Episode 349 - Kenyatta Berry On Escapes And Attempted Escapes Of The Enslaved / Ancestry’s Todd Godfrey On Huge New Marriage Database

podcast episode Nov 01, 2020

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.com. Fisher talks about his latest heirloom acquisition… an 1851 Bible with a special family inscription. The guys then pass 100th birthday greetings on to an American flying legend. David shares a story of a recent wedding that featured a surprise for his bride she will never forget.  (And it involved her late grandmother!) “Pepper’s Ghost” is “reappearing” in London. Hear what it is and how it got started.  Finally, the guys touch on the story of how and when controversial Columbus Day got its real start in our country.

Next, Fisher visits with slavery expert Kenyatta Berry. The two talk about the formerly enslaved individuals, including Frederick Douglass, who sailed to Britain in the late 1840s to reveal to the public there the horrors of slavery, and to create international pressure on the US to end it. They also talk about some successful escapes, and the challenges of even making the attempt.

Todd Godfrey, the VP of Global Content for Ancestry.com, joins the show next to talk about their huge new database release, the Newspapers.com Marriage Index. Created by artificial intelligence, it’s the latest use of this advanced technology to bring us some very valuable records.

David then rejoins Fisher to talk about collecting heirlooms and the use of eBay in your quest.

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

Transcript of Episode 349

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 349

Fisher: And welcome Genies to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shale your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, it is great to have you aboard Genies. We’ve got a big release coming out from Ancestry.com this past week. And I’m going to be talking to Todd Godfrey. He is the Vice President of Global Content for Ancestry and this is going to be a game changer for a lot of people, no doubt, so we’ll explain that a little bit later on in the show. An even sooner than that, we’re going to talk to my friend Kenyatta Berry. You’ll remember her from the Genealogy Roadshow on PBS. Kenyatta is one of America’s foremost experts in slavery and we’re going to talk about a great article that the BBC has published in their History Extra that includes amazing escapes by enslaved people. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, now is the time. Get on it at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. We give you a blog from me each week. We give you links to past and present shows and links to stories you’ll be fascinated by as a genealogist. Right now, it’s off to Boston, Massachusetts where David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org is standing by in his office all by his lonesome. Hi Dave, How are you?

David: I’m doing great. How’s things with you?

Fisher: Really well actually because I have another cousin who gifted me another heirloom this past week.

David: Wow!

Fisher: And it’s always fun, you know. This is an actual Bible from 1851. It was published in New York in 1851 and it was inscribed in 1852 by my great, great grandfather John Hardy. And he wrote, Sarah, as a token of respect, from her husband, November 1st 1852, John Hardy. And that sounds like a pretty blasé inscription. It doesn’t mean much, but if you look at the family history at that time, 17 days after he inscribed that Bible, their baby daughter died at five months old.

David: Ohh.

Fisher: So basically, this inscription was a sign of love and tragedy at the same time. And by comparing the time line of what was happening in the family at that time, the inscription and the gift of the bible to his wife made perfect sense. So, it’s a real treasure, and I am absolutely thrilled to own it.

David: Well, that’s wonderful as it went to someone who obviously appreciates it versus ending up on eBay. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yes. Well, you know, my cousin was concerned that the day might come when she passed, she’s in her eighties, that it would wind up in a dumpster somewhere because her family has no interest in it. So, just delighted to have that. Hey, before we go any further Dave, I’ve got to send out a happy birthday greeting to the “Candy Bomber,” Gail Halvorsen. He’s very well known because right after World War II, during the Berlin Airlift, he would bring in his bombers and while approaching the airport there in Germany, he would drop candy to the kids on the ground there.

David: Little parachutes.

Fisher: Yeah, little parachutes. And he’s still around celebrating his 100th birthday. We’ve had him on Extreme Genes in the past and I’m very excited to see that he made it to 100 years old. [Laughs] An amazing man.

David: Well, I’ll tell you, you just never know what you’re going to get for a surprise when you get married you know, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. But something that might make you a little blue is when you husband surprises you with a recording of your grandmother singing “Somewhere over the rainbow” back in 1947. 

Fisher: As a teenager, yeah.

David: Hmm.

Fisher: And grandma’s gone. She couldn’t be at the wedding and she was very close to her grandmother who passed in 2005. It’s a great story and you can find the link to it on ExtremeGenes.com.

David: A lot of people aren’t making it to theaters these days, so you could say there are ghosts in the theater. Well, there’s actually a show in London, Pepper’s Ghost has become the toast of the town with this amazing stage effect that people are blown away by. But it’s not new. In fact, this imagery has been used in theaters since the 1860s. And you might have actually seen it if you’ve been to The Haunted Mansion in Disney World in Florida when you see the people dancing like holograms on the dance floor.

Fisher: Yeah. The same principle, right?

David: And this guy named, I think he’s name was Dr. Pepper, actually. [Laughs] He was in London in 1862 and he put on this show, and part of it was using a piece of glass to reflect an image of someone who was below stage with a full spotlight on it, and it created a ghostly figure, and the London audiences were absolutely amazed by it. Then, as soon as they turned the light off, the ghost would disappear. And so, they’re recreating Pepper’s Ghost as they call it over in London right now, but yeah, it’s the same principle as at Disney World in Florida, and Disneyland in California.

David: It’s amazing to think that something that you would think is 21st century technology is actually 19th century technology. Well, the long controversy Fish is gone up in recent years about Columbus Day. But you know, the idea wasn’t around early on in the 1600s. People weren’t really talking about it. It’s actually since about the birth of our nation. In 1792 John Pintard who was very much involved in Tammany Hall came together with others from New York and sort of made Columbus the epicenter of their celebration. The Columbian Order Medal shows Columbus shaking hand with a Native American. Then, 100 years later for the 400th in 1892, that heralded all sorts of things as well as the half dollar that came out.

Fisher: Yeah, they had parades in New York City and all over the place. And there was a statue that was actually created back in the 18th century that kind of disappeared. Now, it’s down at Baltimore, and people are considering with a modern-day view of it to get rid of it. So, they don’t know what they’re going to do with it. We’ll find out.

David: Yeah, the statue for Christopher Columbus that was put up in the 20th century in Boston, well, was kind of taken down because it was beheaded. The statue is now being stored away and there’s talk that it may not go back up again. So, that’s our Family Histoire News for this week. If you want to join American Ancestors where I work in Boston, you can go to AmericanAncestors.org and when you check out, use the coupon code “Extreme” and save $20 on a membership.

Fisher: Thank you David. And of course, we’ll talk to you again at the back end of the show for another round of Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, there’s a great article in the BBC’s History Extra talking about black abolitionists who went to the UK in the 1840s to create international pressure on the United States over slavery. And part of it was an amazing demonstration of how one enslaved person made his escape. You’ll want to hear all about it. That’s coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 349

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kenyatta Berry

Fisher: So, recently, my wife has been reading an incredible book about Frederick Douglass, and trips he made over to the UK to talk about slavery back in the late 1840s. And I thought it was really interesting some of the comments about how people escaped from slavery at the time, and I thought I’d get my friend Kenyatta Berry on who’s one of the nation’s foremost experts on slavery. And Kenyatta, great to have you back on the show.

Kenyatta: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Fisher: So, these trips over to the UK to kind of create international pressure on the United States about slavery, this went on for some time, didn’t it?

Kenyatta: It did. So, a lot of the formally enslaved that were able to successful escape, wanted to get the word out about the horrors of slavery and change the narrative, right, and tell it from their own perspective. And that’s what Frederick Douglass did as well. 

Fisher: Now, he seemed to have been maybe one of the first to go over there?

Kenyatta: Yes he was. Yeah. So, he went in 1846 and so he did a tour in London. He also spoke in Dublin as well.  

Fisher: So, he was getting around to all the countries within the UK.

Kenyatta: Um hmm.

Fisher: And then there was this other guy that’s just fascinating to me who talked about his escape, actually demonstrated it on a stage. His name was Henry Brown and he took on the nickname “Box” so he was known generally in history as Henry “Box” Brown. Tell us about his story.

Kenyatta: Yeah. So, Henry was enslaved in Richmond, and with the help of a free person of color, and another gentleman who was white, he actually mailed himself to Philadelphia.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Kenyatta: So, he shipped himself private mail and arrived where abolitionists were!   

Fisher: Wow!

Kenyatta: Yes. I mean, I couldn’t imagine being in a box in that entire time from Virginia to Philadelphia, being discovered or the fear of being discovered, right?

Fisher: Sure. Oh, yeah.

Kenyatta: You know, as far as someone opening the box, or if they’re treating the box in a certain way, maybe say fragile or whatever, you know, could he make any noises when they threw the box, or said it was heavy, or said anything. So, yeah, it was quite the feat but you know, I think that goes to kind of describe the effort that people would go through to escape the bonds of slavery.

Fisher: The desperation.

Kenyatta: Um hmm. Yeah.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. Now, there was another couple, the Crafts, they also were part of these tours and were speakers about their circumstance and they’re really kind of unique. Talk about their escape.

Kenyatta: Yeah. So, it was Ellen and William Craft. And so Ellen was known as a quadroon. And so she was the daughter of an enslaved woman and her white master. And her husband was dark skinned. And so, Ellen dressed as a white planter and had her husband as her personal servant with her. So, they escaped from Macon, Georgia to the North, and there arrived in Philadelphia in 1848. There were always attempts and efforts to run away from being in bondage and being enslaved.

Fisher: Sure.

Kenyatta: But, you see, a lot of this kind of leading up to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, right, because there were talks about it. And what the Fugitive Slave Law did was, it put all of these folks in danger.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Kenyatta: Because it said, basically anyone could capture. So, if you’re in Boston, you’re in Philly, you’re somewhere in the north, that any person that knew you were a fugitive slave, or you were formally enslaved and ran away, that they could capture you and get paid a bounty o whatever to return you to your enslavers. So, a lot of these attempts came with a price. That’s why when you think of Henry Box Brown and especially with Frederick Douglass, their movements to England and to Europe to kind of talk about all of this stuff, to let people know his is what’s going on, right. You didn’t have the benefit of all the stuff we have today that makes it easy for you to kind of know what’s going on in a split second. You had people who lived it who had to go and talk about it and describe it from their own experience. And really say what you’re reading in a newspaper or what you’re hearing is not necessarily true. This is the true horror of what I’ve lived through. And that’s what they did.

Fisher: So, how did Frederick Douglass escape?

Kenyatta: So, with Frederick Douglass, I actually don’t know that much personally as I know the other stories because he’s just so famous in a way because everyone talks about him.

Fisher: Yeah. He just kind of always seems to be there, doesn’t he?

Kenyatta: He does. And what I would say I know about Frederick Douglass is a couple of things. One, his birth date that we celebrate, he really didn’t know his actual birth day because his enslaver wouldn’t tell him. The other thing about Frederick Douglass that I know is that he had his first wife and they were in Rochester, which is where we’ve talked about before where my family is from.  

Fisher: Right.

Kenyatta: And somehow one of my very distant relatives married into this Bragg family, which is part of his family, so that’s kind of interesting. But then also, that his second wife who was white was actually the person that kind of kept his story alive, right. Because when he was doing his things in the 1840s and 1850s and talking about the horrors of slavery and giving his famous speech of what does the 4th of July mean, that was then. But you know, with anything, as we study genealogy and history, to keep someone’s story alive there has to be a person to tell that story.

Fisher: Yes.

Kenyatta: It has to be someone that really wants to carry it on, and that’s what his second wife did. And she really was the person to kind of push his memory into kind of the minds of Americans. And so, he became famous for that. 

Fisher: You know, it’s fascinating too you talk about the recapturing of escaped slaves. There are a lot of free blacks also in the north that would be captured and taken back to the south as slaves.

Kenyatta: Absolutely. Yeah. I think there was Solomon Northup Birch of course, very famous from Twelve Years a Slave. He, I think, was lured by three white men saying they wanted him to perform or do something for them, and then they ended up selling him into slavery. So, that was always a fear, right.

Fisher: Sure.

Kenyatta: And then also, for free blacks they would have these freedom papers, right, or they had to show something to say they were free person of color. But it’s a piece of paper, you know, that could easily be destroyed or burned, or torn up or whatever. And how do you in a society where most of your brethren are enslaved, show that you are a free person of color. 

Fisher: Yeah.

Kenyatta: It’s constant, constant, constant fear. So, even if they were free people of color, they weren’t free actually.

Fisher: Yeah.

Kenyatta: Because they still had black color.

Fisher: Always a concern. Always a concern. So, do you have any idea what percentage of people who tried to run off from being enslaved, actually made it to freedom?

Kenyatta: You know I don’t. I mean, there’s a couple of ways right. We can think about the Underground Railroad.

Fisher: Right.

Kenyatta: We can think about Harriet Tubman and what she did to take people to freedom and where I’m from Detroit, there’s a major hub to get into Canada because Windsor is just across the river.

Fisher: Sure.

Kenyatta: But there were slave patrols. So, just the thought of trying to run away was obviously a risk. But then the start of what we know as our police today started with slave patrol.

Fisher: Yes.

Kenyatta: So, these folks would really just go into the woods and try to find people. And if you’re running away, you think about it, right? Do you run away with a child, do you leave your family behind, right?

Fisher: Right.

Kenyatta: Because you’re making a big decision. A child’s going to cry. That cry could be heard, right, so those are the things you have to think about. And I don’t think we really know the number of folks that have actually attempted to run away and where successful. Because a lot of times even though the enslaved were property, they had to think about what damage they would inflict on that property. So, whether it was a whipping, or it was some type of miming, that would impact the performance or labor of that property.

Fisher: Yeah. Boy that makes sense.

Kenyatta: Yeah. So, they had to think okay, well, what can I do to show everyone else not to run away, but yet I still want you to be able to pick cotton or tobacco, whatever you’re doing. So, yeah, it’s kind of interesting when you think about it that there was always resistance. And the resistance of enslavement was not necessarily just running away as much as it was resistance in the households or resistance in the fields of being sick or not picking as much cotton, or doing whatever else. There are as many books that have been written about that. And so, there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t be found or whatever. I mean, there’s a number of universities that actually have websites on runaway slave ads because those would be published. And they’re very good for genealogy because they talk about like literally the height, the color, the weight, the clothing they had, their belongings.  

Fisher: Yeah, what they were wearing. Sure.

Kenyatta: Yeah, all of that. And those have been very, very useful. I know Cornell has a project that they’re doing with that as well so yeah, it’s just a fascinating subject and I actually met a woman, surprisingly, who did her dissertation on runaway slave ads for children.  

Fisher: Really?

Kenyatta: Which I thought was fascinating because I didn’t know that was a thing.

Fisher: No. [Laughs] No I wouldn’t have thought that either. I mean, how do you describe a child, right?

Kenyatta: Right.

Fisher: So, they’re doing a whole project on that huh. There’s a lot of them?

Kenyatta: Yeah, there’s a lot of them. So, Cornell has something that they’re doing and then I know there’s a couple of universities, and the reason why is because as we’ve known with genealogy, all that digitizing of newspapers and different things, we’re able to see a lot of the stuff from like the 1840s and 50s. Again, if you do slave ads, it made it easier to kind of advertise and you see all of these runaway ads. And I believe, I think it’s the 1860 slave schedule that actually has a column for if they were like manumitted or runaways, I believe. So, you kind of see everyone knows that we’re heading towards this peculiar institution of slavery, it’s going to cause some type of conflict or tension in the country.

Fisher: Yeah.

Kenyatta: So, you can see that in the documents, which I think is fascinating.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing? She’s Kenyatta Berry. She’s one of America’s foremost experts in slavery. And fascinating stories Kenyatta. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Kenyatta: No problem. I love it. Thank you so much for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Todd Godfrey from Ancestry.com. They’ve got another amazing new record release that’s just out. You’re going to want to hear all about it coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 349

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Todd Godfrey

Fisher: Well, it wasn’t all that long ago that we started hearing about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and how it affects our family history research. Hey, it’s Fisher. Welcome back. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And I’m very excited to have the Vice President of Global Content for Ancestry.com, one of our great sponsors, Todd Godfrey on the line today. Because Todd, what an announcement you’ve got for us this past week.

Todd: Hi Scott, how are you? It’s great to be with you today.

Fisher: Awesome, thank you.

Todd: Yeah, we’re announcing the launch of our next Newspapers.com index. It’s the Newspapers.com marriage index collection.

Fisher: Well, this is so huge because just last year you rolled out the obituaries, and I’m looking at some of the numbers and you started out with three quarters of a billion newspaper obituaries. Now, that’s up to eight hundred and ten thousand. So, another 60 million added this year. And this is all done automatically. And when I think back, Todd, to when I first started researching in the early ‘80s, I mean these were all the things we had to do manually and analytically. And it was a lot of work to find not only the papers but the microfilms and all this. But, to imagine that computers are going through and going, oh, I see that name. And it attaches it potentially to your trees that are online. It’s just mind blowing.

Todd: Yeah, these machine learning algorithms are just amazing, aren’t they? I looked today at the website, there’s six hundred and sixteen million pages today on that newspapers website. It kind of scans through all those pages, basically find the paragraphs that are obituaries, not the story about the local farmer. And then, once it finds the paragraph, it scans through and finds all the names, dates, and places and organizes it really into a tree, all those relationships. And then, to able to provide that tree from machine to users as hints and recommendations on their tree on Ancestry, it’s really been enjoyable. You know, just the last year that collection’s been up over 2 million people have made discoveries with it. I think the discovery count so far is over 106 million that were launched.

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs] That’s incredible. Well, the thing is too, obituaries and now the marriage records will often include a lot of story material in there about where they lived and what their occupations were, and of course all the relationships and if you’re looking for parents or step relationships, or whatever it may be, there are so many of them. What are we going to start out with, with the marriages? How many, do you know?

Todd: Yeah. So far, this first batch that we’re launching, there’s almost 220 million names in the collection.

Fisher: Wow!

Todd: It’s a great start. We’ve got more batches coming later this year and of course into next year as well as more newspaper pages are scanned every day. We keep adding to the collection. But it’s a wonderful start and talk about the stories, many of these marriage announcements get quite long and detailed about even who attended the wedding and whether flowers were provided and donated and it’s quite a story in itself to tell, which you know, newspapers generally are just so rich with story detail and that newspapers website you can get lost and spend many, many hours exploring all kinds of things about your family. These marriage records are a really great way to get started and to get introduced to that website.

Fisher: Well, it’s really true and we talk so much about DNA these days and all the amazing things we can do with it. To a certain extent, I think it’s really overshadowed the newspapers. I think newspapers are right at the same level as DNA because it can reveal so much concerning stories. And of course, DNA isn’t really an effective tool if you don’t have the records by which you can connect your matches, right? I think newspapers play a huge role in that.

Todd: I absolutely agree. And it’s not just the stories of your ancestors specifically, but it’s also just the context for where they lived and what was happening in their local town in key moments of their lives. And you put that together with historical records that we get from the Ancestry side of the equation and your family tree really comes alive.

Fisher: Yeah, it really does. So, this is out now as of what, the 19th, right?

Todd: That’s correct.

Fisher: This is going to be really fun to dive into this and just see what’s out there that we’ve missed in the past. And you know, one thing I like to share with my followers is that there’s a lot of benefit to reverse genealogy when you’re trying to tie into your DNA matches. And there’s no better way to do this than finding the marriage records of the siblings of your ancestors and then pull forward to try to find out who some of these people are. So, you can identify who some of your matches are. I mean, it’s a huge benefit.

Todd: Absolutely. And each one of these discoveries leads to the next one. So, as you find a marriage announcement of a relative and add that to your family tree, you’re typically adding all of these names from that announcement into your tree at the same time. Each one of which can trigger new hints, new recommendations for you, a path to follow in your research and it’s a great way to work up and down the tree in making discoveries.

Fisher: So, we do get a shaky leaf out of this, right?

Todd: Absolutely.

Fisher: If you’ve got a tree up there and you’re going to look in there and you’re going to find, oh, wait a minute, here’s a hint that you can find that on Newspapers.com.

Todd: That’s correct. So, we have taken the marriage collection and we have looked at all of the trees that our users have and made connections, and generated hints, and have hints prepared and ready to go for everyone to be able to come in and discover where the collection touches their tree. As you bring that record up and take a look, you’ll see all of the people in the record that may be relevant to you and you can decide which of them to add into your family tree. And once you do so, we’ll go and check all of those individuals for new discoveries in the collection as well. So, it does create this cycle of stability to continue to make additional discoveries from the first one that you make in the collection.

Fisher: Yeah, it really is a cycle. You know, just the other day, and you talk about the obituaries, I popped in a cousin from a couple of generations back and discovered a child. They already had 11 kids in the family and I found one other that had died, that was not on anybody’s record, anywhere.

Todd: Hmm.

Fisher: There was no death record but it was in the newspaper. The infant son of this man had passed away. So, we got some information there that was brand new that I thought, well, we’ve got to get that up there. We’ve got to share that with people. And this is a great way to fill in those gaps.

Todd: Absolutely. It’s such a great compliment to historical records that we have too, because there are instances where there are gaps, or there are instances where there are counties or maybe towns that we haven’t acquired all the records yet and have all the records on the site. But we do have the newspapers that will cover a lot of the same stories. So, it’s a great compliment.

Fisher: I think the best part is when you get into the newspapers because this really kind of an introduction as was obituaries last year. And really, the introduction to AI with yearbooks right before that. But, getting into newspapers now, you can find the everyday stories on your people as well. In fact, just two days ago, I found a stash of stories on my mother and her family in Albany, Oregon, during the 1930s and 1940s, everything from advertising that they had plums for sale right next to the elementary school and my mother was in the school play and her name was headlined for that big night when they were going to be opening. And I’m just looking at all of this material and thinking, boy, it really captures the time and the feel for the place, as if it’s happening right now. We don’t look at it in the broad sweeps of history. We can look at it and say, look how it was, exactly as it was, day to day, just as we live today.

Todd: You know, I’ve been on my own during the last year or two as I’ve been researching my birth parents, finding out that I was adopted, and trying to discover and learn more about them. So, I don’t have any contacts, any family lore, or stories of what life was like for them. The newspapers have been that for me. They’ve been that opportunity to really understand someone that I don’t know and someone that is new to me. I’ve made some tremendous discoveries both about them but also about my adopted family, and insights about my mom and my dad that have made for good family stories and in some cases just some good family fun time as we recite those stories together.

Fisher: Amazing. Have you found some photographs of them as a result of the newspapers?

Todd: I have which has been really helpful and insightful and just reconfirms what I found through the DNA process, which is, yep, that’s definitely my birth family. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Because you look like them, right?

Todd: Yeah, you can’t lose facial features. You just can’t get away. [Laughs] It’s terrific. This journey we’ve been on with the newspaper collection with this technology has really been amazing. From the obituaries now today, we’ve got this marriage index collection that we’re making available and adding. There’s still so much of the newspaper left that we’re obviously turning our attention to now.

Fisher: Yeah.

Todd: There are more difficult challenges but how can we strengthen the machine learning algorithms to help us extract more information out of these newspapers.

Fisher: Todd Godfrey thanks so much for coming on. He’s the Vice President of Global Content for Ancestry.com. They’re just released their new marriage index from Newspapers.com. It’s going to be huge. Great talking to you Todd, looking forward to your next big announcement.

Todd: Thank you Scott. We’ll come back and let you know about it.

Fisher: All right and coming up next David Allen Lambert, as we return with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 349

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 and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, our question today is from Hal Michel in Huntsville, Alabama. He says, "Fisher and Dave, you guys talk sometimes about collecting ancestor things. I know a lot of that is pretty rare. How do you go about it?" Good question and probably a longer answer, don't you think, Dave?

David: I think so. There is just so many different ways that you can do this. I mean, from contacting relatives that you remember as a kid, seeing something in their dining room that was a family heirloom your grandmother pointed out and making sure that they don’t sell it on eBay. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] That's a good point. And you know, a lot of cousins have things like this, too. And those who are getting a little bit older are often thinking, "Boy where is this treasure going to go." because they might not have kids or they might not have kids who are interested in it, just like the bible I received this past week that I mentioned at the frontend of the show. You know, I’ll mention right here Hal, that I'm looking at several items that I've collected. One is a medal that was presented to the New York City Veteran Fireman’s Association in the 1890s on a trip they made and my great grandfather belonged to that, and I found an antique store online that sold those and I thought, “Boy I'd like to own one, because I'm sure my great grandfather did.” I'm also looking at a little shadow box of three rocks. One is from a brick wall in the back yard of my 4th great grandfather in northern Yorkshire. Another actually fell out of the ceiling of the church that my immigrant ancestors got married in and with permission of the priest who hadn't cleaned up the mess yet. He gave me one of those. It’s the oldest church in London and then another one came from the churchyard in which my second great grandfather, Fisher, was christened in 1800. So, these rocks cost nothing, but they still have a connection to a place, and these other things cost very little and they didn't have to come from relatives anywhere. You didn't have to trace them down. Now, I think obviously the best of the things that your ancestors owned, things along those lines, like the bibles, like old photographs, like old documents are going to come within your family and I've always maintained that you and your relatives comprise various branches to your family archives.

David: Well you know that's true. I actually have a cousin that has a wooden canteen that belonged to my Revolutionary War ancestor. I always tell them, "When you're looking to sell it, let me know." because his children were adopted. To them, it might just be something that can sell. Hopefully it’s something I can buy. A lot of times, we have to rescue this stuff and you have to be diligent to just ask those questions of your older relatives or older siblings and say, "Listen, I don't want to see this family history lost. What can we do about it?" I mean, it can be just as simple as a little note put in the bottom of that tea kettle that belonged to your great, great grandmother or a note on the back of that framed picture. Please don't throw it away. Please don't give this to the church yard sale. Cousin Bob is interested in this, you know.

Fisher: Sure. That's really good. And you know, I should mention, you're absolutely right. Back in 1990, I found a third cousin in California and he had a daybook that my great grandfather's brother had kept of day to day business in New York City and that man was a partner with my great grandfather. Well, the 3rd cousin died a few years back and I got a nice haul of stuff, but that book was missing from the stuff and I don't know where it went and I think it’s probably lost from the family forever. Fortunately, I took pictures of it, so we do have the information that was in it in his original hand, but we don't have the book itself. So, things do get lost over time and that's why it’s really important to make contact with people right now, and don't be shy about it.

David: I think that persistence really does pay off.

Fisher: And I should mention, too, our next question has to do with eBay, which I think is a really good tie in with the first question. We'll get to that coming up next in three minutes when we return for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 349

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back at it for our final segment of Extreme Genes this week as we continue with Ask Us Anything. It’s Fisher here with David Allen Lambert. And Dave, this is from Lea in Lincoln, Nebraska and Lea asks, "Guys, tell me about your use of eBay in tracking family heirlooms." and of course this is kind of a tie in to the previous question. And I've got to tell you right now, there is no end to family heirlooms you can find on that. In fact, I found all four of my dad's original high school yearbooks on eBay. He signed every one of them. The first one when he was 14 years old. And I found all kinds of pictures in there that I had never seen before and got all four of them for a total of $50. It was an amazing buy and I'm thrilled to have them, even though Ancestry has some of those yearbooks online now.

David: That's true. I think there's nothing better than holding an original book that may have had some association with your dad, at least one of his classmates in your hand versus flipping through it on Archive.org or Ancestry.com.

Fisher: Totally.

David: I mean, it’s great if you don't have the book, but if you can have it, you know, being a bit of an ancestral hoarder myself, I'd love to have these artifacts. In fact, I use eBay all the time on a local level to search for things from my hometown and using Ma for one version, Mass for another and Massachusetts for another when I'm searching for a particular town. And that's really the best clue to add is, you want to search for your family's artifacts that might be on the internet. Well, I'm not going to just search for Lambert. I'm going to come across everything from Jack Lambert from the Pittsburgh Steelers to Warner Lambert Listerine bottles. I mean, that's not going to help me, but if you add in other keywords, you can sometimes narrow them down, except for when I'm searching for my grandmother's family. I'm looking for documents signed by one of her relatives. Yeah the last name is Poor. So every "Poor condition" document that comes up on eBay is not going to be of any benefit to my genealogy.

Fisher: No, that's going to be a problem. And you know, the thing though about eBay is, you can basically set a trap. You set these terms like Dave was describing there for what you're looking for, maybe about a particular individual plus a particular town and location, and anytime something comes up with those search terms, you're going to find that you get an email sent to your email address and then you can look it over. And I get material everyday that relates to some of those search terms and very, very rarely does something come up related to it. Boy but when they do, it’s pretty exciting! In fact, a couple of years ago, I found three invoices that were created by my great grandfather's business in New York City in the 1870s and 1880s and I was able to buy all of them, enough in fact to provide one to each of my kids who would enjoy having this document with the family name at the top of it from the 19th century.

David: It’s a great way of finding lost family items too that has saved maybe one of your relatives had died and maybe their grandkids decided, "Eh, I don't want this stuff. I'm going to put it on eBay." well, you put up those alerts and you'll get notification. I had a person that was in my hometown who had died and I know that his niece, instead of giving it to the local historical society saw dollar signs in her eyes and started listing the stuff on eBay. Well, I rescued a lot, but you know, I wasn't able to buy everything. But his wishes were that these things were to go to our historical society, photos of the town that he took in the 1920s he wanted us to have. But I rescued some of them, but not all of them.

Fisher: We should mention too, Dave, that family Bibles are on there all the time and some of these go way, way back and they are true treasures and usually even as far as the price is concerned, they're within reach.

David: Yeah, they really are, unless you get like a 17th century Bible. There's probably a good chance you can go buy it for under a couple hundred dollars.

Fisher: Yeah, imagine that, having your ancestor's family group record filled out in an old bible that you can own. There are dozens of them on there at all times. So, thanks for the question. And of course, if you have a question for Ask Us Anything in the future, you just have to email us at [email protected]. Next week, Dave, talk to you then.

David: All right, talk to you soon.

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

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