Episode 391 - AI Allows Descendants To Interact With Your Story Recordings / Man Learns Birth Father’s Frightening PastSep 13, 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 a plug for his upcoming appearance in the WikiTree Challenge, where WikiTree researchers will go to town to try to find new breakthroughs for David. Family Histoire News begins with the identification of another Pearl Harbor victim from the USS Oklahoma through DNA. Hear the family’s reaction. Then, St. James Gardens in London, the site of thousands of old burials, is getting a database. Hear what has prompted the effort. Next, could DNA tests have changed peoples’ perceptions of their ethnicity? The 2020 census definitely suggests this is so. Catch the remarkable statistics. A lost human lineage has been found due to the discovery of an 18-year-old woman who lived over 7,200 years ago. David explains. And finally… who gets a golden tongue in death? Naturally, it’s Egyptian. Find out what it meant.
Next, Fisher visits with Heather Maio Smith of Storyfile.com, a company that any family historian will want to know about. Heather has appeared on 60 Minutes for her artificial intelligence software that allows people to interview Holocaust survivors by speaking to their hologram recordings. Now this technology is allowing anyone to do a similar thing from their home computer or phone. You will now be able to record your stories for your descendants to literally ask you about decades from now! You can try it for free at Storyfile.com/live.
Then, Fisher visits with Glen Ringuette, an adoptee who found his birth parents and then later learned about the remarkable (and chilling) past of his birth father. You never know what you’re gonna get!
David returns for two segments of Ask Us Anything.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Transcript for Episode 391
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 391
Fisher: And welcome genies 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. I am so excited to have you here this week. We’re going into a new season and we’ve got Heather Maio Smith back. Now, that name may ring a bell with you because last year she was on 60 Minutes. Talking about how she was interviewing Holocaust survivors and they had set up some technology whereby people could actually have a conversation with this hologram recording of these individuals. Well, this technology is now being made available for all of us. You’re going to want to hear what they’re doing, how much it costs, and what it does, how it works? You’re going to love this, coming up in about ten minutes or so. Then later in the show, I’ll be having a conversation with an adoptee who made a remarkable discovery about his birth dad. You’re going to want to hear this. Hey, and don’t forget, by the way, we’re now offering great courses on our brand new website ExtremeGenes.com. So, you can sign up to learn the basics of genealogy or genetic genealogy. Yeah, how to work with those DNA matches. What do they mean, how can they help you out? So, check it out at ExtremeGenes.com. But, right now let’s head out to Boston and David Allen Lambert the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello, David!
David: Hello, sir! How are you?
Fisher: I am awesome and very excited to hear that you’re getting your shot on the WikiTree Challenge! [Laughs]
David: Yes. On September 15, on Wednesday! I will be on at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Fisher: And this is on WikiTree Live which you can watch, what, on YouTube? Where is it?
David: It’s on YouTube.
Fisher: All right.
David: I’m really excited. They did such a great job with you. I was excited when they had asked me to be a guest and I’m hoping that they can uncover some things. They normally don’t do your grandparents but in the case we know about my dad’s father. Well, he is my brick wall. He disappeared in the ‘50s and still don’t know where he is.
Fisher: Isn’t that bizarre. And he was the criminal, right?
David: He was, yeah. But he had been kind of clean by that time in his life. He was a little older, but he just kind of faded into history and I know he’d be 134 years old. So, he’s probably not going to knock on my door anytime soon.
David: But maybe they’ll find him.
Fisher: Absolutely. Well, speaking of somebody knocking on a door, what an amazing phone call this guy Hudson got about his father.
David: That’s right. George Hudson took a 23andMe DNA test because his wife had asked him to and he said, “I don’t know why I was doing it.” But he took the test and what he found out was that he was 95 percent English and Irish and he had some other potential distant cousins. Soon after, he heard from the Navy, was he the son of Charles Hudson? And he said yes. See Charles Hudson, Fish, died nearly 80 years ago at Pearl Harbor on the USS Oklahoma.
Fisher: Oh my gosh, they’ve identified another one then.
David: They did.
David: I think this is a wonderful thing. George is 82 years old so he really didn’t get a chance to know his dad and as of late he’s had some health issues. So, it’s really nice to get some closure on his dad.
Fisher: Unbelievable. He was just a little kid at the time so he never really knew him. What a great find.
David: There are also some great finds going on in England right now actually. Back in 2018 and 2019 there were over 31,000 burials excavated as part of our rail link work in London at Saint James Burial Ground near Euston Station and now they’re looking for people to help transcribe the digitized burial records of over 57,000 Londoners who lived there in the 18th and 19th century to try to figure out who these people are.
Fisher: Oh, wow!
David: You know, DNA is an amazing thing and as we learn it changes how we think about our own cultural identity and this is the case in the article that was on NPR, where they looked at the census of 2010 and compared it to 2020. For instance, one of the questions is some other race and white. Now, in 2010 there were a million, seven hundred and forty one thousand individuals in the US who claim that ethnicity. In 2020, Fish, the number changed from one million, seven hundred and forty one thousand to nineteen million three hundred and sixteen thousand.
Fisher: [Laughs] Wow!
David: I don’t think that would be possible even in the biggest baby boom possible.
David: So, something has changed and they are obviously low prices DNA tests.
David: For instance, another one, American Indian, Alaskan native and white. In 2010 it was one million four hundred and thirty two thousand. In 2020, it’s three million, nine hundred and sixty eight thousand, almost two and half million individuals identifying with Native American. That DNA test changed the outlook of many people who probably weren’t even genealogists believe it or not.
Fisher: Interesting. Yeah, they thought they were going to get just the percentages in Ireland, or Germany, or even within a tribe, or something within the United States. But this is a remarkable thing about how people self identify now.
David: It really is. But you know, they may have found your fourth great grandmother in London but they found somebody’s well, probably one thousandth great grandmother. On an Indonesian Island of Sulawesi, there is a lost lineage that’s now been found with the remains of a 17 or 18 year old skeleton they found that dated back 7200 years who they’re called Bessie. And it is the only known skeleton of the Toalean people from Asia which were some of the earliest to leave Asia to go to these Indonesian Islands.
Fisher: That’s insane. So, 7,200 years back, and now they’re saying this is a whole new human line?
David: Correct. They had never found any survivors from this original migration until now.
David: You know, I always say that some people are silver tongued and that’s a great English phrase, but in Egypt, a Greco-Roman burial, it’s really a lot of burials this week.
David: Was found with a person with a gold foil amulet shaped in the form of a tongue, placed in their mouth, essentially, a golden tongue. And this basically was used for allowing the deceased to speak to the Osirian court in the afterlife. Osiris being the God of the underworld and it would have been considered vital for people to have a way to speak with him. So a golden tongue.
Fisher: That’s incredible. What a find.
David: I think so too. That’s what I have from Beantown, but I’ll be back for Ask US Anything in just a few moments.
Fisher: All right David thanks so much. Coming up next, we’re going to be back with Heather Maio Smith. We had her on like a year and a half ago, talking about what she was doing to record the experiences of Holocaust survivors using a technology that allows people to interact with the holograms of these individuals. Well, the technology has now been made available for all of us to tell our stories and have our descendents ask us the questions. You’ll hear what she’s doing and how it’s working, coming up next when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 391
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Heather Maio Smith
Fisher: All right we’re back. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and it was about a little over a year ago that I first met my next guest. She is Heather Maio Smith. She is with a little project called StoryFile, and we, the future dead people of the world, really need this.
Fisher: Hi Heather, how are you? It’s great to have you on.
Heather: I’m great. Thank you. It’s so good to be back.
Fisher: I first ran into Heather by watching 60 Minutes over a year ago, and my wife is saying, “You’ve got to get her on the show.” And at that of course you were working with the Sure Foundation over at UFC, and you were interviewing Holocaust survivors in hologram form so people could then ask questions at the hologram, and they would respond with the answer. And we spent a lot of time talking about this Heather and it’s come a long way because now it’s evolved to the point where anybody can actually talk and do this same type of thing with StoryFile.
Heather: Yes. When I was traveling around the world with the Holocaust survivors and getting data from them and questions and introducing the concept to people, the number one question I got was, “Can I do this myself?”
Heather: I think you and I talked about this a bit in our last interview. So, finally I got the point. You know?
Fisher: Sure. [Laughs]
Fisher: Ah! There’s a market here.
Heather: Someone doesn’t need to hit me over the head with a bat. But it needed to be automatic so it needed to be online. It needed to use the tools that everybody had. You needed to use the camera on your phones or your laptop and your computers and things like that. It needed to be online and for all of that to happen we needed a little more infrastructure built. And now with 4G then 5G obviously coming out, the streaming has just been exponentially better for upload and download. And the speech recognition has been so much better. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when you hit your Siri button on your Google ASR it actually understands you now.
Fisher: Sometimes. [Laughs]
Heather: [Laughs] So, we needed all of that to step up a bit.
Heather: And then we started seeing that happening in 2017. So, 2018 we started a company called StoryFile. The vision was that everybody on the planet would have their own StoryFile, which lets people record the story of their lives but it allows other people to interact with you and ask you questions back and forth and have a conversation.
Fisher: And when we talked, you were in the beta stage for this whole thing.
Heather: Right. It’s come a long way. We’ve had amazing people trying it out, testing it out, talking to us, giving us their opinions and their ideas and just going back and forth and iterating it, and it’s now at a point where we are actually going to be launching it officially on October 4th.
Fisher: Oh wow!
Heather: But if you’re listening to this before October 4th, you can go on StoryFile.com/Life and you will be able to try it out yourself.
Fisher: Oh wow! So, it’s like a beta for us.
Fisher: This is good. Now when you say “try it yourself” I mean, obviously there’s going to be questions and a little technical setup. Tell us what we’ll have to go through to make that happen.
Heather: So, we’ve tried to make it as completely intuitive as possible. We want you to feel like you’re on FaceTime just talking to your family. When you go on the site, it takes you to a kind of tutorial first if you want to watch that. There are some tips and tricks. There’s other blogs and things like that, but essentially you don’t have to do any of that. You could go just to the recording and it prompts you with a question, you hit record and you answer that question, and then when you’re done you hit the button again and it stops recording.
Heather: Everything is done automatically. If you go and you spend a half an hour or 40 minutes, the free script right now is about 30 to 35 questions. Finish all of that and you can go right into actually talking to yourself. So, you can go back into that and interact with yourself and ask yourself all of those questions and see how it goes. Then you share it with your family. You can share it with your friends. You can put the link to it on your Facebook page. You can share it on social if you want.
Heather: Yeah. It’s going to be awesome. There are a total though of 1621 questions.
Fisher: Oh my gosh! Now I know everybody is screaming, “How much does it cost? What’s the cost here?”
Fisher: So, how’s this work Heather?
Heather: Well, it comes in batches. So, if you purchase 75 questions, it’s $49, 99. And then you can either purchase batches of 75 or you can just do a onetime buyout for $499 and that gives you the ability to answer every question you want to answer.
Heather: You can do it over time if you want. It gives you a certain amount of storage as well, and you can also record at a higher resolution.
Heather: So, it depends kind of how you use it, but some people might want to do this. And if you don’t use all your storage and things like that, you can do the same script multiple times.
Fisher: Oh wow!
Heather: So, you can do this at 18 when you’re going to college, and then you can do it again when you have a family, you can do it again when you’re 50. You can do it again when you’re 65. So, it can capture all of those points in your life. But what we’re really trying to do here is, and you’ve talked about this on your podcast, your radio show all the time, about DNA and finding your family history. And you and I talked about this before as well, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could talk to your great, great grandfather. You can find documents. You can trace your family history. You can create your whole family tree. Well, what if now you going to be able to actually go to that tree, you’re going to be able to read your StoryFile and everybody on your tree is going to have a StoryFile.
Fisher: Now wait a minute, does this mean I have to dress up like my great, great grandfather or something and tell his story?
Fisher: I guess I could though, right? [Laughs]
Heather: You could. You could. We want to keep it authentic. It preserves what you’ve said, your own stories in your own words forever.
Fisher: Right. Well, I’ve always maintained that we’re living in somebody else’s past, right?
Fisher: So, I mean, I’m not going to know my second great grandkids but I would love for them to be able to talk to me.
Heather: Yeah. That’s the whole key. We all have a past, and everybody that has lived before us in our families has added to our own identity.
Heather: And what we hope to do in each lifetime is just add a little something to that story as it goes on.
Heather: StoryFile allows you to leave it in your own words so that people can actually get to know you and get to know the stories behind the documents, behind the photos, behind the little videos that you’ve left, and get to know family members that they haven’t been close to so they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet.
Fisher: Sure, yeah. It’s unbelievable. And you have a free offer on this too.
Heather: Yeah. So, the first 30 to 35 questions are free. And what we want is just people to try it out for themselves. Then you can go back and talk to yourself and share that with people, get people’s opinion, and then do more if you want.
Fisher: I make a living talking to myself all the time, so this is good.
Fisher: I’m really looking forward to it.
Heather: You’ve got a lot of practice. You’re going to be fine.
Heather: You know, you can answer those questions, you can re-record. You can go through the questions beforehand to get a sense of what you want to say. Think about it a bit if you want to.
Fisher: So, if one of my descendants wanted to ask me a question, do they have a list of questions that they can ask me? Do they see that?
Heather: They can see that if they want to, yeah.
Heather: There’s a little button on the side, it’s in the lower left-hand corner and it says “hints” on it. If you open that, you click on that or hover over it, it will open. And all the questions that that individual has answered under every single topic would all be there.
Heather: But what we’re encouraging obviously are natural conversations. So, we want people’s curiosity at any given time to kind of lead the conversation.
Fisher: So, all the questions are not standardized then? You could ask something unique to that individual?
Heather: Oh, of course. Sure.
Fisher: So, I tell people about my experience when I was a kid getting to meet Jackie Robinson.
Fisher: So, if one of my great, great grandchildren said, “Well, tell me great-great grandfather, about meeting Jackie Robinson” How does it pick that up? What the technology that would cause me to answer that question?
Heather: Well, okay, so one, you’re assuming that that child knows that you met Jackie Robinson.
Fisher: Maybe, yeah.
Heather: So, they either ask it, “Tell me the story about meeting Jackie Robinson” or they ask a question like, “Who is the most amazing person, or the most exciting person you ever met in your life?”
Heather: And you tell that story about meeting Jackie Robinson and what it meant to you when you were a kid. And that story would come up.
Fisher: It would pick it up from what? Is there something we connect to the question ahead of time?
Heather: Well, it’s all in the AI training. That sort of question would come up in “Tell me a story about your childhood. Tell me a story about the most exciting person that you ever met.” Different things like that. And you could probably have different stories for each one of these answers.
Fisher: Sure. Yeah. Yeah.
Heather: If they didn’t know about Jackie Robinson and that story, those are the types of questions that they would ask for you to tell that different new iterations of StoryFile Life. We’ve already planned out the next three iterations of it and one of the next ones you will be able to add your own questions.
Fisher: Oh wow!
Heather: If you add your own questions, like, let’s say that your kids know that you tell that story a lot and they love that story, what they’re going to do is they’re going to add that as a question, “Tell us the story of meeting Jackie Robinson” and you’re going to go through it and you’re going to tell that story about meeting Jackie Robinson when you were a kid just like you would do at every major holiday, dinner party that you’ve had, and your kids have heard it a million times.
Fisher: [Laughs] Oh boy. She is Heather Maio Smith. She is with StoryFile, and I would imagine that you go to StoryFile.com Heather to try it out?
Fisher: It’s so great to catch up with you again.
Heather: Thank you.
Fisher: And I’m really excited about what you’re doing. This is a game changer.
Heather: Thank you.
Fisher: And I wish you all the luck in the world with it.
Heather: Oh, we’re truly blessed. It’s going to be an amazing thing for so many people to have these stories and have these people still in their lives.
Fisher: And speaking of finding an interesting past, wait till you hear the story of one adoptee who found out all about his birth parents, coming up next on Extreme Genes.
Segment 3 Episode 391
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Grant Ringuette
Fisher: And welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And you know this whole idea of finding out who you are is so universal in all of us. But never more so than for people who have gone through adoption. And so, many people we've had on the show have talked about that desire to know about the birth family. And sometimes, it turns out great. In fact, I would say, most of the time it turns out fabulously for the adoptee to discover their birth family. But once in a while, you find some surprises and things don't turn out that well. I've helped some people where I've said, "Look, I've got a phone number, but once you open this door, you can never close it again. Are you prepared for what might happen?" And some people will say, yes. Some people will say no. And kind of go from there. And on the phone with me right now is a man in Phoenix who listens to us on KTAR 92.3 FM, Grant Ringuette, and Grant you've been through this process. How are you?
Grant: I'm fine, thank you, sir.
Fisher: You were adopted at birth I assume, right?
Grant: I was adopted at birth, yes. I was born in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois in 1958. And I kind of knew at about twelve or thirteen, something was not right. I do have an adopted sister and an adopted brother. And we all have different mannerisms. It just, I don't know. But when I turned eighteen, my father gave me my original adoption papers, which gave me my biological last name, Tomanek.
Fisher: Was this the first you knew for sure that you'd been adopted?
Grant: I mean, I kind of knew, but my parents were very nice. And they let me know that, yes, you are. You are adopted. But they really wouldn't give me the records until I was eighteen years old.
Fisher: And so, you found out your birth name was what?
Grant: My biological last name is Tomanek.
Fisher: Tomanek. And so
Grant: It’s Czechoslovakian.
Fisher: It's an unusual name. Hey, it's not Smith, right!?
Grant: [Laughs] No.
Fisher: [Laughs] And so you wanted to go to work, finding out if you could locate your birth parents.
Grant: Right. I was about, I don't know, in my mid twenties, when I really decided to, I don't know, think about it. So, I happened to be in a hotel in Chicago on business. And I looked in a white pages phonebook, which they had back then. They didn't have internet.
Grant: Sure enough, there were four names, Tomanek.
Fisher: And so, what did you do with that?
Grant: I found what I thought was my parent's name in the phonebook. There were only four listings for Tomanek in the phonebook. I called the one that I thought was my parents. And I reached what I thought was my father. A man answered the phone and said, you know, "Hello. How are you?" And I said, "My name is Grant Ringuette." I told him my birth date, and the next thing he said was, "What do you want?"
Fisher: Oh, boy!
Grant: And I said, "I don't want anything." And that's when I knew that he was my father, when he said that.
Fisher: Yeah, that's right. That's kind of a confirmation, isn't it?
Grant: Yeah, kind of.
Fisher: Now, was he married to your mother at this point?
Grant: Yeah, they had been together all their life.
Fisher: And why did they give you up?
Grant: He told me that he spoke German. And you know they had a bad look on people who spoke German.
Fisher: Oh, I see. So, he was having economic troubles at the time.
Grant: Absolutely, yeah.
Fisher: And so, you spent one day with them. And how did that go?
Grant: After I talked to my father, and he hung up on me. Later I called back, and I called back to the same number and it was my mother. And when she heard my voice, she started crying.
Grant: She had been waiting for two weeks, “for you to call me back.”
Fisher: She was afraid maybe she'd lost you again.
Grant: She told me that I should call back again.
Grant: As it turned out, a couple of days went by, but I guess she had talked to my sister, who I didn't even know existed. And my sister called me and said, "Hey, can you come to Chicago? I'd like to meet you. And I'll take you to tomorrow to our parents and we can talk about things." So I went to Chicago. I spent the night with my sister. We talked a lot that night. And then I went and met my parents that next day.
Fisher: And so, how'd that affect you, to meet them?
Grant: Oh, it was a shock! I mean, you know, it kind of filled the hole, but needed to fill it more.
Fisher: It wasn't what you'd hoped, right?
Grant: No, it never is.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
Grant: Never is. But I'm glad I did it.
Fisher: But there was a bigger shock that you discovered as you got into this.
Grant: Yeah, absolutely. My father told me that he was a POW in the United States.
Fisher: From Germany, during World War II.
Grant: Right. And I didn't think much about it, yeah, okay, whatever. And then, talked to them, found out what I wanted to know. I felt like I filled the hole. We're going to about twenty years later, and I started thinking about it and I wanted to do some research. So, I sent some letters out. I sent one to the National Archives in Berlin. I sent one to the International Red Cross. I got his actual POW number and found out that he was in the Luftwaffe. He had gone to a flight school in Northern Holland in 1943, well, I'd say 1940. And ended up serving in Italy, and then in Tunisia.
Fisher: Wow, that's quite a record!
Fisher: But the Luftwaffe thing, that's problematic, isn't it?
Grant: Yeah, actually it was formed in 1936 by Hermann Göring. So I believe he was a Nazi.
Fisher: So, your birth father was a Nazi?
Grant: I'm ninety percent sure, and I can quote from this: He was in Luftwaffe Jäger Regiment, Dresden. Usually formed from diverse elements, airborne engineer troops, for employment in Tunisia farm district. Following the allied landings in Morocco and Algeria.
Fisher: And so, when did you discover this, Grant?
Grant: I did a lot of research after. There's an Archive in Berlin, called WAST. And their records were limited on my father, but they gave me his regiment and his battalion and his rank and where he was captured. He actually was captured in Tunisia.
Fisher: How did that affect you, to get that news?
Grant: It was a shock. I was overwhelmed.
Fisher: You'd known for twenty some odd years that he'd been in the German military during World War II, as virtually all males had to be at that time. But to…
Grant: Oh yeah. He actually, you know, we had some intimate discussions and he told me that the truck came by his mother's home and pretty much took him away and said, "You're in the German army."
Fisher: So, do you feel he was actually a party member or are you just feeling that he kind of was forced into service which was dominated by the party?
Grant: I think the latter. I know that he was in Tunisia. The British cut off their supply lines. He ended up at, [Tunisia] which is, he had nowhere to go.
Grant: The Regiment was north, and the British cut off all their supply lines. They had no ammunition, no fuel, so they gave up.
Fisher: What would you say to people who are in your situation? They have that curiosity, that natural desire to know where their blood line came from. And you went through that door. You know, as we say sometimes, “you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube” once you know. Would you rather you'd never found out or has this strengthened your ties with your adoptive family? What's been the affect on your life?
Grant: Oh, no, I'm very happy with what I did. I love history, and this was. You know, I actually got a hold of the International Red Cross who sent me a couple of his POW cards. I have these. I have two assertations of these.
Fisher: And he had filled them out?
Grant: I have his writing here. Yeah, he filled them out. They're from 1943.
Fisher: And you know, I always maintain that the autographs and things like this, they're time capsules from that moment. What an incredible thing to have!
Fisher: And so, all this has kind of been a lovely education for you. Something you just don't get from a school book.
Grant: No, not at all. I did find my paternal grandfather, grandmother, my maternal grandmother and grandfather. I can't find a whole lot more, because I believe the war, there was so much destruction.
Grant: That it was pretty much decimated.
Fisher: A lot of the records lost. Well, Grant, an amazing story. And so appreciate your reaching out to us to share it. I’m delighted with all the success you had in finding him and his records and how it’s kind of filled the hole in your life, and also strengthened your ties with your adoptive family.
Grant: It has. And I'd like to thank my mother, my adoptive mother, who, they didn't have a problem with me finding my natural family. And I can't say enough for her.
Fisher: That's a great story. Thank you so much, Grant.
Grant: You're very welcome.
Fisher: Wow, talk about you never know what you’re going to get, right? Well, coming up next, we’ve got another round of Ask Us Anything as we answer your questions, David Allen Lambert will return from Boston for it when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 391
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. David Allen Lambert back over there from Boston and the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, this comes from Pam in Little Rock, Arkansas, she says, "Guys, how do I give sources for family stories that I have only been told by other relatives through the years? There are no records." That's a good question. Dave?
David: Well, you know, it’s interesting, because I have some family stories that were passed onto me by my grandmother. Now she died when I was 11, so I didn't have a lot of time to get more specifics, so a lot of them I couldn't find. I mean, they were stories like how her father lost his hearing. You know, I mean that's great, but where am I going to find that in the newspaper, you know.
David: So, a lot of times, I tell people that, you know, don't give up on these stories, because there may be an ounce of truth in them. I mean, why would my grandmother lie about her father's hearing loss from a building being collapsed nearby. But, write it down. I always say, put a story at the end of all your genealogical facts if it fits into the timeline of the story you're writing, and then footnote it. And that footnote can be as simple as, "I heard this story when I was eight years old by my grandmother sitting on her front porch. That's my version of it."
Fisher: So, certainly Dave you've heard enough through the years to know for a fact that your grandfather was hard of hearing, so it would be easy enough to say, "Well, according to aunt so and so, or grandmother, this was around the time he lost his hearing due to this." So you give it an attribution, but again, it is oral history. And there's nothing wrong with that, because most oral history stories like you say do have a kernel of truth. In fact, I don't think I've ever had a story that was passed down that I haven't been able to find something that gives it some validation. Often, it’s twisted a little bit or its way off, but I see where it came from when I finally figure it out.
David: You know, and that's the other thing is that maybe others heard the stories, so I love to send out holiday letters and when I get a story like this, it’s like, now my older cousins, did they hear a different variation on that same story. And then you compare the notes. So you could say, "All right, here's my version of the story, but my cousin, Sally, who's 20 older than me says the story was as follows." and then put down the source again for that one. She heard it from my grandmother in 1957 while sitting on the front porch. So, you take all of those and then you draw a hypothesis and I'm sure that, you know, it’s almost like when you're interviewing people from a crime. Each person is going to hear different little facts. In this case, it’s a crime of finding an ancestral story and solving it.
Fisher: Interesting. I'm reading a book right now on memory and it talks about the fact that we all remember the same things differently, much like the crime situation. So, to go out and reach out to other people and try to find what more specifics might be added or what other version of the story might be out there. Still, it doesn't mean that anything's wrong, it just means you might find a different take on that story and then give it attribution to where it came from. It’s no big deal that you don't have a written record of it. That's really how it usually is.
David: One of the things that I like to do is, I like to compare the facts with the stories and see if any way they work into the timeline. And the ones that don't seem to work out are these military stories. Someone says they were the hero at Gettysburg and then you find out that they weren't even at Gettysburg.
David: They were at a camp hospital in New York that they had gotten sick weeks before.
David: So, sometimes our stories by our grandparents or great grandparents handed down can be elaborated to cover up something. Like maybe they went AWOL.
Fisher: Oooh! It’s so funny you say that, Dave, because one of my wife's ancestors was said to have been involved in the Boston Tea Party, except he lived his whole life in Virginia, and I just don't see how it works.
David: Oh, maybe he took a trip up there for the occasion.
Fisher: [Laughs] Maybe so.
David: For a cup of tea.
Fisher: So, hope that helps, Pam. It’s not that big a problem. Just give a little attribution. And we appreciate the question. We have another one coming up for you in three minutes when we return on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show with Ask Us Anything.
Segment 5 Episode 391
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we're back for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. It is Ask Us Anything. And David, this is from Roger in Albuquerque and he says, "Guys, I'm just getting started in genealogy and I'm very excited to do it. What tips can you give a beginner?" That is a great question. Dave, what say you?
David: Well, Roger, I would first ask how old you are. Now it’s not because I’m getting nosy, it’s a matter of knowing how many living older relatives you might have. Because when I was a kid, I started in grade school, my grandparents were alive and I had some great aunts and uncles and I had older cousins and older cousins of my parents that I asked all sorts of questions of. Now if you're 80 yourself, that person you're interviewing may be you or may be a sibling.
Fisher: Um hmm.
David: You really want to start with your basic knowledge. Just like anything, start with what you know and start working back. Now obviously you're going to know some common things, you're probably going to know your father and mother's name. You're going to probably know your grandparents. Some people don't know their grandmother's maiden name or their full name of their grandfather or maybe not what country their ancestor came from or maybe not what county in Ireland. But that's where you start. I mean, you start filling out that family tree and then you start to see the blanks and that's where we edge forward. I've been edging forward for 45+ years now and I'm still working on it, because it’s never done.
Fisher: Absolutely. And you know, you're right on it, David, if you start interviewing the old folks now. We used to have a joke, my wife and I, because we started in our 20s and every time we would go interview somebody, within a year or so, they were gone. And so, we came to realize that our interviews were kind of the kiss of death for these people.
David: [Laughs] Oh no!
Fisher: Oh yeah, yeah! I mean, they were gone! And it happened over and over and over again. But we felt like they were being preserved for us just so we could get the stories before they could be let go. In fact, one of them had, had one of those near death experiences and was told she needed to go back, and she said, "What for? I don't have anything!" I thought, well, it was to talk to us, so we could get these stories and pictures.
David: I'm starting to wonder if people stopped answering your calls, "Hey, I'd like to come over and interview you." "No, no, no! I want to live!"
Fisher: No, no, they did not do that, you know, it’s just the way it worked out. But it is really important to do that. And anybody who might even be a little more distant, as a cousin to your parents, like you talked about. Sometimes those are the folks that have a whole different take on different questions you might have. And maybe they have letters that your side of the family sent to their side of the family with some news in there. That’s fantastic.
David: And the other thing is, Roger, do the FAN approach, that's Family, Associates and Neighbors. So, obviously we know about family, but associates. Maybe your dad's not alive anymore, but his best friend is, and he went to school with him, was in the service with him.
David: Or maybe a neighbor of your mom who was a little older and she babysat, so she would have even known your grandmother and grandfather. Birth, marriage and death records give us the facts. We want the stories as family historians.
Fisher: Exactly. But you do want to start with that tree so you can see which stories you're going for, which branches you want to work on, and make sure too that you document everything you do. I mean, from the start, I think most of us aren't very good at documenting when we're just getting started. We write it down, we take it for face value, we don't think about it and then years later we go back and go, "Oh, where did I get that?"
David: Um hmm.
Fisher: Did you ever do that, Dave?
David: Ohhh, yeah, yeah.
David: That's okay, because I used to think that, well, it was expensive to do the title page as a photocopy, so I'd write the information on the back of the page.
David: Sometimes I'd forget and I just have the page that my ancestor gave and I'd say, "Now, page 56, where's this from?" I mean, now we can Google it. [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah, that's right. It’s a lot easier.
David: Not back then.
Fisher: No. That's really true. Great question, Roger. Welcome to the game and we're excited for you and wish you the best of luck in finding the stories you're looking for. David thanks so much for coming on. We'll talk to you again next week.
David: All right, my friend.
Fisher: All right. And thank you for joining us. If you missed any of the show or you want to catch it again, it’s easy to do, listen to the podcast on all the usual places, Spotify, AppleMedia, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio, we're all over the place. Talk to you next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!