Episode 411 - The Late Berlin Candy Bomber, Gail Halversen, In His Own WordsFeb 28, 2022
Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fisher begins by talking about his recent visit to Las Vegas to see the display of recovered Titanic artifacts at the Luxor Hotel. He also just found an English ancestor who was shipped to America for crimes in 1673. David talks about upcoming lectures at RootsTech and the Indiana Historical Society. In Family Histoire News, David shares a 1922 prediction about what life would be like in 2022. You won’t believe how dead on it was! Then, a Washington Post article is asking “if you could go back in time, when would you like to live?” Next, a genetic marker has been identified that can indicate descent from the Bruce family of Scotland.
In segments 2 and 3, Fisher plays back an interview from December of 2014 with Col. Gail Halvorsen. Col. Halversen, better known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber,” passed away on February 16, at age 101. In this two part visit, Col. Halversen explains how the whole effort to share candy from the air with German children began.
Then, David returns for Ask Us Anything. The guys tackle questions on the upcoming 1950 census and letters from soldiers in Civil War units.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Host: Scott Fisher with guest host David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 411
Fisher: And hello America and welcome to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on the show where we shake your family tree, and watch the nuts fall out. Well, it’s great to have you back genies and it’s kind of a mixed bag today. We want to celebrate the life of one of the guests that we’ve had on the show in the past who just passed away this past week. And that is the man known as the Candy Bomber. Gail Halvorsen passed away in Provo, Utah at the age of 101. And he made quite an impact on German-American relations after the war when he would attach little candy bars to parachutes and drop them to children waiting at the end of the runway as they brought in relief as the Soviets at that had isolated West Berlin. So, back in 2014, I talked to him and he shared his entire story over two segments and we’re going to let you hear them again today, Gail Halvorsen the Candy Bomber, so looking forward to that. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter, we get it out every Monday and share with you links to stories you’ll be fascinated by as a genealogist. Also, links to past and present shows and a little blog from me that you might find interesting, so check it out. You can sign up on our Facebook page or at ExtremeGenes.com. Right now it’s time to head out to Boston, Massachusetts. David Allen Lambert is standing by as always and he is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, got to fit that in Dave. How are you?
David: I am doing good. It is a titanic title but I understand you have titanic news to share with us.
Fisher: [Laughs] It’s on my mind I guess. Because I went with some friends and my wife and we went to Vegas over the weekend and went to the Luxor Hotel to see their Titanic display there. And these are all these amazing artifacts picked up from the debris field of the Titanic. Much of it in perfect condition, including these plates that were all sitting in a line in the sand because they had been in a box, right, and then the box deteriorated and went away and these were salvaged. And there was this big piece, the giant piece of the Titanic in a separate room. I was able to take pictures with that. It was just an amazing thing to see it and just get the feel of that tragedy and all the lives that were lost, an amazing experience there that day. And then today, I had another breakthrough on another family line in England and learned about this ancestor, Richard Floyd who was send in 1673 over from Warwickshire, England. He was shipped off to America for something he did criminal and I don’t know what it is yet but I’m looking for it. We’ll see what comes of that. What have you got Dave?
David: Well, on April 2nd I am lecturing to the Indiana Genealogical Society in Fort Wayne virtually from my home here in Massachusetts. I’m giving four lectures on New England from the Great Migration all the way down different types of records so I’m really looking forward to that. Would love to be there in person but hey, as we know, with RootsTech coming up that’s even virtual and I’m giving four lectures for that.
Fisher: Yeah. All right Dave let’s get on with our Family Histoire news today. What do you have for us?
David: Well, I’ve got some old news that is good news. And this is a really funny one. This is in Open Culture’s website, and I found this article that was written in the New York Herald Magazine section on May 7th 1922. Listen to this. “The people of the year 2022 will probably never see a wire outlined against the sky. It is practically certain that wireless telegraphy and wireless telephones will have crushed the cable system long before the century is done, possibly through power, maybe through the air. What means are found to prevent enormous voltages being suddenly discharged in the wrong places. Coal will not be exhausted but our reserves will be seriously depleted and so will those of oil. One of the world’s dangers in a century will be a shortage of fuel, but likely by that time a great deal of power will be obtained from the tides, from the sun, and probably from radium and other forms of radial energy. While it may be also that atomic energy will be harnessed.” Wow, that’s a Nostradamus!
Fisher: [Laughs] That is insane! 100 years ago in May.
David: Yep. Well, you know, I love the past as you do and thank you for sharing earlier that great article from the Washington Post about “What century would you actually have liked to have lived in?” It’s a great article. It makes me want to think what century would I want to live in? Would it be the Colonial era, where things were so harsh and we didn’t have the certainties of medicine and protection against the elements? Or would it be the last century early on so I could have known my grandparents? How about you?
Fisher: Boy, I don’t know. I think about these things and I think perhaps we are living in one of the best centuries ever. At least in the course of my lifetime, late 20th century, early 21st, although who knows where things are going this particular decade but you can think about what would you do if you went back and continued to know what you know now. And that’s what this article brings up including things like well, would you take out John Wilkes Booth for instance? Or maybe Hitler’s father or something like this? I mean, could you change history, would you, and should you? I mean it’s complicated. It’s an interesting little exercise. Doesn’t really take you anywhere but nonetheless, it would be fascinating to at least visit some place just to have that experience.
David: I think genealogists would probably pick an ancestor that they would like to meet. But make sure you don’t accidently kill your grandfather.
Fisher: Right. Be careful. [Laughs]
David: [Laughs] You know, genealogy and genetics are amazing and the stories we’ve had over the past few years have just been incredible, including this latest one from Scotland. Robert the Bruce’s closes relatives have been identified by the university researchers at Strathclyde. And this goes back to the Bruce clans of Clackmannan who are related to Robert the Bruce from 1306 to 1329. DNA, you got to love it.
Fisher: I know. I am a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce and I have the lines. They’re all very well proven. Most of Europe probably has a descent from Robert the Bruce.
David: They probably do. But the genetic connection is fun because you can say that part of that person still lives on in you, especially if it’s Y-DNA.
Fisher: Good point.
David: Well, that’s all I have for this week from my family histoire news bag. But remember, if you’re not an American Ancestors member we’d love to have you, and you can use the coupon code EXREME and save $20. Just go to AmericanAncestors.org and tell them that Fish and Dave sent you.
Fisher: All right David. Talk to you again at the backend of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, he’s a man who passed away just a week ago, Gail Halvorsen. He’s known as the Candy Bomber, died at 101. And in December of 2014 we had him on the show, He told his whole story and you’re going to want to hear it in his own words from his own mouth coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 411
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Colonel Gail Halvorsen
Fisher: Back to it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. Well, on February 16th we lost a great American Hero, Gail Halvorsen – The Candy Bomber. Died at 101 years of age in Provo, Utah. And if you’re not familiar with his story, well, here it is right from his mouth because I had the chance to interview him in 2014 in December. Here’s how it went.
Imagine growing up and attending an elementary school that was actually named for your grandfather, who’s still around. This was actually the experience of a couple of the grandkids of next guest Colonel Gail Halvorsen, better known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. How are you Colonel? Good to have you on the show.
Col. Gail: Hey, doing great out here in Arizona. Good to hear from you Fisher.
Fisher: Well this is really an honor for me first of all to talk to you sir, because I’ve known your story for so many years, and for people who aren’t familiar with it, we will get in to that in just a little bit. You know, such a big part of family history is history and people creating their own story and their own lives, and yours has been defined by a very short period of time in the late 1940s Colonel. Let’s go back to the beginning of this. First of all you were a flyboy very early on, born in 1920. When did you start flying?
Col. Gail: The spring and summer of 1941.
Fisher: And where were you getting your lessons? What were you flying at that time?
Col. Gail: Well, people in high places knew that we were going to get in trouble sooner or later and we didn’t have a big enough pilot pool in the United States for expansion. So, in the colleges they had a college training program that were taking guys that wanted to fly and give them training through their private pilot and get a private pilot license. And they needed more so they went to none college guys and that was me. I was really interested in flying and I studied hard. I got one of ten scholarships, there were about a 140 kids who took that and I got one of ten. So I got a flight scholarship and that’s when I started my training in May of 1941.
Fisher: And that was just a few months of course before Pearl Harbor came along. We get to World War II, everything starts and where did they assign you?
Col. Gail: Well, I went to the Aviation Cadet Center for assignment in San Antonio and they had a notice on the board, “Anybody who wants to train with the RAF should sign up.” So I went in. I thought that’s exotic you know, these guys are really something and I signed up to be trained with RAF. Now the RAF has their training schools in Canada and the United States and the one I was assigned to, was in Miami, Oklahoma. But they had RAF test pilots and RAF ground school so we were on loan to the RAF to get our flight training. About five of us in that one place in Miami. And then we got our RAF wings, then an army test pilot came up and gave us a flight check and we got our army air core wings. So I trained as a fighter pilot. When we went back in to the army air core they needed transport guys. So I ended up in transport during the war. I was flying out of South America sanctions islands, Africa, and supplying the basis up and down those coasts, occasionally ferrying in an airplane to England for an invasion. So that was how I got started.
Fisher: And that was just the beginning for you, wasn’t it Colonel because you really made a career out of flying?
Col. Gail: Yes, I’ve been flying ever since. I had part ownership in a couple of different light airplanes, I owned a power parachute of my own, so I’ve been flying steady since the spring of 1941. We’ve been flying clubs and that sort of thing. Of course right now I’m flying as co-pilot with Tim Chopp of Berlin Airlift Historical Foundations C-54, The Spirit of Freedom. In 54 they flew the Berlin Airlift and Tim Chopp got it out of a junk yard and got it flying again.
Col. Gail: So I’m flying that, and next month I’ll be dropping parachutes over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Fisher: Isn’t that unbelievable. We’re talking to Colonel Gail Halvorsen. He is known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. As part of a great family history of the United States of America as I like to look at it. You’re a great hero in my mind because of what you did to help rebuild relations with Germany after the war. Let’s talk about now the political situation that took place. The war is over, and now we’ve got a problem because the Russians have cut off Berlin and isolated it. And you are now part of the food lift to keep Berlin from being overrun by the Russians entirely.
Col. Gail: That’s right. The Russians were starving over two million people, cutting off all the supplies coming from West Germany over East Germany to West Berlin. And they were going to take over West Berlin, and they were going to take over West Berlin. It’s obvious they were heading for Paris eventually and Italy. But West Berlin was in the way, a showcase for freedom in the middle of the Red Sea.
Fisher: So you were flying in food. Is that what it was at the time?
Col. Gail: We flew in everything they had to have to survive. We flew in food, and by the way, we had to fly in dehydrated food. Everything you could take the water out of, we took it out because one airplane can fly as much dried food as seven airplanes without dry food.
Col. Gail: When we got the dried food to Berlin, of course they had plenty of water in the wells and they put the water in it. It didn’t taste very good, not as good as fresh food, but they said, “We’re not going to complain. Someday we’ll have the freedom. And if we lose it, we’ll never get it back.” And so they were glad to have anything that gave them strength.
Fisher: Now, were you flying twenty four hours a day? I remember it was just like flight after flight after flight for a long period of time. How long did this go on?
Col. Gail: It was a twenty four hour a day operation. When I first got there in the blockade in 1948 in July, we were flying three rounds trips a day from West Germany over East Germany in to West Berlin. You might start at six-o-clock at night you know, to be on duty for about fifteen hours during the first of the blockade when we didn’t have enough airplanes. And later on, two round trips a day out of West Germany was about averaging and that would take about ten to twelve hours.
Fisher: And so at some point along the line you noticed a gathering of children along the runway or by the landing area. Why were they there?
Col. Gail: Well, the children were watching all the airplanes coming over the fence because they knew that their next meal was in that silver airplane and they were just cheering actually. To see those kids wave to you as we taxied out to take off from the other side of the barbed wire that went around the airfield, and they had an interest in every airplane that came in, and those little guys, they knew what their aunts and uncles and cousins were like, and the problems they had on the East side of East Berlin and East Germany, and they didn’t want anything to do with that. They were just letting us know that they appreciated everything we were doing for them.
Fisher: Did you ever have a chance to go visit with them? Was that an area of the airfield that you could get to, or was it always, “I got to get in and I got to get out?”
Col. Gail: Well you got to get in and get out, but when I went back to Rhein-Main to West Germany one day, I get back there before noon and go to bed, but I thought, “Boy, this airlift is going to be over pretty quick,” which it wasn’t. It went almost a year and this was just a month or so in to it. I wanted to get movies with the operation on the ground, shooting pictures of airplanes coming over the bombed up buildings. So I hitchhiked back and had no problem getting a standard flight suit and I could get back and forth with my buddies flying. So instead of going to bed, I went back to Berlin with a movie camera. I got on the end of the runway shooting. It was a bad approach. They had to come in steep with a heavy load and the runway wasn’t as long as we’d like it. So I was shooting movies with the guys coming over the bombed up buildings and landing behind me. Suddenly on the other side of the barbed wire is about thirty kids, right up against the wire looking at the uniform that was killing and bombing their dad and mom or brothers and sisters a few years before in the war, but they were friendly. They knew what the soldiers were like because their aunts and uncles and cousins had come across the border in to West Berlin and tell them, “You don’t want anything to do with those guys.” So they were friendly. And I was standing there by the fence almost an hour shooting the pictures, and then said “Sorry guys and girls” These eight, nine, to fifteen years of age. They spoke English because they because they had to in school. I couldn’t speak any German. And they were cheering me up saying, “Look, it’s summer now, the weather is good. You’re going to have no trouble getting in here to land. But when winter comes, the fog is terrible in the air and you’re going to have trouble when that happens. Don’t worry about us. We don’t have to have enough to eat. Just don’t give up on us. Someday we’ll have enough to eat. If we lose our freedom we’ll never get it back.” Kids! I was fascinated.
Col. Gail: I had to run, I had a jeep waiting for me to take me around to take movies of the city that was bombed up because you couldn’t do that flying, you had to stand by the airplane or it would take right off.
Col. Gail: So I was taking my sleep time to take a tourist view of Berlin. Well, I got about five steps and I suddenly realized that these kids were different. I did stop right at the barbed wire and not one child had for an hour or thirty, put out their hands by voice inflection or by body language telling me, “Dummy, don’t you know kids like chocolate?” During the war and after, I’d flown to foreign countries besides American, other countries, Africa and even more civilized countries, more up to date countries, and the kids see you walking down the street in American uniform, they shake you down for a chocolate. These kids had none for two years and not one would be so ungrateful to beg for something more than freedom, something as exotic as chocolate. First time, gosh I got to give them something, and I stop and put my hand in my pocket, two sticks of gum is all I had, thirty kids are going to have bloody noses when they get out of here. And I argued with myself for a minute and said, “You’ll never see them again because you’re going to be flying all the time. You can’t be hitchhiking back here instead of sleep anymore; this is once in a lifetime.” And so I argued with myself for a minute and said well it’s up to them if they fight, it’s up to me if I give it to them. And it’s a big decision, I turned and went back to the fence and broke them in two pieces and cut them in half and passed it to the kids through the barbed wire and here came the rush, and I thought, “Oh, I hope they don’t fight” but they didn’t. The kids that didn’t get any just asked for a piece of the wrapper.
Col. Gail: And the kids with the half a stick tore off the other half of the tin foil and passed it around. Those kids put it up their nose and smelled it and smelled it, the strip of paper. I stood there dumbfounded. That’s the trigger right there.
Fisher: Oh! And what happened next really changed the world and we’ll talk about that in our next segment as we continue our visit with Colonel Gail Halvorsen, coming up next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 411
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Colonel Gail Halvorsen
Fisher: We are back on Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and you’re listening to a playback of my interview from December of 2014 with the Berlin Candy Bomber, Colonel Gail Halvorsen who just passed away February 16th at 101 years of age. This is how he told me his story. As we talked about earlier, a lot of family history is about the stories and about the history that we as individuals and our ancestors have created. And we've got one man on the line right now who created a lot of history, and he's still doing it! He's Colonel Gail Halvorsen, known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” and later known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and let's get into that a little bit, Gail. We were just talking about how you met the kids along the fence and you shared with them a little gum, and this is where the impetus for the whole candy bomber thing started.
Col. Gail: That's right. They were so excited about the smell on a piece of paper. I thought “Boy, for a few bucks, I can put them on easy street and give them a whole stick each or whatever. And then I knew I couldn't come back to the fence again, I'd be flying 24 hours without much sleeping. I said "Boy, I'll be here tonight and tomorrow, flying in, I'll be right over their heads. I can deliver it by air. I'll drop it out the airplane." And so I told the kids, "You come back to the open place between the bombed up buildings and the barbed wire fence, when I come over your head tomorrow to land I'll drop enough stuff for all of you if you’ll share it." And they said “Ja wohl, ja wohl!” It means. "Yes, yes! We'll share! We’ll share it!” I turned to leave and said, “I don't know. It will be sometime tomorrow before noon. I'll be back.” Then they said, “Wait a minute, we've got to know what airplane you're in. Every 5 minutes airplanes are landing here and we can't watch every one of them for a little package." So I told them what I learnt when I got my flying license back in ‘41 in the farm, flew over the farm and let dad and mom know that was me up there in the airplane, I’d wiggle the wings back and forth. I said, “Kids, watch the airplane when it comes over the field. Now I would wiggle the wings of that big airplane back and forth. Just watch that one.” They said, “Wow, get out of here. Let’s start it!”
Col. Gail: So I went back to West Germany and we couldn't buy much. We'd only buy a certain amount of chocolate. Each week is a ration. I went to my co-pilot, mentioned it to him and said, “Give me your ration.” “What are you going to do? Buy a camera on the black market?” But I said, “No.” I told him what I was going to do. He said, “You got permission?” I said, “No, told the kids I’d do it. Give me your ration!” So they did. They had double handfuls, not just gum, but chocolate bars. Boy that was pretty heavy to make sure that you didn’t hit them in the head with the candy bar at 120 miles an hour. I had three handkerchief parachutes and I tied a third of the chocolate and gum onto each parachute, and tied it on tight. And then went back to Berlin that night. And the next day, came over just before noon over the airfields and on the end of the runway those kids, a little mob, they hadn’t told another soul. Looked like just the thirty that was there before, right in the middle of the old place between the bombed up buildings and the barbed wire fence, wiggled the wings and they went crazy, just blew up. Of course I went on, over East Berlin, turned around, come back to land. Came over the top of them and had the crew chief standing between the pilots. We’re flying 100 feet in the air. And he shoved the three parachutes out a little flare chute and then we were worried when he unloaded 20,000 pounds of flour. Whether somebody had seen it come out and report us, or if we missed the target and pulled it over the fence on the runway, but as we taxied up we came along the barbed wire fence. There were those thirty kids waving three parachutes.
Fisher: Eventually, you got into a little trouble over this, didn’t you?
Col. Gail: Well yes. We came back and did not submit the airplane. He said, “Who’s flying this airplane?” And my buddies pointed to me and said, “He is. Why? Colonel Howard wants to see you right now” “What for?” I said. He says, “He’ll tell you.” Went to the colonel he says, “Colonel Halvorsen what have you been doing?” “Been flying like mad, sir” “That’s not all you’ve been doing. What else you been doing?” And then I knew he knew and thought I was going to be court-martialed for a little while. But then he said the General called him and said, “Hey, that’s a good idea. Let him do it.” From then on my buddies got into it. Two sticks of gum turned into 23 tones over the next, about a year. It was a joined operation with all my buddies dropping too.
Fisher: Let’s talk now about the impact of this, not only on the kids, but on your life.
Col. Gail: Well it changed my life. Here it is in ’94. Next month I’ll be flying our Berlin airlift airplanes, Spirit of Freedom, which we’re flying over Kitty Hawk next month, dropping parachutes. Every year we make that drop. So it changed my life. I just got back from New York. Lufthansa airlines gave me an Achievement of the year award and it’s just crazy. My buddies are the ones that did it, and the kids are the ones that triggered the airlift operation by my buddies. The happiness of life doesn’t come from a bigger car or a bigger house in your neighborhood. It comes from gaining outside of yourself and serving others. The gratitude of the kids, for flour to be free, was so great they wouldn’t beg for chocolate. That gratitude caused the operation to happen. If they begged for something, I’d give them all we had. I’d give them the two sticks of gum and that would be the end of it. But because not one child said, “Give me” that gratitude was so strong. That’s what caused the operation to happen. Attitude! Everybody said, including the Russians, “They can’t feed 2 million people by air. It’s never been done before.” You know, we’ve heard that in the workplace. Somebody gets a good idea, and he says, “Oh, that’s never been done before.” Cuts off progress, attitude! There were some generals who said we could fly people, and General Tunner said we can fly that stuff in there. Attitude made it happen. And the Germans and the Germans on the ground came back with attitude. They came back and said, "Hey, we don't have to have enough to eat like I said before, someday we'll have enough to eat, to lose our freedom, we'll never get a badass attitude. Someday we'll put up the stuff. It’s going to be a rough patch to put up with. So off we got service before south. Gratitude, attitude, and the little decisions put your footsteps on the path that leads where you end up. Whether it was a good or bad one, I tell the young people, if somebody says, "Hey, try and sniff a little of this glue or try to smoke a little of this weed." So that's a little decision at the moment, but if it happens, you put your own footsteps where you end up, and it’s not going to be good.
Fisher: That's right.
Col. Gail: The little decisions bring you that.
Fisher: Tell me about the kids. Did you ever get a chance to meet them after they were adults?
Col. Gail: Oh, tons of them! In Danville, California, we've got a whole group of them out there. One gal, Stephie, had caught enough parachutes to make under cushions and jackets, Stephie. Danville, California, they got a whole group about there. Mercedes, a little gal, says they're scaring her chickens and that it’s okay if I drop chocolate bars there. I met her, and she's coming to the States. And I stayed in her house many times, and have been in contact with her right till today, lots and lots of kids.
Fisher: Well, it sounds like a very fulfilling life, Colonel Halvorsen.
Col. Gail: Well, Mercedes Wild is a great friend, and we did scare her chickens, but I sent her a big package of gum and candy. We flew that airplane, the one I'm flying now back to Germany for eighty nine days. And then a grown man came through the airplane and he said, "I was a boy at twelve, going to school. The clouds were very low with rain, when suddenly out of the clouds came a parachute with a fresh Hershey candy bar. It landed right at my feet. I was astounded. So it took me a week to eat that candy bar. I hid it day and night." Then he looked far off and said, "But it wasn't the chocolate that was important. What was important was that somebody in America knew I was in trouble, and somebody cared. I can live on thin rations." he said, "but not without hope. Without hope, the soul dies."
Fisher: He's Colonel Gail Halvorsen, The Berlin Candy Bomber, Uncle Wiggly Wings. Thank you so much, Gail, for your time and for sharing your story. And God bless. And hope you have a great new year.
Col. Gail: Thank you. You're sure a great guy to work with.
Fisher: Colonel Gail Halvorsen, the Candy Bomber, gone at 101. We’re going to miss him. Coming up next in three minutes, David Allen Lambert returns as we go through your questions once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 411
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we are back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert rejoins us now as we take our first question. And Dave, this one is from Linda in Port St. Lucie, Florida. She says, “Hi guys. I believe there may be Civil War letters written by people in my ancestor’s Union unit. What can you tell me about locating them?”
David: Hmm. Well, the thing about letters is that some of us still have the letters our ancestors wrote.
David: But they can be dispersed all over the place. Some things of course are lost at time, but some things might be in the local historical societies and that’s where you’ve got to get creative. One of the things I use and I lecture about this around the country is, adopt a regiment. And that idea is basically look for what happened to the people who served, in this case maybe the immediate company your ancestor served in. Find out where they died. Maybe find a descendent, because somebody might also have those letters.
David: Or maybe they were published. Fish, you’ve probably looked at regimental histories before. Sometimes, those have the letters or recollections of soldiers who served in a particular unit, that’s pretty helpful.
Fisher: Well, and just the concept here David, of adopting a regiment, you can really apply to almost anything, adopt a church, adopt a community, you know, find out what happened in those places. But, when you get into the military though, obviously you’re going to discover things potentially that will give you the individual stories of some of the men who fought in the battles and what those battles were like for them and maybe even find a mention of your ancestor in there.
David: That’s true. And one of the places you can find letters about soldiers in a particular unit, look for the pensions that were awarded to the mothers or fathers, because they had to actually send copies of the letters they wrote home. And that’s one place the historians really haven’t even started tapping yet for great information. These letters, I mean, are heartbreaking, because think, the mother or father had to send that letter in to prove their son was sending, say, $5 home that month or that quarter. But these letters might mention your ancestor or my ancestor that maybe got wounded or they were in a battle. Affidavits and pension files are amazing too, because the person who served with your ancestor may have wrote, “I remember when Joe was injured in this battle at Gettysburg and he was at the hospital.” But at the same token your ancestor may have wrote an affidavit on their behalf.
David: So, you kind of have to adopt the entire regiment and it takes a lot. Of course, with the National Archives currently still closed, we have to rely upon those early pensions of the Civil War that have already been digitized by Fold3.com.
Fisher: Yeah. You know, the things you’re talking about are things we routinely do now with the Revolutionary War pensions to try to find those things and family bible pages that they included in there, things like that, which I assume are also among Civil War records. But, those Civil War records are not as complete yet, like you say, the National Archives has been shut down for two years. And as we talking about on last week’s show, we have a massive effort going on right now to get that reopened and hopefully that effort will pay off, because everything is being held up for everybody from historians, to family historians, to movie makes, all these different people. But gee Dave, I love what you’re talking about, trying to connect with other people who might be researching that same unit and maybe start a little organization informally to see what else might be out there.
David: Yeah, and you can create a social media group on Facebook for free, then Google will index it. So, you could pick the 12 Massachusetts Infantry. And you know, you might find some re-enactors, but you may also find someone who says, “ You know, I have a pile of these letters that I found in my house.” and that’s where people stumble across those cross wires, that FAN approach, Family, Associates, and Neighbors works great in genealogy.
Fisher: Yep. It really does. I’ve been using that a lot lately and it really does pay off. Very good. Thanks so much for the question, and we’ve got another one coming up for you next from Fargo, North Dakota, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 411
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, we are back for our final go around this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, David Allen Lambert over there. And our next question on Ask Us Anything comes from Drake in Fargo, North Dakota. He writes, “Fish and Dave, I know the 1950 census is coming out soon. I hear everyone say it’s a big deal, but I’d like to know what you expect people will get from it.” All right, fair enough. David, I guess we start with the fact that it’s coming out April 1st. And we’re talking about that quite a bit these days. I guess, the other thing I would say about it that crosses my mind immediately is this is the first census that’s come out since the tidal wave of DNA results that we’ve gotten over the past decade, and because it’s just coming out the greatest number of people alive who are in that 1950 census are with us right now. And you get ten years down the line from now and we might not have as many, but this is the way to start connecting and maybe discovering some of those people, especially if you were adopted or you have misattributed parentage or something like that. I think it’s a great goldmine for that, yet alone just the basics.
David: These are census years now that we can remember somebody from.
David: Or there’s someone still alive that can find themselves on it. I can still remember talking with people when the 20, 30, and the 40 came out. And I was like, oh, I just found my dad. He was so excited to see his name. This is the same thing. My mother in law and father in law will be on this census. Shy of my own sister, my parents will be on it, my grandparents all four of them, and now I’m struggling to remember exactly where all of them lived in 1950, which I think is the biggest convention of my time before April 1st. There’s going to be some exciting finds and maybe some frustration because, was your ancestor not at home at the time at the time of April 1st.
David: That’s always been a census problem.
Fisher: It happened to me with the 1940, my dad, his first wife, my half sister, and my grandfather who lived with them didn’t show up at all in 1940. It was a real big disappointment. I was really sad to see that.
David: Well, you know, the thing I think I really anticipate with the census is that it gets a new generation of genealogists interested.
David: Because you know, the grandparents and parents can sit down and show their kids and say, “Wow, are there censuses before that!”
David: You know, back in 1790.
Fisher: That’s true.
David: It’s great. So I hope that the 1950 census, the first month or so that its released and people start searching it, looking through it that it gets the next generation interested in genealogy, which is really the hope.
Fisher: And think of it, too, this is the first census since World War II, so we’re going to see the first four years of baby boomers in there and we’ve got three presidents who are all born in 1946. You’ve got Clinton, you’ve got Bush Jr., and you’ve got Trump and they’re all going to be in there as little toddlers.
David: Then you have married people like Jimmy Carter and his wife.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] That’s right.
David: It’s a married couple with their children.
David: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s going to cause a lot of sleepless nights for genealogists. I can just predict it now as I look into the crystal ball of genealogy.
Fisher: Absolutely. And the other thing about this, Drake is, when you get a census, it’s really kind of like a stepping stone. They’re all evenly spaced, they come out every ten years and you’ve got this amazing record that helps tell a little more of the story of your people. You might find another child in a family that you didn’t know existed that maybe died young. You might find an occupation or maybe you’ll learn what house somebody lived in and you’ll be able to visit it either virtually or in reality at some point. And what an interesting thing that always is. So, it’s a good question. And we hope you’ll check it out when April 1st rolls around. Of course, the indexing won’t be completed right away. That will take some time. But nonetheless, it’s going to be a real exciting release. And I can’t wait to cover it.
David: Well, it won’t be April Fool’s Day for genealogists, that’s for sure.
Fisher: No. [Laughs] All right, David, thanks so much. We’ll talk to you next week. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can always email us at [email protected]. Hey, thanks for joining us for the show. And if you missed any of it, you want to hear our visit with the Candy Bomber, Gail Halvorsen, you can always catch the podcast on AppleMedia, iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com and Spotify. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we’re a nice, normal family!