Episode 364 - Families Exchange World War I Pandemic Letters / “Show Me The Money!” Melanie McComb On Ancestral Financial RecordsFeb 28, 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 with David’s serendipitous experience in touring his wife’s grandmother’s former home. David then talks about Black History Month assets available now from AmericanAncestors. A pop up DNA center has been established in Australia to help families of missing people. FamilySearch’s numbers from 2020 are off the chart. Hear what we all did there last year! Finally, David shares the story of how 3,000-year-old bones of a woman buried in Crete have revealed her occupation.
Next, Fisher visits with JoAnne Jessee… an ordinary person with an extraordinary find. JoAnne felt the urge to track down information on a great aunt that died young during the 1918 flu pandemic. Find out where it led her and the remarkable exchange coming up between two families.
Then, genealogist Melanie McComb, from AmericanAncestors.org and NEHGS talks about financial records of ancestors that can help you on your journey. It’s from a lecture she does called “Follow the Money!”
Next, Dr. Henry Louis Gates is out this week, so producer/director Sabin Streeter fills in to share the latest on the next episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS!
Then, David returns for Ask Us Anything.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 364
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 364
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. And our guests this week, a couple of really good ones, we’ve got an ordinary person with an extraordinary find, it covers World War I, a pandemic, a swapping of letters between families, century old letters. It’s an amazing thing. JoAnne Jessee’s going to join us here in about ten minutes. Later in the show, Melanie McComb from the New England History Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org is going to give us the gist of one of her very popular lectures these days. It’s called “Follow the Money” and she’s going to talk about various financial records that can help you trace your ancestors. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, you know what to do, it’s on our Facebook page. You can link to it through our website as well ExtremeGenes.com. It’s free. You get a blog from me, a couple of links to current and past shows, and links to stories you’ll find interesting as a genealogist. Right now, off to Boston where David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David, greetings! How’re you doing bud?
David: I am doing fine. You know, we talk about serendipity in genealogy all the time?
David: Well, that happened to us this past weekend. My wife’s sister who lives up in Maine, just happened to be looking online at their grandmother’s house and actually found out it was for sale last week for the first time in 30 years since her grandmother sold it.
David: So, my wife’s grandmother’s house they owned for 30 years. We went down for the open house only to find out that the house was sold that morning being on the market for one day for about three times what the family sold it for.
David: I got on the phone because my wife looked a little sad and I said you know, let’s call the real estate agent. I called her up and explained that my wife’s family lived there, and her mother who passed grew up there, and my wife lived there as a young girl. She said, “Why don’t come down in a couple of hours and I’ll give you a tour.” We went in, she took pictures. We went through the house. I videotaped it, but the fun part, as my wife and I recreated the photograph of ourselves in the family living room, which was the first photograph that we ever took together 34 years ago.
Fisher: Wow! What a great story David. That is so awesome! And you know, it really goes to show that this is true, and I’ve found a lot of photos online of family related homes where you can take an online virtual tour of the house. But if you can find when it’s for sale and you can actually get a tour of it, what a great opportunity. How awesome is that.
David: It really is. And I’ll tell you, I almost wished that there could be a website that we could go to and say, “All right, this is my ancestor’s address, send me a notification when it goes up for sale.” Wouldn’t that be a fun place to be?
Fisher: Yes, great idea.
David: Well, it’s February so it’s Black History Month, at American Ancestors, we honor our African American genealogy by the works of many of our scholars including Meghan Seidman who is one of our lead researchers. And we have a page on American Ancestors where people can go to on our education learning resources on African American Genealogy that has resources, video that’s almost an hour long, different guides that we have online, links to things that we have from NEHGS to help you with your African American genealogy to honor Black History Month.
Fisher: That is awesome.
David: You know, in New South Wales there is now a pop-up DNA center. I thought to myself, what are they doing, just collecting DNA, or some commercial company? No, it’s law enforcement in people that have lost family members that are missing that never found out what happened to them, are giving donations of DNA to help with the identification of over 300 unidentified bones and bodies that are found in New South Wales in Australia since 1964. What an amazing process. Every state in the United States should be doing that.
Fisher: Yeah. That is a great idea. Imagine having that on your mind all the time, “what happened to my family member” and not being able to do anything about it. At least it gives them something where they feel maybe they’re contributing to the search so the question can ultimately be answered.
David: You know, I’ve got some exciting news from FamilySearch. You know, we’re always finding great things on FamilySearch.org but now you can have even more chance of that with a hundred million relatives added to FamilySearch’s family tree last year. In total there are over 1.3 billion searchable people in these records that you can find on FamilySearch. It’s amazing.
Fisher: Wow! That is incredible. A hundred million! But it really goes to illustrate how much work was being done throughout the pandemic year, so many people at home, nothing much to do, they get into that and it’s fulfilling.
David: Besides that, there are over 8.3 billion names searchable in historical records on FamilySearch.
Fisher: Yeah. And it’s free. [Laughs]
David: That’s a good price. Well, you know, I love DNA and I like to take our Family Histoire News around the globe, and this time I’m going to Crete. In this ancient Greek island there is an amazing discovery that was made in 2009. It was a skeleton of a lady about 40 to 50 years old who died between about 900BC and 650BC. Now, it could just be a typical skeleton, except for the wear on her bones. You know what’s interesting is because the cartilage on her knee and hip joints had been worn and that it looks like the muscles on the right side on her body had been noticeably developed based on the bone’s wear. We can now tell that she was a person who made ceramic vessels. The theory is that she was flexing her leg to turn the kickwheel that would have turned the pot around that she was making, so that wore out her joints. And then of course she’d be repeatedly leaning to one side spinning the clay to shape it and sculpt it and that developed the muscles in the other side of her body.
Fisher: [Laughs] Wow!
David: So, no DNA, no census to tell you what the occupation is, no obituary, it’s all in the bones.
Fisher: All in the bones. And what period of time are we talking about here?
David: This is between 950 BC and 650 BC in that point in Crete history.
Fisher: Wow. That’s an incredible analysis.
David: Well, that’s all I have from Beantown this week. I just want to say that if you’re not a member of American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, we’d like to welcome you. And you can even have a little extra bonus from Extreme Genes. Go online to AmericanAncestors.org and use the coupon code EXTREME and save $20 on your membership.
Fisher: All right David. Thank you so much. And of course at the back end of the show you’re back as we answer another question on Ask Us Anything. Talk to you then.
David: Talk soon.
Fisher: All right. And coming up next, it’s a woman named Joanne Jesse, an ordinary person with an extraordinary find. You’re going to enjoy this story coming up next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in three minutes.
Segment 2 Episode 364
Host: Scott Fisher with guest JoAnne Jessee
Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And the pandemic has caused a lot of people to think back to the one a hundred years ago because they’re still within memory, there’s still a lot of records, photographs of course, dominant from that time period. And my next guest got into it and made a haul of a discovery. She’s JoAnne Jessee. She’s from Waukesha, Wisconsin. And Joanne, welcome to Extreme Genes. Great to have you!
JoAnne: Thank you for having me.
Fisher: So, how did all this start? Your head has obviously gone back hundred years or so.
JoAnne: Yes. My maternal grandma Jean, she had two aunts that she lost that I knew of during the 1918 flu pandemic. And so, after being in lockdown for several weeks myself, I decided to start looking into this. My mom and my aunt have been the caretakers of a hoarder and genealogist’s dream of pictures, and letters, and scrapbooks on that side.
Fisher: Nice. [Laughs]
JoAnne: And it’s been just something that I was able to dig into. So, I had copies of everything that my mom had scanned over the period of several years, and I had decided let’s figure out who did we really lose, and was it more than just the two sisters, and that’s kind of where this all began.
Fisher: Sure and where the circumstances were around that. The stories of the siblings are a part of the stories of your directs’ as well, I think, because of all the interaction and the relationships. I see as you’ve prepared me for some of this, there was really kind of a step-by-step as this progressed and it was fascinating.
JoAnne: Yes. So, on May 3rd I documented who I thought was everybody who had passed away as a result of the Spanish Flu, and that included my great grandmother’s daughter, her father-in-law, her two sisters, and her brother.
Fisher: Ugh! Wow.
JoAnne: I later discovered that there was also a half nephew who was part of this loss as well. So, that was obviously more than I realized of family members who had been lost during the pandemic and who knows, there could even be more that I didn’t realize about.
JoAnne: But there was one in particular and I found out that we had her whole scrapbook and letters that her husband had sent her from France during World War I to her.
Fisher: Wow. So, this all ties back to the war as well.
JoAnne: Yes. So, Anne met a man named Stuart, and in 1916 they started dating. And he had registered for the draft in June of 1917 and got drafted pretty much right away. By August his name had been drawn. And so, they ended up getting married August 15, 1917 before he went pretty much right away to Fort Sheridan in Illinois for Second Reserve Officers Training Camp. And by January 13 of 1918 he was on his way to Liverpool where he would then join up with the AEF in France. So, they didn’t have a lot of time together from when they got married to when he was deployed.
Fisher: Right. No children.
JoAnne: No children, right. You can tell from some of the letters that I’ve seen that they definitely wanted children. So yeah, they were separated pretty much right away and they wrote many, many letters to each other. We know this because they numbered their letters, even to the 200s. Sometimes there’d be multiple letters going in a day. Stuart went to France in January of 1918, and then in October is when they had their two-year dating anniversary.
JoAnne: And it just so happens that the day before that is when we discovered, through this whole adventure, that she had contracted the flu the day before that.
Fisher: Oh, boy.
JoAnne: And things kind of progressed quickly from there.
Fisher: So, as a result of all this then you knew that you had certain information that you could develop from there, but you went even further than that because I know that the survivor, this Stuart, he went out and got married again after she passed away, right?
JoAnne: Right. So, I decided on May 13th to see does Stuart have any descendants. So, I went on Ancestry and found someone who had his name in her tree. So, I sent her a message saying, you know, I’m related to his first wife who died in the pandemic and we have copies of the letters that he sent to Anne while he was in France, and I was wondering if you knew anyone else in the family, and on a real long shot, if anybody knew if her letters to him had been kept. So, within five days I had heard back from the second cousin of Stuart’s granddaughter, and she said, “Oh my goodness, we know Stuart very well because he and his second wife only had one daughter. We spent holidays with him and his grandchildren growing up, and I’m going to work on connecting you with four grandchildren.”
Fisher: That’s a good start.
JoAnne: Yeah. [Laughs] I was amazed to hear back so quickly in the first place. And then it just kept going faster, and faster from there. One of Stuart’s granddaughters who I’ve been in contact with the most, she had a copy of his memoir that was transcribed by the local library back in 1975.
Fisher: Oh wow.
JoAnne: And it turns out when everything started in March, with the shutdowns and everything, they all remembered Stuart’s first wife had died of the Spanish Flu in 1918. So, she was just reading the little bit in his memoir that discussed that. I think she also had some photos of the couple. You know, they loved their grandmother so much they never really gave much thought to his first wife, kind of out of reverence and respect for their grandmother.
Fisher: Of course.
JoAnne: But at the same time they had kept all these things. So, she reached out to her bother and it turns out that he did have the letters from Anne to Stuart in France during World War I.
Fisher: Oh wow.
JoAnne: Yeah. That was on May 24th we discovered that.
Fisher: What a haul!
Fisher: So, did he scan them, did he give them to you, how did that work?
JoAnne: He scanned them so that we could take a look, and he did that really quite quickly I would say. It turns out he also had a couple of the Telegrams that arrived way after she died actually, trying to let him know that she was sick and that she had eventually passed away. He notes later in his memoir and other places that the lines with the cables were just jammed and messages were not getting through at that time. But, in addition to the letters, they actually had a detailed letter from one of their friends who was actually the doctor who took care of her and her sister. Those two sisters died one day apart.
JoAnne: And he gave a very detailed account of how they were doing leading up to their passing. It’s just astonishing. Fevers over 105, things like that.
Fisher: Oh my gosh. Awful!
JoAnne: So, yeah.
Fisher: Well, you know, when you consider that he survived long enough to write his memoir and include all this information in there, and then you had the letters he wrote, and then they had the letters that she wrote, you’re able to put this entire century old story together the way you have. And for a lot of people who pass away without having any descendants, any children, they’re just kind of forgotten as that aunt back there, or that sibling that died young, or something like that. But they’re real people now with all the information that you have.
JoAnne: Yes. And it’s been really interesting to see, I mean, Rockford Illinois where they all grew up, is not very small. I think the population is well over 100,000. But my maternal grandma Jean, she was connected to the family of Stuart’s second wife throughout her life. In fact, I think we have a wedding invitation to Stuart’s daughter’s wedding from the 1950s.
JoAnne: And my mom and her siblings were classmates with a lot of his nieces and nephews. I don’t think they knew his grandchildren per say, but they knew the other people in the family. And they also were in some of the same friend circles. For example, there was a famous architect in Rockford named Jesse Barloga that they were all friends with. So, it’s just kind of interesting how they watched each other throughout their lives. I mean, part of the record that my family kept was a newspaper clipping from 1970 showing Stuart, he was a painter, and you know, they thought enough to save this article where it mentions how he didn’t find out about his wife’s death until weeks later.
Fisher: So, he was still family then?
JoAnne: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if they’re directly spent time together, but they kept track of each other.
Fisher: Sure. Right, of course. He had been part of the family at one time many years earlier. That’s amazing. What a great find. How did it make you feel when you discovered all this information, and what are you going to do with it?
JoAnne: Well, when I especially figured out that Stuart was still writing letters to Anne after she had passed away, she died on October 19th and he was still mailing letters on November 3rd. Obviously there’s a delay in the mail but I think he was involved in the telegraph office, but the fact that he hadn’t received any information over the cables was kind of shocking, so that just made me feel so heartsick that he had gotten word that she was sick, but he had had no updates after that.
Fisher: And this is just like a week before the end of World War I.
JoAnne: Oh, yeah. I hadn’t even thought about that timing.
Fisher: November 11th. Yes.
JoAnne: Yeah. That makes it even more surprising. I hadn’t layered it in the history with this. But basically the next step is I’ve talked with my family members and Elizabeth has talked with her family members, and we decided that since they don’t have any children together, that we are going to swap our sets of letters, which seems a little it strange that Anne who wrote the letters will have her letters back and they’ll have Stuart’s letters back with their family. But at the same time there’s little tidbits and morsels in there about their friends and family at home, or from his end what it was like in France. You know, he was going on about fleas and things. They had a flea problem for a while. He himself actually had a slight attack of Spanish Influenza around the same time that she did, so we thought that that would be the way that we decide to preserve this family history.
Fisher: Appropriate. Are you writing up the story?
JoAnne: Well, I feel like I’m well on my way. I was putting a timeline together last night. We’ve got letters, we’ve got newspaper articles, the information is there, it’s just a matter of how it will come together and when. [Laughs]
Fisher: Great stuff JoAnne. Well done. Congratulations.
Joanne: Thank you very much.
Fisher: What a great story. And coming up next, Melanie McComb on her recent lecture “Follow the Money” talking about your ancestor’s financial records in five minutes.
Segment 3 Episode 364
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb
Fisher: Well, it’s always fun to have my good friend the genealogist from NEHGS, The New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org on the line. I’m talking about Melanie McComb. Hi Mel, how are you?
Melanie: I’m good, Scott. How are you?
Fisher: Great. It is great to have you back. You’ve been doing a lecture lately that has been very intriguing to me and I thought a lot of people might want to hear about. And it’s called, “Follow the Money.” Sounds like a good baseball movie to me.
Fisher: But, I know that there is a family history tie to this. Talking about the research fill us in on what this is all about.
Melanie: Sure. So, similar to like what we see in police procedure. Sometimes, when you can’t find someone you need to turn to a different type of paper trail.
Melanie: And a lot of times our ancestors are going to leave more financial records that are going to be left in a place where you’re not finding them in those vital records. You’re not finding them in the census and that’s really a great way especially when you’re tracking someone through a particular state, or within a country itself, or even overseas.
Fisher: Wow! You’re talking about a lot of transactions here potentially. What kind of records are we talking about?
Melanie: Sure. So, we’re talking about items like land deeds, probates, taxes, pension records, especially if you have anybody that Civil War and earlier, and even employment records for the more contemporary ancestors.
Fisher: Sure. Well, and there were pension records for railroad workers, for example, right?
Melanie: That’s right and those files are huge that you can get access to from the National Archives and they give you a number of details involved that talk about the surviving spouse and their children. So, anybody that would really have any kind of claim to the pension would be noted.
Fisher: Wow. That’s a long list of people. So, let’s kind of go through these groups just a little at a time. We’re obviously very familiar with pension records for Civil War soldiers and Revolutionary War soldiers. What about for more recent generations of warriors.
Melanie: So, for more recent generations there are some records. They’re not officially pension records but there are payment vouchers that were issued. So, a lot of times when you’re researching someone that served like let’s say in World War I, World War II, or even as recently as Korea and Vietnam. There are still payment files that are included in their personnel records.
Melanie: And in some cases that might be all that’s left. When the fire occurred in 1973 in St. Louis, Missouri, a lot of the army and air force records were destroyed. And one of the few surviving things you might find is the payment voucher. And that notes this is the final payment that was being made to the veteran or their family and has their address on it.
Fisher: So, would that also include potentially what unit they served in when they were participating in a war?
Melanie: It doesn’t always go down to the unit but they do reference the service number which is key, because if you have a service number you can go into records like the Veteran Affairs BIRLS Death File and other items to find out more information about the enlistment. You can contact the VA to get a copy of the discharge paperwork to find out more about the actual unit itself they served in.
Fisher: And we should just make clear to people that if you had a Navy man back there, those records were not included in those that were burned.
Melanie: That’s correct and also Marines as well those are also intact.
Fisher: So, are there any bank records that are out there that our people left behind?
Melanie: There are actually. There are several different ones and they are actually very useful when you’re trying to trace somebody that immigrated to the United States. So for example, in New York, there is the Immigrants Savings Bank.
Melanie: And that was very popular for a lot of Irish immigrants that came through. And when the accounts were opened, the account books that we see online actually note the name of the ship they came in on and sometimes even the county in Ireland they were from.
Fisher: That’s pretty valuable stuff. Does it actually show some of the transactions they made in this bank?
Melanie: It does. It usually shows like when somebody set up the account and who was the main account holder, and then there are other records you can go into if you wanted to see if there were any changes to the account like if they changed who the main person was.
Fisher: Interesting. All right, what else do you have?
Melanie: So, how about land deeds? Land deeds are my favorites to go through.
Fisher: Oh, yes. There’s always family in those. [Laughs]
Melanie: There’s always family in those and that’s something a lot of people don’t really understand is that any time there are any especially an estate file that is being settled. There usually is what we call a quit claim deed that’s occurring, in which the heirs of the estate which usually are all family members, direct family members, the children especially and surviving spouse, they might give up their right to the property because maybe they don’t want to move from where they are or they just don’t want to run like the family farm or other property. So, when that occurs that is a really great kind of document to look at because it clearly tells you that, here are the heirs of so and so and names all the children including the daughters and their husbands if they’re married and what their names are, and where they’re located.
Fisher: And that’s such a huge thing for tracing female ancestors, isn’t it?
Melanie: Absolutely because you’re right, sometimes when you don’t find that ancestor you’re hoping to find that marriage record, and when that marriage record doesn’t turn up that’s really a good way to tie everybody together. Similar to looking at newspapers, a lot of these financial transactions are going to end up in the newspapers when somebody is trying to collect a debt or they’re trying to settle the estate at the end and they’re calling everybody in to the attorney’s office to have a reading of the will.
Fisher: I know that in doing New York research periodically there’s actually books that they made of all the real estate transactions by year. And it talks about who bought the property. Who sold the property, the legal description of the property, and often the address at which the property sits. So, there’s just so much stuff to be found there and I would imagine are similar items elsewhere in the country.
Melanie: Absolutely. And even outside of the country too you’ll typically find those deed extracts, indexes are what you really want to look into. We’re always working them using the index, because you’re right, that’s going to give you that summary level detail and depending on where the property is, like let’s say you’re looking at something in a more rural area in the Midwest of something. You need a little bit more information to make sure you’re finding the property. But, if you can find the lot number and the quadrant, and everything that they’re supposed to be in referenced somewhere else. You could then contact the register of deeds to get a copy of those indexes and you can see the life cycle of that property year over year.
Fisher: Wow. And that can reveal more family from earlier generations, or neighbors, or how the property was subdivided by family as they shared it among the kids.
Melanie: That’s right. And that’s how a lot of people, especially in the Midwest can go back to like that homestead. Going back to when they first acquired the public property before it went into private hands.
Fisher: So, what else is out there that we might get our hands on as we follow the money, Melanie?
Melanie: Well, of course there are also employment records. So, like while you mentioned the railroad which is a big source of employment, there are also other sources of employment when you think about people that are working on the Works Progress Administration projects in the ‘30s. You could find people working on projects like the Panama Canal and that can show you where someone was, what their job was on site, where their residents was. What they were getting paid. So, that can be your golden line of information when you just kind of see someone, they just kind of drop off and you just kind of think like, well, did they take a train going out somewhere and just find work?
Melanie: And sometimes that may be the place where you find them.
Fisher: Well, consider the stories that can come out of that.
Melanie: Oh yeah.
Fisher: I mean, the richest vein of family history for anybody isn’t just the names, the dates, and the places. It’s those stories and this sounds like a rich source.
Melanie: Oh, that’s right. And when I was tracing like my maternal great grandfather Anton Gailunas one of the things that I’ve uncovered is that he likely was a merchant seaman working possibly with the British Navy or maybe even the volunteer Russian Navy, and at one point I was trying to trace what happened to him and how he ends up in the United States. And I had this fantastic story that my grandmother would tell me that he somehow ended up in South America and was around this particular tribe and everything. And I thought it was too incredible to prove, but then I found a listing through the ship that he was on. Apparently, it actually got into a bit of an accident down there by the river where my grandmother mentioned it, Topperton River. So, there’s a little bit of a nugget of truth found when you look for some of these documents and that was because it was noting the damage that was taking place on a merchant vessel.
Fisher: Wow, unbelievable! She’s Melanie McComb. She does a lecture called Follow the Money and you got a little taste of what that’s all about Mel, thanks for coming on. Always good to talk to you, we’ll catch you again soon.
Melanie: You too as well. Take care.
Fisher: We’re going to find out about the newest upcoming episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 364
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Sabin Streeter
Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And in for the very busy Dr. Henry Louis Gates this week, it’s the show runner, senior producer, director for Finding Your Roots on PBS. It’s Sabin Streeter. Sabin, great to have you on the show! How're you doing?
Sabin: Great. Thank you for having me, Scott. I'm thrilled to be here. I love your show and I'm sorry Skip can't be here. He'll be back very soon, but I' going to try to fill his very large shoes for you.
Fisher: Well, you have a very large show. We watch it all the time and really enjoy it. What do you have coming up for us this week?
Sabin: This week, we have musician, Pharrell Williams and filmmaker, Kasi Lemmons. Kasi Lemmons directed the recent Oscar nominated Harriet Tubman biopic, and Pharrell is of course, Pharrell!
Fisher: Well yeah, the song, Happy, I mean, I think we all kind of dance down the street to it when things are going well.
Sabin: Well, Happy is one of the biggest hits ever and is very, very expressive of who Pharrell is. He is a happy guy. [Laughs]
Fisher: Well, I can't imagine he'd be too happy this week when he learns some of the things that you guys discovered.
Sabin: Yes. The two guests are united by the fact that for both of them, we found original documents in which their relatives who were enslaved actually talk about their experience under slavery.
Sabin: In the case of Pharrell, his third great aunt, a woman named Jane Arrington was interviewed as part of the slave narrative project, which you may know is this oral history that was done by the federal government in the 1930s.
Sabin: They went around and they interviewed still surviving formally enslaved people. There are about 2300 of them they interviewed and what are the odds of this, one of them is Pharrell's third great aunt, the older sister of Pharrell's second great grandfather.
Sabin: And she describes in great detail, she gives one of the longer of the slave narratives that exists. Great detail, multiple pages what her family experienced under slavery. And it was a rollercoaster for Pharrell, because she talks about how his second great grandfather was enslaved as a child, a 10-year-old. Well, Pharrell's got an 11-year-old of his own and it actually really hurt, understandably.
Sabin: Then she talks about how the slaves were beaten by some of their masters and some beaten to death. Not Pharrell's relatives, but Pharrell's ancestors are on this plantation where slaves are being beaten to death.
Sabin: Pharrell got so upset that we had something we never had before. We just stopped the interview. Dr. Gates felt it was just too much. And so, we stopped, we said we'll be back, and we came back a couple of months later and we resumed. And the second half was probably just as hard as the first. He basically said the whole interview sort of set his soul ablaze, were his words and he was really moved. And it’s one of the most powerful interviews we've ever done.
Fisher: Do you think it was kind of like a survivor’s guilt for him?
Sabin: To some degree, yes, and I think to some degree there was just rage and I think it was hard for him to feel so much anger at what his ancestors went through. So, Kasi Lemmons, we found one of her ancestors was enslaved in Alabama and was interviewed by an Alabama newspaper in 1879. Reconstruction had collapsed and the white supremacists who were in charge of Alabama were going around writing newspaper articles about how slavery hadn't been so bad. It was all a total myth. But if you were a black farmer in 1870s Alabama and you were doing okay, you had to interact with the white people around you and you had to toe the line of their discourse.
Sabin: So, Kasi's ancestor, this guy, Kriemas Lemmons gets interviewed by this newspaper and he talks about how great his master was and how slavery wasn't so bad. And the story that comes out of it is that he was forced by his master to accompany his master's son in the Confederate Army. He's enslaved by this guy and he's captured in Vicksburg. At that time, you could have just gone to the Union Army and been freed, but he stays with his master and actually goes back to Alabama.
Sabin: Because he has family there.
Sabin: And after the war, his former master awards him with some property, and he's a genius farmer. He becomes actually one of the more successful farmers in the area, and he gets profiled and he tells his life story. And it’s an amazing story. And he also says at the end of it, he kept the name, Lemmons, because his father was an African, named Jim Lemmons and he wanted one day, he hoped to be able to connect to his people back in Africa.
Fisher: It sounds like a great show coming up this week. And of course I would encourage everybody to check their local listings for times and what channel it will be on there. But Sabin, thank you so much for coming on!
Sabin: I really appreciate it.
Fisher: David Allen Lambert is coming up next with another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 364
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back for the final segment of our show for this week. It is Ask Us Anything. It is Fisher here along with David Allen Lambert back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And Dave, we've got an email here from Lonny in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. And Lonny writes, "Fish and David, have you ever had your ancestor's handwriting analyzed to help you with your research? If so, how have you done it? Lonny in Eau Claire, Wisconsin." Dave?
David: Ooh, well, I've kind of done firsthand by myself. So, give you an example. My ancestor died in 1807. He's actually Captain Jonathan Poor. He was of the F6 Militia, marched onto Lexington and Concord. I always suspected that muster roll that he appeared on when he marched onto Lexington and Concord with his company was probably written in his hand. And what I did Fish is, I did a scan from his signature in his will and then I did a scan from that and I overlaid them on the computer screen and it matched up with his signature, probably about 90% and even the curvature of the letters, there was some change, but not much.
Fisher: Wow, that's a great discovery! So you figured out that your ancestor actually wrote out this information during the Revolution?
David: Um hmm, when they travelled for 86 miles round trip to go off to Lexington and Concord, yeah.
Fisher: Unbelievable. That's great. I've actually had a handwriting analyst on the show. Her name was Nancy Douglas. It was about five years ago, and I can tell you right now, Lonny, Episode 125. And I actually supplied this person with samples of the handwriting of my ancestors, because I wanted to know about their personalities if she was able to do that. And she had worked with court records in analyzing the handwriting of suspects, that kind of thing. But she was able to look at my ancestor's writing and she said that she basically divides up the handwriting into three zones. There's the upper zone, which would be for example with an L or a T. There were the lower zone letters, like a G or a Y, and then there were the middle zone letters, the I, the M, the N, those types of letters. And each of those zones would represent something that's going on in your head. So, ideas, creativity, imagination, philosophies, that was all in the upper zone. And then the middle zone letters she said would reflect the here and now, the day to day, if you're being stressed out by something. The lower zone letters represent physical stuff, like desires about getting money or physical drives, sexuality, your desire for change, your level of restlessness, all those things. So, she was actually able to go through and look at some of the handwriting of these various ancestors and tell me about what was going on in their lives at the time, things about their personality, what motivated them in their lives, I mean, it was really fascinating. So, I'd recommend you go back and listen to episode 125 with Nancy Douglas from 2016. So, it’s really great stuff.
David: You need to get her on the show and I'm going to send you my signature. I want to see what she says about me. [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] Well, I've got to see if I can find her again. It’s been awhile. But you know.
David: Oh, we're genealogists.
Fisher: That's true, that's true, we are. So that was really good stuff, very interesting and I've actually incorporated some of her analysis in a little history I've written up on those particular ancestors to explain what they were about. So, hopefully that helps you, Lonny and gives you something to think about and others who might have interest in the same direction. David, thank you for your help and we'll talk to you again next week, bud.
David: My pleasure. Take care.
Fisher: All right, and that is our show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. And by the way, if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, just email us at [email protected]. Thanks to our guests, Melanie McComb from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org and to JoAnne Jessee, talking about swopping letters from World War I and the Pandemic, a fascinating story from her, ordinary people with extraordinary finds. If you missed any of it, of course catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, Spotify, wherever fine podcasts appear. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!