Episode 344 - When the Records Don’t Agree / Another Ordinary Person with an Extraordinary Find

podcast episode Sep 27, 2020

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys open with talk about Ancestry.com’s latest adjustment in ethnicity estimates. Have you checked yours recently? Next, famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says her childhood interest in one sports team contributed to and enhanced her career choice.  Then, an island in New York likely contains the remains of over a million people, and New York doesn’t much like to talk about it. Hear which island and where it is.

Next, Fisher visits with McKenna Cooper from Legacy Tree Genealogists. McKenna talks about how genealogists deal with the ever present problem of conflicting records.

Then, Arkansas resident Kelsey Dum talks about taking some of what he learned from Extreme Genes and making an exciting breakthrough into the origins of his grandmother in France.

David then returns for Ask Us Anything as the guys take on questions about a high school ring and researching a late father’s early career.

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

Transcript of Episode 344

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 344

Fisher: And welcome, welcome, welcome America! It is Fisher here on America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com, the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, we’ve got a couple of greats guests today. We’re going to be talking to McKenna Cooper with Legacy Tree Genealogists. You know, sometimes you go and you’re researching your family and your ancestors and you get information that conflicts with each other? Maybe it’s dates. Maybe it’s places. Maybe you’ve got a kid who’s born 1 000 miles away from all the other kids right in the middle of the pack. How do you resolve that information? So, McKenna’s done a great blog on that. We’re going to hear from her coming up in about ten minutes. And later in the show, we’re also going to talk to a guy from Arkansas, Kelsey Dum, who took a few tips from Extreme Genes and solved a 60-year-old mystery concerning his grandmother in France. So, we’ll hear his story of the ordinary person with the extraordinary find and how he did it, coming up later in the show. And if you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, you can still do it. Just get to ExtremeGenes.com or sign up through our Facebook page. It is free. You get a blog from me each week. You get links to past and present shows and links to stories you’ll find fascinating as a genealogist. Right now, it’s off to Stoughton, Massachusetts where David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hi Dave, how are you doing?

David: Hey, I’m doing great. The weather is getting a bit chilly out here, but that just means that I can go out and look for hidden cemeteries out in the woods and not get poison ivy.

Fisher: [Laughs] That would be a nice thing. Hey, have you noticed by the way that Ancestry.com has updated their ethnicity estimate? So, if you’re one of those folks who’s gone through and said, “Okay, do I wear lederhosen or do I wear a kilt?” Here’s how you can find out. And I think a lot of people get upset about this sometimes Dave, and yet at the same time it’s just a continual improvement to help us identify where our people came from.

David: Yeah. Well, my wife calls herself a genealogical widow. She claims that DNA is going to cause more arguments now that I’ve looked at Ethnicity Estimates recently. My Lamberts are from Ireland, don’t know where, had a great, great grandmother from the northern part of Ireland. Now, because they’re grouping Scotland and northern Ireland together, I have 44% Scotland and northern Ireland.

Fisher: Oh, and it’s northern England too.

David: Yes and my wife’s grandfather was born in Scotland. She’s 40% Scottish.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So, I told her I need to buy a kilt and she told me that I need to reconsider how much genealogy she wants to be discussed at the kitchen table. [Laughs]

Fisher: Oh really? She’s really that upset about this?

David: Well, here’s the thing. I can’t tell you when the last time I have a traceable Scottish ancestor shy of something from 1000 years ago from one of my royal lines. I can assume that something happened with my fourth or fifth great grandparents, but I don’t know anything about them on my Lambert side, so I can’t go back that far. So, who knows? We could be Scottish and Irish. But the paper trail doesn’t have it. The DNA is showing me that. But I put a post out there. “Please save me folks. Do I need to go out and buy a kilt today?”

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, you know, I’ve got a third great grandfather from Scotland and finally I’m seeing some Scottish showing up here, four percent on my ethnicity estimate.

David: Hmm.

Fisher: So, it’s really interesting stuff and you know, they’re just refining it all the time to help you get more and more specific and they’re making smaller areas and that’s why these things happen. So, don’t get upset. It’s not that they were “wrong” before, it’s just less focused.

David: That’s true. If I look back at a post I did in 2018, the numbers are completely more compact. I mean, it has England, Wales, north western Europe, 67%. Now, that’s been divided out and I get sort of that mixed in between northwest Europe and England is 26% and now the Scottish and northern Irish is 44%. It makes more sense.                                                            

Fisher: Okay, my head’s spinning. [Laughs]

David: Yeah, mine too, and so, needless to say, my wife said, “No more DNA talk at the kitchen table.”

Fisher: [Laughs] Don’t want to get her upset. Well, there are some great stories out there today. I love this one with Doris Kearns Goodwin. Yeah, she talked about how baseball made her a better historian.

David: Well, that gal from Brooklyn, of course a big Dodger Blue fan, got a lot of her love for history, it seems, from her dad, who was of course following the Dodgers and she’d want to know, “Did they win? Did they lose?” But as she learned, you had to hear the whole story, the beginning, the middle, and the end. And this is where she says history has become one of her loves because she learned to understand baseball that way and she took that love of baseball and obviously applied it to history.

Fisher: I love the quote from her. She said, “For example, we know that the Great Depression came to an end when we mobilized for the war. We know that World War II was won by the Allies, but the people living in the Great Depression or the early days of World War II did not know that, so you have to recreate their anxiety and their fear and their moments of triumph and their moments of tragedy.” So, it’s really the same thing with baseball. And being a baseball fan, I love that.

David: You know, a lot of people go to New York to go to Ellis Island, but one island you may not want to go to is Hart Island. Well, if you do, you’re probably going to be in a box. See, Hart Island, Fish, they’re estimating, has at least a million people buried there since the 19th century.

Fisher: Yeah, Hart Island is actually way up north of the Throgs Neck area. I mean, if you’re familiar with New York where the Mets play at Citi Field, it’s actually north of that in Long Island Sound, and it’s not too far from Westchester County. And there are just all kinds of people who have been buried there for decades upon decades and this is kind of a paupers’ field of New York and nobody ever talks about it.

David: Yeah, the northern half of the island is pretty much tight real estate where the deceased might have died on the streets of New York, to prisoners, to children that were found abandoned. We really don’t know their names. There is no gravestone per se, so it’s really lost stories. So, Hart Island may be one of the largest cemeteries in the New York area.

Fisher: We could all have a relative or two in there. That’s a lot of people.

David: Well, don’t forget, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors, well, let’s change that. You can use the coupon code “Extreme” and save $20 on membership. Just go to AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: All right David, thank you so much. Catch you at the back end of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to McKenna Cooper from Legacy Tree Genealogists, talking about what do you do when you get conflicting evidence as you’re researching your family? That’s in three minutes on Extreme Genes, Americas Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 344

Host: Scott Fisher with guest McKenna Cooper

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And you know, we run into this stuff all the time. Conflicting information, what do we do with it? Hey, it’s Fisher and I was just reading this great blog on LegacyTree.com. It was written by my next guest McKenna Cooper. She is a researcher and editor for Legacy Tree. And McKenna, I loved everything you said and agreed with everything you said, but what I liked in particular was how you wrote this blog. In particular, talking about horses and not zebras, you want to explain where you’re coming from with that?

McKenna: Yeah. So, horses not zebras are kind of a common medical phrase that basically means like don’t jump to the most exotic or rare diagnosis or conclusions when there’s usually a more simple explanation.

Fisher: Well, I’ve always maintained that the simplest explanation is usually the right explanation.

McKenna: Right.

Fisher: And sometimes you get something weird happen. But for the most part the reality displays itself. I mean it’s looking you right in the face. Yes, there are other possible explanations but not as likely. So, let’s start going through some of the things that people confuse a lot. For instance, I’ve had people kind of highjack my FamilySearch tree on one of the families and say, “Oh, okay. This middle child was born in Boston and everybody else was born in England.” Right? [Laughs]  

McKenna: [Laughs] Yeah.

Fisher: Like, really? Where does that come from? Oh, because the father’s name was John Fisher and was born around the same time so you know that this would kind of have you think that John and his wife sailed to Boston, had the child, and sailed back to England. That doesn’t work so well. 

McKenna: Right. Probably not what happened. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] So, talk about your analysis when you run into these things.

McKenna: Yeah. So, when I see something weird, you want to take a step back. At first it would be like, “Okay. What is the most logical explanation for this? Is it more logical that someone accidently merged two families with the same names?” Or that they came to Boston, had a kid, and then had the rest of them. You know? [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Similarly, you run into places where there’s a same name of a town in different places.

McKenna: Yes.

Fisher: And so they kind of have one is in Massachusetts and one is in Rhode Island, and you know, it gets a little bit confusing there. But you have five tips so let’s go through your article just a little bit and talk about those tips, about some of the things to focus on. Number one, you said, “Where did your known information come from? Are there original sources to back it up?”

McKenna: Right. So, when you’re starting out any new family that you want to research, you want to look at what you already have, and then where it came from. Then a lot of times it will be passed down the family, or you got it from somebody’s ancestry tree, or you know whatever it is. And that’s a good starting place but you don’t want to assume that everything is correct. You want to make sure are their sources attached, do you know where their birth date came from, how did someone figure that out? And so you want to take kind of everything at the beginning with a grain of salt. And it’s a good starting place but don’t assume that it’s all correct.   

Fisher: You’re absolutely right about that. And you know, for beginners it’s an easy thing to do, to look at see that boy, all these people have this name, or this couple on their family tree and it must be right because it’s out there so many times. That’s not necessarily true.

McKenna: Right. It can be. But often times it’s not. You know, it only takes one person to make a mistake and then it just gets copied over and over and over again.

Fisher: Yes. And you know, what I’ve picked up on in the last several years ever since FamilySearch and then Ancestry started attaching sources to the trees, we’re seeing less of that. In other words, if there’s bad information out there, it doesn’t seem to have quite the lifespan that it did previously.

McKenna: Yeah. It’s definitely improving. And as the algorithms for the hints improve as well then they tend to be more accurate.

Fisher: Exactly. Your second tip is, do the geography and timeline make sense? This is a little what we were talking about before.

McKenna: Yeah. It’s exactly like with your Boston example. This happens really often with foreign countries. So, you know your ancestors are from Germany or Sweden, and then if it’s a place that you’re not familiar with, you might say, “Oh, both these places are in Germany. It’s probably the same family.” But you always want to pull out a map. And at the very least just on Google maps, you know, try to see how close these places are because if they’re 100 miles away, it’s unlikely. It’s like your Boston example that the family moved back and forth. Not impossible but probably didn’t happen.

Fisher: Well, that kind of ties in with your third tip. Because with my Boston example, it involved my like sixth great grandfather John Fisher. I mean hello, [Laughs] it’s almost as bad as John Smith.

McKenna: Right.

Fisher: And the question is, could there be two different people with the same name? Of course there could be, and you have to really go through. Remember that you’re not just analyzing people and identifying them by their name, it’s also, well, who did this person marry, what was their occupation, where did they live, what were the names of their children. There are so many other things that come into play when you’re trying to identify somebody.  

McKenna: Yeah. I found an addition to those details. Addresses can be really helpful.

Fisher: Yes.

McKenna: Because even if they had kids with similar names and you’re trying to separate them out, if you could find their address and then you could plot them on the census or the city directories as well will tell you if there was two people with the same name in the same town. Sometimes that can be helpful to differentiate.

Fisher: I have found that city directories are perhaps one of the most underrated sources that are out there. Because you’re able to create timelines, they provide occupations, they often provide the names of the spouses, you can see who lives next door, and you can show on a map even of the city exactly where they lived. Not just the town but exactly where they lived on a given street. I mean, that can reveal an awful lot of information. I just love city directories. I use them all the time.

McKenna: Right. And very often every year, every other year, they’re lot more frequent than censuses which are usually every ten or five in states.

Fisher: Yes. So, here’s your fourth tip, where there circumstances surrounding the creation of the record that could lead to mistakes or misinformation? Oh, boy does that happen.

McKenna: [Laughs] Yes. The super common one is probably informants on death certificates in the U.S. 

Fisher: Yep.

McKenna: So, if a kid was reporting the names of their parents, they may not have ever met their   grandparents but they were told the name of their grandparents or they misremembered it, you know, the stressful times. 

Fisher: Sure.

McKenna: And then there’s also people who lied [Laughs] that happens. And not necessarily out of malice. It might be they wanted to join up for the army earlier than their age so they might have said they were older than they were, or things got lost in translation, or in the culture that they came from.

Fisher: Sure. Yep.

McKenna: Exact age wasn’t super important. So, there’s a lot of reasons things could be slightly inaccurate.

Fisher: Absolutely, and especially when it comes to getting back to the death certificate example, ages. You know, somebody might know correctly their parents birth date but they don’t necessarily know the year. And so they’ll put down they were 79 years when they were 78, or they’ll put down they were 76 years old when they were 80. Something like that. And that can really throw you off if you don’t recognize the fact that dates in retrospect in terms of ages can really be thrown off especially in a death certificate where somebody else is reporting it because the dead person doesn’t seem to provide the information for their own death record. You noticed that?

McKenna: Yes. [Laughs]

Fisher: It’s a strange thing.

McKenna: Yeah. And take Ireland for example. Irish immigrants, their ages can vary like across a span of ten years sometimes.

Fisher: Wow.

McKenna: If you’re doing Irish research you really need to pay attention to like wide ranges.

Fisher: Is there a reason for that?

McKenna: I think just, culturally, age wasn’t super important.

Fisher: Yeah.

McKenna: And so, they just estimated.

Fisher: Well, and I’ve noticed too that a lot of people will only age eight years over ten years. [Laughs]

McKenna: Exactly.

Fisher: In census records it happens, you know, all the time. So, here’s your fifth tip. Could it be a clerical error? Keep in mind that records and people are not infallible. Many records, including censuses, were copied down by a clerk or someone who did not know the family in question and they could have made a mistake in spelling, understanding the information and or a copying error. Yeah, happened all the time, didn’t it, especially when it comes to transcribing information somebody else wrote down and of course they’re interpreting what they heard. They may not have understood how something was spelled from a culture that was unfamiliar to them.

McKenna: Exactly.

Fisher: I saw once where a man who was obviously German, he took my British relative who was great uncle, and on his birth certificate called him Johan, Johan Wilhelm Waldron. And it’s like no, he wasn’t John William. He was just William Waldron. [Laughs] And I thought that was pretty interesting. I’d never seen that before or since, but there’s an example of it.

McKenna: Yeah, when you have any kind of cultures colliding, the immigrants to the US is a good example where somebody might have said their name in an accent and the other person who was taking it down was from a completely different country and they might have interpreted it or completely misspelled what they thought they heard.

Fisher: Well, and imagine here with the example of this birth certificate, it would be easy for somebody to go on to the FamilySearch tree, or put on their own tree on Ancestry or something that this man’s name was Johan because they found it on the birth certificate. It’s a primary source, right?

McKenna: Right.

Fisher: The information should have been very accurate, but this is where we have to go through and put together all the other information surrounding the life of this individual and you’ll quickly come to understand no, that wasn’t his name.

McKenna: Exactly.

Fisher: And so, you want to put the name down the way it’s used most commonly and then put in notes these variations.

McKenna: That’s the whole point of compiling evidence as a whole array. It’s like compiling a puzzle. So, there might be some pieces that don’t quite fit and then you have to decide what is the most likely explanation for why this doesn’t fit. But if it’s only one document that doesn’t fit and everything else is consistent, then it’s probably that one document that’s wrong.

Fisher: I’ve seen Bible records where the first and middle name were inverted comparatively to the rest of their lives and that’s where it gets a little bit trickier because maybe the person then went by their middle name and basically took their first name and made it their middle name the rest of their days. And yet you’d think the family bible record, again it’s like a primary source, and you kind of have to make decisions. But those are really the rarest of circumstances, aren’t they?

McKenna: Yeah, I’ve seen people using their middle names fairly often. It depends on the region, like it seems to be more common in the south from what I’ve seen. But I think that’s why people tend to get frustrated when I can’t find someone. You’re going to have to think outside the box and think okay, maybe they’re going by their middle name, maybe it’s initials, maybe it was misspelled and you have to get kind of creative trying to find them.

Fisher: She’s McKenna Cooper. She’s a researcher and editor for Legacy Tree Genealogists. Just wrote a great blog on sorting out conflicting information. Just go to LegacyTree.com/blog and you will find it. It’s called Horses Not Zebras. I love that McKenna. Thanks for a great job and enjoyed talking to you.

McKenna: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, it’s another ordinary person with an extraordinary find, in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 344

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kelsey Dum

Fisher: You know, I love sharing with you ordinary people with extraordinary finds and how they found it. Hi, it’s Fisher. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And very excited to be talking to one of our listeners from Little Rock, Arkansas, where he listens to Extreme Genes, on KARN FM 102.9. Kelsey Dum is on the line. Kelsey, I’m excited to hear about this story because I know you had a really difficult time figuring out who your grandmother was because of the fact that she was from France.

Kelsey: Yeah. My mom and them have been trying to find any kind of information on that side of the family for 60 years. And I managed to do it in a few weeks, mostly by luck I’ll say.

Fisher: Wow! That’s pretty fun. Give us some background here. Now, this is your mother’s mother. Your mother’s mother was from France but you just didn’t know anything beyond that and nobody else in the family did either. What do you know about your grandmother or what did you know?

Kelsey: Well, all we really knew at first was, obviously, she was born and raised in France and met my grandfather during the war.

Fisher: And he was a soldier?

Kelsey: Yes, in the US army. She came to America through the War Bride Act. And what I understand of that was that during that war, basically if you met somebody over there and you became engaged or got married, they could come over here and kind of pass up the process of citizenship even if they were just engaged they could still come over here but they would have to go through a certain process to become a legitimate citizen.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Kelsey: And she apparently didn’t do that.

Fisher: Not a lot of records then.

Kelsey: Not a lot of records at all and she did somehow come to get a social security number here, but all we knew was that she had a brother and a sister, and I think we had her parents’ names but they were very, very common French names.

Fisher: Oh, boy. [Laughs]

Kelsey: So, it was really tough to hunt them down.

Fisher: So, what did you do?

Kelsey: So, I first started with Ancestry.com. Then I found this site Geneanet.

Fisher: Yes, which covers France very extensively.

Kelsey: Yeah, a lot of good resources for Europe in general, I guess, but French particularly. So, I just basically went through and see what pops up and one thing would lead me to another. I stumbled across a man’s family tree that he was doing, of course he was French and spoke no English. So, Google Translate was by best friend there for a little while. He was doing a family tree for his wife.

Fisher: Okay.

Kelsey: And it turns out his wife had the same last name as my great grandmother.

Fisher: Okay.

Kelsey: So, I’m just looking at his tree and a lot of names are kind of lining up, the number of people weren’t right on point, but then again his tree wasn’t completed. He hadn’t finished doing research but it was enough to give me the information I needed and when I started looking up some of these names I found my grandmother’s brother’s wife.

Fisher: Oh, wow. Still living?

Kelsey: Still living and I actually found her on Facebook. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Great tool, right? Anywhere in the world.

Kelsey: Yeah. And at that point it was still kind of a shot in the dark. So, I sent her a message. She had a daughter and a son. I was looking at the children’s names and the son had the exact same name as the father I was looking for. So, I had to assume this is probably Pierre Junior.

Fisher: Right, name for his dad, yeah.

Kelsey: Yeah. So, I found the daughter on Facebook as well and just kind of asked them some basic questions if they knew much about that side of the family. Their knowledge was pretty limited as well. So, we just kind of got to talking and the daughter which is actually my mother’s first cousin, she sent me some pictures of what would be my great grandmother.

Fisher: Oh, wow!

Kelsey: It just blew me away.

Fisher: [Laughs] I’ll bet.

Kelsey: I had a picture of my grandmother in almost the exact same pose but probably 25 years later.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Kelsey: I mean, you talk about a dead-ringer, identical. And I went, I think, I may have found something here.

Fisher: Wow. How did you figure out that you had the right people for sure?

Kelsey: Once we got to talking more and trading information everything started lining up. And I have to thank the good man on Geneanet that was helping me because he actually was going down to the French archives and accessing records that I originally couldn’t access nor read French.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Kelsey: And he was really a big help in kind of pointing me in the right direction and give me some more concrete evidence and paperwork and birth certificates, and stuff like that.

Fisher: So, you got the documentation then that proved everything you were looking for.

Kelsey: Yes.

Fisher: Wow! So, you’ve got great grandma’s picture. How about great grandfather?

Kelsey: Yes. They did send me a couple of really cool photos of my great grandfather when he was in the French Army in World War I, in 1917, I believe it was.

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs]

Kelsey: Yeah. And they even actually sent me a photo of my grandmother when she was 12 years old. And that’s kind of when things started to get kind of emotional and set in because I think my mom and her siblings had never seen a photo of their mother any younger than about the time they were born.

Fisher: Right. Yeah, childhood pictures.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Fisher: So, now you’ve got this big bonding thing going on with these folks in France. Have you had any visual communication or have you gone over there?

Kelsey: Yeah, actually, we did a four-way video chat through Facebook and people were kind of getting choked up a little bit. It’s funny, when I was trying to put two and two together and I was asking them, I said, are you related to a Georgette Albertine Hillary and they said, well, Pierre had a sister but we didn’t know much about her. All we knew was her nickname was “Zazette parti” in the USA.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Kelsey: And I went, hmm, why is that? They said, well, she left at a pretty young age to America and we just kind of lost touch. No one ever heard from her again or anything. And I went, you know, that’s got to be grandma. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah! Right, unbelievable. Could they speak any English when you did the video call?

Kelsey: Yes. My mom’s first cousin and the daughter of the first cousin both speak pretty good English. I’ve been working on my French too. I’m actually teaching myself. So, hopefully I can learn a little bit.

Fisher: Wow. [Laughs]

Kelsey: But I guess it would be my first cousin once removed, is that what they would call, I guess they would say third cousin but I think the technical term is second cousin once removed, I think.

Fisher: Well, if your mother’s first cousin would be your first cousin one generation removed.

Kelsey: Okay. The daughter of her…

Fisher: Okay, that’s your second cousin.

Kelsey: Okay. She’s real close to my age and she’s supposed to be bringing her 2 year old daughter to come visit in August.

Fisher: Wow!

Kelsey: So, we’re really, really excited for that.

Fisher: No kidding. Well, what an incredible journey and you know, life changing kind of stuff. How’s your family feeling about all this?

Kelsey: Uh, my mom was the only one who knew I was doing anything and she wasn’t really aware of the amount of information I had gathered. So, Christmas day was when I called my aunts and uncles. One lives in Wisconsin, one is in Seattle, one’s in Alaska. So, I got to treat them to the information all separately.

Fisher: Wow.

Kelsey: I kind of got the silence and they were just kind of astonished because they thought they were going to leave this world not knowing anything about Noniee, was what we called my grandmother. I guess, they didn’t think they would ever find anything out about Nonie or that family. So, it’s been really important even for myself because I’ve always been really interested in finding our family.

Fisher: Wow. He’s Kelsey Dum. He’s from Little Rock, Arkansas, and has had quite the breakthrough in getting his family back into France and connecting with relatives. Good job Kelsey!

Kelsey: Thank you! I appreciate you and your show helped inspire me to do all this. So, I appreciate that.

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, I appreciate you sharing the story with everybody because its great stuff. And coming up next, it’s another round of Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert as we answer your questions. We’ve got one concerning a mysterious high school ring. And someone trying to find out about the career of dad before he married mom, coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 344

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: It is time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, we've got an email from Lenny Billingsley in Des Moines, Iowa and she says, "Guys, recently I was going through my grandma's box of stuff and I found in it a high school ring. She was in the class of 1942. It has initials on it, but it doesn’t match anybody in the family. Any idea what I can do with this to figure out who it belonged to?"

David: Well, you know what's interesting is if it was a men’s high school ring. Was this an ex boyfriend that gave her the ring?

Fisher: Ooh.

David: You know, its war time, did he go off and fight? So I mean, honestly, high school rings generally are going to say the name of the school, Southern High School or something like that. If it’s not the high school your grandmother went to, look and see what the surrounding towns were and what they call their high school, maybe there's a mascot on the ring or something. And it’s really easy, I mean, ClassMates.com exists. But now you can go on Ancestry and look at 1000s upon 1000s of yearbooks from different years, you know, and if that doesn't work, contact the school. Unless it’s a large city, it’s probably a class of under 100 kids and you could see if those initials match, you know, maybe it’s a friend, she died or something like that and she got the ring or who knows, maybe she had a metal detecting hobby in the 70s you didn't know about and she found it on the beach someplace.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But there's not a lot of beaches in Iowa.

Fisher: No, no. And wouldn't that be interesting too to research, I mean, we're talking about going back to the 40s. Most of the folks who graduated in the early 40s are gone now, and so many of them as you mentioned went off to World War II. So, who knows? I mean, if this is a men’s ring and we can figure out who the person was, wouldn't it be fascinating to research that person and their life. You could probably assume there was a relationship there at one time or another, but then wouldn't it be great to track down their descendants and pass that ring along to them? I'm sure that would be absolutely amazing!

David: That really is. You hear about a lot of times with metal detectors finding high school rings and trying to bring them back to the original owner or the families. You know, one of the things that might be fun is if you find out what town it is based on the high school. Yearbooks are great and they may give a clue, so yeah, maybe they were dating. If you don't know your grandmother's previous boyfriends. It may give a clue in the yearbook, you know, "My best to Suzie." or something like that.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: It could be something like that. And then if you can narrow it down, contacting the family, you know, you can find out his story. And wouldn't it be great if he was somebody who was like in his 90s in a nursing home and you know, there was some story that, "Oh yeah, I dated her for about a month, gave her my ring and my Leatherman’s jacket. Can I get the jacket back?"

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: You know, it just, you never know what you're going to get. I mean, I'm sorry to poke fun at it, but there's any angle of reason of why this ring could be there. I know a lot of times if people find stuff in their grandparent's things, you hope for those connections. Then you find out they just liked antiques, where they bought it at a yard sale or something like that. I have somebody who has swords from the Civil War and he says, "My ancestor must have collected these at the Battle of Gettysburg!" and I'm like, "Ah, well, first off, these aren't American swords. They're Italian swords made 30 years after the war."

Fisher: Right, sure.

David: They probably just collected the things as antiques. So, there's any possible story there. So, keep digging, and maybe she can find more about the ring when she contacts the high school.

Fisher: Oh, and we should add in too that once you're able to identify who the person is, hopefully from the initials and hopefully there's not more than one person with the same initials. You can do a little newspaper research as well to find out more about them and maybe the next of kin and maybe make a connection through FamilySearch or Ancestry or one of the other great sites.

David: That's very true.

Fisher: All right, great question, Lenny, thanks for sending it in. And of course we've got another one coming up for you next in three minutes as we continue with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 344

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, round two of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth with David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And Dave, we've got an email here from Cameron Smithson, doesn't say where he's from. And he says, "Guys, turns out my dad was a radio DJ before he met my mother. He died when I was young and she doesn't know anything about his career. Is there some way to track down what radio stations he may have worked for?" Interesting. Dave, what do you have on that? What a minute! [Laughs]

David: Wooow, wait a second here kid! I think that Mr. DJ needs to turn this record on.

Fisher: I suppose so, I suppose so. Actually Cameron this isn't that difficult, because fortunately, Billboard Magazine and Cashbox Magazine have largely all been digitized. And it really depends obviously on the era in which your father was involved, but there are a lot of trade magazines and I bet you, you can really say the same for a lot of different trades, right, that there would be publications that are out there on that. But in the radio industry, the trades often follow them wherever they go. So anytime there's a move out there, "Its Fred Flintstone has moved from this station in Tyler, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio and now he's on this station." and they'll talk about which shift that they're on and maybe they're joining a morning show or something like that, then sometimes these will go back and explain how long they had been at the previous place and maybe some other previous stations. And really, a simple Google search might yield for you exactly what you're looking for. And you know, kind of in line with what we were talking about with the class ring here a few moments ago, once you get that information, it would be great for you to find out if those stations still exist or maybe with a new set of call letter and see if there's any histories of those written up anywhere. And a lot of times you'll see stations' histories are online with pictures of the people who were on the air, you know, with the control boards and the microphones. One other thought is too, if your dad passed young, maybe many of his colleagues that he worked with at the time are still out there somewhere. So if you can research that station and find some of those people, maybe they're retired now or whatever, you can reach out to them and see if they might have some stories for you.

David: That's truly some great suggestions. Now would the FCC have any history of a station or know if it closed or merged?

Fisher: No. Well, those merges and changes are often in the trade magazines themselves. You know, there's so much that's online right now. And recently I talked about my half brother's hot rod club. He died in 1963 and we found the guy online who posted pictures from the hotrod club and I was able to get a hold of him and get stories about my half brother that I never could have gotten at this late date. I mean, it’s been 57 years since he passed away. So, there is so much yet you can do. Don't give up in thinking that just because you don't know and your mother doesn't know much about it that that can't be found with a little due diligence. So get online. You know, that's the thing, I tell people all the time, have you tried this site called Google? It’s amazing. [Laughs] What you can do with it. And no doubt there's more and more stuff coming onto Newspapers.com. You can use that maybe to find their name listed in radio listings like the television listings and see if their show is found there. I know many of my old shows are still there as well. So, check it out and good luck to you Cameron on that. Great stuff, David, thanks so much. And thanks to you, Cameron for the question. And of course if you ever have a question for Ask Us Anything, it’s a simple matter of emailing us at [email protected]. David, talk to you again next week.

David: All right, sounds good.

Fisher: And thanks to you for joining us. If you missed any of it or you want to catch the show again or any portion, you can listen to the podcast on iTunes, iHart Radio, TuneIn Radio, Spotify and ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

Subscribe now to find out why hundreds of thousands of family researchers listen to Extreme Genes every week!

Email me new episodes