Episode 317 - Adoptee Rights Moves Forward in New York And Nationally/ Migration Patterns- Using Them to Find Your People/ Dr. Henry Louis Gates on Finding Your Roots

podcast episode Feb 16, 2020

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. They begin Family Histoire News with a story you probably never heard of in your family… exploding pants! They were a real thing in the 1930s. Hear where and why. Then, the guys will tell you about America’s oldest driver. You won’t believe his age and life story. Then, World War II continues in London. Hear why. Next it’s the story of the London Loo! It’s really old and there is a lot stuff from a LONG time ago being found in it. David then spotlights VLOGGER Jarrett Ross. His blog is all video at youtube.com/geneavlogger.

Fisher then visits with Greg Luce and Annette O’Connell, advocates for adoptees rights. New York has just opened original birth records to adoptees born there. Find out what this means to adoptees there and elsewhere, potentially, in the United States. If you are an adoptee born in New York, Annette will tell you how you can obtain your original birth certificate.

Fisher then chats with Jessica Howe of Legacy Tree Genealogists. Jessica shares how to use migration patterns to help learn the origins of your ancestors. Jessica has a great story she discovered in her own lines using this technique.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates next brings you up to date on the latest episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS. The latest celebrity discoveries will amaze you!

David Allen Lambert then rejoins the show for Ask Us Anything, as the guys tackle a question about firemen records.

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

Transcript of Episode 317

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 317

Fisher: And we’re glad you found us! It’s 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. Well, welcome in, it’s great to have you along. We’ve got some great guests coming up today. Things are happening in New York and all over the country involving adoptees rights to obtain their own original birth certificate, and find out who their birth families are. We’re going to talk to Greg Luce and Annette O’Connell about recent developments in New York City and how that’s affecting the rest of the country, actually the entire State of New York. Plus, we’re going to talk to Jessica Howe from Legacy Tree Genealogists a little later on about migration patterns and how that can help you find records of your ancestors you never knew who were even out there. And then later on in the show, of course, Dr. Henry Louis Gates is back talking about his latest episode on the PBS series Finding Your Roots and Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert at the back end of the show answering some of your questions about family history. If you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, you are missing out. We’ve got links to stories you’ll be interested in as a genealogist, links to past and present shows. You get a blog from me each week, and get this, it’s absolutely free. Just sign up at ExtremeGenes.com or through our Facebook page. And right now, it is time to head out to Boston to talk to one of those guys who come straight out of the smack pat Super Bowl commercial. It is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. It’s David Allen Lambert! How are you David?

David: I’m doing fine. I just parked my car. I had to get up and get on the line with you. All of us do not talk like this. [Laughs]

Fisher: That took no effort on your part at all, did it now?

David: [Laughs] It’s almost like having a bilingual, Massachusetts language. There are the people who speak like they’re from Boston, and then there are those of us who try to not speak like they’re from Boston all the time. [Laughs]

Fisher: It doesn’t work David. It just doesn’t

David: No, no, no.

Fisher: It does not work.

David: Well, I’m always looking to collect stories and try that new thing. You can follow me at @rootsreporter on Twitter. I want to know about your stories and your interesting relatives, so we can report on Extreme Genes.

Fisher: All right.

David: So, the first part of Family Histoire News is explosive, exploding pants.

Fisher: Yeah.[Laughs]

David: It’s just a story that you can find about onExtremeGenes.com. So, back in the 1930s in New Zealand there was a problem with ragwort going everywhere. In fact, it was very poisonous to horses and cattle so the Department of Agriculture in New Zealand advised them to use a herbicide which was sodium chloride. Well, sodium chloride is like a powder Fish, and it basically would get on the pants. They would take their pants and wash them and powder and as it’s drying now is explosive.

Fisher: Yeah!

David: So, people would light a cigarette, they would go ride a horse and the friction would begin to settle.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So, exploding pants and they were actually victims of such a problem.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: So, if you ever find the cause of death in New Zealand of exploding pants, you’ll now know why because you heard it on Extreme Genes.

Fisher: This is from the 1930. Yeah, they’d hang those pants by the fireplace and poof, up they’d go. [Laughs] This is a thing I had never heard of before. I talk to a lot people about stories they find, but that’s never come up. That’s a new one.

David: Well, the one person we can actually ask about exploding pants who’s still alive from the 1930s is a person who’s probably still been driving a car since the 1930s. Yes, Joe Newman is now going on joyrides in his red convertible with his 99-year-old fiancée Anita.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Now, Joe’s a 107.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: And I watched the video on Extreme Genes from the news story. He drives pretty well, better than people half his age.

Fisher: Yeah, but he’s robbed the cradle though with his fiancée. I mean, there’s an eight-year difference there.

David: Eight years younger. I hope that her father knows. [Laughs] Well, another story that Joe Newman can relate to is of course World War II. Do you know that they’re still finding unexploded ordinance in London? Recently, they found a bomb that had not been exploded from World War II, and they had to evacuate an area in central London. And of course, the Germans dropped over 12 000 tons of bombs in the capital which killed, sadly, 30,000 people during World War II.

Fisher: And you know, they find these bombs in Germany and in Italy. And I recall some years back, I don’t know how far back it was, that somebody found some ordinance from the Civil War here in the United States and it went off and killed somebody. That made them really the last victim of the Civil War, right?

David: That’s very true. That’s very true. And you know, it’s happening with World War I ordinance, so the people go out metal detecting and all of a sudden, they find something and they put their shovel or pickaxe into it and “kaboom.”

Fisher: Right.

David: So, it’s amazing to think the wars are still going on in one sense or another. Let’s stay with London for a minute and talk about what you can find in your cesspool.

Fisher: What?

David: Well, let’s go back to the medieval era where there’s a cesspool from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. They found a 15-foot deep cesspit and in this they found over 100 artifacts, including forks for eating fancy meats, so I suppose someone was sitting, doing what comes naturally, eating some fancy meat and oops, there goes the fork or napkins and that sort of thing.

Fisher: Sure, cellphones, they’re all down there. [Laughs]

David: Yeah, I just wonder if they’ll be retrievable. All those photos that you took, can you imagine if they could find a phone, hundreds of years from now, and still get the photos on it?

Fisher: Oh yeah, it’s funny.

David: My blogger spotlight shines upon a vlogger. Have you heard of a vlogger before Fish?

Fisher:Yeah, yeah absolutely I have. It’s a video blogger basically and they kind of crunch that together we get vlogger.

David:Well, Jarrett Ross whom I met at RootsTech last year, he’ll probably be at Roots Tech this year, is a good person to talk about vlogging and his blog is a [email protected]/geneavlogger. And so, hats off to Jarrett in reporting the news in his own special way and getting the news out there to genealogists. So, that’s my spotlight for this week. And of course, if you want to become a member of American Ancestors on our 175th anniversary, you can save $20 on membership by using the coupon code “Extreme” on AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher:All right David, thanks so much. Go out and park your car and come back later and help us out with Ask Us Anything, okay?

David:Well, I would be more than happy to.

Fisher:And coming up next we’re going to talk to Greg Lewis and Annette O’Connell. They’re deeply involved with adoptees’ rights in helping them get their original birth certificates. We’ll get an update on what’s happened in New York and elsewhere in the country, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 317

Host: Scott Fisher with guests Greg Luce and Annette O’Connell

Fisher: Back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And back in June of last year I had my next two guests on the show. We were talking about adoptees’ rights because there was a bill in the New York Assembly that was going to help adoptees get access to their original birth certificates. And get this, the bill passed and in November it was actually signed by the governor and now the whole situation in New York State and New York City is entirely different, and I thought I’d bring Greg Luce from the Adoptees Rights Law Center, and Annette O'Connell from the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition back on to talk about what this means, the significance of it, how people can apply for their original birth certificates in New York, and maybe what’s happening in other states. First if all guys, congratulations.

Greg: Thanks.

Annette: Thanks. There’s big stuff going on.

Fisher: This is a big win for you guys and it’s been going on for just decades because there were people, certain individuals, in the New York Assembly that were holding things back for you. But finally, there was this huge breakthrough. And I know, Annette, for you this is even bigger because you are an adoptee.

Annette: I am. I’m a New York City adoptee born in the Bronx.

Fisher: And so let’s talk about the process here, because as of January 15th now if you were born in New York and adopted out, you can now obtain your original birth certificate but it takes a little time. So, what’s the process? What’s the timeline, and how does this work Annette because I would imagine you’ve already started the process, right?

Annette: I have started the process for myself. There are two different processes in effect.

Fisher: Okay.

Annette: If you were born into any of the five burrows of New York City, then you need to apply through the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. And if you were born outside of the five burrows, then you need to apply through the New York State Department of Health. The New York State Department of Health has an online venue vital check that seems to be moving the most rapidly. People started receiving their original birth certificates from New York in less than a week.

Fisher: Wow!

Annette: The 15th of January was on a Wednesday. People started receiving their birth certificates the following Monday.

Fisher: Ah. And you guys must have been just hearing that first reaction from some of these people. What was that like?

Annette: Oh, it was just incredible. People were just messaging us and calling and you know, for the first time in however many years old they are, for the first time in decades they have information that they never had before. What hospital they were born in, how much they weighed, what time of day they were born, things like that that they just never knew all their life.

Fisher: Have any of them actually had communication now with blood family for the first time?

Annette: There are people, yes, who have. There are people, who are trying to find their blood family for the first time, and there are people who don’t even want to do that, who just wanted their birth certificate because of their document and they just wanted it.

Fisher: They wanted the rights to that. Well, Greg Luce, of course, is with the Adoptees Rights Law Center based in Minneapolis. And Greg, tell us about what’s going on nationally with this because I would think there’s a little bit of momentum going on now as a result of what’s happened in New York.

Greg: Oh yeah. And with New York being one of the biggest states and one of the real hubs for adoption for decades, this is going to send reverberations across the country and it already is. And people in various states, whether they’re adoptees or people who support this issue, are saying, “Hey, can we be next?” And so there’s a real demand to do something across the country in a number of states. And the focus will still be on equality for adoptees, sort of looking at New York and how they did it as well as the other nine states that did it earlier.

Fisher: Sure. So you’ve got ten states in total now, and how many states are you aware of that have bills running or in process right now in addition to those ten states?

Greg: Well, you have sort of what we call our clean bills. Those are the ones that you request your original birth certificate and it’s provided to you upon request. There are no discriminatory restrictions. And so, there’s a few states that have those currently and they’ve been working on that issue prior even to New York and that’s Minnesota and Massachusetts. And then there will probably be a bill in Connecticut again, and they’re trying to close a loophole in their law. There’s quite a bit of claimer to do something in California. There’s no bill there but we’re seeing a lot of pressure to do something there as well.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Greg: Florida has a bill. It doesn’t really do anything, and it will be a few more years, I think, before Florida can even approach this as an equality issue.

Fisher: I was talking at a friend of mine recently about this and he said, “Oh, I don’t want to see that happen. I don’t want to see that because you know, my brother, he adopted a couple of kids and that would undermine him as the parent if they were in touch with the birth family and all that.” And I’m sure you’ve heard every argument under the sun, both of you. Tell me, what are the arguments that you hear that are holding this up elsewhere, and what are the arguments that are winning?

Greg: Well, the adopted parent, the sort of fear that can undermine their relationship. I think it’s a natural fear for any parent.

Fisher: Sure. Yeah.

Greg: It really comes into play. With me, for instance, I know who my birth parents are after years of trying to find their names and it’s actually strengthened my relationship with my adoptive parents. I acknowledge the natural fear but those fears don’t really play out.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Annette: And in New York we had large support from adoptive parents.

Fisher: That’s awesome.

Annette: We had large support from adoptive parents who want their kids to be treated equally under the law when they’re an adult and who want their kids to know their information.

Fisher: And what percentages of people actually do go for contact after they identify who their birth parents are?

Greg: You know, I don’t think we have that information. I think there’s just so little information on it specifically because it’s such a private moment for everybody.

Fisher: Sure.

Greg: It’s a private event.

Annette: And because people do it without the original birth certificate anyway. People use consumer DNA tests and find their biological family in that manner.

Fisher: Sure.

Annette: They don’t need the birth certificate to do that.

Fisher: DNA end-runs a lot of the problems throughout the country anyway, but the idea that you can’t even see your own birth certificate, I know that’s a problem. Just last year, I had a second cousin show up and I knew immediately where he fit into the family based on shared matches on Ancestry. And when I asked him, you know, “Well, where do you fit in?” because I thought I knew all the descendants from this set of great grandparents. He said, “I don’t know. I was adopted. Can you help me?” So, I did and we figured it out pretty quick. We’ve identified both his birth father and who we believe is his birth mother. We’re like 97% there. There are several sisters. We largely eliminated all the other ones, but he wants to see that confirmation on his birth certificate, and feels that should be his right to see it and I can’t disagree.

Annette: Right. That’s my whole premise. I know who my biological parents were. I know who my siblings are. I want my birth certificate. I want my original birth certificate. It’s mine. I never should have been denied access to it as an adult.

Fisher: Sure. Yeah.

Greg: I can’t stress how meaningful that piece of paper is. You use the word confirmation. That’s really what it’s about, confirmation that you were born to these people at that time and this place. And everyone in the US can receive that confirmation easily except for adoptees and that’s really the equality issue that we’re talking about.

Fisher: Um hmm. You know, it’s funny you say that because when I talked to my cousin Laurent when all this came up, he told me that when the 15th rolled around he said he got his application. I guess there’s some issues going on with what’s online and what’s available only through paper, but he was able to print something off, I guess, and he was filling out. He said he checked it six times. And he said he wanted it to be absolutely perfect, to not cause any mistake of his to hold this thing up. And he says it was really strange because, he said, “I was just nervous handling it and sticking it in the mail.”

Greg: Right.

Fisher: It really speaks to what a significant, emotional thing this is for people in this situation.

Greg: Right.

Annette: Absolutely. For New York City, we needed to have the form notarized and I was in a small town. I knew the notary and she said, “I’m so honored that I’m the one who get to notarize this for you. This is so historic.” And I did the same thing. I checked it and double checked it and quadrupled checked it to make sure there were no spelling errors, nothing wrong with it, where they wouldn’t send it back to me.

Fisher: Right. Yeah. What is the timeline by the way, in New York right now, Annette?

Annette: In New York City, there saying 12 to 16 weeks for the city.

Fisher: Okay. And are they getting pretty much flooded with requests?

Annette: What we understand is that they’ve received over 1700 requests for New York City. They’ve not let us know how many have been fulfilled. For New York State, within the first 48 hours, they received 3600 applications online just within the first 48 hours.

Fisher: Wow.

Annette: Now, they said people started getting them back five days later.

Fisher: Incredible.

Greg: Yeah, we’re going to see well over 10,000 in the New York State alone within the first year.

Annette: Oh, I think even sooner than the first year.

Greg: Yeah. Yeah, that’s just unprecedented. The 3600 and 48 hours, it blew by the states that have been open for years.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Greg: The total amount all the years that the states have been open.

Annette: And the turnaround time is absolutely amazing with the state. They’ve been absolutely amazing. It’s unprecedented that in under a week people were already receiving their original birth certificates.

Fisher: So, if somebody’s listening right now and their state is not among those that have the clean bills, the clean law that allows them to just write for their original birth certificate as an adoptee, what would you say to them?

Greg: So, there’s a couple of places to get in touch with. They can certainly go to adopteerightslaw.com, but as part of the whole process we started Adoptees United and that’s adopteesunited.organd it’s really to try to build on what we did in New York, which was building coalitions among organizations to pursue equality for adult adoptees and that’s what we’re trying to do now with other regions of the country.

Annette: And we work closely with Bastard Nation as well which is bastards.org. they were a huge part of the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition, the part of the Texas Adoptee Rights Coalition. So, there’s other organizations that all work together to make this happen.

Fisher: Well, you guys have got to be very excited and very proud and very driven now for what’s still ahead for the rest of the country. Congratulations to you both because I know you were both knee-deep in the hoopla and the assembly debate involving all this and I watched some of the debate online. It was moving to see how bipartisan it was, how supportive everybody was of one another and on both sides of the aisle it was just a terrific day.

Annette: It was breathtaking. I was there in the gallery. It was breathtaking. The whole lot of us who were there were in tears throughout the whole thing and at the end another unprecedented thing, the New York State Assembly stood up and gave us a standing ovation in the gallery.

Greg: Yeah.

Fisher: Yeah, I saw that. It was just unbelievable. Well, thank you both, Greg Luce from the Adoptee Rights Law Center and Annette O’Connell from the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition, and thanks for coming on the show and giving us the update. We look forward to hearing more from you down the line.

Greg: Thanks Scott.

Annette: Thanks Scott Fisher for your time.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’ll talk to Jessica Howe from Legacy Tree Genealogists about using migration patterns to figure out where your people came from and find new records in five minutes.

Segment 3 Episode 317

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jessica Howe

Fisher: Hey, welcome back. It’s America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It’s Fisher here, talking with Jessica Howe. She’s with Legacy Tree Genealogists, one of our great sponsors. She is a genetic genealogist. And she’s recently written a blog about migration routes and patterns and how they can help you find where your people came from, and she’s got five tips on there, five hacks I think some people like to call it. Jessica, it’s great to have you on the show. Let’s talk about this a little bit. First of all, as a genetic genealogist, this is a little bit different than we might expect to see from you in a blog.

Jessica: It is. It is. But you would be surprised how often migration patterns are utilized in DNA research. It can be invaluable, especially when you don’t have a whole lot of information to go on.

Fisher: Sure. First of all, how does it work? If you find the migration pattern of somebody and it ties into your DNA, how does that connect?

Jessica: Well, there are a couple of websites when you’re doing DNA testing, MyHeritage, Ancestry, they will give you different pedigree maps for the world. So, you will have DNA matches from all over the world and they’ll give you little nuggets of information. You have a concentration of people in a certain area of a certain country, or a certain region. Ancestry DNA will give you a genetic community. You can utilize those when you’re doing DNA research and family research to help trace your family to a specific region or a specific country that you may not otherwise have thought of.

Fisher: Right. Now this is because you’re using the ethnicity test and that will not only show you your percentages of where you’re from but also where the migrations are for many of these people. That’s a great thought.

Jessica: It is, especially when you’re doing things like southern research where everyone tends to conglomerate in certain areas, African American research, it can be really invaluable. If you have first- or second-generation immigration in your family this could really help bring you across the pond to a different country.

Fisher: Interesting. All right, well, let’s go through the tips then. How do you put some of these things together? I guess that’s one right,going to Ancestry or MyHeritage to see the patterns?

Jessica: Yes. MyHeritage DNA has a pedigree map where it will show you different concentrations for your DNA and will kind of give you an idea of regions that you might want to focus in, that you wouldn’t otherwise think would be a possibility.

Fisher: Okay.

Jessica: Ancestry DNA has the communities feature, where personally from my interest, my family was all in the Deep South and both of my grandparents were from Alabama. So, on the blog, if you go to the blog post on LegacyTree.com, you’re going to see my actual communities’ as an example. So, I have northern Alabama, but then it gets a bit more deep and it gives you a sub-group. Some of my family were part of the Birmingham, Alabama Settlers Area, in North West Alabama. They also give you different areas west, as my family and my ancestors migrated west, it will show you different areas where they had settled. It will also show you DNA matches who share those sub-groups with you.

Fisher: Wow.

Jessica: That can be really helpful if you have a brick wall like I did in my family.

Fisher: Wow, that’s a great tip, got to try that myself.

Jessica: Absolutely. Number three think a little outside the box. On the blog post I gave you an example of thinking of your family history as a giant pie. Everybody knows that your grandparents may have started in one location and they ended up in another location,location A to location B, but they’re not thinking about all of the ingredients that got them there. You have to think about the fact that when your family migrated, they migrated in groups of people. Sometimes it wasn’t huge like we see in the Oregon Trail or as we learned about as children. There’s not going to be large caravans of covered wagons and hundreds of families travelling hundreds of miles. It’s going to be smaller groups of people and those people are going to know each other. They’re going to be familiar with one another. They’re going to have a common goal. So, when you’re looking for your family and you’re trying to trace them back additional generations, start where they were. If you can’t find anything about them in the last record that you have for them in the census records, start with their neighbors, look for their friends, their families, the people that they went to church with. All of those things can get you different records to go back with. Church records, church minutes, they may have witnessed a deed for someone, when someone passed away, they may have purchased some of his personal property for his estate, things like that you wouldn’t normally think of.


Jessica: Number four is a great, great resource for people.If you’re looking for a visual guide to help you with migration routes and patterns, there’s a book that William Dollarhide wrote, called Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815. That book is invaluable for people whose families started possibly in one state and then migrated west. My family started in Virginia, and migrated south through North Carolina, South Carolina, into Georgia, into Alabama, and then they went west from there into Texas. When I knew that, because I had that reference to go by, I knew exactly what road they travelled on, which was the Federal Road and theFall Line Road.

Fisher: Hmm

Jessica: Okay?

Fisher: Right.

Jessica: I was able to trace them in courthouse records around those areas in different states based on DNA matches I had for those regions and the Fall Line route that they had taken, thanks to Mr. Dollarhide’s book.

Fisher: Wow! That’s a great tip, and you say you got into courthouse records and other places you hadn’t known they’d been. Were these stops that they made and these were maybe land records?

Jessica: Yeah. They had witnessed some deeds for a friend of theirs who happened to stay in the area, but they ended up migrating on. They had a child there in Georgia, and then once they migrated on to Alabama, no one ever knew what part of Georgia. The census record just said Georgia.

Fisher: Ha.

Jessica: So, you were able to look at the Fall Line Road map on Mr. Dollarhide’s guide and then you could trace areas around that. So, when my family migrated from North Carolina through Georgia, we knew that they had a child in Georgia. We were able to look for the areas surrounding those roads, find other people that they eventually settled with in Alabama, find records for them and lo and behold my family had witnessed a record for them in Georgia.

Fisher: Oh, wow.

Jessica: So, that placed them in a specific county that you would not have normally been able to find.

Fisher: Sure.

Jessica: And no one had ever known this information before.

Fisher: Isn’t that fun when you find something that nobody in the family has known for 150 years?

Jessica: Oh, it’s amazing! My four times great grandparents migrated in the mid 1830s into Alabama,so it was astonishing.Prior to this, no one had ever known any of this information. Because of the DNA matches that we had, we kind of had an idea where they might have been. They were not listed in any records that we could find but we were able to trace their fan-club.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jessica: So, we were able to trace their friends, their acquaintances, their neighbors, and we found other people in records where some of those people had stayed and other family members had travelled on with them.

Fisher: So, did you look in the census and see if they were, say, from the same area in Virginia where they started as possible candidates for travel companions?

Jessica: We were able to trace them to South Carolina, but prior to that, all of the records for the regions that they lived in were destroyed in the Civil War.

Fisher: Oh.

Jessica: So, we were able to utilize Y-DNA to be able to trace them back into a specific county in North Carolina and then into Virginia.

Fisher: You know, that’s just strong work right there Jessica, I’m impressed.

Jessica: Thanks! Thank you. I appreciate it.

Fisher: This is a great blog. We’re going to link to it on ExtremeGenes.com, so people can see some of the things you’re talking about. Jessica, thanks for the tips. I actually look forward to going through that blog with a fine-tooth comb.

Jessica: Thank you so much Fisher! I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’ll talk to Dr. Henry Louis Gates and find out what’s the latest on PBS’s Finding Your Roots, his latest segment, when we return in three minutes on America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes.



Segment 4 Episode 317

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Henry Louis Gates

Fisher: All right, back at it and Dr. Henry Louis Gates is back on the line with us this week, talking about his PBS series, Finding Your Roots. Dr. Gates, fill us in. Who do you have on the show?

Dr. Gates: Well, we have three exciting guests, they're all scientists. The first is Francis Collins. Francis Collins was the director of the human genome project, which led, Scott, to the first ever mapping of human DNA. And currently, he's the director of the National Institute of Health. Our second guest is Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, a nuclear physicist, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She's the first African American woman to have earned a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Fisher: All right.

Dr. Gates:And finally, Nobel laureate, Harold Varmus who won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1989 for his work on the genetic basis of several types of cancer. Let me start with Francis Collins. Francis remembers his paternal grandmother, her name was Elizabeth Sellersand he said she was cold and aloof, and we found out why. Her father, Henry Sellers was a successful real estate dealer and lawyer in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, but in 1907, her younger brother, Harry, after returning home from college committed suicide.

Fisher: Oh.

Dr. Gates: It made the front page of the New York Times, and a year later in 1908 Elizabeth's father also shot himself.

Fisher: Oh no!

Dr. Gates: Exactly as his son had done. So, Elizabeth, Francis Collin's paternal grandmother lost both her father and brother to suicide with deaths occurring in the family home, and Francis had no idea. And you know what, he didn't cry, but later, I talked to him and he told me, he went home, recounted the story to his wife and burst into tears. Then, we found out on his father's side, his fourth great grandfather also names Francis Sellersimmigrated to America, settled in Maryland, bought slaves, and by the early 1800s, he owned at least nine enslaved persons, but when Francis died in 1804, he did something very rare for a slave holder, he set them free in his will, possibly for religious reasons, you know.

Fisher: Sure.

Dr. Gates: The fear of going to hell is a strong motivator man. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yes.

Dr. Gates: And his DNA cousin was Jimmy Kimmel.

Fisher: No!

Dr. Gates: You know, from The Late Night Show.

Fisher: Wow!

Dr. Gates: You couldn't find two people more unalike. With Shirley Ann Jackson, she lost both of her parents when she was a teenager and her father, George Hider Jacksonlost his father when he was a child. So, Shirley came in knowing nothing about her ancestors, and we traced her back on her father's side to the early 1830s in a place called Cuckoo Virginia back to her great, great grandparents. And on her mother's side, we found three sets of her great, great grandparents all born in Virginia in the mid 1800s. She is a DNA cousin of the famous journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York Times’ bestselling author in both fiction and nonfiction. And finally, the Nobel laureate, Harold Varmus. Harold's paternal grandmother, Ester Grinburgwas born in the Russian Empire and immigrated to America with her husband, Jacob in the year 1906, but she had six siblings who stayed behind. Many of whom immigrated to France. That proved to be a terrible, terrible mistake. All of her siblings ended up perishing in the war. Harold was stunned! He couldn't believe the extent of his relatives killedby the Nazis and this is what he said, "This is daunting. The only reason I'm here is that my grandparents made the decision to leave in 1906, otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation." It’s an amazing show!

Fisher: Love it. It’s on Tuesday night on PBS. Check your local listings for the time near you. And Dr. Gates, unbelievable summary this and I think it’s something we've all got to see.

Dr. Gates: Thank you, brother. I’ll talk next week, to the Extreme Genes man himself. [Laughs]

Fisher: That's me! And coming up next, it’s another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 317

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: Welcome back. Time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. David Allen Lambert is back. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How are you, David?

David: I'm doing great. It's been so long since we chatted.

Fisher: I know, I know.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: Hey, I got an email here from David in Chester County, Pennsylvania. David writes, "Fish, I heard you talking about your ancestor who was a volunteer fireman in New York City. I had one of those as well. Where did you find those firemen records you were talking about?" That is a great question, because not only New York, there are other repositories around the country that can tell you about your volunteer firemen as well. In the New York area though, the volunteer firemen go actually back to the 1600s, but the official department didn't start until the 1700s and they kept pretty good records on these guys, and they gave their address and they talked about their occupation, when they entered a particular unit, you know, as a hook and ladder company or an engine company or a hose company, they cover them all. And so, they are in the municipal archives in New York City. And I actually had to work with them to help them find them, because you know, some archives are so big, David, as you well know, it’s really hard for some of them to know even what they have, because a lot of things get misplaced and put in different places, and I will tell you, they did a great job of digging these up, because I'd found a reference to these records being where they are in an account from the 1950s that was published. And so they went to work and I showed up for an appointment and they rolled out just books and books and books of these firemen records. And I will tell you, they are very detailed and they even talked about one of my relatives being part of an entire unit that got suspended, because as you know, David, a lot of these firefighting units they would get in fights with each other trying to get to the fire first.

David: Oh, right, competition to get the fire out, exactly.

Fisher: Yes.

David: You know, our first fire department in Stoughton, Massachusetts was a bunch of volunteers and they went down into the cellar of the place to get axes or whatever, the found a barrel of rum.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: The building wasn't saved, but the rum was consumed, so we had a new fire department in 1853. You know, just the other day, I was Google searching my wife's great, great grandfather, it’s a very unusual name, Gordan Nowlin, just to see if anything was out there, you know, descendants and all that. I found him in a fire department for Boston Report in three years. He was a volunteer fireman in a station in Roxbury. Here's the kicker, the old station stood next door to where my mother grew up in the 1940s.

Fisher: How about that!

David: He was there in the 1850s and then my family is 90 years later.

Fisher: That's crazy! It’s amazing the stuff you can find. And you know, the thing about it is, it can really tell you part of the story, because the length of time volunteer firemen were in can change their status when it comes to exemption, like from jury duty or militia or things along these lines. So they kept very careful records about how long they were in there. In New York, it was seven years for certain periods of time and then they cut it down to five years. So if you were in service, public service fighting fires for like five years, you could avoid these other types of duty. And that's what ultimately led to some of the draft riots in New York City. Some of the firemen were getting drafted and they were supposed to be exempt. And so, that did not go over really well, and that's some of the stuff you can dig up in firemen records no matter where they're from. David, thank you so much! We will talk to you again next week.

David: Always a pleasure.

Fisher:And always great to have you on. And of course, thanks also for the question. If you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. Well, it’s been an action packed show!Thank you so much for joining us this week. Thanks once again to our guest, Greg Luce and Annette O'Connell, the Adoptees Rights advocates from Minnesota and New York City for keeping us up to date on all the efforts around the country to give adoptees rights to their original birth records. Thanks to Jessica Howe from Legacy Tree Genealogists for talking about migration patterns and Dr. Henry Louis Gates for coming on and talking about Finding Your Roots. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

Subscribe now to find out why hundreds of thousands of family researchers listen to Extreme Genes every week!

Email me new episodes