Episode 415 - New York! New York! Nine Million Vital Records Now Free Online

podcast episode Mar 28, 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 with a countdown to the release of the 1950 census on April 1. Then, it’s a marvelous find for a family who lost a pilot uncle in World War II. Hear what was found and what has come home to the family. The guys will then tell you about another World War II unit that is receiving a Congressional Gold Medal. Dorchester Heights in Boston is the site of a statue commemorating Washington’s troops’ success in forcing the British out of town in 1776. David will tell you about it, and “Evacuation Day,” recently celebrated. The guys wrap up with an incredible letter written by a formerly enslaved man to his long time enslaver. You will love it!

Next, Fisher visits with Joshua Taylor, President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in New York. In the first segment, the guys talk about the recent release of millions of images of vital records… birth, death, and marriage records… for free on the “DORIS” website. In a second segment, Fisher and Josh discuss other new assets coming online in New York research covering both city and state.

David then returns for Ask Us Anything, as the guys answer your family history research questions.

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

Transcript for Episode 415

Host: Scott Fisher with guest host David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 415

Fisher: And welcome America, to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Big show today, we kind of touched on this last week about how the New York Municipal Archives through their DORIS website, which is the Department of Records and Internet Services, released over 9 million images of vital records birth, marriage, and death records. And I’ve been going crazy with it all week and so I figured, okay, let’s get on the line with the president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Josh Taylor, to talk about it and see how he’s feeling about it in two segments coming up in just a little bit. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, you get all kinds of news about what’s happening in our space. Plus, past and present shows and links to stories you’ll appreciate as a genealogist. And one guy I’ve always appreciated as a genealogist is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello David Allen Lambert.

David: Hey Fish. I can tell you that I am delighted to talk to you and I am very anxious about the upcoming release of the 1950 U.S. census this week. Wow!

Fisher: Yeah, it’s coming out on Friday and I know there are going to be a lot of people who aren’t going to wait for that thing to be entirely indexed. They’re going to be looking all over the place on those original images. They’re going to be released by the National Archives at what, midnight on the first? 

David: Um hmm. Yeah.

Fisher: Wow! That’s going to be fun.

David: That’s going to break the internet for sure.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: Well, I have a question for you. Have you ever mislaid something for a long length of time like a year or two and then found it again, like your wallet?

Fisher: Not really. I don’t know why that is. No, I keep the wallet close.

David: Well, that’s always a good thing. Well, a story that I want to share is Dennis Gray Jr., who was a pilot in the US Navy fighting in the Pacific in World War II. His plane had gone down in the battle of Okinawa and his body was never recovered. But, recently his wallet has been found.

Fisher: Wow!

David: This is amazing because it’s of course the first sign of him for the family in 77 years.

Fisher: That is incredible. And from what I understand, he’s got photos in there, and I guess it was left behind in the United States. It has an Air Force insignia on the leather on the outside of the wallet. What a treasure for that family and it was returned to them.

David: Well, better late than never, but what a wonderful gift for them to have, to hold on to.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Another generation that would have never known about him can hold his wallet. It’s a great thing. Another World War II story is about the ladies of the all-black six thousand eight hundred and eighty eighth, known as the “Six Triple Eight” battalion in World War II. They are now getting a Congressional gold medal just like the Ghost Squadron that we talked about before. They have only a hand full of survivors of the unit of 850 ladies and they were responsible for the mail for the war department. And they were actually sent over to England to help with the backlog.

Fisher: This is like in 1945 towards the end of the war, making sure everybody got their mail. So, they’re being recognized right now as well, that’s great. World War II, it’s the event that keeps on giving, isn’t it?

David: It really is. But I'm going to take that way back machine a little further back, back to Evacuation Day in 1776 when the British left Boston. Now we also celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but recent news after St. Patrick's Day is that the battle monument in Dorchester Heights where Washington and the troops were is now being restored, a multimillion dollar renovation of this monument that was dated back to 1902 will now have a new facelift, which is great.

Fisher: That's quite a day. And you know, I don't think most of the country is aware of Evacuation Day, but I know in Boston, that's a big deal.

David: It really is. And so, we celebrate two holidays, St. Patrick's Day and Evacuation Day. And most people think Evacuation Day, this means get out of work early to go to the bars.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But that really isn't the case at all. I like to think that they think of it as a Revolutionary War history item.

Fisher: Sure.

David: But, who knows. Speaking of Revolutionary War history, the National Society of Sons of the American Revolution’s headquarters from Louisville, Kentucky and I'm very excited that their new research library director is our friend, Cheri Daniels, who is going to be working here starting in the month of April.

Fisher: Oh wow!

David: So, congratulations!

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. That's going to be a great job for her. And we ought to talk about the Civil War story that just came out here recently.

David: Ohh, from Washington Post, letters from formerly enslaved individuals back to their enslaver. And I want to read this one. It’s very, very touching. It’s from Jourdon Anderson, a formerly enslaved individual from Tennessee. He had actually got a letter from his enslaver who wanted to offer him a job. So, Jourdon writes back to him giving some conditions. Let me read part of the letter. “As to my freedom which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she will be afraid to go back without some proof that you are disposed to treat us justly and kindly, and we've concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for 32 years and Mandy, 20 years. At $25 a month for me and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add this to the interest for the time our wages would have been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and our three doctor visits for me and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we in justice are entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for our faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Wow!

Fisher: And that's just a part of it. I know, it’s just…

David: It’s great!

Fisher: What an awesome letter! And he dictated it to this guy who was supporting him in it and they actually published that in a newspaper in 1865 before the Post did their thing. So, there you go. That's our Family Histoire news for this week. Coming up next, Josh Taylor, President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society talking about the incredible release of over nine million vital records free online for you, coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes.

Segment 2 Episode 415

Host: Scott Fisher with guest D. Joshua Taylor

Fisher: Welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, still a little bit in stun mode after the announcement just over a week ago from DORIS the (Department of Records and Internet Services) in New York City releasing digitized images of over 9 million vital records of New York going up to 1949. And this is kind of an unusual thing because there’s been a lot of challenges with getting the Municipal Archives in New York to release their records publically and not have to have people go and physically visit in New York. That’s why I thought it was a good time to get on the line with my friend D. Joshua Taylor. He is the President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. One of my favorite places because I’ve got a lot of New York families in my background. Josh, it’s great to have you back on Extreme Genes.

Joshua: Thanks for having me. It’s always fun to be here.

Fisher: Did you have a heads up on this thing?

Joshua: We had about a 24-hour notice. And let me tell you, I’m still picking myself up off of the floor. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.

Joshua: After seeing it and knowing this was coming to everybody in just a few hours.

Fisher: Yeah. It was nuts and I got on it as soon as I got up to check it out, and found a whole bunch of things. Now, for people who are New York researchers or had people go through New York, obviously birth, death, and marriage are what we’re keying on here, you’re going to have an opportunity here to actually see digitized photos of the original record. This is not like the photocopy off of the microfilm that got digitized. These are beautiful images of these documents.

Joshua: Right. They’re beautiful. They are full color downloadable PDFs that you can take and look at and use. I mean, they’re gorgeous images.

Fisher: Yeah. If you’re going to create say a commercial book or something, and you want to put some of these in there, I would imagine there’s got to be some licensing involved, right?

Joshua: There is. And there is information about licensing images at the bottom of the screen there on the DORIS website. But yeah, for genealogists and family historians looking to connect their New York roots, this is a gold mine.

Fisher: Yeah. This is a huge thing. I see it goes back to 1855 and I know that most certificates did not go back that far so these are very hard to search when they go back that early. Any thoughts on that Josh?

Joshua: You know, the thing to remember is the Department of Records and Information Services holds a number of early vital records. The coverage is not consistent.

Fisher: Right.

Joshua: So, while they may date back to 1855 and 1857, there are gaps in coverage there. And some of those records have been indexed more accurately than others. And some are more complete than others.

Fisher: Right.

Joshua: But the early ones are on there now. Early bits of the 1850s, 1860s are available now.

Fisher: That’s amazing. One of the things that was mentioned on the website is that before 1909 about 25% of all births were not recorded. And certainly that’s been the case in my family. Are you seeing a lot of that?

Joshua: That’s absolutely correct. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Joshua: I will say there’s a slight let down from the announcement was realizing that, no, the birth was actually not recorded for some of the folks that we were looking for.

Fisher: Yeah. What was the reason for that? Do you have any insight on that?

Joshua: You know, I think a lot of it has to do with compliance and just the sheer nature of wanting to record about a vital record, perhaps some superstition around doing that.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Joshua: There were language barriers. There were transportation issues.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Joshua: So, I always it’s conceivable that a birth might not be recorded with no ill intention at all. It just didn’t happen.

Fisher: You know, marriage, I noticed a lot of those aren’t there also. So, I think a lot of people moved in together and we didn’t hear about it back then. We always kind of assumed everything was just prim and proper back in the 19th century. And the records of New York tell you really that wasn’t quite the story.

Joshua: That’s absolutely visible, and even more visible now with this release.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. So, the question now Josh is what comes next? DORIS the Department of Records and Internet Services is basically the website of the Municipal Archives. Correct?

Joshua: Correct. And they have launched this site called Historical Vital Records.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Fisher: Right.

Joshua: And it represents projects they’ve been working on as they say from 2013 they’ve been working to digitize images and certainly some factors pushed that process along and they’ve released 70% of the vital records online with this launch. So, there’s still plenty to come and the website has great charts that show what records have been released, what records are still being digitized. But 70% is still a significant portion of records to look through.

Fisher: Yeah. It’s 9.3 million that are on there now. The question is finding them sometimes because of the issues with the search engine. We’ll talk about that in a minute, but that also means there’s another 4 million still to come. So this means that if you go on there, you can’t find what you’re looking for, come back later, come back in a month, come back in six months or a year, you may very well find it then.

Joshua: Yeah. We don’t know the release schedule. I’m not sure whether they’ve digitized the rest of that 30%, or they’re half way through, quarter way through, we’re not sure how frequently it’s going to be updated. But we know they’re ready and waiting and at least identified per the finding aids that are on the site.

Fisher: Sure. Sure. So the question is then, does this represent a fundamental shift in the thinking of the Municipal Archives as far as releasing records to the public and making them available online.

Joshua: You know, I think so, and I sure hope so. I cannot commend the Archives enough for releasing this free.

Fisher: Right.

Joshua: There’s no pay wall with no registration wall. This is the heart of what public records are. And so giving us access to this material is phenomenal. And I’m hopeful that it’s the first of many other things that will come our way.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, and for people who aren’t familiar with it who have New York connections, let’s talk a little about what some of those other records are that are in the Municipal Archives that are not available online that we could be seeing potentially, possibly down the line.

Joshua: You know, there’s a lot of materials held by I think it’s the Archives, if you consider the City Archives for New York, there’s a myriad of different things out there. There’s police records, there’s different types of census schedules, there’s bodies in transit materials, there’s tax lists, there’s all sorts of different types of materials, discharge records that are sitting in the Municipal Archives.

Fisher: Well, and when you consider how everything has been locked down for the last two years and nobody could get anywhere, especially the National Archives right now, to have this suddenly available out of the blue it’s like, okay, that time was obviously well spent during the pandemic and obviously before that as well. But to have it come out at this point in time is just like a big breath of fresh air. Isn’t it?

Joshua: You know it really is. I mean, one of the things that we in New York have been really struggling with over the past two years is access to these records.

Fisher: Yeah.

Joshua: Because if you find the indexes, we know there’s a certificate number to look at, but if the Archives isn’t open, if we can’t get an appointment, we sit and wait. And now that changes.

Fisher: Yeah, very much so. Can you get in now? What is the status of the Municipal Archives?

Joshua: You can go in and research usually by appointment. You just let them know and I know several people who’ve been down to research and to get reacquainted with the materials that we need.

Fisher: You know, the things about the Municipal Archives is, I’m always amazed when I start going through one of your people. I can’t remember his name, sorry about that, wrote a book about all the things that are available there, and the list is pretty endless of things you might not even imagine exist.

Joshua: Right. That was Aaron Goodwin.

Fisher: Yes.

Joshua: The NYGNB worked with the Municipal Archives to put together this guide and it sits on my shelf all the time.

Fisher: Sure.

Joshua: But I’m usually looking at it and going, “Oh, I didn’t realize they had that record set, or that records set.”

Fisher: Well, you can’t keep them all in your head. I’ve talked about this many times before I had the New York veteran firemen who was part of the volunteer force back in the 1850s and 1860s, and they actually dug them out and found the firemen records there at the Municipal Archives several years ago and went in and half the people down there don’t even know what they have. And so they dug these things out and we found some marvelous records about this great grandfather and the units that he served in, it listed his home address, what his occupation was, what his age was, who he served with. Sometimes they were representatives for various hose companies or engine companies, and you can even look up records of Boss Tweed on there when he was serving as a volunteer foreman, who, for people who don’t know, was the most corrupt politician probably in the history of the world. [Laughs] 

Joshua: Yeah the records there are incredible. I know when we were working through the process , I came to the G and B just as they were finishing the publication and I was shocked and delighted to find the number of collections that Aaron, when he worked through the process, discovered or rediscovered that the Archives team there themselves had said, “Oh, that’s right, that’s there!” So, it’s a huge archive repository and I’m looking forward to many, many other resources coming out, court records, from the records of alms houses, there’s all sorts of things there.

Fisher: Yes. It just keeps going and going. And you’re right, this is the thing, I remember talking to somebody once early in my journey with all this stuff, about why is it so hard to find things. They said, “Well, part of it is because New York has generated so many records, some are with the New-York Historical Society, Some are with the New York Public Library, some are with the Municipal Archives, some are over here, some are over there, and they themselves don’t even know what they have because the number of records are so immense. And some people have parts of a collection, and another organization has another part of that collection. It’s a really, really difficult thing to do.

Joshua: You know it really is. And one of the complicating factors in New York research is you know New York State has its own vital record system and its own archive system. And then New York City is completely separate. And so what you would go to in a state archive normally outside of New York, it’s just very different when you’re doing New York City research.

Fisher: Absolutely. And then you’ve got different problems like New York State doesn’t have, for instance, an 1890 census but New York City does.

Joshua: Right.

Fisher: Because they didn’t like the results so they sent the police out to do another one, and what a gift for those of us who have New York ancestors back there. And then of course upstate you had the fire in Albany so that dealt a huge blow especially to early research, but there’s just so much between the two of them. I’m hoping through the course of time, internet technology will bring a lot of this together. And I think it’s happening.

Joshua: You know I absolutely agree. I think one of the huge benefits of this release is that it breaks down that first step for so many people research New York City that birth, marriage, or death record.

Fisher: Yep.

Joshua: I can’t tell you how many times that process has taken days, months, weeks, years for people.

Fisher: [Laughs] And the money, and the travel, and all the things that I did in the early years in the ‘80s and ‘90s to go through that stuff. I’m talking to Josh Taylor. He’s the President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Josh, can you stick around and we’ll talk a little more about what else is going on in New York these days because your Society is right in the thick of it.

Joshua: Absolutely.

Fisher: All right, we’ll get to it in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 415

Host: Scott Fisher with guest D. Joshua Taylor

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes. Fisher here with Joshua Taylor, he is the president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in New York City. And Josh, during the break we just discovered we’re related. We share Everardus Bogardus the second minister among the Dutch at New Amsterdam, and his wife, the famous Anneke Jans. That’s a whole story in itself, we’re not going to go into that Josh, but nonetheless, you guys at NYG&BS have really come along with some great projects during the pandemic that people need to know about.

Joshua: Well, thank you. I love sharing everything I can about the things that we’ve been up to. During the pandemic, we remodeled our headquarters in New York City. We represent the entire state. Our offices are essentially an administrative location and we put in a new education center with equipment that enables us to live stream and broadcast programming that’s happening here. And the other really exciting development was the addition of a dissertation center which enables us to capture and scan more records than ever before.

Fisher: Really?

Joshua: So, we are actively working with volunteers and others almost every day now to preserve New York records.

Fisher: So, how many pages can you scan in the course of a business day?

Joshua: So, it depends on the record set. It’s such a good question. So, we are anywhere from 300 to 500 to 800 a day of pages that we can capture just depending on the material.

Fisher: Yeah. So, up to 4,000 in a five day work week!

Joshua: That’s right.

Fisher: Yeah. You do that in the course of a year, a couple hundred thousand pages of New York and I would imagine you’re cherry picking the very best records. That’s a big deal.

Joshua: We are. The role of the NYG&B in how we preserve records is we specifically look for records that are at risk due to preservation reasons.

Fisher: Sure.

Joshua: Or that are not going to be digitized by some of the other players in the field. Like a record set that is too small for an Ancestry or a Family Search to set up a whole camera operation but are important for us to preserve. So, we have things like religious records, cemeteries, and different copy books that might be created from a county or a town, all sorts of interesting things come through our doors.

Fisher: Do you work with some of the other players in New York, like the Archives or the New York Public Library, will they loan you things to digitize?

Joshua: From time to time, yes. We’re trying to work as closely as possible with other libraries and institutions across the state. You know there are county historians that have great resources there and we try and tap into those and make sure, one, that we know about the records that they have and also do what we can to digitize them and make them available.

Fisher: Right. So, how much is the catalogue of records of the city and state of New York growing still, where you’re finally becoming aware of something in say, Ulster County, New York that you had no idea existed. Nobody had it on any list before and suddenly you’ve added it. What’s out there? What are you finding?

Joshua: I can honestly say that grows every day. We’ve been working on a project thanks to some funding from a Pomeroy Foundation to work one on one with local record holders in upstate New York. And what we’re finding are things like store account books, copies of court records, some of these records that went into private hands, cemetery association materials that have never been inventoried or identified, that the one person in the town knows where they are. So, our goal is to find that one person in town and see what we can do about those records, but I can honestly say it grows every day. The catalogue of records is far from complete.

Fisher: You know, you said a word in there that intrigued me a little bit, and that is “private” hands. I’ve always maintained, and I say this often to people even on this show, I think the largest family archive for any individual’s family is in the attics of their distant cousins.

Joshua: [Laughs]

Fisher: And with that same idea in mind, how do you find private individuals and their private collections? How does that work?

Joshua: A lot of it is through connecting with a town historian or a local historical genealogical society there that might already know about the collection but really haven’t had a platform to share or amplify that message for others.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Joshua: Sometimes, it’s going to a particular religious denomination and saying, what do you have? And they say, oh, well, 50 years ago this person kept the records so they’re with their family. And it takes patience and time but it’s possible. But I will say, it’s time consuming.

Fisher: Yeah, I would think so. But it’s not like anybody is missing it because they don’t know it exists yet till you’ve got it up there. [Laughs]

Joshua: [Laughs] Exactly.

Fisher: So, what are some of the things you’ve discovered using this technique?

Joshua: We’re just in sort of the pilot phase of this particular project. One of the things that we discovered the most are some account books that are incredible valuable for particular communities. You know, the local blacksmith, the local doctor, the local justice of the peace, and those are materials that document life. They document births, marriages and deaths, but they also document every day interactions. And those have been particularly fun to find and to look through and see what we can do to make those available.

Fisher: Well, I’ll add to that, having found some of those old store records from the late 1700s for several of my ancestors. First of all, it is fascinating, daily life, just like you say, but it also adds to their timeline… when were they still there, when did they move if they’re in between census records for instance. Things like that can be answered and often sometimes you can even find a name in there that you didn’t have in any other record.

Joshua: Right. That’s one of the important points when you look at New York as a state that’s full of migration.

Fisher: Yes.

Joshua: Your family might have lived in a particular town in between census years and you would never know it unless you pick them up in another record like a store account or something they do at a local level.

Fisher: Sure and the doctors records too, those are really interesting. It kind of gives you an idea of what they had to battle. Things that often times we don’t even think about these days.

Joshua: Absolutely. And sometimes they’re substitutes for a vital record. It might not be as detailed as he death certificate but a doctor who is with someone or part of someone’s life at birth or passing away, or when they’re ill. It creates a myriad of different records. And what we’re finding is that these collections stretch from 1600 – 1700s up until the 1900s even into the beginning of the 21st century.

Fisher: Really?

Joshua: Yes. It’s a big job because there’s so much out there. And right now we’re basically just asking questions and getting answers, but these types of records have existed in New York and other places of course for years and years.

Fisher: Sure.

Joshua: We just don’t always use them.

Fisher: Right. You know, I’ve got to imagine there are similar organizations to yours throughout the country, people listen to this show and hear things like this and the light might go on. What advice would you give to them?

Joshua: You have to be patient, but also, really consider the entire lifetime of your ancestor and just try and think of all the different elements and things that might exist and it never hurts to ask. We’re finding tavern historians in New York, they know so much about the local community and they should be a first stop for so many people.

Fisher: Yeah. I think there are a lot of times we think we know so much and yet, you go talk to somebody like that and they’ll say, well, have you tried this record set? And it’s like, what record set is that? Where did that come from? I had no idea.

Joshua: Yep.

Fisher: What else is going on with upstate? Do you have a relationship with the State Archives and what’s happening there?

Joshua: So, for the past couple of years we’ve actually been working on a guide of family history materials at the New York State Archives. And Jane Wilcox is a member of our Family History Advisory Committee. And a well known New York researcher is the lead author on that project and we are getting closer and closer to release of that publication. But similar to our guide to New York City Municipal Archives, this is a guide to the New York State Archives.

Fisher: Yeah.

Joshua: We think about military records, court records, land records, and anything that the state is involved in. It is a treasure trove of New York material. And we found things in the process of that project that no one knew existed.

Fisher: [Laughs] Same thing.

Joshua: I have the wonderful fortune of reading the drafts of the chapters and I have to admit, I read a draft and I start making a list when I have time and going, “Oh wow, this is great for this project!”

Fisher: Absolutely.

Joshua: I’m really excited to get that out and in print for everybody to start using.

Fisher: He’s Joshua Taylor. He is the president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. And Josh, congrats! Obviously, your world has just changed here in the last week or two. [Laughs]

Joshua: [Laughs]

Fisher: This is going to be a lot of fun to see what continues to emerge from the Municipal Archives and congrats for all you’re accomplishing over at NYG&BS. It’s great stuff!

Joshua: Well, thank you. I love being in New York, I love being a part of New York family history and I can’t wait to see what else we can do.

Fisher: I’m looking forward to it myself. Thanks so much for coming on.

Joshua: Absolutely.

Fisher: David Allen Lambert is next as we continue on with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 415

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back on the job for Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is time for Ask Us Anything. And David Allen Lambert is back. And Dave, we've got an email from Ralph in Lansing, Michigan who says, “Hello Fisher and Davemeister.” I like that. “Davemeister.”

David: Ooh.

Fisher: “When I was a boy in the 1950s, my great grandfather told me that in the 19th century, the family was told they were in line for a large fortune from England. But for some reason, it didn't happen. Is it possible that as a descendant, I could still be in line for such a thing? How would I go about learning more about this? Ralph.”

David: Ooh, yeah that was the P.T. Barnum, the sucker born every minute.

Fisher: Hmm.

David: It happened to my family.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: In Nova Scotia, Canada, my clerk’s related to a family by the name Sands. And quote, The Sans fortune, somebody came over from New York right up to Canada and says, “You're all entitled to this fortune. Sands had been a soldier and the loyalist forces and settled up in Nova Scotia.” So, they all collected money even though we were few, even my great, great grandfather in the 1880s is mentioned is this newspaper article “looking forward to this fortune” and then the person ran away with illegal fees and they never heard from him again.

Fisher: [Laughs] Right?

David: Um hmm.

Fisher: Well, you know, just talking to Josh Taylor a few minutes ago, we mentioned that he and I are both descended from Everardus Bogardus and the famous, Anneke Jans, his wife. What made her famous was that one of her descendants didn't get some of the land that she owned from her first husband that she left behind when she died in the 1600s and that land of course became Manhattan real estate, but it just so happened Trinity Church sat on. And so, the descendants went after that from the 1700s all the way up to the 1950s. It’s the most famous land case, inheritance case like that that you'll ever find. In fact, I met another descendant once who he himself remembered as a boy, lawyers coming around to collect money to try to continue this case, because it was going to be worth billions!

David: Now did you and Josh have this ancestor that actually had participated in this claim?

Fisher: Actually, mine did, not his, because he came from the first son.

David: Okay.

Fisher: But, there was that case and then my wife had the Douglass family from Montgomery County, Indiana and likewise, they had the same kind of thing going on with that. It’s mentioned in his obituary, he was waiting for a large fortune from Scotland. And there was a story in the family that was passed down that somebody actually came to visit and discuss this with the family. They stepped out of the room for a minute, came back, the guy was gone and took the family Bible with him. Obviously its proof of his descent, you see, to try to claim the fortune or to eliminate them from claiming any part of it, so he could get more. So, it was a really interesting thing. And then there was another branch in my side of the family from the 19th century, the Townley estate fortune supposedly from the early 1700s over in England. This wealthy man did not like the idea of his daughter marrying this guy. So, he cut her out of the will. Well, they went over to the United States. So the story went, then he had a change of heart, put her back in the will, but nobody ever knew that. And so, now this fortune had been developing over a century and a half. It was time for people to start getting their share of the money. So, once again, the lawyers went out and did their thing. So, Ralph, this is a very common story. I promise you there's no fortune waiting for you. Good luck in the future. [Laughs]

David: So that means I can’t write to Norway and ask for them to return the gold they took from my ancestors during the Viking raids.

Fisher: Hmm, yeah, something like that. This is a really common thing and you've heard of, what, four of them just in this segment. It makes for a great story in your family history if you're writing about your ancestors. I think that's the best thing about it. I only learned about the English money in the early 1700s, because my great aunt left information about that in a note to us in the late ‘60s. We'll have another question coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 415

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, here we go, final question on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert. And Dave, this one is from Lena in Los Angeles. And she says, “Guys, I recently found a bunch of my great grandfather's checks from the 19-teens to the 1940s. Is there any reason concerning family history that I should save these?” That's a good question. I mean, I would think it would be fun to have an autograph or two of your ancestor, something they actually signed.

David: And that would probably be just the start of it, because I'm sure you don't have a lot of things that you sign, but I want you to look at that as a time capsule. He probably doesn't have a diary, probably don't have a lot of letters that he wrote, but each one of these checks represents some episode in his life. I mean, if he's giving money to his church or his paying for his coal bill or maybe he had a wagon repaired in the 19-teens, but by the 1930s, he's having his Ford repaired. Where is he having it repaired? I mean, it’s simple as starting like a spreadsheet.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Put in the check dates, put in the amount, put in the services or who it was made out to and then you might find under that FAN approach, Family, Associates and Neighbors, maybe he's paying a family member for a wedding gift or maybe it’s an associate that he knows from work that let him borrow $5 last month and he's paying it back or maybe it’s the neighbor that, well, his son threw a baseball through the plate glass window with the store and he's paying for that glass.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: I mean, each check probably has a story behind it.

Fisher: Maybe it’s a lawyer who's going to go after a large fortune overseas.

David: Or maybe it’s a settlement check that he has to divide up amongst his kids, because they want their share.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Anyone could be really so fortunate to have these, because it’s an insight into someone's life. I can only think of my parents, I have some of their cancelled checks and I thought the same thing, what am I going to do with it, Fish?

Fisher: Yeah.

David: But then I started looking at them like, a check that they wrote to somebody for a wedding gift and on the back it’s endorsed by the couple. So, they've got their signature. Now, if that check doesn't mean much to me, but the idea that the couple's now married 50 years and you know, here's something that they would have got as a wedding gift and I say, hey, I can give it back to you again. Here’s your signature when you guys were kids. There's all sorts of different things that I've looked at, I'm like, "Oh, I didn't realize that they bought something from this store. When that generation is no longer with you, each fabric of their story is important. And checks is insignificant as they say, can actually be part of a story in a diary.

Fisher: Well, it is a personal item, isn't it? And it’s funny, because when we talk about money, people are often very private about what they do with their finances and that type of thing. So, this is really kind of an intimate look. And the very fact that they saved all these checks, for what, 30 years, tells you how they felt about how they ran their lives that they wanted to keep a receipt for everything. That tells you a little something about their personality.

David: It really does. And I mean, if we think of our own generation, what are we leaving for the next 100 years? How many people pay bills online now? Don't have a lot of checks. Sometimes if I do a large check, I do a bank money order or something like that. Do you actually get back your checks? Sometimes you don't.

Fisher: No.

David: Digital images are nothing.

Fisher: That's about it. Yeah, there's no originals anymore. This is why we're losing letters, we're losing checks, we're losing all kinds of personal things that we don't think much about now. And I'm hoping that at some point, there will be some archive, say, a Facebook post and Twitter posts and things like that. So, we'll see how that works out. But thank you for the question, Lena. I hope that helps. And maybe you can have some fun kind of making a little timeline about what they're buying and what their interests were. Even what they buy tells you a little something about your folks. So, thanks Dave so much. Of course we'll talk to you again next week after the 1950 census comes out!

David: And I don't have any sleep for the days after that, because I'm trying to track down every aunt, uncle and cousin that I have that was alive then. Until then. [Laughs]

Fisher: Exactly. All right, David, take care. And thanks for joining us this week. Thanks once again to Josh Taylor, president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society for coming on. If you missed any of the show, of course catch it on AppleMedia, iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, we're all over the place. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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