Episode 399 - Paul Woodbury Talks Mitochondrial DNA, Confirmation Bias

podcast episode Nov 15, 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 by sharing news that he has been featured in an article about his witch ancestor in London’s Guardian newspaper. In Family Histoire News, an Englishman has learned he descends from some Bidens. Those Bidens! Now he wants an invitation to the White House! Then, another metal detectorist in the UK has made quite a find… in his own backyard. Catch what he discovered. Then, another member of the famous Von Trapp family has passed away. David next talks about a unique type of DNA analysis that has proven the descendancy of the great grandson of Sitting Bull. And finally… a World War I ammunition shell has been found to be loaded… with many things other than powder and weaponry. Find out what was in it!

Next, Paul Woodbury of Legacy Tree Genealogists visits with Fisher for two segments. The first talks about mitochondrial DNA. What can you use it for in your research? And what might be expecting too much? Paul explains.

In part two, Paul Woodbury discusses “confirmation bias.” Are you guilty of confirming your researching by an incorrect analysis? Paul explains what NOT to do as you begin your genetic genealogy.

Then, David returns for two rounds of Ask Us Anything.

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

Transcript for Episode 399

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 399

Fisher: And welcome America, to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, we’re shaking it today and Paul Woodbury is going to fall in with the show, coming up here in a little bit. He’s a research team manager and a genetic genealogist for our sponsors over at Legacy Tree Genealogists, and we’re going to do two segments today. Yes, if you’re deep in the weeds with genetic genealogy, you’re going to love this. First, we’re going to talk about mitochondrial DNA genealogical research. Now, if you’re not into DNA, what does that mean to you? This is the DNA that follows the moms. It’s only passed by the females onto people, but how can you use DNA matches to help you with your genealogical research? Paul is going to get into that in the first segment, and then in the second segment with him, we’re going to talk about avoiding what they call “confirmation bias” in autosomal analysis. Autosomal DNA is the DNA test you get at Ancestry.com and 23andMe, and My Heritage, and all those places. What does confirmation bias mean? Well, he’ll explain the whole thing coming up for you in just a little bit, so, very excited about that. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter, yet, yeah, we’re doing it, you can just go to our website, the bright and shiny new ExtremeGenes.com website and sign up right there or on our Facebook page. And, you can also sign up there for basic genealogy courses and a course in genetic genealogy, how to use matching. What a great holiday gift that would make for someone. All right, it’s time to head off to Beantown where David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello, David!

David: Hello, Fish. I hope that you had a nice Halloween. My post-Halloween news goes to The Guardian across the pond in England, where I was featured in a story about my 8th great grandmother.

Fisher: Really?

David: Yeah. And you wonder why, but, well, it’s because she was an accused Salem witch.

Fisher: Oh!

David: Mary Perkins Bradbury. And she escaped the gallows and they believe that her husband may have bribed the guard at the jail that she was in, in Boston at that time. And lo and behold, they escaped to what is now Maine.

Fisher: Wow! That’s a great story.

David: I hope that Hollywood picks it up.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: And I don’t want to play Mary Perkins Bradbury, but maybe I can fit in there someplace. Brenton Simons and Chris Child, who we’ve had on our show before, were also featured in the article.

Fisher: Um hmm.

David: Well, you know, the next story staying across the pond goes back to a James Biden born in 1767. While you may have heard of one of his descendents… and that’s Paul Harris, born in 1960, because he is distantly related to President Joe Biden, and this is something that’s kind of fun, because now he’s looking for an invitation, so that he can introduce his daughter to the president at the White House.

Fisher: Yeah, he wants a White House invitation for his family. And he says it hasn’t come yet, but hopefully somewhere down the line. And he’s willing to foot the bill to fly across the pond to do it.

David: You know, Jerry Ford was very closely related to me. He had ancestors alive at the Revolutionary War, but I never got that invite. I don’t understand.

Fisher: Hmm, he’s a close relative of yours.

David: He was. I don’t play golf as well as Jerry Ford did. Well, you know, I always say it’s time to get a metal detector every time I hear one of the stories we talk about, about people finding coins and whatnot. Sometimes they’re traveling all around the world looking for these sites and finding gold coins, their treasure hoards. Well, this one’s in a guy’s back yard. In over 30 years, a person remaining anonymous who lives in England has a found a hoard that consists of over 131 gold coins dating between 580 AD and 630 AD and is regarded as one of the largest hoards of gold coins found since the Sutton Hoo Viking ship that was found many years ago.

Fisher: Wow! The question I guess everybody would have is, does this guy get to keep it, because it’s on his own property? Or does it have to be turned into the government, because of its role in antiquity?

David: That is very true. And that jury is still out. And we’ll probably hear more about it. But apparently, a former police officer was metal detecting on his property and tried to take the coins that he had found and passed them off as found somewhere else, and well, he lost his job.

Fisher: Ooh.

David: And sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Spare change doesn’t pay off, apparently, even when its 6th century gold ones.

Fisher: [Laughs] Exactly.

David: You know, I love DNA, Fish, and we’re always finding that we get distant cousins and stuff, and you know, it’s also good if you’re trying to compare it to find if you have an ancestor. Well, how about if you wanted to find out if your ancestor was Sitting Bull? Well, he’s great grandson by a lock of hair that had been preserved of Sitting Bull has confirmed that very fact. The University of Cambridge and colleagues had taken the sample and have confirmed that Ernie Lapointe is in fact the great grandson of the Native American leader, Sitting Bull.

Fisher: Isn’t that cool! I’ve seen pictures of this guy and you can see some resemblance, but not too much. But what a neat thing, though for him to know for sure through scientific proof that yeah, this man was my great grandfather. Incredible!

David: Well, you know, I always love ammunition, because it’s a blast to hear during a fireworks display. But when you think ammunition is live, well, this is a case of a family in Michigan when they went to the state police and this World War I ammunition shell turned out to be loaded with coins and bills dating back into the early part of the 1900s, silver coins and everything. Somebody used this World War I shell as a piggybank.

Fisher: Yeah, and what I understand is that the authorities actually kept the shell. They just figure it’s not good for this thing to be out there, even though it’s not a live thing. But yeah, they stuffed this with coins and bills. And it was a lot of money. And I would imagine all of these coins and bills are worth far more than the face value now just as collectors’ items.

David: Oh yeah! There’s 20s and 10s and 5s and silver certificates going back to probably the 1920s on some of them.

Fisher: Wow!

David: So, hey, congratulations! I hope this isn’t something they found at a yard sale for cheap money and just decided to turn it over. I feel bad for the owner.

Fisher: Sure.

David: But I think they found this one in their house.

Fisher: That’s right.

David: Because I’m always finding ammunition shells in my house. How about yours?

Fisher: Er, not lately, no, uh-uh. [Laughs]

David: Okay. Well, that’s all I have from Beantown, and happy ammunition shell hunting to all of our listeners. And don’t open them without the state police nearby.

Fisher: Right. Good call.

David: And don’t forget, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors, you can become a member with a savings of $20 with the coupon code “Extreme” on AmericanAncestors.org. Talk to you in a little bit.

Fisher: All right, David. Yep, you’ll be back for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, DNA specialist from Legacy Tree Genealogists, Paul Woodbury joins the show. The first of two segments is coming up in three minutes.

Segment 2 Episode 399

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Paul Woodbury

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes, and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and once again, my good friend Paul Woodbury from our sponsors over at Legacy Tree Genealogists is on the line with us to talk about DNA. Hey Paul, it’s great to have you back.

Paul: Thanks for having me back. I’m really looking forward to it.

Fisher: We were exchanging some thoughts about what to kick around today, and you really kind of hit on something when you talked about using mitochondrial DNA to break open lines. And the reason I thought this was good is because I just happen to have sent in a mitochondrial test on my wife’s side, following her mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s line. Because we just had a breakthrough after 39 years and now we’re stuck again after just two more generations and we’re trying to figure something out. So, let’s talk about this and explain to people who aren’t familiar with what mitochondrial DNA is, and how the testing works. Explain how that goes.  

Paul: Yeah. So, mitochondrial DNA is a type of DNA that’s found in the mitochondria of your cell. Mitochondria, or the cell of your powerhouse, it’s what enables you to function to have energy. And mitochondrial DNA is passed along this direct maternal line. You get your mitochondrial DNA intact from your mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, going on back. A lot of the times with genetic genealogy, we kind of dismiss mitochondrial DNA because it is typically most effective for historic research questions and for very targeted research scenarios where we’re trying to answer a question. Whereas autosomal DNA, you might go fishing just to take the test and see what comes back. That’s not as effective with mitochondrial DNA. I think I’ve only ever had maybe two times that I’ve looked at mitochondrial DNA test results and found somebody who was on the match list who happened to be related along the direct maternal line, and who we could identify the ancestors for. It’s the most effective for these targeted questions.    

Fisher: Interesting. Well, that is a targeted question we’re working on right now is trying to figure out can we follow a maternal line through this woman who was born around 1766. Let’s talk about some of the cases you’ve done using mitochondrial.

Paul: Yeah. So, because mitochondrial DNA is passed on intact along that direct maternal line, it gives us a really unique insight into the origins of that direct maternal line. Some of these mitochondrial DNA signatures are specific to particular ethnicities or geographies. So, you can use mitochondrial DNA if you have a question about that direct maternal line and where it may have come from. I’ve had cases recently where we were able to show Native American ancestry, African ancestry, and even within those very specific areas, I’ve had a case looking at the matches, we were able to determine that this direct maternal line likely came from the south of England. Just because of all of the other people in that list. So, you can use it for the ethnic origins or the origins of that direct maternal line. You can also use it to test hypotheses of relationships. And I actually just recently had a case in my own family as well, utilizing mitochondrial DNA where we were able to solve a long standing mystery. One of my ancestors was born in 1821 in Pennsylvania, and she was orphaned, adopted, and illegitimate. Her father abandoned the family. It’s unclear from the records and what we have, exactly what happened with her family. But we know that in later life, she reported that she was the daughter of a woman named Katie Ryerson. And there were also records that indicated that Katie Ryerson had married a man named Milton Sellers. And so, we found a candidate family but they were in Philadelphia. We traced the direct maternal descendants and voila, they were a mitochondrial DNA match to my cousin, who is also a direct maternal descendant of my ancestor born in 1821. So, we were able to use this to really tie together the pieces of the document evidence and show what was really happening.     

Fisher: Sure, just like we do with autosomal tying the records to the evidence from the DNA. So, there’s the question right there, obviously to get mitochondrial you have to go through Family Tree DNA, which is the only company that does it these days. And when you do that, how many matches would you expect to find there Paul?

Paul: So, you can expect to find quite a few matches if you have a mitochondrial DNA signature, which is part of one of the typical European haplogroups. For me, I think I have 300 pages of matches.

Fisher: Oh wow!

Paul: So, I have a ton of matches and yet most of those matches you probably will not be able to identify the relationship to those individuals, because if you share mitochondrial DNA with someone, if it’s an exact match, of the full sequence level, there’s about a 50% chance that you are related within five, to six, to seven generations. There’s a 50% change you’re related sometime within the last 25 generations.

Fisher: Oh, boy.

Paul: So, you can have an exact mitochondrial DNA match and still not be able to identify the common ancestor along that line, and that is really why it is most effective if you are testing hypotheses. So, in order to test hypotheses, you have to test direct maternal descendants of your subject, and then test direct maternal descendants of the individuals who you believe may have been the mother of that individual. 

Fisher: Your candidate?

Paul: Yes, your candidates.

Fisher: Interesting. So, you say you have thousands of them and it could go back as much as 25 generations, I mean we’re talking what, 600 years potentially?

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. So, I had another recent case where we had some clues based on autosomal evidence. This was for a woman named Eleanor who was born in the 1830s in Illinois. First record we have of Eleanor is the 1850 US census. She is listed with a family that does not share her surname. Later in life she referred to them as her adopted parents. And when we look for Eleanor, her last name was Thatcher, we found that there’s a Thatcher family just the census page in front of her, and yet she does not fit into that family. She was not a child of that family. So, with the autosomal evidence, we found that she actually did share DNA with the Thatcher family but not close enough to be descended from that family, and she also shared DNA with relatives of her adoptive father. 

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: So, we’re wondering okay, at this point we’re really dealing with two possibilities. Either Eleanor, whose last name is Thatcher, so we expect a relationship to the Thatcher family, but was her father a Thatcher and her mother a Stewart, which was the name of her adoptive father, or was it vice versa, was it that her adoptive father was actually her biological father, and her mother was a Thatcher female.

Fisher: Wow! Okay.

Paul: The autosomal at the point we’re dealing with fourth, fifth cousin relationships. It’s ambiguous.

Fisher: Yeah, getting distant.

Paul: You can’t really tell just based off of the autosomal what’s going on here. So, we did mitochondrial DNA for both the Stewart family as well as the Thatcher family, and her mother was a Thatcher. Her biological father and her adoptive father were probably the same person.

Fisher: Really? Interesting. So, when you say okay, we did studies on these two families, does that mean you traced down a female living today that was willing to test to compare?

Paul: Yes. So, we tested female descendants from both families who agreed to perform DNA testing for us, and one showed that indeed she was descended along that direct maternal line through the mother of this Thatcher family. In the other case, she did not share DNA with the direct maternal descendants of the Stewart family.

Fisher: So, the Stewarts are out, Thatchers are in. You’ve got yourself a winner.

Paul: Yeah.

Fisher: [Laughs] That’s crazy! So, let me ask you this then, how do you approach some of these people? You obviously have to do a fair amount of research to pull down what, about five generations to find somebody?

Paul: Yeah, five, six, and seven generations.

Fisher: Yeah. And then you have to reach out to them and how do you approach them?

Paul: Well, because I’m often doing this for clients, as I’m doing this, I’m balancing the pros and cons of reaching out as well as getting enough candidates. So, I will usually try and find at least five or six people and then I will send a round of letters to them explaining the research scenario, the research objective, what we’re trying to accomplish. I offer to pay for the tests for them. Then at the end we say, “All we ask is for access to your test results, and we’ll give you a copy of the report that we’re preparing” or, “we’ll share any information that we find in relation to our shared relationship.” I get a pretty good response for it. Not everybody agrees to test.

Fisher: Of course.

Paul: But a lot of people will indicate that, “Oh yeah, this is really interesting. Here’s some information from my family” or, for those who you do contact, if they decline, ask them, “Well, do you know anybody else whose related along this direct maternal line who would be willing to test?” 

Fisher: Um hmm. So, what percent would you say agreed to this?

Paul: I don’t know the exact percentage. It’s probably 25% - 20%.

Fisher: That’s pretty good.

Paul: Usually, out of five to six letters that I send out, well, we usually get at least one response of a person saying yeah, I’m willing to test.

Fisher: All right. This is really fascinating stuff. And not a lot of people do this. How many people do you think have taken a mitochondrial test that would be in the system now?

Paul: You know, I’m not sure, but probably less than a million.

Fisher: Um hmm. But still, I would be surprised it’s that many. But it gives you hope. And this is obviously similar on the other side of the Y testing, right, but with the men’s lines at least you can keep within the surname of a family typically. It’s a lot more useful.

Paul: Yeah. It’s hoped that it will keep within the surname.

Fisher: Yeah, you’re right, right, right. [Laughs]

Paul: [Laughs]

Fisher: All right, he’s Paul Woodbury from Legacy Tree Genealogists. And Paul, you want to stick around and we’ll carry on talking about analysis of your DNA and making sure that you’re not prejudicing yourself and your results.

Paul: Sounds good. See you in a little bit.

Fisher: All right, back in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 399

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Paul Woodbury

Fisher: All right, round two with our good friend Paul Woodbury from Legacy Tree Genealogists. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And Paul, we were talking before we even went on today, about some areas we can cover because it’s so fascinating. And if you’re just getting into genetic genealogy and learning to use your matches, you might have a little problem with something called confirmation bias. We want to avoid confirmation bias. Paul, explain what this is.

Paul: Yeah. So, confirmation bias is when you come into a research question with an idea of what you expect the answer to be, already.

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: And the danger with that is, that rather than letting the evidence speak for itself, you can often fall into traps and pitfalls of finding the evidence that you want to find.

Fisher: Right.

Paul: So, the way that you can avoid that is to first, deal with the best evidence to address a research question, rather than seeking out evidence to confirm what you think the answer might be.

Fisher: Sure. So, here’s an example, I think. Many years ago, I had a friend of mine he wanted to prove that his father was his father. There was some question about that, and he was really confused because he could not find any close matches, but then he felt good because the closest match he was found was a fifth cousin, a fifth cousin that didn’t fit his mother’s side. So, the assumption was, oh okay, well, then that must mean this proves my dad is my dad. And I’m like, no, that’s too far back. But, is that the kind of thing you’re talking about?

Paul: Exactly. I had a similar situation where somebody came to me and said, “I think, I know who my biological father is. I want you to prove it.” [Laughs] Famous last words.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Paul: Then, I came in and looked, and said, well, how do you know this? She said, well, I have this genetic match and they share ten centimorgans with me.

Fisher: Oh.

Paul: And they descend from the brother of my father, so, this must be it. And I think they weren’t considering that just because there is evidence, yes, ten centimorgans is evidence, but it’s actually evidence against the candidate that she had identified because it’s not enough shared DNA.

Fisher: Right, because that person would have been a first cousin and a first cousin is going to be way up there in numbers.

Paul: Yeah, probably sharing closer to 800.

Fisher: Right, 800.

Paul: Possibly as low as 500 centimorgans, but certainly not ten.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Paul: So, it’s the challenge that we will sometimes come into our results with these pre-conceived notions, perhaps, our entire family tree that we’ve been working on for years. And we say, oh, well, I see connections to my first cousins. I see connections to my second cousins. We share DNA, therefore, everything is good. But part of that is confirmation bias because we need to consider all the evidence there, just because there is a connection does not necessarily mean that it is showing the full connection versus a half connection or half relationship. So, are they sharing amounts of DNA appropriate for a first cousin, for a second cousin?

Fisher: Right.

Paul: Are your shared matches including individuals of both of your common ancestors or just one of them?

Fisher: All right, otherwise you’re seeing proof of a half.

Paul: Yeah. So, those are some things you want to watch out for, but at the same time, you don’t want too concerned if you’re not immediately finding evidence of a particular line. There are lots of reasons for why that might be. You might have that line be a recent immigrant and the individuals that are related to you through that line have not yet performed DNA testing, whether that be because they are small families, because it’s a population that’s underrepresented in the databases. There are lots of reasons why you might not see that evidence. So, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of a relationship.

Fisher: Okay.

Paul: But, it is evidence that you need to do a little bit more work to test your hypothesis. So, maybe go out and test one of your first cousins from that line, maybe test your second cousins from that line. Test individuals who would help you to confirm that relationship, until you can ensure that the people from that line have tested and you’re not sharing DNA with them. You really don’t know if the absence of those relationships is because you’re not sharing DNA with people who have tested or if people just haven’t tested yet.

Fisher: Sure. And if you don’t know anybody out there like that, then hopefully you can connect through a little research like we talked about in the previous segment or you just have to wait. I mean, this is a game of patience, isn’t it?

Paul: Um hmm. Yeah. So, these are a few tips and tricks that I would recommend to those who are first getting into their DNA test results. There are some pitfalls that I often observe. With individuals who are just getting started. Some of the other pitfalls that I sometimes see are, searching for the surnames that you expect and then feeling comfortable once they begin showing up in the trees of your matches.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Paul: And just because you find a bunch of matches with the Smith surname in their family tree does not mean that you necessarily do indeed descend from the Smith family.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: You need to take it a step further and actually explore. And I think the other thing that I would recommend is in letting the DNA evidence speak for itself and rather than trying to wrangle it and fit into our pre-conceived ideas of how our family tree should be, based off of the document research we’ve performed is to analyze the DNA on its own terms, look at the relationships between your genetic cousins, cluster them, perhaps explore using the leads method which is the method for organizing your DNA matches into groups of related individuals. First perform that. First cluster your matches based on their relationships to each other and then come back and interpret those clusters within the context of your family tree.

Fisher: Sure, where’s this coming from, right?

Paul: Yeah. Figure out, okay, we have this cluster. We know that all these people are related genetically, what does it mean within the context of my family tree? Rather than starting and saying, oh, I know who this person is, they are from this branch of my family. I’m going to make a group of these Johnsons. I’m going to make a group of Sanchezes. I’m going to make a group of Jones’s. You want to let the genetic evidence speak for itself and then analyze the groups and assign them to branches of your family tree. That will help you to ensure that you are dealing with the DNA on its own terms, rather than forcing it into your pre-conceived notion and your bias of what you think your family tree looks like based on the document evidence.

Fisher: Well, you know, this is the thing about autosomal, never mind the surprises and maybe just dealing with adoptive situations. This is great for proving the lines you already have. And if you’re brand new to the game and your Aunt Sally did this in the 1960s and she may be highly revered for all that she did for your family in creating a great family tree. And you may feel, oh, I’m descended from this, that and the other thing, that when you get to the DNA you might find an entirely different story because there are so many more sources now that first of all help us to develop a more accurate family tree and then you’ve got the DNA to help prove that. So, you’re absolutely right, if you try to prove something that was perhaps investigated decades and decades ago you might be in for a major disappointment.

Paul: Yeah. And if you can kind of step back from what you think you know about your family tree. You may be surprised as you mentioned not only in these situations where there’s perhaps more evidence and more resources available to explore research questions. There’s also a very high possibility that you may find a case of misattributed parentage in your recent family tree.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: And from my perspective I think, as I’ve worked on these types of cases and as I’ve come to realize that many of us have these situations in our family tree. It really feels like to me like an opportunity to connect with more family.

Fisher: Yeah.

Paul: And more family is better. We have the opportunity to expand our perspective and our view on who is our family.

Fisher: Yeah. We’ve got to avoid this confirmation biases, Paul Woodbury. Paul thanks so much for coming on the show again. It’s great to talk to you. We look forward to catching you again, hopefully early next year.

Paul: Sounds good. Thanks so much for having me.

Fisher: All right. And David Allen Lambert is coming up next as we resume with another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 399

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back at it with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with David Allen Lambert way over there in Boston, Massachusetts. And Dave, our first question is actually more of a comment than a question. It’s from Mack McCormick in Darien, Connecticut and he says, "Guys, FYI at Thanksgiving two years ago, we didn't meet last year because of the pandemic, we interviewed all our older family members, two of them have since passed, so these recordings are real gems, thought I'd pass that along as a suggestion to you and your audience for the holidays."

David: Ooh, that's a great one, because you can, you know, basically have the relatives over and get the stories down and get the photographs identified. Oh, there's all sorts of things you could do during the holidays other than eat turkey and watch football.

Fisher: Absolutely. You know, this is where I actually did my very first family history interview where we'd get to my uncle's place in New Jersey back in the day. And I learned that for instance my aunt's family had been involved in the General Slocum disaster, the steamboat that killed so many people, mostly from the German community in New York back in 1904. I actually met my late grandmother's sister. I never met my grandmother. She died in 1930, very young. And so, this sister was still living at 90. And my first question at age, I guess I was 13, "Was she nice?" [Laughs]

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: And her comment was, "Yes, she was very nice." And that was the end of the interview, and I was very happy with that. So, that was the first time.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: But I just blogged about this actually, Mack, that this is a great time of year for doing just that. And the fact that we have all these digital recorders for video and audio now makes recording and capturing these moments so much better than back in the day even 20, 30, 40 years ago.

David: Oh yeah. I mean, we'd write it on the back on a napkin at a holiday get together, like Thanksgiving, and then, you know, maybe put it in our genealogy notes. Gosh, take out your cellphone, record it, probably will also transcribe it for you and post it on social media all in the same time.

Fisher: Absolutely. And I love what you said earlier there, this is a great time for people to get pictures together. If you know who all is going to be at a gathering, whether it’s for Thanksgiving or Christmas and you're getting together especially with cousins, I mean, there are branches of the family that have things you probably don't have, and you probably have things that they don't have that they'll all be interested in seeing. And then you can all kind or swap things out and get them digitized and get the originals back to where they belong or maybe in some cases, you'll get some originals. I sure have from people I've met over time.

David: Sounds like a cornucopia of family history.

Fisher: Yes, it does. I think there's just so much that you can do with this. And you know, as I think back over the years, the opportunities that so many of us have missed, because we just weren't thinking that way. But as a genealogist, you always have to be thinking of, you know, what are the opportunities? What's coming up? Try to think ahead and make plans, because as I say to people often, this is a room of future dead people, you know. If you want to get information from them, you ask them now while they're still here.

David: And you know, if you're the oldest person in your family, tell the stories from your youth then pass the stories on. I mean, that's one of the glories of being a genealogist if you're an older person, because you're the keeper of those stories. So, don't let them die with you.

Fisher: Yeah, that's really the truth. I mean, my mom always said and I've quoted it many times over the years on Extreme Genes, that when a person dies, a library is burned. And that library is a family history library, your family history library.

David: That is so very true.

Fisher: It really is, and its, you know, it’s a frightening thought. And I'm really grateful, like I'm sure you are, too, Dave, that you started young, that you started really early, because you really get a lot more when you're able to do that. And I'm looking at interviews we did now where we took a lot of notes that go back as much as 40 years. And those people are long gone and their stories left with them, except they left them with us! And so, we write them up and put them in books. So, it’s really great stuff. Great comment, great suggestion, Mack. Thanks so much for that. And coming up next, an actual question for Ask Us Anything when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 399

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back for our final question this week on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And David, this is from Mary Ann Smalls in Indianapolis and she says, "Fisher and David, I recently learned that we had an ancestor in the army in the War of 1812, but I haven't been told which side the ancestor was on."

David: Oh no!

Fisher: "Our American side or our English side. Where do you think I should start?"

David: [Laughs] A time machine?

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Well, I would say, let's give credit to the other side first. And so, British records, Kew in London, the archives of the British army are over there. And basically you can go through some of the records that are available already online from FindMyPast.co.uk and its gong to vary on what they have into the 19th century. So, you can try there. But again, if you have a John Clark, you know, you need to know what, because these muster rolls back then, Fish, are not exactly always descriptive. There are of course some rolls that are quite descriptive, or if they're not. And they have the height, the age, maybe the place the person's from, so you might be able to determine if that John Clark is yours. But without a location...First thing you want to do is look in your tree and see if you have somebody that's born roughly between, say, 1775 and say, 1795, because then he'd be a teenager or slightly older guy that could be in the military.

Fisher: Right.

David: So if you get that narrowed down, that should narrow down some of your great greats. And then, the other idea is, looking for their final story, an obituary, something that might say about them being in the British army. In fact, did this ancestor stay over there? Maybe there's a grave marker that has something about them being a veteran. Now, coming across this side of the Atlantic, with the Americans, there's a variety of things you can search. but if they're in the US army, one of the best databases and its right on Ancestry.com is the US Army Register of Enlistments between 1798 and 1914, so it catches you right before the War 1812 and right before World War I, and it’s in the regular US Army. And this database, Fish, has over 1, 378,000 entries.

Fisher: Wow!

David: And that's great, because that's how I found my third great grandfather last Thanksgiving when someone told me that he was not a very tall man. And these descriptive rolls of the army tell you the height. And my third great grandfather was a whopping 5"4.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So, that's one place to look. Now not everybody is in the regular US army. Some people are in the state troops.

Fisher: Right, the militias.

David: Right, exactly. So, you can look at FamilySearch.org, you can look at Ancestry and you may even find books online, like Archive.org that may have a history of the soldiers, say, from Massachusetts in the War of 1812 or the soldiers from New York. You know, these are the type of histories that have probably been in print for over 100 years, so you may be able to find them online fairly easy. The other place, contact your state archives and look for your adjutant general record collections, because those old muster rolls on a state level could be there. So again, looking at your ancestors on the American side, look for those born roughly between 1775 and say, 1795, they're perfect cannon fodder for the War of 1812 at that age.

Fisher: Wow! You know that's great advice. The one thing too about county histories that come out, they often list who these people are, and those lists often come from very credible sources. And so, while a lot of the old county histories have some really tall yarns provided by the families themselves, those records are typically very accurate. So, hopefully that helps you out, MaryAnn and thanks for the question. David thanks for the answer, a lot of good ideas in there and we will talk to you again next week.

David: All right, until next time, my friend.

Fisher: Well, stick a fork in it. We are done for this week! Thanks so much to Paul Woodbury for coming on from Legacy Tree Genealogists, talking all things DNA. Good stuff in there. If you missed any of it, of course catch the podcast on all the usual places, Apple Media, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio and Spotify. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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