plus links to current and past shows and of course, links to stories that you will appreciate as a genealogist. And look who should appear, in my ear, direct from RootsTech London. Where have you been all my life? It’s David Allen Lambert.
David: Hey, how are you Fish? It’s great to be here.
Fisher: It is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historical Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Well, it’s great to have you back, first of all. Have you gotten your sleep readjusted?
David: Aye, every time zone is a different day. [Laughs]
David:And then I got to have daylight saving time in the UK, now in America. It’s great.
Fisher:Right. It is a little bit different. So, you gave a lecture over there?
David:I did. I gave a lecture on how to use social media to create family reunions. So, we’re using cameras to bring those people who can’t get to a family reunion, creating these groups online on Facebook that you can collect photos, share stories, pop up that picture that you don’t know who’s in it. Well, maybe the other 37 cousins can help you, and you have to wait for that family reunion. Have one every week.
David:They had 7000 people every sec, but that didn’t compare to what was down the hall.
David:I got to see Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Spiderman.
David:175,000 participants of Comic Con London.
Fisher:And did any of those superheroes come in to one of your lectures?
David: I was hoping.
David:It was all right.
Fisher:So, did you find some Extreme Genes listeners there?
David:I did actually. In fact, I met a listener from Slovenia
David:And a very nice listener from Sweden named Linda Kivist. And Linda, hello from Extreme Genes studio. I told you I’d give you a shout out.
Fisher:Oh, there you go. And I have ancestry from Sweden. I’m three eights Swedish.
David:So, I could have met your cousin
Fisher:Could have been.
David:And I did actually meet my cousin at RootsTech. I got to give a membership to Donny Osmond who was our keynote. We share a Colonial New England Ministry. It was a great conference. I’ve met people from all around the world and again, people that listen to Extreme Genes.
Fisher:What else did you learn there? What news did you bring back?
David:Well, you know, the big news really is Ancestry‘s announcement in regard to going to France and copying our church records, so that’s going to be a big thing. And that’s also a new company on the horizon for Americans. It already exists in the UK and it’s called nameandplace.co.uk. So, what they do is there’s Guild of One-Name Studies, but this place-name deals with a location. So, if it’s a town you grew up in, or maybe it’s a place your ancestors came from, they collaborate with you to create a webpage, and give you all the building blocks and you fill in the information. So essentially, you’re doing something for the greater good of your community and for somebody who might have ancestors from there.
David:Yeah, so that’s a good one.
Fisher:Well, let’s get to our Family Histoire News then David. Where do you want to start?
David:Well, DNA is always one of those subjects that becomes controversial on technology review. This story talks about GedMatch being a national security risk, saying that possibly the DNA can be extracted by Russia or China to identify our spies, or perhaps even our diplomats or better yet, it may allow them to create fake accounts that claim they are long lost relatives.
Fisher:Wow! That would be a weird thing, wouldn’t it?
David:It really would.
David:I don’t know about you, but if this long-lost relative wants to give me money I’m more than happy to accept it.
Fisher:[Laughs] There you go. Well, you know, there are risks when it comes to DNA, and we have to be aware of those things. And we do talk about it on Extreme Genes now and again, but we are about, obviously, techniques and tools for genealogy and we’ve seen much success with it, but we do need to be aware, and take into consideration possibilities, right?
David:And they do warn us nothing in this world is a hundred percent secure. And I don’t know about you, but as a genealogist I’m willing to take that risk to find the potential connection that paper trails won’t find for us.
Fisher:And I’ve seen far more good come from it than bad.
David:Exactly. Well, our next story is about a 103-year-old gentleman who passed away. He was the oldest survivor from the Battle of Iwo Jima. In February 1945, John Moon was a 27-year-old veteran from the Chicago area, and he went out. He later went on to live a very happy and healthy life. He went on to have many jobs including running two restaurants, worked as a carpenter and a driver and even was a life insurance salesman.
David:But he became a viral sensation because he was a very spry centenarian and being a marine, was up there talking with a lot of the marine groups and veterans’ groups. So, sadly we’ve lost another of the greatest generation.
Fisher:Wouldn’t that have been a great kick for a lot of these young marines to meet a man like that?
David:I hope that many of our marines and other service people get to look through that century mark and pass on their stories to the next generation of veterans.
David: You know, as we look towards our life, there’s an end chapter and in Vancouver, you can now opt in to be three family members deep in a grave plot. Yes, that means three for the price of one. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] Well, they have a space problem up there.
Fisher:And so, the government, the local government there said well, we’ve got to do something about this. So, they’ve passed the law that allows you to put three people deep. You have to opt-in before you take your final trip.
Fisher:What’s funny is though, some experts are comparing this to like Lift and Uber that you share the ride, except you’ve already arrived at your final destination.
David:That’s true, and that final destination is recorded on BillionGraves and Find a Grave for you conveniently.
Fisher: [Laughs] Exactly.
Fisher:And you don’t have to be related, by the way.
David: Well, that’s about all I have for Family Histoire News, and it’s delightful to be in the studio with you once again. Don’t forget, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors, you can do so and save $20 by using our coupon code “Extreme.” Catch you around on the flip-side.
Fisher: All right David, thank you so much Great to see you! Of course, you’re coming back in a little bit because we’re going to do another round of “Ask Us Anything.”
David: All right, I’ll be here.
Fisher: All right and coming up next I’m going to talk to Andrew Carroll. He is the director of the “Million Letter Project.” Yeah, he wants to gather a million letters written from the battlefronts of all the American wars. It’s an amazing story. It’s coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 306
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Andrew Carroll
Fisher: Welcome back. It is America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and I got to tell you, I got a big kick out of reading this article that we’ve got linked to on our website ExtremeGenes.com. It’s from Smithsonian, and it’s an article about my next guest. His name is Andrew Carroll. He’s based in the Washington D.C. area. And Andrew, welcome to Extreme Genes. Great to have you!
Andrew: It is great to be with you.
Fisher: And you know, your story is just amazing because like many of us who get interested in family history and the histories of our families, there’s so much overlap into history in general as well, but you started with a family history story. Were you in your teens when you got your first war letters?
Andrew: Oh no. No. Here’s the thing. I hated history.
Fisher: [Laughs] Me too.
Andrew: I had no interest in any kind of genealogy and that sort of thing.
Andrew: I was an English major in college, and during my sophomore year our family’s house in Washing D.C, which is where I’m from, burnt to the ground.
Andrew: And it was right about this period. It was coming into the holidays and so forth, and nobody was hurt which is the most important thing. My dad was in the house. I was at the college in New York but he got out alive. Our little pet cat got out, which was caught. We were thrilled by it and all that, but everything went up in smoke. And it was losing all of that family memorabilia that I had taken for granted that really kind of sparked this interest in wanting to learn more about you know, family history. But the two big things that happened were first, a distant cousin of mine who served in the World War II heard about the fire through the family grapevine. His name was James Cole Jordan. He called to see how we were doing. And I said, “Well Jim, you know, everyone’s okay but we’ve lost our letters, our photos all that great memorabilia.” And he said, “You know, it’s interesting you say that because I was just going through my old World War II footlocker.” And you know this was decades after the war.
Andrew: “And I came across a letter that I completely forgot I had written, and I’ll send it to you.” So, I get in the mail this three-page onion skin, you know, on the original paper description to his wife. He’s 23-years old. He’s in Europe. It’s the end of the war. It’s April 1945 and it starts, “Dear Betty Anne, I saw something today that makes me realize why we’re over here fighting this war.” And he went into graphic detail about walking through the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.
Andrew: And how traumatized he was by what he had seen. Because the camp had just been liberated so people were still dying because even though the American medics and other people were trying to help them, you know they were so malnourished and disease and all that they were dying in front of them.
Andrew: So, this is a really… for a 23-year old that’s a young man really impacted by this. So, I called him back and I said, “Jim, this is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever read.” And I said, “Of course I’ll return it to you.” And he said, “You know, just keep it. I probably would have thrown it out anyway.”
Andrew: And the story that I don’t often tell people what the real follow up to this was. I was at a Christmas party talking to this very attractive young woman and I was telling her about the fire and then my cousin’s letter. And she says, “You know what? That’s really incredible because my grandfather and grandmother just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. And my grandfather pulled out of his pocket and read aloud a letter that he wrote when he was also 23-years old, also serving World War II.” And as it turned out, the two guys were both from Ohio. They didn’t know each other but it’s just interesting all the similarities.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Andrew: And he was literally writing from like a foxhole as mortars are flying overhead. And he’s just describing to his brother and his father what he was going through as a forward observer, which is a very dangerous position.
Fisher: Oh sure. That’s kind of like being the point man, right?
Andrew: You’re almost behind the enemy seeking out stuff.
Andrew: And he started out the letter by saying, “Don’t tell mom or Shirley” who was his new wife, “what I’m about to tell you. They think I’m kind of in the back you know, out of harm’s way.” So, he goes on to describe again what he was going through. And then so what Anne, my dear friend, said to me was, “I never knew this side of my grandfather. He never talked about his war experiences. And here we have this letter about the life and death circumstances under which he was living.
Fisher: Isn’t that exciting? And you know, I’ve gone through this too. My mother was born in 1924. And she was a member of a large family with a lot of sons. And three of them were involved in World War II. And as I read your article, I started thinking about this. I’ve got one who was in the navy, who was in the Atlantic side of the Atlantic Theater, and in the attack on Italy and Sicily. And then, another one who was on the Pacific side, and his ship was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer
Andrew: Oh my gosh.
Fisher: And they barely survived that one. And then another one, the youngest one who got injured in training down in Alabama, and felt embarrassed about it because of his older brothers and everything. So, I got letters about all these different things. And I was actually thinking, you know, it would be great to take this and write about my Olsen family relatives in World War II. And tell their stories through their letters back and forth and the things that I’d heard, things that we can find online as well and put a family story together about that because I think it would just be incredible,
Andrew: And I’m sure that there are so many families out there doing that. And I encourage those who are, you know, go to the attic, go to the basement or wherever you keep those old, you know, boxes full. Like my father just passed recently, so we were going through his belongings and coming across stuff that we really wish we could have asked him about. Because it was like, wait, where was this picture taken or wait, why do you have this letter from a president of the United States, you know, or being photographed with someone.
Andrew: Talking to Anne about her grandfather’s letters and seeing my cousin’s letters sort of inspired me to reach out and talk to more veterans about what do you do with your old correspondences? And just so word of mouth you know, the teachers or coaches or whatever neighbors who were veterans, I started getting maybe a dozen or so letters and it was about a hundred letters. And at that point I realized, you know, this could really turn into an initiative. So, I started what was called “The Legacy Project” back in 1998, so I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years.
Fisher: Oh wow.
Andrew: And the point was because I used the word legacy because I wanted to preserve the legacy of our troops, our veterans and their families.
Andrew: And on a whim I wrote to Dear Abby. Now again, this is 20 years ago when people read newspapers and you know, it was widely circulated.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.
Andrew: And she agreed to write a column about the Legacy Project and encouraged Americans if they had a war letter to send to a little post office box that I had set up in Washington. And it ran on Veterans Day 1998, and about three days later the post office called and they were furious. And they were like, “You have to get down here now and start picking up your mail.”
Andrew: And I just got the cheapest little box they had. Bins and bins and bins of letters were coming in.
Andrew: And that was the genesis of all this and I had no intention of doing, you know, a book. We since then have two New York Times bestsellers,and I only say it, because the letters are so amazing.
Andrew:Jumping ahead a little bit. We did a book and documentaries and I had a master collection of about 100,000 war letters from every conflict in US history!
Fisher: That’s nuts.
Andrew: We have original handwritten letters from the Revolution up to emails, you know, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I realized, and I was doing this as kind of a one-man operation. I really need to donate this collection somewhere.
Andrew: And so, long story short, a theater professor at Chapman University, which is actually where I’m talking from, I’m out in California right now, called to say, “You know, you’ve got a really good theater program here. I’ve read about your project. I’ve read some of the letters. I think it could be a play. So, sure enough, I came out here. We workshopped a script. It has since gone to the Kennedy Center. It has gone to, really, you know, prestigious venues across the country. We’ve had Annette Bening and Gary Cole, and Laura Dern and Carmen and really great actors being a part of this. So, it’s kind of exploded.
Andrew:But the point is, when I came out to Chapman just to work on this play, I fell in love with the university. And so, I spoke to the then president Jim Doti, and I said, “Hey, listen I will give you the entire collection for free, but I just want a promise that you guys will kind of expand it you know, long after I’m gone and so forth. And he and then Chancellor, now President Daniele Struppa said, “Listen, we would love the collection and we will make a whole center out of it.” So, we in fact, changed the name of The Legacy Project to The Center for American War Letters. And so, I’m working as a director of it and it couldn’t be a better home. And it’s great because you have your high-tech archives and all that and we’re still getting hundreds and hundreds of letters coming in and my goal is to get it up to at least a million.
Andrew: And every time I think we’ve exhausted a subject matter like love letters or combat letters, someone shares with me something I’ve never seen before. And that’s why I’m so passionate about this project because I know out there there’s still so many incredible letters. And we have teachers calling us saying we want to use these letters in our history classes or English classes because the kids are really connecting with them. And It’s just so great to see the project grow and expand.
Andrew: And again, for anyone out there who may have letters or you know, has a way of getting the word out to veterans, we have a very simple website, it’s just warletters.us. And even talking to you about the letters you have and how unusual they are, and I’d love to kind of hear more about that. I’m constantly surprised by what’s out there and how amazing they are.
Fisher: So, you said a hundred thousand letters, and you’re thinking there are obviously, millions more out there. There must be, right?
Andrew: Yeah, just take World War II alone.
Andrew: So, sixteen million Americans served in World War II. Now, if all of them just wrote one letter during the whole war…now I have a couple, again, this is one of many. We’re very fortunate to have her letters because we often lose the letters of the wives back in the earlier wars because they were obviously sending letters to their husbands overseas and the husbands can keep them, they throw them away, they burn them, whatever it might be. So, in this case the soldier was able to keep his wife’s letters. So, between the two of them we have two thousand letters. They wrote to each other every day for four years. And so, you know, just doing the math it’s roughly two thousand. And that’s one family.
Andrew: So, when I say one letter per sixteen million, I mean, that’s just one war and assuming someone wrote one letter, but we have people of course who wrote hundreds. I think it is actually a safe estimate when you take Vietnam and the Civil War and you know, all the conflicts we’ve been in that there are tens of millions of letters still out there waiting to be found.
Fisher: He’s Andrew Carroll and he’s been collecting these war letters from all over the place, from every war in history and is now making them available to other people, turning them into plays. I mean, this is an amazing thing. I’m sure people are wondering, Andrew, what did you go to college for?
Fisher: What was your career? Because you said, “Oh, I am just doing this all the time. I’m a director now. What did you train yourself for?
Andrew: Well, it’s really funny you say that because I’m working on a new book on passion and you know, sort of finding things that you are passionate about. And I actually wanted to become a professional tennis player.
Andrew: I was like hugely influenced by like McEnroe and Borg. That was my era.
Fisher: Right, right.
Andrew: I came across one slight problem. I wasn’t very good at it. So, I had to sort of rethink.
Andrew: When I was in college I actually started out as a philosophy major, and then I moved to English literature, which is what I really focused on. And I think I pretty much thought that I’d like to become a teacher.
Fisher: All right, we’re going to be back with more from Andy Carroll in five minutes talking about these war letters. We’ll give you some specific examples too, coming up on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 306
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Andrew Carroll
Fisher:And we are back, America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, talking to Andrew Carroll. He is the director of an amazing thing called “The Million Letter Campaign.” Now what is the university that this is now based at, Andrew?
Andrew: So, the campaign is part of what we call the Center for American War Letters.
Fisher: All right.
Andrew: And our whole purpose is to seek out and to archive war letters from all different conflicts and we’re based at Chapman University in Orange, California.
Fisher: Okay. During the break you were telling me a little about a couple of letters, one right from a guy who as on one of the ships at Pearl Harbor. Tell me about that.
Andrew: Oh, it’s just incredible. And the whole point is that these letters capture history like nothing else, because you have this front row perspective of what it’s like to be at these major events. And one of my favourite examples is a letter by a young fellow named William Czako and it starts out, “Dear Sis, it’s 9:05 am. We’ve been bombed for an hour now. I’m trapped here in the Forward Engine Room. I can hear men screaming over the intercom. People are rushing for their gas masks etc, etc.” You look at the upper right hand corner and it says December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor USS New Orleans.
Fisher: Ugh. Wow.
Andrew: So, fortunately, he survived, which is of course how we have the letter. But it’s just absolutely riveting. He actually goes on for 40 pages because it took that long before he was finally rescued.
Andrew: He wasn’t able to send the letter right away because they immediately imposed censorship, but he held onto it and then sent it to his sister about a year later. And the interesting thing about how that letter was found, that actually did not come from the family. A woman in Seattle moved into a new home, and as she was redecorating she found that letter kind of tucked between the headboards and sent it to us because she heard about the Center for American War Letters and sent us the letter.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Andrew: And just like another letter that is just so visually stunning and what I love is that even when I show this letter to elementary school kids their eyes get wide and they gasp.
Andrew: We have a letter written by another American soldier. He was at Anzio for the liberation of Italy and this is April 1944. He writes to his friend how a shell had dropped right next to him but didn’t explode. And so, he’s writing to his friend, “By the grace of God, I just barely missed being killed.” So, he finishes the letter and he puts it in his rucksack. Moments later he’s in battle, gets shot through the back. Now, he survived but the bullet hole is in dead center in the letter, and it’s just so visually stunning because you can see the burn marks of the bullet that pierced through this letter. And again, we reach audiences of all ages in veterans groups and military groups, and so forth. But I love talking with schools because you know the kids come in saying like oh, this is going to be some boring lecture about history.
Andrew: And then I start holding up these letters and they see the bullet hole letter and they see letters from the Civil War that are literally stained with mud and blood because it was taken off of a soldier at Chancellorsville.
Andrew: They come up and want to hold them and they want to see them. I think that’s what I love about this project is that we can really get a new generation interested in history.
Fisher: All right, now, you talked about some of the oldest going back to the Revolution, how did you get a hold of those and what years are we talking about? What do they talk about in there?
Andrew: So, we go from the Revolution to the present day. And this letter from the Revolution, I can’t remember how we acquired it because we’ve had it for several years, but it’s an original. The penmanship is beautiful. It’s a very powerful letter. So, it’s a young officer telling a friend of his why he had to enlist to fight, that they had to fight for liberty, they had to fight for freedom. And like so many letters in that time the wording is just so beautiful and so eloquent and one of the reasons is, and it’s the same with the Civil War, that the troops who were literate, and many were not, had all been raised with one book, the King James version of the Bible.
Andrew: That’s the reason why those letters and those errors tend to be more kind of florid and so forth because that’s the only kind of way they knew how to write.
Andrew: And then once you get to World War I, letters become more conversational. Then you get to Korean/Vietnam there’s no censorship. So, it’s really interesting to see how the letters change from war to war you know, based on the military restrictions and just sort of the cultural aspect as well.
Fisher: Yeah. Fascinating. That is absolutely amazing. I’ve got some World War I letters that a second cousin of my dad had and I inherited them from a distant cousin who passed away and had no family and I got all of it. It’s like, wow this is so much fun to read about going in the trenches, we’re going in on rotation you know, in World War I. They put them in the frontline and then pulled them back and people would rotate in. I got to think the anticipation of going in on rotation had to be just the most intense kind of anxiety you could ever have, you know?
Andrew: Yeah. And that’s why war letters really do stand out among all types of correspondences because it’s life or death.
Andrew: And so, the love letters are a little more intense, the philosophical letters where they’re talking about human nature, or why we’re here, or why we’re doing this. Many talked about faith and God, and so forth are more profound because the stakes are so high. And you mentioned World War I, so my recent book is called, “My Fellow Soldiers” and it’s about General John Pershing and the Americans who won the Great War. And what was really the inspiration for the book was that I came across a bundle of letters by Pershing himself.
Andrew: And a lot of people don’t know his back story but, a) he’s the highest ranking American general in history, the only general in his life time to be given a six star. Washington was partially given a six star after Pershing because they felt nobody should out-rank Washington, which is a good thing.
Fisher: Right. [Laughs]
Andrew: But, here’s the back story to Pershing that a lot of people don’t know, that during the war, but before he was picked to go overseas to lead the forces, his wife and his three little girls were all killed in a house fire.
Andrew: And only his young son Warren was pulled out alive. So, anyone who’s seen a picture of him, he’s right out of Hollywood casting, square jawed, good looking. Yeah, he looks like a general but behind him was this incredible grief. And one of the letters he was writing to a friend of his about how he could barely survive with the memory of losing his wife and three little girls.
Fisher: Wow. Isn’t that amazing? I want to share with you a letter from my Uncle Donald from World War II. This is March 5th, 1944, and we’re running kind of tight on time, but I want to go through some of these things. He writes to my grandfather and grandmother that he's going to start out the letter in different ways to tell them where he is.
Andrew: That’s amazing.
Fisher:So, he says if I write Dear Folks, Pearl Harbor. Dearest Folks, Marshall Islands. Dear Mother and Dad, Caroline Islands. Dearest Mother and Dad, Marianas Islands. My Swellest Folks, Philippine Islands. Hi Folks, Lower East Indies. Hello Folks, Indian Ocean. Hi Mother and Dad, Alaska Waters. To My Dear Folks, Australia. And he had that all mapped out for them so they had their little code. And so, they were always able to keep track of where he was.
Andrew: And he could evade censorship. That’s just brilliant.
Andrew: And again, that’s the thing with this project I’ve never come across a letter like that. And so, here we are talking and you happen to have this letter that you have, more than the hundred thousand that we have or seen, I’ve never come across anything like that.
Fisher: Wow! Well, we’ve got to get you a scan of that. How do people get letters to you? Do they have to give the original?
Andrew: No, they don’t. A lot of people do for a very specific reason. They’re afraid that if they keep in the family, down the line some generation is just going to throw them away.
Andrew: And we of course keep everything here, and family can always come and see the letters here, or see copies or whatever it might be. But anyway, we totally understand the sentimental aspect of it. It’s logical to not just give up the original. So, scans are great. Photocopies are great. All the information, all the frequently asked questions are on our website, very easy to remember, warletters.us. And how to send some to us, the donor form, all that’s online, or people just have questions. So, I also come and visit people. I’m sort of a historian that make house calls. We had a guy in Ottawa, Illinois who had fifteen thousand letters he had collected.
Fisher: Oh wow.
Andrew: He donated them all to us. And so, I went to Ottawa. We FedExed everything back to Chapman and counted them up and there was about fifteen thousand. We couldn’t believe it.
Fisher: [Laughs] I can’t believe it just hearing it. That had to be one of the most productive visits you ever made, right?
Andrew: It’s like ten percent of our collection. It’s incredible, yeah.
Fisher:So, is all of your collection going to be digitized and available for people to take advantage of and peruse?
Andrew:That’s something we definitely want to focus on. We’re doing it to some degree. It’s just very time consuming. Our priority right now is to get the letters because literally, a week doesn’t go by when I don’t hear a horror story about someone saying you know, I threw out a family war letter because I figured nobody would be interested. If I had known about your project, I would have sent them to you. So, that’s why our main priority is just to get the word out. And even if you don’t want to donate them, make sure they’re well preserved in your family.
Fisher: He’s Andrew Carroll. He’s the head of the Million Letter Project. And Andrew, just fascinating. I wish we had more time to talk about it. I want to hear more about those letters. Well, you know what I’m going to do though? We’re going to have you on our Patron Club, bonus podcast so you can tell us some more about these stories. Great stuff. Thank you so much Andrew. Appreciate it.
Andrew: Thank you. I’m so grateful.
Fisher:All right, and David’s coming back here in just a few moments for another segment of “Ask Us Anything” on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 306
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: Back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is time once again for Ask Us Anything. And David Allen Lambert is back in studio for a question from a listener, David. And this one actually comes from across the pond, so I think you're just gaining a few followers over there apparently after RootsTech, London.
David: Yeah, you’re 10,000 followers on Twitternow.
David: I'm delighted. Now I just need to get another 10,000 I suppose.
Fisher: Well, this is from Lettie in Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, UK.
Fisher: And she says, "I'm getting some DNA matches from Ohio in the US and we know of no connections there at the second cousin level. Any idea what this might mean?"
David: Oh, that's interesting. Well, I mean, the one possibility is that this family from Ohio emigrated from the UK and settled out there, so, I would reach out to them. But the next question I have is a little bit more difficult to ask, do they have a relative that they know of that was stationed in England in World War II?
Fisher: So this could be a surprise paternity situation potentially.
David: You would not believe, I had at least half a dozen people coming up and saying that they had ancestors that were probably American Doughboys or World War II GIs over there. And some of course married, their mothers and their parents came across the pond and lived together afterwards. Some of them, well, they were there to be the father and then went back home.
Fisher: And that was it and probably were none the wiser.
David: Right. And we've had stories on Extreme Genes where we have people that are finding by DNA their American cousins based upon this. So, that could be what's going on. So, I would definitely reach out to your DNA matches and first off ask them about that UK connection. And if none, my next question is World War I or World War II veterans and their family that were perhaps stationed over in England.
Fisher: Wow! I remember a big story about this. I think it was earlier this year, maybe it was late last year, I'm not sure, but about a guy who found out he has a half brother over in France. And they shared the same dad who had been over there during World War II. And it’s amazing how much they looked alike and their interests. Their accents though were quite different.
David: Yeah, just a tad. [Laughs]
Fisher: Just a tad, you know. [Laughs] Well, and you think about it, I mean, in every war, there has been paternity like this. We've certainly seen it with Vietnam.
David: Oh sure.
Fisher: And there's so many South East Asians who are looking now. There're specific DNA specialists who work just on finding the paternity of Amerasianswho was fathered over in Vietnam during the war there. This just happens in every war.
David: It does, right from the time of the Roman Empire all the way through.
Fisher: And so the DNA test results now are proving it in greater and greater numbers, and people who never considered the possibility of getting surprises. You know, that's the thing and I get emails about this periodically, "You need to talk about the negative side of DNA a little bit more." And there is stuff to talk about.
David: There is, but I do see the positive side outweighing the negative. But again, it’s case by case.
Fisher: Sure. I, like you, I see the good outweighing the bad and I know that if you're on the bad side of a surprise, it doesn't matter that four other adoptees finally got the answers to their origins that they've been looking for their whole lives.
David: That's true.
Fisher: You know, but that is the balance we have to look for and I think all of us when we go to do a DNA test have to ask the question, "Am I prepared for a potential surprise?" because let's face it, nobody's going into this thing expecting a surprise.
David: Well, I mean, two years ago while I was out here, I found out about my sister, Donna who my mother had put up for adoption. And it was not a DNA test, but a DNA test did prove in fact her autosomal DNA is closer to me than my other two half siblings. So, I'm more related to her than the ones I've known my whole life.
Fisher: Isn't that interesting! But it was revealed by other records.
David: It was, yeah, an open birth record.
Fisher: And that's another good point, because DNA is not the only way by which the surprises can be revealed. We see it in the census records periodically, certainly written on birth certificates. I had a friend of mine who found his own birth certificate when he was a kid and it wasn't his daddy's name on the birth certificate and that sent him into quite the spiral for a long time.
Fisher: Until we eventually used DNA to figure out who his father had been. Okay, thank so much, Lettie for the email. Back with another question in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 306
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, time for part 2 of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. My name is Fisher. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth. That guy over there is David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. And David, this actually comes from another guy named David in Minnesota, and he says, "My great, great grandfather's brother shows up in prison in the 1880 census. What can I do to find more about what he did?"
David: Ooh! Well, yeah, they're not going to tell you the crime, but they'll definitely tell you he's doing time.
David: Well, one of the things I always find is, now that we have so many countless newspapers being indexed, whether they use Ancestry or Newspapers.com or whatever the service might be, I would search for his name and then put "jail" or "arrested" as keywords. And you might find his arrest.
Fisher: "Sentenced" would be a good word.
David: "Sentenced" as well. And then of course you'll find his trial and they may have his incarceration as to where he's being put in jail or even when he may have died in prison or maybe he was finally released some years later.
Fisher: I actually found a newspaper article on Newspapers.comthat told me that my third great grandfather escaped from jail and how he did it! [Laughs]
David:Oohh! Well, that might be the story that they find on their relative, too.
Fisher: You never know, yeah.
David: Exactly. And of course the 1890 census being gone for most of the country, I would do a search for that relative again in the 1900s and see if he's living free of the barred cell. [Laughs] And see if he's married and having children. The other thing is, I start with the state archives, because obviously the census is going to say where the prison is. Say, "I have a relative that's listed in a state or federal or county prison, where are the records?" The state archives will know this. And that would be my first line of attack. That would be where you're going to find the incarceration as the date that he went in, the date he went out and it will also probably say his sentencing and what his crime was.
David: Sometimes if it’s later, you even find mug shots of these people.
Fisher: Yeah, I was going to say.
David: Which are great!
Fisher: Yeah, they really are fun and interesting. I found some third cousin or something twice removed and he was in Alcatraz.
David: [Laughs] Oh, That's great.
Fisher: And it was a great picture, front picture, profile, I mean, it was really interesting. Well, we'll add that to his page on Ancestry.
David: A resident of the rocks.
David: Yes. Well, and you know, it’s funny, because our ancestors have gotten from sitting in the stocks of colonial timeframe to being in jails. Our ancestors were in the witchcraft trials for instance.
David: There's jail records for them. So, 17th century through 21st century, and now with people that are recently incarcerated, you can Google them online and find they're listed as an inmate on state registers.
David: So, technology is adding more and more dimension to that. But yeah, I think that 1880 relatives shouldn't be too hard to find, David.
David: It’s funny. My own grandfather was bootlegger, and as the story went, he was a chef when he was in the prison and I did find out that's what he did. And apparently he had an open door policy that if he felt that he was going to get in trouble, he was allows to come in and be a resident, if he felt like it.
David: The story being that is all really kind of fun. My dad said that his family never wanted for much during the oppression, because the story has it, my grandfather was a bootlegger that supplied Joseph Patrick Kennedy.
Fisher: Ooh! [Laughs]
David: I would love to find that correspondence file. I don't think the Kennedy library has that.
Fisher: No, probably not. How did you figure out he was a chef in the prison?
David: Because when he was an occupant, in the census, it had his occupation listed there and also in the prison records it said, you know, what type of duties performing, you know. He wasn't making license plates or breaking rocks. He was a cook.
Fisher: All right, awesome stuff. All right, thanks so much, David, and thank you, David for the email. And if you have any questions on any topic concerning family history research, you can email us at [email protected]. And that is it for this week! Thanks so much for joining us. And hope you got a lot out of it. If you missed any of it or you want to catch it all again, it’s easy to listen to the podcast through iTunes, iHeart Radio or ExtremeGenes.com. Thanks once again to Andrew Carroll, the director of the Million Letter Project, fascinating stuff! If you didn't catch it earlier, make sure you hear the podcast. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!