Episode 320 - Tying Together Records and Photos Through “Mind Mapping”/ Concern: Massachusetts Governor Wants to Limit Access to Vital Records

podcast episode Mar 08, 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 begin with Fisher prodding David on his recent appearance in the pages of Woman’s Day! David explains. David then shares that Extreme Genes has received something of a clerical blessing. Next the guys share the sorrowful news of the passing of genealogist Johni Cerny. Johni was the chief genealogist for Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ PBS program Finding Your Roots, whose crew is mourning her loss. (Dr. Gates talks about her later in this show.) David then talks about the outstanding piece recently shared on Fox News about the oldest crimes that have been solved over the last two years using genetic genealogy. He then notes that a Canadian police force is now turning to the method. The last Negro League ballplayer to have played at the time of Jackie Robinson has passed. Hear who he was and just how old he was!

Fisher then visits with Ron Arons, best known as a speaker on the subject of “black sheep” ancestors. Ron talks about a very useful technique for coming to understand more about the details in your ancestors’ lives. He calls it “Mind Mapping.” Find out how it works.

Next, Ryan Woods, COO of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org  comes on to talk with Fisher about how the Governor of Massachusetts is seeking legislation to limit access to vital records. It’s a concept that, if spread around the country, could truly impact family history research. Hear Ryan’s take on the situation.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates visits with Fisher in the fourth segment, telling us a little about the late Johni Cerny, as well as the celebrities he hosts on this week’s episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS.

David Allen Lambert then returns for Ask Us Anything, tackling another listener question.

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

Transcript of Episode 320

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 320

Fisher: And welcome to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, this week on the show we’re going to talk to a couple of interesting people. Ron Arons is one of them. He is the guy who talks about your “Black Sheep Ancestors.” He’s been lecturing around the country for many years. He’ll be coming up in about 15 minutes or so. Later in the show, we’re going to talk to Ryan Woods. He is the COO of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. There is trouble brewing in Massachusetts where the governor there is wanting to seal off vital records, which is not a good thing if you’re trying to trace your families. So, we’re going to find out from Ryan what’s going on there, how that might affect the rest of the country should that Bill pass the Assembly in Massachusetts. Plus, we’re going to talk to Dr. Henry Louis Gates later on in the show about what’s going on, on Finding Your Roots from PBS, and of course, Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert at the back end of the show. Hey, just a reminder by the way, if you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, you are missing out on a lot of great stories. You’ll miss out on my blog each week and current and past shows. So, make sure you sign up, it’s absolutely free. We send it out every Monday. No, we don’t sell your address to anybody. Just to take advantage of it, you can sign up on our Facebook page or at ExtremeGenes.com. Right now, it is time to head out to Boston and talk to David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How are you David?

David: Hey, I’m doing great. How about yourself, Fish?

Fisher: I am fine, but I need an explanation here. Why are you getting so much attention in Women’s Day?

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: My wife brought this to me. You are in this story here. It’s a big one. You get a lot of coverage David. I never imagined.

David: Well, you just never know where I’m going to show up.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, this is a great story on genealogy by reporter by the name of Kelsey Hurwitz and besides myself, she talked to Judy Russell and Kenyatta Berry, both friends of Extreme Genes. Yeah, and I basically told her my thoughts on the whole idea of tracing your family tree from a young age, all the way to what we have to offer here at NEHGS and American Ancestors in Boston, and told her basically to go beyond the dash on the gravestone she was looking at. And it just spun off from there, and we talked. It’s a nice long article.

Fisher: Wow! That’s fantastic. Well, congratulations! That’s great.

David: Thank you Sir.

Fisher: And I also understand that we’ve been getting a blessing on the show as well.

David: We have. When I was sworn in as an officer for the Massachusetts Sons of the American Revolution over the weekend, our chaplain came up to me, who I had not met yet, and he says, “By the way, I’m a big fan of you and Fisher’s on Extreme Genes every week. And I looked at him and said, “I’m so glad to know that the lord is on our side.

Fisher: Yes!

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: That’s always good to know. You know, we always need that extra help.

David: Exactly.

Fisher: All right, let’s get on with our Family Histoire News for today. What do we start out with David?

David: We’re going to start off sadly with the passing of Johni Cerny. She was a genealogist involved with Skip Gates Finding Your Roots. Now, this has kind of left their team without a genealogist.

Fisher: Oh.

David: CeCe had put out on our Facebook that they are immediately looking to fill someone in. So, if you have a fulltime slot in your schedule, and you believe that you can track down celebrity genealogy, I think you might want to look into it.

Fisher: Wow, that would be quite the opportunity for somebody.

David: Well, you know, one of the things that I think is opportunity is that you know, we do all these DNA tests and all of a sudden now we’re finding that our DNA can now help solve crimes and this has been in the news consistently. Perchance some of these crimes are over 50 years old. The story you will find on ExtremeGenes.com from Fox News is one that was 52 years old and unfortunately, the person who committed the crime died in 1987. That means you’ll find people have done the DNA, not knowing that their cousin or near relatives who had died a few years ago that they matched with is now collected and is now closing a cold case even though there’s no incarceration that’s going to happen.

Fisher: Um hmm.

David: So, this is interesting. Some of these stories go into the 1970s and then early 1980s, but this article really talks about the oldest of them in cold cases. Now, it’s not just America doing cold cases Fish. Edmonton, Alberta police department are looking to crack the cold cases with genetic genealogy and try and solve some Canadian crimes.

Fisher: I’m surprised we haven’t seen more foreign governments getting into it up to this point, but it’s inevitable, right?

David: It is. And I think it is probably going to help every country trying to solve all the crimes. The problem is that some people in poorer countries may not be popping $100 for a DNA tests.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s true.

David: There’s a limit to it. Yeah, sometimes we’ve had people that we’ve talked about that wrote their own obituaries. Well, how about a headstone that may be removed because it’s slightly offensive? You were talking to me about this the other day. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah, it’ a small photograph, a very small photograph on a headstone, and we’ve all seen these in cemeteries. And the guy just passed away not that long ago, and apparently the photograph of this guy shows him indicating using one of his digits that you are number one.

David: Hmm.

Fisher: As a result of that the cemetery wants to remove the stone and replace it and the family is not happy about it and so everybody is getting involved with an opinion about what’s offensive, and is it just really big enough for anybody to even notice it unless you’re right there on top of it. So, who knows what’s going to happen with that? You can read the story on ExtremeGenes.com.

David: An amazingly 4000 people have already signed the petition, probably even more this week. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah, to keep the gravestone as it is.

David: Um hmm. Well, you know, I know that you met Jackie Robinson and I love that story as baseball season approaches. We have lost a connection to that era of Negro League Baseball pre- 1947 when Jackie Robinson was still playing. Raymond Lacy, at the age of 97, who was an East Texas school teacher died recently and it may be the last person that was still playing on the league when Jackie was playing.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s amazing, all these years later that there would somebody left from the days of Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues. That’s incredible.

David: It really is. Well, as I wrap up, I always like to remind people that they can join American Ancestors and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, saving a little bit of money by being a listener of Extreme Genes. Use a coupon code “Extreme” on AmericanAncestors.org and you’ll save yourself $20 and become a member of the oldest genealogical society in America.

Fisher: All right David, thank you so much. We’ll talk to you again at the back end of the show as we do Ask us Anything. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to the guy that lectures on “Black Sheep Ancestors. His name is Ron Arons and he’s got a great new way of helping you put together timelines to understand your ancestors better. It’s called “mind mapping.” It’s kind of a unique new thing. You’re going to want to hear about it, coming up in next in three minutes on Extreme Genes.

Segment 2 Episode 320

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ron Arons

Fisher: Well, I first heard of my next guest many years ago because well, he dug up some dirt on his family. Hey, it’s Fisher. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And it is interesting that most of us at one time or another are going to find an ancestor with a little bit of a past. On my wife’s side we found somebody who ran off with his farm-hand’s wife, changed his name to his mother’s maiden name, and set up shop in another state after actually borrowing money from a bank for his ranch, and then not using it for the ranch. That didn’t go over so well. On my side we’ve got similar things, we’ve got a pirate. But this guy, Ron Arons, he’s become a lecturer on black-sheep ancestors. He found an ancestor in Sing-Sing Prison. How are you Ron? It’s great to have you back on the show.

Ron: I’m fine thanks.

Fisher: How far back did this ancestor go by the way in Sing-Sing?

Ron: Well, he was admitted to the prison in 1897.

Fisher: Okay. So, was this your great grandfather?

Ron: That’s correct.

Fisher: And did you have any knowledge of this before you started researching your family?

Ron: Great question. He actually died nine years before I was born. But understanding is life, there were events that occurred during my childhood and now I can understand and explain by understanding his behavior.

Fisher: Okay. [Laughs] What do you mean? You felt like you inherited something from him, or there were just things that were going on at the time that didn’t make sense?

Ron: Well, there are stories. For example, one example is that I tease my grandmother that should I be a bad boy she’d have to lock me up in Sing-Sing that day.

Fisher: Oh. [Laughs]

Ron: And in very stern words told me, “Don’t you dare use the word Sing-Sing in front of your grandfather. That will annoy him very much.” And now it has meaning for me because my grandfather’s father was behind bars at Sing-Sing. I didn’t know that at the time.

Fisher: Wow! Yeah that had to shake you up a little bit. How long ago did you find this information?

Ron: I found this about 20 years ago.

Fisher: Okay. And what kind of records from Sing-Sing in photographs or what were you able to obtain relating to this ancestor? I’m just curious.

Ron: Well, so, there are Sing-Sing admission records, which is where I absolutely positively proved that it was him.

Fisher: Yeah.

Ron: It had on that record the name of his nearest relative, which was his wife living at the address I have from their marriage certificate in Brooklyn.

Fisher: Sure.

Ron: And then the inmate case files were burnt years ago so I wasn’t able to see them. But I also have more than 20 newspaper articles and each article gives a different slant on the same story. And I also have two court cases for him so I have a lot of information about him.

Fisher: Isn’t that interesting? The bad guys really do seem to leave a lot more records than the rest of us, right?

Ron: They are the most colorful people and they are certainly the most fun to research.

Fisher: Absolutely true. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed researching ancestors more than the black-sheep ones on any side of the family. They’re fascinating people. Well you’ve kind of gone on to some other things to develop understanding some of the ancestors. Something you call Mind Mapping, has to do with visualization. You want to explain how some of that works?

Ron: Sure. So, some people prefer using narratives and texts, some people are linier in their thinking and they like to use spreadsheets. In reality though, if you’re using a lot of different types of documents, those documents have varying types of data in them so what you find on a census record will be different than the records found on a birth record, which is different from what you’ll have on a land record as an example. So, putting these into a spreadsheet leaves a lot of holes and a lot of blank space. It’s really not efficient. By using some non-linear tools, some data visualization tools, you can lay out data much more visually, more non-linearly, more effectively, and for those of us who are visual, about two thirds of the population are visual, and you can more easily see patterns and see how different documents tie together.

Fisher: So, how does that work visually? I mean, if you have a birth certificate, you have a census record, are you able to then somehow electronically create an image that shows a timeline?

Ron: Well, that is one way of doing it. I have done that. I actually have a book on how to do this, but using a traditional Mind Map starts with a central theme or topic in the center, and then there are branches that come out of the center and then you can have sub-branches and sub-branches, and even more sub, sub, sub, sub-branches, etc.

Fisher: Oh wow!

Ron: What I like to do is make connections across the sub, sub-branches. So, that’s when it really get’s interesting and it looks like a bunch of spaghetti. And maybe some people think it’s a little bit intimidating, but you start small and once you get comfortable with this technique, you grow into it and it becomes that much more powerful.

Fisher: Okay. So, let’s go through one particular Mind Map and how it works. Where would we start? What would be the first thing in this visualization process?

Ron: As an example, take my great grandfather. So, for each of the initial branches, I would list a specific document I found about him. So whether it’s a 1920 U.S. Federal census, or his marriage certificate in 1894, I would lay those out. And for each document, I’ll have sub branches which would indicate all the pertinent details on that document. And then where it gets really interesting is that if I see a name across different documents, I will have connector lines show me that name. So you really have not only a timeline of all the documents found, but you can have sub-timelines of individuals or places and how they all wind up together. So, you really are doing correlation as it’s discussed in a general genealogical proof standard as an example.

Fisher: Sure. Yeah, that’s interesting. So, if you had a marriage record, then you might attach to that, for instance, a newspaper article about the wedding?

Ron: Sure. And in some tools there are multiple tools that can be used you can also add images so you could also add the document to the Mind Map.

Fisher: Okay. And then you put a photograph on there, maybe their wedding picture, right?

Ron: Right.

Fisher: And maybe somebody has a story about something that happened at the wedding that you could add to it. I see where you’re going with this.

Ron: Absolutely. Traditional Mind Maps start that way and then you can lay them out somewhat more randomly. And then there are some tools that are interactive. I use one tool that if you click on one note, that becomes the center of the graph, you click on another note, that becomes the center of the graph, and it becomes really wild.

Fisher: Oh wow. [Laughs]

Ron: The interactive Mind Map it gets really wild, really fun stuff.

Fisher: You know, it sounds to me like a great way to get ready to write a book about your family. Because you know, we’ve always talked about timelines. For instance, what’s going on, just to keep it simple, in the United States, who was president at the time somebody was born, or when they got married, or when they passed away. What historically was happening at that time in the country when the Wright brothers flew, for instance, or when a war broke out, then you do a timeline for what was going on in a county or the city in which the person lived. And then you break out the timeline about what happened within the family, when did a parent pass away, or a child pass away unexpectedly? Or something happened there. You can really put together a pretty detailed account and understand exactly what happened to that person, and perhaps what influenced them to do certain things that they did in their lives. Whether they were a black-sheep, or they became very successful in their lives, or family members whatever they did. I think it would be a great way to go to write a story.

Ron: That’s absolutely correct. And in fact, I am a proud owner of two different books that are designed for writers that’s spent a fair amount of time talking about Mind Maps and how Mind Maps can help you outline a story or a book, and then lay it out.

Fisher: Yeah. And I think that’s how an awful lot of historical books are written these days, right? I mean, if you’re reading about Franklin Roosevelt, it’s not like everything’s mapped out somewhere for you to put that story together. You have to dig into the documents and understand what the overall picture was in the world at the time. Well, it’s the same thing for ancestors.

Ron: And the beautiful thing is, with all these wonderful tools available, if you make a mistake you don’t have to start from scratch. Whereas some people think it’s more organic, more natural to do it with a piece of paper and crayons or colored markers. Well, that’s good for a start. But once you get into mapping out large stories, then it’s much easier to correct the mistake or add to a map if you have an electronic version to play with. 

Fisher: Well let’s talk about your book. What’s the name of it?

Ron: It’s called Mind Maps for Genealogy. It is 74 pages.

Fisher: Okay, pretty simple and quick.

Ron: It’s four color. It gives a theory behind data visualization. Why Mind Maps is specifically for genealogy. And then it has step-by-step instructions about how to use two different Mind Mapping tools that are designed to work on both PCs and Macintosh computers.

Fisher: Okay.

Ron: And then lots of examples showing how it can be used.

Fisher: Oh that’s awesome. And where can people get it?

Ron: They can find it at my website, RonArons.com. You can buy it on Amazon, but quite honestly I’ll drop-ship it. If you order it from Amazon I’ll get less money if you buy from Amazon so I prefer you go to my website.

Fisher: There you go. [Laughs] makes a lot of sense. You know, I really, as you talk, I think about this, I really came to understand for instance why my great grandfather and two of his brothers became volunteer firemen in New York when I discovered that their older sister and her little baby boy both died in a fire. And if I hadn’t been able to put that information together into their timeline, put it together as a family timeline, I don’t think I would have understood the motivation, you know, other than gee, it would be a great adventure. Suddenly you realize because of this timeline that you’re able to put together through this Mind Mapping, like you’re talking about, I don’t know that I would have understood necessarily that there was a great motivation for them to do this as a way to honor their sister and their little loss nephew.

Ron: That’s exactly right. And I’ve been teasing audiences for years, although I have been much more serious in recent years that this is extended psychotherapy that my therapist can’t tell me why these things happen. I had to do the hard genealogical work to understand why I am the way I am and why I experienced what I experienced as a young boy.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely right with the whole thing with Sing-Sing Prison. Amazing stuff. Well, Ron, great talking to you again. I hear you’re fighting a cold a little bit so hope you’re feeling better soon. And I appreciate the information. I think it’s fascinating food for thought and it sounds like a great book to look at as well.

Ron: Thanks a lot for your time today.

Fisher: All right, good to talk to you. Ron Arons, he is the Black-Sheep Ancestor Lecturer and author of the book on Mind Mapping. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to the COO of AmericanAncestors.org Ryan Woods because there’s trouble brewing in Massachusetts. The governor wants to cut off your access to vital records. We’ll find out all about it coming up next when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes.          

Segment 3 Episode 320

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ryan Woods

Fisher: Oh, there’s trouble brewing in Massachusetts. Hey, it’s Fisher here, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. You know, when something happens somewhere affecting genealogy it can affect all kinds of places around the country. Right now, in Massachusetts there is a proposal to limit access to public records, vital records, for all kinds of reasons. Of course, in the genealogy space it’s being opposed by a lot of people, and a few more influential than the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. I’ve got their COO and Executive Vice President on the line, Ryan Woods. How are you Ryan? Great to have you on the show!

Ryan: Fantastic Fisher. Thanks so much for having me.

Fisher: This is quite a cause for alarm in Massachusetts.

Ryan: It is indeed. We were first made aware of this proposal by our members who contacted us in droves once a newspaper article appeared in The Boston Globe indicating that there was a portion of the 2021 state budget which would limit access to vital records in Massachusetts. Ninety years for birth and marriage records.

Fisher: Wow.

Ryan: Fifty years for death records.

Fisher: Okay. Fifty years from a death records, what’s that about?

Ryan: Well, what we understand is that this proposal came from the department of Public Health which oversees the office of vital records and statistics in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Fisher: Okay.

Ryan: And it’s driven by concern around personal privacy and identity theft. We certainly appreciate those concerns.

Fisher: Right.

Ryan: But we have looked at some of the data that partners in the genealogical community have been researching around the importance of transparency in public records. In particular, a group Reclaim The Records which is a non-profit which has been looking at advocacy for public records for genealogists and historians around the country, looked at the relationship between record closure periods and reports of identity theft.

Fisher: Okay.

Ryan: That is part of a dataset from the FBI crime statistics.

Fisher: So, this is Brooke Ganz’s efforts?

Ryan: Right, exactly right, through Reclaim The Records. And what the data shows is that there is no relationship between record closure periods and reports of identity theft. In some states where there is no restriction, like Massachusetts, anyone can access birth, marriage, or death records by going to the registry of vital statistics, that there is no significant increase on reports of identity theft. In other states like Vermont which also has no restrictions. The reports of identity theft per 100,000 residents is very, very low. So, it is inconclusive at the least but it looks as if there is no discernible correlation between record closures, vital records, and reports of identity theft. So, in our opinion, that is not a sufficient reason to put forth a really draconian set of proposals to close vital records that are a class of records in Massachusetts that have been available since 1641.

Fisher: Oh, wow. That goes way back. Well, don’t you think most identity theft is actually done on a much larger scale than actually going somewhere and researching somebody individually? I mean, there’s so much low-hanging fruit for an identity thief just online or on Facebook.

Ryan: Exactly right. Well, I’m certainly not an expert in this matter.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ryan: Vital records as we know from being genealogists, this is long hard work. And the idea that someone would be taking a trip to the office of vital statistics to commit identity theft, well, I suppose it could happen. It does not seem like the kind of work that a career criminal would be engaged in. Not even to say all of the other pieces of data about people that are available online through various commercial sites, to say nothing of family history sites. So, we are of the strong opinion that yes, personal privacy matters and we want to do everything we can reasonably to prevent identity theft, but closing a class of records that are in the public domain and have been for 380 years, is just not the proven approach to this problem.

Fisher: Well, most of these same records are available elsewhere, right? I mean, there are a lot of companies that have taken this data and made it available. So, what’s going to happen there? Are they supposed to take it down?

Ryan: No. There’s nothing in the governor’s proposal that requires any existing data out in the field to be scrubbed, removed, or returned.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ryan: So, from that perspective alone, the real burden is placed on ordinary citizens, family historians, academics, the newspaper community, journalists who are looking at vital records for a variety of reasons. Again, all of which we think have important and noble causes, from genealogy, to reporting on matters of public health and other stories of interest.

Fisher: And this has such a downward effect nationally, potentially, right, because this is coming from guidelines from the Federal Government? So, if it actually were to pass in Massachusetts, do you anticipate that this could then get some momentum to happen elsewhere?  

Ryan: Well certainly, this proposal is built around some guidelines and the language that’s used in the bill, or the budget I should say, is to so called bring Massachusetts into line with national standards. But again, when we look at record closure periods and access proposals around the country, there is no standard.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Ryan: And a place like Massachusetts which has for 380 years really been a leader in the sense of transparency for these types of records to have a significant closure period, affectively a lifetime. That could influence other places and we don’t think that’s good for the genealogical or historical community.

Fisher: Now, what’s the timeline on all this and how likely is this bill to pass?

Ryan: Well, this proposal was included in the governor’s budget submission. The legislature in Massachusetts now has the opportunity to draft their own budget, and then the legislature and the executive branch will come to a reconciliation period. So, what we are doing here at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors is to talk to elected representatives in the House and in the Senate, particularly, on the Ways and Means Committees to encourage them to not include this provision in the legislature’s version of the budget. 

Fisher: Yeah.

Ryan: There’s been newspaper coverage over the last week, including excerpts from the letter that I wrote to the chairman of the House, Ways and Means Committee, and other advocacy groups in the genealogical community like the Massachusetts Genealogical Council which had a letter published in The Boston Globe recently. We’re continuing this effort and what we have heard is that members of the legislature are taking notice, and are really looking to study this issue. And, it’s our hope that in fact this provision will not be included in the legislature’s version of the budget and therefore, won’t come to pass as a new law in the Commonwealth.

Fisher: Got to stay vigilant, right, through all this? I saw some of those articles and I was noticing quotes from legislatures in Massachusetts from both parties, saying, we’re going to have to take a really close look at this. So, it looks like they’re taking the issue pretty seriously and understanding that there are important considerations here and how they vote.

Ryan: Absolutely, and genealogists, just by the nature of the work that we do are very tenacious and so we continue to encourage genealogists not only in Massachusetts but around the country, to voice their opinion about this.

Fisher: We don’t really need a lot of genealogists. We just need Brooke Ganz. [Laughs]

Ryan: Right. [Laughs]

Fisher: That’s all we need. But it’s good to give her some help, right?

Ryan: Indeed. Indeed.

Fisher: All right, he’s Ryan Woods. He’s the COO and Executive Vice President of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Ryan thanks so much. And good luck with this, we’ll be keeping an eye on it with you.

Ryan: Thanks Fisher. I appreciate the opportunity.

Fisher: And coming up next, Dr. Henry Louis Gates from the PBS series Finding Your Roots, talking about his latest episode of the show and what their findings were, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 320

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Henry Louis Gates

Fisher: And welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. I can't believe that this is going to be our last visit till the fall with our good friend, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, because we've had the final episode of this season's PBS series, Finding Your Roots air this past week. How're you doing, Dr. Gates?

Dr. Gates: Well, I'm doing very well my friend. We're all of course grieving for the passing of our chief genealogist, Miss Johni Cerny. And Johni and I were together for 15 years.

Fisher: Wow!

Dr. Gates: We met in 2005 when I had this crazy idea, Scott, that I could do a TV show. [Laughs] And do the genealogy of famous people and their DNA, and she made it happen. Johni Cerny's research is the foundation upon which Finding Your Roots was constructed. And we became such good friends. She was a captain in the army. She was a pioneer for feminist rights and just a leading figure as you know in the Salt Lake community and in the genealogical community worldwide. She was a legend. Johni, I know you're looking down from heaven, and I love you so very much.

Fisher: Yeah, I'm so sorry to everybody on your team. This is a great loss.

Dr. Gates: Thanks you man.

Fisher: Well, let's talk about this week's show, because it’s the last one. Fill us in on what's going on with the celebrities and what you told them.

Dr. Gates: Yeah, well, the episode is called, Criminal Kind, and that gives you a hint, Scott. [Laughs]

Fisher: Aha! [Laughs]

Dr. Gates: Actor, Laura Linney and journalists Lisa Ling and Soledad O’Brien learn that their family trees contain tricksters, scoundrels and even criminals. I'll give you three quick examples.

Fisher: Okay.

Dr. Gates: Lisa Ling's maternal grandfather whose name was Yah do Wong was involved in organized crime on the island of Taiwan. His nickname was The Black Dragon. And The Black Dragon, Scott, had three wives including Lisa's grandmother and 19 children.

Fisher: Oh wow!

Dr. Gates: And we discuss the businesses he owned, which wives ran which businesses, including a bordello and how he was a total misogynist.

Fisher: Oh dear. [Laughs]

Dr. Gates: But on her father's side, we encountered more lighthearted stories. Lisa's 6th great grandfather's name was Hou Ling. He was born in 1714. He wanted to become a government official in China, but he kept failing their essential test. So he ended up being assigned a minor post in Hainan, which is an obscure Chinese province. Then fate intervened as it always does. In 1761, the famous Yellow River flooded massively and Hou was able to save his village, and as a reward, they let him take the test again and I think with friendly judges, he got the 5th highest score in all of China. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Wow, all of China! That's big.

Dr. Gates: That's big. Laura Linney's 5th great grandfather William Linney is an original Linney immigrant. He arrived in 1768 in this country on a ship, Scott, full of prisoners. He was convicted of receiving stolling tools.

Fisher: Oooh.

Dr. Gates: And he was banished from England for 14 years. Laura was ecstatic by her family story.

Fisher: That find, yeah.

Dr. Gates: And finally, Soledad O’Brien. Her father immigrated to America from Australia. We found Soledad's great, great grandfather, William Hunter White listed on an 1833 ship manifest as a convict!

Fisher: Oh wow!

Dr. Gates: And as you know, the British crown founded Australia as a penal colony in 1788.

Fisher: Right.

Dr. Gates: And Soledad's ancestor, William was 1 of over 150,000 convicts deported from England and resettled in Australia.

Fisher: Yeah.

Dr. Gates: [Laughs]

Fisher: Well, that is the end of the season for this part of the year.

Dr. Gates: That is the end of the season for this part of the year and I want to thank you. I look forward to talking to you. You're doing a great service for America and for education.

Fisher: Well, I sure appreciate you, Dr. Gates and all you've done. And it’s great to hear about what you do each week and what you're discovering and sharing that with everybody else. And hope your show continues to grow. And we will talk to you again in the fall. Take care of yourself.

Dr. Gates: God bless you, my brother, God bless you.

Fisher: And coming up next, it’s another round of Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 5 Episode 320

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: Back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is time for Ask Us Anything. David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, you know, we're always hearing DNA questions as people just get involved and they're trying to figure some things out. And here's a great question from Carol Cabala. Carol writes, "It was heartening to hear from Greg Luce and Annette O'Connell a couple of weeks ago and how the opening of New York's adoption records is already changing lives. What are your best strategies for those of us seeking birth parents listed as unknown on a birth certificate?" Kind of fundamental to a great extent, Carol, but should we give the gist of it, David?

David: Well, I mean the way it really start is, you want to do a DNA test and then once you have that test out there, you're basically tossing the potential finding cousins or siblings or even in some cases parents out there that you may have not have ever realized were even out there.

Fisher: For the most part, an unknown parent on a birth certificate is typically the father, right, because the mother's right there. So we know what the situation is with that. Essentially, when you do your DNA test, what you want to do is, follow your mother's line back as far as you can and create a tree there and then figure out who are the cousins that you have that match your mother. And then once you figure that out, going back to about third cousins, everybody that's left has to be from your father's side. Then you can see if you've got close cousins, you can start to narrow in and try to figure out exactly who it was that would have been your birth father. And that's the gist of it right there.

David: Very true. In fact, one of the things that I have done in the case my mother has passed away, but if I wanted to find out things that were on my dad's side, I would test with my half siblings on both sides. So, I have half brothers from my dad and two half sisters from my mom and they're not going to have the same matches, so I can almost evenly divide my matches based on having half siblings. And that’s without even knowing what side of the family it is, that will tell me, because I'll know that it’s the Lambert side or my mother's side. It’s amazing. Technology has made it so much easier. I mean, think of foundlings that were from years ago or even recently, you know, a baby is abandoned and they want to find out who the parents are. I mean, you see a sign for crimes. This crime of an abandoned baby, you now can find the birth mother at least or maybe find out who the father is based upon GEDmatch.

Fisher: Yeah, that's right. And there's so many ways to go about this and obviously we talk about DNA on the show quite a bit. And the reality is, you need to educate yourself a little bit. And it doesn't take that much to learn it, so many of us have. I remember when I was first learning it and I had CeCe Moore on the show once, we talked about half siblings, I said, "Well, how about having a half sibling?" she says, "Oh, if you can get one of those!" like you can order it off the shelf. I thought that was really funny that she would say that. But this is a totally doable thing, Carol. If you're looking to figure out who your unknown father was, then this is the way to go about it, because especially if you can come up with a cousin or two and figure out their distance to the common ancestor and pull forward, you might be able to identify who that person is and then figure out who some other relatives might be to test. If you can get your candidates and say, wait a minute, this person had a child. You can reach out to that person and see if they would be willing to take a test and see if they match as a half sibling, and that is a great way to go.

David: You know what I found is that new book by Diahan Southard on Step by Step Routes to take for your DNA Research.

Fisher: Yes!

David: That guide is amazing. So, a shout out to Diahan for a great book that makes genealogy even simpler for the non-genealogist to understand.

Fisher: Exactly. Thanks so much, David. We appreciate it. We'll talk to you again next week. And of course we're going to get caught up on RootsTech next week as well. And thanks to you, Carol for the question. And if you have a question for us for Ask Us Anything, just email us at [email protected]. Hey, that is a wrap on our show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. And thanks once again to Ron Arons, the black sheep ancestor lecturer for talking to us about his unique way of doing things through a technique called mind mapping, and also to Ryan Woods, COO of American Ancestors, telling us about what's happening right now in Massachusetts that could affect us in other states around the country, shutting down access to records. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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