Episode 319 - Project Recover Locates Three World War II Bombers in Pacific Lagoon / Maureen Taylor on MyHeritage Colorized Photos

podcast episode Mar 01, 2020

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  The guys open with bad news from Plymouth, Massachusetts, where, in this year of Mayflower commemoration, someone or some group has sprayed some historic sites with spray paint. Hear the details. David then talks about a pair of great finds he recently made on an ancestor in a digitized newspaper site. The guys next talk about a recent follow up story from the Smithsonian about how an extremely rare piece of Thomas Jefferson 1800 campaign memorabilia was found by two boys in 1958. More recently, an eleven-year-old in Virginia, walking along a river, thought he found a gun shaped rock. Guess what?! David then shines his blogger spotlight on three bloggers out of eastern Europe.

Fisher next visits with Colin Colbourne, Chief Historian of Project Recover. The non-profit recently announced that they have located three American World War II bombers in a lagoon in the Pacific. Hear about how the group did it and what happens next.

Then, Photo Detective Maureen Taylor joins the show to talk about MyHeritage.com’s recent colorization feature.  Maureen and Fisher compare observations and share with you thoughts on how it may improve in the future… automatically!

Dr. Henry Louis Gates then visits with Fisher about his latest episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS. This week, Dr. Gates talks about his guests who all are at least partly of Italian descent. But for at least two of them, there’s a little surprise waiting in their DNA!

David Allen Lambert rejoins Fisher to wrap up the show with another round of Ask Us Anything. The guys tackle a listener question about altered ages and birthdates in various records.

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

Transcript of Episode 319

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 319

Fisher: And you have found us, America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com and welcome to it. It is Fisher here your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. A loaded show today! We’re going to be talking to Colin Colbourn. He is the Chief Historian for a group called Project Recover and we met him last June as they had identified a bomber that had crashed in World War II, and they were able to ultimately get the remains recovered from the crew members. Well, guess what? They have found tree more bombing planes in what’s called the Island of Truk in the Pacific Ocean. It goes back to 1944. You’re going to want to hear the story behind these planes, how Colin and Project Recover found these planes and what’s going to happen moving forward. It’s going to be a fascinating story from World War II. Then later in the show, Maureen Taylor is back. She is the photo detective. Of course, everybody’s talking about the colorized photos now due to that new feature with My Heritage.com. She’s going to talk about the history of colorized photographs and they actually go back a little further than you think. And again, this week we’ll be talking to Dr. Henry Louis Gates from the PBS series Finding Your Roots about his most recent episode, one you can catch and stream. That will be later on in the show. And of course, we’ll do another segment of Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And here he is right now. How are you David?

David: Well, your Roots reporter has some rather sad news to report. As America and the world looks forward to the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, vandalism has struck in Plymouth.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: This is terrible, terrible news. Somebody has spray painted Plymouth Rock as well as vandalizing the National Monument to the Forefathers and the Pilgrim Maiden statue which is a bronze statue that stands almost across the street from Plymouth Rock, all spray painted in red, some with vulgarity, some of it with the tag of the person who did it. It’s just horrible news, but I think the 35 million descendants of those that survived the first winter of Plymouth probably would want to know. And I bet a lot of people do know this, but it’s important news.

Fisher: Yeah, as one of them, it just makes you sick and the work that’s going to have to go into cleaning up Plymouth Rock. And I will say this, Plymouth Rock I’ve only been there once. [Laughs] It’s not much, is it David?                                                                                                                                                                      

David: No, but it’s one of those things in American history regarded as a symbol and you know, it’s a headstone.

Fisher: It’s iconic.

David: Yeah.

Fisher: It’s iconic where the Pilgrims first stepped foot on North American soil. Well, hopefully they can figure out some way to clean it up and not have it permanently marred.

David: I think that they have some chemicals that they have been using from the get-go on when it was discovered and I think the clean-up is going quite well.

Fisher: Good.                                                                                                                                                                            

David: Well, I want to share a fun Poor relation story. My grandmother’s family is a Poor family and Henry Poor, my third great grandfather. I decided to go on some of newspaper our data bases online, and on NewsPapers.com. I found something. In a Fall River newspaper for him, Henry Poor of 58 Elliot Street, Boston and others recommend this liniment for rheumatism. This is in 1837.

Fisher: [Laughs]         

David: So, I have found medical history in the newspaper183 years ago that I didn’t know. 

Fisher: Wow!                                                                 

David: So, all my cousins who have rheumatoid arthritis, I can say I know where it comes from.

Fisher: It came right down that line. That’s unbelievable.                                                                                                                                   

David: Well, and I thought I was going to stop there that I found that good old Henry was a democrat rallying on Boylston Street in Boston at about 1835. Boylston Street is a block away from where I work.

Fisher: Oh wow.                                                                                                                

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: That’s crazy!                                                                                                     

David: Well, speaking of great finds, back in 1958 a boy walking along the railroad track found a box and in it they found something that looked like a hand drawn flag, stuffed it in his shirt and it was sold for a couple of thousand dollars. Well, this flag had a little bit more historical significance than what he thought. It was a campaign support flag for Thomas Jefferson after he beat Adams in 1800.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, and it’s now at the Smithsonian. And imagine these two kids, I think one was like 14 and the other was 11. They’re in their 70s right now and the Smithsonian wanted to verify the story of how this thing was found and the only thing they can think of is that there was a road that went by these railroad tracks in Massachusetts by the way, your home state here David.                                                       

David: Um hmm.

Fisher: And they think this box maybe fell off a car or out of the back of a truck or something as they were maybe moving some place. So, there was the box. These guys found it and this one kid thought it was a pretty cool looking thing, stuffed it in his shirt and at his home he hung it up on his wall with a couple of thumb tacks. [Laughs]  

David: [Laughs] That’s great. You know, you just never know what you’re going to find. An 11-year-old walking along a river in Virginia, he found what he thought was a rock shaped like a gun. Actually, it was a gun, 130-year-old gun that probably someone tossed in the river, maybe from a crime, maybe it was lost, but it’s interesting what you can find.

Fisher: Yeah, this kid dropped this thing. He thought it was a rock that was shaped like a gun. He dropped it and the rock broke off and it’s like, oh! And they figuring it goes back to the 1880s or ‘90s. Unbelievable.                                                                                   

David: Yeah, a little revolver. It’s a great story on ExtremeGenes.com. You know, I like to put my blogger spotlight obviously on genealogists’ websites, but in genealogy history and culture is so very important. And there is a website for Czech genealogy, culture and history called Tres Bohemes, so, TresBoheme.com. There are three young ladies in the Czech Republic who are doing this blog and it’s great and it is in English by the way. And hats off to my friend Tasha Jackson of Iowa. Read her genealogy. She is the one who told me about this site and kind of like it and wanted to share it with everybody else. Well, that’s about all I have this week. Don’t forget, if you’re not a member of our 175th organization, American Ancestors welcomes you as a member and as an Extreme Genes listener. Don’t forget to use the coupon code “Extreme” and save $20 on your membership.

Fisher: All right David. Excellent! And we’ll talk to you at the back end of the show as we do another Ask Us Anything segment.     

David: Good.

Fisher: And coming up next we’re going to talk to Colin Colbourn. He is the Chief Historian for Project Recover. They have made another incredible find in the Pacific, yes, bomber planes from the United States that are in a lagoon there, and they’re hoping to recover the remains of the airmen. We’ll hear all about it coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 319

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Colin Colbourn

Fisher: Well, I think it was last June that I first made the acquaintance of my next guest on Extreme Genes with an organization called the Bent Prop Project. And since that time, the project has changed its name. It’s now called Project Recover. But Colin Colbourn we had on back then, the Chief Historian for the organization has been very active lately and they’ve made an amazing find in the Pacific ocean recently and we had to get Colin back on the phone to talk about this, how they found them, what the planes are, what the history of the planes are, what’s coming up now for recovery of the remains of these airmen. It’s an amazing thing. And Colin, welcome back to Extreme Genes.

Colin: Well, thanks for having me again Scott. It is wonderful to be back on, and I’m happy we have some good news to report.

Fisher: Boy, you do. And I remember I ran across this story and immediately thought, “Oh my gosh, Colin’s done it again!” [Laughs] So, this took place in a lagoon, as I understand, in the Pacific. What was the battle that these three bomber planes were engaged in?

Colin: Yes sir. So today, the country was called The Federated States of Micronesia, and one of those states is called Chuuk.

Fisher: Okay.

Colin: But in World War II, we actually called it Truk Lagoon.

Fisher: Um hmm. Yes.

Colin: And they called it the Gibraltar of the Pacific, in other words, a very heavily fortified Japanese base. It has three fully serviceable airfields, and multiple deep-water harbors where the Japanese battle fleet and merchant ships fleet operated out of throughout the Pacific.

Fisher: I had an uncle who was actually in a battle for Truk back in the day.

Colin: Oh, in the Pacific?

Fisher: Oh, no. He was in the Navy and he was with one of the heavy cruisers that did their work protecting the aircraft carriers at the time. And this was one of his battles and it’s an amazing thing to think that this is part of that.

Colin: Yeah, absolutely. So, in 1944 the U.S. organized five heavy fleet carriers and four light carriers. It’s an organization called Task Force 58, a big U.S. aircraft carrier task force. And they have a lot of planes and they’re going on a mission to basically disrupt the Japanese at all their bases, The Marshalls, Gilberts, and then Caroline Islands. And in February 1944, 17/18th February local time, this carrier task force launched all its aircraft against Truk Lagoon, fully expecting there to be a huge fight. Again, there were three fully serviceable air fields including two fleet lane bases. So, they knew they were going to get into something. That morning they launched several waves of attack aircraft and cleared it out. It was a pitched battle for two days. However, the U.S. had already over flown that lagoon earlier that February so the Japanese cleared out their big battle fleet. But there was still big air war and a lot of merchant ships still left in the lagoon. So, U.S. planes sank I think up to 50 of those ships over the two days.

Fisher: Wow.

Colin: And over the course of that battle, they lost, we know now, almost 30 aircrafts including operational and combating incidents. But we know now that 12 of those aircrafts we believe are in the lagoon itself still today and fortunately, we found three of them.

Fisher: Wow. Isn’t that something? I mean, it just must be something where you go to bed at night a smile on your face thinking that sometime soon these guys are going to have their remains back where they belong here in the United States with their family.

Colin: It really feels good. And to be honest Scott, I’ve done two shoots now four times in the last two years. I spend a good amount of my time there and getting to know the people, and really understanding the geography and the battlefield. It’s just really great. You invest your time. You know, I’ll never forget any of the names of these guys that had been left in there. And yeah exactly, to be able to know, hopefully, we’ll be able to bring some of these guys back home and bury them with their families. It’s really incredible.

Fisher: So, let’s talk about Project Recover a little bit now. How do you guys go about doing this work? You’re the chief historian and obviously there has to be an understanding of what’s there in the first place so that you know what you’re looking for.

Colin: Yeah, we’re a global operation. So, the way we go about it is we try to choose areas that we’re going to put a lot of time and effort to search. There are multiple aircraft there so that we have a good high probability. You know, we ought to be able to find some aircraft. And we’ve been successful in the past. Last time we talked about a B-24 that we found in Hansa Bay, Papua New Guinea.

Fisher: Yeah.

Colin: And we’ve, of course, had a lot of success in Palau with the Bent Prop Project over the years. So, Truk lagoon really stuck out of the place where we knew this operation happened, but also several other operations happened there. And it was a by-pass island, so American troops never went there. So, we sent airplanes to bomb it for the entire war, and as a result there are a lot of aircrafts there. So, this is how we sort of prioritize down to an area where we might have a high probability of finding something.

Fisher: Boy, that’s just astounding. So, how long were you working at Truk, and is it an atoll or an island?

Colin: It’s a group of islands within a large fringing coral reef.

Fisher: Okay.

Colin: So, it’s kind of almost triangular in shape, but it’s 2000 square kilometers. It’s a very big lagoon and they have large islands that are mountainous on the interior as well as some that the Japanese have cleared off entirely and made into big, flat operating, you know we call them island carriers. They’ve literally just dug them down to make them basically flat runways and so, it's a very interesting place, and very reflective of the Japanese base built here in World War II.

Fisher: So, when did you start working on Truk?

Colin: I started working on Truk in January of 2018 and you know, we sent a couple of anthropologists and myself to go out and just to talk to people, basically just to test the water and see, you know, was there a lot of planes scrapping? Is it possible though we could still find airplanes there? And we have found that it was a very protected place, and that there were some opportunities. So, I’ve been going there since January 2018. I’ve been back four times and our dedicated searches with underwater sonar started in April 2018.

Fisher: Wow. So, some of these natives, do they have stories that have been passed down from family, or even some of the older ones that actually remember it first hand?

Colin: When we first got there, we were told that it was highly unlikely of course that there were still going to be survivors. I mean, even in the United States today, finding World War II veterans is not an easy task. And yet, when we actually got over to some of the islands with some amazing local experts, we found people who were witnesses to these tragedies, but also the human experience of the war. And we got to talk to some people as old as 95-years old there who really had a lot of great stories to tell us, both about the attack, and also about the executions that happened of American prisoners of war by the Japanese throughout the war.

Fisher: Have any of those remains ever been found?

Colin: Unfortunately, no. No remains have been found yet for those executions. And we still have a dedicated search. The Japanese after the war were brought up on war crimes charges and as a result, investigations were launched. But the Japanese said that all the remains had been dug up and cremated or dropped out to sea. You know, we still hold out hope that some of those remains in some areas, and we have some pretty good leads, could still be there. So, Truk very much for us is a two-prong search. It’s both in the sea, inside the lagoon to find airplanes with MIAs but also hopefully executed POWs on my end as well.

Fisher: Wow. And this is just all in keeping with the idea that our military never forgets and they’re still looking. I mean, they’re still dealing with World War I victims, are they not?

Colin: Absolutely. Not long ago they had some World War I victims and of course the submarine from the Civil War even that was found. And our primary focus for Project Recover is World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, all the way up to the Gulf War. You know, for us, Sonar is our expertise with the University of Delaware and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. With both of those groups, our best capabilities are underwater Sonar. And a lot of people say, “Why do you care about the planes?” and the answer is, “We don’t care about the planes. It’s the guys on the inside.” But the planes are the grave markers if you will, what helps us find them.

Fisher: Right. Yeah.

Colin: So, that’s really our focus.

Fisher: So, you found these three bombers. Are you expecting that you’re going to continue to look for the other? You said, I think, there were 12 in that lagoon. Are there nine others that you’re still looking for?

Colin: There are nine others just from that strike alone. There are a grand total, we believe, inside the lagoon of 33 aircrafts, 30 now remaining with the three that we just found.

Fisher: Wow! That’s got to be a big lagoon though for all those to be there and you’ve only found three.

Colin: It’s a large lagoon. And you know for us, the historical loss information is not always accurate. You know, we have B-24s that were supposedly lost on bombing raids. In many cases they say they were hit over the target, but we don’t really know where they crashed and so we have to sort of make a judgment on do we think this is in the lagoon? How would we go about searching for this? But, like I said, there were strikes on that lagoon from February 1944 all the way through August 1945. And that included not just carrier aircrafts but B-24s, B-29s, American fighter aircrafts with rockets and even the British conducted an airstrike on Truk as well.

Fisher: Wow! So, is there a way for anybody to be involved in your organization, or are you looking for people with certain roles? How’s that work?

Colin: Well, we are looking for people with certain roles, but we are also always looking for volunteers. And certainly, on my history team I could always use volunteers. I really encourage people to go to ProjectRecover.org and look there about how to apply and sign up to become a volunteer because we could use their help. And we invite the help because we’re a small organization that relies on fundraising and we could use all the help we can get. We are very fortunate that we can use the help.

Fisher: How many people are in your group?

Colin: In Project Recovery, you include the people that work with the universities and with the non-profit. I would say we have a portion of 50 people all together that are actively working throughout the year on our projects.

Fisher: Wow. Well, congrats to you all because this is a team effort no doubt. And there’s more news to come from this when the remains are recovered and brought back home. Congratulations and we look forward to hearing more success out of Project Recover. Thanks Colin.

Colin: Thank you Scott. I appreciate it.

Fisher: He’s Colin Colbourn. He’s the Chief Historian for Project Recover and of course you can find out more at projectrecover.org. And coming up next we’re going to talk to the photo detective Maureen Taylor about this whole colorization thing that has just hit us square between the eyes from My Heritage. That’s coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History show.

Segment 3 Episode 319

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Maureen Taylor

Fisher: And, welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, very thrilled to have my good friend Maureen Taylor the Photo Detective, back on the show this week. Maureen this is a big week. I mean, everybody is buzzing photographs right now because of the colorization, I guess you’d call it an app that they provided on My Heritage.

Maureen: Thanks Scott. Thanks for having me on. And yes, my social media feed is just full of colored photographs now from My Heritage, in color trademark technology.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: It’s pretty amazing. It’s created by Jason Antic and Dana Kelley who are, according to My Heritage, deep learning experts. I don’t know about you, but this is fine to ask when you start talking about colorizing black and white photographs automatically using machine learning algorithms.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Maureen: That means the machine learns.

Fisher: Yeah, so it gets better over time theoretically anyway.

Maureen: Right.

Fisher: And I did notice the colorization is not perfect, but when you consider how much it costs typically to colorize a single photograph. I mean, back in the 1980s we found that in a peach basket in one of Julie’s, my wife’s relatives homes, in the garage there was a photo of her great grandparents with the family from the nineteen teens. It was damaged. We hired somebody to go through and fix it. Now, they did it by taking a picture of the picture and then basically doing some artwork on it and then taking a picture of that picture and providing it to us. It was like 150 bucks. Now, of course with photoshop many of us can do much the same thing for just the cost of having photoshop. And now we can colorize these things. In my experience with it, I’ve done hundreds of these photos now through My Heritage just to get a taste of it. It looks like most of them come out pretty good. I’d say 70 /80 percent. And there are some though, that seem to have a little trouble between blue, purple, and red. Did you notice that?

Maureen: Yes. I have a few things to say about this.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: One, I think this is a great tool because it makes people look at their photographs like they haven’t seen them before.

Fisher: Yes.

Maureen: So they notice new details. Now, given that this is a machine algorithm and we assume it’s going to get smarter the more it does. We’ll have to see where it goes. I noticed that there were some problems with hands and skin tones.

Fisher: Yes.

Maureen: Plus the palette is rather limited. So when you go to a person that does something to colorize a black and white photograph and you go to a professional colorist like Claudia D'Souza who I interviewed for my podcast the Photo Detective, about a month ago, she’s in the UK and she brings a whole other level of colorization to images. So, she does the research to find out what colors were popular that someone might have worn in that time period and even what that might have looked like in a photograph. So, while the algorithm paints this general sense of what colors might have been worn, is it historically accurate? Hmm, some, maybe not.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: But, if it makes you look at your photograph in a new way, which is what I’m always telling people to do. It’s like it’s hard to get that image out of your mind when you’ve looked at it and looked at it, and looked at it. If this gives you that fresh eye, wow, that’s great.

Fisher: And I’ll tell you, that’s exactly what I felt. You described it dead on because I created a folder of all these new colorized pictures and wanted to keep them separate from the originals. That first day, it was like just gorging on this thing and it was like midnight and I said, okay, I’ve got to go back and look and see what I’ve done. I opened that folder and just started clicking one to the next and the next, and I’m just gasping, and the emotion that I felt from it because I’m looking at them just as you said, in a whole new way that I had never done before because of this. Where they perfect? Of course not.

Maureen: Right.

Fisher: And do we know that the colors are perfectly accurate, especially from the 19th century? Probably not.

Maureen: Probably not.

Fisher: There are some you can actually go through and fix yourself a little bit with Adobe Elements.

Maureen: Yeah.

Fisher: And there are some you would need a more expert level person to do this with. But, My Heritage says they already had one million photographs colorized on their site. I’m just amazed that they didn’t get the site crashed.

Maureen: Well, I interviewed Daniel Horowitz a few weeks ago and he told me this was coming and of course I couldn’t say anything. The episode I recorded with him will drop soon.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: But he told me about it and I was like, what? [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. This is a big deal. This is a big thing.

Maureen: This is the future of it. I’m assuming it will get even better.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Maureen: And colorizing images has been around since the beginning of photography.

Fisher: Yeah. Tell us some of the history of that.

Maureen: So, when you sat for a daguerreotype it was pretty much a black and white. But I love daguerreotypes they sort of have a 3D quality to them.

Fisher: Sure. They do.

Maureen: But, you’re black and white so you don’t really look real. So, early on there were techniques developed to colorize images and individuals were hired to do that. That was their job, primarily women. They used artist materials. So, depending on the type of photograph, it could be gold leaf, it could be pink. It could be red. Some really expensive daguerreotypes were completely colored so that they almost looked like a painting.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s right.

Maureen: And later on there were colorized images like crayon portraits and they used pastels, charcoal, pencil, and paint.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: There are different artist materials that were used over the years to colorize images. A lot of them were at the time the picture was made. The crayon portraits were copies of older photos and then they had them colorized. This is a long history of turning black and whites images into color.

Fisher: Sure. There was a real art to it at the time.

Maureen: There is a real art. There are some that are not very good.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] You think?

Maureen: Yeah, with lots of color or the wrong shade like brilliant green grass. And actually, when my daughter was into arts and crafts her friends would come over. I had a printer that would do really nice black and white images and I bought a colorizing kit. You could buy a colorizing kit at an art supply store. I think you still can. And then you can practice your colorizing on actual prints.

Fisher: Ha.

Maureen: Don’t do it to your old ones. Just do it to the copies.

Fisher: Right, the copies. [Laughs]

Maureen: You can play with it and colorize and get a sense of what’s involved, especially of what was involved in the 19th century for that. But this, you upload an image and it’s done in seconds. They said up to thirty seconds. I don’t think any of mine have taken thirty seconds.

Fisher: I think they’ve been more like twenty and I guess, by the time you go and click through and figure out, oh, I’m going to do this one this time, maybe it’s thirty. You can do it reasonably two a minute with this thing and most of them come out pretty darn good. It’s so impressive. Did you find yourself gasping when you saw some of the results?

Maureen: Yes. So, I tested it with some of the images that I collect for research and one of them was this spectacular photograph from the late 1920s and she’s got that skull cap on, you know that cloche hat?

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: And a really bold patterned fabric and she’s got like chrysanthemums in the foreground. And I really wanted to see what would it do with it and it came out mostly red and pink. In the period it might have been red and pink. It could have been purple.

Fisher: Sure.

Maureen: And what colors are chrysanthemums? It could have been a yellow even, some of it. But when that was done, I did gasp at it. It changed the whole impression of the photograph.

Fisher: Yeah and there are many. I had a historical photo of New York City in 1864 and I colorized it just to see what it would do with it, and that one caused me to gasp because all of a sudden the buildings are brown, the sky is blue, the horses are brown. The taxi cabs along the road were black. And yet, you still have the feel of it been an old photograph. Because for instance, as the horses moved as the photo was being taken they kind of became ghostly. You know what I’m talking about?

Maureen: Yes.

Fisher: Just not fast enough at that time. But it was amazing to look at that. Anyway, great catching up with you Maureen and getting your impression on it. I’m excited to hear so many other people are excited about this. I think this opens a whole new way of exploring our family history through photographs. Thanks once again for coming on.

Maureen: Thank you. I love talking about pictures anytime.

Fisher: All right, and coming up next, Dr. Henry Louis Gates is back talking about his latest episode on PBS’s Finding Your Roots, in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 319

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Henry Louis Gates

Fisher: We are back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with Dr. Henry Louis Gates from the PBS series, Finding Your Roots. And Dr. Gates, what have you got going for us this week?

Dr. Gates: This week is called Italian Roots and it features three guests of partial Italian descent, Jimmy Kimmel, Marisa Tomei and the actor, John Turturro. And the DNA results are so fascinating. You know Jimmy Kimmel.

Fisher: Sure.

Dr. Gates: Everybody, you know, you see him late night on ABC. Jimmy's paternal roots are German, but his mother's side is all Italian.

Fisher: Huh!

Dr. Gates: And we were able to trace Jimmy back to his 9th great grandfather, Johan Kammel, born around 1608 in Vitzorode, Germany. Shakespeare was alive man! Shakespeare didn't die till 1616.

Fisher: That's a good line. That's a good run. Good job!

Dr. Gates: [Laughs] And on his mama's side back to his 8th great grandfather, Giorgio Sarno, born around 1685 in Avellino, Italy. Now, despite that long paper trail, his admixture breaks down 87% European, now that includes 40% Ireland, 29% Italy and Greece, 5% Scandinavia, 4% Ashkenazi Jewish, as well, Scott, as 11% west Asian and 2% sub Saharan African.

Fisher: Really?

Dr. Gates: Yeah, and 2% sub Saharan African is a lot! You know, believe me, people claiming Native American descent, if they could get 2%, they would go crazy. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] That's true.

Dr. Gates: So that means that back, what, 3rd or 4th great grandparents perhaps could be a person who was all black, as we would say in this society.

Fisher: Sure.

Dr. Gates: That's astonishing. Now, where would that come from? Well, before I answer that question, let me tell you about John Turturro. John Turturro is Italian. His mother is a child of Sicilian immigrants. John's admixture, 93% European, 71% Italian, 2% Balkan, 16% broadly southern European, which makes sense, but he's 5.4% Middle Eastern and North African and 1.2% sub Saharan.

Fisher: Wow, there it is again!

Dr. Gates: There it is again. And as you know from watching the series, there are very few "white people" who are in the series who have any sub Saharan African. Now, just reminding our audience that all of our ancestors 50,000 years ago were walking around east Africa, probably around Ethiopia.

Fisher: Right.

Dr. Gates: So we're all Africans. But you can't measure that DNA percentage back 50,000 years, not through the standard commercial testing.

Fisher:  Right.

Dr. Gates: It only measures back at 500, about the time of the family trees that we were able to uncover. So where did this black or sub Saharan African ancestry come from? Italy! Italy was a crossroads. Italy is on the Mediterranean. In fact, you could think of Italy as Europe's gateway to Africa in the same way the Strait of Gibraltar is, right?

Fisher: Sure, yeah, makes sense.

Dr. Gates: So there was a lot of trade, a lot of commerce back and forth going back thousands of years. So we have no idea who John's black ancestor on his family tree was or Jimmy's, but they're there, because as the brothers that’s on the street say, DNA doesn't lie.

Fisher: That’s right. [Laughs]

Dr. Gates: [Laughs] And as you know, one of my favorite revelations in DNA cousins. Jimmy Kimmel's DNA cousin is Martha Stewart. Marisa Tomei's cousin is my dear friend, Julianne Moore. And the biggest surprise of all is that John Turturro has as his DNA cousin none other than Bryant Gumbel Hip Roof. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Wow, that's interesting and unique.

Dr. Gates: It is!

Fisher: Well, of course the show is on PBS Tuesday nights. You want to check your local listings to get the time right. Dr. Gates, great to talk to you as always, and we'll catch you again next week.

Dr. Gates: It’s great to talk to you, Gene Man, keep up the great work.

Fisher: [Laughs] Thank you.

Dr. Gates: [Laughs]

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert rejoins me as we do another segment of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes in three minutes.

Segment 5 Episode 319

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: Here we go our final segment for this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with David Allen Lambert the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, as we do another round of Ask Us Anything. And David, the question this week comes from Mary Ashbaker, she is in Vancouver, Washington and she has an interest little ditty here. She says, "My grandfather remarried a younger woman in 1933 and had a second family while in his late 50s and into his 60s. I grew up hearing that because of his older age, he was denied work in many private companies, as well as government funded work projects, because of his age even though he was raising a family of three young boys. My question is twofold. 1, is it true that it was much more difficult for an older man to find work at that than a younger one, and 2, it is known if older men sometimes alter their birth year in order to appear young enough to qualify for a job?" So we're talking about of course during the depression. And then she says, "I'm currently researching a person, not my grandfather, who I think may have done this. He disappears from all records after the 1920 census, but reappears maybe in a neighboring state with the same name, birthday month and location, but a birth year that made him three years younger. Occupation is also a match. This version of him keeps the younger birth year consistently from that point on until his death in 1963, but doesn't seem to exist before then when the three years older version disappeared. Mary Ashbakers." So, David, first of all, I think she's certainly got her person there.

David: Oh, I would think you're right on the money on that. I mean, that was common. I mean, think of how hard work was in general. If they thought that you weren't going to be fit enough to keep up with the other workers depending on what industry he was in, they may opt to take a 25 year old instead of somebody who's like in his late 40s or 50s.

Fisher: Yeah, because most of the jobs during the depression were very physical, so it made sense. And you know, really, there were lots of reasons for people to alter their age or make themselves look younger in the records. We see that especially with women throughout the years, right, even more so than men, but I think during the depression, it makes perfect sense.

David: It does. And like I say, if you can keep a timeline of when you see this age and different records that he has. And of course, I think what the red flag that goes up here is that the other one disappears, another one reappears and that's consistent for the rest of his life. I think that that’s almost a closed case on this one.

Fisher: Totally. If the younger version has no record before 1920 and then the older version has no record after 1920, you've got your person. And all these other things match up. And I know that in the past, I've often looked at things and go, "really? Could that really be?" but I mean, it all fits together, doesn't it.

David: It really does. I mean, and after last year when I turned 50, I decided Jack Benny's idea of being 39 eternally works. So all my records from now including my new federal recognized state ID now has my birth year a little younger. [Laughs]

Fisher: That makes a lot of sense. Good luck by the way in tracking down pictures and employment records from the '40s with his formal company. That would be something. I've never heard of anybody actually achieving that, have you?

David: The only way you can find them is accidently. See if it’s a company that's been around for a long time, because sometimes the older records with newer ones get mixed in with donations to local historical societies where the business was or better yet, do the idea of tracing the owners of the company. Contact the descendants, "By the way, in your garage, do you have any of the old employment records?"

Fisher: Well, great question. And of course, if you ever have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can email us at [email protected]. David, thanks so much. Talk to you again next week.

David: Talk to you later, my friend.

Fisher: Hey, that is our show for this week. Thanks for joining us. If you missed any of it or you'd like to catch it again, just listen to the podcast version through iTunes, iHeart Radio, Spotify or ExtremeGenes.com. And if you want more, signup for our Weekly Genie Newsletter, it’s absolutely free. You can sign up through our Facebook page or at ExtremeGenes.com. We will 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