Episode 414 - Is DNA Just Another Research Tool? Diahan Southard Talks Genetic Genealogy

podcast episode Mar 21, 2022

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin by talking about the recent article in the Financial Times of London (subscription required) in which Fisher is quoted talking about the coming release of the 1950 US Census. Others from the genealogical community were also interviewed for the piece. Then, David talks about a Minnesota woman who recently won a Swedish reality show. You’ll love the prize she won! David then talks about a remarkable article just out on human life expectancy and how much it has changed. (Imagine a time when there were NO grandparents!) Then, explorer Ernest Shackleton’s legendary ship, Endurance, has been found! Catch the details. Next… it’s another week with another find behind a wall! And of course that was just the beginning of the story. And finally, Fisher shares great news for New York City researchers. The Department of Records & Information Services has just released a free database of over nine million digitized images of original birth, death and marriage records covering up to 1949. There are still four million to go and the search engine needs some work, but it’s up and running!

Next, Fisher visits, over two segments, with Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, who tackles the question “Is DNA just another tool?” You may already know the answer, but many others don’t. Diahan will explain, and will talk about the strategies to help you use DNA to break through your brick walls.

David then returns for a pair of questions on Ask Us Anything. The first has to do with the heir to a hoarder! The second talks about the find of an ancestor on a passenger list and what those names around his ancestor’s may do for further research.

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 414

Fisher: And hello America! And welcome to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, welcome back. Boy, we’ve got a mega guest today as always Diahan Southard is going to be here. She is Your DNA Guide. And of course, she is one of the premiered teachers of DNA research and we’re going to talk about this idea, is DNA just another tool? And we’ll talk about all the various uses of it, all the things you can find, the different types of DNA. It’s going to be really fun. By the way, if you’re deep in the weeds in DNA this will help you also be able to explain to other people who are not, exactly how it works because that is just something that Diahan is so good at. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, we again invite you to do so. You get a blog from me each week, links to past and present shows, and links to stories you’ll appreciate as a genealogist. Right now, it’s time to head off to Boston, Massachusetts, that guy with the highly annoying accent, its David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello David.

David: [Laughs] and if nobody knows the context of the previous episode, that’s going to make no sense whatsoever.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So, that means you need to listen to last week’s episode to know why I and all others from Boston, apparently have the most annoying accent.

Fisher: And that came right out of Boston itself David. I had nothing to do with it.

David: I know. That’s okay. So, I will pick a different state each week to have a different accent.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But this time, I want to go across the pond because I see Extreme Genes is mentioned in the Financial Times over on the other side of the pond.

Fisher: Yes, the Financial Times of London. Yeah, they did a big article about the 1950 census. They talked about our friend Crista Cowan over at our sponsors at Ancestry.com. Todd Godfrey one of the VPs over there, they talked to him. And the president of the National Genealogical Society as well is in there. So, it’s a lot of people from the community mentioned in the article, about everybody is gearing up for April 1st, when that census comes out.

David: Congratulations!

Fisher: Yeah, it’s kind of fun.

David: I think it is. But do you have any Swedish ancestors?

Fisher: Yeah three eights.

David: Well, you really should have been tuned into a Swedish reality show. Sally Franson is a novelist and happened to be tuning in for a Swedish reality show and now she has had the chance to go back over to discover her Scandinavian roots.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: That was the prize on the show. Isn’t that amazing?

Fisher: It is amazing. And she actually applied to be on the show, wound up winning the whole thing, didn’t know what she was going to win but she got to tour over there in Sweden and meet many of her Swedish relatives.

David: Well, you know a lot of people find relatives through DNA and never get across the pond to meet them. So that’s amazing.

Fisher: Yeah, great stuff.

David: Well, this article from Learn.age-up.com, talks about the history of the grandparent. They talk about 30,000 years ago then everything kind of change with Stone Age families because you know, the average person didn’t live long enough to be say, 30. You had to watch out for those saber tooth tigers and things like that. And worrying about what nearby cave was going to invade yours.

Fisher: Right.

David: So, I loved the article. It talks about things even more recent, like life expectancy in ancient Rome, and how old someone could be. They also have a great chart in there talking about what life expectancy was between 1200 and say, 1745. And for the most part, it was in the 40s.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Except during 1300 to 1400. Can you guess why?

Fisher: The Black Death!

David: Correct, sir. And that is the average age then was approximately 24.

Fisher: Wow! So, there really weren’t any grandparents around until we started to get that human longevity up, the life expectancy.

David: I mean, imagine how hard it was. Who were you going to pick up the cell phone and call to ask your genealogy questions back in the 1400s?

Fisher: Right.

David: It would have been tough.

Fisher: Tough stuff, yeah.

David: Well, that just shows human endurance. But, one, endurance is my next story and that has to do with Ernest Shackleton’s famed vessel, the Endurance. In Antarctic over 100 years ago this vessel sank, but that vessel has now been found. Archeologists found the wreck at the bottom of the Weddell’s Sea in the Eastern Antarctica Peninsula. The ship went down in 1915 right smack down when World War I was starting.  

Fisher: This ship is still in incredibly good shape and you can still read the name Endurance on it. The ship’s wheel, it’s recognizable. It’s still together and so much of it is intact. I’m just wondering if they’re ever going to be able to get that thing out and put it on display and preserve it. I tend to doubt it because it’s still under a lot of ice, but what an amazing discovery.

David: Well, that just goes to show you when you put things in the freezer they will last a long time.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: This next story is a wonderful story about Anna Prillaman who was in her attic in her home in Richmond, Virginia doing some afternoon cleaning. She came across a small door, never seen before, opened it up and voila, there were love letters that she found that went back to the 1950s. And being curious, and of course with genealogy tools all the more and the merrier on the internet these days, she was able to track down what happened to this couple. Sadly, both of them died within the past 20 years but they do have children and grandchildren who can enjoy it. This is the story of a couple Vance Long and his wife Betty McGhee Long, who were married back in 1955.

Fisher: Well, how awesome all those letters got to be preserved. Hey, we’ve got to mention by the way, that just this past week the Department of Records in New York City has just released 9.3 million vital record images online. They’ve all been digitized. It’s still a little bit of a struggle as far as the search engine is concerned, but still, if you have for instance, the certificate numbers they can take you right to where you need to go. So, check it out and New York City’s Department of Records and Information Services. The best way to get there is just do a Google search.

David: That’s amazing.

Fisher: Yes it is.

David: Well, that’s all I have from Beantown this week. But, I do want to say that if you’re not a member of American Ancestors, we are back open as many of you may know, but we are also virtually always open at AmericanAncestors.org. If you want to find out more or become a member, remember you can use the coupon code EXTREME and save $20 anytime.

Fisher: All right, very good David. We’ll talk to you at the backend of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up, my two part visit with your DNA guide Diahan Southard, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 414

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Diahan Southard

Fisher: All right, welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, so excited to be talking to my long time friend Diahan Southard. She’s your DNA guide. And Diahan of course, we just finished with RootsTech and lots of people still buzzing about that and I guess will for the coming year because all the lectures and lessons available on all kinds of things are available there through the coming year for free. What a great thing. Hope you had a great conference.

Diahan: Yeah. You can’t beat the excitement of RootsTech even when its virtual. It’s still a fun thing to be a part of. There’s so much to do and watch and listen to.

Fisher: Absolutely. And I’m so looking forward to next year when we go live again because it will be like a big family reunion right, with the goofy cousins, and the people we disagree with but we still love, and everybody else. It’s going to be great. You know, one of the things I’ve picked up on though in recent years is that despite the fact that we’re really well along in the curve as far as DNA goes, there’s still a lot of people out there who really don’t understand what’s in it for them when it comes to DNA. I think people are just beginning to think oh, DNA is just another tool. I don’t think I agree with that.

Diahan: Yeah. Well, I think you’re right. I think those of us who’ve been in the industry for a long time, get this kind of settled feeling that everybody around us knows what we know, and everybody knows how valuable it is, and everybody knows how to use it, it’s just not true. There are so many people still discovering what DNA can do for their family history.

Fisher: Just a couple of days ago I had somebody approach me and say, I have my DNA test results in, but I don’t know what to do with it. Can you show me what it does, how it works?” And I’m thinking where have you been the last eight or ten years? You know?

Diahan: [Laughs]

Fisher: And this is somebody who’s very engaged in family history so there’s still tons of folks just getting in it. I thought maybe we could talk a little bit today about why DNA is just another tool and how those who are a little more seasoned in this field can talk can talk about this kind of thing.

Diahan: Yeah, for sure. I think this is a huge need and one that we’ve been overlooking so I’m glad we’re talking about it. 

Fisher: Yeah. So, I noticed on your website you’ve got a thing there about birth fathers without a name. And I bet you get a lot of response to that.

Diahan: We do actually. That’s our most popular blog post. So, there’s two sides to this. There are people out there who are coming into DNA and family history because they’re looking for a birth father or grandfather.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Diahan: And then there’s on the flip side there’s people like you and me who know all of our family members or a lot of our family members and we’re the ones that are being contacted by these matches asking for help, right?

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: And we want to help. We want to reach out and help but sometimes it’s difficult to know how to help them, and it’s difficult to know how much to share if we figure out somehow their connection to us. But I am amazed at how in this blog post we have a lot of comments ad a lot of people are coming in asking, “Can DNA help me?” They still don’t know that DNA is the way that they can figure out their birth family.

Fisher: Don’t you think a lot of people that are coming into it now perhaps were minors here in recent years and they had been “protected” from family members from knowing this kind of information. We also have issues perhaps with laws in various states that prevent people from finding information so they just don’t necessarily understand how simple it is to spit in a tube and get some information that can lead them to where they want to go.

Diahan: Right. Yeah. They don’t believe that it’s possible right?

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: It seems too simple. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

Diahan: And on the other side, it is complicated in that we’re so used to looking at a DNA match page we know how to interpret a close match versus not. But to them it’s all Greek. They don’t know what they’re looking at and so if they do decide DNA can help them, they take the test and it still is confusing, which is why many of us are getting these messages, “Hey, I see that I am your DNA match and I’m not sure how we’re connected. Can you help me?” And we being genealogists and this desire to gather all of our people, we do want to help. And I think it’s important to note that no matter how much you want to help one of these people looking for their birth family, if you are a match that shares very small amount of DNA, let’s say 30 centimorgans, you’re not going to be able to help them. 

Fisher: Correct.

Diahan: Even if you really, really want to.

Fisher: Um hmm. Yeah. It would have to be a really unique situation. And if you’re going to look for any match at 30 cetimorgans, you’re looking somewhere back there aways.

Diahan: Yeah. And so I think what I want to offer to anybody who’s out there thinking about wanting to help someone else, is that one of the best things you can do for these new people who are looking for bio family is teach them how to do genealogy.

Fisher: Right. Yes.

Diahan: Show them the Family Search tree that’s free. Show them how to start entering themselves, and if they know their mom for example, their mother’s side of the family. Teach them a little bit about record searching. They need a mentor. And if you can’t be the DNA mentor because you’re a 30 centimorgan match, then step up and be the genealogy mentor.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Diahan: Help them in another way. They are going to need to do genealogy. Very few of these people are going to have a half sibster to test that they can just automatically know who their dad is.

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: They’re going to have second cousins.

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: And you need to help them understand what that means. You can still mentor them and help them even if your DNA isn’t the one that’s going to help them break through their question. You can still be helpful and you can still make an impact. And more importantly, you might be able to make a genealogy convert.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Diahan: Because you’ve given them that tool, that little bit of love, that inspiration and the tools that they need to be an effective genealogist.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it really goes back to the basic that DNA without genealogy records, is really not an especially effective tool, right? We need them in combination. If you don’t know the tree of somebody you’re matched to, no matter what the distance, they’re not going to be of much use to you.

Diahan: Exactly. So, I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for us to be good educators to individuals who are just coming in and whether that’s teaching them about DNA matching, it certainly is helpful but I think they could use a little bit of genealogy help as well.

Fisher: You know, I’m thinking too that at this point in time there are a lot of people who are still maybe hung up on the idea of privacy. They’re very concerned about what they share online about themselves. Often they are seniors who are very concerned about that. But after this period of time and we’re starting to recognize well, really nothing has come of this tsunami of information that I’ve ever heard of that’s impacted somebody based on privacy. I think a lot of people are starting to say all right, I’m going to dip my toes in there and see what comes of this. And it’s really quite exciting to see the fallout of that when their discovery is made. How it ripples through their family.

Diahan: Yes. Yes, definitely. And that’s one more good point you kind of barely brought up there is that when you’re helping someone find a birth parent, you’re impacting a lot of people, a lot of families.

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: And so that’s also important to keep in mind.

Fisher: Well, you’re impacting first of all the adoptee, or the child born out of wedlock and all of their relatives, but also the family that you link into on the other side, right? We hear so many stories, so may connections where it’s such an exciting thing for both sides. Very rarely is it a negative thing.

Diahan: Yeah. But there are negative instances, which is another reason why people need support.

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: And sometimes it’s easier from a distant relative standpoint to be that support for them and let them know that hey, even though we’re fourth cousins and we don’t share an ancestor till out three times great grandparents, we’re still cousins and I’m still here for you to welcome you into our family. Because you are still family, which is so interesting even sharing small amounts of DNA we’re still connected to each other.

Fisher: Sure. All right. Well, let’s move on from autosomal DNA and what’s going on with that, at least for the moment, and talk a little about Y-DNA because is this just another tool in our research kit?

Diahan: Great question. So, if anybody’s ever heard me speak on Y-DNA they know that I have a little bit of a bias.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Diahan: I do say that Y-DNA is my favorite test and it might be because it was my first love. I mean, you never really get over your first love, do you Scott?

Fisher: No. [Laughs]

Diahan: Yeah. So, Y-DNA was the first kind of DNA that I started using in genetic genealogy back in 1999 when I first started using DNA. And I had a wonderful group of family projects we were doing, so that was back when I was working for the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. And we have these early adopters, really ambitious genealogists who took the initiative and said, “I think this technology can help me.” I think of the Taylor family, the Skidmore family, these families that just went ahead and got samples collected and submitted them to the foundation, and we started analyzing family project results and really coming up with some fascinating connections between different related family lines, being able to sort out lines that were and were not related to each other. The Upingtons were another early family, There were like these Upingtons all living in the same area, same county. I mean they had to be related, right? 

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: And they had spent 20 years trying to figure out how these people were related. They could not find a paper trail. And in like five DNA tests we could tell they weren’t related. 

Fisher: Really?

Diahan: And that’s you couldn’t find a paper trail.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Diahan: Yeah. So we’re not related.

Fisher: No relation. Wow!

Diahan: No relation. So, there was just so much early success and so much power and it was so exciting. You know Y-DNA is just so simple in that you match someone you know it has to be on your direct male line and their direct male line. There’s none of this like which of our 16 two times great grandparent couples connects us.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Diahan: It’s like just so much simpler.

Fisher: Yeah. It’s really true. I remember when autosomal first came out and I thought how are we going to navigate all of this when Y just takes you right down the lane. But the thing about it is too, I mean it really solves some much more distant issues than you can solve with autosomal, or at least point you in the right direction. We had a situation with my wife’s third great grandfather. Couldn’t crack it for years so we did a Y-DNA test on her uncle, and as a result of that we found two matches to him that both came from the same couple in Pennsylvania that should have been fourth great grandparents. And so then we checked the autosomal results for her uncle and for her mom and found 53 DNA matches that came down from that particular couple in Pennsylvania to show us yeah, this had to be the parents. And then furthermore we even found some tax records that suggested he had a son named Jesse who left the area, which happened to be the name of the third great grandfather. So, working the Y-DNA with the autosomal DNA brought us incredible and a breakthrough after over 35 years. 

Diahan: That is an amazing success story.

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: I love that you shared that. And I’ll tell you why when we come back from the break.

Fisher: All right, very good. Diahan Southard. Your DNA guide is my guest today on Extreme Genes. Back at it on five minutes on America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 414

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Diahan Southard

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show talking to my good friend Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide. And Diahan, we were just talking about using your favorite Y-DNA testing in combination with autosomal to break open a brick wall. And you had an observation on that.

Diahan: Yeah. I’m just super excited about your case-study and I love a couple of things about it. Number one, I love that you were able to use Y-DNA to give you some direction.

Fisher: Yes.

Diahan: Y-DNA is so direct and it tells you very specific things about a very specific line. And then what I love is that you were able to bring in that autosomal DNA piece. Now, usually, when I tell people about using autsomal DNA, I recommend they use it only to find their three times great grandparent or closer. So, in your situation, you were looking for a four times great grandparent.

Fisher: Fourth, yeah.

Diahan: Yeah, I feel like it’s kind of on the cuffs. It’s like on the edge of what I feel like autosomal can reach.

Fisher: Yes.

Diahan: And the reason why is because if you think about it, on that four times great grandparent level you have 64 couples.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yep. 128 individuals

Diahan: Right, exactly! That’s a lot of people.

Fisher: Yep.

Diahan: And to say that the reason you’re sharing autsomal DNA with this handful of people is because of this one couple out of the 64, I think it’s a little bit boastful.

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: Who’s to say most of us honestly don’t have 64 couples. That couple is on there a couple of different times. You can’t go on indefinitely finding new ancestors, right? You’re going to collapse at some point. A lot of people say, yeah, well, I’ve got 25 matches from this couple. And I say, well, that’s great, but I still just have a really hard time is being confident. That’s really what it comes down to being confident.

Fisher: Sure, yes.

Diahan: But when you add that Y-DNA piece in, suddenly my confidence really skyrockets.

Fisher: Absolutely.

Diahan: Because I can tell that you’re connected on the direct male line. And if this ancestral couple is on the direct male line then all of these other people are connected to this couple. It really makes me feel so much better about your conclusions.

Fisher: Absolutely. And that’s how I felt about it as well. First of all, I wasn’t even really looking through all these other matches because they’re distant. They’re way back there and it’s like, who am I looking for? And it’s difficult to start going through dozens of matches to conclude, oh, they all come from the same couple, unless you’re already looking for that couple. And here was the Y-DNA test, pointed us to these particular people and then to find out one of these Y-DNA matches, he had already done a study and he shared it with us and there was this tax record that said this man had a son named Jesse. And that’s who we were looking for. There was nothing in the paper trail that would have led us there and nothing in that tax record that would have said this is the same Jesse. Except, that we have people who spit in a tube, told us from Y-DNA that yeah, you have some connection to people who were tied to this couple and now you have all of these autosomal matches who confirm it.

Diahan: Absolutely. And that was the last thing that I loved the most about it was that document. Because no matter what DNA is telling you without a document to help make it really valid you still just have a theory.

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: And those can be really good and really powerful and they can help. And sometimes, you don’t have the paper records they’re lost or burned or whatever.

Fisher: Sure.

Diahan: But it is so nice when you get that final lynch pin to help you.

Fisher: We’ve been talking with Diahan about this concept, is DNA just another tool? And as you can hear, not really. [Laughs] It is really thee tool pouring down in some of these things. And you’re right, I mean, you have to put these things together and if I didn’t have that paper I would have still come to the same conclusion. I still would have put it on the family tree and said, I’m very confident in this. But that last document was the key to the vault right there. It said, okay, we’ve got it. Now let’s see if we can push it any further.

Diahan: Definitely.

Fisher: Which we have not been able to do, but nonetheless, we’re there because of DNA and I love it. That’s why we couldn’t have done this 15 years ago. It’s not just another tool.

Diahan: Yeah, it really is powerful.

Fisher: Now mitochondrial on the other hand is a little more challenging as far as DNA goes because it can reach so far back and the names change every generation in particular. And if you really don’t know who you’re going back to and how far, and then trying to come forward, that’s a little bit different challenge isn’t it?

Diahan: It sure is. In fact, we’re working right now on making our mitochondrial DNA and X-DNA course. So, we have one for Y-DNA. We have one for endogamy. We of course have our workshop on autosomal DNA, but a lot of people have been asking, okay, what about my mitochondrial DNA, how do I use this?

Fisher: Yeah.

Diahan: So, we are working on it and the best way to find out about it if people want to know about it, is just to sign up for our newsletter on our website and that will always be sending out our latest and greatest in our newsletter every month. But yeah, mitochondrial DNA is harder for the reasons you mentioned changing a surname in every generation, but also, it’s just less effective than Y-DNA because Y-DNA accumulates mutations faster.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Diahan: And initially you think, well, you don’t really want mutations, but actually you do.

Fisher: You do. Yes.

Diahan: Yeah, mutations help you distinguish between different surnames, different lines. And mitochondrial DNA just doesn’t do that as well. So, it’s harder to use in the sense that if you match someone exactly on the mitochondrial DNA, you could be brother and sister or you could be 20th cousins.

Fisher: [Laughs] 20th cousins, yes.

Diahan: It’s just so hard to tell the difference. But, if you use mitochondrial DNA is the same way that you just talked about using Y-DNA, it can be equally as effective. 

Fisher: All right. Talk about that a little bit.

Diahan: So, let’s say for example, you were wondering if your ancestor Elizabeth was the daughter of Jim and Mary. You know they had an older daughter, she’s in the right age range, but she’s only a tick mark on the census.

Fisher: Yes.

Diahan: We can’t see what we need to see. So, if you want to, you could then take a younger child because in a later census you can see the younger kids by name under Jim and Mary.

Fisher: Sure, of course. Yes.

Diahan: But our ancestor is already grown. She’s gone. She’s married. She got her own kids. So, if you can find a direct maternal descendent of a different child of this couple that you would think is your couple, have their mitochondrial DNA tested, compare it with your line, if you match that’s a really good piece of evidence that you do belong to this family just like it would be with Y-DNA.

Fisher: That’s huge. Absolutely huge. You know, this is the thing, there’s so many different aspects to DNA. So many different versions of it, people don’t understand unfortunately what autosomal means or that Y follows the male line, or that mitochondrial follows the female line. So, this idea that these are just other tools is really a question of education. Helping people understand, boy, if you’re really stuck this can do it, especially if it is a birth parent, or if it is a second great or third great grandparent. You get confirmation to paper trails. You can breakthrough lines. You can meet other cousins who might have photographs, and documents, and stories that you don’t know about. That’s what I love about DNA.

Diahan: Yeah. It connects you to real living cousins who like you said could have information or pictures. I was just hearing from a lady the other day, she went through my Y-DNA course and she posted on a discussion board that through the course she felt like she had the confidence to talk with an education to some of her DNA matches. She actually reached out to one of them and they started sharing pictures and she’s seeing pictures of her great, great, great grandfather that she’s never seen before.

Fisher: Wow!

Diahan: And it’s been so exciting. So yeah, I think that’s a big part of it too.

Fisher: You know, I’ve always kind of lamented the fact that because we can meet so many people online now we rarely have contact with them on a real personal level where we develop a friendship and maybe visit them. Because 30 years ago when I was doing this stuff that’s what happened. We’d visit them in California. We’d visit them in Minnesota. They’d come to see us. I don’t think that happens as much now because it’s so easily done online. We get the information we want and then we’re done and we move onto the next people. And those relationships are not there. But there are so many more of them and so many possibilities because I’ve always maintained that the biggest family archive for your family is in the attics of your cousins.

Diahan: [Laughs] Absolutely. Yes.

Fisher: She’s Diahan Southard. She’s Your DNA Guide. Go to YourDNAGuide.com to find out about all the things she’s talking about, great courses she offers there as well. Diahan it’s always a joy. Thank you so much for your time. Not just another tool DNA, is it?

Diahan: Definitely not Scott. Thanks for talking about this with me. It’s so important.

Fisher: Coming up next, David Allen Lambert rejoins us for another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 414

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back to the show, back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org in Boston. And David, this email comes from Kari-Ann in Bentonville, Arkansas and she says, "Hi. I'm new to genealogy. My great aunt recently passed and was quite the hoarder. Any thoughts on what to keep?" [Laughs] And I guess the fact that we don't know what you've been left with, Kari-Ann makes a little problem, but I'm sure we can come up with some ideas for you.

David: Yeah. I mean, obviously the first thing would be, any family photos.

Fisher: Yep.

David: Especially ones that are identified. But even more so, the ones that are not, because those are usually the first things that people discard, because they're frustrations. Boxes of photos that show up in yard sales and flea markets around the country, a lot of times they're at the landfill. But if you save those photos and keep them together with the other ones, you may meet a family member that may know who they are. That's one batch of things to keep.

Fisher: Right. Well, one thing to keep in mind is, if you are into genealogy and you say you've just started, you really need to save anything that might be of value as you start to extend your family tree, track down other relatives and look for photographs like that with names on the back in particular. Separate those out from the ones you don't have names on and ultimately you can compare them as you sort them all out. Then the other question is, do you have letters? Do you have other things relating to the family, documents? You want to set those.

David: Postcards too.

Fisher: Postcards. You want to separate all those things out as well. And those can help you develop stories on your people, especially the letters.

David: You know, one of the things you want to look for is silverware, because there are initials on the silverware, baby spoons that have names on them. The things that you may think of the everyday utensils. How about a toolbox that has you great grandfather's name on it, because well, she got her dad's old tools. Who knows, maybe in that stuff might be another Honus Wagner baseball card.

Fisher: [Laughs] Here we go.

David: You just never know what you're going to find with hoarders.

Fisher: Stop! Stop!

David: Well, you know, and the other thing is, there may be diplomas. There may be school papers. There may be scrapbooks. I mean, if you look at any place in that house, I'm sure every room will have something that may have been passed down more than one or two generations. Does she have a dish that she put a little note with it, "This was given to me by my grandparents." Your great, great grandparents Kari-Ann at her wedding. I mean, there's all sorts of things that you could possibly have in that house that are part of your family's story.

Fisher: I've got to say, Kari-Ann, I'm not really sure what all to tell you, because when you say hoarder, I don't know if you mean like she's literally a hoarder with things piled up to the ceiling or whether you mean she has kept everything related to the family.

David: That's true. You might want to get rid of the recent newspapers, but the ones from 1912 might actually have been saved for a reason.

Fisher: Right?

David: Yeah. So, happy adventuring through the family hoard. I think that you're probably going to find some treasures and keepsakes that you want to have for many generations.

Fisher: Well, make sure that you don't become a hoarder yourself, that you really narrowing it down to the best of stuff, because the next generation's only going to throw it out anyway. One thing you can do for things that are really space consuming and you don't want to trouble anybody who comes after you, take pictures of those things. You know, maybe there's some piece of furniture that you don't want to keep, but still, it’s relatable to the family history. Take a picture of it, keep a folder of those things maybe with a little explanation of what these things are, because ultimately, that could go into a book that you could talk about your family with. And everybody has an image of it and yet nobody's stuck trying to maintain it, because let's face it, every single thing we own, we ultimately have to do something with.

David: No, I plan on being buried in my garage and they're going to seal it up like a tomb and then in 2000 years, they’ll open it up and find me in all my junk.

Fisher: Ugh.

David: Will that work?

Fisher: No, no, it’s not going to work. It was a good question though. So, thank you very much for that Kari-Ann, and of course we'll have another question coming up when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 414

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: And we continue on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher. That's Dave Lambert. And we're doing Ask Us Anything where we answer your questions about family history research. And Dave, our question now is from Seth in Suffern, New York and he says, "Dave and Fish, I recently found my immigrant ancestors on a passenger list from 1871, but it doesn't say where in France they were from. I remember you talking about researching other people near them to find out more about them. How does that work?"

David: Well, that would be the FAN approach and of course that's Family, Associates and Neighbors. Now, on a passenger list, they're the associates, because I don't know if its family and they're only neighbors on the boat at the moment.

Fisher: Right, yeah,

David: So I really don't know what the long term relationship might be with these people that he's travelling with. The key fact is, if it’s a small enough vessel and it does say that there's maybe 40 people on it. Are these people immigrating together? Maybe not all of them are from the same village, but maybe the people that are lined up with him getting on the vessel, registering could be people that he knows, so there's a possibility that could be a brother in law that you may not know of, that maybe they're coming over early before bringing their wives. Maybe it’s a future brother in law.

Fisher: Sure.

David: Maybe it’s somebody who isn't a relative at all, but that person may have later signed as a witness in your ancestor's naturalization.

Fisher: And if you continue your research and you know where your ancestors wound up, see if some of the people around them, say, in the census or in some other documents also appear on the same page on the passenger list, because that will tell you, yeah, these are the same folks, they're coming from the same place and they're all travelling together.

David: Right. I mean, now neighbors for instance is a real easy thing for immigrants, because you can scroll down and find the year that they come into the country.

Fisher: Yep.

David: And if they're all on the same year, well, that would make me want to look a little further, especially if their origin is, in this case, France.

Fisher: Right.

David: That's important to look at. Again, going back to the naturalization, there are two witnesses. You may want to look up the naturalization of those witnesses. Are they arriving on the same vessel and from the same place that your ancestor's from? You might find a clue there, because I mean, people did tend to change their names. So, there's a possibility that they're on that passenger list, but they changed their last name from Greenbaum to Green and now they're living in America under a different name.

Fisher: Yeah, that's a really good point. You know, there's so many things about this, you just want to start keeping lists of people they were around. I love the idea of going through census records and seeing the year that they came over and when they naturalized and what country they’re from. If you can start finding the same people in the same places from the same places at the same time, now you know that these are associates or family or neighbors. That's what the whole FAN approach is about and it’s really helpful when you start to put things together. I recently went through this myself working on one of my wife's ancestors and found that some kids who were orphaned were taken in by this one couple and I learned that the maiden name of the wife that took in these kids was the same name as the family name. So, I'm thinking this was another sister to my wife's ancestor. And now I'm starting to research that line based on that association. So, it’s really hard to do sometimes, but when you start to get the little pattern, it’s just like a bunch of little puzzle pieces, they start to fit together and they can lead you back home, because remember, all it takes is one person to share information about where they're from, then you can go back to that place's records and find out if you can find records of your own ancestors right there. So, hopefully that helps, Seth, some thoughts for you and congratulations on finding the passenger record. I think that's exciting stuff in and of itself.

David: It really is.

Fisher: So, if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can email us at anytime at [email protected]. David, thank you so much. We'll talk to you next week.

David: All right, my friend, until then.

Fisher: All right. And thank you s much to Diahan Southard, your DNA guide for coming on. And catch the podcast if you missed any of it or you want to hear it again, you can do it on AppleMedia, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, we're all over the place. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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