Episode 362 - Man Who Survived Pearl Harbor Attack Has Written His Story/Professor Uses AI, Death Certs, And Census Records To Tackle Pandemic

podcast episode Feb 14, 2021

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin Family Histoire News with the story of the history eating fast in America. Then, it’s a great article on where your family history materials will go after you’re gone. Another victim of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has been identified through DNA and has been buried with family 80 years later. Hear who he was. Next, a woman has passed at 115 years old who had more to say about Warren Harding than Donald Trump! Catch her story. Hold the presses! It seems we may have one more person living who was born in the 19th century. Catch what David has to say about this 124-year-old man. And finally, a family Bible has been found in an old house and returned to descendants of those named in the Bible. And you won’t believe what family that is!

Next, Fisher catches up with Lou Conter, one of the two remaining survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack on the USS Arizona. Lou has written his life story that is now available. He explains how he survived the explosion of the ship, and what he did after 1941, and after World War II. Lou is now 99-years-old.

Then, Dr. Joe Price of Brigham Young University talks with Fisher about his latest project. It involves artificial intelligence to read handwriting on death certificates, searching digitized newspapers and research of census records to find what strategies really worked in the 1918 pandemic.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates is back to tell us about his newest episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS. The ancestral stories he shares this week are jaw dropping!

David then returns for another listener question on Ask Us Anything.

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

Transcript of Episode 362

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 362

Fisher: And welcome America to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes, and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree, and watch the nuts fall out. Boy, who do we have for guests today? Let’s start with Lou Conter! Lou is one of the last two survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in 1941. He’s 99 years old. He’s written his life story so you’ll hear a little about the attack, other things he participated in, in World War II, a fascinating visit coming up in about 10 minutes. And then later in the show, I’m going to talk to Dr. Joe Price from Brigham Young University. He’s heading up an amazing research project concerning the 1918 pandemic, and it involves AI handwriting analysis, plus using death certificates and census records. You got to hear what they’re doing and how it applies to the pandemic today. That’s coming up later in the show. If you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, you know it is time. Go to our website ExtremeGenes.com or go to our Facebook page and get signed up. You get a blog from me each week, a couple of links to past and present shows, and links to stories you will find fascinating as a genealogist. Right now, let’s get fascinated by David Allen Lambert. He is in Boston. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello David.

David: Hey, how are you sir?

Fisher: I am doing grand. Thank you very much.

David: I’ve got something to tempt your appetite though. My first story, which of course you know about which is on ExtremeGenes.com is restauranting through history. You know, it’s funny, you think about restaurants and how some of them range from being quick-serve to something that’s you know, sit-down and many courses. Restaurants early on were really focusing on speed-eating because they want to get you in and out of there. In fact, one of the things that they tried to do was make the seating more uncomfortable so you kind of want to not stick around for so long, and you’re in and out in 8 to 10 minutes, 20 minutes maybe.

Fisher: Oh yeah, and air conditioning too. You ever go into a restaurant and it’s just freezing? That’s why. This article goes even deeper than that because it talks about the fact that Americans have been known for eating fast, going back to the early 19th century. And they share some quotes from foreigners at that time that talked about how fast we eat. So, it’s a pretty incredible article. 

David: My mother would say, “What are you, a firefighter?” And I would storm off to the other room to watch TV or play video games when I was younger. And I think that’s part of that whole speed-eating gene, [Laughs] If there is one.

Fisher: Yep.

David: Well, you know, we talked about Ask Us Anything recently in regard to what will happen to your stuff, your genealogical notes, and a great story which you’ll find on ExtremeGenes.com is by the Atlanta Journal Constitution where will your years of genealogy research end up? I’m starting to wonder if they listen to our show before they contact us?   

Fisher: Perhaps so.

David: There you go. In conjunction with having Lou as our guest this week, I thought I’d bring up a story which touched my heart a little bit. As you know, many sailors were never identified from the West Virginia, or the Oklahoma, and many other places at Pearl. And now, in May of this year Navy Fireman Third Class, Welbon Ashby, will be going home to Centertown, Kentucky. He was on the USS West Virginia and had been buried as an unknown until recently.

Fisher: So, from 1941 till today, 80 years later he’s finally going home identified.

David: That’s some serious closure for a family. And there’s more and more them that’s happening all the time with the DNA matches. You know, it’s tough to talk about politics and genealogy, but I just want to say that in this case, somebody complaining about Warren G. Harding who actually was alive when he was president, has just passed. At 115 years old, Iris Westman of North Dakota died. She had more to say about Harding then she did on our previous president number 45. 

Fisher: Isn’t that interesting. Yeah. She was asked to compare Harding and Trump. She said she didn’t really know that much about President Trump. She just remembered Warren G. Harding. [Laughs]

David: Well you know, after you live 115 years, 40 years is kind of a blink of an eye. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah.

David: So that’s great. Well, you know, she’s a kid compared to the person in this next story. In fact, he could probably have babysat her because he’s nine years older.

Fisher: Oh! [Laughs]

David: Yeah. Fish, remember we thought that we had the last of the people from the 19th century dying on us? Not the case perhaps. Manuel Garcia Hernandez may be the oldest man in the world at 124. Born in Mexico December 24, 1896 and he has a birth certificate to prove it. This fella is a farmer, lived in the same area near Veracruz. The Guinness Book of World Records is checking into and it may be the case, so we may have one man or actually one person left from the 19th century in the world and he’s a 124.   

Fisher: Wow! In Mexico? 

David: In Mexico. Yeah.

Fisher: And he says he misses farming.

David: He does miss farming. But you know, they always say the secret to long life is hard work. My grandfather used to say if you rest, you rust. Well, this guy is not rusted.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: I’d like to know his secret. [Laughs]

Fisher: Wow.

David: Well, you know, I always love the “Lost and Found” stories. And a great one came up recently for person who was going through their home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and they discovered a 19th century Bible and broken rosary beads in the back corner of a house, buried in insulation. And she did some research and wanted to give it back. And I thought to myself, wow, that’s a really good story. Then I find out who she gives it back to. Joe Biden’s sister. Hey, how lucky is that? I had one family Bible returned a couple of years ago. This person has two large family Bibles. 

Fisher: Wow!

David: Lucky them. [Laughs]

Fisher: And did you see the size of that bible? It was used during the inauguration. It was massive.

David: I hope they didn’t drop it, because it could break somebody’s toe. It’s huge. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, that’s I have for you this week from Beantown, but I wanted to extend the wishes that if you’re not a member of American Ancestors after 175 years, we’d love for you to be a member. And don’t forget, you can save $20 by using the coupon code EXTREME when you go to become a member on AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: All right David. We’ll talk to you at the backend of the show for Ask Us Anything. Boy, we got a lot of great stuff coming up for you today. Later in the show, Dr. Henry Louis Gates is coming back. He’s going to be talking about his upcoming addition of Finding Your Roots on PBS, and you will not believe some of the stories he’s going to share with us coming up a little bit later on. Plus we’re going to talk to a professor from Brigham Young University about his research project in the pandemics involving a lot of family history and AI that reads handwriting. Unbelievable. And coming up next, we’ll talk to a man that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and went on to fight many more battles in that and other wars, we’re going to talk to Lou Conter whose written a new book about his life. 99 years old. He’s coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 362

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Lou Conter

Fisher: Well, my next guest on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show is Lou Conter. And Lou was first on the show about four, five years ago, as we talked about his experience as one of the lone surviving crew members of the USS Arizona that was hit by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Lou is now 99 years old and he is an author. Lou welcome back to Extreme Genes.

Lou: [Laughs] Thank you very much. You know Scott, two years on Pearl Harbor, Louann, my daughter, and son talked to me and said, “You ought to be writing a book on your life” I said, oh no, I just did my job. I trained well. I did my job the best I could. I always believed in doing the best you could in any job you do, so, that’s what I did. And over the last two years with Mary, and Jimmy, and Louann, they got it together. I didn’t do much. Just sit here in the chair and wait for them to ask me questions.   

Fisher: Well, you did the hard part Lou. You actually lived through this.

Lou: Yeah.

Fisher: I’m sure the rest is pretty easy after that. [Laughs]

Lou: Yeah. [Laughs] Well, I’m not a hero. I just did my job.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Lou: Saved the lives the way I had to. You know.

Fisher: Let’s talk about this a little bit for people who aren’t familiar with your story. I mean, you pretty much went right from basic training onto the Arizona.

Lou: Yeah. I was in the Navy in 1939 San Diego Boot Camp, and then I was assigned to the USS Arizona, which is anchored in Long Beach at the time. Those days we had hammocks and sea bags, went aboard the ship, reported aboard. I went down, they said “Here’s your hook for your hammock, there’s your locker, and I’ll see you on deck in 20 minutes.” [Laughs]   

Fisher: [Laughs] That was pretty quick. And then of course, Roosevelt assigned pretty much all the Navy to go out to Pearl Harbor as the Japanese were beginning their aggressive efforts over there in the far east, and the rest is pretty much history. Let’s talk a little bit about what happened that day, once again, as you recall it.

Lou: Well, we went out to Honolulu, Pearl Harbor April 1st, 1940 from maneuvers. And we had two of the maneuvers and they said that the safest to stay in Pearl Harbor, so we changed from April 1st, 1940. And so we were out there for 18 months before Pearl Harbor. So, half the fleet was out and half the fleet was in.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Lou: So, we were out on maneuvers 26th of November. We were supposed to go out on Monday the 8th in the afternoon after the other half of the fleet went out. They ordered us into port on Friday the 5th. I was on the Bridge. I was a Quartermaster at that time, and I was Quartermaster of the watch. Captain Van Valkenburgh and Admiral Kidd, they didn’t like coming into port. They said we should not be coming into port until Monday afternoon. We are not supposed to all be in there together. But we were ordered in by Washington.

Fisher: When did you know you were being hit the Japanese?

Lou: Going on watch, we had a color guard there after the band, to play colors for 8’o clock. And about five minutes to eight the first planes came across and we saw the red stars and knew exactly what was going on. Our guns were fired in 30 seconds and we only lasted seven or eight minutes. Eight minutes after eight we blew up. Took a bomb in starboard side number 2 turret, 1 through 5 decks, and the lower end and blew up a million pounds of powder, and that’s what caused the big fire and everything.  

Fisher: Wow!

Lou: Everything was ablaze from the main mast forward.

Fisher: And how did you survive?

Lou: Well, it’s just one of those things. I was Quartermaster of the watch and I was between number three turret and four mast, the main mast. We had a little office in there. And when the bomb hit there, Commander Fuqua came out of number four turret, because the bomb on the long end knocked him out for a few minutes. And he came to, and he took charge after we had blown up and he knew that the Admiral and Captain were both killed. Everybody was coming out of the bridge towards the quarterdeck, the main mast, were on fire and they were burning. In those days you had shorts on, you know, we had 15-16 of them laid down on deck and it was about 30 minutes after the raised alarm, 40 minutes. We got them in the motor launches that were alongside the deck and headed for the hospital. We got them in the hospital and then we went back to help take the lines in to fight the fire Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. And then we all crept out. There was only about a 100 of us that got off the ship. The rest were all killed. 1,177.   

Fisher: Oh!

Lou: We had to let the ship cool down for four, five days, then we went back and dove under the ship. We got a few bodies out and that was all the officers corps. We only did that for about four or five days. Fireman Geiselman was our Executive Officer, they made him Captain and he declared Marshall Law immediately. So, he called Pete and I and then we had a machine gun on the back of a jeep, put out an order that nobody was to be on the streets after sunset or before sunrise or they get shot. And that law was in effect from December the 7th 1941 until May of 1945. 

Fisher: Wow!

Lou: And it worked quite well because everybody knew we meant what we said. If we told them to sit down and shut up, they sat down and shut up.

Fisher: So, tell me about the book, Lou, and what areas of your life it covers, because obviously the Arizona is one big chunk of it.

Lou: The Arizona, and then I had had my orders. Me and Johnnie Johnson were in fifth division. He was a Gunner’s Mate. He says, “Lou, let’s go to flight school. We got our orders to go to flight school.” And we hit Pensacola the last week in January and we worked seven days a week and seven nights a week and we got our wings on November the 15th, 1942.

Fisher: Wow! So, did you spend the rest of the war then as a pilot?

Lou: Yeah I was a pilot. I was transferred to San Diego to VP-11, which is Patrol Squad 11 who had PBY-5s and they held us there for a month while they painted us black. We were the first Black Cat Squadron. We took off for San Diego, 19 and half hours later landed in Kaneohe Bay, 12 of us. And that was our Pacific Black Cat Start.   

Fisher: Okay.

Lou: We were operating out of Midway there for a month and a half and they ordered us off to Perth, Australia. It took us six days to get to Perth.

Fisher: Australia was really a great base for the allies at that time right, and fortunately. Because I know the Japanese were planning on invading it at one point, but after Midway they had to change their plans.

Lou: Had to change their plans after Midway. And then we operated out of Perth, the north-western corner of Australia going up to Temora and southern Philippines and bringing people out and everything. And then the third week in September ’43 we’d go out at 5:30 at night and come in at 8:30 in the morning, 13-14 hours and do our night bombing runs at 2’oclock, 3’o clock in the morning.

Fisher: Okay.

Lou: The two Japanese channels anchored up the coast of New Guinea, on the east coast. So, we went out there one night at 5:30, and at 5:15 we had two 1,000 pound bombs, two 500. And we got up the coast of New Guinea about seven miles off the coast towards Wewak. And threw a shell through the waste hatch where we had parachute flares. We carried parachute flares and then we’d drop them every 30 minutes at midnight, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 to keep the Japanese awake, so when they fought the ground forces the next day they’d be tired. That shell went through the waste hatch and exploded one of the parachute flares and we were 700-feet and seven miles off the coast and we had to land immediately in the open sea, because we had two 1000 pounders and two 500s and we were on fire. Got everybody out and got changed into our PPC said, “I want you guys to say your prayers. We’re seven miles offshore. It’s going to be dark within half an hour. I don’t think anybody can swim seven miles with those sharks out there in the water, so say your prayers.” And I said, “Bull(bleep). I said, get in a line, and hold hands and tread water lightly and save your strength. You’re not dead yet.” And it was about 40 minutes and our training officer saw us on fire and came back over and he made a pass over 52-feet and saw that we didn’t have any lifejackets or anything else. So, they dropped one of their lifeboats to us. I swam out and got it, and got the guys into it. We got into New Guinea at about 2:30 in the morning. Hid in the jungle that night, the next day and the next night we’re sitting there and I said, hear that, that’s a PT boat out there. They’re probably looking for us. So, told the guys to be quiet and stay in the jungle because you could be 100 feet in the jungle and the Japanese couldn’t find you. So, we just shut up and didn’t make any noise or anything, didn’t fire or anything else, just stayed quiet. So, we went out and there was a PT boat there. About 100 feet ahead of us, we got guns pointed at us. I said, “Turn those guns away.” He said, “That’s Conter. Come on aboard.” So, we went aboard and I breached him. And he said, “You’re not going back.” I said, “I have to go back and get the other seven men.” He said, “You’re not going back.” He said, “You’re staying here.” So anyway, 9:01 they went in a boat, went, got the guys by name, got them out of the jungle, got them in our boats and they were back 45 minutes to ten of the PT boats.    

Fisher: Wow. [Laughs]

Lou: And when we got them aboard, they all kissed the deck and it’s the first time they spoke since we got shot down.

Fisher: Unbelievable. Well, if you want to read more stories about Lou Conter in his own words, the book is “The Lou Conter Story.” It’s available on Amazon and all the usual places. And Lou congratulations by the way, I’m hearing that it’s like the number one book in history in the country right now. You’re a bestselling author!

Lou: Oh, it is?

Fisher: Yeah.

Lou: Oh, gee.

Fisher: How many pages is your book, Lou?

Lou: 280-300.

Fisher: Well, I’m sure there’s some great stories in there.

Lou: Warren and Ness did a great job that, and Louann, and Jimmy, and Mary.

Fisher: Wow.

Lou: They did a great job on putting that book together. And Warren said, “Your life before you went into the Navy is worth a book.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Lou: When I was born, in ’23 my young sister was born, we were on our way to Gallup, New Mexico my dad was foreman of a road gang out on the road to New Mexico. We lived in tents out there in Navajo Indian reservation for two years before we went back to Denver for my older sister to go to school. And it was quite an experience in those days. 

Fisher: Wow! What a life. 99 years old. Well, it’s been a honor again to talk to you Lou, and congratulations.

Lou: Thank you very much.

Fisher: Congrats on the book. And I know I speak for everybody, thanking you for all you did in the war and afterwards to serve your country. And I hope people will buy the book. It’s the Lou Conter Story, C-O-N-T-E-R get it on Amazon right now. And hope to talk to you again on your 100th birthday Lou. It’s coming up soon, isn’t it?

Lou: September. I’ll be 100 on September 13th.

Fisher: Unbelievable. God speed, sir. And thank you again for your time.

Lou: Thank you very much. And I hope they all read it and all in high school learn survival. My main thing is, don’t panic if you get into tough situations. Sit down and make a plan.

Fisher: [Laughs] I love it. Thank you so much. And coming up next, we’ll talk to a college professor who’s got a project going involving family history, pandemics of the past, and how they affect our current situation. Wait till you hear what he and his team are doing. It’s all coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.  

Segment 3 Episode 362

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Joe Price

Fisher: Welcome back. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. You know, it’s not too often that we go through a pandemic, thankfully. But we went through one a century ago and who knew that there’d be data available there that could help us today. And that data is being mined by the BYU Record Linking Lab and Dr. Joe Price heads it up. And Dr. Price welcome to the show! This is a fascinating project you’ve got going on here right now and you’ve got a lot of kids involved.

Dr. Price: Yeah, that’s one of the best parts of it.

Fisher: So, fill us in on where you came up with this idea and how it’s going so far.

Dr. Price: Yeah, sure. So, even before the pandemic started I was working on a project with Martha Bailey and some other people to extract cause of death from death certificates. Cause of death is really helpful for studying a bunch of public health interventions in the past. And then the pandemic hit and we realized we were in a fantastic place to use that data to understand the 1918 pandemic to maybe draw some lessons for the present.

Fisher: So, you’re working with FamilySearch on this and FamilySearch obviously uses a ton of volunteers. And part of the databases available on FamilySearch are these death certificates. Is this a standard operating procedure to get the cause of death on most death certificates, some of them, or are you having to go back and have volunteers get those causes for you?

Dr. Price: Well, that’s the nice thing about what we’re doing is that FamilySearch has had these death certificates and when they have volunteers index the death certificates they go the name and the death date, and other genealogical information.

Fisher: Right.

Dr. Price: But they never indexed the cause of death. And so, we could have come back and had humans index those millions of records, or what we decided to do was use machine learning and try to do it in an automated way. So, we’ve been able to automatically extract the cause of death from all of those images.

Fisher: From the handwriting?

Dr. Price: That’s correct.

Fisher: Wow! That’s a huge win there. Did you have the technology yourself or did you have to develop it?

Dr. Price: Well, the nice thing is the family history technology lab at BYU has been working on handwriting recognition for a long time. So, we’ve been able to use some of the tools they’ve developed. But there’s also tools being developed on Facebook and Adobe, and other places to try to do the same task.

Fisher: I see.

Dr. Price: So, we’re able to use some of the code that others have created and combine it with stuff that we’ve created to try to automate this task.

Fisher: How many death certificates have you included in the project so far?

Dr. Price: So, we’ve done a whole bunch of years in Ohio. And then we reached out to Family Search and were able to get the death certificate images for another eleven states. So, we focused on all of the death certificates from 1918. So, even though we’re looking for people who died of influenza and pneumonia, we ended up getting everything. So, I think we processed a few million records but the process now is in a good position to maybe do all of the death certificates. So, that’s going to be tens of millions of people and our hope is that this might encourage archives to make the image of their historic death certificates publically available, and we could use the same process on all of those records.

Fisher: I see. So, will these causes of death then be included in the indexed version of the death certificates with FamilySearch then moving forward? Are you kind of giving it back?

Dr. Price: Oh yeah. Whenever we do a project with FamilySearch we’re always giving back. So, we have another project where we’re auto-indexing things from census records, fields that were indexed before. So, in that case we’re always giving the data back to FamilySearch so that it can become part of the discovery experience for people doing family history.

Fisher: Wow. So, you’re talking about 1918, yet, the pandemic lasted all the way to 1920. Am I correct to assume you’re going to move that forward to cover that three year span or is there a cut-off?

Dr. Price: No, it will move out. And we also want to look at influenza rates prior to that. So that you can get an idea what the typical pattern looked like. But for most of our patterns we’ve been focusing on that fall of 1918 because that’s when a lot of the public health interventions were put into place. So, we’re using those public health interventions which you can read about in newspapers to see if they worked. And use it to estimate what the impacts of those interventions were on death rates during the pandemic.

Fisher: So, what have you learned? What’s it told you?

Dr. Price: So, there’s only one project that we’ve looked at and we think it’s an important one. We focused on Ohio and Massachusetts and we looked at every city that had at least 25,000 people and we pulled through the newspapers and tried to figure out what they did. And we found four cities that basically did nothing. They just decided to ignore the pandemic and not close anything and we found that the death rate in those four cities were about twice as high as otherwise similar cities that did do something. That’s like a lesson we can draw from the past.

Fisher: Yes, absolutely. And what did you learn about the people and how the bug itself transmitted itself.

Dr. Price: Yeah. We’re starting to do some of that by looking at death rates within families. So, we have this feeling that if we see someone die of the flu within a family, within a household that it’s likely the other people were also exposed.

Fisher: Right.

Dr. Price: And that might allow us to look within family variation and the susceptibility. And also working with Jonas Helgertz to look at whether exposure to the flu early on in the pandemic provided some protection later on. The pandemic hit multiple waves. So, some cities got hit early so we can go see if somehow that early exposure maybe had some protective effect later on.

Fisher: So, what are the similarities you’re seeing with the current pandemic to that so far? Have you picked up on any?

Dr. Price: I don’t know. I think the biggest contribution we’re going to make is to make this data available for other people to use.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Dr. Price: We have specific research questions but one of the neat things about the 1918 pandemic is that we can look at long-run effects. So, it might point to things we might want to be careful about you know, ten years down the road when this pandemic is done.

Fisher: Sure. There really are questions, aren’t there? I mean, when you consider, okay, not everybody is going to get a shot. So, this bug is still going to exist out there but how much is it going to spread among those who have been immunized? And then, at what point does it just become part of the normal medical concerns we all have? I mean, they can’t b measuring cases and deaths and all this information we see every day, forevermore. Anymore than we really do that with typical influenza, right?

Dr. Price: That’s right. And my daughter had a really neat insight. I was like, Covid-19 doesn’t seem to be killing teenagers and she said, “Yeah, but we don’t know if it affects us until 40 years from now.” I think she had the kind of foresight to say like, okay, we know it’s not killing teenagers but we don’t know what the long-run consequences are of getting Covid. So, we can go back and look at the 1918 pandemic and say, hey, these are people that didn’t die but they had family members that died so they were probably exposed. Did it affect their lifespan? Did it affect other aspects of their long-run health?

Fisher: Right. And have you seen any hint of the answer to that question yet?

Dr. Price: No. I mean, to do that this is where the family history part comes in, is when you have to link the death records to the census records.

Fisher: Oh, wow, yeah. [Laughs]

Dr. Price: So, actually linking these 1918 deaths back to the 1910 census and then forward to the 1920 census. We can get an idea of who they were living with when they died, so we can kind of think about who was likely in the house that got exposed.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Dr. Price: And then we’ve got to follow those people forward in time to their death records so we can say something about what are the long-run consequences of exposure, even when you don’t die directly from the pandemic.

Fisher: Sure. So, are you able to actually follow like a curve of you know, the growth of the disease through time using the death records?

Dr. Price: Yeah, I mean, the neat about our data is, this is the first time ever that we’ve had daily death counts and it’s also the first time we have it for smaller cities. So, the US government would aggregate death certificate data so you could actually look at monthly rates for all states and then you could look at monthly rates for some of the bigger cities but you could never look at the smaller cities and you could never do it at a daily level. So, in our papers we can actually show exactly what these profiles looked like during the height of the pandemic.

Fisher: So, you can actually watch this? That had to be absolutely amazing when that data started rolling in for you, to see that curve.

Dr. Price: Oh, it was amazing. Carver Coleman is a BYU student that’s been doing amazing work on this. He’s been creating the grafts, showing the profile of the death rates of flu and pneumonia during the 1918 pandemic for specific cities.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Dr. Price: And it’s really insightful because you can see the cities that implement interventions often do it because the death rates are starting to go up. And then you can see them implement their interventions and see what happens as a result.

Fisher: So, you’re able to create a timeline then around their interventions at that point. So, you can say all right, here’s the curve and you can see that. And the monthly thing wouldn’t reveal that nearly as easily, would it?

Dr. Price: No. It might even give you the wrong impression because imagine the intervention happens in the middle of the month. It might actually look like the cities that gave the interventions actually had higher death rates because they’re actually reacting to the death rates rather than causing the death rates. So, the daily data is really a rich way to look at the evolution of the disease within a particular town.

Fisher: Well, he’s Dr. Joe Price. He’s at BYU. And Dr. Price thanks so much for talking about this with us and it’s an amazing project. And we look forward to seeing some of the conclusions you get from it and how it applies to what we’re going through right now.

Dr. Price: Yeah, thanks.

Fisher: And coming up next, Dr. Henry Louis Gates talks about his upcoming episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS, in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 362

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Henry Louis Gates

Fisher: All right, we're back on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show with Dr. Henry Louis Gates from the PBS series, Finding Your Roots. And Dr. Gates, what have you got for us this coming week?

Dr. Gates: Well, the title of this episode is called, The Shirts on Their Backs and it features actors, Christopher Meloni and Tony Shalhoub. Let's start with Christopher Meloni. His great grandfather, Enrico Meloni was an Italian immigrant who sold olive oil on the streets of Boston. His marriage certificate revealed that he was from a tiny village in Italy called Valva, but a closer look at the certificate revealed a fascinating detail, Scott. His parents are listed as unknown. That means that he was an orphan. This research is into the archives of hospitals around Valva where we soon uncovered a heart wrenching story. Enrico was abandoned in a foundling wheel of the hospital as an infant swaddled in rags.

Fisher: Oh no!

Dr. Gates: Yep. There was a wheel at the door and you could just put a newborn baby in the wheel and it would be turned and the baby would be on the other side and the parent would then walk away. The staff named him Enrico and gave him the surname Meloni, which translates to melon in English. So, we think this name was likely intended as a mocking description of the way his head looked. We also found a series of invoices in the hospital archives filed by a nurse who appears to have raised Enrico. Payments stop when Enrico was about 12, suggesting that at that age, he was left to his own devices. But the story has a happy ending however, with Enrico's marriage and immigration to the United States where he raised three children who all prospered. Can you imagine?

Fisher: Wow! Talk about overcoming something, huh?

Dr. Gates: Oh yeah. Christopher Meloni comes from strong stock. All right, Tony Shalhoub. Tony's father Joseph Shalhoub was born in 1912 in Lebanon, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1914, his father William Shalhoub was conscripted into the Ottoman army to fight in World War I. William would die in the war, leaving his wife, Miriam alone with five children. War misfortune was heaped on the family when a plague of locusts descended on the Middle East, just like out of the Bible. Miriam soon perished and Tony's father Joseph, a six year old boy found himself in the care of his older sister, Sophie, who was a teenager and Sophie was a force of nature. She struggled mightily to keep her family alive, she sent pleading letters to relatives in America detailing the harsh she and he siblings faced, even describing how her hair had turned gray as a teenager. And in the course of two years, she was able to raise enough money to transport herself and her three younger sibs to the United States. They arrived in Wisconsin where she joined her extended family and they prospered. Then turning to Tony's maternal side, we focused on his great, great grandfather, whose name was Abdul Naimy and in the 1890s, much of  Abdul's family immigrated from the Ottoman Empire to the United States, settling around Green Bay, Wisconsin where they worked as peddlers. But Abdul remained in the Middle East, living in a region of the Ottoman Empire, which was then part of Armenia. At the time, Armenian Nationals were pressing for political reforms and the Ottoman State decided to make an example of them, and sadly, massacres were conducted. And we found an 1895 newspaper article reporting on the gruesome crucifixion, Scott, of Tony's ancestor.

Fisher: Really?

Dr. Gates: A crucifixion. It described Abdul's being nailed hand and foot to a cross and left to suffer many hours before being killed by a lance. Isn’t it amazing, you look at somebody on TV and all those stories are there like shadows of history that are hovering in your genome, hovering on your family tree.

Fisher: And they stand on their shoulders.

Dr. Gates: And they stand on their shoulders. And our job is to unlock that vault and to release them so they can tell their stories, both to the guests, to the world and to brilliant journalists, like Scott Fisher.

Fisher: Ta da! [Laughs] We'll talk to you again in April when you're back with new episodes. And always fun to keep up with you, Dr. Gates. Thanks so much.

Dr. Gates: Okay, bye, bye.

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert with another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 5 Episode 362

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back at it one more time for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back. And Dave, our question comes from Rand in Austin, Texas and Rand writes, "Guys, I'm thinking of writing a book on my family history discoveries. I hardly know where to begin, thoughts please." [Laughs] Wow! I mean, where do we begin, Dave? There's so much to that question.

David: Oh, I know. I was 12 when I typed up my first 13 page genealogy and gave it to some genealogical libraries, including my own, that has it now in their typescript collection.

Fisher: Wow!

David: So, you can really do it at any point now with word processing. And you can go to all sorts of different extents with that. I mean, we have a new British repress at NEHGS that's been doing some really award winning books. I mean, of course it costs to produce these. But you can also on your own budget self produce them and do them as print on demand. I mean, you do these for your own family.

Fisher: Yeah, I do these for my own family. I've done 13 or 14. I just am finishing up one right now that I've been sitting on over a period of time. Here's the thing, Dave, my wife, Julie is getting ready for retirement soon and she's thinking, "Okay, I'm going to write this book on my dad's side when I'm done." and my comment to her was, "No, no, no, it doesn't work that way." What you have to do is basically write a series of articles over time and then start to collect them and then have documents that you can illustrate it with or photographs that you can illustrate it with and obviously you want to keep track of your sources and put it together that way.

David: Sure.

Fisher: Now, you can create books, but when you do that, you also have to keep in mind, who is your audience? Is this intended for a broad research group that's going to read this or for just your own family? Maybe you've got a two or three page story about an ancestor and that you can just put on Ancestry.com linked to their page on their family tree that you've put up there or on FamilySearch the same way.

David: Right.

Fisher: So, these are all things you have to consider and then you've got to think about, well, how do I have it published? Do I just want to print it myself? I use a printer, a publisher who will actually create incredible bindings with lovely gold foil lettering on them, and I create 10 or 15 copies for the family and this serves a great purpose, because it makes sure that if I were to lose everything, the house went up in flames or whatever, that these copies are spread throughout the country and throughout the world. I actually have a daughter who lives in Germany, so that the material that I've researched is never lost.

David: That's true.

Fisher: And that's the thing that I really am excited about. The other aspect is, is I always have this strange thought in the back of my head that if something ever happened to the internet, some kind of wild attack and we went into some kind of digital war, we don't lose that material, because it's been printed.

David: Yeah, that printer that you buy is a very worthwhile thing.

Fisher: Yeah!

David: Because digital doesn’t always mean forever.

Fisher: That's right. Paper lasts longer than digital.

David: Um hmm, I would think so. I mean, I don't know about you, but I don't want to find out, in 500 years my descendants have nothing, because the sole thumb drive that I created for my genealogy is now corrupt.

Fisher: Yeah, right? [Laughs]

David: Your genealogies were done simpler back then. I mean, in the 19th century, I mean, NEHGS is taking 45 years, been collecting them and they've been written for decades before and they were done by correspondence. That's why a lot of the people get frustrated and they say, "Oh, there's no footnotes" or "there's no sources here." because they were done by, "Dear Mrs. Jones, I understand we're cousins. Can you tell me about our grandparents?" They didn’t supply documents back in the 19th or early 20th century. And of course, not all genealogies were done to the standard that we have today, so you can always do what I say is, supplement update genealogy from the 1890s that you love, but you know that you have more facts than they did. That's called a genealogy redo.

Fisher: Great question, Rand. Good luck with your efforts and we look forward to seeing your book somewhere down the line. Dave thanks for coming on again and we'll talk to you again next week.

David: All right, my friend, talk to you soon.

Fisher: And if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. Well, 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, Spotify, all those places. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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