Episode 309 - Did PBS Misrepresent Genetic Genealogy? / Host Dan Debenham Wraps Season Six of BYUtv’s Relative Race

podcast episode Dec 08, 2019

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  Fisher and David open the show talking about a brand new lineage society that almost everyone can belong to. Hear what it is and how you can be a part of it. The guys then talk about sharing earliest memories, as in FIRST memories, when visiting over the holidays. And it was a shocker to Fisher when David shared his. Find out why. David then shares another holiday memory making idea. Then the guys talk about an interesting project happening now in Ireland. The Irish are researching families from another particular country. Hear which country and why. Then, hear the story of a man who was researching a particular institution and made a remarkable family history find.

Next, renowned DNA specialist Kitty Cooper visits with Fisher and registers her complaint with PBS. The network recently aired a show about genetic genealogy. She points out a factual error made on the show as well as an absurd point that she feels will frighten people away from DNA testing for no good reason. Find out what it is.

Then, Dan Debenham, host of BYUtv’s Relative Race visits with Fisher about the just completed season of the show. It was perhaps the most emotional season ever. Dan also has an announcement about a follow up to the show fans will want to know about.

Rich Venezia takes the back end of the show discussing with Fisher an urgent concern. The federal government is considering raising the cost of obtaining certain immigration records to over $600! Hear what you can do to help block the proposal with the deadline for comment only days away.

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

Transcript of Episode 309

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 309

Fisher: And welcome to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. And this episode is brought to you by BYUtv’s Relative Race. And speaking of which, later on in the show today we’re going to be talking to the host of the show Dan Debenham because the show has wrapped up. The final episode of Season 6 aired this past week, and we’re going to tell you more about that and of course, what’s ahead for Relative Race. It’s going to be terrific. Plus, we’ve got a great guest, Kitty Cooper on the show later on today. She’s kind of upset about what happened on PBS, the story about genetic genealogy, and she’ll share her beef and really the beefs of a lot of people in the genealogy world over what was on that show and what was represented. Later on, we’re going to talk to Rich Valencia. He’s a professional genealogist who has a warning for all of us who are interested in obtaining our ancestors’ immigrant records. Yeah, they’re talking about raising the price of obtaining these to somewhere in the range of six hundred plus dollars. You’re going to want to hear this whole story and what you can do about it because it isn’t set yet. But, right now, let’s check in with David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hi David, how are you?

David: Hey, I’m doing good. Suffering from a little post-turkey over-stuffing. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah, I think we all do that, and of course then the left-overs as well, but those are pretty good. I tend to like left-overs often better than the original, you know.

David:What’s your favorite type of pie?

Fisher: [Laughs] Anything that involves coconut.

David:There we go. Well, mine’s mincemeat. That’s my weakness. [Laughs]

Fisher: Absolutely. I hope you had a great one. It was fun to talk to our kids about our Mayflower ancestry through John Howland.


Fisher: What? You’re okay?

David:Yeah, you had to rub that in again because I don’t have one.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David:Yes, being in Massachusetts, I don’t have a Mayflower ancestor.Yes, I have to admit that. My family waited nine years till they cut down the trees and killed off whatever pestilence that they were trying to get rid of, green swamps.

Fisher: I think your ancestors were smart. The waited till ours did all the hard work.

David:Thank you.

Fisher: [Laughs]


Fisher: Hey, let’s get on with our Family Histoire News David. What do you have?

David:Well, we just kind of talked about the general side of Mayflower descendants and of course they’ve been around for about 100 years. There’s a new hereditary society that most of our listeners qualify for. It is the National Society of Descendants of American Farmers between 1776 and 1900. They just started this year and they’ve got a website that you can go to which is nsdoaf.com.

Fisher: Wow! You’re right. Just about everybody would belong to that one I would think, right?

David: I think they definitely would and of course, like most of our ancestors, they’re outstanding in their field.

Fisher: [Laughs] I’m trying to think you know, I don’t know that I have any farmer ancestors from that time period.

David:You can have a couple of mine from New Hampshire.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David:They have the best crop up there. Rocks 

Fisher: Really rocks, yeah, exactly.

David:[Laughs] Well, you know, it’s stories like this that we share with our family you know, about our farmer ancestors and what not. In the Wall Street Journal there’s a great article on ExtremeGenes.com which it talks just about sharing the stories during the holidays. And I tell you one of the things that I like to share is my earliest memory and it doesn’t happen to be you know, a particular person, just in general. And for me, I was just about two years old and I had eye surgery, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The room was cold, the mask on the doctor, being in a crib, because it was so traumatic. It stuck in my head. And it’s funny to see what other family members, what their earliest memory is.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s so weird you say that. That is my earliest memory too. I was two years old. I was born with a lazy eye, and they straightened it out and it was so traumatic. And I remember the docs with the masks around me waking me up in the middle of the night or from a nap or something. That is so weird. [Laughs]

David:Well, you always say I’m a brother from another mother. [Laughs]

Fisher: You are. You are that my friend. We have all the same interests and now we have that in common as well, the same first memory.

David:You know, the other thing that I like to do every so often is toss a baseball around Kevin from the movie, Field of Dreams where he wants to play catch dad. Well, I’ve got a baseball I found that was from about 27 years ago when I went out cross country with my mother-in-law who’s now passed. And we went to just a sandlot in Phoenix and tossed a ball around and hit the baseball with an old bat. Then I got my teenage sisters-in-laws, who are now all in their forties to autograph it and I had my mother-in-law sign it and I cherish it because, well, my mother-in-law is gone, and those girls are all grown up.

Fisher: And what year was this?


Fisher: Wow! Yeah, that makes for a nice little souvenir of a family-get-together at that time, right?

David:Yeah. Well, you know, I can tell you that I have Irish ancestors, but I didn’t think they cohabitated with Italians so much. But there’s an entire group launching now to find the Italians in Ireland.

Fisher: Yeah.

David:In fact, they have connections that go back to the 1500s.

Fisher: Yeah, it’s amazing and the Italians apparently have had a major impact on the culture of Ireland. So, now they’re starting this project to explore those families and make a note of what their contributions were so everybody knows.

David:Yeah. In fact, their public transportation system in the 1800s was set up by an Italian by the name of Charles Bianconi, and their national galleries chief conservator was Sergio Bonelli.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David:So, these are great people from the history of Ireland that have original Italian connections. And I would have thought it was the Roman invaders.

Fisher: Right.

David:You know, sometimes we find these stories that you accidentally find out about relatives. And there’s a story on ExtremeGenes.com which I love by Charles Fox where he talks about accidentally finding a picture while doing research on a book on the Carlisle Indian School. He found a picture of his grand uncle, and he never knew he worked 30 years helping members of the Carlisle Indian School with Indians who have had problems with eyes. He was a doctor and actually wrote a book called Disease of the Eye, and he worked with the Blackfeet Indian.

Fisher: It’s a great story you’ve got to see. It’s on ExtremeGenes.com. Absolutely.

David:Well, as we approach the holiday season don’t forget you save $20 on a gift to your favorite genealogist or *hint* *hint* for yourself by using the coupon code “Extreme.”

Fisher: All right David, thank you so much. Good stuff. Hey, onward towards Christmas and we’ll talk to you again next week.

David:Sounds good my friend.

Fisher: All right, and coming up next, we’re going to talk to DNA specialist Kitty Cooper. She is not happy about a recent story on genetic genealogy that was on PBS. She’ll tell you the beef coming up next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 309

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kitty Cooper

Fisher: And we are back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And DNA seems to be at the top of everybody’s conversation these days, and not the least of which recently was PBS, and that’s caused a little bit of a hornet’s nest I’d say and that’s why I had to get my friend Kitty Cooper on the phone. She’s a DNA Specialist based in California. She’s a blogger. Go to Blog.KittyCooper.com. Hi Kitty, how are you?

Kitty: Hey Scott. Good to talk to you.

Fisher: Yeah. You were pretty hot about this, so let’s get into this.

Kitty: I was really upset, yeah.

Fisher: I think a lot of people were. So, let’s just map out exactly what took place, what was said, and what the realities are.

Kitty: Well, they did have a point of fact wrong saying that someone was behind bars who wasn’t, but they corrected that. But it was the tone, and what about this headline on the website, “Genetic Genealogy can help solve cold case. It can also accuse the wrong person. Now, if that doesn’t scare people, what does?”

Fisher: Yeah.

Kitty: No, it doesn’t accuse the wrong person.

Fisher: In fact, the other side of it could very well be that it helps clear people who are falsely accused.

Kitty: Exactly. And it has done that a number of times. But there was one case, five years ago, using Y-DNA, which is the totally wrong thing to use because you know, my cousin Dick matches his sixth cousin exactly on the Y. Y can tell you if you are descendent from the same man long ago, but it sure cannot identify a single individual.

Fisher: Now, when did this happen? I’d never heard this case. This was a while back?

Kitty: A long time ago. In fact, I put a link to it in my article where I yelled at PBS.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Kitty: I was just so upset. I love PBS. I watch the news hour every night.

Fisher: Sure.

Kitty: And I’ve come to expect a level of reporting I don’t get from, you know, the mainstream news, like more in-depth. They give me a summary of the day’s events, but then they go in-depth on things that interest me. But for them to be so incorrect about a topic on which I’m extremely knowledgeable, like sort of threw me because it made me wonder how incorrect some of that other reporting was.

Fisher: Sure. Absolutely. And you know we see that in all the media these days. I take an awful lot of stuff with a grain of salt anymore when somebody says, “Did you hear this?” I’m going, well. My cousin used to have a great expression, “Interesting if true.”

Kitty: Wow. I like that, interesting if true. Well, I understand if newspapers are going out of business and the media needs to sell. And in order to sell, you have to have sensational headlines, but when the headline is that misleading. The case was a guy named Michael Usrywhose Y matched the Y of a criminal. And so, they took him in, they grilled him. You know this was early, early days. I mean, it was a good five years ago. And PBS interviewed him, even he said, “You know, I think it’s a good thing if my DNA can catch a violent criminal.

Fisher: Yeah.

Kitty: Honestly, my feeling is, it’s our duty as citizens to put our DNA on a public database where law enforcements can out our third, fourth, or fifth cousins who have committed a crime. I mean, if one of my cousin’s has murdered or raped somebody, I would be delighted if my DNA helped.

Fisher: Yeah, I feel the same. In fact, you know, I mean seriously let’s just one of our kids murdered somebody, you know, would you want to help hide that? I don’t think so.

Kitty: I don’t think so. I’d want to get him help. I’m sure my son never would never murder somebody, but hey you know.

Fisher: Right. But I mean the point is that who really thinks that way that wow, I don’t know that I want to be part of helping turn some of my relatives in to the police. It’s like well, wait a minute, you mean that you’d prefer that that person is out there committing more crimes?

Kitty: Exactly. I think it’s the problem about preserving personal privacy and being a good citizen. And these days with the internet and the lack of personal privacy, people are really fussed about anything that they perceive as putting them out there.

Fisher: Yes.

Kitty: That’s the only thing I can think of. You know, we’ve been so drilled to protect our social security number and what else, and to be suspicious of the online world. But I honestly don’t understand the genealogists who are upset about all this. But then that’s my point of view. I just think, you know, as a good citizen anyone who’s done a DNA you should upload to GEDmatch.

Fisher: And opt in. 

Kitty: Yes. And then click the little thing that says “Yes, Law Enforcement can look at my DNA.”

Fisher: Right. Well, I think to a certain extent that’s what a lot of people were looking for. Just say we’ll allow them to opt in.

Kitty: Exactly.

Fisher: In the past that wasn’t the case. Everybody was automatically opted in unless you opted out. And I think that’s what a lot of people were upset about. And I understand that because we all want that more and more to opt in as opposed to having it automatically done.

Kitty: But then what about all the people who are dead, and their DNA is there but the police can’t use it?

Fisher: Yeah.

Kitty: One time I was trying to contact somebody with a beautiful tree. He was a match to an adoptee I was working. And finally I Googled their name and location and discovered they’d died the previous year.

Fisher: Um hmm. And so you can’t get access to their info. Yeah. Yeah that’s really true.

Kitty: No. Well, I was able to put this fellow in touch with the widow and the son and I think things progressed nicely from there but they didn’t have to. It’s a sad thing, but frankly many of us don’t get interested in genealogy until we’re old. Because it seems to be something that we want to preserve our heritage for our grandchildren and great grandchildren and collect that information before the stories are forgotten. And that’s how we got into DNA.

Fisher: Yep.

Kitty: So, to now discover our DNA is being used to out criminals, I can understand the initial shock. But this is a good thing. We don’t want those people running around.

Fisher: So let me ask this, I mean, it never really crossed my mind until you brought it up. Do you think we will reach a point where kind of the wave of DNA testing is passed and we have more people dying who have their tests up there that you can’t reach out to anymore, than are coming into the system.

Kitty: It’s a possibility. Many of us have, you know, designated someone in our family who would take over when we’re gone. My nephew has all my passwords just in case.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Kitty: And I also have the daughter of a cousin who’s very interested in all this. And I try to share with as many younger family members as I can get interested. But I know that they have lived to build, children to raise. So, this isn’t the first thing on their list.

Fisher: Yeah that’s right. It’s not in everybody’s interest at all times in everybody’s lives, if at all.

Kitty: But if people haven’t put something in their will or taken care of it, yeah, maybe half the people at GEDmatch are already gone and no one is even looking at their DNA anymore.

Fisher: Right.

Kitty: Could some day there be more dead people DNA testers than living people? Nah, I don’t think so. I mean it depends. The media has created this hysteria where people are afraid to test. Then sure it could happen. But I really hope that there are some media outlets who will do the happy thing, who will show the happy cases. I have third cousins in South Africa I did not know existed. I thought that branch of the family had died out. But one of them DNA tested at 23andMe and I looked at the surnames and I said, “That’s not possible.” [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Kitty: And I contacted her and we figured it out. I blogged about it, it was just amazing. She actually lives in Seattle but I have two others who live in South Africa. And it was just such an education to learn what had happened to that branch of the family that I thought had no survivors.

Fisher: Isn’t that fun. Yeah, absolutely true.

Kitty: But basically, a daughter had run off with somebody and been, you know, eliminated from the family.

Fisher: Ah!

Kitty: She had been disowned.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Kitty: And that’s why I didn’t know about her. I knew about everybody else. It was really fascinating. Or then there are cases of people like Lara Diamond found cousins she thought had died in the Holocaust. I mean it’s such a reunifying thing.

Fisher: Yeah, it is.

Kitty: And I found pictures now of my great, great grandparents I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t in touch with those cousins who did DNA. I mean, it’s a remarkable unifier. Of course, the downside, and the thing that the media has sensationalized is when you find out daddy’s not your daddy.

Fisher: Yes. And that is a harsh thing. And you know the bottom line is this, I mean I’ve recently got an email from a listener who was very upset that I was pushing people to share their DNA in multiple sites. And he says, “All I hear are these terrible things and families ripped apart when they learn about this.” Well, those are the really unusual stories [Laughs] you know where the families are ripped apart.

Kitty: Exactly. I have far more stories of reunifications, you know, of family branches who moved out west and lost track I mean. But the media does sensationalize. That’s how they stay alive. I don’t know.

Fisher: Well, those are interesting stories and they’re heart wrenching stories, and like I said to him, you know, if I were one of those people who got an unusual test result, I wouldn’t much care that 5, or 10, or 15, or 20 other people had a marvellous test result because it’s devastating to me. But we do have to look at it in the balance. And the balance isn’t even close. I mean, the positive stuff far outweighs the negative, and I think more than anything, it’s just a matter of making people understand that surprises mean that you’re not expecting it and that can mean that anybody can get a surprise result and you have to be prepared for the possibility if you’re going to test.

Kitty: Exactly. And one thing I did learn from that sensationalism is to ask my relatives before I ask them to test, to let them know that it could turn out skeletons in the closet, or you know, if they had any suspicions, don’t test if you don’t want to know.

Fisher: Yeah.

Kitty: So they didn’t, some of them. Most of them have tested and hey, they’re my cousins and look at all the access to expert knowledge that they have. And I have to give a shout out back to PBS because in fact, the producer of the show that I lambasted on my blog got in touch with me.

Fisher: Really?

Kitty: Yeah really. He wrote a comment on my blog and we’ve been exchanging emails and I try to point out some of the positives stories on my blog, and you know it’s *sigh*

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, I understand.

Kitty: He’s still going with the media but he seemed genuine and nice and I was impressed. I was really impressed that PBS responded.

Fisher: Interesting stuff. Kitty Cooper. She’s the DNA Blogger. Go to Blog.KittyCooper.com. Thanks for your input on this, and interesting story. And hey, that’s why we do these things on Extreme Genes to explore what’s going on in our world.

Kitty: You’re welcome. I really enjoy it.

Fisher:Thanks, so much Kitty. Great stuff.

Kitty: You’re welcome.

Fisher: And coming up next, Season 6 of BYUtv’s Relative Race has come to a conclusion. We’ll talk to the host Dan Debenham about what he learned this season, in five minutes.        

Segment 3 Episode 309

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dan Debenham

Fisher: Well, we have just wrapped up another season of BYUtv’s Relative Race. And I’ve got to tell you, Dan Debenham the host is on the line with me right now. And Dan, you guys owe me big time because I’ll tell you we went through more boxes of Kleenex this season than any other season I’ve ever seen.

Dan: [Laughs] Yeah, but the good news is, if you actually hold stock in the Kleenex Company, your stock was going through the roof.

Fisher: I suppose that’s true. I should have thought of that before the season started right? This would be the time to invest. Very nice.

Dan: [Laughs]

Fisher: I’ll tell you, what a season it has been and congratulations to Team Green on their big win. But, the bottom line here is the bonding of these teams, how much they were pulling for each other in a competition for fifty thousand dollars, which is life changing money in many ways, right?

Dan: Oh, yeah.

Fisher: I mean, you can invest that, you can grow that. You can travel on it. You can get out of debt with that. They were still all pulling for each other. I noticed that each of them had wristbands on for all the teams. It was amazing.

Dan: Yeah. It’s been unique to see how the show has morphed into that kind of camaraderie over the past probably three seasons. Kind of starting with season four we saw a little of it, more in season five, and then in this season it organically happened. You know, people ask me about that, you’re not alone Scott, in asking about that and I don’t know where that came from, other than that this show is so unique in that it has this incredible competition taking place for fifty thousand dollars. But, the teams realize either early on or at some point through the race that they’re all in the same boat.  

Fisher: Yeah.

Dan: They all are desperately looking to find family and they’re open, they’re real, and they’re raw about that and their feelings for their “competitors” when they do find their family. So, in those video conference calls at the end of every episode, to your point, I couldn’t believe it myself, these teams were crying for each other, rooting for each other, and showing support in so many ways. And then the beauty of this show, the dichotomy of this show is that then the next day when the race is on they’re back to serious competition.  But then, by the end of the night they’re back to pulling for each other again.

Fisher: Yeah.

Dan: It’s just this wonderful ride that only Relative Race gives you.

Fisher: Well, and I’m thinking perhaps the reason for this season is the fact that this is the first time that somebody on every team was looking for a birth parent. So, they’re all in the same boat. Obviously, some have been more impacted by the hole in their lives than others. Raymond told me, from Team Red by the way, he just felt that God had brought all these teams together because he was just talking about the love they’d shared. That they’d recently gotten together, on their own in Atlanta, just to be with each other, having gone through this amazing, life changing experience. I mean, that really speaks to the power not only of what you’re doing. I mean, obviously it’s a commercial venture, but at the same time it’s a life changing thing. It’s a show with a great purpose and really demonstrates the importance of these family connections that we’re all trying to do through our family history research, through DNA, and just connecting.

Dan: Yeah. Well said. Well put, and you know Raymond has written to me several times since we shot the show and just so eloquently, so sincerely said very kind things about the work that we do here at Lenzworks, and the work that he feels that I do personally, and it’s really humbling. It’s humbling when you get a letter or a note from these past participants, I don’t know how to describe it Scott. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I have never been involved with something that is so gratifying on every level. It really, truly affects and changes people’s lives forever for the better.

Fisher: Yeah. And Raymond I think it’s simple to say and he’d be the first to admit it, he was probably the most impacted of all the participants in the show, by not knowing who his parents were, by having this story in his mind that his parents gave him up but kept this brother. And he’s at so much peace now over that whole thing now that he’s met his brother and this other family members, and he talks to his brother like every day or two and his kids have bonded with his brother’s kids.

Dan: Oh, yeah.

Fisher: And he just says his whole life is completely different. He says he just can’t wait for the second half of his life now and that anger that he spoke of in the show is just not there anymore.

Dan: Well, you know Scott, I think you and your listeners will be interested to know that we have been commissioned and are just wrapping up the production of 16 of the past teams, from season 1 all the way through season 6, we have picked 16 teams and gone back and visited them to do a series of “Where are they now since their time on the show.”

Fisher: Wow.

Dan: And Raymond was one of them. So, he speaks to that, but going all the way back to season 1 we talk with Doug and Margo, and there’s teams from every season talking about how this show has forever changed their lives. And often when it’s been married couples on the show, how it changed and strengthened their marriages, there’s just these wonderful conversations that are updates since they were on the show. We think the viewers are going to love it. We hope your listeners are excited about that. But their stories that they tell us of what’s happened since the show and there’s a lot of laughter as they go back and talk about their memories of the show. What was their best moment, what was their worst moment, their worst moments are hilarious, you know. Well, it’s fun.

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, the thing is the bottom line Dan, is that the show is healing. Family history is healing. Connections are healing and we’re talking about serious healing in many cases because I know personally I’ve worked with individuals who weren’t able to sleep at night because they didn’t know who their birth father was and we’re talking people in their late 50s and then when we figured out who it was, and even though the story of this person’s origins wasn’t that pretty, it didn’t matter. He at least knew and suddenly he was able to sleep for the first time in decades and move on with his life and that’s wasn’t always occupying him.

Dan: Yeah.

Fisher: Every time something else, some other problem arose in his life, it didn’t default to that question, you know? It’s fascinating how much we need that. And for those of us who have never experienced the absence of a parent or a question about our origins, it might be difficult to understand, but I think this show does an amazing job of explaining that.

Dan: Well, we appreciate that Scott. We hope that’s the case. I think that sometimes you bring up something interesting that case to mind. I think that something we could do better on the show is for those who are on the show who have had incredible support, and that’s not everybody on the show.

Fisher: Right.

Dan: But, many on the show do have incredible, supportive, loving, adoptive families. And yet, still in spite of that love and support, to your point, there’s still for all of them a need, some more than others, a desperate need to know, where do I ultimately belong? When it comes to all of the things you said, my origins, my blood, meaning I love my family. My adoptive parents will forever be my parents. They’ll be my mom and dad and my siblings will forever be my siblings.

Fisher: Yeah. It doesn’t take away from them.

Dan: No. No.

Fisher: It just adds to them. They get another family.

Dan: It just adds to them. Wait till you see the update on Chris and DeShae. Wait till you see Chris and DeShae Team Green from this season. Wait till you see the update just from the past few months since we shot the episode. DeShae as you know found both her mother and her father.

Fisher: Yeah.

Dan: Wait till you see what has happened there, including her adoptive mom and how that family has come together to love and support and be with one another. It’s awesome to see.

Fisher: Till next time my friend.

Dan: [Laughs]

Fisher: Great season. Great work, strong work. Thanks to your team as well. I’m sure they must love coming to work each day when you get to do something like this, life altering. It’s BYUtv’s Relative Race. You can stream it on BYUtv.org, or by using the BYUtv app, it’s all available for you right now. You can go to RelativeRace.com as well it will get you there. Thanks Danny! We’ll talk to you soon.

Dan: See you my friend. Bye, bye.

Segment 4 Episode 309

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Rich Venezia

Fisher: Hey, back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And I'm very excited to be talking today to Rich Venezia, he is with Rich Roots Genealogists and involved with a group called Records, Not Revenue. He's based out of Pittsburgh. And Rich, it’s great to have you on the show. And this is an interesting time, I guess, with our government trying to get some revenue for records. What are we talking about specifically?

Rich: Yes indeed. Thanks so much for having me on the show. We really appreciate on behalf of all of us involved in this effort. So mainly what we're talking about are records related to 20th century immigrants. The USCIS genealogy program, that's the genealogy program of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, holds five specific records that relate mainly to folks who immigrated in the late 19th century and the early to mid 20th century. There's a bunch of different records, five different records that’s in all. And they encompass most people who arrived or naturalized or registered as an alien during that timeframe. They're really valuable records. There's almost about 20 million different records they have in all. And the USCIS genealogy program is the one who holds the keys to be able for researchers like you and me to be able to access these records.

Fisher: Right. They've been accessible for a long, long time. Obviously we're dealing with people who are overwhelmingly deceased at this point or there are probably very few living people that are involved in these record sets. How long have they been available, Rich, do you know?

Rich. Yes. So, before 2008 these records were available through FOIA, the Freedom Of Information Act. And then in 2008 they decided to create this genealogy program with the idea being that these records will be more readily available and it would be more efficiently able to be dispatched to researchers, because the FOIA department of USCIS was to overwhelm that request and that FOIA backlog really has only grown in the last decade. So, starting in 2008, they started this program, ImmigrationService. It was $20 to fetch the index, $20 or $35 to get a copy of the record depending upon whether the record was on microfilm or a paper copy. And then they changed those fees in 2016, almost tripling them in fact for most of those, $65 for an index search and then $65 to get a copy of the record.

Fisher: Wow!

Rich: So quite a bit more expensive in 2016, but still somewhat feasible if you have a good idea of the types of treasures that these records can hold.

Fisher: Sure, and what you're looking for and you're not going to waste a lot of time and money just taking shots in the dark, "Well, let's look at this one. Let's look at that one."

Rich: Exactly, yeah. Yeah.

Fisher: So now they're talking about, I mean, I can't believe the numbers you're telling me here.

Rich: [Laughs]

Fisher: What they want to charge this time around with their rate increase, $600!?

Rich: Indeed, yes. So, what they proposing, and it’s important to know that as of right now, this is just a proposed rule, but what they're proposing is making it $240 to search the index. If the record already happens to be digitized, which meant it was on microfilm at one point, they've since digitized it. That relates to about 2 of these 5 records that, they'll also send you a copy of that record. So, if it’s already digitized, your $240 will get you a copy of that record.

Fisher: But it’s digitized! [Laughs] Come on!

Rich: Look, I'm just telling you what I know. [Laughs]

Fisher: Oh my gosh!

Rich: And then if it’s a paper file, it will cost another $385. So, its $625 total cost to search the index and then to receive a copy of the paper record.

Fisher: Oh my gosh! Wait a minute now!

Rich: Pretty incredible.

Fisher: But these aren't public records?

Rich: So they're not quite public records. Most of them are scheduled to be transferred to the National Archives at a certain point. In fact, 2 of the 5 of these records that have in fact, their record schedule has testified they can be transferred to the National Archives. They are available for transfer, but as far as we know, there's no plans in place by either the National Archives to receive them or USCIS to transfer them to the National Archives.

Fisher: Rich, we've got to take a break. We're going to come back. I want to hear more about this and then what we can do to kind of let our voices be heard on this, because it’s absurd.

Rich: Excellent, thanks so much.

Fisher: When we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 309

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Rich Venezia

Fisher: All right, we're back on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I've got my guest, Rich Venezia, he is with Rich Roots Genealogists and also a group called Records, Not Revenue, and he's based out of Pittsburgh. And Rich has been telling us about the United States, what is it, what does USCIS stand for again, Rich?

Rich:USCIS stands for US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Fisher: All right, and they're looking at increasing costs to obtain a single record of one of your immigrant ancestors to over $600, which is, its obscene, it’s absurd and ridiculous, you know. So you're saying many of these records are going to wind up in the public record domain here soon enough. What is the cut off on the years and all that for that?

Rich: Well, so two of these records sets are eligible for transfer currently. We aren't sure why they haven't been transferred. And that's one the things that is so troubling to us is that they're proposing to charge over $600 for records that, you know, should be on the way to being freely publicly acceptable. One of the records that doesn't transfer until 2056, because its 100 years after the end of the series and then the other two are, one of them is on a rolling basis, 100 years after the date of birth of the subject, and the other one is kind of TBD. I'm not 100% sure on when it is supposed to be transferred, but we do know there's a copy at the National Archives, but USCIS has a restriction on it. So we're hopeful that maybe if enough of our voices can get heard, one of the things they might consider doing is lifting that restriction on the record that's already at the National Archives, but just currently unavailable for research.

Fisher: That makes sense. That makes sense. So what do we do? If people are concerned and want to make their voices heard on this whole matter, who do they reach out to how is it done?

Rich: So, because this is a proposed rule, it’s a governmental agency proposing that they're changing their fee schedule. What we can do is, we can submit public comments. And this is mostly done online through the Federal e-rule making portal. You can find all of the information about how to access that portal on our website, which is RecordsNotRevenue.com. But basically, it’s really easy. If you are upset about this or you've used these records in the past or you might want to use them in the future, you can drop a comment, you can submit it through the rule making portal. And USCIS is actually required by law to read, review and consider all of the public comments that they receive. So we have until December 16th for as many of us as possible to submit our public comments in opposition to this rule about this outrages fee hike to access records of our immigrant ancestors.

Fisher: Wow and its coming right up here in just days, really. So it’s really important you get on that. So you go to RecordsNotRevenue.com and you can find the portal for that. You know, I guess the question is also, what if it’s like my grandfather, right? I mean, why would I want to pay $600 sum odd for my grandfather's own records from that period? I mean, it’s just the whole thing really is upsetting.

Rich: Indeed, yeah. And I think that, you know, one of the things that's most important to remember too is, in addition to our immigrant ancestors’records, these are Americas records, right, these tellthe story of America's very proud immigrant heritage. And you know, making them inaccessible, you know, it upsets me as a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth-generation American, right? As a hyphenatedAmerican, I want to tell as many immigrants stories that I can. That's what I do in all of my genealogical research. And so, making these records inaccessible to most everyday Americans means that these stories will get told less and less and less till they wind up transferred into the national archives, which some cases won’t be for several decades.

Fisher: He's Rich Venezia. Rich, thank you so much for telling us about this. And I'm sure a lot of people will get on this and hopefully we can rescue it to some degree, right?

Rich: Here's hoping. Thanks so much. And again, the website is, RecordsNotRevenue.com.

Fisher: Thanks so much, Rich. It just leaves you scratching your heard as to who would pay over $600 to have an index researched and a set of records sent to you. Are you kidding me? Hey, that's our show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. If you missed any of it, don't forget, the podcast is available through iTunes, iHeartRadio and ExtremeGenes.com. We thank you as always for joining us. We will talk to you again next week with a survivor of Pearl Harbor. Talk to you then. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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