Episode 380 – Another Switched at Birth DNA Find / Fisher’s Favorite 50 Interview: Bill Griffeth and “The Stranger In My Genes”

podcast episode Jun 14, 2021

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  David begins with great news that NEHGS is now open! In Family Histoire News, David shares a story of how DNA is linking some of the families victimized by the Holocaust. DNA has also revealed another pair of women who were switched at birth. They are not happy about it and are suing the hospital. Catch the details. MyHeritage.com has found another celebrity genealogy connection. This time it’s within the cast of Friends! Hear who it is. Then, a remarkable set of documents are being returned to the Bunker Hill Monument in Massachusetts. It’s a set of guest books from the Civil War years signed by many known and unknown people. Might you have an ancestor in the books?

Next, Fisher welcomes renowned CNBC anchor Bill Griffeth to the show. Bill will take you through the day when he received an email from his cousin that informed him that the only man he had ever known as his father was genetically not his father!  A short time later, Bill had to go before the cameras on national television as if nothing was different that day. Bill also talks about his love of genealogy for many years prior and how this information caused him tremendous emotional trials for a time, and what he did to overcome them.

In our second segment with Bill Griffeth, the anchor talks about other people’s stories that he has learned of since going public with his very personal struggle. Bill speaks of how this has affected his relationship with his 98-year-old mother and how she feels about his public revelation.

Then, in the final two segments, Fisher and David answer your questions on “Ask Us Anything!”

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

Transcript for Episode 380

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 380

Fisher: And welcome America to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher at this end, your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree, and watch the nuts fall out. Well, we have a classic guest interview this week. One that we originally did back in 2016 with Bill Griffeth, the financial news reporter that we’ve all come to know and love, who discovered one day with a DNA test just before going on the air in front of millions of people that his father wasn’t his father. You’re going to want to hear this two-part interview coming up starting in about ten minutes or so. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, this is the place to get stories about what’s happening within the hobby, also to get past and present shows, and a blog from me each week. Just sign up at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. Right now it’s time to head out to Boston, Massachusetts where David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, you’ve got some great news about NEHGS. I’m really thrilled to hear this.

David: I really am too and it starts this week .We are actually open to the public and I will be there the first day that we’re officially open, which is Tuesday June 15th  and I cannot wait to be back on the desk again. Being an extrovert living in an introvert world, not by my own choosing.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: It will be nice to see a lot of friends, new friends, and of course my co-workers who are like my second family after not seeing them for almost a full year.

Fisher: Yeah. It’s nutty. I mean just all of us are doing that. I just got back from a baseball game, will tell you more about that some other time. But it was great to be in the stands at a major league game. It’s been a long, long time. It’s fun to see a lot of people opening up to stuff they haven’t been able to do in so long. So, let’s get on with Family Histoire News here David. Where do you want to start?

David: Well, my colleague and good friend Jennifer Mendelsohn. She’s a genealogist I see all the time on Twitter. In fact, she writes a lot of new stories. And one that she just wrote really touched my heart and it was published in a Washington post and it’s how the Holocaust had destroyed Jewish families but how genealogy can rebuild them. And the opening part of the story she spoke about a Jewish toddler who was put in an orphanage at the end of World War II and was given the name Sarit. She was put into a kibbutz in Israel and lived her entire life not knowing whatever happened to her parents. Through DNA and some genealogy that Jennifer got involved in, they found out that her parents hadn’t died during the Holocaust. In fact, they were living in Israel and only had died in 1977 and 1995. Sarah passed away but in October they reunited Sarah’s daughter with her own two elderly aunts and many first cousins that the family had never known and had never seen in practically 80 years.

Fisher: Wow! Isn’t that something? I just love what DNA can do.

David: She has more stories as well and I think she would be a wonderful addition to the guest lineup of Extreme Genes. My fingers are crossed that Jennifer might be able to work with us on an episode.

Fisher: Yeah, I’d love to hear about this. Um hmm.

David: You know, sometimes babies are switched at birth. This time it’s becoming legal action. These are two babies around the same age as me. They were born in April of 1969 and these two girls were swapped. And now through DNA they are actually now going to take legal action to the hospital that had switched them at birth accidently.

Fisher: Oh yeah. And this was a really remarkable switching because they had different ethnicities. We certainly saw that a few years ago when CeCe Moore uncovered one of the switched at birth cases, one of the very first ones that DNA revealed. But these two ladies are very upset about what happened and how they missed out on the association with their actual birth families and are now suing the hospital for what took place many years ago before it was even owned by the current companies. So, we’ll see how this works out but another fascinating case revealed by DNA.

David: Well, you know, at least they found out now and it wasn’t their children that figured it out generations later.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: You know, celebrity genealogy is always something the people are interested in, and they’ve now proved that Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox who played in the TV show Friends, the two actors are actually distant cousins according to some genealogist who did some research on it on MyHeritage.com.

Fisher: Going back, I want to say 400 and some odd years and they came to British North America in the early 1600s. But they tracked them down and figured out that they came from the same stock and yet here they were, they all came together on Friends and obviously made some great characters there that we all remember.

David: That’s true. And it goes through Courteney’s mother Courteney Copeland and Perry’s father John Bennett Perry. You know, I love when I hear a local story that makes international news. And Bunker Hill’s returning of guest books from the era of the Civil War are amazing. The guestbook probably had some occasional people that visited there, well it does. But it also has the future king of England.

Fisher: You’re right.

David: It has celebrities in the day. And these books between 1862 and 1863 and a third from ‘64 –‘65 were sold for $21,000 but they have 42,000 signatures and places where people from. I want to know if my ancestor entered it.

Fisher: Right. I would hope they’d be a digitization project with this. And if you follow the history of these guest books from the Civil War era at the Bunker Hill Monument, Mary Todd Lincoln’s signature is in there.

David: Um hmm.

Fisher: And these books only sold a few years ago at auction and were only expected to bring in like $500. [Laughs]

David: We’re lucky that people didn’t trim out the autograph’s value and just leave it with like holes in it. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. Right. Absolutely, because the signatures are of great value. But with that many signatures in there, we could find some ancestral connections absolutely if these things get digitized. Hopefully that project will come about.

David: Well, that’s great. And they’re going to be on display at the Bunker Hill Museum very shortly. Probably in time, I would imagine, for the anniversary this month.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Well, that wraps up everything I have for this week from Extreme Genes Family Histoire News. For our listeners, don’t forget, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors, come on in and see me. We’re open now. And if you’re not a member, you can save $20 on your membership with a coupon code EXTREME on AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: All right.

David: Talk to you in a bit.

Fisher: All right David. Yes, as we get back for Ask Us Anything at the back end of the show. And coming up next, it’s one of my “Fisher’s Favorite 50” interviews of the entire run of Extreme Genes with Bill Griffeth, the financial news commentator who discovered through a DNA test that his father wasn’t his father, right before he went on the air. You’re going to want to hear his story originally recorded in 2016 as he talked about the book he wrote about the experience. It’s coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 380

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Bill Griffeth

Fisher: Welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and it wasn’t long ago that my good friends at the New England Historic Genealogical Society sent me a book that they have published. I will tell you right now, it is a great read! A fast read, and an intriguing one, and one that just scared me to death. It’s called “The Stranger in My Genes” it’s written by Bill Griffeth, and you may very well know Bill from all his years on television with the financial news network with CNBC. He sits next to the lovely Maria Bartiromo in the afternoons. And Bill is on the line with me right now. Bill, welcome to Extreme Genes. It’s just a pleasure to have you on the show.

Bill: Scott, I love your show and your whole website, the whole genie concept, and it’s a great pleasure to be with you today. Thanks for having me on.

Fisher: I’ll tell you what, I read your book and it scared me to death. I started thinking about my own DNA results and I thought, “Do I have matches that confirm that my dad was my dad?” And I thought oh yeah, that’s right. There’s some from his mother’s side.

Bill: You wouldn’t be the first to feel that one. I mean, I have kind of one response that I’ve been getting is, and I’m glad for that, when people read the book, they internalize it. They look to their own story and wonder what the possibilities are, and it’s been a great response.

Fisher: And I kind of ached for you as I read this because you started in genealogy what, about 12-13 years ago?  

Bill: Exactly.

Fisher: And you wrote books, and you traveled the world, and you did the things that all good genies do to find the stories of their ancestors. I don’t know if you published those books or just made them available for your own family, but nonetheless, obviously you were very engaged with your ancestors. You knew who they were and their effect on your life, and then all of a sudden things change.  

Bill: Indeed. In fact, I did publish one of the books because as soon as I started tracing my family’s history, I realized that my family and its history faithfully traced the evolution of American Protestantism. So, I published a book called “By Faith Alone” that was about my ancestors. It was sort of in the history of American Protestantism, but through the eyes of my ancestors as they migrated from England to the colonies back in the 16 and 1700s. So, that book came out in 2005 or 2006. Now, it sits in the library of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. And after I got my DNA test result back I went to the CEO of the society and I said, “Do me a favor, would you move that book from the non-fiction section to the fiction section. It makes a terrific novel now.”

Fisher: [Laughs] Oh dear.

Bill: Those were not my ancestors really.

Fisher: Wow! You got into this, you found a cousin who said, “Hey, you got to do the DNA test. You got to spit in the cup.”

Bill: It’s a first cousin of mine. My cousin Doug, his father and my father were brothers, and he got into genealogy about the same time I did. We’ve worked together. We’ve gone on a few ancestor hunts together in different parts of the country. But his journey took him more into DNA testing. He’s more scientifically oriented than I am and I didn’t know the first thing about any of that. But he encouraged me to take a DNA test so that he could compare any differences that may exist in our genes to help him understand our family’s history a little better. This is what he told me. I took his word for it.  

Fisher: Sure.

Bill: So, I finally, in August 2012 I took a DNA test and I sent it in and I said, “You handle it from here. I don’t know what it’s all about.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Bill: Eventually he said, “They got a weird results back,” so he asked them to retest it. And then in October of 2012 he sent me an email that informed me that my father wasn’t my father. It was a day I will never forget, that is for sure.  

Fisher: Well, that just has to be a blow in the gut. Especially because I’m sure you were very close to your father, as many of us are.

Bill: Truly.

Fisher: And Dad’s gone.  

Bill: Yeah.

Fisher: And yet, the strange thing about it is your life’s the same. You’re married to the same person, you have your children, you have your career, you have your identity, but your world is just shaken to the core because of the fact that suddenly your chemistry doesn’t match that of your father’s. Isn’t that remarkable? 

Bill: It is. I have another cousin, a woman who lives in Florida. She’s retired and she said just the same thing that you just said because I poured my heart out to her and she said, “But look, nothing has changed.” Yes and no.  

Fisher: Yeah.

Bill: Yes, I still have all the same things. But a fundamental truth that we carry with us whether we realize it or not is you can take away your career, you can take away your possessions, and you’ll still be the same person. The fundamental truth we carry with us is our family and who our relatives are. That cannot be taken away. But shockingly that was taken away from me as I view it. My father was not my father. The man that I believed to be my father was not my father. So, that really shook the foundations of my view of myself and I really had to reevaluate everything all over again.

Fisher: Well, I think we need to emphasis to people who are maybe just getting started in genealogy that DNA is not the only place where you can get surprises. [Laughs]

Bill: That’s for sure. I mean, there are a lot of surprises lurking in records all over the place. I said in the book that family histories rarely give up their secrets willingly. You have to really hunt them down to find them.

Fisher: That’s right.

Bill: They’re out there. They’re out there. That’s part of the fun of genealogy by the way. I asked Tim Sullivan, the CEO of Ancestry.com when we were talking about all of this, I said, “You know, I couldn’t articulate for you in a single sentence why I love genealogy as much as I do.” So, what was his version of it? He says, “It’s just the process of discovery. The discovery is a strong emotion for all of us. And when we discover things about our own families, about our history, our personal history, that can evoke a very strong emotion. And I agree with him on that.  

Fisher: Well, I talked to a gentleman the other day who said to me, “You know, I discovered as I got into this that this wasn’t about them, these dead people that are back there, this is about me.”  

Bill: Exactly.

Fisher: And once he came to that realization then it took on an entirely new meaning. And I think that’s the case for many people.

Bill: I really came to know my ancestors, my Griffeth ancestors, as if they were still alive today.  

Fisher: Yes.  

Bill: My wife and I visited those parts of the country where they lived back in the 17 and 1800s and I came to know them as well as I know my own relatives today. And you know, initially when the DNA test came out I just felt like they had been ripped away from me. I’m in a different place now I should point out. I’ve gone through all of the different emotions of grief as its been identified.

Fisher: Sure.

Bill: I went through denial, I went through a depression, I went through anger, but I’m truly at the acceptance part right now. This was four years ago when this happened and I really accept it. And I’m at a point where I can still view my Griffeth family history as my own because that’s what I grew up. I’m still a Griffeth. That’s not going to change.  

Fisher: Question: Did you need to go through some counseling for that?   

Bill: No. I did visit my physician because I knew I needed some help. And he said to me I’ve got two choices for you. He could help me find a psychologist who could help me work through it, or he could give me some medications to help me. And I said, “I really need the medication. I need help now. I don’t need the long-term thing.” And so I went the medical route that medicine would allow. But no, I never did the counseling. I worked through it on my own.   

Fisher: Well, at the time of course you had to work [laughs] you had to be on the air every day.  

Bill: That rather demanding day job, too, that I had to fulfill.  

Fisher: Yeah. And let’s talk about the day that you got this results. Just walk us through it. You’re on the job at the point that you got this information. It was an email from your cousin. What did it say and just what did it do to you at that moment, and were you confident in what he said or did you doubt?

Bill: I was sitting in the CNBC newsroom in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and it was just after noon. I was sitting at my desk having lunch. I was having a sandwich and I was going over the wires getting ready for that day’s show, and I checked my personal email and there was one from my cousin Doug. And it said, “Retest results are in” and as I mentioned, he had told me a month before that they got a weird result and he asked for them to retest it. So, now the retest results were in and [laughs] so I opened the email and it says, “Deep breath now…” he’s preparing me. Our Y-chromosomes the haplogroup if you know the name, was not the same as his. And our haplogroups should have been identical since we were first cousins. So, my haplogroup was not what was expected and he closed it by simply saying, “Your father was not your father.” Well, how do you respond to that? As I say in the book, my body responded before my mind could. I mean, I just felt this out of body experience as if I was floating suddenly. I couldn’t feel the phone in my hand that had the email. I couldn’t feel the chair I was sitting in. I was still in the newsroom but I might as well have been a thousand miles away because I just really had this surreal experience when I got that. And then when my mind kicked in it was absolutely denial right away. I said, “There has to be something wrong here.” So, I wrote back to Doug and I said, “You’ll understand if I’m skeptical of these results. I plan to take another test just to get a second opinion on all this, and we’ll learn what the real truth is.” So you know, it was total denial at that point, absolutely. It would be for anybody I guess.  

Fisher: So, how long after you got that email did you have to go on national television?

Bill: Well, that was at 12:30 in the afternoon, I was on the air at 3 o’clock so a couple of hours [laughs]. We went back and looked at the tape from that day and I guess I looked normal.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Bill: But I have to tell you I was in a fog the rest of that day. I really don’t remember that day. And in fact, that evening I was emceeing a big dinner in New York City. We were honoring some alumni from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, and I don’t remember that night either. The rest of the day is a total fog after that. I don’t know how I got through it but I did somehow.

Fisher: He’s Bill Griffeth from CNBC. He’s the author of “The Stranger in My Genes” published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Bill hang on let’s talk to you for another segment. I want to find out where this went and how it developed as you found your new family.

Segment 3 Episode 380

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Bill Griffeth

Fisher: And we are back, Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, and I’m talking to Bill Griffeth, the CNBC Anchor, author of “The Stranger in My Genes” about his experience of getting a DNA test back through a cousin that said “Hey, Bill, guess what? Your dad’s not your dad and you’re on the air in just a few hours, good luck with that.”

Bill: [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] What a day!

Bill: That’s how it happened.

Fisher: [Laughs] And you went on, Bill, to actually reach out to try to find your, I guess you’d say birth family, of course. And of course you had to confront your mother, too, who was still living at that time, and you had that choice of “How am I going to shake her world? And if I don’t, what does that do to me if I don’t get that answer, if I don’t find out before she’s gone?”

Bill: You know, I’m very lucky, Scott, that my Mom is still around. She’s 98 years old now, and she was 94 at the time. And I have to say, you really haven’t lived until you’ve heard your mother have to confess to a fling of some sort. You know, I really, really wrestled with whether I was going to present this information to her or not. I just, I don’t want this to define her final days, but I had no choice if I was going to get answers. I spoke with my brother about this at length. It was a time when I said “I don’t want to pursue this any further. I don’t want to trouble Mom with it.” But as my brother said, you know, “What if you want answers eventually and she’s gone? What are you going to do, and what about your children? They’re going to need answers down the road.” I was asking her not just from on my own behalf, but of future generations as well, we really needed to know the truth. So I presented her with DNA evidence, and, you know, she took it like a champ, she admitted that she had made a mistake when she was younger, and that was that. I will say, we don’t talk about it anymore, she and I, we’ve made peace over it. She knows that I need to tell my own story, but she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, and I respect that. She’s of a different generation, a different time, and while we’re willing to talk about all this today, she comes from a time when they were not. I’ve insulated her from all of this, and while she knows about the book and she’s fine with it, she just doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. So I learned from her some of the basic details of how it all came about, and then, God bless my wife, Cindy, she’s the one who really took the ball and ran with it. Because I was for months, I was in denial and I really was in a fetal position. I didn’t want to deal with this. So Cindy ran with it and she found as much information as she could about my biological family, so I thank her so much for helping me get through all of that.

Fisher: You said something though here a moment ago that made me think, your Mom said, “I made a mistake.”

Bill: Yes.

Fisher: Now, in your frame of mind, when you heard that, what did that do for you?

Bill: Yeah, I did a lot of ruminating about that in the book. I heard her say “I made a mistake,” but what I didn’t hear her say was, “I’m glad I made the mistake,” because I’m the result of that mistake. I think that like a lot of people who may make this same discovery, there’s a lot of soul searching that goes on, and I was angry at the world, and I was angry at her, I was angry at my biological father, but really, when you think about it, as shocked as I was to learn about my, you know, the circumstances that led to my birth, I’m also eternally grateful, because let’s face it, if those two people hadn’t made that mistake, I would not be here today. So it’s a classic dilemma that I face. The only take away I have from this is to be grateful about it. I mean, I’m here, I’m alive, and so I’m thankful.

Fisher: And you’re making contributions, and you’ve got children, and they’re going on, and it just continues from there, absolutely.

Bill: Exactly.

Fisher: So you’ve run into a lot of people who have had similar experiences, no doubt, as a result of this book. Tell us about some of the stories you’re hearing.

Bill: That has been the big eye opener for me, Scott. Almost immediately after the book came out in September, I heard from people who knew of other people who had similar experiences, or they had their own experiences in their family. I’ll tell you a couple of examples. One man received a DNA testing kit for Christmas, and he took the DNA test, and long story short, he discovered a daughter that he didn’t know he had. You know, Merry Christmas!

Fisher: Right.

Bill: There’s a gift that keeps on giving. Another man took the DNA test and he was an only child. He discovered that he had been adopted. And he had been an avid genealogist for many years. And while I’ve been able to accept it, this man did not. And he spent 15 years doing exactly what I did with my wife, traveling the country, doing all the family history research, and when he discovered that he had been adopted, he felt deceived by it all, and he took all of that research and he donated it away. He just gave it away, he gave up on genealogy altogether. It’s been really heart breaking for me to know about that. One more story, a woman reached out to me through Twitter. She wrote to me that she’d finished the book and she was relieved to know that she was not alone in this world. She learned 18 months ago that her father was not her father. She has not been able to tell a single soul. She said I am the first person she’s been able to tell. She has a husband, she has children, they don’t know, and they still don’t know to this day. She and I are still corresponding, and I’ve encouraged her to journal. I’ve encouraged her to tell somebody, anybody. You cannot do this alone.

Fisher: Right.

Bill: You’ve got to unload this burden that you suddenly have, if you’re going to get through this. So she’s still harboring this great secret and keeping it from those who are closest to her. But I think eventually she’ll get around to telling somebody. So these are the kinds of stories I’m hearing right now, and it’s amazing. I just think that there are so many people out there we don’t know about who have a similar circumstance. I’m just the one who was dumb enough to write a book about it!

Fisher: [Laughs] I don’t think so! Well that had to be, you know, kind of Balm of Iliad, as they say, for you.

Bill: Yeah.

Fisher: To write the book and get it all down, right?

Bill: It was very cathartic. I mean, I tend to journal. I don’t keep a daily diary, but I tend to journal when important things happen in my life… when my father passed away, when my children were born, and so forth. So I was journaling like mad after I got that DNA test. And really, the book “The Stranger in My Genes” is an evolved version of that journal. And, you know, between my wife and the journal, those are the two things that really helped me get through this, because she was so supportive and helpful in finding information about my biological family, and the journal helped me just kind of relieve the angst that I was feeling.

Fisher: Sure.

Bill: So I encourage anybody, if you’re going through this, reach out, it will be a difficult first step, but you’ve got to be able to tell somebody and get your feelings on paper. Just pour it out, get it out of your system, because it’s so healthy to do that.

Fisher: I wanted to ask you. I’m thinking, as we look forward, I think we’re going to see a lot more of this with DNA, and I’m sure you would agree, especially as we look back to the “Sexual Revolution” of the ‘60s and ‘70s, right?

Bill: Yes, absolutely. I just think that DNA testing is going to have a profound impact, not only on biotechnology and medicine, it’s already having an impact there. But I think it’s going to have a profound impact on our social culture. I’ll tell you a quick funny story. When I did the Today Show in late September after the book came out, Al Roker… I’ve known Al for many years… and he spotted me in the hallway at NBC there in New York City. And he came running over and saw my book, and he yelled “The Stranger in My Genes” are what we all did in the 1970s!”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Bill: You know, that sort of encapsulates in a funny way the story. You know, we will… The secrets will come out. Back then, who knew that DNA testing would become a reality, but it has. And I think it’s going to bring up a lot of secrets that had been buried for a long time.

Fisher: Well, it’s “The Stranger in My Genes” G E N E S! [Laughs]

Bill: [Laughs] Yes.

Fisher: The author is Bill Griffeth, the CNBC Anchor. Bill, it has been a joy to talk to you, and thank you so much for coming onto the show. We wish you the best of luck with the book. And of this ongoing story and its development, we look forward to hearing more resolution with that, and hopefully finding out about some of the biological relatives you may meet down the line.

Bill: Yes. I think someday I’ll be able to reach out to that. Scott, it’s been a great pleasure. I’m a big fan of yours, as I said, the whole genie organization you formed there, so thank you so much for having me on today!

Fisher: Thanks so much Bill. And coming up next, David Allen Lambert is back as we go through your questions for another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show, in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 380

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: And welcome back genies. It is time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert has returned to his seat. And David, we have a question here from Penny in Albany, Oregon and she says, “Guys, I have this great photograph of some of my family members standing on the running board of an old Model T and the license plate is on full display. Is there some way for me to run that license plate and know who owned the car?” Ah, a little forensic photography genealogy here! David, what do you think?

David: Well, you know, it’s amazing to say that there are ways to do it. I mean, it’s not as simple as Googling it or calling your local law enforcement friend and say, “Could you run the plates on this car from 1917? I’m looking for the owner.” There are these blue books that exist. The Automobile Association sometimes kept track of drivers and plate numbers. Often the registry of motor vehicles may actually have an archive and especially since its from back in the day, there may even be historical records on the state library level that record those that had licensed automobiles in your community.

Fisher: Hmm, and that is interesting. You know, first of all, she said she’s from Oregon and I do know that Oregon plates are actually in a database on Ancestry.com.

David: Oh, excellent!

Fisher: Yeah, I don’t know how far back they go, but because I’ve had family from Oregon also, I’ve been able to look at that database. I believe New Jersey may also have a database and of course it depends on, you know, where this car was from. Maybe she’s from Oregon, but the car itself was in some other state where the ancestors were living. But nonetheless, there’s that. The other thing that’s interesting about early cars is that the drivers were not typically the owners of the car. They were often hired people, because the fact that cars were really expensive, people didn’t have them commonly until Henry Ford started the whole mass production thing. So, sometimes you would actually find newspaper stories about the license number of certain chauffeurs that would drive the cars around.

David: That’s true.

Fisher: I don’t know if this would fit into that category or not, but nonetheless, you could potentially find something in the newspapers. That would be probably the bottom of my list of sources to find this out. But your blue books are dead on, David.

David: Well, you know, the other thing is, keep in mind that depending on the setting, there are also photographers that would drive their automobile onto their photoset, it may have been indoors or outdoors and people would pose that didn’t own a car, but it would be like, “Here’s our brand new car” and they run the plate and find out, “Oh, it’s the name of the photographer on the back of the picture.”

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: It’s the photographer on the back of the picture, so…

Fisher: You might be deceived, yeah. You know, license plates are so much fun and they are kind of a mystery I think. My grandfather who lived in Oregon actually kept all of his license plates from all of his cars dating back to 1912 just up on the wall of the barn. And when we would come visit his back in the 1960s and ’70’s, it was so fun to look at these things, because they were so antique, you know, that anybody could have even been alive back in 1912. It was an amazing thing to us, but my brother has two of them and he’s just recently been asking about them, so I may have to take a little run in the blue books of Oregon on Ancestry myself and see if we can pinpoint a year that my grandfather may have had those plates on his vehicle and what they vehicle was!

David: That’s true, because you can find the identity of the vehicle as well, because it’s going to describe what the vehicle that they were driving is. And you may not be able to guess it right off, because you know, a lot of those old Model Ts kind of look alike back in the day.

Fisher: That’s really true. But what could be fun though is, once you’ve identified what the car is and what year is that license plate may have been in service, you can then find maybe trips mentioned in the local newspaper through Newsspapers.com or where they went or if they were in an accident or something. I mean, you can get the full history on not only the car, but the plate itself.

David: You just never know what you can find in newspapers that’s for sure.

Fisher: All right, thanks so much for the question, Penny. We’ve got another one coming up here when we return with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 380

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, time for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with David Allen Lambert from AmericanAncestors.org, the Chief Genealogist. And we have a question from Lana in South Carolina. And Dave, she says, “Guys, I’m heading up to New England this summer and I want to go visit some places my ancestors lived. I found a Massachusetts will from 1726 of my 8th great grandfather and it has an entire page of properties that he owned. How might I be able to find out where these places were so I could go stand on them?”

David: Wow! [Laughs] Delighted to have a Massachusetts question and I’m also delighted to tell you that thanks to the hard work of FamilySearch.org, all those deeds have been microfilmed for years, but even better yet, they’re available on FamilySearch.org and you can get them from home without even having to be at an affiliate library. So, the grantor and grantee index is the first place obviously you want to check. The grantor being the one purchasing the property and the grantee is the person that’s buying it. Now, the idea is that, the estate may be selling off part of the property, so there may be an immediate sale from the executor who could be the spouse or maybe one of the sons or the family selling the land off, so you might quickly be able to find out the details. And what’s nice about deeds, at least in New England, that it always gives you a reference, “This is the same property conveyed to me in 1705 on a sale between me and Thomas Jones.” So you’ve got all of that great information right in the body of the deed. Now the other thing to keep in mind is that property that you want to visit may have not even been purchased. It may have been conveyed from another person’s probate. So, look up the last will and testament of your ancestor’s parents as well as his in laws, because that may have been an inherited piece of property and may have never  been conveyed by deed, but by another probate. Now you probably found some of these properties in your own family that are, you know, the homestead with the farm, but some of them are wood lots where they would buy it just solely for the purpose of cutting down lumber to have it for trees or maybe even for building purposes.

Fisher: Huh! Yeah, and it’s interesting when you get in there and they start describing these things you know that, “You go 300 yards from the edge of Enos Smith’s western border, down to the road that carries you off to Fairfield. I mean, it’s really hard to get the description that way, but I would imagine there’s got to be some local authorities who could help you nail down exactly where this was.

David: You know, and that’s true, because the abutters are going to help you, so you can get your north, south, east, west abutters. But the other thing is, you know, you’re not going to have much detail when it says, “Take a left 10 rods by a white oak to a pile of stones,” and then you’re standing in the middle of that Wal-Mart parking lot trying to figure out where that tree may have been 300 years ago. So yeah, there’s some difficulty, but you can probably find that some local historical society for that town may already know where the cellar hole was or maybe the house is still there and you can use that as your ground zero and triangulate where the properties and abutting properties were and maybe not stand on the property, but stand near it perhaps.

Fisher: Yeah, you never know how this is going to work out. But it does require some work, there’s no question that this is not an easy thing to do. So hopefully you have allowed yourself a little extra time here, Lana to do the research before you go. And isn’t it great, David that things are opening up and people are starting to go out and research again and travel and it is such a relief to see so much of that. We’re not quite through all of it yet, but hopefully people are getting their shots and getting out and having better experiences now after all this time.

David: Definitely.

Fisher: All right, David. Thanks so much. And thank you, Lana for the question. And of course if you ever have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can email us at [email protected]. Well, that is a really big show for this week. And thanks once again to Bill Griffeth, the financial reporter for sharing his story about learning that his dad wasn’t his dad through a DNA test. It’s a classic interview from 2016. If you missed any of it, of course catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.comand Spotify. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we’re a nice, normal family!

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