Episode 347 - DNA-Woodbury on Ranking Key Matches across Web Sites / Reclaim the Records Shows up the Show me State

podcast episode Oct 18, 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 with news that RootsTech Connect 2021 is bringing in some 1,500 registrants a day! It’s going to be a massive on line event. (And it’s free!) Next, Fisher and David share thoughts on the Abraham Lincoln death picture that is making the rounds. A couple of World War II items were recently found and returned to their families. Hear what the items were, where and how they were found, and who the lucky families were. Then, a missing elevator has been found! Along with a missing early 20th century telephone switchboard! All at a hotel in Florida. Catch the details.

Fisher then visits with Paul Woodbury, lead DNA specialist at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Paul shares an interesting technique he uses to rank your most important DNA matches across web sites, in some cases allowing for the varying algorithms the DNA companies use.

Next, Brooke Ganz from Reclaim the Records explains the group’s latest victory. After a four year law suit, some important public records in Missouri are actually now freely available… to the public. Imagine that! Hear what they are and how you can access them.

Fisher then welcomes David back for a pair of questions on Ask Us Anything. This time they concern undertaker records and preserving old Bibles.

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

Transcript of Episode 347

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 347

Fisher: Hello Genies, and welcome to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Great show lined up today. Of course, we’re going to talk DNA again. We’ve got Paul Woodbury on from Legacy Tree Genealogists and later in the show, Brooke Ganz. Yeah, she of “Reclaim The Records” fame, they had another major victory. This is a group that goes around the country and finds government organizations that refuse to make “public” public records, so she goes after them. And she’s had a couple of big victories that she wants to share with us today, so we’ll have that for you later on in the show. If you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, make sure you do through ExtremeGenes.com or our Facebook page. You’ll get a blog from me each week, a couple of links to past and present shows and links to stories that you’ll find fascinating as a genealogist. Right now, off to Stoughton, Massachusetts and the home of the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical society and AmericanAncestors.org, it’s David Allen Lambert. Hello David.

David: Hey, how are you Fish? Just around the corner is RootsTech Connect and for a free conference, it’s going to be the biggest we’ve ever had in the world.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: And they’re getting 1,500 registrations on an average per day. I’ve been to conferences where they didn’t have 1,500 registrants, let alone, per day.

Fisher: Yeah, per day. It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be massive, and of course, the way they’re planning, it’s going to go on 24 hours a day for the three days. And then basically, it follows the sun, so the emphasis is going to be on records in the different countries that are coming in the morning as they go around the world. [Laughs] It’s going to be amazing.

David: It’s a global conference, and with all of the different languages it’s going to be by far the most amazing conference we’ve ever seen.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: Well, you know, one of the most amazing things that I’ve been looking at is this ambrotype photograph of Abraham Lincoln, supposedly on his deathbed. Now, this isn’t the first time these types of photos have popped up on the market, but the Discovery channel has a new show called the Lost Lincoln where they’re investigating it. What’s your take on it?

Fisher: My take on it is that it’s fake. There’s an article in a British paper that says some expert says it’s 99% likely to be genuine. But it’s like, how would you get a huge camera with a tripod and set this whole thing up to take this picture of Lincoln in that little room? Anybody who’s been there knows it’s way too small for something like that. And who would permit such a thing?

David: All right. I mean, even where the bed was to the wall, you couldn’t go back far enough to do that. One thing that has been found, going forward to the 20th century, people are loving automobiles and restoring older ones. In a 1994 Jeep, you wouldn’t expect to have an artifact from World War II, but that’s what was found behind the dashboard when they removed it doing restoration and they found the dog tags for a World War II veteran. And what’s nice about it is they did the work and tracked down his family and presented it back. This is a dog tag that belonged to Granville Cox who was in the United States Navy and died back in 1969.

Fisher: That’s awesome, and I’m sure the kids and grandkids are just thrilled to have something like that. And I would imagine when they lost it back in the ‘90s they were horrified.

David: Hmm. They probably thought it fell out the window. The story goes a family member probably had it hanging on the rearview mirror and could have just broke the chain and it went behind the dashboard.

Fisher:  Yeah.

David: Also, on a similar story an Army bracelet for M.G. Phillips was found in the countryside of France in 2012, no doubt by a metal detectorist. It has the person’s name and their army serial number. Well, they were able to track down the son of this veteran and return it to him. So, Linville Phillips of North Carolina has his dad’s bracelet that he wore in World War II.

Fisher: Wow, that was left in France no less.

David: Um hmm.

Fisher: So, it adds another layer to the story. That’s going to be an heirloom forevermore.

David: Exactly. One heirloom that may not be forevermore is in a 19th century hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida, the historic Detroit Hotel doing renovations. They found some interesting things including a forgotten fireplace, a staircase, a wooden telephone switchboard with room numbers written by hand above it.

Fisher: Wow!

David: And a 115-year-old elevator.

Fisher: What?

David: Yeah.

Fisher: Really?

David: The elevator was with the motor was just left there. It looks like it must have just been boarded around. But yeah, this is a hotel that was created by a Russian immigrant named Peter Demens who was one of the founders of St. Petersburg and John C. Williams who was from Detroit, Michigan. So, the city got the name St. Petersburg from St. Petersburg, Russia, and the hotel got the name of John C. Williams Hotel Detroit, Michigan. So yeah, this hotel, during renovation, they found the elevator and it’s a great story that you can find on ExtremeGenes.com.

Fisher: I just wonder though, I mean, how do you lose an elevator and the engine that runs it? And how do you lose a switchboard? I mean, where were these things? [Laughs]

David: Behind walls that they must have taken down. I just don’t imagine how you can actually lose something like that or not know it was there. So hopefully, they won’t use this elevator because the cables have been cut.

Fisher: Hmm.

David: So, it won’t go anywhere fast or maybe it will.

Fisher: It’s like a Twilight zone trip there, yeah.

David: Exactly. And that’s why it kind of looks like a Twilight Zone elevator. Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, you never know what a metal detectorist is going to find in England as we learned from a lot of stories. There have been great caches of coins found, or you know, Roman villas that were unearthed, but this time they found an Anglo-Saxon warrior holding his sword. And a couple of years back a metal detectorist had gone out and they found some bronze bowls and, as in England, they alerted the authorities and they did a dig and found that the bowls were associated with the burial with an Anglo-Saxon sword. They believe that this burial dates back to the 6th century AD. Well, that’s all I have for my guests here in Beantown for you this week. But remember, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors, the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston would like to give you $20 off a membership. Just go to AmericanAncestors.org and use the coupon code “Extreme” and save $20 on membership.

Fisher: Very nice David. We will catch you at the back end of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we’re going to be talking DNA with the DNA Specialist from Legacy Tree Genealogists, Paul Woodbury, in three minutes on Extreme Genes, Americas Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 347

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Paul Woodbury

Fisher: Well, we don’t call it Extreme Genes for nothing because we love talking DNA on the show. Hey, it is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and my good friend Paul Woodbury is back, the lead DNA Specialist over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Paul, always a pleasure to have you.

Paul: Thanks so much for having me, Fish.

Fisher: And I love what you’re talking about today, and that is, how to compare your DNA results across the various companies. So, whether you test it on Ancestry, or MyHeritage, or FamilyTreeDNA, or 23andMe, how do you make that all come together especially when you consider that each particular site and the tools that they use are a little bit different?

Paul: Absolutely. So, I think it’s really nice to be able to see matches of different companies and begin to prioritize which ones are most important for my research. Often times when I am first getting into a DNA project, I’ll start by asking, okay, which are the most pertinent matches? And most often the most pertinent matches are the ones are the ones that I want to focus on first are those who are sharing the most DNA.   

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: But we need to keep in mind how each of these companies calculates the total amounts of DNA, how they calculate and report that shared DNA. And it’s a little bit different from company to company and it might require a little bit of adjustment before necessarily assuming that the highest match in terms of reported centimorgans is indeed your closes match. 

Fisher: So, what you’re saying is, there can be adjustments in the algorithm to help reveal exactly where somebody should rank among your matches?

Paul: Yeah. So, for example, one thing that I do when I’m working on a new case is, I will take the DNA test results at each of the major testing companies. I’ll take all of my matches at Ancestry and I will download them. I will get all of my matches at MyHeritage, all of my matches at FamilyTreeDNA, all of my matches at 23andMe, and I’ll download all of those individuals into a spread sheet so that I have a list of all of my matches across everywhere.

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: And then, what I do is, I go in and I look at adjusting the amounts of total shared DNA based on the algorithms of those companies. So for example, let’s say that I have a match and in my initial analysis after I download everybody, my closes match is sharing say 203 centimorgans with me at 23andMe.

Fisher: Okay, right.

Paul: And my next closes match is sharing a 170 centimorgans with me at Ancestry. From the initial look I might say oh, I think that the 23andMe one is probably more significant. They’re sharing 30 more centimorgans.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: But if I go in and look, 23andMe actually includes the X-chromosome in the calculation of their total. So, if I share any X-DNA with that individual above say 30 centimorgans, then in fact I share less autosomal DNA with my 203 centimorgan match at 23andMe than I do with my 170 centimorgan match at Ancestry because Ancestry does not include the X-chromosome in the calculation of their totals.

Fisher: But Ancestry does have their own algorithm below 80 centimorgans.

Paul: Yes. So, Ancestry does have an algorithm that they utilize to help weed out some of the segments that they deem to be unreliable because of large presence in the entire population because of pile-up regions, or otherwise just commonly held among members of the population. And so, they do apply that lower than 80 centimorgans. And they will begin to apply what they call a Timber algorithm to remove some of those small segments or those unreliable regions from the calculation of their totals as well. But, if it’s above 80 centimorgans and you can be fairly certain that everything that is included share DNA, according to their initial round of analysis is going to be included in those totals above 80 centimorgans.

Fisher: So, do you have to allow for that as you adjust your numbers when you get it into this database?

Paul: When I am looking at Ancestry data, I will sometimes consider that. Particularly, if I find a match at Ancestry who has also tested somewhere else and there might be a little bit of a difference there. If they’re sharing an amount of DNA lower than 80 centimorgans, then I expect that there may be a difference from what is reported at Ancestry versus what is reported at one of the other companies.

Fisher: And so that could affect how you interpret what the relationship might be between two matches, yes?

Paul: Absolutely. So, I might consider that although this person is reported to be sharing say, 75 centimorgans with me at FamilyTreeDNA, and at Ancestry they are only reported to be sharing 38 centimorgans with me, I might consider that much of that DNA that they are sharing with me may be deemed by Ancestry to be unreliable or insignificant in terms of its prevalence within the general population.

Fisher: Sure. So, would you figure then that perhaps the relationship is lesser?

Paul: Yeah. I might have anticipated that that relationship might be further out. And in that example, I was looking at somebody who was tested at Ancestry. Let’s say they share 38 centimorgans with me at Ancestry, and then at FamlyTreeDNA they are reported to share say 75 centimorgans with me. And that might seem like a lot of DNA, but also keep in mind that at FamilyTreeDNA they include very small segments in the calculation of their totals, as low as one centimorgan.

Fisher: Really?

Paul: Yes. And so, what I often will do whenever I’m comparing FamilyTreeDNA data against another company, I go into FamilyTreeDNA, I download the segment data and I cut out everything under five centimorgans, or even I might raise that threshold to seven centimorgans. I cut out everything underneath that and recalculate those totals to make it more equivalent to how the other companies are reporting that shared DNA. 

Fisher: Interesting. So, what’s your final process then? You make an adjustment obviously for under 80 centimorgans on Ancestry, you make this adjustment for FamilyTreeDNA. What about the other companies, 23andMe?

Paul: For 23andMe I will go in and remove all of the X-DNA segments so that it’s more equivalent.

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: But that’s also helpful because now I can see easily who are all of the matches who are X-DNA matches.

Fisher: True.

Paul: I do that at FamilyTreeDNA as well but something to keep in mind with FamilyTreeDNA, although they include very small segments in the calculation of their totals, they do not include the X-DNA. And so I’ll look at the X-DNA and that can be helpful as well because as you download that X-DNA information from FamilyTreeDNA, that enables you to see which of those matches in your list is actually a true X-DNA match with significant shared –X-DNA rather than a tiny two centimorgan segment that’s shared on the X-chromosome.

Fisher: Sure. Okay.

Paul: They will report a match to be an X-DNA match if they share any X-DNA. I want to know which are the matches who share at least say, seven to ten centimorgans of X-DNA, rather than those tiny segments. 

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: So, I’ll go through and do those. MyHeritage, I don’t do a ton of adjustments for that. And then Ancestry, I actually don’t do a ton of adjustments until recently. We didn’t have a ton of information about the segments that they were pulling out using Timber. But we recently got that information. We now know the amounts of DNA that an individual shares un-weighted versus after the Timber algorithm has been utilized to kind of narrow down on what is the most pertinent DNA.

Fisher: Um hmm. And are you able to adjust that then in such a way that you feel that maybe you’ve even corrected Timber a little bit?

Paul: No. I usually will consider that. But usually when I’m organizing this list, I’ve got my highest matches up at the very top and those that are sharing the most DNA, and I will evaluate each match in order based on their shared DNA. 

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: I’ll look at who shares the most DNA, and as I move on down the list then eventually I may get to the point where I’m looking at some of those matches that are affected by the Timber algorithm. And as I’m looking at those, then I might make note of the fact that although they are reported to only share 45 centimorgans with me on a single segment, before Timber was applied we find that they may have shared 68 centimorgans on two segments. And so that gives me an idea that oh, they actually share another segment that might be pertinent.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Paul: So, we’ve got some ideas to kind of evaluate based off of that as well. So, it’s all part of the overall evaluation of all of your genetic cousins across all DNA companies. But you just have to keep in mind the unique algorithms, the unique approaches that each company takes in reporting that shared DNA.

Fisher: Do you ever come up with a single number at the end of all this, Paul, where you say okay, well, based on all these four, do you do any averaging, or do you adjust your predicted relationship, and do you look at trees as you’re doing this as part of your analysis?

Paul: So, the main goal of this analysis is primarily for prioritization of DNA matches.

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: In the end, I don’t know that it matters so much if a match shares 56 centimorgans with me versus 58 centimorgans.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Paul: Right?

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: Because in the end, those amounts of shared DNA are going to give me similar probabilities of relationships for different relationship levels.

Fisher: Right.

Paul: It might result in the difference between oh, there’s a 41% probability of a third cousin relationship versus a 43% probability, right. So, it’s not going to tip the scales significantly. And so usually this process is primarily just for the prioritization of my DNA matches. Once I begin looking at those matches, it’s really the relationships between matches, the segments that I can triangulate, or the chromosome mapping that I can do. It’s the consideration of all of the joint probabilities for individuals with relationships to each other and how they all fit into a family tree. And really, in the end it’s the documentary evidence that we pursue as a result of that prioritization that helps me solve family history mysteries. The answers I’m interested in are, “Who was the father of so and so.”

Fisher: Sure. Yeah. Exactly.

Paul: Who was the ancestor that we really are trying to identify. This process just helps me to get all of my matches on a more level playing field to be able to compare them across companies, taking into consideration the unique algorithms that are utilized at each company.

Fisher: Well said. Well, great Paul. Thank you so much for spending some time and explaining that. It makes a whole lot of sense, and look forward to talking with you again soon.

Paul: Thanks so much for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, Brooke Ganz with Reclaim The Records. She’s been stirring up more trouble, this time in the Show Me State. Wait till you hear what kind of records she’s got waiting for you there now and how she got them for you coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. 

Segment 3 Episode 347

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Brooke Ganz

Fisher: All right, hold your breath, she’s been at it again, Brooke Ganz and her Reclaim The Records organization, they have gone after the Show Me State, Missouri. Hey, it’s Fisher here from Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Hey Brooke, how are you? What have you done this time?

Brooke: Hi Fisher. I’m doing great. I am so happy to tell people that Reclaim The Records has reclaimed several records and we put them online for free, and we want to tell everyone about them.

Fisher: Yeah. Now, this is in Missouri, and for people are aren’t familiar with Reclaim The Records, this is a non-profit organization that basically goes to various states around the country and tries to free up public records that we can more easily obtain them for our research. So, you’ve gone after the Show Me State, Missouri, and I guess you showed them.

Brooke: I guess so. You know, one of the things we started doing is really looking around the country and seeing which states at least have the basic index of their vital records online. I’m not even talking about the real certificate, but at least could you tell us what exists in the first place? We may or may not be allowed to order a specific certificate, that they’re too recent or we’re not related enough, but every state should at least have an index out there. And some states it’s a no big deal, everything is open, very easy to look up what exists there. If you’re missing great uncle John listed in the death index, something like that. But there were a couple of states and Missouri was one of them where they wouldn’t even publish the index. A couple of years ago somebody wrote into Reclaim The Records saying, Could you please look at Missouri?

There really isn’t much of an index there. And I didn’t really know anything about the Missouri genealogy situation because I didn’t have any family from there, but I did some research. So, what I found was that, in one respect Missouri was great, that they put all the death certificates more than 50 years old, on the Missouri Secretary of State’s website, on the digital Heritage Project and volunteers transcribed them.

Fisher: Nice.

Brooke: Yeah. And you can look up the actual death certificates if they’re more than 50 years old. But, the way that wasn’t so great, is that Missouri didn’t even publish any index, just a basic list of names and dates. No other information for births or for deaths that were more recent than 50 years old. Then, I thought, you know what? That’s too bad because people don’t even know what records exist so they wouldn’t know if they’re entitled to go ask for a record.

Fisher: Of course.

Brooke: And I looked round the law and Missouri’s law was very explicit that you could ask for a list of people who were born on a certain date or who died on a certain date. You could just get their names and the date. You couldn’t get any other information. But it was legally open in their own law. It was right there, it was just no one ever really looked at it. I found out later they had written a law like that so that journalists who were working on stories in Missouri could confirm certain pieces of information.

Fisher: Perfect.

Brooke: But it was limited to just journalists.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Brooke: So, I thought, what if we just get that list from them and we publish it online, a birth index or a death index that has no other information, it’s not real certificates but it would be so helpful to at least know that someone died in the state or was born in the state, say 1920, or’ 30, or whatever. So, [Laughs] spring of 2016, Reclaim The Records wrote to Missouri sometime on request to the Department of Health and Senior Services (the HSS) in Missouri. And said, can we just have the list from your database of everyone born on certain dates or everyone who died on certain dates, just the list, and I know you have it in a database. Could you just give us a database export so that it’s already in a text file?

Fisher: Sure, yeah.

Brooke: And we didn’t think this was going to be a big deal, but it was because Missouri didn’t want to give up the data even though the law was really clear that it was completely open, there was no restriction on it. And we found out they had given it out many times before not just to journalists but to genealogists, to people studying longevity, all sorts of reasons, but they wouldn’t give it to us.

Fisher: Huh!

Brooke: That was very frustrating.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, that’s kind of a slap in the face isn’t it, to genealogists?

Brooke: This was public data but they weren’t going to share it with the public even though the law said it could be. They were trying to find a way to say no to us without actually breaking the Sunshine Law. And the way they came up with it originally was to quote us purposely such a high price for this little database extract, that they thought we would run away and say, forget out it.

Fisher: Of course.

Brooke: They did this on purpose to scare us off. Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services quoted to Reclaim The Records an estimated price of 1.5 million dollars.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: For the birth index and death index.

Fisher: Oh, you’ll go away.

Brooke: That’s what they were hoping.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: They were hoping the genealogists would go away and not bother them for a request for the index. We looked at the estimate and we were like, this can’t be right. This must be wrong.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: And not only must it be wrong but there must be some reason they’re trying to wave us away because there’s no way it would cost 1.5 million dollars to extract from an existing database, already paste up on a database.

Fisher: Sure.

Brooke: So, we called a lawyer. We got in touch with one of the best First Amendment in Missouri Sunshine Law attorneys in the country. His name is Bernie Rhodes. He works at Lathrop & Gage in Kansas City, Missouri. We told him this story and he was astounded. And he agreed to sign on as our attorney. And with his help Reclaim The Records sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and we were able to win the Missouri birth index and death index, because we were able to prove they broke the law first by quoting an outrageous estimate to try to get us to go away.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: And secondly, by just trying to not hand it over at all. This turned into a four year court case. And I’m happy to announce that Reclaim The Records won the case in summary judgement. It was a slam-dunk. It was undeniable. We won everything we asked for.

Fisher: Did the judge say something nasty to the other side? I just want to know.

Brooke: Oh, yes, quite a bit.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: Because in the course of this lawsuit, we were able to get the agencies’ internal emails, internal meeting notes, things like that and we were able to read what they were saying amongst themselves when they saw this request for genealogy records come in. We saw that they were purposely and knowingly breaking the Missouri Sunshine Law. It was what the judge called a secret plan to deny the request, and the judge was brutal to Missouri in her summary judgement reply. I believe its 50 or 60 pages of this.

Fisher: Was there anything in there, Brooke that gave you an idea of why they wanted to keep this from you? What was their motive?

Brooke: We have an idea why they wanted to say no. And the main idea is that we found that Missouri was selling this data for decades and the money they made from selling this data repeatedly, selling the same data over, and over, and over went right into the Department of Health and Senior Services own budget. So, they knew if Reclaim The Records got the Missouri birth index and got the Missouri death index and published these public records for free online as they should be. They would very likely not be able to make the same amount of money in future years by reselling the data because it would be online for free.

Fisher: So, it’s a racket.

Brooke: It was. It was the government agency having a monopoly of what should be public data, selling it and earning money for the revenue in their own budgets.

Fisher: Wow! Do you think that kind of thing goes on all over the country? You know, most governments kind of learn from one another and learn different strategies and obviously, so many different departments are cash-strapped. So, do you think that this is going on elsewhere?

Brooke: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely! All of these government agencies whether they are the department of health, a city archive, a state archive, all different areas that they “own” public records, are looking for ways to increase their budget. They are under-funded. I feel bad for them. That is a problem. However, the way they choose to address it is to sell and resell, and resell whatever they have and that might be public data that really belongs to all of us and should be online legally.

Fisher: Right. Absolutely.

Brooke: So, they act like a monopoly. They act like they struck gold in their back yard. They struck oil and they’re just going to sell it. Not recognizing that their backyard is public yard and it belongs to all of us.

Fisher: Sure. Where are the records now? Have you obtained them yet? Are they available?

Brooke: I am happy to report they are now online. So, we built two brand new websites so that people can search the Missouri birth index and the Missouri death index, or even download the underlying real raw data exports, if you want. So, we built Missouribirthindex.com and Missourideathindex.com.

Fisher: She’s Brooke Ganz. She’s behind Reclaim The Records, the terror of government record keepers across America. And you’re raising kids still. I mean, your energy is incredible Brooke. Thanks so much for coming on and sharing that with us. And we look forward to enjoying the Missouri records.

Brooke: Thanks so much Fisher.

Fisher: And coming up next, it’s Ask Us Anything. David Allen Lambert is back as we cover a couple of questions concerning family bible restoration and undertaker records, in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 347

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is time once again for Ask Us Anything. David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, our first question today comes from Appleton, Wisconsin. Rodney Leech writes, "Guys, my great grandfather had a furniture store and built caskets. It’s also said they hosted funerals. Might there be any records out there I could find?" Good question, Rodney. David, what do you say?

David: Well, that is true. In the old furniture businesses, you know, if you could build a clock case, you could build a coffin. And a lot of times they went into this business and a lot of times their funerals were not done at the funeral hall. They were actually done in your home. Then the idea of a funeral parlor where the deceased could repose and family could come is our modern day funeral homes. These businesses, some towns have them that have lasted 100 or so years. In fact, my town has one since 1860. Tracking the records down can be a little more difficult. Now you're going to find your obituaries in the newspaper and your death notices, so even on the death record, it will say, maybe perhaps who the undertaker of the funeral home is. When you look for the records, you've got to look at a couple of different approaches. 1, did that get purchased by another funeral home in that town, like they went out of business and if that's not the case, where did the business records or family papers go? So you have to be a genealogist a bit and track down who the possible people are. Now I'll personally send in the question to his family, so I would ask older relatives or other cousins and say, "Listen, who is the last person who got Uncle Joe's stuff?" or "great grandpa Smith's stuff? What house was it in?" and try to do the sleuthing to track them down, kind of like what you and I have done, Fish, by trying to find family heirlooms.

Fisher: Right.

David: And this is the same approach. Now the problem is, a lot of times business records, well, obviously they've already conducted the business. There may have been a point in time where they didn’t need them anymore and they just threw them in the trash can.

Fisher: Ohh!

David: Or, you know, the building burned down, there was a fire. But you could try locally. These are the type of records that show up at historical societies and sometimes the rare book or local history collection of a public library, not so much in a place that you would get them in the town hall or, say, the county, because the county and town really are not going to be concerned with a local business. The thing that's amazing about these types of records Fish, is that some cases funeral home records predate when the town or the city or the county were even recording death records.

Fisher: Isn't that cool.

David: It’s amazing! And we have at NEHGS here in Boston some funeral home records that we've purchased on, guess where, eBay.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: They come up and you just never know what you're going to find on eBay anyways, let alone funeral home records. So we're always on the outlook for them. Unfortunately there's no one clearing house if you will where they should go, and more modern ones, I mean have a lot of personal information. Firstly, I have the death record and the type of casket, but some of this has been echoed in early funeral home records. In fact, in Boston, JS Waterman and Sons has been an undertaker since 1839 and they have the funeral records for my great grandfather's sister in 1917 that told me what type of casket she had and who brought what clothing and what clothing to be worn, flowers that were going to be there, so you get a lot of detail. The real hard part is tracking down where the records are. They do exist. Sometimes it’s a ledger book, sometimes it’s a file cabinet, sometimes it’s just index cards. So, keep sleuthing and I hope to hear good news from our friend there that they found the records of their family's business.

Fisher: Well, and I'll mention too that I found records of my great, great grandfather's burial. Very similar as you've described in the Utah State archives, and they had the funeral home records right there, so even though it wasn't a government thing, they would up in that place. So, that's one place you might want to look, Rodney. Thanks for the question. And coming up next when we return in three minutes, question about preserving family bibles on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 347

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, last time around! Its Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back and our question now David is from Lisa McCauley in Salt Lake City, Utah. And she says, "Guys, I have a leather bound 18th century family Bible. Lucky me!" Yes, lucky you, that's awesome!

David: Um hmm.

Fisher: "But the binding is falling apart and it smells a little. How can I get it restored? Thanks guys. Lisa." What do you think, Dave, where do we start?"

David: Well, if it smells a little, there's probably something growing in there, perhaps mold or mildew, so be very careful, because sometimes that will cause the pages to stick together. Of course for family Bibles, the real treasure is what's between the Old Testament and the New Testament, usually the family record or whatever ephemera that's been shoved in the bible, like flowers that has been pressed or maybe memorial cards and you know, even other surprises like letters and things like that. So, the main thing is, don't try to do it yourself. Seven year old me bought an old 18th century Bible at a yard sale, paid about $5 for it. Yeah, I decided that I have to repair the spine with duct tape, because using duct tape with everything that had to be repaired.

Fisher: [Laughs] With everything, yes.

David: Yeah, so needless to say, it’s probably held up a lot better in the past 40 years, but not the correct way to do it. Now, one of the things that we're very lucky in Boston and at NEHGS, we have a book conservator. And I had a family Bible conserved by him as a favor and I'm very lucky with that. But a lot of people use the north east document conservation center. They have a book conservation area that actually is state of the art and they are located in Massachusetts. And if you go to NEDCC.org/Book-Conservation/About, you'll get to all the details that you could ever dream.

Fisher: That's awesome. By the way, we'll have the link for you if you go look at the transcript of this show when we get to the podcast, then you can just link through that.

David: You know, one of the things that I find is, a lot of people have these family bible pages as well. And you can kind of do that simply for preservation. I mean, don't put it in manila envelope. I suppose that's better than leaving it on the shelf, but there's a company that's been around since the 1890s called Gaylord and Gaylord.com has archival supplies. So you can get a small pack of acid free folders and keep them in that, and you can also buy what's called a Hollinger box, which is also acid free. It’s a gray like a hinge back box. I've been to your house, Fish. You have some great family heirlooms and you've got them professionally framed.

Fisher: Well, I don't have the originals framed, Dave, because you don't want to expose them to light. Even the copies, I have under UV glass. But the originals I have in acid free plastic sleeves, so that I can thumb through them and look at the originals periodically, but keep them safe and away. So, I have Bible pages that are up and framed on the wall, but those are copies after I scan the originals. The nice part is, is when you scan the originals, you can then use Photoshop or something similar to clean up for instance the tattered edges or discoloration and you can make the pages as beautiful as they were when they were first in the family home and then frame those copies and put them up on the wall. And it’s fantastic, because you can then review information there if you need to or just admire the handwriting and the artwork of those old Bibles and not cause any damage by handling them or exposing them to light. You know, it’s really important as you say, Dave, to make sure you consider the long term of preserving those pages. Great question, Lisa, thanks so much for it. And of course, if you ever have a question for Ask Us Anything, all you have to do is email us at [email protected]. Thanks so much, Dave. Talk to you next week.

David: Take care, my friend.

Fisher: And that's our show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. If you missed any it, of course catch the podcast. We are on all over the place, ExtremeGenes.com, iTunes, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, iHeart Radio. Thanks for joining us. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!



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