Episode 375: Classic Rewind - Man’s Father’s World War 2 Pilot Log Book Travels The World Seeking Signatures and HistoryAug 08, 2022
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David shares a story he just learned that shows how close he came to never existing! Then the guys open up Family Histoire News with the story of an adopted woman whose DNA results led her to the identity of her biological father. The question is… will she find him first or will the FBI? Hear the details of this one! Then, we have a new “Oldest Person in America!” Find out who she is and how old. Next, it’s a lost and found for Viking remains. One museum had them, then lost them, and now they’re found again. Find out the details. The guys then talk about a cemetery for free persons of color that has been acquired in Richmond. Catch the rest of the story. Finally… the story of the alphabet may now be complete. Hear how the final piece of the puzzle may have been found.
Next, Fisher begins a two part visit with Nick DeVaux of St. Lucia. Nick’s father was a World War 2 pilot for England and left his son his pilot’s log book. A few years back, Nick had an idea to use that book to collect history by having history makers from the war sign the wartime heirloom. Hear the story of how it began, what he will ultimately do with the book, and some of the stories of the people who have signed it.
David then returns for questions about researching ancestral businesses and why some ancestors don’t appear in immigrant passenger lists.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript for Episode 375CR
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode CR 375
Fisher: And welcome 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 I'm very excited about today's show, because we're going to have a two part visit with Nick Devaux. Now Nick is a guy whose dad was a pilot in World War II and Nick wound up with his pilot log book. Well, a few years ago, he discovered that there were other World War II vets out there who were very old and decided to start sending it around the world. And it’s been traveling the world ever since for the last four or five years and he's had it signed by somewhere around 113 people from all the different participating countries of World War II, pilots and victims of different historical events. It’s an amazing story. You're going to want to hear what got Nick going on this, some of the names, some of the stories in there and what he's going to do with it. That's coming up in about ten minutes or so. Hey, sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter today! You can do it for free at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. Get a blog from me each week, a couple of links to past and present shows and links to stories that you'll appreciate as a genealogist. Right now, off to Boston, Massachusetts. David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David, how are you?
David: Hey! I'm doing really good and also suffering from the hairs on the back of neck still standing up after the discovery I found recently.
Fisher: Oh, now what did you find?
David: Now, I was looking for my elusive grandfather, who of course is disappeared into thin air after 1953.
Fisher: This was the criminal, right, the criminal?
David: Ah, yeah, this is my grandfather who liked to be behind bars and behind bars.
David: This is what I was looking for, but then I found a front page article in November 1945 that mentioned my father in an auto accident. Now, the thing about this, Fish is, I was a kid. My Dad forewarned me that he was in a bad accident one time, but I never got a lot of the details about it and I always thought it was in the neighboring town. Well, the article goes on to say that my father, who was 20 years old at the time and it’s his cousin, who just died, who was 16 at the time were in an accident. The driver was thrown clear of the car, but the car crashed into a tree, split the tree in half, the car burst into flames, and if it wasn't for a nearby person in their house who saw the accident who ran and pulled my father and the others out of the vehicle, I might not be having this conversation with you!
Fisher: Wow that's crazy! Yeah, that would make your hair stand up a little bit. That was a close one, huh?
David: Yeah. And I wanted to hopefully track down what happened to the veteran who pulled them out in November '45, but he died a year after my dad did, but I'm still looking to pay respects at his grave, let alone track down his kids and say thank you.
Fisher: Wow, what a story!
David: It’s a small world.
Fisher: Yeah, really small world. Isn't that amazing?
David: Genealogy never lacks the excitement into new discoveries. And this kind of comes into the first story I want to mention, which is of course on ExtremeGenes.com. This is a story of Kathy Gillchrist who got a surprise of her life when she found her biological dad. Now, that's not uncommon now, because you're getting the DNA discoveries and she had tested with 23andMe and she found out that her father, William Bradford Bishop Jr. who was a highly educated former Foreign Service officer in the US State Department in 1976, killed his 68 year old mother, 37 year old wife and three sons. He's one of the most wanted people by the FBI.
Fisher: I've never heard a story quite like that, wow!
David: Well, it’s not just a genealogist tracking down their dad, it’s the FBI. Wonder who will find him first.
David: My bet is on the genealogist actually! [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.
David: Well, I want to tip my hat and wish a happy 114th birthday to America's oldest resident and that is a Nebraska lady by the name of Thelma Sutcliffe of Omaha. She, on April 17th after Hester Ford who was 114 passed away became the oldest person in America. She was born October 1st, 1906.
Fisher: That's crazy! [Laughs]
David: Happy Birthday, Thelma! You know, I love when people are doing their genealogy and find an ancestor, then they disprove it and they find that they’ve lost that ancestor. Well, some people have found they have Viking DNA and then their results now tell them they don't have Viking DNA. Well, this is a museum in Denmark that in 1868 required the remains of a Viking nobleman that had been dug up in a farm and all of the artifacts. Yeah, apparently they were mislabeled and put away safely in the museum for cold storage for a long time. They've just been found again, so.
David: Hate it when they lose my ancestors like that.
Fisher: Right, right. Who knew?
David: Do you have any Viking ancestors?
Fisher: I'm sure I do, but I mean, they're so far back, I don't know who they would be. I mean, I'm half Scandinavian.
David: Yeah, that's true. I mean, so you could say it could have been anybody's ancestor, because that grave dates back to 970AD.
David: Speaking of cemeteries, the city of Richmond, Virginia just recently bought back a lot of land, 1.2 acres known as the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground. It was last used in the 1870s and it was the cemetery for free people of color, and this cemetery dates back at least 200 years. And if you look at the picture of it online from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, there's an abandoned gas station with a lot of graffiti on it and obviously somewhere in there are the remains of probably 100s of individuals.
Fisher: What a great story!
David: Well, it’s always nice when they can locate these cemeteries and maybe there will be some preservation. At least start with maybe take down the gas station and put up a fence. You know, archeologists recently doing some work in Israel found out that a fragment of pottery from 1450BC surprised that missing link in the history of the alphabet. They know around 1800BC in the Sinai Peninsula that the alphabet started to get developed and that it had originally started to spread by 1300BC into what became the Greek and Latin alphabets. Well, that's all I have from Beantown this week. So if you want to find out more over where I work, American Ancestors and AmericanAncestors.org welcome you to become a member. And if you do so and want to save $20, use the coupon code "EXTREME" on AmericanAncestors.org.
Fisher: All right, David. Thank you so much. We'll talk to you at the back end of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we're going to talk to Nick DeVaux. He's a guy whose dad was a World War II pilot. He has the pilot book and he's been doing some amazing things with it. You're going to want to hear all about it, coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 375
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Nick DeVaux
Fisher: Well you know, we’ve been doing Extreme Genes for almost eight years now and we’re still having firsts. This is the first time I’ve actually ever interviewed while they’re on the beach, and it’s the first time I’ve ever spoken to anybody in Saint Lucia for their story but that’s the case with Nick DeVaux. Nick, welcome to Extreme Genes. Great to have you.
Nick: Scott it’s such an honor and a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon and really looking forward to speaking with you today.
Fisher: Well, I hope you stay nice and dry and don’t sunburn as we chat here.
Nick: [Laughs] I’m under a shady tree. Well positioned.
Fisher: Very nice. [Laughs] Well, Nick has come up with a great story and a great project based on his father’s log book as a pilot in World War II for the RAF and the RCAF for the Canadians as well. Give us a little background on your dad Nick.
Nick: So, my father was born in Saint Lucia in the 1920s so if he was still alive he’d be a 101. And when the war broke out here, Saint Lucia being an English colony, basically all British citizens, and what’s also very interesting at the time, and I’m only now realizing this, is that the Germans were actually in our waters in a big way with their U-boats and so there was real threat, real present danger to these islands. In fact, one day a submarine came into our harbor and torpedoed two ships, right.
Nick: Right across from where I’m sitting now. Yeah. And people died a whole bit. So, the war very much was on the frontlines here in these islands and my father of course being from here, many people from here did their part, wanted to go and join up. Most of them in the Merchant Marines. But my father decided he wanted to be a pilot, and because that was a big drawing for many young men at the time.
Nick: So, was working in Trinidad actually, hopped on a ship somewhere in the middle of ‘43 and got himself up into Canada where there was a massive effort on to train pilots. Because again, Canada also being a British territory, they set up a massive air training program just to process pilots as quickly as possible into the war.
Fisher: And so he winds up over in England, yes, but no action.
Nick: Right. No action because by the time, thankfully, by the time he qualified, which was in October ’44 things were really starting to turn the way of the allies. The war was really in its closing stages. And by the time he then transfers over to England it’s late in the day, and in fact the European Theatre closed up pretty soon after that. And then also by then there was this glut of pilots. He had the option to volunteer for a glider mission into either Germany or Holland, but that, if you know about the Eighth Air Force and the casualty rates there, which was staggering.
Nick: The chance of surviving a glider mission was even more horrendous, so wisely the old man opted out of that one. I’m truly grateful.
Fisher: [Laughs] When did he pass away?
Nick: So, he died in 1997. Gosh, how long ago is that now?
Fisher: Yeah, 24 years.
Nick: Yeah it’s about… yeah.
Fisher: So, you’ve got his log book now from the time he entered the service.
Fisher: And at what point did you decide you know what, this is a piece of history and I want to make it even more of a piece of history?
Nick: Right. So, I had always had a fascinating with World War II. Of course, my father, like many of his ilk, never really spoke about it I knew one or two little things. In fact, I probably told you everything I knew from his perspective. So, I had this interest in World War II and I always knew about this book. And as a kid even growing up I kind of discovered it in my mom’s dressing table drawer. I yank it out there one day and I’m going through it and he had a couple of photos in there. And again, not really appreciating what I was looking at, I yanked the pictures out, even damaged a couple of the pages. But the book was always there, it was always there. His writing is so impeccable in the book, it’s amazing. So, he’s got every single flight. It details where he went, the planes he flew and all, and then I began to slowly appreciate what was really written in this document but again, never really thinking that I was going to do anything with it. And then one day, there was a story that popped up on my newsfeed about a Japanese pilot. His name was Kaname Harada. And Mr. Harada was almost 100 years old, still alive in Japan and his story is just phenomenal. He was at Pearl Harbor, although his job was just to stay with the carriers and defend them, later on he flew and about Midway he was shot down I think somewhere in the Guadalcanal area. So, he is just a man who saw a lot of action and had a lot of kills as well. He was an accomplished pilot. And later in life, after the war, he became a very outspoken peace advocate. He thought that you know, violence and all the things that he had seen were just horrendous. He actually opened a kindergarten school. I’ve only discovered this recently, but he went to England, he met some of the pilots that he was in dog fights with and so had a very high profile latter part of his life. And again, this story just popped up out of the blue. It’s not that I was looking for it or anything.
Nick: I suddenly, something just snapped inside of me and I thought wow, how amazing would it be for this gentleman to sign my father’s log book?
Fisher: Of course. Yeah, the enemy.
Nick: Yeah. Not just the “enemy” but just as an individual, you know.
Fisher: Sure, somebody who was part of the history scene. Yes.
Nick: Somebody who was there. And what a rich history this man had. So, you would think if somebody was going to do this, they would sort of maybe find, I don’t know, a local veteran, somebody down the road. No.
Nick: I had to find somebody on the other side of the world, speaks no English, I speak no Japanese clearly, and had no idea how to make this connection. And I mentioned to you earlier that I worked with the OECS, which is an international organization. And my boss at the time, Didicus Jules, happened to be heading out to Japan on a business trip and I had one associate in Japan, a gentleman that I had dealt with on a separate matter who was actually a New Zealander. So, at least he spoke English and I explained the whole crazy idea to him. I reached out to the reporter who had published a report and we made contact. We made connection and I got sort of a green light to say yes, he would be open to signing the book. So, the day came, and this was all sort of, you know kind of how when you make plans but you don’t really think through the nitty gritty of the details, so the day finally came to put this document in an envelope. And Scott, I was shivering. My hands were shaking. I mean, the enormity of what I was about to do hit me.
Fisher: Well, you were putting your dad’s log book at risk too, weren’t you? You’re sending it on the other side of the world.
Nick: I mean its nuts. Who does this? And I’m trying to stuff it in an envelope and the envelope was a little tight and it’s not really going in and my hands are shaking. I was a wreck! I was sweating. I’m the last of ten. I hadn’t told any of my siblings about this.
Nick: Not that they were terribly concerned either. I mean, the whole thing was nuts. But first of all, to try and get an agreement with 10 siblings is impossible anyway so this was never going to happen. If I had told any of them about it they would have had me committed.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
Nick: So, I was like you know, I’m just going to do it. So, I stuff it in there, I get it in there, I address it and I go down to my boss and he’s literally getting into a cab and I’m like, “Here, please mail this when you get there.” Well, he understood what I was doing. He was even more horrified than me, and he’s pushing it back in my hands saying “No, I’m not taking this!” I said “No, you have to take it!” And this kind of went back and forth. Eventually, I was like “Look, take it!” And off it went. And he went. And I didn’t sleep very well for a couple of nights.
Fisher: I bet. Yeah.
Nick: I did not. I was just like, “My God, what have you done?” My friend in Japan got the book a couple of days later and that was just such a huge relief in itself. And I thought wow, great. So then we tried to contact and really get to okay, how do we send the book to Mr. Harada? And somewhere in the midst of that they wrote back and said, “You know, he’s not doing so well. Try back in a couple of weeks.” Well, in a couple of weeks he passed away.
Fisher: Oh no!
Nick: Oh yes. So, the book is in Japan and I’m like, “You have to be kidding me” but of course, he was 99. I was banking on him hitting a 100. I was like yeah, he’s going to hold on. He’s going to make it. [Laughs]
Nick: And you know he passed away. So, at that point I was like, wow, okay, now what?
Fisher: Yeah. Do you get the book back, what happened?
Nick: Yeah. Well, I was real let down and I said wow. And then somehow, President Obama was in Japan around the time and made a speech in his official capacity as a United States president at the Hiroshima Memorial and it’s the only time a U.S. president has done that. And at that speech was a gentleman who had survived the atomic bombing. His name was Shigeaki Mori. There’s a photograph of President Obama in a big embrace with Mr. Mori. And I thought ha! What’s the story here? So, I start to read and Mr. Mori was about 10 years old on a bridge headed to school on August 6th 1945 in Hiroshima. The bomb falls, he gets blown off the bridge, falls into the river and that’s how he survived the heat blast, climbs up out of that into this Armageddon, survivors that whole horrendous story. And I don’t know a lot about those details but he did manage to survive and subsequently grows up.
Nick: But that’s only the entry part of this story. Mr. Mori is a very avid historian, and before the bomb, his father was a policeman, and from his school he could see that there were some U.S. servicemen who had been shot down and were being kept captive at the police station where his father worked. And he could see these men. Not many of them. I think it was about four or five of them. But he could see them and he knew very well that they were U.S. POWs. Of course, they all died in the bomb. Years later, they built the memorial and they put the names of all the victims, all the deceased Japanese people who died in Hiroshima are on this memorial. Shigeaki Mori seeing this, felt that these U.S. Servicemen, the names of these men deserves to be in that memorial. So, somewhere I think in the ‘70s or maybe in the ‘80s this Japanese man who speaks no English, without the help of the internet, this information became declassified because of course immediately after the war this was not spoken about. Nobody in the U.S. wanted anybody to know that they had killed their own people in the bombing. So, this was sensitive information but it subsequently became declassified and Mr. Mori got this information, got the names, he went to the library, got some form books and begins to call people in the U.S. to try and track down their families. This man speaks no English. I’m not sure exactly how long it took him, but he eventually connected every single one of those men to their families in the U.S.
Nick: There is a documentary called Paper Lanterns produced by a man named Barry Frechette, which tells this story. And subsequently, Mr. Mori was able to get the names of these U.S. Servicemen on that memorial in Hiroshima.
Fisher: All right. We’re going to take a break for a minute here Nick. Your story’s incredible. And listen to these people he’s writing to, to get to sign his log book from his father’s days as a pilot on World War II. We’re going to come back. We’re going to hear more about Nick’s incredible project from the beach in Saint Lucia [Laughs] when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 375
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Nick DeVaux
Fisher: All right, we’re back on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, talking to Nick DeVaux from a beach in Saint Lucia right now. [Laughs]
Fisher: Talking to him about his Log Book Project. It’s the log book of his father who was a fighter pilot for the Brits during World War II, Cyril DeVaux. He’s been sending it around the world having people connected to World War II autograph this book. They’re getting up there in age now Nick. And you were just telling me about the young man who somehow survived the Hiroshima blast in 1945 and then went on to get the American POWs who were killed in the blast, added to the memorial there. So, how did you get him to sign your dad’s RAF log book?
Nick: Right. So, as I mentioned Scott, the book was already in Japan with Mr. Harada having passed away, the initial intended recipient and signatory who never signed. But then I discovered this thing with Mr. Mori, with president Obama at this official ceremony where Obama made a speech at the Hiroshima Memorial. There’s a photograph of president Obama hugging Mr. Mori and we then reached out. Normally, I find people through the articles, through the reporters who write about them, so we must have done that. Although, I honestly don’t remember but we did make contact and then Mr. Mori’s response was, yes I’ll sign it but I’m not very well. I have to go to the hospital. And based on the heels of the immediate predecessor, the gentleman who passed away, I thought, uh, oh, this is becoming a kiss of death.
Nick: But thankfully he recovered. And as I subsequently understand now, his hospital visits are regular because he deals with the legacy of the radiation poisoning.
Fisher: Of course.
Nick: He suffers with cancer. Yeah. So anyway, he came out of the hospital and he signed the book. The book went to him and then my buddy over there sent me a photograph and two simple words Shigeaki Mori, that was it, there was no Japanese, there was no date, there was nothing. That was all he wrote. And when I saw that, it was like the curtains lifted and I realized wow, how many other amazing stories are on this planet. That was five years ago, and I can tell you today we’re at 113 signatures.
Fisher: Oh my gosh. Wow! And how many different countries are represented in those signatures, Nick?
Nick: At least seven or eight, Canada, through the Caribbean, Europe, Holland, Germany, England, the United States, back and forth. There are two loose pages from the book that have come loose at the binding. One of those currently right now is in India, the Sub Continent. It’s been to Australia, New Zealand, of course Japan. It’s been to Japan three times.
Nick: Right now it’s in the US, in a few days, hopefully, 101 years old Marthe Cohn who was a Jewish spy and who grew up in France.
Fisher: Oh, wow.
Nick: She lives out in California. Just today I received confirmation that she is willing and happy to sign the book. Her husband is a gentleman named Major Cohn who also served in the Navy during the war. So, they will do a couple signing which will be amazing. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the likes of Mr. Gail Halvorsen, he’s the Candy Bomber, who you may know and have heard his story.
Fisher: Yes. I’ve had him on Extreme Genes before.
Nick: Oh, lovely. What a wonderful gentleman he is. So gracious.
Nick: I had Mr. Bud Anderson who is the most prolific US living ace still alive in the United States, signed just after Mr. Halvorsen. So the stories go on and on, just amazing people. But I also have people who not necessarily involved in the war but just witnessed incredible things. So, people who survived through the battle of Britain, obviously experiences that will never hopefully happen again and will be gone once they all pass away.
Nick: And you’re right, I started this project much too late, there have been a few instances of people who have said yes they’re happy to sign and then passed away. Jerry Yellin, he served in the very last air combat mission of World War II, in Japan. Wrote me back a lovely email saying, yes, I’ll be happy to sign and I’ll even send you, he had written a few books and so on. And unfortunately, he passed away subsequently before I could get the book to him. So, there are heartaches that are part of the reality of this journey.
Fisher: Sure. So Nick, what are some of the interesting things that some of these people have written in your dad’s pilot log book?
Nick: You know, I had a neighbor, this woman is from Poland. This woman grew up with, and her husband was an operative dropping in behind enemy lines, was picked up by the Gestapo and tortured. I think her brother was killed. I had no knowledge of this because these people almost raised me so close to my parents, I didn’t even understand this. So, when I subsequently really found out what the history was, she is now in a retirement home in England, but I wrote to her and she wrote. There was a woman who signed just before her, a German lady who was at one of those terrible carpet bombings that the allies did to the Germans towards the end of the war, Cologne. I have people who survived Dresden as well, unreal. But this woman experienced that similar type of fire bombing and the tornados, and the whole bit. And then the book went to this other lady that I’m mentioning to you, but she just wrote, “Oh, that was just one experience. I survived days on end of bombs that fell in the area where she was.” So it was just interesting how people compare and contrast. Of course, the stories are equally horrific to me but when you really sit and you go through the experiences from these people’s perspective, it’s very interesting thing to get that real questionable, emotional experience.
Fisher: So, are you going to take like photo copies of these signatures and then write up their stories next to them?
Nick: Yes. So that’s exactly what we’re doing. We have a website, Thelogbookproject.com. A gentleman out of Sweden has helped me tremendously. He just contacted me last year and he said, listen, what you’re doing is amazing. How can I help? Lars went and built out this website, it’s the most amazing thing and we are now able to have the profiles and put the stories up and he’s also doing other graphics, and he shows you where the book has gone. And then the back stories, the related stories, stories of people who either assist or some other crazy connection. For instance, going back to Mr. Mori, Mr. Mori survived the atomic bomb. Well, on the Indianapolis, the story of them carrying parts of the bomb to Leyte and then being torpedoed, and then spending three and a half days in the water. I have one gentleman off the Indianapolis Mr. Edgar Harrell who signed the book. So, you begin to understand some of these crazy connections. Yes, not directly, but just mind blowing in that sense. Here’s one individual who contributed or was a part of this and here’s another individual who was affected by and there’s quite a number of those. So, we’re beginning to piece some of those crazy connections together even between some of the signatories which is fascinating.
Fisher: Absolutely. I totally get it. So, obviously we’re going to run out of World War II people here really, really soon and you’re obviously already experiencing a lot of that, people who pass away before they get a chance to sign it.
Fisher: So, there is a finish line to this at some point. What are you going to do with the log book when this is all finished?
Nick: Yeah. The actual repository for the log book is still very much up in the air. I mean, on the one hand it’s just a dusty old log book from my father and there are thousands of them out there on the planet. And my father never really went on any exotic missions or anything like that. So, in that sense it’s very ordinary. There’s nothing really special about it. On the other hand, people are terrified to touch it now.
Nick: Yes. Just a couple of weeks ago we formally started something called the “Whew Club” and that’s the reaction that people have. They’ll go, okay, yes, I’ll receive it and my father or my mother will sign it and then they get rid of it and it’s just like, whew! And they wrap it up like a bomb and off it goes.
Nick: And it is insane and it could vanish at any moment but the experiences that I have had, the people I have met, my whole appreciation for life in general, I will never be the same person again. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. But, to what to actually do with this book, maybe having it travel around from place to place because if it sits in a corner collecting dust it’s not doing anything. So, it’s really the vibrancy of the stories and getting those out, that to me is more important and through our website I think that’s where our primary focus will be. But I would like to make the book available to museums and other institutions out there that still celebrate anniversaries of different things during the war.
Fisher: He’s Nick DeVaux. He’s on a beach in Saint Lucia, and sharing these amazing stories. Nick thanks so much for your time. Good luck to you in the future with all this and we look forward to seeing what comes of it down the line.
Nick: Scott, I really want to thank you for your time. It’s networking like this that helps get the stories out. So this is so tremendous of you. Thank you. I wish you all the success in the world with what you are doing.
Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert returns from AmericanAncestors.org as we do another round of Ask Us Anything and answering your questions on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show when we return in three minutes.
Segment 4 Episode 375
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back. And Dave, we have a great question here from Joe Miller in Sunset Beach, North Carolina and he says, "Guys, how common is it for passengers to not be on a ship's passenger list in the 19th century?" An interesting question. I'll get your take first, Dave.
David: Well, you know there's many factors to consider. I mean, one obviously is that they could have stowed away, which is probably very slim on the line of possibility.
David: Names could be misspelled completely.
David: They may have chose a different name when they immigrated. Generally speaking though, a passenger list is usually created at the point of the departure. The big myth that you've probably heard many people ask you over the years and I get all the time, "What names are changed at Ellis Island?"
David: So, the name wasn't changed when you got here, because that list was created when they left. So the name being changed may have been at the point of origin. The other thing is 1820 is a real pinnacle year. That's when the federal government started recording passenger list. So not knowing when in the 19th century you're looking for Fish, if it’s between say, 1801 and 1820, its possible there just may have not been a list that survived.
Fisher: Absolutely. There could be water damage. There could be misinterpretations of the hand writing when it comes to all kinds of things. I am missing an entire family of my second greats, my second great grandfather and my second great grandmother and their kids and another second great grandfather, I think it’s his right name, it’s fairly common, but it matches the month and year that I thought it should be, but there's no wife, there are no kids and I don't know where they are either. So, it’s also possible too that they wound up coming into a different port than you were expecting and maybe you'd find them elsewhere.
David: Well, that's true. In Massachusetts, most people obviously coming into Boston, but we have the Port of New Bedford, Newburyport. Well, a lot of these early customs house records, they're not well kept, and I know people that I've seen naturalizations for that says, "I arrived in this port on this day." And it’s not a major port. Then you go to try to find passenger arrivals for that port and there isn't anything.
David: So it could be part of that reason too. I'd be curious to see where the naturalization is pointing for their arrival port.
Fisher: And the challenge is also to figure out where they left from. Are their records left back in the old country?
David: That's very true. And like for most people that are coming out of England in the 19th century, those records really don't start to begin until the 1860s.
David: So you're not getting a lot of the earlier ones. And then your people are always looking for their ancestors between 1620 and 1820, for the most part, there's not a lot of ship manifests when you get into the 18th century that survive of any great magnitude. The best place to find those are for instance, just as a side note, are in newspapers.
Fisher: Yeah, that's right, yeah. Well, and you've got to consider too that there are probably still a lot of these smaller ports where the information in the passenger lists have not been indexed or digitized yet.
David: That's true.
Fisher: There's got to be a lot more out there.
David: Well, I can tell you that Family Search and Ancestry and groups like that have been working actively to try to find all of that type of American immigration records over the years, but there's always room for one more attic and one more public building that, "Oh, look what we found here!" You know.
Fisher: [Laughs] Well, it’s a great challenge and we wish you the best of luck, Joe. We appreciate the question, and I do struggle with that. I'm looking for those names all the time and I just scratch my head as to why in the 1830s and '40s coming into New York, I cannot find these people I'm looking for. So, how about you, Dave?
David: I have some ancestors that I know should have been on a passenger list that I haven't quite found yet or they come over as a chain migration that the father comes over and the family is supposed to follow soon after. When did the family come over? They show up in the census, but I don't find them arriving.
Fisher: So, I guess the answer would be, yes, it’s common. So, thanks so much for that. We've got another question with Ask Us Anything coming up next when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 375
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, back for Part 2 of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher at this end with David Allen Lambert from AmericanAncestors.org. David, our second question today comes from Rick Lane in Farmington, Connecticut, and he says, "Guys, I have a first great grandfather who had a business in upstate New York in the late 1800s. How would I research that business?"
David: I can tell you, there are lots of different angles that you can research a business. I mean, obviously there are so many newspapers that are online. Looking for an ad the newspaper may have carried for your ancestor or better yet, the most popular thing for people, especially if it’s an urban related business, city directories. I mean, Boston has them back to 1789, so I've been able to use that to track down some of my 19th century ancestor's business to different addresses they had, and of course one of the fun things to do with that is to plug in the address and see what's there now.
Fisher: That's right.
David: It would be kind of funny to see if it’s still the same business or that type of business. I have one relative my third great grandfather Henry Poor in Newburyport had a mercantile business with someone. Their store was around for about three years until you see in the newspaper, "The dissolution of this partnership has ended. All stock and bills owed to us, blah, blah, blah. You know. It has all this great detail about the business closing up with the final sale of items would be. But I did a little work on it, because it mentioned it was on a wharf. Well, that wharf is not filled in land, but I know the road and its now with the Newburyport Art Association is and it’s an 18th century brick building and it’s still standing and I was able to get a tour of it inside and out, including a little room that had a fireplace upstairs and I said, "That's probably where he sat and had his porridge at night." [Laughs]
Fisher: [Laughs] You're probably right about that. I think it’s great fun. I had a great grandfather who had a business in New York City in the late 19th century and I found a lot of stuff in newspapers, and as you mentioned, Dave, directories. If you could make a timeline following through the directories when it started and then look for changes, say, in partnerships, we had some fires in his business, so there were the stories of the fires and how it burned the place down and how they had to rebuild. And also by the way, there is a great source at Harvard University at their Baker Library there, it’s the R.G. Dun & Collection Reports. And they go through and actually analyze the viability of all these businesses and I was actually able to find an account of my great grandfather's business there, starting in 1855 and going all the way through to 1883. And there are mentions of my great grandfather, his two brothers who were involved in the business, how they did business, where they were located. It was really great stuff and I was really surprised how much could be found there.
David: You know, it’s really amazing what's actually out there as more and more things get digitized and of course, you want to check with local historical societies and see if they have actual account books or business papers, and sometimes tracking down the descendants of your ancestor that are not specifically your line. Maybe a cousin Mabel out in Tacoma has a pile of papers that, "Oh yeah, those are our great grandfather's business records. Would you like them?" You never know what you're going to find.
Fisher: Well and its funny you mention that, because in 2014, I inherited a bunch of stuff from a third cousin and among the items that he had was the business agreement from 1888 between my great grandfather and his brother, talking about their partnership, and it’s like five pages of agreement and both of them signed it at the end. I was absolutely amazed. So, you never know what you can find out there that relates to the family and the business. But there's a lot to be found without getting into business records.
David: There really is. Well, good luck to them. I hope that they find everything that they hope for and maybe there's some story for Extreme Genes down the road.
Fisher: Could be. Thank so much, Rick for the question. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. David thanks so much. Always great to talk to you, my friend!
David: Same here, my friend.
Fisher: And that is our show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. Thanks once again to Nick DeVaux for coming on and talking about his dad's World War II pilot book and what he has been doing with it. An absolutely incredible story. If you missed any of it or you want to catch it again, listen to the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, Spotify or TuneIn Radio. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!