Episode 365 - From Research to Reviews: Two Amateur Genies and the Books They’ve Published

podcast episode Mar 07, 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 chatting about the RootsTech Connect, the conference that will go on (in recorded fashion) for a year, and a couple of discoveries they each made in the past week involving flags! Then, David shares the recent discovery of an original copy of the Salem, Massachusetts 1810 census. You’ll soon have access to check on your witch descendants! Next, the question arises “Did Roman era male Brits wear their hair in a mullet?” David describes a recent discovery that suggests that was the case. Well, last week it was an Egyptian brewery that was found. This time around, it seems a Viking drinking hall has been discovered! Finally, a company of Irish fortune finders has been established to connect descendants with UK estates that no one has yet claimed.

In the second segment, Fisher visits with David Zucker, the man behind countless comedy films, including Airplane! Naked Gun and many others. David is a passionate genie and has written a book on his family history called “Before The Invention Of Smiling.” David gives some background and explains what he hopes readers will take from his first family history book.

Fisher then follows up with Debra Yates. She too is an amateur genie who felt her ancestor’s story was too significant to keep from the public. Her book, Woman of Many Names, addresses the history of her ancestor who was known as Nancy Ward, among other things. Nancy was a Cherokee and a friend to Daniel Boone and George Washington. Hear Debra describe Nancy’s remarkable life.

Then, Sabin Streeter, show runner and director for Finding Your Roots on PBS talks about the latest episode before the fundraising break in March. It features Clint Black and Rosanne Cash with some surprising discoveries.

David then returns with Fisher to answer a tombstone question from a listener on Ask Us Anything.

Transcript of Episode 365

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 365

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. Well, here it is, it is RootsTech weekend. We’re going to be talking about RootsTech Connect. It’s all virtual this year, it’s all free, and we’ve got so much to cover on that coming up in a little bit. We’ve got a couple of guests today who are not normally genealogists. One is David Zucker, he is the man behind the movie Airplane, and Naked Gun, yeah and he’s a comedy movie creator. And he did some research on his family and has written a book about it. He wants to inspire you to do the same with your research. And Debra Yates of Cherokee descent, she’s a landscaper. She made an amazing discovery about one of her Cherokee ancestors. She too has written a book and we’ll tell you all about that coming up. Plus Sabin Streeter it is back, the show runner, director, producer for Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Lewis Gates talking about the most show in the series that you’ll want to catch and stream as soon as you possibly can. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, now is the time to do it. Just go to ExtremeGenes.com or our Facebook page and we’ll get you all hooked up. Right now, it’s time to head out to Boston and David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David, great to have you back. It’s been quite the week.  

David: It really has. RootsTech has been amazing when I found out I had over 15,000 relatives attending, and found some third cousins I didn’t even know about. 

Fisher: How about that.

David: But you know what I think was really great? We were on that call together with RootsTech the other day with Steve Rockwood and David Brancher and others, and the new website that FamilySearch has rolled out FamilySearch.org/family-history-library is great.

Fisher: Yes. And this allows people now to actually have free consultations with experts in every area of the world. And it’s also a way that they’re going to be taking all the family history centers and all the resources they have, and funneling them into one access point. It’s going to be a fabulous thing as it continues to develop. They’ve got some new software they’re working on that can actually translate handwriting. I mean, it’s just amazing some of the things coming up with FamilySearch that they’ve announced in connection with RootsTech Connect.

David: It really is, and probably more things to come. But as you mentioned, RootsTech is not just one week, it’s actually all year long.

Fisher: All year long. So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re catching this now or later, it’s still happening and it’s absolutely free so get signed up and see what you can learn to help you break through some of your brick walls. 

David: It’s going to be fun.

Fisher: And David, I got to tell you, even through all this, I made a great find this week. I discovered that my Grandfather Fisher, actually had an old presidential flag that had flown at events that were attended by President Woodrow Wilson, and President Teddy Roosevelt, and President William Howard Taft. Now, I’m trying to figure out who’s got it now among the descendants.

David: Well, I got a story that has a flag tied to it. I didn’t know my Canadian ancestor was originally from England. He was a member of the 38th Regiment of Foot at Bunker Hill

Fisher: Oh! [Laughs] Yeah. How do you think your SAR status is going to be affected by this?

David: I’m the state historian. There’ll be an interesting family story to tell at the next meeting.

Fisher: [Laughs] Just make sure you attend that meeting in full British regalia because otherwise you could be hanged as a spy. We don’t want any of that. 

David: I’m just glad that my mother’s relatives and my father’s relatives I didn’t have to name. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yes.

David: I may not be having this conversation.

Fisher: Exactly.

David: Well, you know, my first story for Family Histoire news goes to Salem, Massachusetts and it’s a little bewitching because this kind of just materialized recently in the news. In the U.S. we’ve had censuses in 1790, in some places they no longer exist. In fact, I found remnants of a Boston taking tax records that resembled the missing 1800 Boston census. Now in Salem at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, a researcher is transcribing the local copy of the Salem 1810 census, which doesn’t exist at the National Archives in Washington. 

Fisher: Wow! What a great find.

David: It’s a good one. You just never know what you’re going to find, so hopefully there’s hope for other places, like New Jersey that doesn’t have hardly any censuses around that time. You know, I remember in the ‘80s mullets were a big thing. I never sported one personally, but one of my ancestors may have. They recently unearthed a figurine in ancient Britain that may show that our first century British ancestors may have sported moustaches and mullets.

Fisher: They were head bangers even then, huh?

David: I guess so.

Fisher: [Laughs] Where did they find it?

David: They found it in a car park.

Fisher: [Laughs] Once again, they find kings, they find figurines! These car parks are great historical sites aren’t they?!

David: You just never know what you’re going to find parked under your RV. You know, we had the Egyptian brewery story last week so it has to follow up with another one. Archeologists are digging again. It’s a drinking establishment in Orkney Island. A Viking drinking hall has been recently found. 

Fisher: A Viking drinking hall. That’s great. So, we found the brewery in Egypt last week, now it’s the drinking hall. Is there a big sign that said “Welcome Vikings” is that how they knew that it was a Viking drinking hall? [Laughs]

David: [Laughs] They probably took what they wanted and started their own drinking hall after the fact. 

Fisher: It could very well be.

David: Well, you know, we always hope to find DNA matches that tie us back to the UK. But I’ve got a different type of match that will help to find. There’s a company called Finders International, which provides probate genealogy in Dublin, London, Edinburgh, and Australia, and they’re actually connecting Americans’ lost long Irish relatives that had estates that had never been probated.

Fisher: Really?

David: It would be a great pot of gold to find. But I’ll settle for a DNA match or two as well.

Fisher: I think so. I think so.

David: Well, that’s all I have from Beantown this week so, I’m going to offer you a pot of gold on AmericanAncestors.org, using the coupon code EXTREME you can save $20 on an American Ancestors membership. You heard it here, on Extreme Genes. All right, talk to you soon.  

Fisher: All right David. I’ll catch you at the back-end of the show for Ask Us Anything, and coming up next, the first of a couple of armature genies who’ve written books about their discoveries. Our first up is David Zucker. He is the man behind the movies Airplane, and Naked Gun. You wouldn’t think that a guy with all that humor would spend so much time researching. But he has. You’ll want to hear the book he wrote about his family coming over to Milwaukee from Eastern Europe. That’s all coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.  

Segment 2 Episode 365

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Zucker

Fisher: All right we’re back on America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and my guest today is David Zucker. And you may know this name because this is the man behind Naked Gun, Airplane!, one of my favorite flicks, Police Squad, Scary Movies 3-5.  I mean, David, your career is unbelievable and here you are writing a book about family history.

David: Yep. I know. And you left out Top Secret and BASEketball, so, I mean, there are more. They just keep coming out of the woodwork.

Fisher: Yeah, but the problem is I only have so much time. I mean, I could list them all and we’d be done. [Laughs]

David: Yeah. But I’m more interested in family history believe it or not, so, I’ve had it with the movies.

Fisher: You’re done? You’ve retired?

David: No. [Laughs]

Fisher: Don’t tell me that.

David: I still want to do movies, but from the time I was seven, I used to listen to my grandmother tell these stories about how she was born in this little village in what was then Austria/Hungary. She just said Hungary and how she had to escape over the border with her mother to get out, and she was almost drowned in a flood.

Fisher: Oh my gosh!

David: And then she made her way across Europe with her mother and two younger siblings, and across in a boat. And the whole thing is, believe it or not, there’s a lot of funny in it of course, because I couldn’t resist.

Fisher: Well, but that’s your personality too, to infuse humor into a story that’s obviously as serious as this one.

David: Yeah.

Fisher: The book is called, by the way, “Before the Invention of Smiling” which I think is absolutely perfect, by David Zucker. Tell us about how discovering this information has influenced your life, and what were some of the processes you went through to uncover the things grandma didn’t tell you about?

David: Well, you know, thank God for the internet.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: I mean, this has been a revelation. And in about 1976, my brother and I, on a trip from LA back to Milwaukee for three or four days, I decided to sit down with grandma and get the whole story on tape, and that’s what we did.

Fisher: Wonderful.

David: Years and years later we had a transcript made. And the first version of this was like a children’s book because my kids were two and four in around 2003-2004. And I was very interested in getting a book because I wanted them to know the story because they never met grandma. And part of that children’s book was where they weren’t photographs available, I got an artist, Gary Thomas, to draw pictures. You know, like this flood that my grandmother was in, obviously there’s no photos so I put in drawings, which is pretty unique I think for a book like this. And then, I flew with the artist to Slovakia and actually found the original property that my grandmother grew up on. 

Fisher: So, what time period are we talking about here?

David: She was born in 1893 and she left when she was 16 in 1909.

Fisher: So, she beat World War I, thankfully. And beat War II, even more thankfully.

David: Yeah. Her name was Srolovitz . The general family was the Sterns they were the first ones to come to Wisconsin. Some of them went to Kenosha and started a store, and then others went to Milwaukee. So, that’s really how we ended up there. And grandma was on the tail-end of that immigration from Hungary. They were the last of the family to leave. She had seven brothers and sisters with her.

Fisher: Did you find that some of those folks stayed behind and then got caught up in the World Wars?

David: We don’t know of anyone who stayed behind. I mean, they were a small village. It was Hunkovce. One of the pictures in the book has me standing in front of the sign. And there were only three Jewish families, and her mother didn’t want her older brothers going into the army because Russia needed soldiers to fight the Japanese in the 1905 war. 

Fisher: Right. Yeah.

David: And they didn’t keep kosher in the army, so that was out. So, they started leaving in about the late 1890s. They went to Milwaukee to follow the Sterns and then finally even my grandmother’s father left. But my grandmother’s mother refused to leave because she wanted to visit the gravesites every year to say the prayers. I mean, it’s like insane. Obviously, if they stayed they all would have been wiped out. 

Fisher: Yes. I’m sure you’re absolutely right. So, what year did they wind up in Milwaukee? 

David: 1909.

Fisher: And so this was your whole family area coming of age. It seems to me there’s an awful lot of comedy that came out of Milwaukee, not the least of which were like Happy Days, right?

David: Yeah, Happy Days. Tom Miller was from Milwaukee, either Miller or Milkers, those were the producers. 

Fisher: Um hmm.

David: And they based Happy Days on this burger drive-in ice cream place called the Milky Way.

Fisher: The Milky Way. Okay. And then it became Mels?

David: Yes. For TV. And then the actual Milky Way became Cops. It’s still famous for the ice cream.

Fisher: Is that right. So, where do you think your sense for humor emerged from within your family and within the surroundings of winding up in Milwaukee?

David: Well, I’m not sure. A lot of it was Milwaukee because obviously was not New York or Hollywood.

Fisher: Right.

David: And Milwaukee was a place where things came to, not where things emanated from. And so, we consumed all these Mission Impossible TV shows, and the Untouchables, and Sea Hunt, so we grew up watching Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Leslie Nielsen.

Fisher: Right.

David: And often we would make jokes at the expense of these shows, although we liked the shows. But I think at our high school this kind of sense of humor it was a very self-deprecating sense of humor. We were really laughing at ourselves and very aware that we were from Podunk nowhere, probably worse than Utah! [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] I’ll take it.

David: Yes. Thank you. [Laughs]

Fisher: And so, how do you feel that your family’s history and all the things they overcame, has fed into you?

David: Well, I think that somehow my grandfather was funny. There’s a picture in the book where I’m standing on a chair at age four in between my dad and my grandpa. And dad and I are wearing bowties and grandpa, to match us for the picture, tied his necktie into a ridiculously huge bowtie.

Fisher: [Laughs] Okay.

David: And with a serious face. And I point this out in the book. This is Leslie Nielsen. And my dad had a marvelous sense of humor and would say the most outrageous things, but never making an obvious ha ha ha joke out of it. He would just say it with a straight face.

Fisher: Deadpan.

David: So, we kind of learned that deadpan, and that really translated. Now, I don’t know where that came from. My grandfather was born in Russia. You know, the Russians kind of have a good sense of humor under all those years of communism and Stalinism.

Fisher: Um hmm.

David: They did learn to laugh, and there were jokes. But my dad never told jokes. He didn’t know any jokes but he was very funny.

Fisher: I think the families that are closest, that are the most loving, that get together the most are the ones who have the laughs.

David: I think so. And we had a very close family. And close with all the cousins. My grandmother had 10 grandkids. All us first cousins are still close. We’re as close as brothers and sisters are.

Fisher: Well, tell us a little more about the book now. It’s available on Amazon I would assume. Where else?

David: Yeah. You can get it just on Amazon and then you can download it in kindle and the other thing, because on Kindle you don’t get it in color. But you can get it on other platforms in color.

Fisher: And what would you say David that you’d like people to get from your book?

David: Well, I would like them to get that they have the possibility of doing this exact thing really, of interviewing their grandparents. And a lot of people who I know who have just read the book have said, “Oh, I wish I had done this.” In that way, it’s really an inspiration. And you can really look up a lot of family history and a lot of ancillary items on the internet. Like I got all these pictures, like what train travel was like in 1909. What it must have been like for them to travel across Europe, and then America in that first decade of the 20th century and so all these things are visual. In fact, another thing I found was, so, they get to Ellis Island in August of 1909, and then I found this newspaper article from a month later in September, that Wilbur Wright flew his Wright airplane around the Statue of Liberty.  

Fisher: Yes. Yeah I’ve heard about that.

David: And a million people gathered in the harbor to watch that, so they missed that. But that’s the era that she arrived in. And she lived to see the moon landing.

Fisher: Isn’t that something.

David: Yeah.

Fisher: It is absolutely amazing when you write about that. I had a grandfather born in 1886, he died in 1975, and we would interview him. I’ve got interviews from him also because I was fortunate enough to catch the bug in my 20s and my mother did it too.

David: Yeah.

Fisher: She was into that. So, we have a lot of these interviews and I absolutely concur with you, anybody who’s not interviewing the oldest members of their family are really missing out on an opportunity for some life changing information that can really support you throughout your whole life. I mean, we stand on their shoulders, and it’s fascinating to hear what they did to get us to where we are.

David: Exactly. And I want my kids to know where they came from because it’s so different from their life now. My grandmother was born in a place that had no running water, and in fact, one of the drawings is when they get to the Krakow train station in 1909, her younger brother and sister just kept going into the bathroom and turning on the faucets. They couldn’t believe there was water coming out of faucets. There were no automobiles, no airplanes, not even telephones there in this village. I mean out in the book nothing had changed for 3000 years. Life went at the speed of the clip-clop of horses.

Fisher: Has any of this inspired you to consider creating some film around this?

David: Yes. People have suggested that this might be some materials for some kind of movie because the book goes back and forth between 1893, 1909, and the 1940s during my parents their day, and then my career in the 80s with the movies. The book only goes up to 1985 and that’s when my grandmother died. I limited it purposely and I only tried to do my career where it intersected with grandma. Like when we showed grandma an edited version of Kentucky Fried Movie, we later found out that grandma, and Aunt Bee, and Uncle Morrie actually went to the Fox Bay Theatre in Shorewood to see the movie. And so we said, “Yikes!”

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Because they wanted to see our names on the big screen.

Fisher: On the big screen, of course. The book is Before the Invention of Smiling. It’s by my guest David Zucker, the man behind Scary Movies, and Naked Guns, and Airplane, and Police Squad, and obviously a close personal friend of Leslie Nielsen.

David: Ah, that’s right.

Fisher: [Laughs] David thank you so much for coming on. It’s been an honor and a pleasure, and good luck with the book.

David: Okay. Thank you very much.

Fisher: And on the way next, another amateur genie with an amazing find that she’s turned into a book about her Cherokee ancestor. Catch my visit with Debra Yates coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 365

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Debra Yates

Fisher: And, welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And I’m always amazed at people who make these incredible discoveries, and then all of a sudden they’re writing books. My next guest is Debra Yates. She’s down on the West Coast of Florida, in the Gulf neighborhood. And Debra is one of those people, she discovered a woman of many names. In fact, that’s the name of her book. It’s about Nancy Nanyehi who is also known as Nancy Ward and many other names. And she was quite an ancestor, wasn’t she Debra?

Debra: Oh yes. She’s very rich with history.

Fisher: Tell me about your research how it got started and how it led to this.

Debra: Well, I started just to write down the stories that my grandfather and his siblings had told me over the years. I wanted to make sure that those stories weren’t lost because it’s not documented that well with our stories, the Cherokee stories. We of course believed in the spoken word. We were storytellers and those stories got passed down and I just want to make sure I put them down for the kids and then I sent them off to be compiled. And when the lady gave me my works back she was crying, and I said, what’s wrong Sandy? And she said, well, this is a book. You’ve got to share this with the world. People got to know this story and I said, ohh okay. 

Fisher: [Laughs]

Debra: And that’s when I pondered on it for a little bit and then I started thinking, yeah, this may be the way to go. So, my story is basically a [tribute] to my grandmother Nanyehi who became Nancy Ward when she married her second husband who is not my grandfather Bryant Ward. My grandfather was a Kingfisher. He was a Native American Cherokee Indian also.

Fisher: Okay.

Debra: He died in what was called The Battle of Taliwa which in our Cherokee culture was one of the biggest battles that we ever fought. I wanted to really get her young story out there because there wasn’t much out there. Her older life after she married Bryant Ward is fairly well documented and I thought, well, this is my chance to pay respect to Kingfisher.

Fisher: Now, when you said Nancy is your grandmother, you mean she’s more like your fifth great, right?

Debra: She’s like my seventh great grandmother.

Fisher: Seventh, okay.

Debra: Yes.

Fisher: And I see her involvement here with Daniel Boone and George Washington. Tell us about some of that.

Debra: Well, her relationship with Daniel Boone would go back to what was called The Transylvania Company which Daniel Boone represented then and she sold him Kentucky.

Fisher: Oh, wow. So she was an agent?

Debra: [Laughs]

Fisher: She sold him Kentucky, okay?! [Laughs]

Debra: She was quite the arbitrator, don’t you know, negotiator. She was known for being a negotiator in many ways. She signed peace treaties that allowed George Washington to be able to traverse the country, where beforehand he would have been met with resistance from the different Native American tribes. So, that’s sort of her connection to him. I was told that he saved her life when she was taken hostage. I believe it was in Sevierville, Tennessee with thirteen other chiefs. And her one uncle who was named Attakullakulla who was in contact with a man named Thomas Jefferson who was also part of that early culture.

Fisher: I’ve heard of that guy, yeah.

Debra: Yeah, yeah. And he was of course in touch with George Washington. And they were able to procure her release along with her other uncle who was called Oconostota which was the war chief of the Cherokee at that time. And as soon as pretty much they were released the other chiefs were all slaughtered. So, that’s how he saved her. She saved him by of course opening up those routes that would not normally have been assessable to him.

Fisher: Oh, interesting. So, if he had gone on another route then he would have been in grave danger.

Debra: Absolutely he would have been. Not that many people, I don’t think understand how intricately the people worked closely together. The different tribes did in a lot of ways. Had we united better a long time ago, like several hundred years ago maybe the country wouldn’t have worked out like it did and the Cherokee and many other beautiful Native American tribes wouldn’t have ended up isolated out there in Oklahoma. George Washington did promise Nanyehi that her lands were supposed to be held in a trust for all time. But, for some reason or another when that fellow Andrew Jackson got in there he described it that was not going to be held up.

Fisher: Ah.

Debra: And all the lands of course her as well were dispersed amongst white settlers.

Fisher: Yes, it’s quite a history there’s no doubt about it. Tell me, where did Nancy get all these names from?

Debra: Those names, a lot of them come by good deeds that you’ve done or titles that you held. You became known as that. So, that’s how you get a lot of those names. Ghigau means beloved woman. She was I believe what you would consider the last Ghigau of the Cherokee before the Trail of Tears. There’s been many since then but that would kind of fall under a little bit different category.

Fisher: Sure.

Debra: So, that’s how you got a lot of your names.

Fisher: So, there’s a state historical marker that the DAR, the Daughters of the American Revolution have placed in Tennessee. Tell us about that.

Debra: There are. There are many markers. There’s a state federal and local government marker there where the federal government recognizes her as the last princess and beloved woman of the Cherokee tribe. There was actually a highway scheduled to go right through her gravesite and then they were going to move her again. She’s been moved several times already. And the federal government stepped in and didn’t allow the TBA to move her again. I was very glad to see that did not happen but had the federal government not stepped in then that’s exactly what would have happened.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Debra: She was buried up in Benton, Tennessee previous to that and then dug up and moved when they built a jail and then held somewhere and then they ended up at Womankiller Ford with her son who was already buried up there as well. There’s a beautiful tear shaped marker that tells who’s buried there as you enter the park, and beautiful stone benches that have some of her famous words from some of her speeches there. So, it’s just been an amazing journey and then we had a rededication there a couple of years ago at the park and hope to have one there in 2022 which would be the 200 year anniversary of her passing and just keep the area alive with the culture and the spirit of Nancy Ward.

Fisher: Sure. Now, she also as I understood it, foretold one of the great tragedies in America, the Trail of Tears. What was this prediction?

Debra: Yeah. She said, and my grandfather he would do these hand movements as he would tell me that. He said, she said, I see my people walking in a line with tears streaming down their face.

Fisher: Wow! That’s pretty accurate.

Debra: And that’s where we got Trail of Tears from. So, she had the gift of precognition. She was a very talented woman. She was trained very young in life to be such a person. Her birth was foretold that there would be a great woman raised from the wolf clan of the Cherokee that would lead her people to greatness. And when she was born, would have been like my ninth great grandmother, took her to be bathed in the creek because that’s something that if you’re a Cherokee Indian that’s what you did. You took a bath every day.

Fisher: Okay.

Debra: So, after her birth, her grandmother took her there to bathe her and as they were coming up out of the creek there was a white wolf standing above the embankment there, and she was the wife of the great leader out of Attakullakulla he was declared the emperor of America by King George II. And he sent him a raccoon cap and he called it the crown of Tanasi. Tennessee was supposed to have been called Tanasi.

Fisher: Ohh.

Debra: And then the white folks got a hold of it and just made a mess of it and called it Tennessee. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Debra: Tanasi would have been so much easier.

Fisher: The book is called, “Woman of Many Names” the author is Debra Yates my guest, and you can get the book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million. And Deb, it’s been a delight to talk with you. Congratulations on the research and your first book.

Debra: Thank you so much and hopefully there’ll be another one along the line here sometime.

Fisher: And on the way next, David Allen Lambert is back as we answer another listener question with Ask Us Anything in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 365

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Sabin Streeter

Fisher: All right, we're back! It’s Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here with Sabin Streeter, he is the show runner, the producer, the director, the grand imperial poobah of Dr. Henry Louis Gates' show on PBS, Finding Your Roots. And Sabin, just this past week of course right before the break for, what is it, pledge month, right, on PBS?

Sabin: Yeah.

Fisher: You had your last show before the break. Tell us about it so people can stream it.

Sabin: All right. I'm very excited to be on. So this show is two country musicians, Clint Black and Rosanne Cash. And we go back to some pretty interesting scenes in American history. Both of them have on their mother's side Sicilian ancestors that had come here, and Clint has a guy who comes over from Palermo and becomes a professional musician, believe it or not. He's a violinist and he's playing at these silent music theatres.

Fisher: Yeah.

Sabin: And it’s a super interesting immigrant story. On Rosanne's side, she has Sicilian immigrants who come over and end up going to New Orleans and Texas and start a big, Italian American sort of import grocery store. And they both on their mother's side have these kinds of classic Italian immigrant stories people come with nothing and make a life for themselves. And Clint actually, its life from self and music, which Clint was super interested in.

Fisher: Sure.

Sabin: On Clint's father's side, we have this whole kind of Civil War epic really, where his forth great grandfather is a guy who's about 50 years old, has five sons. He's a prominent Texas farmer, slave owner. Four of his sons go off to war and two of them die. The one of them who survives is Clint's third great grandfather. But the forth great grandfather seems to be, understandably broken by the experience. He ends up spending I think two years riding around the south on horseback, looking for his lost sons' graves, but never finding them. He comes back home, he's 56 years old, he applies to med school! [Laughs]

Fisher: What!?

Sabin: Yeah, we have no idea if he ever went. I mean, the records from med school in that era are not, well, we have recommendation letters of him applying to med school and we assume that he decided to sort of change his life based on what he'd seen travelling around the south and seeing all this carnage post Civil War. He was riding through Georgia and Tennessee where his boys had been killed and looking for their bodies. So it’s really unbelievable story. And Clint was stunned by it. As it turns out, with Clint's DNA, he has a tiny amount of African DNA. Somewhere in those distant recesses of his colonial ancestors, probably in South Carolina, which was a heavy slave importing state, there was some kind of heritage between an African American and one of Clint's European ancestors.

Fisher: Interesting.

Sabin: And he was very excited by this as well. So then we turned to Rosanne Cash, and she had had Sicilian ancestors one line of her family. On her other line, we had this incredible story. Basically, when she was 10 years old, her dad, Johnny Cash, huge country music star is arrested for methamphetamine use. And in the news coverage of that arrest, her mother, a woman named Vivian is photographed and shown for the first time. And a lot of America had not seen Vivian Cash. And she looks in these photos like she might be African American. And this was at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in the south and a lot of these white nationalist publications were saying like Johnny Cash is married to a black woman. For two years, the Klan staged rallies at his concerts.

Fisher: Wow!

Sabin: Johnny Cash actually made a public statement saying that Vivian was Italian and not black. Well, we found out that Johnny Cash and Vivian were wrong. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Sabin: There was African ancestry in Vivian's line. She didn't know it. It had been concealed. We went back to her third great grandmother, a woman named Sarah Shields and discovered that Sarah's mother was enslaved, but Sarah had been born into slavery and freed by her own father, who was a white man. And then we found another amazing thing, which was that Johnny Cash himself had some African ancestry, much like Clint Black.

Fisher: Wow Sabin, sounds like a great episode. And of course if you want to watch the show, it’s easy to do. You just go to PBS.org and you can see that and all the previous episodes. And we look forward to getting back with Dr, Gates again in April, and you, Sabin. Thanks so much for coming on.

Sabin: Thank you so much. I look forward to being back again and Dr, Gates I know looks forward to being back.

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert takes on another listener question with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 365

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, coming up to the back end of the show here, its Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, we have a question from Ashley in Omaha, Nebraska. She says, "Guys, I found the tombstone of on my ancestors who died in 1765 and the carving was ornate. There even appears to be an image of him carved on the stone. What can you tell me about what this means?" David, I know you did a lecture on cemeteries at RootsTech Connect. What can you tell her?

David: Well, you know, that's an interesting question. I actually kind of bring up the subject of gravestones and the different carvings of them. So, on early gravestones, you can find these portrait stones, Fish. They're really ornate, but sometimes they're of the relative and sometimes they're just a cookie cutter from another stone.

Fisher: Ah.

David: You know, actually with BillionGraves and FindAGrave, you can actually go and browse gravestones from the comfort of your own home and maybe find a stone that looks similar to it. The other thing that you can do is, there's a great organization in the north east called The Association for Gravestone Studies and sometimes carvers are kind of unique, so they have a style that somebody may have already documented years and years ago that they may be able to help. There's even a better clue. Ashley, I want you to look at the probate for your ancestor and see if there's a receipt in the probate packet that says, "The Gravestone Cost," so that would say sometimes, "$5 for a gravestone" or in this case, 5 pounds, "to the carver" and that would be amazing, because then you can identify the carver and The Association for Gravestone Studies probably already knows about this colonial carver. And the other thing is, I believe now with Google, you can even do image searches. That means you can take an image and have it search for it. So maybe you can even use that technology to dig a little deeper.

Fisher: Wow! Isn’t that amazing all that things that we can do! I mean, even from when we started Extreme Genes eight years ago, that this was all possible, but I have never run across a stone with an image carved in it like that. And you're saying, David that some of them are just kind of like a standard male from that time period or a standard female, but some of them are the actual folks?

David: Exactly. In fact, my fifth great grandmother, Aniline had a portrait stone from 1792 up in Newbury, Mass, I thought for the longest time this curly haired female cherub was her.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Until I went to a cemetery further on down the road and found three of them just like it, by the same carver.

Fisher: Ahh, so it was just kind of a standard cookie cutter thing like you're talking about.

David: Um hmm. It’s a lot nicer than the death heads of the 18th century, the winged skull you see.

Fisher: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

David: But some of them, like if they're a minister or somebody of note in the community, portrait stones did come up. They're usually like an oval shape with a clergy collar on them or they might even have a hat, maybe even have ones for ship captains and whatnot. And these are styles. It started in the north east, but I've seen them all the way down in the South Carolina. And if you do have an image of your ancestor, how great is that, from somebody who lived over 250 year ago.

Fisher: How often does that come up?

David: Not as often as we might like, but they are possible. Again, you have to rule out, like I did, that it’s not a cookie cutter of a style that was done for just all males or all females. And they also did them for children. And the Association for Gravestones has mentioned has a website, and it’s GravestoneStudies.org. And they've had a journal of it since 1977, which has articles and whatnot that can probably give you some clue if there's actually a gravestone carver that was doing these types of portrait stones.

Fisher: All right, fascinating stuff, David. Thanks so much. And Ashley, great question. David, talk to you next week.

David: Talk to you soon, my friend.

Fisher: All right, and that's our show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. And don't forget to catch the podcast if you missed any of the show or you want to catch it again, on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, Spotify, wherever great podcasts are found. Thanks for joining us. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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