Episode 342 - Old Books, What’s Forgotten Inside? New Group Seeks Access To National ArchivesSep 13, 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 by talking about an awesome gift given to Fisher… a musket ball from the site of the Great Swamp Fight of 1675 during the King Philip’s (Native) War. Two of his direct ancestors were killed there, and another wounded. Then, they share the news that RootsTech for 2021 is full steam ahead virtual. You can now sign up for free! Next, two women recently met to research the same old southern plantation. One was a descendant of the slave holder, the other a descendant of the slave. Hear their story. A 1,000 year old Christian cemetery has been found in Poland. David shares the details of one strange burial in the cemetery. Finally, the guys talk about a story concerning DNA and crime. Things are not always going well with the police CODIS system.
Next, Fisher visits with Emma Smreker, a French teacher in Oklahoma with a fascinating fascination… old books and what may have been left in them. Hear what she finds and what she does with items!
Fisher then checks in with Don Mounts, Vice President of a brand new organization called the Archival Researchers Association. They have one main goal… access to the National Archives which is largely shut down due to the pandemic. Hear what the group’s specific plans are and how you may be able to help.
David then rejoins the show for Ask Us Anything as the guys tackle a question about oral traditions and another about a state that has had two counties with the same name!
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 342
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 342
Fisher: And welcome America 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. Oh, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover today. First of all, we’ve got a big announcement concerning RootsTech. We’re going to tell you what that’s about, coming up here in just a few minutes. We’re going to talk to Emma Smreker in just about ten minutes. She’s a woman we talked about just a little bit last week. She’s a French teacher in Oklahoma City, and she finds stuff in used books and then tries to figure out who it came from, what the story is. She’s a fascinating woman and you’ll enjoy the visit. And then later in the show, we’re going to talk to Don Mounts. He is the Vice President at Archival Researcher Association. It’s a brand-new association, and their whole thing is trying to get back what they’ve lost with the National Archives through COVID and cutbacks. So, Don can tell you what you could do to help and what they’re up against. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, make sure you do. You can do it at ExtremeGenes.com. You’ll get a blog from me each week, current and past podcasts and links to several great stories that you’ll enjoy as a genealogist. Right now, it’s time to head out to Stoughton, Massachusetts and the home of the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello David Allen Lambert.
David: Hey, how are you doing out there in your part of the world?
Fisher: Well, it’s been hot, but it’s cooling off a little now and that’s the good news.
David: I understand that you got an interesting package in the mail.
Fisher: [Laughs] I did! This guy Jim, who’s a friend of mine, who’s a researcher back in Rhode Island, actually went to the scene of the Great Swamp Fight and found a bunch of musket balls there. And two of my ancestors were actually killed there. Another one was wounded there, and he sent me a musket ball from the scene of the battle. And this one he believes is actually from the Native American side. I’m just amazed to think that this is 345 years old and has a family connection. It’s incredible.
David: Yeah, that’s great. Well, as you mentioned, RootsTech is virtual, which only makes sense for a conference about technology, right?
Fisher: That’s it.
David: So, RootsTech connect 2021. Be there or be square on February 25th to 27th.
Fisher: I think a lot of people are excited about it. Here’s the thing. It’s free this year! How cool is that?
David: You just have to have the time and obviously, it’s going to be one of these things where there will be International speakers that would maybe have been never been able to get to the United States to attend or just people that just didn’t have the budget or been home bound for many years and now they can do it from home.
Fisher: It’s going to be a lot of fun coming up next year.
David: Two ladies recently went to Montgomery County Archives in Alabama. They found some connecting information about enslavement. One was the descendent of the enslaver. The other lady is descendent from the enslaved. And they’ve now gone to the site where their ancestors were joined in this, unfortunately, sad chapter of American history.
Fisher: And these two women have become great friends. And as you can imagine, it had to have been uncomfortable for Anne when she met Karen because Anne was the descendent of the enslaver. But no, they bonded immediately. They were on the same path. They wanted to find out the information, but the one had to face her past and the other was trying to find it. And it was a really interesting story. You can find the link to it at ExtremeGenes.com.
David: And you know, the interesting thing about this is that Karen’s ancestor was born free, and was kidnapped from Iowa and brought down South and sold.
David: Unfortunately, it happened a lot of times. You know, I like archaeology that always connects to our families and sometimes the discoveries may have a DNA connect as they do further research. A 1000-year-old cemetery was found. When Christianity finally came to Poland at the end of the tenth century, the pagan religion was still going on. So, this graveyard has 30 burials and one of them is rather unique. It actually has a boulder, Fisher, on the woman that was buried there.
David: Not that she was killed by a boulder and put a cemetery around it.
David: No, she was buried with a boulder on top and this is something that you occasionally see in history that, you know, look like vampires, you know, spikes.
David: And you’ve got other things that you know they don’t want this person coming back up again and I think that’s what it was.
Fisher: That’s what it sounds like.
David: Pagan priestesses, or something like that.
David: But it’s interesting. So that is from Poland. So, you might find out that this lady was stuck between a rock and a hard place back in her burial.
Fisher: Oh stop, stop. [Laughs]
David: Sorry. [Laughs] You might be related to her. Keep posted for DNA evidence that may come down the road. You know, we’re using so much DNA these days. One of the stories on ExtremeGenes.com is the DNA database that may actually have gaps in it that are allowing people to fall through the system that could normally get evidence to help solve these cold cases.
Fisher: Yeah, the police database nationally is called CODIS and what they’re finding out is that there are a lot of convicts who have been ordered to go provide their DNA for the database, and they haven’t been doing it. And now they’re having to go back and try to track some of these people down and it’s left a lot of cases open from the past and it’s of course given opportunities for some of these people to stay free and commit more crimes. So, it’s been called by one expert a national disgrace and we’ll see what they’re going to do to try to fix this.
David: Well, thank goodness for people like CeCe Moore and Parabon and all those that are going up there to help make closure for so many people that have lost family members over the decades. Well, you know, a lot of you are probably sitting home doing genealogy. Do you realize that you can actually become a guest member of American Ancestors for free? But if you like it, you can also use our coupon code “Extreme” and save $20 on membership. Now, also on our website now we have links to over 100 videos that you can watch, how-to’s on genealogy and local history That you’ll find very beneficial to your research. So, go to AmericanAncestors.org and tell them Dave and Fish sent you.
Fisher: All right David, thank you so much and we’ll talk to you at the back end of the show for another round of Ask Us Anything. And just a reminder, at the beginning of the show, of course, we mentioned that RootsTech is going all virtual this year. So, in 2021, in late February, you can enjoy it wherever you are for free. And if you want to get signed up, it’s easy to do. Just go to their website Rootstech.org. Coming up next, we’re going to talk to that French teacher from Oklahoma City about her interesting hobby in some of the things she’s finding in used books, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 342
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Emma Smreker
Fisher: Well, you know, we all get started in tracking down people in different ways and sometimes in different disciplines. Hey, it’s Fisher. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and I’ve got a guest on right now who is a French teacher in Oklahoma City. Her name is Emma Smreker. And Emma, bonjour. Welcome to the show.
Emma: Bonjour. Thank you.
Fisher: The accent’s there too and everything!
Fisher: Emma is one of these people who goes out and hangs out at used books stores and thrift shops and looks for stuff in old books. How did you get going on this Emma?
Emma: It’s pretty funny actually. I got a book for my birthday. My husband gave me a book that he had bought online. He likes to find French books for me, and they’re not super common here in Oklahoma, so he looks online and on eBay and abebooks.com and things like that. And he found a book for me, and inside was this receipt for this café in Montreal. I just thought that was fascinating for some reason. I don’t know. I became fixated on this receipt.
Emma: Wondering like who was this person? It was a true crime book so of course it was like okay, we’ve got another true crime fan here. Did they go to the book store and then buy the book, and then decide they were hungry and stopped and get something to eat and then use the receipt as their bookmark.
Fisher: [Laughs] You’re putting a whole story around this receipt.
Emma: Seriously, I started creating this story about this person and it was like they kind of came to life for me. And I remember sitting there and looking at this receipt and kind of looking up at him and going, “Okay, I think I’m having an idea.” And so, before I knew it we were sitting on the floor in our living room going through all of our used books seeing what we could find and seeing if there were any stories, or letters, or photos, or anything in those books. I thought surely somebody else in the world will find this interesting, right?
Fisher: Sure, right. Yeah.
Emma: I’m not the only one. So, I thought okay, I’m going to start an Instagram account and I’m going to start photo documenting the things that I find and just kind of go from there, you know. I never expected to find as much as I have over the years.
Fisher: Well, how much time do you spend at this? How many years have you been doing it then?
Emma: That was in 2018.
Fisher: Oh wow, so two years now.
Emma: So yeah, it’s been two years.
Fisher: Yeah. And obviously something in this has kept you going. What are some of the things that you’ve found that made you say, “I got to keep this up”?
Emma: Well, at first it was a lot of banal things, plane tickets, business cards, stuff like that. But about a year after I started it, I was at a flea market in Norman, Oklahoma, and I was going through this guy’s booth. He had a ton of books. A lot of really old books too, which of course are like I’m just itching to get my fingers on them.
Fisher: Yeah, gold for you right.
Emma: Serious. The older the better for me because there’s a lot of trends that I think have become a little outdated that people used to do, especially you know, writing in books and leaving things in books. If I see older books, that’s usually my jackpot right there.
Emma: I found a letter. It was kind of a letter to the editor type thing, but it was actually a poem.
Emma: And it was written to a newspaper in Ohio, the Lancaster Eagle Gazette and it was beautiful. It was a beautiful poem entitled Spring Goodbye, and luckily enough, the man who wrote it, Ed Ruffner, I mean that’s kind of a unique name.
Emma: So, I thought all right, I’m going to Google search, probably not going to find much. It’s probably not going to be a big deal. I was on spring Christmas break and kind of needed something to do because I’m a teacher and kind of have a hard time turning off.
Emma: And so, I started Google searching and I was able to find a couple of articles, census reports, and some obituaries that mentioned the Ruffner family, and sort of cobbled together a makeshift family tree. And this poem was written in 1893. So of course, my original assumption was that I would need to pick a branch of this family tree that I threw together and see if I could track down some of his descendants.
Emma: That’s when I started searching on Facebook, Instagram, Google searches and things like that.
Emma: …and stumbled across a woman named Catherine. And I believe she was a great, great granddaughter. And got in contact with her and was kind of like, “I don’t really know how to do this but, “Hi. Quick question, are you related to this person?” And lo and behold, she was.
Fisher: She was and she knew it too, which is interesting because not everybody knows their ancestors that far back. And besides, I don’t think you’d have that hard a time. You don’t sound like a solicitor. You just don’t have that aggressive sound to your voice, Emma.
Emma: [Laughs] I try to kind of be like, “I really hope this isn’t weird, but I found this letter. I promise I’m not trying to sell you anything.”
Fisher: [Laughs] That’s the first thing out of my mouth when I do those. “Hi, my name is Scott and I am not a solicitor. I’m looking for Fred.”
Emma: Right. But she was so sweet.
Fisher: Yeah. And so, what was her reaction?
Emma: She was quite surprised actually, and you know, because at first, I went through I was like, “Hi, are you related to…” And I mentioned her parents’ names because I wanted to kind of move my way through the tree and basically see if it’s accurate or not. And she was like, “Yeah, those are my parents.” And I was like, “Okay, so that means that your grandparents are blah, blah, blah, and blah, blah, blah.” And she was like, “That’s correct.” And I was like, “Okay. That means that…”
Emma: You know, the going up and up. She was actually able to contact some of her cousins and get a little bit more information about him and how he was quite the prolific poet, had written other things unto this newspaper etc. And we’re still in contact to this day.
Emma: She follows my Instagram account. She’s always commenting on Facebook posts and things like that. She’s awesome. She’s become kind of like a family friend.
Fisher: So, what did you do with the letter?
Emma: I reached out to the newspaper that he actually had originally intended the letter for and said, “Hi” once again. “Hi. I found this letter.”
Fisher: [Laughs] This is a weird story, but listen carefully. Yeah.
Emma: “Please, please, please, bear with me. I found this letter.” And I sent a scan of it and I was like, “It was intended for you. He wanted to send this to you, but I’m assuming, since I have it, that he didn’t. Would you consider publishing this in the arts and leisure page or something like that, nothing big?” And luckily, the woman that responded that was working at the newspaper at the time was like, “This is fantastic. We want to put this in our newspaper front page. So that was just…It was incredible.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah.
Emma: I was ecstatic because I was like, “I got him published like after, I think at that point it had been like 125 years,” you know?
Fisher: Yeah, a long, long time.
Emma: A long, long time. So, that was when I finally… It was like, I’m good. I’ve done it. That’s what I needed to do.
Emma: That’s when I’d finished it.
Fisher: What else have you found and then what have you done with those items?
Emma: I found a lot of photos that have been easier to trace because they’re either not as old or also that they have names written on the back.
Emma: Right. One thing that I just want to say to everybody any time I meet them, I’m like, “Please write on the back of your photos first and last names please.”
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
Emma: So, if I find them, it makes my life a lot easier.
Fisher: What s the oldest photos you’ve found?
Emma: There’s one that I don’t know if I can quite date, but it’s a photo of a woman and I believe she is one wearing a navy uniform. I think she’s an aerographer, if that’s how it’s pronounced. I’m not entirely sure, based on the insignia on her sleeve.
Emma: I can’t quite date the uniform. Maybe like 1920s? But I think that might be one of the older of the photos that I found that I would still love to be able to identify one of the people in that photo and get it back to them.
Emma: But there’s nothing written on it other than what she’s wearing and her patches on her uniform.
Fisher: Okay. What else have you found that you’ve been able to identify and tie to a person?
Emma: There was a photo strip. I found it about a year ago, and there’s nothing written on it. It’s of a little girl and her dad I assumed. I posted it on my Instagram, my Facebook, I even went on Reddit and tried to post it there. I posted it into different forgotten treasures groups on Facebook who also trace family and photos and still nothing, until finally after a little bit of encouragement from friends and family, I reached out to a local news store and I was like, “Hey, okay, I need your help. This is not going anywhere. I have been trying for a year to find these people.” Luckily enough, the wife and mother of the little girl in the photo strip watches the news and she saw very quickly a blip onscreen and it was like, “Wait a minute, I think I just saw my husband and my daughter on television in a photo.”
Emma: And then she messaged me and she was like, “Hi. You have a picture of my husband and my daughter from like 15 years ago.”
Fisher: Oh wow.
Emma: So yeah, that’s one’s been really, really fun because I’ve had that picture for a year.
Fisher: So, did the husband leave it in a book? Is that the deal?
Emma: The wife actually did. Yeah.
Fisher: Oh, she did.
Emma: Maria left it in a book. Um hmm.
Emma: And then they moved from Oklahoma so they live in Texas now.
Fisher: And she saw it from Texas?
Emma: Yeah. They still own a house here in Oklahoma City, so they like to keep up with local news.
Emma: And so she still streams local news down in Texas. What are the odds right?
Fisher: Right. There’s a story to tell for the rest of your life and for hers.
Emma: Exactly. I got to meet them recently and now I have another family that’s like again like old family friends.
Fisher: Sure. So, real quick, what are some of the other items? You’ve found photographs, you found the poem. Have you found love letters?
Emma: I have. I found a few love letters. I found some really bizarre items as well. I found a package of razor blades once.
Emma: Lots of pressed flowers and leaves, it’s actually some of my favorites. I recently found my first pair of four-leave clovers. It was a very exciting moment for me because I’ve been hoping to find four-leave clovers at some point. I found $2 bills quite often. I found some currency from Honduras as well as Canada, toothpicks, emery boards.
Emma: Very strange things that people used.
Fisher: What fun.
Fisher: How’s your husband feel about all this?
Emma: He is probably my biggest fan. He’s fantastic at finding things too. I’m only about 5 feet tall, so having a taller husband that can get the higher shelves comes in clutch because he finds stuff that I probably won’t ever be able to find. And he loves it just as much as I do. Any excuse to go to a bookstore he’s on board. But he gets so much pride whenever he comes up to me it’s like, “Look what I found! Look what I found! Look what I found!”
Emma: It’s truly awesome.
Fisher: She’s Emma Smreker. She is a French teacher in Oklahoma, and searches through old books to see what she can find in there, and then tracks down where they came from and tries to get stuff back in some cases, or in one case actually have a poem published from 125 years ago.
Fisher: Emma you’re nuts. I love it. I think it’s great. [Laughs]
Emma: [Laughs] Thank you.
Fisher: And sure appreciate you coming on Extreme Genes and I wish you the best of luck and let us know if we can ever help you with anything.
Emma: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Fisher: All right. And if you want to see what Emma’s been up to lately, you can go to her Instagram account @inusedbooks. And coming up next, some folks are getting together to help out the National Archives.
Segment 3 Episode 342
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Don Mounts
Fisher: Oh, this COVID thing is causing so much trouble for so many researchers. Hey, it’s Fisher. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And there is a new organization that has been put together, It’s called,” The Archival Researchers Association.” They’re out to try to figure out how we can get access to records again, and I’ve got the VP on the line right now, Don Mounts. Don, how are you? Welcome to the show.
Don: Good morning. How are you?
Fisher: I am doing great, but we’re not all doing great in terms of getting access to say, the National Archives, Regional Archives, City Archives, and things are kind of at a standstill. Tell me about your organization and what you’re doing to straighten this out.
Don: Well, when COVID started, the National Archives of course, rightfully so, closed its doors and they’ve been closed since March the 13th. And there was no plan at the time of when they could reopen, it’s all based on science and we like the fact that it’s all based on science. But what happens is researchers, research companies, authors, historians, veterans, so many veterans, they can’t get their hands on these records.
Don: Some of them are actually dying before they can get their hands on records that they need to get medical treatment.
Fisher: Yeah. They need that for benefits, right?
Don: Yes. The benefits for them, even if they do pass, for their families to be able to get benefits from the VA. A lot of times these records need to prove that the actual soldier was in a particular location to be able to get a particular benefit.
Fisher: Sure. So, NARA is shutdown. Have they been making some efforts now to get material to researchers? How is that working out?
Don: They’re doing digitizing onsite. They have not allowed any access to material other than immediate medical care and deaths. If a veteran dies, of course they can get records to be able to have a burial and get a headstone.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Don: And if a person is gravely ill and needs to get a medical record to be able to get into a hospital, yes they will do that but it’s very limited and nothing else is being done.
Fisher: Wow, so what are they doing with their people during this time?
Don: Well, some are on furlough and being on furlough doesn’t mean they’re not paid. Most of the archival people are working from home. They’ve purchased laptops for a lot of them so they’re able to do some stuff from home. Either they’re on furlough or they’re on what they consider emergency paid leave. So, they’re either working or not but nothing is going on in the archives except for upper staff such as supervisors executives.
Fisher: So, this is a big trickle down thing then, right? Because researchers, just ordinary individuals, or small businesses that do a lot of research not only for family history but for some of these other things you’re mentioning, they can’t get what they need and it doesn’t look like the National Archives is really doing much to get where they need to be.
Don: They’ve started a three phase reopening system that they want to go through, which I understand as far as COVID, but the latest news we have is they may not reopen until January of 2021 which would be a total of almost ten months of no archives. And that is just to a point where we need to get in and get them as soon as possible and not be limited to our time there when they do reopen.
Fisher: How limited where you in the past when they were open?
Don: Normally, I would go in on a Monday morning and work from 8:45 to 5:45, Monday through Friday and that was fine I could get most of my work done, everything was great. That had been limited down from many hours before, a couple of years ago, with budget cuts they’ve cut their hours over the last two years. And now, there’s a possibility that a researcher will be limited to a few hours a day, one day a week.
Fisher: Oh! Ooh. That’s harsh.
Don: Yes that is.
Fisher: So, I would assume that the main target then of your new organization is the National Archives. But there’s got to be also regional and local that you have to be dealing with also, right?
Don: Yes. We’ve found that out with libraries. We’ve found that out with state archives, birth certificates that are housed in state archives, death certificates, marriage licenses, all these things have slowed down to a trickle. Some of these have to be researched by hand and there is no access. Some of them can be done by mailing in a request, but with lower staff in the archive facility they just don’t have the people to do the work and some people are waiting months and even more than several months for records.
Fisher: Yeah. I was talking to Melissa Barker. You may know her as the Archive Lady.
Fisher: And she talks about the fact that at least right now a lot of digitization and indexing is going on and reorganization within the local organizations. But that’s really about all they can do because of the pandemic. So, hopefully you can make some headway. So, tell us about the organization as The Archival Researchers Association, you just pretty much put things together starting what, about a month ago?
Don: Yeah, just a little over a month ago we sat down and we brought together some people that research in St. Louis at the National Personnel Records Center. We also brought some people that research in Washington and in College Park and we put together a nice board of directors of people with a lot of different aspects in research. And we sat down and came up with a plan, and that plan is to educate the researchers, educate the public, and help educate the archives and the archive management, and staff on what really is needed by the research community and the people who use them. What’s important about that is not only does the archives know that they have to provide the records of the law, they don’t always understand how important it is to have your hands on those records yourself.
Fisher: Yeah. What about funding? What’s going on with the National Archives? You mentioned they cut their hours back. Is there anything you can do with law makers to help them out?
Don: There is and that is in our future plans. Of course we are waiting this time for the election to happen in November because there will be not only a presidential election, but there’s a lot of representatives and senators who are up for re-election. So, once the election is over the time to really approach them is right after the inauguration time and start sitting down with the representatives and saying, this is what the problem is and we need to take a look at that, and how can you help us? And how can we help you achieve that? And that is our idea.
Fisher: Wow! That’s a huge task. How many people are in the organization already?
Don: Right now we have about 45 paid members but we have some support from outside organizations that have become corporate members. Our board is very well diversified, from attorneys to genealogists, to corporations who advocate for gravestones and different types of things that kind of change. So, we have a good board of directors and good ideal people that we want to use and we have some people who are very well connected to the Hill in Washington.
Fisher: You know, I like it because first of all, its grassroots and its from the people bubbling up and saying, wait a minute government, you’re not taking care of our needs, not that that’s any surprise.
Done: How long have we been going through that?
Fisher: Yeah. No kidding huh? If people want to get involved with the organization Don, what do they do?
Don: We’d like them to go to our website which is ArchivalResearchers.org. And they can visit our website, there’s all kinds of information there. There is a way to join the organization. We also have a Facebook page under Archival Researchers. And we also have a Twitter account which is @ArchivalResearcher1, we post on them constantly. We’re looking for anybody who has information. They can reach out to either the website or Facebook and they can also send us a direct message that we get every day through a mail system. And we will reply as soon as possible and try to answer any questions they might have.
Fisher: Well, it seems like you have a little more time on your hands now to respond to things like that. [Laughs]
Don: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s true.
Fisher: Ugh. You know, this is really a tragedy at just so many levels, isn’t it? I mean this whole COVID thing just shutting down all the things that we need to do. It’s depressing you know, on so many levels, that we can’t get those things and vets can’t get their benefits. It’s not just family history researchers it’s a lot of other areas.
Don: People should get involved. I mean we can give you something to do. I’m sure we can find work for you.
Fisher: They’ll put you to work. There you go. He’s Don Mounts. He’s the vice president at Archival Researchers Association. Don thanks for what you’re doing. Hopefully things will start lifting when they get that darn vaccine, you know.
Don: That’s what I’m hoping.
Fisher: Good to talk to you. Thanks for coming on.
Don: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Fisher: And coming up next, you ask, we answer with Ask Us Anything, in three minutes.
Segment 4 Episode 342
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back from AmericanAncestors.org. And David, our first question today comes from Jenna Mae in Huntington Beach, California and she says, "Guys, I've investigated a couple of oral traditions in my family and they don't add up. How reliable are oral traditions?" You want to start this off, Dave?
David: Well, I always use the analogy that there's an ounce of truth in every story handed down. I have a story on one of my relatives, I may have learnt it from my grandmother, she may have told a slightly different variation of the story or my cousin may have remembered it different variation and you've got to ask all the family members, because somewhere hidden in all of these is, you know, a little smidgen of truth, but the real thing is, being a genealogist, we can track down some of these stories, not always. How about for you? What have you found with oral tradition being good, bad or indifferent in your genealogy?
Fisher: Interesting. I think its easier now to solve some of these things than it was before the internet. [Laughs] And I remembered receiving a few stories and one of them came from a great aunt, and she died in 1968, and the year before, she left us some information about the family. She left a little family tree. She left little notes like this, "Nelly Falloon walked on the farm with a lawyer. It’s on the Stokes side." and I'm like, "What?! What does this mean?!"
Fisher: Yeah, yeah. And there's a thing, "There's a Lord Townley in the family on the Stokes side." and I'm thinking, "Lord Townley?" and when I looked into it, initially I couldn't find anything, and then when the internet came out, there was this story out there about the Townley family scam that went around in the 19th century. And basically, it’s said that this man's daughter disappointed him, because she had fallen in love with a commoner. And so he cut her out of the will, threw all the money in an account and then this couple went off to America and never knew that dad had died.
Fisher: And so, supposedly anybody who descended from these people were in for this huge fortune that had only grown over almost two centuries. So what I learned from that was that my great grandparents were probably people who were approached as potential descendants in this scam, because their daughter who lived to be 90 years old was passing it onto us that she came from this family. So that was a great story to me that I was able to take that oral tradition and determine where it came from. Here's another one, my dad once told me when I was a kid that when he was a boy in New Jersey in the late 1920s, early '30s, he drove in a car in the backseat with some sort of relative who'd been in the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack in the Civil War. And this guy had spit out the window and left a streak on the window next to dad, that's why he remembered it. He was just so grossed out. And I researched, well, who were on the cruise of these ships, you know. It had to have been a Union guy, nobody there, nothing that made any sense. And then a few years ago, I discovered that this one relative who had married into the family had been a member of the GAR. We had pictures of him, and of course they look like great soldiers, right, the GAR, Dave?
David: Oh sure.
Fisher: Yeah. Well, when I dug into his records, it turns out he was a navy man and he was part of the monitor class of ships that helped blockade the South. Now he wasn't in the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack, that happened a year or so before he even joined up. And he moved to New Jersey just before 1930. So you can see how the story got twisted a little bit, but there's always a kernel of truth, just like you said. The challenge sometimes is just trying to figure out where is that kernel of truth.
David: That's very true.
Fisher: It’s a great question. Thanks so much, Jenna Mae. And we'll get to another one coming up next when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 342
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back. It’s our final segment of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here with David Allen Lambert from AmericanAncestors.org and NEHGS. And Dave, our second question today comes from Len in Raleigh, North Carolina. He says, "Dave..." this is directly to you, sir.
David: Uh oh!
Fisher: He says, "I have ancestors from your state in Massachusetts and I'm confused, why does Massachusetts have two counties named Norfolk?" Well, that's a good one.
Fisher: What's the deal with that, Dave?
David: Yeah, the tale of the two Norfolks. Well, the original one was called Norfolk County. We now refer to it as Old Norfolk County. It was created back in May of 1643 and the land covers now what is Essex County, Massachusetts and partly what is now Rockingham in Strafford County, New Hampshire right on the border.
David: And it existed roughly until about 1680 when it was discontinued. But there were still land transactions for this Old Norfolk in the records until 1714. Fast forward 150 years later in 1793 from the creation of Old Norfolk, they decided, why not have the old name revisited again. They created Norfolk County again.
David: Now this way, the original Norfolk County which didn't exist anymore is now Old Norfolk County and we have the current Norfolk County which is separated from Essex County as the new Norfolk County. Does that make any sense? [Laughs]
Fisher: So what you're telling me here is basically that the Old Norfolk County was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, because it covers different states, right?
David: It does, exactly.
Fisher: And then the modern one was created just to screw us all up when we try to do our research. They were obviously sitting at a bar some night and decided, we're going to have fun for centuries with this one. [Laughs]
David: It really is enough. I live in modern Norfolk County and what gets confusing is that people will say, "Oh, I didn't know you live near New Hampshire." and I'm like, "No, no, I live south of Boston, two different counties." And so, this story has had to be rehashed by me probably 100 times in the past 20 years, so I'm more than happy to answer this to Len and set the story straight.
Fisher: So David is this common confusion then, is that what you're saying that you hear from people all the time? Do they ever get mixed up with where their people were from as a result?
David: Yeah. I mean the way to really kind of figure it out is, if you get a town name, look for where it is modern, today. If it’s in Rockingham or Strafford County, New Hampshire, you're going to find the places like Exeter or Hampton or Portsmouth or Dover, these are places in New Hampshire. So it’s going to be Old Norfolk County for that small period of time.
Fisher: And how would you list this by the way? Would you list this as Rockingham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Bay Colony, British Colonial America? Is that is basically?
David: [Laughs] What I would do is, I always list a place as the county that reflects the time of the documents.
David: So if it’s something in the current zone of 1660, then I'm going to call it "Old Norfolk County" in quotes and then modern day Essex County or modern day Strafford County, New Hampshire. You've got to show people that that's what it was, but this is what it is now. My hometown in Norfolk County originally was Suffolk County and I'm looking for records prior to 1793, I have to look in Suffolk County, not in Norfolk County. In 1726 when my town was incorporated, Old Norfolk didn’t exist at all either. [Laughs] So, you want to know the modern name of the town, which shouldn't have changed and just see where it is geographically. If its south of Boston after 1793, you're talking about modern Norfolk County. So it’s just, if its north of Boston or in Southern New Hampshire, it’s quite possible that its one of the communities in Old Norfolk County.
Fisher: All right, Dave thanks very much. And Len, thanks for the question. You made my head explode. [Laughs]
Fisher: But if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. David, thanks so much for coming on. We'll talk to you again next week.
David: All right, until next time, my friend, will talk to you soon.
Fisher: [Laughs] All right bud. And of course if you missed any of the show or you want to catch it again, of course listen to the podcast version it’s on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, wherever fine podcasts are heard. Thanks for joining us. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!