Episode 340 - When And How Did Your Ancestors Get Here? / New York Man Learns Father Fought Nazis… In USAAug 30, 2020
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David shares his plans for a family trip and a visit he plans to make to a place he’s been before. Hear what he has in mind. David then shares the news that the Mayflower 2 is back at Plymouth after several years of repairs and maintenance. Then, the pandemic has led to the discovery of all kinds of historic and family items in a manor house in England. Find out what was discovered. In Scotland, a metal detecting investigator has stumbled upon a remarkable find dating back to the bronze age! Find out what he found and what is happening at the site now. And finally, a woman is celebrating what is thought to be her 116th birthday as the oldest person in America. You won’t believe how many descendants she has!
Fisher then visits with Marissa Gardner from Legacy Tree Genealogists. Marissa talks about passenger lists, immigration and emigration records, as well as some myths about Ellis Island.
In the third segment, it’s another “ordinary person with an extraordinary find.” Hear Long Island, NY resident Andrew Malekoff talk about what he learned about his father and his activities as a teenager in the 1930s. It was an eyebrow raiser for Andrew and it will be for you too!
Then David returns for two more of your questions on Ask Us Anything!
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 340
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 340
Fisher: And welcome to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. If you’re new to the show, welcome. We’re glad to have you. We like to share stories that people discover and also share with you information on how to find your family information. And we’ve got an expert guest coming up for you here in about ten minutes, Marissa Gardner. She’s with Legacy Tree Genealogists. She’ll be talking about passenger list of immigration and emigration records and a lot of stuff in there that I don’t think you necessarily knew about. You’re going to find out about it coming right up. Plus, later in the show, another ordinary person with an extraordinary find. It’s Andrew Malakoff from Long Island, New York. He discovered something fascinating about his dad back in the 1930s that he had no idea about. Boy, our parents hid a lot from us, didn’t they? Yeah, he got a little assist from his late uncle, and Andrew will tell you that story coming up. Hey, don’t forget to sign up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter.” You can do it very easily. It’s absolutely free. Go to our website ExtremeGenes.com or work through our Facebook page. Right now, it’s time to head out to Stoughton, Massachusetts and the home of David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David, how the heck are you?
David: I’m doing good. I’m actually doing something kind of fun.
David: I’m heading up to New Hampshire with my family. My youngest daughter is turning 17, which makes me feel really old.
David: And I’m going to recreate some photos that were taken when we went to Story Land in Glen, New Hampshire in the early 1970s when I was wearing suede, fringed green and brown jacket that I don’t know why my mother put on me.
Fisher: [Laughs] I want to see those pictures David. I want to see them. And you’ve got other news happening right in your neighborhood right now.
David: We do. Last week Mayflower II returned to Plymouth Harbor. And the Mayflower II is a 64-year-old recreation of the original Mayflower, is to the best of their knowledge of what it would have looked like. It has been in Mystic, Connecticut undergoing a multi-million-dollar restoration over the past three years. So, she’s safely home in Plymouth.
Fisher: That’s great. I saw it in 2008. I was out there. It was the only time I’ve ever visited Plymouth, and at that time I did not know I was a Mayflower descendant, but I was admiring this ship. It’s a fabulous thing and a lot of people can go and tour it and get a feel for what it had to be like to be below deck on the Mayflower…not pretty.
David: Well, I’ll tell you sometimes you find things below deck. In this case it’s below floorboards. Our next story from ExtremeGenes.com, there is a manor out in Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, England and under the boards of the floors of this Tudor house and in the attic they found pieces of paper dating back to the 15th century in a rat’s nest.
Fisher: Wow! Yeah, and there was like a Bible and a box of chocolates, I mean, and it’s full wrapping from like World War II or something. [Laughs]
David: [Laughs] Yeah, Terry’s Gold Leaf Chocolate Assortment. Hopefully, there’s none in there that the rats didn’t take away. [Laughs]
Fisher: Oh well, and they were, you know, shut down because of COVID. So, they had this time and they started going through the rafters and all these different places and found this incredible stuff. And wouldn’t you know that it would be the mice that were the great preservationists for this stuff at Norfolk Hall.
David: Digging deeper and going a little further north, some older artefacts had been found. There’s a lot of metal detectors in Europe looking for Roman and Anglo-Saxon treasure that may be buried under the old ploughed fields of England, while in Scotland a metal detector has found this hoard of Bronze Age buckles in horse harnesses and it’s amazing what he had located. And now, it’s an archaeological dig that’s taking days, not just digging on the ground, pulling up a coin.
Fisher: Wow! And this goes back what to like a 1000 B.C. or something like that?
David: Oh yeah, Bronze Age definitely is dating that far back. What do they say, 1000 B.C. to 900 B.C.? It’s amazing! And this is the most complete horse harness they’ve ever found and it’s preserved by the soil. And they also found a sword. Can you imagine going with a metal detector and finding a sword as a dig?
David: I found pull-tabs, keys, and like pennies.
David: That’s about it. No sword.
Fisher: Yeah, I think the metal detecting thing, you’d have to have a certain amount of patience for that.
David: Do you know, there’s an interesting story that isn’t thousands of yours old or 400 years old like the Mayflower. It’s 116 years old, well, maybe 115 years old. The oldest American, Hester Ford, who was born in Lancaster, South Carolina when Teddy Roosevelt was the president.
David: And Fish, you’re going to love this family dimension. Ready for the amount of DNA matches she could have?
David: She had twelve children, 48 grandchildren, 108 great grandchildren and about 120 great, great grandchildren.
Fisher: And she’s still with us! This is the thing.
Fisher: And they’re not really sure whether she’s 116 or 115. Wow!
David: I mean, I guess it could be like Satchel Paige where the goat ate the birth record.
David: And guess what? She’d be as old as Satchel Paige.
Fisher: Yeah, that’s true. I think he was born in 1907 or something like that.
Fisher: So, happy birthday.
David: Yeah, happy birthday Hester.
Fisher: That’s incredible. And to the family, I mean, what a great celebration that’s got to be. It’s got to be tough to be stuck with the whole COVID thing going on, but nonetheless, what an accomplishment. And how many people get to see that many descendants? How many does she have now in total?
David: It’s got to be over 260, I think.
David: It kind of roughly ran the numbers in my head, that’s of one person. She started having kids when she was a teenager. This year there’s probably more being born with 108 great grandchildren and 48 grandchildren. I think she’s sadly outlived her own kids.
Fisher: Yeah, I would think that it would be very difficult for her to keep up the birthday card list, you know.
David: Oh, but just think of how many Christmas gifts she could potentially get.
Fisher: [Laughs] I suppose that’s true.
David: It’s amazing. Don’t forget, if you’re not a member of NEHGS American Ancestors, we’re celebrating our 175th birthday this year. And we’d love to have you be one of our newest members and you could save $20 on your membership by using the coupon code “Extreme.” Tell them Fish and Dave sent you.
Fisher: All right, thanks so much Dave. We’ll talk to you in a little bit as we do another round of Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Marissa Gardner. She’s with Legacy Tree Genealogists. She’s going to talk about passenger lists, how you can find your ancestors coming across to America, not only on the receiving end here in the United States or in British Colonial America, but also maybe from the sending side, the emigration records. That’s all coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, Americas Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 340
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Marissa Gardner
Fisher: You know, it’s one thing to get the names, and the dates, and the places but let’s face it, there’s nothing more exciting than putting together the story of our ancestors. Hi, it’s Fisher, and I’m talking to Marissa Gardner. She’s a researcher with our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists. And Marissa recently wrote a great article talking about passenger lists on various ships and some of the things that they can tell us, and of course it’s another major piece of your ancestors’ stories. Marissa welcome to Extreme Genes. Great to have you!
Marissa: Thank you. Good to be here.
Fisher: You know, I’m looking back in the early years and kinda think about some of the records I’ve tried to find on ancestors who came over in the first half of the 19th century. Our government wasn’t paying that much attention back then, was it?
Marissa: Not really. They wanted to know how many people were coming in, but they weren’t as concerned about where they were coming from or if they had all of the right documentation and that kind of thing very early on.
Fisher: Were there really limitations on how many aliens could come into the United States in the early years?
Marissa: Not until the late 1800s. Around the time that Ellis Island opened up, they started monitoring that a lot more closely.
Fisher: Okay. And that probably had more to do with economics at that time, yes?
Marissa: Yes. They wanted to make sure that the people coming in were not going to become a burden on American society, that they had an occupation, that they had plans, that they had money on them already, that they weren’t just going to come in and become a burden.
Fisher: That’s quite a change from the beginning of the 19th century to the end, and it really kind of the growth of the United States, right? I mean, we have a lot of land, there was a lot of expansion, so how many people came in didn’t matter nearly as much at that point. So, when we talk about looking for passenger records early in the 19th century or even in the late 18th century, it’s not always that easy is it?
Marissa: No. It’s very complicated especially if your guy came alone. If he came in a group then you have a much better chance of finding him.
Fisher: At what point would you say there’s a cut-off where you say okay, the hard times are over. It’s getting much easier now to find our person in the passenger list on the ships that were coming over.
Marissa: Oh, passenger lists changed around the same time that naturalization papers changed, and that was the early 1900s where passenger lists started requesting a lot more information, like a point of contact back home. And who you’re going to in the United States, and how much money you had on you, and all of these things they added up to creating a small portrait of the person immigrating. And you can look at that and say okay, this person is not the right person. They’re not my guy. I can move on.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Marissa: Where prior to that you see a name, maybe a country of origin, and an age, and if you’re really lucky enough, an occupation and a few other things. But you look at it and you’re like okay, it could be my guy but there could be 20 other guys just like him.
Fisher: Yeah, right. Especially if the name is too common, and they’re not travelling with people whose names you recognize from later times here in the United States, right?
Marissa: Yes, exactly.
Fisher: So, if you were researching in the earlier 19th century or even later I guess for that matter considering what you just said, how would people go about identifying their people? What would be the best way you would suggest?
Marissa: More often than not, the best way of identifying them if they didn’t come with family that you can identify, is to basically take the people they were arriving with and research them in the United States. Say for example, a recent case I worked on, the guy that I thought was the ancestor came with two guys named Victor and Casper, and the passenger list didn’t say how these men were related but they all had the same last name that was Bauen. I had a lot of fun with that one indexing the U and the N.
Fisher: [Laughs] Oh yes, the U and the N. That’s always a problem. And what did you learn?
Marissa: Well, eventually when I got the family back to their hometown, there was no Victor and no Casper, so I still don’t know if the guy in the passenger list was the ancestor. But I ended up finding the correct guy in the correct town because I did more research on him in the United States and found somebody in a census who was specifically named as his brother and I researched that man also. So, between the third man and this other brother Heinrich, I was able to find the family and prove hey, these two guys were born at the right time, and they have the same parents, and everything matches so it’s definitely the right people. But I still wonder if that third man on that passenger list was the right guy.
Marissa: I would have to go research Casper and Victor more thoroughly.
Fisher: And maybe they were brothers, they went somewhere else, or cousins even.
Marissa: Yep. That’s my theory right now that they were cousins because everything else fits.
Fisher: It’s a lot harder in the 19th century. There are immigration records though right, that sometimes are much more detailed. I certainly know having done a little Dutch research on my wife’s side that there were a lot more details in the records of people leaving the countries than from the records that were created when they arrived here.
Marissa: Yes. And that’s because when they were leaving the country they had to receive permission to leave wherever it was that they were leaving. And it wasn’t necessarily the countries they had to receive permission from it was the town or the county because they were a commodity. I mean, you think about a lord who owns a manor and he has all of these farmers working on it, and if they start leaving in droves without permission he’s going to run out of workers really fast.
Fisher: And so what’s his authority to give them permission to leave or not leave?
Marissa: He owns the land that they live on, that work, and I don’t want to use necessarily the idea of serfdom because that was earlier that that was going on, and more in northern Germany, but in a lot of places in Europe the people were tied to the manors and estates that they worked on that they had some legal obligation to it.
Marissa: And so they had to receive permission to immigrate. They had to prove that they had paid all of their debts. That they weren’t leaving for illegal reasons, you know, that they weren’t running away from something.
Fisher: Right. Well, they would, right? There’s military conscription. It was kind of a big thing some times.
Marissa: Yes. And in cases where they had already served in the military, they would file that paperwork with the local authorities and say, hey look, I already did my military service. I should be free to go. But if they were trying to avoid military conscription, more often than not they didn’t leave with their entire family in broad daylight having requested permission. A lot of the guys avoiding military conscription would leave alone and kind of wonder off and disappear and never come back.
Fisher: And where would their records show up then on the sending end?
Marissa: On the sending end, the ones that avoided military conscription successfully you would wind up finding their names in lists of people who didn’t show up for military conscription. And I have a story about one of those.
Marissa: Yes. So, I was researching a family in New York. The client’s ancestor was a woman. She was born around 1850 in France and they didn’t know a lot about her and they wanted to know where she came from. So, I researched in New York and I found out that she actually lived with her parents in New York before she got married, which they didn’t know before, so I found her maiden name, I found her parents in New York, and I researched the entire family, found all of the siblings. And then her youngest sibling was a boy who was one year old when the family left France. And they had all of the right permissions to leave, at least as far as I can tell. But he didn’t show up for military conscription when he was 21, I guess it was. And so in 1867 he didn’t show up for military service and his name and his parents name showed up on a list saying this guy didn’t show up, this is where he was born, this is who his parents are. And that name is now in a book called The All Source Immigration Book and they pulled that information from those lists of soldiers who never showed up.
Fisher: What a great source.
Marissa: And that book is where I got the name of the hometown. And I would never have found it if I hadn’t researched this woman’s brothers and sisters, but she only had the one brother.
Fisher: And then off you go with the lineage further back into France, fantastic. What about name changes? I mean, we often hear about the name changes at Ellis Island. Of course, [Laughs] there’s a lot of mythology surrounding that. Let’s talk about that a little bit.
Marissa: Well, names weren’t really changed at Ellis Island. I think of the children’s movie An American Tale where they’ve come into the port and their names are being written down and the sister says, “Why did they change my name to Tilley?” It is such a widespread myth that they even put it in movies. But it didn’t happen like that. The guy at the port wrote down the name exactly as it was told to him. And so, as long as you can figure out the kinetics of what the guy thought he heard, then their names were preserved at the port.
Fisher: Yeah. And the way that he might have written it down that’s why the spelling can be so variant. And of course, a lot of those immigrants when they came into the country they wanted to change their name so they’d fit in more here.
Marissa: Yes, exactly. And that’s what I was just going to bring up is if a German immigrant came into a very Irish dominated area, they would potentially change their name to something that sounded a little bit more Irish. If a Jewish immigrant came into an area that was more, I don’t know, Hungarian, they would make sure that their name, whatever they slightly modified it to, would mesh well with the Hungarian names in the neighborhood. People wanted to fit in with their neighbors.
Fisher: So, let’s talk real quick as we’re running out of time, let’s talk about trying to narrow down the times during which you should search for your ancestors in these passenger lists. One thing I’ve thought of right away was city directories. Because having a lot of ancestry in New York myself, if you could find out when somebody magically appeared, you might figure you’re within a year or two of when they arrived.
Marissa: That’s also true, as when they died. You can use directories to narrow that down between census years.
Fisher: Yeah. Directories are really useful for a lot of that stuff.
Marissa: Other things that can provide clues for when your ancestor showed up, particularly I like to start with census records because they give you a feel for where the family was at every 10 years, and you can create a nice framework to work from. And you can say okay, well, the family stayed in this county, but they moved to town. So, they probably attended church in one of these two or three places. And then you can search there in the church records. And church records can even give you a clue as to when they immigrated because pastors were nice and wrote notes in there all the time about when people showed up. They might even have a letter introducing the family from the parish back home in Europe. And if you have that in the parish registers tucked into the book somewhere, then you’re gold because now you know exactly when they came because they have that dated letter.
Fisher: So much stuff to find and so many stories to discover, and what a great way to go about it. Marissa, what are some of the best sources that you would suggest for searching through passenger records?
Marissa: I would start with websites like Family Search, Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage.com, and I want to put in a plug for My Heritage because you know those other contacts I was talking about a minute ago, the person back home, or the person you’re going to, those are indexed on My Heritage. So, you can look through the list of people and you can say oh, well, I knew this person’s father’s name and go down through the list and say, it says that her father is her point of contact, that’s my ancestor, without have to look at every single record. You can just browse through the index information.
Fisher: She’s Marissa Gardner, Researcher with Legacy Tree Genealogists. Thanks so much Marissa. Great insight. Appreciate it.
Marissa: Thank you.
Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to a man who learned a little something about his father that kind of took him back a little bit. Hear how he found it, and what he found, when we return for another round of ordinary people with extraordinary finds on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in five minutes.
Segment 3 Episode 340
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Andrew Malakoff
Fisher: We are back. It’s America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. And as you know, I love to find ordinary people with extraordinary finds, find out how they did it and get some of the details. One of those people is my next guest Andrew Malakoff. He is in Long Beach, Nassau County. He’s on Long Island in New York. Andrew, welcome to Extreme Genes. It’s great to have you.
Andrew: Well, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Fisher: I’ve been cruising around the internet and I ran into this great story about your discovery about your father and a little of his background you weren’t familiar with. Let’s talk about that. What got you going on this?
Andrew: Well, my father is the oldest of four siblings, two younger brothers and then below both of them a sister and they grew up in North New Jersey. Their parents were immigrants from Russia around the turn of the 20th century and my uncle was the last surviving brother. He just died one year ago, and my aunt is still alive. But when I used to spend time with him, I always loved it because he was the family historian and a great storyteller. He would rapid fire tell stories and there was one that he told me that kind of stuck in my head and I needed to know more about it. And what it was that he told me was that my father, who was actually a great high school athlete, all the boys were, they grew up poor but they had a great close family and they were all very athletic, that when he was graduated from high school sometime in the late 1930s that this was around the same time that Adolf Hitler had been about six years into his power. He came to power in ‘33. Around that time, this group formed in the United States, which was first known as the Friends of New Germany and then it became the German American Bund.
Andrew: They represented the center of Nazi activity which was very active in the Newark, New Jersey area where they grew up which is the biggest city in New Jersey.
Fisher: Now what do these guys do? What do they call them, the Bundists?
Andrew: Yeah, they called them the Bundists. That was, you know, the later name, the German American Bund. They dressed like the Brownshirts in Nazi Germany and they were probably at their peak around 25,000 of them in this area.
Andrew: They held rallies. There’s a famous rally people could find if they did a search at Madison Square Garden. And in the Newark area they also had meetings and rallies. And so, the story my uncle told me was that my father was recruited by an infamous local gangster. He recruited some young guys. I suppose guys who were fit and tough and he had them rounded up and taken over to where these Bund meetings would be held. And if there was any kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric, they would throw stink bombs, which is kind of like ammonia sulphide into the window.
Andrew: And that would get everybody scattering out like cockroaches when you turned the lights on.
Fisher: [Laughs] It’s a good comparison.
Andrew: Yeah. And as soon as they would go outside, they would just beat the heck out of them. So, these were, you know, young, tough Jewish guys who were taking on the Nazis here in the United States.
Fisher: Wow. And so your uncle said your dad was a part of this whole thing and you’ve been researching it ever since.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s right. You now, he just mentioned it as I said. It was almost in passing because he had so many stories. So, I didn’t know too much about it. So, I had not too long ago read the novel that Philip Roth, who was a great Pulitzer Prize winning author, wrote, and it was called, “The Plot Against America” which incidentally was a HBO miniseries that aired just this past March.
Fisher: Yes, I saw it.
Andrew: The idea of the story was, if there was a national threat similar to what the European Jews confronted in the 1930s, what might happen to a Jewish family living in the neighborhood he, Roth, grew up in, which incidentally was the very same neighborhood that I grew up in as a child in Newark. And reading the book, it was as if I was revisiting the house I lived in, the neighborhood, the elementary school I went to because it was all right there.
Andrew: Again, it was as if there was a rise of Nazis here in this country, but I had to do a little bit more research. So, I just plugged in a few keywords and I came upon a couple of articles that were written recently, specifically about the German American Bund in Newark.
Andrew: And then, as it turned out, what my uncle told me validated these stories. And the gangster whose name is Abner Longie Zwillman. He was like the top mob guy in the New Jersey area, operated out of the Newark area. And again, he’s someone, if someone does research, they’ll find out all about him and his connections and he was Jewish. Despite all the criminal things that he did, he was a staunch defender of his people, and he felt something had to be done. So, he recruited some Jewish gangsters, boxers and, I assume, other people. The word got out and somehow my father and, I would assume maybe some of his friends became involved in this.
Fisher: Wow! And did they have a name for the group that this gangster put together?
Andrew: Yeah, that’s really interesting. My uncle did not tell me about this, but through the research what I found out is that they called themselves the Minutemen.
Fisher: [Laughs] Oh, a little throwback to the Revolution.
Andrew: Exactly! Because that name signified the readiness during that time to fight the British at a minute’s notice. And so, this group wanted to emulate them and fight against the Nazis and so that’s how they referred to themselves.
Fisher: And was this group repressed then over time as a result of these efforts and maybe others from the government?
Andrew: You know, I don’t know specifically, but it was just a couple of years later that my father joined the army in 1941 and served there till 1945. And I think as things started to look bad for Nazi Germany that their influence, I’m sure waned over that time. But of course, we all know that there continued to be elements, Neo-Nazi elements, here in the United States. So, it was never a group that really disappeared. It just morphed into different shapes and forms that we hear about now, even if you recall the Charlottesville incident.
Andrew: There were these young guys wearing khaki short sleeve college shirts with torches chanting “Jews will not replace us.” So, they haven’t disappeared completely.
Fisher: No. Tell me about your uncle. Was he pretty proud of your dad?
Andrew: Yes, he was. He was about six years younger and they were both pretty talented athletes and he looked up to him and I’m sure when he was younger, idolized him. And he never missed an opportunity to tell me that. He actually lived, my uncle, till [age] 96. He died a year ago. I, unfortunately, got to see him a few months before that, but you know, he did look up to him. They were a very close-knit, tight family.
Fisher: What a great story. Thank you so much for sharing that and how you found it because I think those are the kind of things that inspire a lot of people to dig into some of those things they may have heard or maybe an article they found somewhere in a box. You never know what you’re going to come across.
Andrew: That’s right and I really appreciate you recognizing that and I was pleased to be able to share this with your listening audience.
Fisher: He’s Andrew Malakoff. He’s from Long Beach, Long Island. Thanks so much for sharing the story Andrew and maybe we’ll talk to you again sometime.
Andrew: Looking forward to it.
Fisher: Sometimes the things we find about our parents surprise us just a little bit when we thought we knew them so well. Well, David returns here in just a few moments as we go through your emails for more of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 340
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, back at it for another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with David Allen Lambert, back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, this question is from Jennifer in Boise, Idaho and she says, "Dave, I remember you talking about finding old school records, something about your grandmother awhile back. How did you find them and what are in them?" Good question, Jen. I remember this, Dave. Wasn't this something like from the 19 teens, your grandmother's report cards or something?
David: That's exactly what they were. It was about 30 years ago. I had known my grandmother had been, my only grandparent who had graduated high school. We have a photo of her graduation gown, a beautiful white dress it almost looks like a wedding dress, big bow in her hair, very Edwardian looking picture. And I always wanted to say, "Well, I wonder how nana did in school." Now my grandmother had already died, so I wasn't going to get browbeat for looking into this and I figured, curiosity kills the cat, why not? I contacted the local school superintendent’s office and I said, "My grandmother went to high school there 1909 to 1914. Do you know if you have any of the transcripts of when she went to school?" because I figured I'd figure out what grade school she went to. And that's one of the things that you normally find.
David: But they didn't have the transcripts. They had her actual report card signed by her parents.
Fisher: [Laughs] Oh, wow!
David: My great grandparents. So now I have my great grandparents' signature for the first time on the original report cards. They didn't send me photocopies, because they determined, and this is kind of sad, that they had these old records downstairs and they really didn't need to keep them. I called them back and I said, "Please consider giving them to the historical society, but thank you for sending me my grandmother's report card."
Fisher: Wow! I mean, that's such a great story. And they didn't do it though, right, as I recall?
David: I do remember contacting the historical society a few years ago just to enquire and it doesn't sound like they made it there.
David: My old hometown had the same problem. Our first high school started in 1865 and I got notice about five years ago that they were going to get rid of my school records from the high school office and I should probably get them, they're genealogically important. And they were set to destroy them and I said, "You know, you have a lot of older school records in the vault dating back to students from the teens and the '20s and the 1890s. It would be great to get those." and they were like, "Nope, can't save them. We have to have permission from the person." They basically just dumped them and I was like, "Show me where the dumpster was." to be perfectly honest.
David: But when they were tearing our old high school down, our principal said, "Are you interested in these five books?" and they were the actual grade books for the high school from 1895 to 1910. They were all of the school records that I had thought were going to be destroyed. Somebody had squirreled them away in a closet.
Fisher: So, an answer to the question then basically, there's a lot of luck involved in finding something from that far back, right?
David: Right, it isn't. So, you really want to start on the local level, the superintendant of schools, now it could be a town or city level office or it could be a county level office at overseas, all the schools in, say, a district or in a county, but that's really where you want to start. And then if you don't find them, then you want to look at the local public libraries, the historical societies, that sort of thing.
Fisher: Archives, yeah.
David: You may not find, yeah, because you may find that they are there. But there are other opportunities for you. You might find the yearbooks in a public library, historical society. You may find a newspaper article about the graduation that sort of thing. So, there are ways of getting other sources, but for the most part, start with the superintendant at schools and then look for archives and historical societies and libraries.
Fisher: I mean, the bottom line is, what you found obviously hugely rare, even 30 years ago, to get something from the 19 teens of your grandmother, it’s just one of those incredible scores. It’s not a common thing. Again, the biggest archives on your family are typically within the descendants' homes all around the country. To me, the most amazing stuff I've ever found has been through other cousins. All right Dave, we're going to take a break and we'll be back with another question on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show in three minutes.
Segment 5 Episode 336
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, time for another question. Its Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Lambert is back with me as we take this question from Lamar in Odessa, Kansas. And he says, "Guys, I had an ancestor I heard was in the movies. Are there any databases that can help me research this person?" Good question Lamar. I think we both know the answer to this one, David.
David: Well, I think that is very true and it would be the Internet Movie Database or IMDB.com.
Fisher: Yeah, there's a lot of info there that will tell you what movies they were in. And can I tell you, Lamar, this is kind of fun, if you find out what they're in, you can often go to eBay and find people who have digitized these old movies and will sell you one for like $5 and then from that, you can potentially take photographs of your people from out of these old movies, especially the old silent ones. How fun would that be?
David: Isn't there a scene with your mother at a party in some movie?
Fisher: Oh yeah. My mom was in a bunch of movies in the '40s, bit parts, very small parts, and she would up in IMBD. I have a son who's in Hollywood now. He's a filmmaker also, so he's got his own page. But yes, I was able to find a bunch of flicks she was in and found copies of them on eBay and also found some on YouTube where they just have the flick right there, so I could go through and find her scenes in there. And it was really fun to show to my grandchildren when she was a beautiful young actress, you know.
David: Gee, that's great. Well, you know, the other thing eBay is good for when you find somebody, you can buy the old movie posters, the lobby cards that they used to have or photographic stills from the movies.
David: All sorts of stuff you can get. And it's not just IMDB that's good for directories. I mean, heck there are directories that we use all the time. For me, I use RetroSheet.org. And RetroSheet has every major league baseball player that ever played.
Fisher: Right. And this is true for really all kinds of occupations. We're not limited to baseball players and actors and actresses. But there is a railroad database, the railroad retirement database, which can tell you about who your people worked for and then you can research the companies and the areas they may have been in. What the ones for physicians, David? It seems to me I've run across one.
David: Oh, the deceased.
David: Yeah, the deceased physicians directory. I've seen that as a book and I'm pretty sure there must be an online version of it, too. I'm a traditionalist I like the whole book in my hands on occasion.
David: But yeah, it’s great. I mean, in college alumni. If you find a college graduate, I mean, you could use things like Classmates.com, directories for students. I mean, there's so much out there, and of course military databases, you know, which is an occupation in its own right.
Fisher: And a lot of these will give you a lot of information about them going back to the deceased physicians. My wife had a great, great, great uncle who died like in 1911 or something and they gave a little write up on him and talked about his life and where he lived and his family and all kinds of information in there So, it’s like "Ah Good, I like this database. This is a good one." So you've got to really kind of figure out who your people are, what their field was and see what databases might be out there for them.
David: Exactly. And use that wonderful hidden database, Google.com.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] You know, it’s kind of funny, I have done that with people, I found stuff there and they go, "How did you find this incredible information!" I say, "Well, write this down. Get your pencil." "Okay, hold on." They get their paper and I say, G O O G [Laughs] and then they get it and it’s like, oh man, they're a little taken back by how silly they feel for ignoring the most obvious place for research. It’s fantastic!
David: It’s amazing.
Fisher: David, thank you so much for the help. And thanks also Lamar for the question, it’s a good one. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can email us at [email protected]. David, talk to you next week.
David: All righty, will talk to you then.
Fisher: All right. And thank you all for joining us this week. If you missed any of the show, of course you can catch the podcast, it’s on iTunes, iHeart Radio, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, you name it, it’s there and ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!