Episode 348 - Dr. Henry Louis Gates on New Episodes of “Finding Your Roots”/ D. Joshua Taylor on Looming Clash Over Licensing Public Records Use!

podcast episode Oct 25, 2020

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fisher opens the dialog talking about how he is using genetic genealogy to help a friend identify a parent of his grandfather. They need to narrow down from TWELVE children! David then shares news of the passing of the grandson of our tenth president, John Tyler! Yes… grandson! (Don’t worry, there is still another one living!) David then shares news that if you have an unusually high amount of DNA from Neanderthals, you might be at greater risk for harsh symptoms from Covid-19. A new study is out explaining how the human family is likely more closely related to each other than most realize. Of course, this has everything to do with what is called “pedigree collapse.” Hear the guys map this out. And finally, MyHeritage has another great photo tool available for you. Find out what it is.

Next, Fisher catches up with Dr. Henry Louis Gates, host of the PBS series Finding Your Roots. New episodes have resumed and Dr. Gates fills us in on what is soon to come on the show.

Then, D. Joshua Taylor, President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society joins Fisher to discuss the efforts of those tied to the New York Municipal Archives to license public records! These are records we, generally, paid to create, and taxes pay to maintain. Since they belong to us, “the people,” this licensing could become a costly problem, not only in New York, but elsewhere as well.

David then returns for a pair of questions on Ask Us Anything. The first has to do with Civil War pension records, while the second has to do with alternatives to birth certificates.

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

Transcript of Episode 348

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 348

Fisher: And welcome back America! It is 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. Well, great to have you aboard again for this weekend. We’ve got some great guests today because we’ve got a lot of interesting and important things happening right now in the field of family history. First of all, we’ve got Dr. Henry Louis Gates back from the PBS Show Finding Your Roots. The season has resumed and he’s going to fill us in on the latest episode, and the next one coming up. And then, after that Josh Taylor is going to be here. He is the President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. And there are problems in New York. And if you have any reason to ever want a record out of New York you are going to want to hear what he’s got to say because people tied in to the Municipal Archives there are wanting to license public records. Yes, so if you wanted to put something in a talk or maybe even post an image of a document onto a page on a website, you might have to get a license to do that! So, there are a lot of issues there, and you might be able to help battle this problem. We’ll get to Josh later on in the show. Hey, don’t forget to sign up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter.” You can do it right now. Go to ExtremeGenes.com or go to our Facebook page. You get a blog from me each week, a couple of links to shows past and present and links to stories that you’ll find fascinating as a family historian. And speaking of which, it is time we got our Family Histoire News and that’s why we go to David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, at home, well masked in Stoughton, Massachusetts. How are you Dave?

David: I’m unmasking so I can talk to you.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] How are you doing friend?

Fisher: You know, I have been really busy here. I’ve got a buddy of mine I’ve been trying to help use DNA to help him identify the parents of his maternal grandfather.

David: Oh.

Fisher: And we figured out one network and we identified who the grandparents are, but we don’t know whether it’s the grandparents to the mother or the father of his grandfather. We’re only having a narrow down from twelve children to one. [Laughs] And it’s taking a lot of time.

David: Well, I’ll tell you, not everybody has grandparents that are too difficult to find, especially when your grandfather was the tenth president of the United States. And in fact, on September 26th at the age of 95, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Junior, the grandson of President John Tyler, yeah, the tenth US president, died. But, don’t feel too bad. Not all of President Tyler’s grandchildren are gone. There’s Lyon’s younger brother who was born in 1928, Harrison Ruffin Tyler who’s still alive.

Fisher: Now, this is incredible because President Tyler was born in 1790. George Washington died when he was nine years old. He was in primary school at that point, went on to become president. Dave, I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say that about their grandfather.

David: No, not really.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: I mean, I can tell you, I remember being a young teenager and writing to Grover Cleveland’s son who was born when the president was in his sixties. And talking to him on the phone up in Tamworth, New Hampshire, Francis Grover Cleveland didn’t remember dad very well. [Laughs] You know, how many people can say their dad was president twice? [Laughs]

Fisher: Right! Exactly. With a little rest in between.

David: Exactly. Well, you know, I’m going to go back a little further in Family Histoire News and I don’t know how many of you have used 23AndMe and found out how much Neanderthal you have in your DNA. I can tell you that one of my sisters has more than me, and I always said that the reason being she could climb the heck out of trees.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But now they’re saying that people who are suffering from COVID 19 have some direct tie with their Neanderthal ancestors. The DNA strand is found in Chromosome 3 which is susceptible to severe reactions to COVID 19.

Fisher: Wow.

David: So, if you do have a higher Neanderthal tendency than others then maybe it’s something to be concerned about. This is a story you’ll find on ExtremeGenes.com.

Fisher: That’s incredible.

David: Very scary. You know, the one thing that I always find remarkable is when you sit down and did you ever tell your grandkids or your children how many ancestors exponentially you have, you know, two parents and four grandparents and eight great grandparents? You know, it’s amazing. And then you start to think of 800 to 1000 years ago when the 33rd generation you have like eight billion ancestors conceivably.

Fisher: Wow!

David: But the word “endogamy,” yes that’s the two cents word for the day kids, means that probably you have more people on your family tree that are related to you more than once.

Fisher: Of course.

David: Or twice or maybe multiple times. Scientific American has a great article which you’ll find on Family Histoire News called Humans Are All More Closely Related Than We Commonly Think. Hey, I’m related to Charlemagne. Are you Fish? [Laughs]

Fisher: Yes, I am. [Laughs]

David: You’re my cousin, finally.

Fisher: [Laughs] Congratulations.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: Well, this is for people who aren’t familiar with it. This is the term that they call “pedigree collapse.” And the idea is that as you go back the number of ancestors that you have, if they were all unique individuals, well, there would be more of them than the population of the planet ever. [Laughs] And so, as a result of this, your family tree if you had an identity for all these people, you’d start to see the same people showing up. And what David’s saying is you’ll see them showing up over and over and over again.

David: Um hmm.

Fisher: So, you might not like your ancestors but they’re there and sometimes many times over.

David: [Laughs] So you think just erasing one name from your family tree is going to be easy? Yeah, try thirty generations back.

Fisher: Um hmm.

David: You might have line after line after line of the same one. You know, there’s always exciting news in technology. And MyHeritage has really done a lot this year. I mean, they’ve gone from colorizing your old photographs on their website to being able to sharpen up the detail and see detail you never saw in that old blurry photo. But now they’re teaming with a company called Mixed House where you can go right to your MyHeritage account, put on a photo, and you could order up 8 x 8 photo collage tiles that can be put on your wall mixed and matched and changed around and you can move them all over.

Fisher: I think that’s a great idea, and you know My Heritage has done an incredible job of finding things that we all love and I tell you I use that enhancement tool on photographs all the time.

David: If you’re not a member of American Ancestors, we’d love to have you as a member and you can save $20 on membership by using the coupon code “Extreme” on AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: All right, thank you David. Talk to you in just a little bit. And coming up next, Dr. Henry Louis Gates returns to the show from the PBS series Finding Your Roots, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 2 Episode 348

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Henry Louis Gates

Fisher: All right, and we’re back. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And it’s been a long time since I talked to Dr. Henry Louis Gates from PBS.

Dr. Gates: [Laughs]

Fisher: Of course, he of Finding Your Roots fame and it’s the second half of season six is underway again. Dr. Gates, it’s great to have you again.

Dr. Gates: It’s great to hear your voice, and I’m glad you and your family are healthy, and my thoughts go out to all our fellow Americans who have been dealing with the pandemic.

Fisher: Boy, it’s been a mess.

Dr. Gates: And I’m sending them my best wishes. We, of course, shut down in March when Harvard, my day job, when we sent the students home, all production at PBS and at every other network was suspended. But then we figured out under COVID protocols how to continue, and we have. So, we finished the second half of season six, and we have six episodes coming up, the episode on Tuesday, October 13th. One of our most exciting featured Diane Von Furstenberg and Narciso Rodriguez and the inimitable RuPaul Charles. And then this Tuesday, October 20th DNA Mysteries with Téa Leoni and Joe Madison.  

Fisher: Ooh.

Dr. Gates: And we will then continue into January with Gayle King, Jordan Peele, Issa Rae and then Scott, Tuesday January 12th Norah O’Donnell, Zac Posen and Nancy Pelosi. [Laughs]

Fisher: Ah! Boy, you are loaded up with some interesting figures, some controversial figures, but I’m sure they’re all amazing when you dig into their roots. Well, tell us some of the highlights of the season. We’re looking forward to it. Now, we’ve got the 13th is behind us, the next episode is coming up on Tuesday the 20th. Tell us a little about that episode. 

Dr. Gates: Okay. This episode involves, I mean, you talk about Extreme Genes, DNA mysteries for actor Téa Leoni and radio host Joe Madison, identifying parents and grandparents whose names they never heard before. Téa’s mother’s name is Emily Patterson and Emily Patterson was adopted as a six-week old baby and never learned the names of her biological parents. With no paper records at all to guide us, our great genetic genealogist CeCe Moore compared Emily’s DNA to the DNA of people in multiple databases hoping to find a close relationship. And CeCe eventually narrowed the maternal candidates down to a set of sisters, Irene and Abilene Gindratt.   

Fisher: Wow.

Dr. Gates: Abilene’s daughter agreed to take a DNA test and the results proved that Abilene was Emily’s mother and Téa’s biological grandmother. Now, this was something she did not know her entire life. And Téa kept saying to her, “Mom, let Finding Your Roots try to find your biological mother.”  It took a long time, and finally, with great reluctance, Emily said, “Go for it.” And CeCe found their man. And CeCe was then able, as if that wasn’t a miracle enough, to use the same process to identify Emily’s biological father! A man named Sumpter Daniel. And guess what? Using census records and local newspaper accounts, we were able to surmise that Sumpter and Abilene likely met in the tiny town of Elizabeth, Louisiana where in 1940 Abilene worked as a school teacher while Sumpter worked at a paper mill and they both lived in the same boarding house with ten school teachers.  

Fisher: Ah! [Laughs]

Dr. Gates: Now how about that for some remarkable research?  

Fisher: That’s some sleuthing, isn’t it?

Dr. Gates: Oh, Téa was moved to tears and so was her mother. And then, Scott, it turned out that Téa’s grandmother, Emily’s mother, was still alive!

Fisher: Oh, no, you’re kidding me! Stop it.

Dr. Gates: Yes.

Fisher: Well, she had to be like 100 years old.

Dr. Gates: She was in her 90s. Unfortunately, she had dementia, but we connected them. We didn’t film it of course. That’s very private. But we arranged for Téa’s mother Emily to meet her biological mother after all those years.

Fisher: Wow! What an experience that had to be for her. Did Téa go with her?

Dr. Gates: Oh yes, and Téa’s daughter.

Fisher: Wow! Four generations. So, they could get a four generation picture.

Dr. Gates: Yeah. And they met the two sisters. Remember, we needed Abilene’s daughter to take the test to see which was which. 

Fisher: Yes.

Dr. Gates: And they did. And Sumpter’s son reached out to Téa and he was reluctant initially to cooperate. People, if they haven’t seen the series, they don’t want it to be sensationalized. But once he saw the series he was so moved that Sumpter Jr. and Téa established a relationship. And I just found out yesterday from Téa who’s become a very good friend, that Sumpter just succumbed to COVID.

Fisher: Oh no!

Dr. Gates: So, we were able to restore all of this information in time for Sumpter about his father, and introduce him to his half-sister, who is Emily Patterson. And we also were able to find out, incredibly, that the Sumpter family trace back from Téa to her sixth great grandfather, a man named John O’Daniel who was born in Virginia around 1718, who grew up to be a prominent land owner. And guess who his next door neighbor was? 

Fisher: No idea.

Dr. Gates: George Washington man!

Fisher: [Laughs] G.W. himself. Wow!

Dr. Gates: Himself. And like Washington, he was a slave owner.

Fisher: Oh, boy.

Dr. Gates: According to his will he distributed 23 slaves among his second wife and their nine adult children. We were able to trace Téa’s family back to her 39th great grandfather. [Laughs]

Fisher: What? Oh, that’s insane.

Dr. Gates: Yeah.

Fisher: Oh, this is going to be an incredible episode.

Dr. Gates: Incredible. And on her mom’s side to her 7th great grandfather William O’Daniel, likely born in Ireland in 1691. Now, Joe Madison grew up believing that his father was a man named Felix Edward Madison whom he knew. But when we did the DNA tests, it was obvious, quickly apparent, that Felix was not actually Joe’s father. 

Fisher: Ooh. That’s a harsh thing to have to tell somebody. I’ve had two or three occasions where I’ve had to tell people, “Your dad wasn’t your dad.” How did he take that?

Dr. Gates: Well, we have a protocol when we can’t reveal this information live.

Fisher: Sure, of course.

Dr. Gates: And I had to call him. We say two things, “Joe, we have found information that will forever alter your understanding of your family. Do you want to know or not?” And then when he said yes, I said, “Well, your father, the man you called your father, was not your biological father.” And he said, “Are you sure?” And I said, “We are absolutely sure.” And I said, “I’m sorry I had to be the person to tell you.” And then I say, “Do you want to be in this series and find out about him?” And he said, “Of course.”

Fisher: Wow.

Dr. Gates: And he did. And so, we told him that his father was a man named Herman Hagood and when I showed Joe his picture, Joe said, “I remember seeing this man.” And then we introduced Joe to his biological grandparents, Andrew Hagood Sr. and Isla Green and we revealed that his grandfather was part of the infamous Tuskegee study on untreated syphilis. You remember that when they… 

Fisher: [Laughs] I don’t, but I know I’m going to get an education here.

Dr. Gates: Oh, Scott, it was terrible. They took a group of black men in Tuskegee, Alabama and they had the cure for syphilis and they gave part of this group placebo just so they could study the long-term effects of untreated syphilis. It is one of the horrific examples of the misuse of science. And it’s very famous among black people and among medical researchers to prevent anything like this ever happening again.

Fisher: Yes. Yeah, of course.

Dr. Gates: Yep. But then we traced Andrew Hagood’s family and we showed him living with his mother Emma Tompkins and he had his siblings all had the surname Tompkins and not Hagood. And the census showed that his mother was black and their white father was living next door. And both of his parents were marked as single on the census. You know, it was illegal for an interracial couple to get married.

Fisher: Right.

Dr. Gates: So, they just established their relationship by living next door. And Lemuel gave his mixed-race children his surname. And service records show that that this Lemuel Hagood was a Confederate soldier, even more ironic.

Fisher: Wow!

Dr. Gates: A Confederate soldier has children with a black woman and gives them his name and obviously supports them. And we talk about his involvement in the Civil War and reveal that he fought at Gettysburg and was captured as Lee’s army retreated after the battle. And then, we even landed with the story of Joe’s fourth great grandfather, a man named Samuel Clegg who was a loyalist during the American Revolution, and that means he…   

Fisher: Boy, you have covered a huge amount of ground here. This is unbelievable. 

Dr. Gates: Yeah. It means that he did not side with the patriots. He sided with the Brits and he was captured, are you ready for this, executed by patriots in South Carolina.

Fisher: Ooh.

Dr. Gates: And so we were able to trace Joe’s family back to his fifth great grandfather who was born in Germany on his father’s line. And on his mother’s line, to his fourth great grandfather Joseph Pally who was likely born in the 1760s in England. So, it is an amazing episode about the miraculous uses of DNA to resolve issues of paternity and family heritage. 

Fisher: Well, let’s face it, America has just done a huge massive paternity test and it’s available for pretty much anybody who wants to really find out where they come from. And when you consider there’s 18 million DNA test results now on Ancestry alone.

Dr. Gates: Right. And you know, there are a lot of support groups and anyone listening to this should look at our website and write to us if they’re struggling with this information. Because you actually, as soon as you click on your website sent to you by one of the prominent DNA companies, you can tell if your mother or father are really your mother and father.

Fisher: Yes.

Dr. Gates: And then a lot of adoptees turned to us for help. And we referred them to CeCe Moore, who is the world’s leading, as far as we’re concerned, genetic genealogist.

Fisher: Oh, yes. [Laughs]

Dr. Gates: But there are a lot of support groups.

Fisher: Well, Dr. Gates, this is a great season. Now, this runs into January and then you pick up with season seven.

Dr. Gates: Yes.

Fisher: We’re going to touch base with you each week about the upcoming episodes and really look forward to seeing it. And of course for anybody wanting to watch, it’s Finding Your Roots. It’s on PBS on Tuesday nights. Check your local listings for times. Dr. Gates, talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining me.

Dr. Gates: Okay my brother. You take care.

Segment 3 Episode 348

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Josh Taylor

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and there is more trouble brewing in New York City concerning records. I’ve got my friend Josh Taylor on. He is of course, the President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. And Josh, welcome back! Fill us in on what’s going on with the Department of Records and Info Services (DORIS for short.) DORIS is kind of turning into a little “Karen” here it seems to me! [Laughs]

Josh: Yeah, we’re having a bit of an issue in New York City. [Laughs] Thanks for having me on and allowing me to talk about this important issue. And for anyone that does New York City research, you probably have encountered DORIS before because DORIS manages the Municipal Archives which holds essentially New York City’s archives from the 1600s all the way up.

Fisher: Yes. And it’s fabulous, by the way. We should mention. I mean it’s just loaded with incredible material. So much in there that I cannot wait for the day to come when they’ve got it all digitized and indexed. That’s going to be a long way off. [Laughs]

Josh: [Laughs] Right. Exactly, but I think that’s a really important point, is that genealogists and historians use those materials all the time and there’s millions of pages in there to be found.

Fisher: And right now, they’re talking about raising their rates but not in a way that is common.

Josh: Right. So, they’re proposing an increase for photocopies, for reproductions, and you know, for the record, we don’t object when archives have to raise its fees within a reasonable amount to cover expenses, that’s understandable.

Fisher: Sure.

Josh: What they are doing on the other hand, is they seem to be cementing a practice they’ve had for a long time that requires licensing to actually use public records.

Fisher: Help me understand that. Licensing? License who?

Josh: Well, that’s the million dollar question here. So, essentially if you want to reproduce a record from the public archive, right?

Fisher: Yeah.

Josh: Let’s say that you ordered something and you want to put it on your blog, you want to put it in a magazine, you have to basically fill out a form and pay a fee that begins with $15 to license that item to use. The form is called, “License/permission to use.”

Fisher: Oh, boy.

Josh: And the way that the proposed changes have been written, they really solidify that for educational, for scholarly, and for non-profit product use, and even for media use, by the way, you have to apply for and pay for this license.

Fisher: Oh, boy. Wait a minute, I had Brooke Ganz on the show from Reclaim The Records, not long ago, and she was talking about winning a court case there in Missouri. And she was able to obtain conversations that were done over email and text messages about why they wanted to do things the way they wanted to do it, and the reason was they were selling these materials and taking the revenues and putting it back in their budget. Now, these were public records. It was in complete violation of the laws in Missouri about public records. This sounds exactly the same.

Josh: You know, it potentially is a very similar issue. There’s a question of commercial licensing and that certainly is where the archives right now in New York City on their website, they say things like, permission required for commercial use. And it’s almost a different issue. It’s sort of the license that’s being required for essentially other use of these records. I mean, to put in a lecture, to essentially put in an online family tree, anything that would require sort of your use of those records. Potentially, the way the language is written now could fall under those licenses.

Fisher: Well, what about things that have already been posted on family trees from the Municipal Archives? Are they going to go back and try to find you and then charge you for it?

Josh: That’s a good question. So, to be completely fair to the Archives, when this issue came up and people started emailing them about it and asking questions, they received a response that said, “This is a misunderstanding. We never intended to license genealogy materials for personal use.” And that all this is doing is sort of elevating the fees and they understood the language is unclear. So, they sent an email that they will clarify the language before the final version.

Fisher: Really, with how much time to go before the final version?

Josh: [Laughs] Well, public commentary ends October 23rd. So, sometime between that point and when the final rules are published they would clarify the language, but they’re actually not required to consult anyone or have another public hearing on the final language. So, they could have the hearing on the 23rd and we might never see the final version till it’s printed out and officially on the books.

Fisher: Okay. Wow. So you know, this really can affect anybody in America because so many people, so many of our ancestors came through New York City, whether it’s through Ellis Island or they were settlers there when it was New Amsterdam. And not only that Josh, I’m just frightened by the potential precedent here that could be set by them getting away with something like this.

Josh: Right. If you consider that the language they used was education, scholarly, media, etc, that sort of use. That means that, even an amendment that says, well you can use it for genealogical use. Well, genealogical encompasses a number of different documents.

Fisher: Sure.

Josh: What about the historians? What about members of the press? What about scholars that are studying and using these records and tracing the history of New York City? The limitations are frightening in my mind of what this could do.

Fisher: Yes. And the biggest problem, just so everybody is very clear on this, these are public records. This means they were generated on our behalf. We already paid to have them made. We cannot be charged to use them. [Laughs]

Josh: Right. [Laughs] We paid for their creation. We’re paying for their maintenance and we’re paying to get a reproduction of it. And you know, the Municipal Archives is not a private archive.

Fisher: It’s a whole different category and this is a problem because these people all talk to one another and they’re looking for more and more ways to create revenue and they’re not going about it the right way. So, the question is, Josh, what can we as genealogists and family historians, and historians, do to help keep this situation from getting out of hand?

Josh: Well, the easiest thing to do to help in this situation, the NYG&B, the New York Genealogical Biographical Society, if you go to the homepage at, NewYorkFamilyHistory.org, there’s a link to a page that will give you the details and really spotlights for actions that you can take.

Fisher: Okay.

Josh: So, number one, you can submit a comment directly to DORIS as part of the public comment period. We’d like to ask you to consider when submitting your comment, this isn’t necessarily about the amount of money that’s being charged. It’s about the principle of licensing public records for educational and scholarly use.

Fisher: Exactly.

Josh: That’s the big issue. So, you can submit your own comment and it’s very, very important even with the promises that they’re going to clean up the language, we need to make sure that our objections are in the public record.

Fisher: Um hmm. Yes.

Josh: So, that’s action number one. Action number two, the NYG&B has a public comment that we will submit sort of on everyone’s behalf, if you read that comment and you agree with it, you can add your name and we’ll submit that on your behalf on October 23rd. The third thing, is there’s a hearing at 11AM Eastern, on Friday, October 23rd, this is the public hearing and it’s online. And the instructions to join the meeting are available, so you can go in, it’s a WebX meeting. You can attend from anywhere, and you can also sign up to speak at the meeting but you have to sign up in advance. So, if you want to speak, they are letting individuals speak for up to three minutes, about the proposed rules at that meeting. And then, the fourth thing is to share this information with others, especially those who might not necessarily just be genealogists, but would be interested in how this impacts research at large within the records in the Municipal Archives. So, try and extend this reach outside of just the genealogical community into historians, biographers and others, anyone that you can think of that would use these records.

Fisher: Okay. Ugh, it’s coming up on us really quick here and this is really quite frightening.

Josh: It is. They usually have a 30 day period for this. And I’ve been so grateful for other communities and societies that have jumped on this and spread the word. But yeah, it’s just coming up very, very quickly. All right, Josh Taylor, president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Thanks for filling us in on DORIS and the mess that’s going on in New York City and what we can do about it. And hopefully everybody will jump on and follow some of those tips. Appreciate it Josh, talk to you soon.

Josh: Sounds good.

Fisher: David Lambert is next, another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 348

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right it is time to answer your questions, its Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Are you ready, David?

David: I am.

Fisher: All right. Our first question today comes from Laney Richards in Chicago and she says, "Fish and Dave, I am pondering whether or not to spend $80 for my Civil War ancestor's records. Would it be worth it? What might I get?" Great question. David, you work with these all the time.

David: I would say the $80 is well worth it hands down. If you can’t afford it, do a GoFundMe with your family for a holiday gift because they're time capsules.

Fisher: Yep.

David: Hands down, the Civil War pension can have anything you can imagine, from the medical reasons why they had a pension or financial reasons, you're going to get doctor's reports. You're going to get affidavits from people who served in the military with your ancestor. And these are going to give you details about the battles that they were in or maybe your ancestor was in a camp hospital, you're going to get certificates! You won't have to buy copies from the state, maybe your ancestor's marriage record or his death record. And if a widow survived him or if he had any children, those records are there.

Fisher: Oh, yeah. Bible records sometimes.

David: The ones that blow my mind away are the ones that are the mother or father's pensions, because the parents had to actually send in letters from the child, stating that they were sending money home and these letters are never returned. So, to me, they're like untapped.

Fisher: Wow!

David: There has to be like college students, they could just get in there and just look at mother and father pensions as they start getting digitized and you can write a whole book, because these are unpublished letters from the Civil War.

Fisher: Wow! That's amazing. And you know, I did this with my wife's Civil War ancestor long ago and they actually brought the file in to the Veterans Administration.

David: Oh yeah!

Fisher: [Laughs] And the guy wouldn't leave the desk as we went through and held these things in our hands and went through it item by item. There was testimony in there from the guys who served in the same unit as my wife's ancestor and they all signed this statement as to how he was killed in battle in Georgia as General Sherman's army was sweeping south through Georgia. It’s that move to push the Confederates into the sea. And it was just before all that happened. He was driving a supply wagon at the tail end of Sherman's army and some Confederate cavalry came in and shot him off the top of that. And there was so much confusion at the time, they never wound up burying him and they never knew what happened to him after that.

David: It’s amazing, because you know, up until recently, we still had children of Civil War that were getting in the news. In fact, the last pension Civil War child just died this year. And we had that as a news story. So, and the Civil War wasn't that long ago, even though you have people who died at nearly, going on 160 years ago now.

Fisher: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, and it’s true. I remember talking to aunts and uncles who used to watch the Civil War soldiers march in the veterans parades as old men, you know, so when you get into it generationally, when you get into it as a family historian and you start to realize, well that's just three, four generations ago, that's it!

David: Yeah.

Fisher: And that's why some of the stories are still so fresh in certain families as the tales are passed on down. So yes, in answer to your question, Laney, spend the $80. The only thing I would advise you right now is, make sure you know when you can get that file, because I'm sure there's a huge backlog due to the pandemic and that could really slow things down a little bit. But, good luck with that, because you're likely to get some amazing stuff out of it. Thanks so much for the question. And coming up next, question about death certificates, where are they, what do you do when you can't find one? We'll have some answers for you coming up in three minutes when we return with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 348

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, here we go! It is our final question on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. David Allen Lambert is with us. And David, our question today comes from Michael Smith in Kenosha, Wisconsin and he says, "Fisher and David, I was looking for the death certificate of an ancestor in upstate New York who died in 1867 and there weren't any! Where do I go next?" David, what do you think?

David: Well, I mean, as a rule, New York State doesn't even start having death records until the 1880s decades, so you're going to be off by at least, you know, 15 years, 20 years of when you're going to commonly see death records for upstate New York. There are other options though. Well, first off, so many newspapers are keeping us up late at night. You can find death notices, sometimes obituaries in local or county papers. That's one thing.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: I mean, how about a probate on FamilySearch? I mean, so many probates for New York that are available now or even on Ancestry.com. Locating a probate case can often tell you the date of death and where the person died. I mean, gravestones, Find A Grave, Billion Graves, I mean, there's so many other options. How about you, Fish? What did you use?

Fisher: Oh, family Bibles are fabulous if you can get a hold of them, and obviously other people's family trees, because maybe the family Bible went down the branch of a third cousin of yours. And so, there are places to look there. You can look on all the other sites. Check out the trees there and see what other people have found, because you know sometimes a record only exists in one household. In fact, I can tell you that in 1990, I tracked some relatives down in Minnesota and when I was there, he had a whole bunch of old family documents and on the back of one was written the name of my third great grandmother and it gave her birth date under it written in light pencil. That is the only existing record of her birth date that we've ever found. Even her christening was not registered in England before she came over to New York.

David: You know, and that's true. I mean, a lot of times the local historical societies or county historical societies will have account books. How about the person who made the casket for your ancestor, that's a record of when they died obviously.

Fisher: Sure.

David: Maybe doctor's bills or better yet, funeral home or undertaker records for the services. I mean, there's so many different layers of this. I gave a lecture called, Beyond the Death Record, and this kind of brings in a whole bunch of different thing I talk about that we've just discussed and there's so many more.

Fisher: Yeah, you can't even really think of what they all would be. [Laughs] I could go probably through a bunch of these histories I've put together on different branches of family and realize, oh yeah, I've got one this way and I've got one that way. In fact, for instance, I inherited a newspaper clipping of the death of the man that married my great grandparents in Utah. And my great grandfather wrote at the top, "This man married us," and he put the marriage date on there. Now, if I didn't have the marriage date that would have been terrific! A firsthand account in the handwriting of my great grandfather as to when they got married.

David: Date back even further. Sometime we know somebody wrote the will and it was a year or so later that the will was proved or better yet, a woman has a child born to her and she doesn't show up on her husband's will five years later. So, I mean, there's a variety of ways of looking between years too that you may not have a death record in every instance, but you can kind of narrow down the window smaller and smaller if you look at other records.

Fisher: I'll tell you, I'm still filling in complete dates to this day on material I initially started gathering back in the '80s. And it just works that way, because there are so many things out there.

David: Well, there is. In genealogy, the analogy I use is like wet cement. I hope it’s never cured and never finished, because I still like the thrill of the chase.

Fisher: There you go. David thanks so much. Talk to you next week.

David: All right my friend.

Fisher: And thank you genies for joining us today. Thanks once again to Dr. Henry Louis Gates for coming on, to Josh Taylor, the president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. If you missed any of the show or you want to catch it again, listen to the podcast on ExtremeGenes.com, iTunes, iHeart Radio, Spotify, you name it, we're there. Talk to you next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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