Episode 341 - Kitty Cooper Talks Why Note Longest DNA Segments / Ask The Experts- Kitty Cooper On Her Personal Favorite BreakthroughSep 06, 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 talking about some fascinating finds in Fisher’s family this week. David then shares a great story about a man in Toronto who stumbled upon a World War I era Bible. Hear what he did with it. Then, a school teacher has an interesting hobby involving used books and what she finds in them. Find out what she does next. Next, archaeology has uncovered an unlikely Viking site. (You won’t believe where it is!) Finally, hear about the man with a rich criminal record who set himself up for arrest for decades old crimes by taking a DNA test to check out his ethnicity!
Then, Fisher begins his two part visit with Kitty Cooper. Kitty is a DNA specialist and talks about why she thinks Ancestry’s new feature, showing the longest DNA segments among your matches, is a good one.
Kitty then shares her greatest personal find with Ask The Experts, and how she solved the mystery.
David then returns for two questions in Ask Us Anything. The first involves researching the history of a house. The second concerns a listener’s problem searching old newspapers. Hear what the guys suggest she should do.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 341
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 341
Fisher: Hello Genies and welcome to another spine-tingling edition of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Boy, we’ve got a lot to talk about today. Kitty Cooper is going to be on the show today. She is a DNA Specialist out of California, and we’re going to talk about Ancestry.com now showing you the longest length DNA segment you have in common with one of your matches as you try to figure out your family tree. What does that mean? Why does it matter? She’s going to explain that. And then we’re going to start a new segment, we’re going to be doing for some time, called Ask the Experts, their greatest finds on their own family, what they found and how they found it. So, Kitty’s going to fill us in on that. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, you can do so at ExtremeGenes.com. We’ll give you links to stories that you will appreciate as a genealogist, also, links to current and past shows and a blog from me each week. Right now, it is time to head out to Stoughton, Massachusetts and David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hi Dave, how are you?
David: Hey, I’m doing okay, you know. August is kind of wrapped up. Now, we’re looking at September and hopefully, some changes and maybe I’ll be back in Boston to do some genealogy. It would be great. [Laughs]
Fisher: Well, it would be nice to get out and go anywhere, wouldn’t it? But, being stuck inside, I’ve had some really good success here this last week. I found information on my brother, my half-brother, actually, technically, who passed away in 1963. He was 21 years old. Yeah, it was a gallbladder surgery that went bad. It was pretty miserable. And I found that his hometown newspaper, he lived with his mom in New Jersey, they finally digitised it. And I found a bunch of stories that mentioned him including one that has a picture of him working on bicycles that people had thrown away that he was fixing up to take care of disadvantaged children. And it was really a cool thing to see, and really interesting stuff.
David: Oh wow!
Fisher: And then the other one was that I found that I had an ancestor that was in the Revolution who was stationed at, what they called Fort Arnold.
Fisher: This was the main fort up at West Point, right, where they had the jog in the river and they put the chain across.
Fisher: He may have actually been involved in the construction of that fort, the very one that Benedict Arnold tried to give to the British. Crazy, huh?
Fisher: You never know! [Laughs]
David: You’re six degrees from Kevin Bacon, now you have a closer six degrees with Benedict Arnold.
Fisher: Benedict Arnold himself. Exactly.
David: Alexander Hamilton was even more fun. Well, I’ll tell you, you’ll never know what you’re going to find when you’re walking around. You might find a $20 bill or you might find a 117-year old family bible that belonged to a World War I soldier. This is what happened in Toronto, Canada when someone was walking around in an urban area, and down on the ground was a pocket Bible, and he tracked down the family and returned it to them.
Fisher: Isn’t that cool? Yeah, they actually went through and did social media posts. The Toronto newspaper there picked up on it and he was actually able to find the great grandchild, I believe, of the soldier, and returned it to the family and they are all just thrilled. One guy was thrilled to death that he was able to track down the family. And the family can’t believe they own this bible with a notation in there from great grandpa to great grandma. How cool is that?
David: It really is. When would you ever think that something like that would just kind of show up? It makes you think, where was it that it fell out of somebody’s pocket? I’m glad it didn’t get rained on. [Laughs]
Fisher: The family say they view it as a gift from God and who can argue with that?
David: You really can’t. The next story that we have is about a teacher who’s been going around to use bookstores, like many of us do, but she’s looking for the ephemera inside like love letters and photographs and trying to connect them. This is great detective work and she takes photographs of all the mementoes she’s found.
Fisher: And some of these letters go back generations, and so she’s trying to find the next of kin. I think that’s incredible.
David: It’s almost like Dead Fred for stuff in books. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes, you’re right.
David: Well, you know, people claim, oh the Vikings were here in America at a certain point in time. I never thought of the Vikings in Istanbul, Turkey, and now they are saying that they’ve located the village that was created between the 8th and 11th century of Vikings in Turkey, in Istanbul.
Fisher: Wow! Istanbul, Turkey. Vikings. I can’t picture that. Crazy!
David: Well, their trade and plundering [Laughs] went more than just to, say, Ireland or Scotland or England or you know, even to Continental Europe. It obviously has gone all the way to Turkey.
David: So, there you go. And then you just never know how stupid people can be.
David: You know, I always encourage people who do DNA tests, but if you have a criminal background you might not want to test your own DNA. Yep, this is what happened to a convicted sex offender who now faces charges from assaults dating back to 1980, 74 years old. And you know, it’s a really good point to say that he was looking for his past, but now he knows his future.
Fisher: Yes! He not only knows where he’s from but he knows where he’s going.
David: Um hmm.
David: That is true. Well, I just came back from my vacation in New Hampshire where we went to places where I went t when I was three and five years old. And I drove my family crazy recreating the same angle, and the same photo that was taken with me and my grandmother or my mother and I and my dad back in the early 1970s. But now that I’ve compared the two of them, it’s kind of fun and the kids got a bigger kick out of it. But, “No, no, no, a little more to the left, a little more to the right.” They were getting quite aggravated as I tried to recreate history…my own!
Fisher: [Laughs] I hope you post some of those back then and now. I think that would be really fun to see.
David: I’ll send you a link to them. I’ve got them on my Twitter account @DLGenealogist. Well, don’t forget if you haven’t taken advantage of being a member of the 175-year-old American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston would like to have you as a member. And I’m going to throw in a special deal if you’re a first-time listener of Extreme Genes. You’ll now know what everyone else knows. To save $20, use the code “extreme” and you will get that off your cost of your membership.
Fisher: All right, very nice David and thank you very much. David is going to be back at the back end of the show as we do Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to DNA Specialist Kitty Cooper. What about those long DNA segments that are showing up on your matches now on Ancestry? What is the significance of that? Why would you want to know that? She will explain. Plus, we’ll hear her greatest find in her own family coming up later in the show. It’s all coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 341
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kitty Cooper
Fisher: And we are back on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and on the line with me today is my good friend Kitty Cooper. She is a DNA Specialist somewhere out there on the West Coast. How are you Kitty? Great to have you back.
Kitty: I’m fine and there’s no fires here in San Diego, yet, knock on wood.
Fisher: [Laughs] Hey, you know Kitty, you are always a great source of information to me when I run into some issues, and also a great guest to have on the show because you can educate us on a lot of things. One area that I haven’t spoken with anybody about on the show lately among the changes that are happening at Ancestry.com, is this whole thing about Ancestry now giving you the longest segment that you share with somebody amongst the matches. Can you explain to all of us why that’s an important thing?
Kitty: Yes. Think of it this way, when your DNA recombines, it recombines in big chunks. And then the next generation recombines some more and some more, and some more, and as you go down the line those chunks get smaller. So, if you share a large chunk, you’re going to be more closely related than to someone who you share only small chunks. So, a simple way to look at this is, sometimes if you have endogamy, and I have a Jewish grandfather, so I have a lot of matches that just aren’t real matches. Now, Ancestry does a pretty good job of removing what it calls population specific centimorgans. So, I get good matches from them but not from other companies so much.
Fisher: Well, let’s explain just for a minute for those people who aren’t familiar with the term “endogamy,” what that means.
Kitty: It means my ancestor’s cousins married each other and they did it generation after generation, and maybe they didn’t know they were second cousins. But it was okay. It was a small community and you know, there weren’t enough marriage partners to go around. I mean, sometimes they would try to import brides from a neighboring town, but these small Jewish communities were very insular. Someone did a study that said all of us northern European Jews were descended from 350 people in about 1300.
Fisher: [Laughs] Wow.
Fisher: So, as a result, it looks like you’re more closely related to people than you really are.
Kitty: And it even happens in my Norwegians.
Kitty: I had a case where somebody came up as a third cousin to my father, and it turned out they were twice a 5th cousin and once a 6th cousin, and their grandparents were first cousins, which also made them have more DNA with us. The largest segment was smallish, like 13.
Kitty: I expect to see a large, larger segments for me, for Jewish matches, somewhere between 20 and 30. It better be at least that big or they’re not recently related. For Jewish matches, for the ancestor to be findable, you need one segment greater than 21, greater than 10, and like five or six more. But on Ancestry you’re just getting the largest segment.
Kitty: So, you’d really like to get the largest segment that’s greater than 20, you know, 30 would be even better. But greater than 20 is a close enough relative to find the relationship, less than that, probably not so. You’re going to share multiple ancestors with someone who’s from an endogamous population.
Fisher: Sure. So, at what level of relationships does the length of the segment matter, for instance, is it a different number that you’d like to see for say, a second cousin than for a fourth cousin?
Kitty: Well, you know, like I share with my brother my largest segment is a 173, with my first cousins my largest segments are over a 100 in most cases, 63 in one case. With my second cousins I can share anywhere from oh, 70 to 40 as my largest segment.
Kitty: Okay. Now, getting down to third cousins it starts to drop down. Here’s a third cousin, my largest segment is a 100.
Fisher: So, what does that suggest to you?
Kitty: That she really is my third cousin.
Kitty: [Laughs] I don’t know. It’s good DNA. What can I say?
Fisher: This sounds like a Frankenstein project, right? A little from here, a little from there, put it all together and you’ve got this assembled creature that really isn’t your first cousin but a combination of 5th, 6th, 3rd, 4th, right?
Fisher: All of those things.
Kitty: And you won’t have a larger segment of a 100 because that’s really a 5th cousin three times over.
Fisher: Okay. [Laughs]
Kitty: Your largest segment will be around 13, yeah. And so that’s how you know it probably isn’t as close a match as it looks. Now I’m just looking down the line, I wrote all the long segments in the notes, and I see a group of three people who are all my third cousins, all having a 100 for their largest, so it looks like there was just a chunk from those great, great grandparents that came down to me and to them. And somehow it did not get recombined. But I’d say that’s unusual. Forty is what I expect. 33, 40 is what I expect for a third cousin I match. But I can see on a number where I have 90, 92 you can share nothing with a third cousin. But when you do share, you tend to have a large, larger segment.
Fisher: So, would you suggest Kitty that this would be a good exercise for people to do now that the longest segment is available amongst the Ancestry.com DNA matches to go through and just kind of get familiar with what that segment means at various relationships.
Kitty: Absolutely. I have tons of cousins who have tested. Perhaps because I’m a DNA expert, they consider it a privilege to be a part of my project for my study of our family DNA.
Fisher: [Laughs] Right.
Kitty: You wouldn’t believe how many of my cousins have tested People ask me, “How do you them to test?” I say, well, I asked them.
Kitty: I promised them a family tree. I’ll do their family tree. Of course, I’ve already done most of it. [Laughs]
Kitty: If they’ll test for me because I’m just fascinated by this, totally fascinated. Just scrolling down, I’ve written the largest segment in the notes because they don’t put it on the top page like they do the total.
Kitty: You have to actually go to the profile of your match to see what that largest segment is.
Kitty: Now, here is my real life Jewish third cousin, and Ancestry has taken away a certain amount of the DNA because there’s population specific. She, like me has one Jewish grandparent, and that Jewish grandparent happens to be the grandchild of our common ancestors.
Kitty: And her largest segment is 25.
Fisher: So, that’s right in line?
Kitty: That’s right in line with what I said for your Jewish relatives.
Fisher: Okay. So, this kind of ties in also I would imagine with the other end with Ancestry raising their minimum centimorgan match number from six to eight. So, we’re losing the short at the bottom end I can imagine because of that you’re not too unhappy about that?
Kitty: No, because for me, those small segments are mainly useless endogamous matches that aren’t real. And one thing I have suggested to a number of people who seem to care about this is to use the common ancestor’s filter and just star all the people who are on a low match level and note if they’re interested. But just because it thinks you have a common ancestor at six centimorgans, that doesn’t mean you’ve got that six centimorgans from that ancestor. There were so many people back then, and particularly colonial Americans were a bit endogamous too.
Kitty: I don’t generally look at people that even share that little with me. I don’t look at people who share only one segment with me, because one segment can be very old. It can be from so long ago that it’s useless. It doesn’t have to even be from the ancestor they’ve assigned it to. So, I personally have not pursued matched that are a single segment unless they are a known relative. I don’t even look below 10, you know.
Fisher: [Laughs] So, I was just going to say is that your cut-off is 10, and more than one segment?
Kitty: Yeah. I like a larger segment of 10 and more than one segment and a total around 20 before I’ll look.
Kitty: But, if Ancestry’s found a common ancestor, I’ll look at it. You know. It claims that this fellow with seven centimorgans is my seventh cousin, maybe.
Kitty: Maybe. But it’s not as interesting to me as figuring out my own ancestry and my relatives. And I understand some people are upset about it. You know, anytime something is taken away you want to complain.
Fisher: Sure. Yeah.
Kitty: But I think for me what’s being taken away is totally useless for my research.
Fisher: Well, in my recent conversations the comments were that this is about the range that all the companies are at, around eight centimorgans.
Fisher: So, they’re really kind of all in the same line here. And I guess if you have a lot of people who actually had a common ancestor match and you’re trying to prove something, I have a few of those. I think we all do. But that’s not really DNA proof when it’s that far back. It can be helpful potentially, especially if you can’t find anywhere else that that match may be coming from, to at least see that maybe your paper trail is correct so you just kind of save it. I think the only practical way to deal with it because there can be what, tens of thousands of matches. It’s just to save the ones you have the common ancestors with and move on from that.
Kitty: Right. So, that’s what I’ve suggested to many people who have asked me is, click your common ancestor’s filter, and then click the shared DNA, and look at the six to eight group and see if there’s anything you want to save. If it’s starred or grouped, if you put a star next to it or give it a coloured dot, it will be saved.
Kitty: And that’s it. But for the most part those matches may not be accurate. They’re not from my own research. I don’t find them useful. Now, I do see that sometimes when someone is on Ancestry and they have very few matches because they’re foreign or their one parent is foreign, that sometimes those matches can point us in a direction. But I don’t recall ever really having used such small matches for much of anything. Maybe I had one difficult case where some of them may have helped point to her fifth great grandparents.
Fisher: For all the trouble it causes, [Laughs] it’s not worth it.
Kitty: Yeah. And the thing is, you know, Ancestry’s gotten kind of slow. And if this speeds things up, I’ll be thrilled.
Fisher: That makes a lot of sense. I’m talking to Kitty Cooper. She’s the DNA Specialist based out of San Diego, California. And today Kitty, we’re start a new thing among our experts in family history around the country that we have as regular guests on the show. My greatest find, and we want to hear about your greatest find in your own family, and how you did it, all right? So, we’ll get to that coming up next when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 341
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kitty Cooper
Fisher: All right, today we’re starting a whole new thing. We’re going to be talking to our genie experts about cases they’ve solved about their own lines. Their most interesting lines and how they did it. Kitty Cooper is my guest today, the DNA specialist out of San Diego. And Kitty, what has been the greatest find in your family line, the one that just made you feel like, oh my gosh, I did it! How did you do it and what was the story?
Kitty: Well, I have many great finds but I think my greatest find was my great, great grandfather Lars Monsen who was a sailor who jumped ship and married a local girl in the south of Norway Kristiansand is the south of Norway. They have balmy weather there compared to the rest of the country and it used to be a major port. But all he said is that he was from Bergen and you may think the name Lars Monson is unusual.
Fisher: [Laughs] No.
Kitty: But in fact, there were ten of them born about the period he said he was born in when we looked at the censuses for Bergen.
Fisher: Now what time period was he born?
Kitty: He claimed to have been born around the 1790, but that wasn’t quite right of course. He made himself a little older to be more distinguished I think.
Fisher: [Laughs] Of course.
Kitty: And we knew nothing about his family. Absolutely nothing. Now, you may think it’s not a big deal not to know much about your great, great grandfather, but when you’re a genealogist. I had this chart with all these long lines going out and that one stopped. [Laughs]
Fisher: Yes. That’s not good.
Kitty: By way of explanation, I wasn’t really a genealogist then. It was just kind of a hobby and luckily for me since back in the ‘90s we had fast internet at the office.
Kitty: So, I would spend lunchtimes searching online doing genealogy. Luckily, my big boss was also into genealogy so she never got upset when she came by my work station and saw me on these message boards, which is how we did things back then, but that’s on the side.
Kitty: But when I retired I could finally focus on genealogy and this was a puzzle that just deluded me. However, there was this thing called DNA, and I had my dad take a Y-DNA test for me because Y-DNA comes from father to son, to son, to son.
Kitty: So, I figured, I might be able to find out which Lars Monsen of those ten was his.
Fisher: But this was a while ago Kitty. I mean, Y-DNA was about all there was in the beginning, right?
Kitty: Yeah, this was in like 2010/ 2011 when I did this.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
Kitty: And I knew nothing about DNA other than what I had been misinformed about in school.
Fisher: Sure. [Laughs]
Kitty: For me, it was a tool to solve a puzzle. Little did I know that DNA would become my passion, that using DNA in genealogy would explode the way it has. But for a male line, for a surname line, now, do understand in Norway, the fact that his name was Lars Monsen and my maiden name is Munson doesn’t mean his father was Munson.
Fisher: Um hmm. Right.
Kitty: His father was actually Muns Larson, as it turned out. [Laughs]
Fisher: Sure, of course.
Kitty: But Norway didn’t have surnames back then. You were called by your parents’ name.
Fisher: Sure. I’ve got second great grandparents who were Norwegian also. It’s a mess back over there. [Laughs]
Kitty: Well, it’s easy once you get used to it.
Kitty: Because there are naming patterns within families.
Kitty: You usually called your oldest son, when you were a man, for your father, so that way you kind of know what the father’s name was. And so, if you look at the names of the children the patterns can tell you which of the many possibilities the grandparents are.
Fisher: Sure, yeah.
Kitty: So, it’s really quite a lot of fun once you get the hang of it, but I didn’t know that back then.
Kitty: I didn’t know about naming patterns. I knew very little, but I did know that Y could solve this for me. So, I did a 12 marker test. Now, let me tell you, that was nothing. I didn’t know it was nothing.
Fisher: It’s still nothing.
Kitty: My dad had five thousand matches.
Fisher: How many?
Kitty: Five thousand.
Fisher: Oh, my gosh! [Laughs]
Kitty: Perfect matches at 12 markers.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Kitty: So, those days there was a public website where you could upload the Y and look for matches there that might have been tested by other companies and they included geographic information. So, I looked to see which other 12 marker matches were from Bergen, Norway.
Kitty: And there were two of them.
Fisher: You know what I love about this, though Kitty? Is the fact that this is how we learn, right? I mean, you are driving blind and you don’t even know it so you just try things to see what happens. And somehow in the process of all this most of us make something happen and we don’t even know what we did.
Kitty: Well, I learned so much from trying things out and from my mistakes and so on.
Kitty: So, I wrote to the two Bergen matches and one of them actually wrote me back!
Fisher: Cool! How rare is that.
Kitty: And it turns out he was a genealogist who lived in Norway and was really interested in all this stuff. So, he posted the details of what I knew about my great, great grandfather on a Norwegian website and he narrowed those ten people down to two. Well that was useful.
Kitty: Meanwhile, we upgraded to 37 markers and Sigmend wasn’t a match anymore. So that was sort of sad.
Fisher: [Laughs] There he went.
Kitty: And he was still helping me. Listen to this, he tracked down the male line descendent of the grandfather of one of the two possible Lars Monsens.
Fisher: Oh, wow.
Kitty: And talked him into testing, and he had a spare 37 kit in the house that he had gotten on sale. He sent it to this gentleman. Got the gentleman to test and naturally I paid him back for that and they were a match at 37. They were a three step match.
Fisher: And so now you knew which Lars Monsen was yours.
Kitty: Now I knew which Lars Munson was mine. And now I had this family back another 200 years.
Fisher: Holy cow!
Kitty: The records were recent so it came from a little farm north of Bergen called Aastvedt. I went there. It’s now a golf course.
Fisher: [Laughs] I think that would be a great fate for a lot of farms, you know? They’re beautiful.
Kitty: Oh, it was so beautiful there. When my cousin Karen and I arrived at the Bergen airport Sigmond met us at the airport, he was just marvellous.
Fisher: You know I will say this, I mean in all the years that I’ve been doing this, it’s been almost 40 years now, you just run into so many incredibly kind people who are excited about the adventure and want to be part of it with you. And I think vice versa. I think we all kind of get the fever as a result of that and love helping other people make their discoveries.
Kitty: Yeah, I’m afraid I have that. [Laughs]
Kitty: In fact, he texted me when he was in the States. It was a yearly family tree DNA thing. And he said, “Oh, you’re famous! Your name is on the screen.” [Laughs]
Kitty: And he did all this helping back when I knew nothing and was a novice.
Fisher: Yeah, and he’s the one who really kind of got you on the track and I would imagine he got you kind of hooked on this stuff because it worked!
Kitty: Yeah. He knew a great deal about Y and I knew nothing back then. I just about knew how to do some Norwegian genealogy.
Fisher: Now, have you figured out why he jumped off the ship?
Kitty: Oh, he met a girl.
Fisher: Oh, yeah that will happen.
Kitty: Yeah. My great, great grandfather met a girl in Vassenden and we actually found the marriage record but the thing to know is on the marriage record he is Lars Mogensen. Names were really not as firm back then.
Fisher: Not very fluid, yeah.
Kitty: So, Mogensen, may be what the clerk heard. Mogens is another way to say Mons. Oh, in fact, Sigmond then put me in touch with a guy in Norway that have these local history books and people write the history of all the farms.
Fisher: The farms, yeah. The farm books are fabulous.
Kitty: So, Sigmond put me in touch with the guy who wrote the farm book from Astveit which is just north of Bergen, from that area. And he then sent me translated copies of the farm book entries.
Kitty: He was just so helpful, the fellow who wrote that book, which by the way is in the Salk Lake City Library now. It wasn’t at the time. Kenneth Brout I think was his name. It was just newly out that particular area. Each little parish or group of parishes, some local historian takes on the task of writing the history of all the farms with full genealogy.
Fisher: Yes. Yeah, it’s fabulous stuff and I’ve used it myself on my lines. Kitty Cooper, what a great way to kick this whole thing off! My greatest story, from the great genealogists of our country right now. Thanks so much for coming on and starting us off. I loved it. It was great.
Kitty: How I got hooked on DNA. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] That’s exactly it. Coming up next, another round of Ask Us Anything with David, he’s going to be back in minutes, in three in fact, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 341
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back at it for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. It’s your chance to ask questions and we'll see what we can come up with. And David Allen Lambert is back, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, Aaron writes from Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota and says, "Guys, I'm new to genealogy and I live in a house that was built in 1875. Is there some way for me to learn about who lived here and the history of the home?" David, you've done stuff like this.
David: Oh yeah. I mean, I live in a house that was built in the 1890s and I’ve wanted to know, you know, I was finding old bottles in the back yard and I wanted to know who put that trash there, not that I wanted to, you know, give them grief. I wanted to know who they were. I started basically by looking at the family deed, because it told me who we purchased it from. And then I went to the registry of deeds as I would advise our listener to and then backwards trace your own property. So you have on your deed, it will say, "This is the same property as conveyed to the grantor" the person that you bought it from "on a, date" maybe a volume and a page, so just look up that deed and continually go back and back. The one thing you have to be a little concerned about is that the property itself is going to be deeded, but it may just say building on the property, so you may not find exactly the year your house was built or confirm it at least. Now there's other things you can do. I mean, there's obviously with genealogy. You know get some of these names from the deeds, they're not going to list the kids, so look at the census records.
David: Got to local historical societies and see if they have old photographs of the neighborhood or even the house that you live in, especially since it’s an older house. You might want to research the local vital records, find where the people who lived in your house, maybe there's a nearby cemetery and they're buried there or who knows, they may even be buried in your backyard.
Fisher: One thought, too, David, and I've done this before with great success and that is, go to a newspaper, a digitized newspaper site and just put in the address and the town and see what stories come up about things that happened at that address.
David: That's true. And just keep in mind that the address number of the street may have changed, so all of a sudden if it doesn’t make sense just see what the local historical society or maybe the town assessor’s office if they ever renumbered the street. But I would say that it would be really easy to take this project on involve your whole family and trace the genealogy of your homestead.
Fisher: Now what did you find out about your house, Dave? I mean, it’s pretty old. It’s like you say, your family hasn't owned it the entire time, have they?
David: No. In fact, on the record of the town, it says my house was built in 1917. The truth of it, it was built in 1897. I've even found newspaper articles like you were saying that talk about the house being built. They talk about who built it and where they came from. I know it was built by two Nova Scotia carpenters and with the Newton, Massachusetts name, Robertson and Stimson. I know that in 1934 the property was then owned for 25 years by a Dr. Charles Henry Gray. He was a doctor in Cambridge and went to Harvard University, owned the first car in the city of Cambridge and came out here during the influenza epidemic and lived in my house and then eventually bought it.
Fisher: Wow! And when did your family get it?
Fisher: 1965. So your family's been in there 55 years, wow!
David: Yeah, four generations have lived here, from my children's great grandparents’ right to my kids.
Fisher: That's a great history. And you've been able to find all that and put all that together. And what about the stuff you found in the back yard, what was back there?
David: It was a medical doctor. Probably a lot more medical waste than you probably care to think of from the 1920s, medicine bottles probably a foot thick.
David: Some of them broken, but some of them quite whole and some of them still with corks in them with the medicine in them. So, the nearby stream is probably not the safest thing in the world, but I'm sure it’s not a mass cleanup site either.
Fisher: [Laughs] Oh boy! All right, thanks so much Aaron for the question. It was a good one, and we're going to be back with another listener question when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 341
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back, continuing Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, question here from Lauren in Piscataway, New Jersey and she says, "Guys, I've been searching digitized newspapers and have had a real head scratching problem. I can't find my people where they should be. What am I doing wrong?" Great question. David, I'll start with this one, because I've just been doing this a lot recently. I think part of the problem might very simply be that she isn't looking for names with various spellings. For instance, I had my half brother that I mentioned earlier in the show and I just found this information on him on Newspapers.com and his name was S T E P H E N, but he went by Steve. And the papers sometimes spelt it Steven, and of course Fisher sometimes has a C in it and sometimes another thing that happens with these newspaper stories is, they divide a name in half, right, they do the first syllable and then a dash and it doesn’t pick it up as easily. So sometimes you want to go in a different direction, try to look at addresses or something they might have been associated with.
David: Well, I know when I have a look at my own family, it’s like, never assume the spelling of the last name is the way you think it is. I mean, my own last name of Lambert, in some early Nova Scotian papers were listed as Lampert, because Lambert and Lampert sounds a lot alike.
David: And then you get into the name, Fagens. I had an ancestor who did the unfortunate thing to find out how much opium it would take to kill a man and he killed himself in 1831. It made news from Maine all the way down to Virginia. But every variation on Joseph Fagen's name, any vowel change, add a Y, take out a Y, add an S, take out an S, it’s in there. [Laughs] But yeah, his name was not consistent. And unfortunately, sometimes that even happens with gravestones, because somebody might carve a gravestone and put the wrong name on it, so it’s not just an obituary that could be wrong.
Fisher: Isn't that interesting. You know, with newspapers, you know you can narrow the timeframe which is helpful and then go through those variant spellings as we've talked about, but you can also, as we've talked about today, go through and look by street address or something like that and see if you can find something connected there. In the case of my half brother who passed away in 1963, he belonged to a hotrod club and they did a lot of service around their community in New Jersey, helping stranded motorists get their cars going again, and they would refuse to accept any tips for their service. And so, I would then start searching for any reference to the club or I'd put "hot rod” in quotes. So you don't necessarily always have to look for the name of the individual, but sometimes you're going to look for things that they're associated with. And when you do that, you might surprise yourself.
David: Well, I remember advising somebody in regard to their ancestor who played semipro baseball and they weren't finding Robert Stevenson. I said, "Have you tried looking for Bob Stevenson or maybe his nickname or better yet, our period Stevenson or last name Stevenson, the association with the name of the team?" and they found more than they had ever found.
Fisher: Isn't that interesting.
David: People are always more familiar in local town papers, so you may be referred to as Mr. Fisher or I might be Mr. Lambert and they don't even say who our first name is, because, well, we know who Mr. Fisher is in a small town in New Hampshire.
Fisher: Or their initials, right David? I mean, they could put D.A. Lambert or W.S. Fisher or something like that and that can throw people off and then you've got to change the spellings of the last names all over again and hopefully get it right. So, there are a few tips. Hopefully that helps you find what you're looking for, so good luck on that and let us know if you make any breakthroughs. And by the way, if you have any questions for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. Thanks David. Talk to you again next week.
David: Take care.
Fisher: All right, and that is a wrap for this week. And thanks so much for joining us. Thanks once again to Kitty Cooper, you can follow her at KittyCooper.com. And of course if you missed any of today's show, you can follow us on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Spotify, TuneIn Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!