Episode 346 - Mayflower Ancestor Research Gets New Boon / Workin’ On the Railroad… Records

podcast episode Oct 11, 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 Family Histoire News with a host of interesting information. First, FamilyTreeDNA has joined Ancestry.com in updating their ethnicity estimates. Fold3 has released a new collection of amazing military materials from Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam. Plus, the oldest Roman body armor ever found has been dug up in Germany. It dates back to 9 AD! David then explains a recent court ruling that will allow a dive on the Titanic to recover some very important equipment. Hear what it is. Next, a log from a slave ship from 1796 reveals the horrors of the slave trade as an officer kept a detailed day-to-day account of life on the vessel.  Find out where you can catch the highlights. Then, imagine having up to 600 half siblings around the world. There is such a family! Hear how this came to be.

Next, Fisher visits with Don LeClair from NEHGS. Don explains the near completion of an important Mayflower project three years in the making involving a partnership with two other important genealogical organizations. Researching your possible Mayflower ties has never been easier as we recognize the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the ship.

Melanie McComb, another researcher with NEHGS then visits with Fisher about railroad records. So many families have railroad workers in their lines. Find out what you can learn about them and where.

Then, David returns for Ask Us Anything as the guys answer a pair of questions about ship embarkations and fundamental genetic genealogy.

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

Transcript of Episode 346

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 346

Fisher: And welcome to the weekend and welcome to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes 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. Great to have you along genies! We’ve got a couple of guests from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org today. It’s an “all NEHGS” show today. First of all, coming up in about ten minutes or so, Don LeClair is going to join us and he’s going to be talking about a great new database project that NEHGS has been doing with FamilySearch.org. And this is going to allow you to actually get into the applications for membership in the Mayflower Descendants Society and this can really help you find out if you have ancestry that was on the Mayflower. Then, after Don, we’ve got Melanie McComb joining us once again. She’s going to talk about “records on the railroad” and so many of us have ancestors who were tied with that. My wife’s grandfather worked on the railroad, so I’m looking forward to hearing what Melanie has to say. And of course, David Allen Lambert, he’s always present for our Family Histoire News right now and then of course later in the show for Ask Us Anything. Hey David, you are back in Boston! What’s going on there?

David: I’m sitting in my office for the first time since March. I’m delighted to be here. I had some work that I have to do, so I will be here on a day that we’re closed to the public so I can get some work done for the upcoming year.

Fisher: Sweet! Well, it’s great to have you back.

David: Yeah!

Fisher: Boy, there’s a lot of things happening right now. First of all, as we know, Ancestry, a couple of weeks ago, they updated their Ethnicity Report. Now, Family Tree DNA has done the same, and of course we get the usual reaction of, “Was it wrong before? Was it?” You know?

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: No, no, no, no. It’s just getting improved. It’s getting to the point where you can narrow down where your people were from a little more easily. And it will change again in six months, so just relax and enjoy it.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: Fold3, they’ve come up with a new database. It’s a collection of Unit Histories and photos and journals from Phan Rang Airbase, Vietnam. And this is great to see. They’re finally starting to move into the Vietnam era. We haven’t seen a whole lot of that up to this point. And then David, the oldest Roman body armor ever found. It’s been discovered in Germany and it dates back to 9 AD. How cool is that?

David: Well, I don’t think I want to wear it now. I don’t think it’s going to protect you well. It’s probably pretty rusted.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, I would think that’s true.

David: Well, speaking of veterans, our Family Histoire News, we lower our flag for a member of another Tuskegee airman, and unfortunately, we lost yet another gentleman. He was 95 years old, Major George W. Biggs from Arizona. And Fish, he enlisted when he was 18 in 1943. And Major Biggs didn’t only serve in the Second World War He also served in Korea and in Vietnam flying airplanes all the way through until the 1970s.

Fisher: And we are losing a lot of the Tuskegee guys…not many of them left.

David: Well, you know, I talked to you before about the Titanic, so you know of course the Titanic was discovered back in 1986 by Bob Ballard. Basically, they were going to leave it alone. It was not going to be touched. That’s changed a little bit and the court order has changed it even more so. Now, they’re actually going to cut into the Titanic and take out the Marconi device. Of course, many people know the Titanic sent out a distress signal. They’re hoping to find whatever is left of that Marconi machine and bring it to the surface.

Fisher: Wow! That would be some piece of history to have on display for people to see.

David: I think so. And they’re worried that it’s going to get lost so that’s why they’re doing it. They’re not looking for treasure per se, more of a trying to find answers. I’ll tell you, the story on ExtremeGenes.com is amazing. It’s also heart-wrenching. The newly discovered log book of a slave ship, the Mary, that departed Africa in 1796 with 142 enslaved men, women and children on board.

Fisher: Oh, and it’s quite a log too, and they get into the details about the brutal treatment of these people, and it was one of the officers underneath the captain that kept it and it’s considered a very rare journal that’s out there. You can read all about it and find out where can see it online at ExtremeGenes.com.

David: I’ll tell you, sibling rivalry can be a problem, but how about if you had 600 half siblings?

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: This is what’s going on because of the extra work from a doctor in the 1940s who had a fertility clinic. This is a fertility clinic that was run by Doctor Mary Bart and her husband Bertroll Wiesner. Well, Bertroll was obviously quite involved in the company because he had 600 people match by DNA.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Now, here’s something to just think about for a second. If you have 600 children that are born in the 1940s, they can be great grandparents now, is Bertroll Wiesner the most prolific person who lived in the 20th century for descendants?

Fisher: You would have to think something like that, right?

David: It has to be thousands of people are descendants.

Fisher: Well, if you just attribute two children to each of the 600 children that have may have fathered, that’s 1,200 grandchildren.

David: Three children for each one of those grandchildren.

Fisher: Three. You’ve got 3,600 great grandchildren and then you add them all together and you’re somewhere close to 5,000, right?

David: Yeah, yeah, it’s unbelievable.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But you just never know what you’re going to find on ExtremeGenes.com, folks. So, you can pick yourself off the floor and be thankful you don’t have 600 relatives that you’re taking car trips with at the same time.

Fisher: Right. Or getting together with at Christmas time in your kitchen.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: I mean, holy cow! And you know, you hear this story, this is not an uncommon theme, is it Dave, when it comes to fertility clinics?

David: No.

Fisher: It seems to be a way a lot of them did it back then.

David: I’ll tell you, you just never know what you’re going to learn because of DNA.

Fisher: You never know what you’re going to learn because of DNA, and obviously, this was never expected to be revealed and now it has. And congratulations, it’s a girl. It’s a boy. It’s a girl. It’s a girl. It’s a boy. It’s a girl. It’s a boy, boy, boy, girl, boy.

David: And a girl and a boy.

Fisher: And a girl and a boy.

David: Well, that’s about all I have to shock people with from Family Histoire News this week, shock and inform and entertain I suppose. If you’re not a member of American Ancestors, please think about joining. It’s our 175th anniversary this year and you can save $20 by using the coupon code “Extreme” on AmericanAncestors.org. Talk to you soon.

Fisher: All right Dave thanks. Yeah, you’ll be back for Ask Us Anything later on in the show. And coming up next, once again from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, it’s Don LeClair, and Don’s going to talk about this amazing new database that takes all this information from applications for the Mayflower Descendants Society. How helpful is this! And it’s been a big partnership with FamilySearch.org. He’s coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 346

Host Scott Fisher with guest Don LeClair

Fisher: Well, it’s been 400 years since the Mayflower showed up on our shores, and who would have thought we’re not having any celebrations this year. There are no parties, no gathering in Plymouth but we are gathering all the applications and all kinds of data for you to discover if you are a Mayflower descendant. Hi, it’s Fisher, and my guest today is from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. He is Don LeClair, and Don is an Associate Director of database searches and systems. And Don, it’s great to have you on the show. You guys have an amazing project going here, and what a partnership of superstars!

Don: Well, thanks Scott. It’s great to be on the show. So, yeah, we’ve been working closely with the General Society of the Mayflower Descendants and FamilySearch for the last three years on this project to digitize and make available the Mayflower applications, and the tree is based on that information as well.

Fisher: Now, there’s got to be millions of names in these applications because you’ve got like six figures worth of applications, right?

Don: Yeah. There’s a little over a hundred thousand applications that are out there. I think the pages of documentation that came with it is around 1.4 million. It’s just unbelievably long.

Fisher: Wow.

Don: So, as somebody described it, this is the most studied group of people on the planet earth.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Don: And it’s great to be able to free that information up and start making it more accessible for folks especially in light of the 400th anniversary.

Fisher: It’s funny you say that. I only discovered my connection to the Mayflower like ten years ago. And so I read the story, and it was now my story, which was very exciting, very interesting because I hadn’t really examined it that closely. But now that I knew I was among the descendants, I’m looking at it and its like okay, 51 survivors in the winter. It was something like 51-52 right?

Don: That’s right. But basically half the passengers didn’t make it through that first winter. 

Fisher: Yeah. So, I’m living on a cul-de-sac and I’m kind of counting how many people are in each household there and there’s like ten houses. And I’m thinking okay, it’s just about 51-52 people, almost exactly. If we took a picture, everybody on our street collected together, that’s the number of people who survived the first winter and not even all of them have descendants living today.   

Don: That’s true. That’s true. So, it’s been a pretty hearty group [Laughs] to get through that.

Fisher: Yes. But the guess is something like 30 million descendants from these people. That’s the thing that blows my mind.

Don: Yeah and they’re all around the world with a pretty amazing story from both the genealogy perspective and also history. They made it through and flourished.

Fisher: Yes, they did. Incredible. And I would imagine for you being involved in this project you must be a descendant as well. 

Don: I am indeed. So, yes, I joined the society last year so I’m a descendant of John Alden and had that one validated. I’ve got a couple of other suspects but I haven’t gone through the process to have them fully validated yet.

Fisher: Well, we should mention that the site to check out everything that American Ancestors has on the Mayflower. You go to Mayflower.AmericanAncestors.org and you’ll find all kinds of databases there. So, if you’re interested in finding out, number 1) if you’re a Mayflower descendant, or number 2) joining the General Society, I mean, everything is right there. How many databases are there here Don?

Don: We probably have at least a dozen on that page. I think that there’s a variety of things that are really useful especially when you get back into the colonial era. But I think the two most valuable databases is the one called The Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants. This one is based on the Silver Books and the fifth generation and their children, so it’s really the fifth and sixth generation that are included. So, if you’re looking to tie yourself back to the Mayflower, you can use that database. If you can tie in there then you’re “in” as we would say, because you found your link.

Fisher: Right. That’s very helpful. That’s why people typically only have to research back to the early to mid 1700s because the first five generations are already done. And that would include, by the way, the Passenger and the Mayflower, right? That’s the first generation.

Don: Yeah. We start from one, which is the passenger, and then go from there. So, that’s been really helpful. But I think the new project we just talked about at the beginning here is this project to digitize the applications and make that information available.  And that’s going to get you down to generations 11 to even 13. And there’s also a link to that database which is the General Society Mayflower Descendants membership applications and those are the ones we’re taking the full set of applications that have been sent in to the Mayflower Society and building out trees and indexing those genealogy forms from the applications and putting them all online.

Fisher: And I imagine there’s somebody out there thinking, “Wait a minute, I’m in the Mayflower Society. I sent in an application. Are you going to reveal my mother’s maiden name, my full name, my birth date?” What’s the privacy situation here? How have you protected it?

Don: Yes. We’re being really careful about privacy and certainly we don’t want to create any problems for anybody. So, the rule we have is, no one can be included in any of this if they were born after the year 1919. So, the cut-off date is January 1st, 1920. And only people that were born before that or anybody mentioned on application that was born after that then we don’t put that application up. But that’s still a pretty healthy number of people that we can share the information of. 

Fisher: Sure. You only really have to worry about it if you’re a 106, right?

Don: [Laughs] If you’re a 106 then maybe you have to be a little more careful.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, you have to be a little more careful there.

Don: Just let us know and we’ll take your application down if you’re a 106 and you’re out there. 

Fisher: So, have the different organizations taken on different portions of this project and what can we get from each one?

Don: Yeah sure. From the project side itself we really built the information from two sources. One of those sources is the Mayflower Silver Books and American Ancestors went through the process of extracting and indexing all of the information from the Silver Books. And then FamilySearch took the process of digitizing all of the applications and then indexing generations six and beyond from those applications. The reason it being rather than have us go through a hundred thousand applications and re-index those first five generations a hundred thousand times, it would be a lot more efficient to merge these two things together. So, that’s how we built it. That’s how we built the raw data. Now, what we deliver is two different things that are both really valuable. So, one of those are trees based on the descendants of the Mayflower passengers, and those are available on FamilySearch with their genealogies and they’re partially available now. When the whole project is complete they’ll all be available online at FamilySearch. And on American Ancestors we’re making those trees available by passenger on our tool which is called American Ancestrees and you’ll be able to get to that from the American Ancestors’ website. And on the second delivery that we have here at American Ancestors is the actual application forms themselves for those people that were born before 1920. And that’s roughly 40% of the applications will be online where the applicant was born before 1920 and then we can have the other actual form online as well as having the data from their forms.  

Fisher: So, when did the General Society start taking memberships?

Don: I should know this out of the top of my head. I believe 1878. It was in the late 1800s. 

Fisher: Okay. So, basically, there’s about two generations of applications to join the society, you know, from 1920 back to 1878 right?

Don: Oh yeah. So, it’s a really large number. I think that we have something on the order of 30-some-odd thousand based on the families we’ve done so far. 

Fisher: Oh wow.

Don: That’s a lot of applications.

Fisher: [Laughs] That is a lot of applications. And so where does the hundred thousand number come from?

Don: So, the hundred thousand number is all of the applications up to the person’s time. So, obviously, given those privacy rules we can’t put all of the applications online. What we can do is take advantage of the opportunity for people like you and I who have applied to the Mayflower Society recently. In my case, my grandfather from my application and beyond would be available in these trees because he was born before 1920. 

Fisher: I see.

Don: Whereas myself and my father were born afterwards so my application won’t be online but the information from my application, at least from those people that qualify, will be up online. 

Fisher: Got it. I mean, this is so easy. I mean, I remember signing up for this thing and I was fortunate because I’d already documented all of my generations so it was a snap. But I know there are many people who will apply over, and over, and over again because they get stuck in one particular place, but this could be enormously helpful in removing a lot of those barriers for anybody who wants to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. So, we can go to FamilySearch, we can see the trees. We can also see trees of American Ancestors, right, American AncesTREES, and what about on the General Society site itself? 

Don: The General Society is not putting these online directly.

Fisher: Okay.

Don: But they’re actually taking advantage of it too because they’re trying to streamline the process as you may be fully aware. With the stream of the 400th anniversary, they’ve been sort of deluged with applications and they’re looking to really improve the processing time and be able to do their due diligence better. So, they’re actually taking advantage of having all the applications in a digital form so that people don’t have to go into the boxes and society to go reach out and double check on their applications.

Fisher: Isn’t that great? [Laughs]

Don: Because as you may know, you only have to prove your ancestry back to the closest descent to somebody else’s application. So, like you were saying, if somebody else in your last few generations has already applied, you only have to document from yourself to that last person.

Fisher: Sure, to like your great grandfather or your grandmother something like that. It would be great. Well, this is an exciting project here Don.

Don: Yes. It’s been a really exciting thing. I’ve been working on this for the last two or three years and we’ve been really excited to get to the point where now we can make this stuff available to people. Because certainly what we’ve seen here at American Ancestors and I think in general is that there’s just a lot of interest in your ancestry back to the Mayflower and this should make it much easier for people who would like either to just find out or definitely want to apply to shorten that process and I’d have to go back to the mid 1700s to go document their process.

Fisher: Sure. And I should mention also, it’s not entirely finished yet. It’s just like what, 90% done?

Don: More like 80% done. [Laughs]

Fisher: Okay. 80%

Don: Yeah. Pretty close.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Don: In our case, we have 17 of the families that are completely done and available online. Within a week or two we’ll have that up to 19 so we’re getting down to just the last few families and we’re looking to get that done before the end of this year.

Fisher: What is that number, 37-38?

Don: No. It’s actually only about 24.

Fisher: 24 families. They’re the only ones that have that living descendants at this time? 

Don: Yeah. And that actually includes Moses Fletcher whose kind of an unusual situation in that none of his family ever came. He came but he had family he left behind in Holland so he has some number of descendants that are pretty much mostly all in Europe.  

Fisher: Oh, wow.

Don: So, you take him aside, there’s only 23 families that came here and had descendants living in North America.

Fisher: As of this time. He’s Don LeClair with American Ancestors. Thanks so much for coming on Don and congratulations. This has been going on what, for three years now, and it’s great to finally be able to see the fruit of your labors.

Don: Thanks for having me on. And it has been a great project so looking forward to people taking a look.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to be talking about working on the railroad records with Melanie McComb from NEHGS in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 346

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb

Fisher: It is all NEHGS today, the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, one of our great partners. And on the line with me today for Extreme Genes is my good friend Melanie McComb.

Melanie: Hi, Fisher.

Fisher: Melanie, you and I have been talking lately about the Railroad Records, because you’ve done a recent talk on this subject and I think it’s fascinating especially for people with ancestry from the Midwest, maybe even live there now. There are a lot of people who worked on the railroad, and where are those records?

Melanie: That’s a great question. So it depends. It depends on which line you’re looking into, but for the most part, a lot of the different lines especially in the Midwest are coming online on sites like Ancestry or on FamilySearch, or they might even be at a local archive, or even a railroad historical society. Some of those actually exist for some of the lines that are still out there. So, you may even have more of an archivist that’s very familiar with that railroad, which can be really helpful to see what of the records are out there.

Fisher: You know, I think this is one of those occupations where all kinds of stories come down the line, right? My dad had a first cousin who was decapitated.

Melanie: Ugh.

Fisher: He was in between two cars, uncoupling them I guess, manually.

Melanie: Um hmm, right.

Fisher: Then he peeked around the side just at the wrong moment as another train came by. It was just awful. He was only in his 40s, back in the 1940s. Then, my wife’s grandfather worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad said he never missed a day of work in 45 years. [Laughs]

Melanie: Wow.

Fisher: So, you know the stories of the railroad they just go on and on.

Melanie: They do, you’re right. And unfortunately, sometimes they lead to those grizzly deaths where you really start to find out what actually happened to them. But you’re right, I think you have to understand a lot of the railroad history about how dangerous it really was, until they really put more automation in place, putting up all the signals, even just the automatic airbrakes. That was a big pattern just to make sure that the trains would actually stop in time. So, that they wouldn’t just kind of ram into another train or a car.

Fisher: I was actually in a train wreck back when I was 18 years old and that was the same thing you’re talking about. The engineer missed a signal. He was distracted by something and as we came into the station, he was only going like 15 miles an hour, but another train was stopped there. And having missed the signal, he tried to stop it, but as you know, you can’t slow down a train.

Melanie: No, no you can’t. Then you absorb the energy of also the other train. So, you’re going a lot faster than 15 miles per hour. Makes you think of the math problems we used to solve back in the day.

Fisher: The momentum, that’s right. So, this train ploughed into the back of this other train, killed a guy, there were 40 some odd hospitalizations, 105 people injured. I was thrown over the top of the seat that the guy in front of me was sitting in.

Melanie: Oh my god.

Fisher: And there were some kids sitting across from me and one went flying into the other because they had arranged the seats so they were facing each other. It was a real disaster.

Melanie: Ugh.

Fisher: This was in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1973, but you never forget anything like that. And I still found online various photographs of it and accounts of it, and the inquiry of what happened. I still remember that day, it was amazing.

Melanie: And you’re right, those days we always remember. Like even at the local train station near me, they have a little clock made out for when they had a train crash. They’re always commemorating who was lost in that. Usually, it’s a huge tragedy whenever those happen. It’s never really just one or two people whose hurt. 

Fisher: Yeah.

Melanie: It’s awful.

Fisher: So, what got you into researching the railroad sources?

Melanie: I started digging more into some of my ancestors and my cousins and just trying to understand more about what their occupation was like. I felt like, there’s a lot more that we can explore when we dig into specific occupations. So, I’m hoping that over time, I’ll have almost like a series of different occupations that we’ll look into. So, maybe like the fire department, police, or something. I feel like it adds another element to your ancestor’s story because you’re finding out what it was like at that time, and there’s more records that do survive, it’s just a matter of finding out where they are and getting access to them.

Fisher: Well, if you consider we sleep 8 hours a day on average and that would mean 56 hours a week, right, we’re in bed?

Melanie: [Laughs]

Fisher: And that only leaves 112 hours and at least 40 of them are involved working, and who knows how much time commuting and that type of thing.

Melanie: [Laughs] Yes.

Fisher: It’s a big part of anybody’s life’s story, what they did and how they did it.

Melanie: Yeah, and depending on your family member, if they had a job, they might have been doing that job for life.

Fisher: Yep.

Melanie: So, they picked a career and stuck with it and then hopefully get their pension at the end. Which brings me to a good segue here because railroad employees could apply for pension benefits, especially when we get into after the 1930s when we actually have a national retirement war pension that was put in place. Where former employees could after a number of years of service, apply for their pension. And this would be in lieu of getting social security benefit.

Fisher: It’s funny you mention that because my wife’s grandfather, as an old man, he thought he was rich because he had this retirement and this was just something that wasn’t available in his parents’ generation.

Melanie: That’s right. Maybe they would see some benefits if they were with a railroad fraternity organization. They would usually provide things like insurance, etc. But you’re right the pension was not always a guarantee prior to that, so you had to really save up your wages. These retirement war records really give you really good insight into them. And some of the ones I found, they really talk a lot about the family, who they married, including all their marriages, all their children.

Fisher: Wow.

Melanie: So, you really start to open up a lot of the genealogy portion of it in what we would think would be a pretty typical record set for just getting paid out for retirement.

Fisher: And those are on Ancestry and FamilySearch?

Melanie: Um, there’s an Ancestry index that you can search to see if your railroad family member is in there, and then the records can be obtained from the National Archives in Atlanta when they reopen.

Fisher: Ah, yes, when they reopen.

Melanie: Right. [Laughs]

Fisher: What other kind of records are out there?

Melanie: Uh, really depending on the railroad line, there could be employee personnel files. Sometimes, there could be multiple pages of someone’s file talking about their history on the railroad, including what promotions they had, if they had any demerit issue, in case they maybe forgot to do something, like clean something on the railroad or file some paperwork, also wage increases. Some of these might only be like abstract too, so you might get like a summary of information saying they worked for like, the copper shop. I had for example in my lecture where the guy was only in there for under a year and then he was laid off, but it gave you an idea that, okay in that year, this is what he was doing at the time and this is what he was being paid and the name of the railroad he worked for.

Fisher: That’s incredible. Now where do you obtain those?

Melanie: So, you can find those on Ancestry and FamilySearch. Usually, you can just go into the catalogue and search on railroads to see what exist. And there are also a number of railroad historical society directories. So, you can actually see what libraries and universities have additional records as well.

Fisher: Hmm.

Melanie: So, in some cases there might be more of a specific organization that’s set up though. For example, in Boston there actually is probably a... I think it’s the Boston Line Service Company. They actually have their own archives. So, you can actually make an appointment to go to see what records they have.

Fisher: So, these employee files then, when you talk about Ancestry and FamilySearch, are those indexes for them then you have to write for them?

Melanie: Oh, the ones in Ancestry and FamilySearch are the actual digitized scans for the records. So, what they have up there is probably all that they have survived.

Fisher: Which railroads does that cover?

Melanie: So, on Ancestry we have the Chicago and North Western Railroad, The Utah Select Union Pacific Railroad, California. For Kansas, there’s the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, and the Northern Pacific Railway Company. And on FamilySearch, they also have the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway records. Ancestry goes out to 1935, FamilySearch goes out to 1950. And they also have the Sothern Pacific Railroad Employee Cards.

Fisher: Wow! And what about the Pennsylvania Railroad?

Melanie: So, a lot of the Pennsylvania Railroad records can be found at the Pennsylvania State Archives. So, they have records that go back, looks more like 20th century records, I would say. But they actually have quite a large collection of the enrolment cards that were involved, in addition to other collections on microfilm related to the railroad.

Fisher: So, it sounds like really there are records all over the place as you say and it sounds like a lot of detail potentially waiting for us. How fun is that?

Melanie: Absolutely. It’s a lot of fun to get into once we can start to see more of our libraries and universities open. Definitely make an appointment to check out some of these records. I think, seeing what’s online first will give you an idea what else you could find out there. And you can just simply see if you have anybody involved with the railroad just by looking at records like census records, there are even railroad directories that you can find online, on sites like Archive.org or HathiTrust.

Fisher: She’s Melanie McComb, genealogist for the New England Historical Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Thank you much Melanie and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Melanie: All right, thank you for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show, in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 346

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back at it for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. David Allen Lambert is with us from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, the Chief Genealogist there. David, this is a note from Nancy Smithson from Shreveport, Louisiana, she says, "Guys, I've got an ancestor who came to Boston in 1635 and the ship came out of Bristol, England, but I can't find any hint of my ancestor in the records there. What should I do next?" Good question. David your neck of the woods. What do you think?

David: Oooh, yeah, that's typical. Actually, in the 17th century, a lot of people, even early genealogists would put down that where the ship embarked from was where their ancestor came from, but as we know now as more genealogy is being uncovered, these ports like Bristol or South Hampton or London were just places they left from, not necessarily where they lived. So you need to kind of push back even sometimes dozens or 100 or so miles and look at all the places that your ancestor possibly could be from by where the names are situated or maybe there's even a clue in New England that points it back. People came over together with other family members, so maybe somebody on that vessel is known to be from, say, Cheshire, England or from East Anglia. Some of the manifests for the vessels or the permission to embark, these records were compiled in the 19th century by John Camden Hotten. There's a very long title to a book called, The Original List of Persons of Quality. Now, people will say, “Well, my ancestor's not in the list.” But then it goes on, on the title to continue, which is quite humorous actually, “Immigrants, Religious Exiles, Political Rebels, Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years, Apprentices, Children Stolen, Maidens Pressed, and Others who went from Great Britain to the American Plantation 1600 to 1700.”

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs] That's a long list!

David: It’s a mouthful. That's why they call it The Original List of Persons of Quality, and stop there, I should say ..., but that book, obviously you can Google search. You can find it on HathiTrust or Archive.org and just peruse it yourself. There's not a lot of surviving 17th century manifests or embarkation lists that you can turn to, so when you can find one, you know what port they're planning to embark from. It is a clue, maybe putting you into learning more about the people they travelled with. So if your ancestor's John Smith, maybe the Thomas Trenmore that came over, his origins have been found, because it’s a less common name and maybe they travelled together, a lot of people travelled with clergy when they were fleeing for religious freedom in the new world, so you can often find connections like that. There may be a servant they're paying the passage for and that person's traceable, found them on FamilySearch, you found the baptism for Zachias Howard in 1608 or something like that.

Fisher: You know Nancy, trying to get your ancestor across the pond is one of the more difficult things to do in genealogy. It takes a lot of work sometimes. The good news is, is that there are so many records now being gathered from churches throughout the British Isles and the northern and western Europe that so many of these things can simply be found in databases now. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying to narrow down exactly which one of these people by the same name might be your person of that name. And what David's talking about of gathering people around them, kind of the Fan Method here can be very useful in figuring out, okay, maybe this is the one that I'm trying to find, and then you can work on records across the pond.

David: I totally agree with that. There is so much out there, but I like to use the analogy that genealogy is wet cement. We're always discovering new things. It may be the work that Bob Anderson did on the Great Migration or it might be somebody that uncovers a probate in England that gives us a new clue of someone back in the New World.

Fisher: Always getting better. Thank you, Nancy for the email. And of course I've got another one coming up for you next when we return on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 346

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, one more time around for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with David Allen Lambert from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Dave, this question is from Reggie Whitman in Tacoma, Washington and he says, "Fish and Dave, I'm trying to identify my grandfather's parents who came to the Midwest on the orphan train. My ethnicity results suggest he may have been Scottish, but now the numbers are changing again. How does this help me? Reggie."

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: Okay, let's just stop right there for a minute.

David: Yeah.

Fisher: First of all, you know, I always like to tell people that the ethnicity results are basically the things that lure you into DNA research. And it’s nice to know what your background is and it can be a clue to where your ancestors came from, but it’s not necessarily useful to you in identifying people unless you find that when you locate the identity of who you're looking for, they have nothing to do with Scottish ancestry, so that can help you in that way. But in terms of identifying people, the most important thing in your DNA results are your matches and the most important tool, especially on Ancestry and really on all the major DNA sites is shared matches or whatever the equivalent is on all the other sites.

David: And that's true. In fact, over the weekend, I had gone through and pulled out a batch of the new matches that I had on Ancestry and actually discovered that one of the matches, well actually four of them may allude to the maiden name of a fourth great grandmother who I never knew who she was. And it gives a clue to where she came from, and of course in England, our parents are, so I've got a lot more digging to do, but it’s not from paper this time, it’s from a DNA clue.

Fisher: Yeah, DNA can do things that paper often can't and at least lead you to a paper trail or confirm a paper trail, the DNA matches. I've run into so many people, Dave, maybe you've had this experience too that say, "Well, I don't have any matches." they didn't look beyond  the ethnicity report, because that was the thing that they initially were taking the test for, because that's what the advertisements ask you to do, right? So they look at the ethnicity, they don't notice the matches. They don't realize that this is so important.

David: Exactly.

Fisher: And I guess the best way to explain it is to say, if you can see who you match up to, it’s kind of like attending a reunion of maybe a side of the family you're not even familiar with and you come to realize, oh, okay, I know who these people are. Oh, and these people are matched to them and to me as well, so they must come from the same side of the family. And that's the significance of the matches. So, of course there's so many ways to learn about genetic genealogy. This is how the criminals are being found, CeCe Moore and her group and so many other genetic genealogists right now solving cold cases. There's no reason you can't do the same.

David: And you know, I'll tell you, there's just so much out there that you can do, and if you're lucky enough to have half siblings, hopefully not 600 of them like we talked about on the show today, but for me, I have two half sisters and I have a half brother, both from my mom's side and my dad's side, so I can almost divide up and see what mom and dad gave me without having my parents alive to do their DNA.

Fisher: That's right. There's so many things you can do with this. So Reggie, take a look at your matches and see what you can find there. If you've got an Ancestry DNA test, use ThruLines and start seeing what that reveals to you. Just play with it and you'll be able to figure it out very easily I'm sure. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. David, great to talk to you again.

David: Always a pleasure, my friend. Talk to you soon.

Fisher: And that's our show for this week. Hope you got a lot out of it. If there's any of it that you missed or you want to catch again, of course listen to the podcast at ExtremeGenes.com, iTunes, iHeart Radio, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, I mean, you name it, we're there. And if you haven't signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, do that and catch a blog from me each week along with past and present shows and links to stories that you'll enjoy as a genealogist. 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