Episode 361: Classic Rewind - 500 War Letters From Dad Found In The AtticAug 09, 2021
Host Scott Fisher opens this Classic Rewind show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David begins by losing his head over a story about Marie Antoinette’s mirror. It’s a mirror, mirror on a wall in England, but until recently no one knew its origins. David shares some details. Then, a teen in Britain has made a fascinating find on a British mountainside that impacted a family in Australia. Hear what he discovered. Next, there’s been another astounding discovery in England… a massive Anglo-Saxon grave site going back 4,000 years. Find out about the objects found there. Then, Smithsonian has shared a remarkable story about a female spy who started out cracking mobster codes in the 1930s, and eventually broke open a Nazi ring in South America a decade later. Catch the story of Elizabeth Smith Freedman. And finally, Megan Smolenyak has published some of her findings on the origins of new President Joe Biden. Are you related?
Next, Fisher visits with Loretto Thompson. A few years back Loretto learned about a treasure trove of letters from her father to the family during his time serving in World War II. He died when Loretto was only four years old, and the letters have led her on a remarkable journey… even by genie standards!
Then, Dr. Henry Louis Gates is back to talk about the next episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS.
David returns for the final segment as the guys answer another question on Ask Us Anything.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 361: Classic Rewind
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Classic Rewind Episode 361
Fisher: Hey genies, it is Fisher here and I hope you enjoy this Classic Rewind edition of Extreme Genes! And welcome to America’s Family History 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, it’s great to have you along genies. We’ve got a great guest today with an incredible story. Her name is Loretto Thompson, and not that long ago she discovered, with a little help from mom, 500 letters to home from her dad from World War II. And the result was nothing less than incredible in terms of finding somebody who actually changed the course of her life and her dad’s life. Wait till you hear this story in two parts coming up starting in about 10 minutes. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, what is holding you back? It’s free! I give you a blog each week, some stuff to think about there, plus a couple of links to current and past shows, and links to stories that you’ll appreciate as a genealogist. And right now it’s off to New England and the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org their chief genealogist David Allen Lambert is standing by. Hi Dave, how are you?
David: Oh, I’m doing fine. Well, you know, this first story I want to tell you for our Family Histoire News, I hope you’re sitting down for. Well, at least Marie Antoinette was at one point in her life. This is a story about a bathroom mirror. This bathroom mirror in the 1880s in Kent, England and had belonged to the estate of the late Napoleon III and this was originally in Versailles in the home of Marie Antoinette, until recently resided in the bathroom of a house in England.
Fisher: [Laughs] That’s something. And I don’t think it was a very wealthy family necessarily that owned it. But they were shocked to learn of its provenance and the value of it.
David: Yeah. It says it can fetch more than say, 13,000 British pounds, which should probably be about $20,000 American.
Fisher: Something like that.
David: Not bad for a mirror for a bathroom. [Laughs]
Fisher: Absolutely. Yeah. Don’t lose your head over that.
David: Absolutely. Oh, good one. Well, going to our lost and found department. An interesting discovery made by a teenage boy in a British mountain as we stay with our English news today. A military ID bracelet with a British coin, the British coin was dated in 1917. It turns out that it was the date of birth of the person who had the ID. So, the ID belonged to an Australian World War II soldier. And it’s now been reconnected with his family.
Fisher: That’s a great story. It makes you wonder how it wound up in Northern England.
David: I started to think the same thing myself. The soldier himself was killed in a car crash at the age of 43 in Australia. So, the lost and found story doesn’t have a good connection to know why it was up there.
David: Who knows, maybe it was something traded, or maybe he was robbed.
David: You know, one of the things I really dig in genealogy is cemetery stories.
David: This one is a massive Anglo-Saxon cemetery, guess where? In England, yes, we’re having a lot of English news today. This is a cemetery discovered with a 154 Anglo-Saxon burials dating back around 1500 years holding about 3000 objects in their graves, between weapons and jewelry. In fact, one of the oldest graves found in the cemetery dates back 4000 years to a bronze age burial. So, it’s pretty amazing. The Anglo-Saxons, as you know, invaded England. And the Anglo-Saxon period of England lasted for around 600 years from about the 5th century to the time of when William the Conqueror came across the channel.
Fisher: And isn’t it interesting too that so many of us get DNA results to show us more Scandinavian than we should be?
David: Um hmm.
Fisher: And I think an awful lot of that comes from the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons into England.
David: Well, that’s where my Y-DNA comes from. My Y-DNA is dramatic. In fact, the snip that I have LT33 I’m haplogroup I, and it says that it’s found in Germany around 300AD. So, my Lamberts must have been Saxons at one point in time, and of course, the last name Lambert is Saxon for one who came from the brick land, or the land brick – Lambert. So, who knows, maybe one of these burials is my Y-DNA connection. I hope there’s still some DNA.
David: Well, we have to have an American story. I mean, Extreme Genes is obviously done in the United States. How about a code breaker? Elizabeth Friedman was a code breaker who died 40 years ago. She was really popular amongst the government of the United States because she was able to bust smugglers during Prohibition, understanding their codes, but notably, she broke up a Nazi spy ring across South America during the 1940s. So, J. Edgar Hoover must have been very proud to have her on his team. In fact, Fish, the details on her code breaking didn’t even become public knowledge until it was declassified in 2008.
David: This story of course is on ExtremeGenes.com brought to us by Smithsonian Magazine. Thank you, Elizabeth, for all of your work. Now, about the Prohibition smugglers, since my grandfather was bootlegger, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t one of my family’s friends.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah that’s true. You had a grandfather who was a bootlegger.
David: Yeah, it’s true. Joe Biden of course, our new American President number 46 has Irish roots and has a great story shared on ExtremeGenes.com and that is of course with our good friend Megan Smolenyak. She wrote up a great piece on Joe Biden’s Irish roots. Who knows, maybe it’s one of your cousins that’s now in the White House.
Fisher: You know, it doesn’t matter what party somebody is in when it comes to presidents and genealogists, because every genealogist wants to see how many presidents they can connect to.
David: Um hmm.
Fisher: So, this might be useful to somebody to find out if they match the current occupant of the White House.
David: That’s true. Didn’t you have somebody who was related to Trump that lived down the street from you?
Fisher: Absolutely. Turned out that they were fourth cousins and this was very early in the Trump administration. And when I went to share the information he didn’t want anything to do with it. [Laughs]
David: You just never know what you’re going to find. Well, that’s about all I have from Beantown this week. I always welcome you to join us at AmericanAncestor.org. Quite virtually right now and you can become a member and save $20 using the coupon code EXTREME on AmericanAncestors.org. All right, talk to you in a little bit.
Fisher: All right David. Thank you. Yes, at the back end of the show for another round of Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to the woman who was the beneficiary of finding 500 World War II letters from her dad and the adventure it led her on, coming up in three minutes On Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Classic Rewind Episode 361
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Loretto Thompson
Fisher: Well, I got to tell you I always have my eyes open for incredible stories to share with you on Extreme Genes. And Loretto Thompson’s certainly qualifies. And she’s on the line with me right now. Where do you live Loretto?
Loretto: I live in Niagara Falls, New York.
Fisher: Ah, beautiful area. I lived up in that portion of the woods at one time myself. Nice to have you on Extreme Genes. And just before we get going here, I mean, what a story here about your father, and your discovery, and your journey and actually finding people who knew him during World War II. How did you get started in family history?
Loretto: Well, I really wasn’t involved in family history because on my father’s side, he died when I was four. And we really didn’t know very much about him. But when we discovered all of his World War II letters, and in reading them he would mention different family members and I had no idea who these people were. So, it actually started with Gramps, who he wrote about in the letters. And once I found gramps, then I found his wife. Then I got into his mother’s side of the family because he would talk about Aunt Mame, and all of a sudden all these doors kept opening and I started to get very involved with it. And actually, it’s been good for our family from a health knowledge because my father died of a widow maker, a heart attack.
Loretto: And his father had died when he was 36 years old. And we thought that his father had died also of a heart condition and therefore all of us, and then the grandchildren and the great grandchildren should know about this.
Loretto: And in fact, in doing the research about his father, so my grandfather, he died of pneumonia.
Loretto: But gramps, in the letters, my father would make statements about his arteries thing. And so I think there may have been a connection there.
Fisher: I see. So, how many letters did you find and how did you find them?
Loretto: Well, going at my mom, because my father died when I was four, we didn’t really know much about him and so we really clung to these stories that my mother would tell. One of the stories that she would tell us about our father to all of us was that he wrote his mother when he was in World War II. He had written to her just about every single day. And we always thought well, that’s really nice mom. And we always thought too that that was an exaggeration. And then I don’t know, it would have been about 2014 probably. Then my mother finished that little story because you know, she’s 91 and we let her tell her story and then at the end of it she said, “And I have all the letters.” I nearly fell on the floor.
Fisher: [Laughs] I bet you did. How long did it take you to go through them, and what did you do with them once you got them?
Loretto: Well, that was a challenge because I went down in the basement and I got the box and when I brought it up, there were over 500 letters.
Loretto: About 522 letters if you want to be exact.
Fisher: Wow! Wow.
Fisher: Now, do you have siblings? Did you have other brothers and sisters that you could share this with?
Loretto: Well, that’s a really good question. Because what I had to do first, they were all thrown in a box. And so my sister and I would do it on Sundays with my mom.
Loretto: She has a vision impairment so I had said to her, well, I’ll read the letters to you. And that’s how she ended up telling me where they were. And we had to divide them up. First, we divided them by year. Then we divided them by months within each year, and then we divided them by day within each month of each year.
Loretto: And we rubber-banded them and I started to read them to her. Well, this unbelievable thing started to happen because, I’m reading these letters to her and he’s a young guy, 22 years old, my mom didn’t meet him until 10 years after he got back from the war, so he would have been about 35 years old.
Loretto: So, he’s just telling all this stuff that she didn’t know about him either. And I’m reading it and I’m learning you know, he’s funny, he has a very strong face. He’s mention all these family members that she didn’t know and I didn’t know, which led me on this ancestry path. And then this is going on. He loved to dance. He loved to sing. He was quite popular with the ladies, and it was all this fun interesting information that I never knew about him.
Fisher: And what year did he die?
Loretto: He died in 1965.
Loretto: He was a doctor and he and my mom had been married so they would have been married seven years. She had seven children with him. And so, he was on his rounds at the hospital and he had walked out of a patient’s room and had a massive heart attack. And so there was not a lot of information about him. So, as I’m reading these letters, I’m learning who he is and what he’s about, and what he thinks, and how he feels about things. I’m thinking, my siblings need to learn this because I felt that I was getting to know him. And I thought, they need to know this. And then I’m looking at all these letters and I’m thinking there’s no way. Because these letters are not just one page letters, they are four, six, eight page letters front to back.
Fisher: Wonderful. Wow.
Loretto: And he didn’t just write his family, because was always writing other people too. He would mention in his letters, oh I need to write these four people today. And he was writing a lot of letters all the time.
Fisher: Now, during the war, where was he stationed?
Loretto: Well, he was stationed state side for his training, and he was here in New Jersey is where he reported, then he went for basic which you would consider basic but it was cadet training in Green Spur, North Carolina, then up to Sioux Falls for technical training. He was a radio operator on a B17.
Loretto: And then he went to Yuma for gunnery training, and from there he went down to Gulfport in Mississippi for his combat training. That’s when he was assigned his crew. Then they flew over to Scotland and he ended being stationed in Horham, England, which is in Suffolk so it would be South East England.
Loretto: Then he was with the 95th Bomb Group, which is part of the 8th Air Force.
Fisher: Wow! And so he was running bombing missions over Europe.
Loretto: Correct. Now, he didn’t go until towards the end of the war. And he accomplished, I believe, he ended up with a total of 13 missions. And so he would write these letters while he was there, but on the days that he didn’t write, I found out because I found all his missions, those were days that he would have flown a mission.
Fisher: Wow! Okay. So, you could put together a really good timeline here.
Loretto: Absolutely. And I did that. So, initially I was not going to write a book. Initially, I was going to type up these letters so that my siblings could read them and get to know their father as well. But then what happened while I’m typing up these letters is, I wondered about, well, in addition to the family members I would look up, I always wondered about his crew. And in Europe they censored all of the letters and so on the outside of every letter would say one of the officer’s names. Well, frequently it would say 1st Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant Roger W. Sundin, who was the pilot of the B17. And in his letters, he spoke very highly of his pilot. And he would always talk about how he would help him and do things for him, and how much respect he had for him. So, each year I published a volume of letters for my siblings. So, I did one at Christmas, I gave it to them at Christmas 2015.
Fisher: What a gift.
Loretto: And then I did another one at Christmas 2016 and then another one in 2017. Well, August 2016 I’m really curious now about this pilot because I knew that they had landed in the water. The only thing my mom told me was, “Your father was so proud of that fish.” Well, that sent me down another rabbit hole for the Goldfish Club, which is in the UK. And I made friends over there.
Fisher: [Laughs] Now wait a minute, wait a minute Loretto, what is the Goldfish Club?
Loretto: Well, the Goldfish Club is a very elite little club that they had in World War II and it was created by the Cow Company, I believe was the name of the company. They manufactured the dinghies and the Mae West, which were the life jackets that were put into the plane.
Loretto: And if you survived a ditching, which is a water landing, as a result, or even a crash, or any kind of a water disaster, during the war and you survived it as a result of a dinghy or a Mae West, a life jacket, then you became a member of the Goldfish Club.
Fisher: Oh! [Laughs]
Loretto: And they had 9,000 members. It was limited to 9,000 members. And so he had this Goldfish, and he had the little booklet for the Goldfish. So, I looked it up and I found, my dear friend now over in the UK, Art Stacey, and he was the president of the Goldfish Club. And I’ll tell you, that guy did so much research for me. He found out that he had ditched, and it was after the war, and it was in the North Sea, May 26th.
Fisher: Oh wow, so it’s immediately after the war, like two weeks.
Loretto: Yes it is. Right. But all we knew was it ditched. And then I got the date, I got the ship’s number, and then I went this archeology website, Aircrafts Archeology, and I made friends with him.
Loretto: And he was able to find me the actual accident report.
Loretto: So now I knew the ship, the number, the name, the date, I had the accident report from the pilot and the co-pilot explaining what happened. But then I thought to myself, well gee, my father wrote about so many things but he never wrote anything horrific. Because he’s writing to his mother so every letter was written, “Dear Mother, Harry, and Mike” Mike was his dog. Harry was his brother. And so he never said anything horrific, but if he was going to talk about something seriously, he would only write Harry, he did not write that information to his mother.
Fisher: All right. We’ve got to take a break Loretto. We’re up against a hard break right now. Let’s take that break and then when we come back. [Laughs] I just got to give everybody kind of a clue. You’re going to hear an amazing twist as to where this story goes, when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Classic Rewind Episode 361
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Loretto Thompson
Fisher: All right, we’re back. It’s Fish here, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I’m talking to Loretto Thompson who found over 500 letters of her World War II vet dad. The dad who died when she was only 4 years old and she’s learned so much as a result of that. And we were just hearing the first half of the story leading right up to the fact that he had ditched in the North Sea just after the war, was part of a crew there. Where does this go from here Loretto?
Loretto: Well, once I realized he had ditched and I had hoped that he had written a letter and I started to get curious about the pilot. And I did a Google search for the pilot with his name.
Loretto: I got a typical military website and then I also got the accident report which I had already got a copy of. And then, I got a listing for a marketing firm in Boston, Massachusetts and I thought, well, it’s got to be connected because he was from Rhode Island and what are the chances, right?
Loretto: So, I go to the website for the marketing firm, I message the owner of the firm and I tell him, I’m looking to find out whether or not he’s related to Roger W. Sundin. That my father Frank G. Thompson served in a B17 during World War II and his pilot was Roger. And the next morning, 8 ‘o clock in the morning I get an email back saying, “You have indeed found the right family. My father was a World War II pilot on a B17 and served in England and he’s celebrating his celebrating his 93rd birthday on Sunday.”
Loretto: [Laughs] Well, if that was not me sitting down I would have fallen down.
Loretto: Not only had I found him, he was alive.
Fisher: Yeah and sharp.
Loretto: And I didn’t know he was sharp and I prayed he was sharp because I thought, oh my goodness gracious, I don’t know anyone that knew my father, especially at that age and during a war. I asked his son. I told him the story and I asked him if he would be so kind as to ask his dad if he would be willing to meet me. And they had gone to celebrate his birthday and then he emailed me back and said, “Well, I told my father your remarkable story and he was visibly moved by the fact that you had found him.” And he said that absolutely, it would be wonderful to meet me and I could stay in their guest room.
Fisher: Oh. [Laughs]
Loretto: It was all set up and I felt like I was meeting a celebrity.
Fisher: Sure, of course.
Loretto: And Roger was wonderful. I mean, when I got to the door I had met Geraldine, Roger Junior’s wife, and then Roger Junior, and then Gloria, Roger senior’s wife. And then here he comes. He’s 6’2. He was 6’4 in the war.
Loretto: Because my father would write about him and say, oh, he’s got to be about 6’4, you should see me following after him. Well, my father was 5’10 and light.
Loretto: So, I can imagine the two of them, it had to be pretty comical actually. [Laughs]
Loretto: So he was fabulous. He just was very welcoming. He started to read the letters. He said, you know, I never knew your father’s name was Frank. And I thought, oh my gosh, isn’t that something when you think about it? All they have is their last name on their uniform.
Fisher: Yeah, that’s it.
Loretto: Father referred to him as “Big Sundin.” The only reason I knew he was Roger initially was because we were trying with the Goldfish Club to try to find out what happened and they said, well, do you have the names of any of the crew members. And my mom says, well, in Mike’s room. One brother’s name is Mike. In his room he had a crew photo. So he brings it out and I’m thinking, what are the chances and I turn it over and in my step father’s printing it was very distinguishable there are the names of all of the crew members and their positions and that was what enabled me to get in touch with the Goldfish Club and find the ditching.
Fisher: Wow! So, did Roger give you the details on the ditching?
Loretto: Well, actually, just prior to my arriving I was typing on Wednesday and I was going on Saturday. And on Wednesday I had finished the May letters and nothing was written and I opened up the June letters and the second or third letter in was an entire explanation of every single thing that happened in the ditching.
Loretto: Well, what my father was willing to tell his brother.
Loretto: Because then Sundin, when he had read it he told me, oh well, what your father didn’t tell you was this and what your father didn’t tell you was that. So, working with him and with Gloria because Gloria would help me communicate with Roger on the phone and I was able to get so many details and connect so many dots that I wouldn’t have been able to do for the book. So, the book is so beautiful because the way we set it up is that the rear is joining me, right?
Loretto: We set off where I was. We know my father is dead. We know that don’t know very much about him and then boom we find the letters. Then, we start to read the letters together and then I learn something. I travel somewhere or then we read more letters together. Then I find out something about my family. And then we read some more letters together and I meet Big Sundin. We actually through the Goldfish Club, Roger and I were invited to the Not Forgotten Association. It’s a garden party held at Buckingham Palace. And of course Roger and Gloria didn’t travel anymore, at the time he was 95 and she would have been 94. So, my brother and I went and represented them and my father at the event at Buckingham Palace, pretty amazing journey.
Fisher: [Laughs] I would say. Wow! What an adventure the whole thing is. And I’m sure the bonding you must feel with your dad who you hardly knew must be so entirely different.
Loretto: It’s funny that you would mention that because at one point when I was at Sundin’s and we were all sitting around having dinner and Roger junior is sitting next to me. Now, this will give you an example of how close I felt to my father at that point. We were all talking about different things of the letters and I turned to Roger junior and I said, “Well, my father told me this, and this, and this” and he looked at me and he said, “He told you?” And I thought oh my gosh, you’re right! [Laughs] He never told me.
Loretto: But he told his family, but to me, he was telling me.
Loretto: And so I felt a big connection. I did a lot of things that he done. I went to all the places that I could possibly go to that he had been to, out to Sioux Falls, out to Yuma, out to March Field, California. I went over to the 95th Bomb Group in Europe. I met the Goldfish Club. I actually went for a flight in a B17 aeroplane.
Fisher: Oh, wow.
Loretto: I sat in his seat and listened to the plane, and looked out the windows because I wanted to feel. And so for me, that made me feel so incredibly close to him. We all talk about him now because not only do we have the book that I published, but we have all the raw letters, the three volumes that I gave my siblings.
Loretto: And so now we talk about him as though we knew him and we’ve known him our whole lives. And this is such a gift because if you think about it, for 50 years we never talked about him, and here was this incredible life that had been basically dismissed.
Loretto: Only because we didn’t know anything.
Loretto: But now with genealogy and your ancestry and then this treasure trove of letters that he had left behind. I always like to say it’s the voice we’ve longed to hear. Because I can hear his voice, I don’t know what it sounds like, but I can hear his voice in all those letters. He sent a lot of pictures home and so I have all the pictures and memorabilia.
Fisher: It’s just incredible. Wow. What is the name of your book and how can people get that if they’d like to read this?
Loretto: The name of the book is “An Unexpected Coddiwomple” Coddiwomple is an English slang that means to travel with purpose to an unknown destination. It’s a Coddiwomple. It’s a journey. The book is available on Amazon.com Barns&Noble.com Target.com Walmart.com BooksaMillion.com Pretty much if you Google “An Unexpected Coddiwomple” you’ll be able to find where you can get the book.
Fisher: She’s Loretto Thompson. Author of a book about the dad she barely knew but know so well now. Loretto thank you so much for your time. This is a great story and we appreciate it. And I really look forward to seeing where this goes from here because I sense it isn’t over yet.
Loretto: [Laughs] It’s been pretty exciting.
Fisher: And coming up next. Dr. Henry Louis Gates joins us to fill us in on his latest episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Classic Rewind Episode 361
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Henry Louis Gates
Fisher: Hey genies, it is Fisher here and I hope you enjoy this Classic Rewind edition of Extreme Genes! Dr. Henry Louis Gates is back with me on the phone from Finding Your Roots on PBS. And Dr. Gates, what have we got coming up this week on the show?
Dr. Gates: Well, this week's episode is entitled, No Irish Need Apply, and our featured guests are Jim Gaffigan and Jane Lynch. Jane of course is the famous actor and Jim, a famous comedian. And we reveal the challenges that their Irish ancestors faced in order to become Americans. Let's start with Jim Gaffigan. Jim grew up in the Midwest and he had absolutely no idea that his maternal line in America began in Maine! Predating the influx of Irish people who came because of the potato famine of 1845. Jim's mother's ancestors immigrated to America sometime in the early 1800s. Most people don't know this, that there were Irish people migrating before the potato famine. But after the potato famine began in 1845, a huge wave of impoverished and unskilled Irish people immigrated to the States, igniting of course an anti Irish fervor. And soon after, Jim's ancestors like many other Irish Americans in their community fled Maine for the American Frontier. Jim's great, great grandfather ended up in Fort Dodge, Iowa where he eventually became a prominent businessman and a pillar of the town. Now on Jim's father's side, we found a long line of Irish American coal miners. And at the time, they were no established unions, so coal companies essentially controlled their employees' lives, compelling them to live in company housing and shop at company owned stores.
Dr. Gates: And by the mid 1860s, the situation reached the boiling point. Miners were fighting their employers and each other in an effort to unionize. So Jim's family got tangled up in these politics. He was 74% Irish and 24% English, and Jim Gaffigan's DNA cousin is Derek Jeter!
Dr. Gates: Yeah, because Derek’s mom is white and of Irish descent and there you go. Our second guest was the famous Jane Lynch. Jane's paternal grandmother, Mary Lynsky was born a poor farm girl of Ireland. She had absolutely no chance of ever inheriting her family's farm, so she opted to immigrate to America when she was a teenager. And she made her way to Youngstown, Ohio where she found a job as a maid, as many Irish female immigrants did, working and living in the home of an older Irish woman who was likely sympathetic to her plight. As a maid not having to pay for room and board, Mary was able to save enough money to finance her brother, John's journey to America. John then brought their younger sister, Sara over. And this is a classic example, Scott, of what we call chain migration.
Fisher: Yes, my grandmother did this.
Dr. Gates: Really?
Fisher: Yep. She came over and worked and brought over a brother and then brought over another brother, and then the three of them worked and brought over the whole rest of the family.
Dr. Gates: And that's the way it's supposed to be, man.
Dr. Gates: But Jane's grandmother did more than help her siblings. She took her savings, moved to Chicago and married Jane's grandfather, a fellow Irish immigrant, then helped him to purchase the home. And this home would become central to Mary's family for generation and generations. Jane even visited it when she was a child and shared with us that her grandmother had come full circle in a sense, making her home a hub for new Irish immigrants, renting out the top two floors of this home to new arrivals. So she was like the queen of chain migration.
Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]
Dr. Gates: Jane's father's side, we were able to go back to her second great grandfather, John Lynsky, born around 1795 in Ireland. On her mother's side, ready for this? Back to her 7th great grandfathers, Piere and Sven both likely born in the mid to late 1600s in Sweden. And she too has a DNA cousin, Mia Farrow. [Laughs]
Fisher: Oh wow! [Laughs] He's Dr. Henry Louis Gates. His show of course is Finding Your Roots on PBS. It’s on Wednesday nights. Check your local listings for times. Good to talk to you again, Skip. Have a great week and we'll check in with you again next week.
Dr. Gates: Okay, bye, bye.
Fisher: And David Allen Lambert is coming up next with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Classic Rewind Episode 361
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back at it for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And Dave, we have a question from Jan in Houston, Texas and she says, "Fish and Dave, what is your heirloom succession plan? I have collected numerous family items over the years and am terrified they will get tossed when I am gone!" Great question, Jan. Dave, I guess you can take the first crack at it. I've got some thoughts.
David: Well, I followed suit with what my grandmother used to do. She would go and put little notes inside of teacups or whatever the item was that she wanted to see a certain child get and then of course after she died, we knew who got what, providing that somebody didn't swap the notes, right.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
David: [Laughs] So, what I've done in a lot of cases, especially things that have been handed down for generations in my family is I have taken acid free stickers with a number, put it into an Excel spreadsheet and then listed it out. Now the idea basically is, I have two daughters and they'll play rock paper scissors or shoot and decide who gets what. Of course my wife could also be around or I might have siblings around, so I mean, the idea of my will being that all my personal estate I leave to my spouse and then to be divided amongst my children is the basic part. Then you might have things that are maybe not something your family would want that you acquired that you want to have go to a museum or back to a historical society, because maybe kids are really not going to see the significance in it, but it’s important for you to see a document returned. That's where you want to start creating a list in like Excel or making some sort of a donation sheet that is in your personal papers with your estate planning that says, "Upon my death, the letters of my great granduncle in the Civil War are going to go to the Ohio Historical Society." Something like that.
Fisher: I think those are all great ideas. And then I would add to it what I've already done and I continue to work on is, I have an ongoing book, it’s just a wordbook that I've created with photographs of the items, what the stories are and then I share them with all the kids. I keep it updated and it’s available on our Google Shared Drive. And so, when they see some of these things, they'll know immediately, "Okay, this is what this is. This is what the significance is." And then if we kind of combine what you've done and you put a sticker on them or something, "This goes to so and so. This goes to so and so." At least those that are left, they're going to know what they are and they can make a choice as to where they go. The other thing is, is that there are going to be items that a lot of your kids probably won't be interested in, but maybe there's a cousin out there who's kind of like us, genealogists and they would want those things and there's nothing wrong with passing it down another line or even to a very distant cousin. I recently helped a third cousin of mine obtain a portrait of her second great grandmother who was a sister to my great grandfather through another cousin who she didn't know. And so, you know, these things are all being passed along. The one who actually provided the portrait was just delighted that it was going somewhere where it would be appreciated, because he had no kids. He's got two siblings, but they have no kids. So he's excited that this is now in a family where it can get passed down.
David: That's the type of thing. You don't want to see your stuff ending up on eBay or thrown away because nobody knows the significance. So at the bare minimum, at least do what you're doing and take pictures and give the story, so they know the significance that it is a family heirloom and just not a plate in the back of your China cabinet.
Fisher: You know, that's the other thing, since there's often only one such original item, as least everybody gets the pictures of them and the stories that go with them.
David: That's true.
Fisher: All right, David. Thanks so much. And thank you Jan for the question. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can email us at [email protected]. David, talk to you next week.
David: Talk to you then, my friend.
Fisher: All right, that's our show for this week. Thank you so much for joining us, genies. Thanks to Loretto Thompson for taking the time to come on and share her incredible story, connecting her with her dad's hero from World War II. If you missed any of it, of course catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, we're all over the place. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're nice, normal family!