Episode 384 - Mystery Of 1958 Disappearance Solved With DNA, Rocks Family’s World

podcast episode Jul 19, 2021

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin Family Histoire News with news about the 2022 RootsTech conference. Then, Fisher shares word of a landmark achieved by WikiTree research team with this year’s WikiTree Challenge. David then shares a DNA breakthrough story that COULD NOT have a better ending. For anybody. Ever. David then has a story of a remarkable archaeological discovery. Plus, who knew the Brits were kidnapping Americans to make the sailors before the Revolution? Hear what that led to!

Next, in two parts, Fisher visits with Jilayne Davidson of Calgary, Alberta. Jilayne never knew her father, a man, she was told, who was indigenous and from Oklahoma. Wanting to know about her indigenous side Jilayne began a journey that recently solved a mystery for two families who knew nothing of each other. One family knew what happened before 1958 and the other knew what happened after. And now, both families know the whole story.

Then, David returns for another round of Ask Us Anything.

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

Transcript of Episode 384

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 384

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. Boy, have we got a story for you today! Yeah, it’s the story of Jilayne Davidson who was trying to find out about her birth father. She didn’t know anything about him. She knew that he and her mom had separated when she was a year old. And she knew a few things from her mom, but not much else. Meanwhile, there’s another family who knew this member of their family up until 1958 when he disappeared. Somehow the story comes together. You’re going to want to hear the whole thing out of the mouth of Jilayne Davidson coming up in less than ten minutes. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, this is my weekly reminder, get on the list. You can just sign up through our Facebook page or at ExtremeGenes.com. Right now it’s time to head out to Boston, Massachusetts where David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David, how you’re been?

David: I’m doing great. But I’m a little blue about next year because I got the news that RootsTech is going to be virtual. Now, mind you, I love virtual events and I’m looking forward to hopefully presenting and getting to see so much content, but I’ll miss our one on one experience that we haven’t had since 2020.

Fisher: Well, I will too, but I think what they’re doing is just playing it safe.

David: Absolutely.

Fisher: Just not knowing exactly how things are going to shake out through the rest of the year and all that, but they also have said moving forward after that we’ll see a combination of live and virtual. And you know, you can’t argue with the success this past year. More people saw RootsTech, I mean in multiples.

David: Over a million people, yeah.

Fisher: Yeah, it was crazy. So, it’s great and I’m excited that it’s going to be back in whatever form.

David: Exactly. As long as there’s a RootsTech, I want to be a part of it. You know, I know you’ve got the lead story with the gal with her dad that was found through DNA, but another great DNA story is with Jordan Myers, a young lady whose 21 years old, thinking that her dad was a Puerto Rican boyfriend of her mother’s, and it turns out she’s a little different. The DNA shows that she was actually half Afghan. Well, you couldn’t ask for a better success story because now she’s in contact with the dad and he wants to make up for lost time. Oh, by the way, did I mention, he’s rich?

Fisher: Yeah.

David: He wants to set her up for life! [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah, set her up for life! [Laughs] How does a DNA story get any better than that? You know, we often hear people are very worried, how am I going to be received? And rightfully so, and I understand that. Most stories turn out pretty good actually, but this one, this is off the charts! [Laughs]

David: It is great and for those who watch Tik Tok, you can watch her exciting video explaining all this at “Jordan the first” on her Tik Tok page. Well, you know, I love archeological finds and of course, I think of the symbol from the American Medical Association, the staff with the snake.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: From Moses, The Ten Commandments of Charlton Heston and all that, the Old Testament. Well, something right out of the Old Testament was found, archeologists have found a 4,400 year old serpent staff in Finland. The boggy soil allows for many things to be preserved that normally would corrode. This one half meter length serpent staff was found and it looks like a snake that slithering along with the head of a serpent with an open mouth. It’s something you’ve really got to see to believe, but I’m like, who dropped that?

Fisher: Wow!

David: So, they don’t know if it’s some sort of a medicine man from long ago but they date it from around 4,400 years ago and it’s made out of wood.

Fisher: Wow! Of wood?

David: Of wood, yes.

Fisher: That’s incredible! And it survived. I hope that’s in a museum soon.

David: I hope that it is being treated immediately so it won’t disintegrate into sawdust soon.

Fisher: Yeah, interesting.

David: You know, I get a great story here, the role of Naval Impressment in the American Revolution and you may have probably seen this in your own ancestors if you had anybody in the Navy that they had to take out seaman protection papers. The magnitude in this story from the JSTOR Daily which you’ll find on ExtremeGenes.com, and this story is great because it talks about the roles of all of these sailors in and a high percentage of them that were put into the British Navy and were fighting against us, but were they in support of us because they were in there against their own will? You decide.

Fisher:  Yeah. Well, there was 40 percent of the British Navy is said to have been impressed from people all over the world, but a lot of them were American seamen, it was a virtual kidnapping.

David: It really was and it went on for years.

Fisher: Yes and it changed a lot of the opinions of people about the mother country and really help change opinions leading up to the Revolutionary War. But I just love the result of that for us as genealogists. That seamen protection database that’s on Ancestry, I was able to find the only known picture of my grandfather’s brother who decided to work for this cruise ship company for one year in 1923 and they had to take his picture. So, because of that I have the only photo ever found of him which is fantastic.

David: One of the reasons we got into the War of 1812 was because the British were doing this with American sailors. They were going on American vessels and taking American residents and putting them onboard and saying they were actually Brits. So, the seamen protection papers go back quite a ways and will tell you sometimes where in America someone was born and gives you a clue before birth records existed.

Fisher: Absolutely, and aside from the picture I found of my great uncle there are also two others like that before photography that gave me a lot of information. So, if you’ve never looked at the seamen protection program database on Ancestry, check it out there could be some real gems in there for you.

David: And don’t forget collateral relatives count too. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

David: Well, that’s about what I have from Beantown this week, and don’t forget, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors you can sign up and use the coupon code EXTREME and save $20 on your membership.

Fisher: All right David, talk to you at the backend of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, a remarkable DNA discovery that united two families around one incident that took place in 1958, you’re going to want to hear what Jilayne Davidson from Calgary, Alberta has to say, coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 384

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jilayne Davidson

Fisher: Well, we all love what DNA can do for us these days. Hey, it’s Fisher, its Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And my next guest Jilayne Davidson has a really unusual DNA story. She’s in Calgary, Alberta, and Jilayne, welcome to Extreme Genes.

Jilayne: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Fisher: I am so thrilled to talk to you about your story because it’s an amazing one. Your mother told you of course that she had split up with your father back when you were a year old and moved to where you are now in Calgary, and that he was an indigenous person, and that was all you’ve known for all these years, and now all of a sudden you’ve got a little bit more.

Jilayne: [Laughs] Well, I did know a few other things. My mom did tell me that he was from Oklahoma.

Fisher: Okay.

Jilayne: And she said that he was Cherokee, and she said that his parents’ names were Nora and Victor.

Fisher: Nora and Victor. 

Jilayne: Yeah. So, that was the piece of information I got when I was 12 years old and my mom told me about my father.

Fisher: Now, what was your father’s name as you knew it?

Jilayne: William Baca.

Fisher: Baca…but your parents were separated obviously or they never married. And then eventually you found out that you father had passed away in an accident in 1980 in a car crash.

Jilayne: Yeah. I probably found that out about 1978, between 1978 and 1980. I can’t really pinpoint it down. I know I was a teenage girl and we got a phone call from a friend who knew both of us and knew our story and he told my mom, and he called me and talked to my personally and told me that my father was killed in a car accident.  

Fisher: Hmm.

Jilayne: Yeah, and that was in Northern British Columbia. And being a young girl, I just kinda let it go like that. I just thought that I would never know my father. But my grandmother did tell me at the same time, once I did learn about him and about his death, she confessed to me that she had received letters from him over the years, but because I was adopted by my stepfather, and they had separated by this point as well, so she told me though “Your dad had been sending letters and unfortunately I’d thrown them out.” And she apologized to me, and had reconsidered and decided it was a mistake. So, that was a little sad.

Fisher: I’ll bet.

Jilayne: Yeah. He had been trying to keep in touch the best he could.

Fisher: Um hmm. So, at what point did you decide wait a minute, we have a new tool out here. We can take advantage of this. At what point did you say, “I’ve got to do the DNA test to see what I can find out”?

Jilayne: Well, since it’s come out I was held up. I don’t know exactly, it seems like something was always getting in my way and I think partly too is because I had searched for my father since I was I was in my 20s. And I did manage to find my half brother without the help of DNA back in the mid 90s. 

Fisher: Okay.

Jilayne: For me, I did manage to go and meet my brother up in Terrace, BC. His name is Sam Baca. The only way I found my brother is that he was named after my father’s alias. His name is William Baca.

Fisher: Ha!

Jilayne: And everybody called him Sam. So, I was trying to find my indigenous heritage, and I was trying to prove that actually to be able to work for this organization. And I also heard my grandparents were Mormons. So, by this time I had written to several Cherokee nations and gotten nowhere. I had checked the Mormon registry and had gotten nowhere for Victor and Nora Baca. So, finally I thought I’m going to try and call the RCMP and find out about my father’s accident and maybe I’ll get some clues there. So, I called up the Terrace, BC and I spoke to a RCMP officer and she told me she knew William Baca. And I was really perplexed.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jilayne: Because she said he was younger than me. She knew of him because he was a security guard at the mall.

Fisher: Oh, wow! [Laughs]

Jilayne: Yes! Yes, so that’s why his name rang a bell. And so she sent an officer and he went and got a hold of my brother, who was on vacation. But when he did call me and we compared notes that he was Cherokee, and Spanish, and from Oklahoma, his parents’ names were Nora and Victor. My brother had that information as well. So, yeah. I flew up. I met him. It was a surprise for Sam. So me and his wife, we connived together.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jilayne: [Laughs] And I flew up there on Halloween and I knocked on the door and he opened the door and handed me and my daughter a bag of chips and shut the door. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jilayne: We didn’t have any costumes on or anything. And his family was yelling, “Sam, open the door!” And he opened the door and he recognized it was me and the reunion was on.

Fisher: Oh my gosh! So, you started this long before DNA came along and you probably figured this has got to be it, whatever he knows about your dad would be all you’d ever learn.

Jilayne: That was it. I saw pictures of my dad, I went and we drove the highway between Prince Rupert and Terrace, which is the highway my father died on. And then we did go also over to my father’s grave. And for me, that did bring me an incredible amount of peace. And I kind of figured, you know, after everything else I had tried that this was the end of the road. [Laughs]

Fisher: Sure. Sure. And are you still in touch with Sam?

Jilayne: Yes. We’ve been in touch ever since, and we talk quite often. We actually have quite a strong connection, so that’s kind of been a very interesting thing too that we have this connection. Actually, we talk to each other a few times a month, so.

Fisher: That’s awesome. And I would imagine after all that’s happened since, you have a lot more to talk about.

Jilayne: Well, yes. He’s actually going to be down my way here so we’re hoping we’re going to have some time together here at the end of the month so looking forward to that for sure.

Fisher: Fantastic. So, let’s fast forward now to the DNA period here. You finally got on to this bandwagon.

Jilayne: I did.

Fisher: As you were held up over time. What was it that was keeping you from doing it? Did you just figure, no, I’ve got a good feel of this now, or did you finally decide well, maybe there’s something more to find?

Jilayne: Well, I kinda asked myself that question too because I was thinking about it. Something was always coming up, you know. I was kind of afraid that if I did this DNA, maybe it would come up empty again.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Jilayne: There was a fear of that and there was a fear of things just always coming up. And then just this past February I saw on Ancestry there was a deal, I said that’s it, I’m doing it. I just got on it right away and ordered the test. Ordered the rush test. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Awesome. Yeah.

Jilayne: Yeah. Let’s get it done. Let’s do it now. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the results that we got.

Fisher: Well, what did you see first of all among your matches? I would imagine though, you probably the first thing you wanted to see was the ethnicity results, right?

Jilayne: Yes. And that was a surprise as well because believing my father… well, I did get the indigenous part and also he has a little bit of Swedish in him.

Fisher: Okay. Wow!

Jilayne: Yeah. So, I was kinda like, hmm, that’s very different than what we knew. Because we thought it was Cherokee and Mexican. Of course, it didn’t specify the actual nation that he comes from. But yeah, so, from there of course, I went into the DNA matches of my cousins and first cousins.

Fisher: Were you aware of matches and how matching worked with DNA?

Jilayne: Not at all. Not at all. I was just kind of lost on the website because you know, once you get your DNA results, you get to register it and then I kinda delved in. And to be honest, the actual history of going back so long wasn’t really something that I was too terribly concerned with. I was more concerned with this hole in my soul that I’ve had for years.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Jilayne: Of wanting to know about my family and my father.

Fisher: And you didn’t realize that the matches could give you more than any of that ethnicity.

Jilayne: Oh, I was stunned.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jilayne: I was stunned because they were Canadian the other matches that I had. [Laughs]

Fisher: Okay. All right.

Jilayne: So, I was like okay, my dad was living in Canada so perhaps everybody moved up to Canada at some point.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Jilayne: So, I sent a message to a few of them and then my second cousin’s wife, who manages his tree, got a hold of me. And I am so grateful to Ilene. She did write me back and we kinda exchanged information and I sent her a picture of my dad and I was able to look at her tree, which is something you can do when you have a DNA match.

Fisher: Right.

Jilayne: You can look at other people’s tree. And there I saw my grandparents’ names, Nora and Victor. Except, they were not the Bacas, they were another name, Sinclair. It was Nora and Victor Sinclair.

Fisher: Now, when you saw that, what was your first reaction, Jilayne?

Jilayne: Completely confused. [Laughs]

Fisher: I’ll bet.

Jilayne: I had never heard the name Sinclair and didn’t quite know what to make about it. But I did share that with Ilene and said, “These names sound familiar, but the last name not at all. I sent her a picture that I had that my brother had given me of my father, and she was in touch with my aunt, who is my Dad’s last living sibling. Darlene, and sent the picture to her. And she said, “Oh my gosh! He looks just like the Sinclair boys.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jilayne: And so she sent me back this poster that was just devastating because it was the Canadian missing person.

Fisher: Ohh!

Jilayne: Yeah.

Fisher: And so this is the first you really knew that your dad was a missing person.

Jilayne: Yes. When I saw that poster, I was overcome. I was shaking. [Laughs] I didn’t even know how to process it.

Fisher: Well, didn’t your mom kind of imply to you that your dad was quite secretive and that was one of the reasons that she broke up with him?

Jilayne: I don’t think she said… he said he wanted to marry her but couldn’t.  And of course, I was born in ‘64 so I’m giving away my age, but those were different times. 

Fisher: Um hmm.

Jilayne: And you know, my mom wanted to be married.

Fisher: Sure.

Jilayne: I mean, she was having his child. You know, that’s it. So, she just assumed that the reason why he wouldn’t, because he kept telling her, “I want to marry you, but I can’t.” And he said, “I can’t tell you why.” And so she just assumed he was married and was refusing to get divorced.

Fisher: Right. And of course

Jilayne: And unfortunately, I mean…

Fisher: He wasn’t married though.

Jilayne: No. No. No. He had actually… his story is quite tragic when you start to think about it. Of course, I have [Laughs] and it’s quite emotional because it really changed the trajectory of many people’s lives.

Fisher:  All right. Let’s take a break right there then and come back and talk about that story and the trajectory that it changed when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 384

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jilayne Davidson

Fisher: Hey, we’re back on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here your Radio Roots Sleuth and I’m talking to Jilayne Davidson from Calgary, Alberta. And Jilayne has been telling us all about her dad, an indigenous man from Canada with a mysterious background. She never knew him. She actually tracked down a brother, a half brother some time back who has become very close to her. But, recently with DNA she’s made some fascinating discoveries including the background of why her dad was so mysterious. And Jilayne, let’s just go back there now from what you’ve learned about Mervin Sinclair AKA your dad William Baca.

Jilayne: Yeah. Back then it was 1958 of course that was a different time as well, a few years before my birth. My father went into the military and he had a bad experience there and he was supposed to head off to Vancouver, from what I was told and he decided to go home because of what had happened to him there. And when he returned home, that was in Saskatchewan. He went home for the long-weekend and reported to his siblings that somebody had attempted to sexually assault him, a corporal, somebody who was superior to him. And of course he responded and there was violence. He was afraid to return.

Fisher: Sure.

Jilayne: He was afraid to go back to the military base and afraid of what would happen once he did return because apparently the corporal had threatened him, and afraid to go to jail. So, he never did return. Apparently, somebody had seen him hitchhiking back to Wainwright, which is a piece that I still can’t quite put together from everything I’ve learned, but he never did show up, and he was gone. And the Sinclair family back in Saskatchewan some time later received his belongings which were full of blood, so that was very concerning for them.

Fisher: Huh!

Jilayne: They never knew what happened to him.

Fisher: Where did they come from? Were they from the military?

Jilayne: Yes. They were what he had left behind. The military had sent him his belongings home.

Fisher: Okay. So, the assumption was that he had likely been murdered?

Jilayne: They didn’t know. My aunt Darlene talks a little bit about it but just that they didn’t know. They heard so many things over the years. So, you know my dad, he left and ended up somehow in the Sundre area which is where my mom is from. He was working as a ranch-hand and my mom fell in love with him and he just carried on with his life under this assumed name of William Baca.

Fisher: Amazing.

Jilayne: Yeah, he managed to keep that. He said his parents’ real names but never actually gave the last name.

Fisher: Interesting.

Jilayne: And what an incredible secret to keep.

Fisher: Wow! So, you’d always heard Nora and Victor but you didn’t realize it wasn’t Baca, it was Sinclair.

Jilayne: That’s right.

Fisher: So, your dad actually has a sister still has a sister living right now. What was her response when she heard that you had emerged as a result of this DNA test?

Jilayne: Oh, she wanted to meet me right away, which I don’t blame her. [Laughs]

Fisher: Sure.

Jilayne: Their family has been looking for him for their entire lives. She came over to meet me pretty much immediately. I think, I met her the next day after she had learned that.

Fisher: Really.

Jilayne: Yeah. I was lucky because she actually lived in Calgary.

Fisher: Really?

Jilayne: [Laughs] Yes. Yeah, so that is another fortunate piece of synchronicity that kind of worked together. So, I’ve been able to spend some time getting to know my aunty Darlene.

Fisher: And the sad thing is you also had an uncle who searched for your Dad for 50 years, who just died late last year.

Jilayne: Yes. Ralph Sinclair, my uncle. He was looking for my dad and actually did a piece with the Dawson City News about what had happened. What they suspected in the military. There was another story about my father being “Septic Tank Sam” which is another mystery here in Alberta where they found a body like 40 years ago in a septic tank that had been horribly murdered. And oddly enough, that mystery has now been solved as well. But before they had DNA, they just thought it was a possibly, but my uncles both submitted their DNAs so they were able to prove that my dad was in fact not Septic Tank Sam.

Fisher: Wow, what a name.

Jilayne: Yeah.

Fisher: So, how long has it taken you to get your head all around this amazing story?

Jilayne: I’m still working on that, to be honest with you. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] How has it changed your life? I mean, have you met all these people? Have you had reunions?

Jilayne: No, not yet. We just learned this like in February. And then of course now there’s been an RCMP investigation.

Fisher: Okay. For people here, that’s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Jilayne: Yes. This is basically to close the missing person’s case for my father.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Jilayne: And we’re hoping from that point on we’ll be able to put him to rest properly with his correct name on his marker and stuff like that. But first, we have to be able to close the missing person’s case

Fisher: So, how are they going about that because obviously your DNA matched to Darlene and to Ralph’s son Podge? I mean, that has to be a big key to this investigation. Do they understand the power of DNA that they have in their hands?

Jilayne: Well, this has been a little bit of an interesting… I think it’s confusing for some of the folks even those in my family. Because there’s now the DNA from the Ancestry test that originally brought us all together and now there’s also been a DNA match through DNA from the RCMP. So, apparently the case is not completely closed yet. So, the police of course the RCMP don’t want to comment, I don’t believe until everything is finalized. But, seems pretty cut and dry like you said with the DNA that my dad is Mervin Sinclair and now we can all know what happened to him, know his story, and be able to put him to rest. And I really hope that somehow, someway he knows if he’s watching all this and feels some kind of peace.

Fisher: Oh, I imagine so.

Jilayne: Yeah.

Fisher: And it’s interesting because you would think for the Sinclairs, they now know what happened after he disappeared. And for you and your brother Sam, you now know what happened to him before he showed up in your life.

Jilayne: Yes, it’s a huge piece. The puzzle has been solved. So I am so grateful. Submitting your DNA you never know [Laughs] what might come up.  

Fisher: Right.

Jilayne: This is going to like bring peace to a lot of people. There’s still some stuff that we need to do. I do want to meet my family and I do want to know more and I have learned a lot, like it’s so weird, when I first did my Ancestry tree, I had my mom’s side of the family going back until my great, great grandparents, and then I just had William Baca on the other side. [Laughs]

Fisher: Right.

Jilayne: And now I have ancestors going right back to my great, great grandparents on both sides.

Fisher: Isn’t that a thrill.

Jilayne: That’s a thrill and it’s such a gift to be able to pass down to my grandchildren too.

Fisher: Yes, absolutely.

Jilayne: We know who we are.

Fisher: Especially as you add the stories of Mervin’s parents and grandparents.

Jilayne: Yes.

Fisher: And that’s just life changing stuff. Well, congratulations! What do you hope is going to happen next and is anybody writing a book about this?

Jilayne: [Laughs] Well, I have some very, very interesting people that are in my family. So, we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to get together and get to know one another and perhaps, there might even be a documentary in the works, but we’re not one hundred percent there yet. I think we’re all just assimilating this new information.

Fisher: Well, when you consider you’ve got a missing person case, it’s 50 years old, you’ve got the DNA component, you’ve got everybody wondering what came before, what came after nobody knows. And finally, it’s all resolved. I mean, it would make a great documentary and I would watch it. [Laughs]

Jilayne: Thank you.

Fisher: So, put on your makeup and be ready. We’re ready to see that whole thing.

Jilayne: [Laughs]

Fisher: She’s Jilayne Davidson from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. And she is the daughter of Mervin Sinclair AKA William Baca, and now they know who he is, where he came from, and where he went. Great story Jilayne, thanks so much for your time, we appreciate it.

Jilayne: Thank you for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert returns as we do another round of Ask Us Anything, answering your questions on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 384

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: We are back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is in the house. And David, our first question for this segment comes to us from Les Hongrin in Minneapolis and he writes, "Fisher and Dave, what records have an ancestor's height? My family's really tall and we want to see how far back tall goes. Les." Good question. Wow!

David: Well, first thing that comes to mind is military.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: I mean, your draft registration cards of World War I, World War II always gives you some sort of a physical description. You may get it in surviving school records. Of course you want the later years, not the first grade. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Yeah, you want to wait for adolescence to kick in.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: How about you? Have you found anything that's been good for height?

Fisher: Yeah, actually. This doesn't have to do with military so much, as least not directly, but in the war of 1812, they kept track of enemy aliens in New York City.

David: That's right.

Fisher: And so, they would go around and they would register all the people there. And there were actually two different versions of it, one was from the navy and one was from the county sheriff I believe over two different years. And they would put the height of the principle enemy alien in there. So, I had a British third great grandfather who had not naturalized yet, so as an enemy alien, they had to register him and his height was on that.

David: Do you know another thing that just came to mind, newspaper ads for people who were runaways, may have been enslaved person or maybe your ancestor was indentured to someone and he broke the contract and ran away, the other thing, jail records.

Fisher: Oh yes!

David: You want to keep track of those prisoners, you know, how tall they are when they run away.

Fisher: Right. And you have a lot of those in your family.

David: I do.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Grandpa was 5'10. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, and I remember another one, speaking of which is, I had an ancestor in London who abandoned the family and that left the care of the family to the local parish church. They did not like that, so they put an ad in the newspaper described his height, they described what he looked like, They described the clothes he was wearing last seen, what he did for a living, who he last worked for, the name of his wife and the fact he'd left behind five kids and they were offering a “tuppence” for his return, something like that. Anyway, that gave his description that way. You can often get even a lot more than height, you know, you can get those physical descriptions on many of these different ads.

David: And MOD records. Check the drivers’ license files it will have your height on.

Fisher: Oh wow! That would be good.

David: Yeah. And of course in your kitchen if you had kids growing up, chances are you scratched or etched or sharpied their height on it. So, don't forget, before you move or paint over it, take a picture of it and make a permanent record.

Fisher: You know, it’s always frustrating to me when I find a record like the military ones you're talking about. Some of the draft registrations, especially in World War I, it wasn't, you know, he's 5'8 3/4, it was “tall, short or medium.” That was it. And the build was that way, too. And it’s like, oh, come-on! Give us a little more than that. I want specifics to see where I got my height or lack of it.

David: So I guess the real thing here is, write down in your own family record how tall you are, you spouse is, your kids are as adults, your grandkids once they turn the late teenage years, and you know, keep track of that thing, and also hair color, eye color, and all that. I mean, it’s all important, and DNA does tell us some things.

Fisher: That's true.

David: But it may not tell us exactly how tall our ancestor is. So, if you get that fact in your head now, write it down.

Fisher: It just occurred to me that I also have a record that was passed down from some cousins. They kept a record of the family from the 19th century and they wrote a physical description of all these people with their height on there as well. So, yeah, those things are out there. You've just got to look in different places. You've got to get a little creative sometimes. But, great question, Les. And thank you for it. And coming up next, we have another one coming from Los Alamos, New Mexico in three minutes when we return on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 384

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: Okay, back at it. It’s our final question this week for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fish here, its David Allen Lambert over there from the New England Historic genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And Dave, this question comes from Debra Brink in Los Alamos, New Mexico and she says, "Guys, love the show. I'm trying to find out which of my ancestors were literate. How can that be determined?" Good question, Debra. Where do you want to start with that, Dave?

David: Well, I mean we can start with more recent things like our kids will show up in the newspaper for the spelling bees and so did maybe our parents and our grandparents, because the newspapers will talk about those who graduated from high school or from grammar school. But the federal census starting in the 19th century would record whether or not a person could read or write, so there's a place, the census enumerator took down that information for you.

Fisher: Right. That’s really good.

David: There's a lot of different records that are out there. Robert Charles Henderson who is a scholar of the Great Migration, for the early New Englanders who came over between 1620 and 1640, when he did these sketches, he includes education, and that doesn't mean, Fish that they went to Oxford University, that means that in the inventory of their estate, they had a bible or another book or scripture or maybe some other books that shows that obviously he or she could read. And the other thing is, probate, because you know when you look for your ancestor's probate, we may not have a photo of our ancestor, but the signature shows that they were literate, that they could write.

Fisher: Yeah. And in wills from the 18th, 19th centuries also can tell you whether or not they had books in their inventory. That would be useful. You know what's interesting to me about all this too Dave is, a lot of people couldn't write their names back in the day. They would put an initial. For instance, we have one on my wife's side named Elisha Stout. Came from Monmouth County, New Jersey and he used the letter E for Elisha as his mark. [Laughs] And there are a lot of genealogists out there who said, “His name was Elisha E. Stout.”

David: Oh no!

Fisher: Because that's how it appeared in the record. It’s like, no, no, no, that meant he couldn't write. That was just his initial for his first name.

David: You know, this is even like with the middle initial that you find on ladies in the 1700s that maybe they're listed as Mary S. Johnson. Well, the S isn't her middle name is Susan, it’s the S, because her maiden name is Stuart and somebody may have jotted it down that way.

Fisher: Um hmm, yeah, it’s possible. There were really very few people who had middle names before the 19th century. I mean, it was really, really rare.

David: It is. And you start to see them come into vogue around the American Revolutionary War, where you get George Washington this and Thomas Jefferson that. But before that, it’s just biblical names for the most part and just one name, which makes it great when you're looking for your John Smith in northern New Hampshire.

Fisher: Yeah. I can think of one though for the 18th century, John Paul Jones, right?

David: Well, yeah, yeah, and there were exceptions to the rules, of course.

Fisher: Not many.

David: No, no, not a lot. I mean, out of the percentage of 100, you'll probably dealing with 15 maybe.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: And again, that's just an estimated guess. But if you look at the vital records in 16 and 1700s, find the ones that have middle names and you probably will not find as many as you might find, say, on an online tree.

Fisher: There you go. Well, there you go, Debra. If you want to know if your ancestors were literate, could they write their name? Do they have books in their inventory of their estate or mentioned somewhere else in the records? I think those things are about it really, Dave.

David: Yeah, there really isn't, unless of course you have personal family papers that might give you that clue, too, diaries that somebody may have kept, letters, post cards, whatever and that may give you an added clue, but that's on a personal and family history level on your own family archive.

Fisher: Well, there you go. That's Ask Us Anything for this week. Thank you, Debra for the question. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, just email us at [email protected]. David, talk to you next week.

David: Talk to you soon.

Fisher: And that is our show for this week. Thank you so much for joining us. And thanks once again to Jilayne Davidson for coming on the show and talking about her amazing discovery that united two families around an event that took place in 1958. If you missed the story or want to catch it again, of course catch the podcast. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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