Episode 423 - Woman Discovers Late Dad’s “Ordinary Life” Wasn’t So Ordinary After AllJun 06, 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 the story of how old Roman roads throughout Europe can now be digitally tracked through omnesviae.org. Dave has the story. Then, the last “witch” executed in the Salem Witch Trials has been officially exonerated. Hear who it is and why her status has been adjusted after over 300 years. Utah’s and Arizona’s Lake Powell is going through a challenging water level drop. But a historical benefit is being seen. Find out what it is. Oldest man? Oldest woman? Yes, we keep track of those, but Guinness has now named the world’s oldest dog! Dave will tell you how old this frisky pooch is, along with some other great stories.
Next, in two parts, Fisher visits with Nadia Rupniak. Nadia never thought her late father accomplished much in his life, but as the result of discovering an old letter, she learned otherwise. Hear about the family history adventure she was launched into after going through her mother’s effects in England 14 years ago.
David then returns for more of Ask Us Anything, answering your questions.
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 423
Fisher: And welcome America to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree, and watch the nuts fall out. Boy, we have a great story today from an ordinary person with an extraordinary find and you wouldn't believe the story she has developed from this discovery of a letter overseas that she had no idea about its existence. She's Nadia Rupniak. No, she doesn't sound Eastern European, but her whole story is and you're going to want to hear all of it coming up, starting in about ten minutes over two segments. It’s quite remarkable. Hey, if haven't signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, we'd love to have you receive it. It’s free and all you have to do is go to our Extreme Genes website or to our Facebook page to sign up. You get links to past and present shows, you get a blog from me each week and links to stories that you'll appreciate as a family historian. Right now, it’s time to head out to Boston where David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello, David.
David: Hey Fish, how're you doing?
Fisher: I am doing great. My Mets continue to play well. That's all that I'm concerned about right now.
David: Yeah, my Celtics are doing pretty well themselves here in the land of basketball.
Fisher: [Laughs] I would say.
David: Well, I'll tell you, all roads lead to some excitement and back in the day in Rome, it lead to places like the Coliseum, but now you can see these places virtually. Ancient Roman maps you can find on a website, Omnesviae.org, where you can plug in coordinates from ancient roads in England all the way to continental Europe that the Roman army and merchants travelled thousands of years ago. It’s pretty far to actually see if a Roman road went through your ancestral hometown.
Fisher: [Laughs] That's really interesting. And you know, if you've ever been over to London, there are Roman walls and things that are still there that you can check out. It’s really interesting stuff. And I would think for historians, this is going to be a goldmine of information in helping them map out whatever stories they're trying to flush out.
David: I think it’s better than rolling out an old map. I mean, the computer technology is there, so why not take ancient maps that we know about already and apply it to overlaid current maps, so it makes it easier. Well, you know, in Massachusetts, we always have some really interesting news and of course in 1692, we have the infamous Salem Witchcraft Trials. It was recently an eighth grade civics class in North Andover, Massachusetts and the middle school class decided to find out why Elizabeth Johnson Junior had never had her name cleared after 329 years. Well, it took these kids to bring it right to Beacon Hill, which is where our state house is and Elizabeth Johnson Junior, after 329 years is now exonerated. Thanks, kids.
Fisher: That's good. I'm just thinking though, to myself, well, did she need exoneration? Was there some question about whether she was really a witch or not?
David: Well, and that's the whole thing. I mean, obviously in my estimation since I am a 10th great grandson of an accused witch, they were obviously all wrongly accused with spectral evidence.
Fisher: Of course.
David: Back in the 1950s, I recall they went forward and basically pardoned all of the witches. So, apparently they must have left her off, because her mother, Elizabeth Johnson Senior was also included, but she wasn't, so they just kind of left her off the list.
Fisher: Well, you've got to get her on the list then, exactly. [Laughs]
David: Yeah. You know, archeology sites and always fun to talk about on Extreme Genes, Fish, but sometimes they show up when you least expect them, like when Lake Powell's water level has dropped. Sights that they haven't seen since the 1950s when Lake Powell was created are now reappearing on the shores, including structures from Native American villages and settlements long thought to have been destroyed when Lake Powell was formed.
Fisher: Interesting. Yeah, there's a lot of this stuff coming up on both sides of the boarder. That's I guess the positive side of what's happening right now with the water crises in the west.
David: Exactly. You know, we had a story about Toby Keith and I don't mean the country star. Not long ago, there was a 21 year old dog who according to the Guinness Book of World Records was the oldest dog.
David: Well, stop the presses folks, because Pebbles, a 22 year old fox terrier down in South Carolina is actually the Guinness World Record holder now. The tiny dog who sleeps most of the day, but is a party animal and is up at night and sunbathes by their owner's pool during the day is now the oldest known dog in the world at 22.
Fisher: You know, we've always talked about who the oldest person is in the world, the oldest woman, the oldest man, got to make sure we include the pets, right? Dogs, 22 years old.
David: That's it. That's amazing. News has gone to the dogs, but we'll change that up and go to something you may have heard about, the Parthenon. If you want to see part of it, you don't go to Greece. You go to the British Museum where the Elgin Marbles where Lord Elgin had pilfered from the Parthenon may be returned to Greece, hopefully in the coming years. Well, there's an institute called on Digital Archeology, IDA, and they went out and they did some 3D scanning of the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum. They wanted to go forward and make copies, etc. Well, the British Museum has now deemed that it is unauthorized and against the guidelines for using 3D imaging software. So, if you have any ideas of recreating the Parthenon in your backyard folks, don't go to the British Museum.
Fisher: It’s my big, fat Greek legal situation, yeah. It’s a big problem over there.
David: [Laughs] Hey, listen, have you ever had a piano that just didn't sound right? A young lady decided to get her family's piano that went up for auction a few years ago, and it didn't sound quite right. Well, she opened it up and there were a batch of old baseball cards, including one for a guy named, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. It’s his rookie card, Fish!
Fisher: Oh wow!
David: She sold it for $130,000. Not bad for a piano that she bought for $25.
Fisher: [Laughs] It’s a nice ROI right there, isn't it?
David: It really is. Well, that's all I have for news from Beantown this week, but stay tuned and go hit me again on Ask Us Anything. Hey, don't forget, if you're not American Ancestor's member where I work in Boston, you can sign up and save $20 on membership using the coupon code "Extreme" on checkout on AmericanAncestors.org.
Fisher: All right, David, very nice. Thank you so much. And coming up next, we're going to talk to a woman in Texas who made a startling discovery about her dad who she didn't think had accomplished much in life. Boy, did this change her mind! You'll hear all about it coming up in two segments, starting in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 423
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Nadia Rupniak
Fisher: Back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and it’s time once again for another ordinary person with an extraordinary find. And I’m really thrilled to be talking to Nadia Rupniak. She’s from Houston, Texas but not originally, and then she was in Britain, but not originally. Nadia, you’re a real massive confusion to me because when I first spoke to you I thought I’m going to get an Eastern European accent out of this and that isn’t what I got.
Nadia: That is because I grew up in Britain, Scott.
Nadia: So, yeah, the child of immigrants, which I’m sure lots of your listeners can relate to. And I grew up not really knowing very much about my family roots, or the culture, or the traditions that were important to previous generations in my family.
Fisher: And did you get into the research into this before or after your parents had passed? Had you ever been able to ask them any questions?
Nadia: No. Well, this is the thing. My father, who was the subject of my research, was a World War II veteran. He was Polish. And as you all remember, the Second World War was triggered by the invasion of Poland.
Nadia: And so we all remember that it was Hitler and the Nazis that invaded Poland right, but what we don’t remember is that he was actually in cahoots with Stalin. And the Soviet Union, within a couple of weeks of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, they also invaded Poland. And that is what caused the collapse of Poland. So, I mentioned this thing about the Soviets because my family originated in the Eastern parts of Poland that was invaded by the Soviets, and so this was an aspect of the Second World War that I think is not really well known in sort of popular accounts of history because the west formed a military alliance with Stalin to defeat them.
Fisher: Right. So, your dad was a soldier at that time. You never got to talk to him about that or was he among those who just never spoke about his experience, a very common thing?
Nadia: I suspect that he probably had post traumatic stress disorder, but there was also another reason why he didn’t speak about it and that was because Poland fell under communist dictatorship basically after the war. And so he had to be very careful not to go boasting about his seniority or the battles that he had participated in, or any of the other activities that I just had discovered he had been involved in.
Fisher: Sure. And you never spoke to him about any of this stuff, right?
Nadia: Well, I had no reason to think that he had ever done anything of any significance. You know, they were still deporting families from Poland to the Soviet gulags in the late 1950s. So, it was not safe. You know within Poland under communism, children were sent to school and taught fake communist history about what had gone on in the war. And the children would come home to their grandparents who would tell them, “Well, that’s not right. This is what happened. I lived through it. I know what happened.” And those children might then go back to school and tell their teachers about that. They could get reported and then the whole family could be deported.
Nadia: That was still going on. So, I believe that was really the main reason that my dad didn’t want to talk about what he had been involved in at all because he still had family members living in Poland.
Fisher: So, when did the family move to England then?
Nadia: So, he moved to England during the war. So what happened was that when Poland collapsed, the military were given orders to evacuate into Hungary, and from there they made their way across Europe into France where the reassembled, they reformed another Polish army with the idea that they would launch a counter defensive to liberate Poland.
Nadia: But then France was invaded and it was rapidly overrun by the Nazis. And then the Poles and other military that were part of the Western Alliance were evacuated from France and taken to Britain, which was then probably the only country in Europe that hadn’t fallen under Nazi control.
Fisher: And so that’s why you have a British accent today.
Nadia: That is why.
Nadia: That and because my dad couldn’t go back to Poland after the war because it would not have been safe under a communist government for him to return.
Fisher: Sure, amazing. So, you went your whole life earlier where you really didn’t have much interest in this, obviously dad wasn’t going to be talking about this, what got you to decide that hey, I want to research a little more about dad? You did this after he passed I assume?
Nadia: I did, yes. And that’s a great question. So, just a bit about my background before I get into this, professionally, I’ve always been involved in pharmaceutical research, so although I’ve never been interested in history or any of that stuff, I am very familiar with doing research and sorting of mining the internet and looking for dates or assembling bits and pieces from different places, and sort of writing reports about that.
Nadia: So, what happened that was very surprising to me was all set in motion with the death of my mother in 2008. I was living in America at that time. She was still in England. And I went back for her funeral and spent some time in her apartment going through her personal affairs before I returned back home. And I came across a letter that had been written by one of my Polish cousins, which had evidently been written to my mom in response to questions my mom was asking about my dad’s family.
Fisher: And when was this dated?
Nadia: I think that letter was about eight years old, something like that.
Nadia: The fact that my mother had to write to this woman in Poland to get the information tells you a lot about how my dad would stonewall about any of that information.
Nadia: So, this letter said, it had been translated into English by the way, that cousin didn’t speak a word of English, but it said that my dad’s mother and three brothers had been sent to Siberia where they had died. It turned out that was actually incorrect. They didn’t die there but they died as a result of it. And that they had been deported because my father was an officer in the Polish army.
Nadia: And I think when I was a small child, my dad had told me that his mother was sent to Siberia. But at that age I had no concept what Siberia was, what it was like, where it was. And The Gulag Archipelago was published in mid 70s and kind of was a big exposé of what the horrible conditions were like in the Soviet penal system.
Fisher: Right, Solzhenitsyn, yes.
Nadia: Yes. So, somehow I just didn’t really connect those pieces of the Gulag and Siberia, and my grandmother until I saw this letter. And I think what it was, was that everything seemed sort of far away and abstract and I had never met this woman who was my grandmother. And it wasn’t until I was in the grief of having lost my own mother, and in that sort of emotional feeling of loss, that it really hit me like a ton of bricks, oh my goodness this poor woman, what she suffered and what she went through . And then, oh my goodness my dad, how much guilt he must have carried for what happened to his family because he was in the army.
Nadia: And so this was very, very disturbing to me to discover this. So, I immediately wrote a letter to this cousin and I didn’t know whether she was still at this address that was on this envelope.
Fisher: Right, or even still living.
Nadia: Exactly. So, I wrote to her to say that I found this letter and that I really would like to come and visit her and learn more about my grandmother and what happened to the family during the war. And of course, that took a long time for the letter to reach her and for me to get a reply. And in the meantime, I thought well, maybe if I go on the internet I’d be able to find a relative in Poland, somebody a bit younger who maybe knows English that I could communicate more directly with.
Nadia: So, I Googled my last name Rupniak, and you could have knocked me down with a feather because what then happened was that there was a link to a website, which listed my father as a recipient of the Virtuti Militari, which is Poland’s highest military honor.
Fisher: Oh my gosh!
Nadia: So the Medal of Honor.
Nadia: And I’m looking at this absolutely flabbergasted, and I knew that his name is quite an unusual name even in Poland. It’s not a common name. So, I fired off an email to the curator of this website more or less saying well, what’s the source of this information, you know?
Nadia: Can you prove this is really my dad and that he really got this award.
Fisher: Wait a minute. I’ve got to ask you though Nadia, why did you doubt?
Nadia: Because you would just never have known it, you know? Like I say, I thought my dad was this kind of low archiving person that was very none-descript, and always worked in a factory. And I just thought he’d never done anything with his life like I said. And to discover this turned everything I knew about him completely on its head.
Fisher: Wow! Oh my goodness! And so did you hear back from this curator?
Nadia: Yes. He was a professor at the University of Miami in Florida. And he called me back and said, “Well my dear lady” he’s a Polish descendant himself, he said, “What you have to do is to write to the British Ministry of Defense because the Polish army in the later years of the war was serving under British command.” He said, “Write to them because they have all of the service records of the Polish soldiers, and maybe they’ve got some records about your dad.”
Fisher: All right Nadia, we’re going to take a break right here because there’s a lot more to come, and a lot more story to be told and I’m really looking forward to hearing it when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 423
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Nadia Rupniak
Fisher: All right, back on Extreme Genes! I’m talking to Nadia Rupniak. She is a pharmaceutical researcher who turned to family history research when she discovered her dad had received Poland’s highest honor for his service in World War II, which was quite a shock to you Nadia because you had never known your dad to accomplish much in the time you were with him.
Nadia: Yes, exactly. That’s right Scott. So, long story short, I wrote to the British Ministry of Defense, and by the way, this professor had warned me, “Don’t expect much because the whole situation during the war was extremely chaotic with all of these sorts of panic evacuations from one place to another.”
Nadia: And reestablish themselves in different places. He said, “Don’t hold your breath because it’s more likely than not that they won’t have any records at all about your father, but write to them and see.” Well, some weeks later a huge package arrived in my mailbox stamped on, “Her Britannic Majesty’s service.”
Nadia: I knew right away, this was it. And they had indeed managed to excavate quite a lot of information about my dad. All of this was in Polish. So that was a difficult extra step.
Fisher: Yeah, the next hurdle for you to jump over.
Nadia: Right. But, in these military records I could see that my dad had attended the high school in a town called Drohobych, which before the war was in Eastern Poland and after the war the boarders of Poland were redrawn and that city is now in Ukraine.
Nadia: But, the funny thing is that I thought, well, why don’t I Google this Drohobych high school and see whether there’s any information about it. So, here’s the other astonishing thing, there are so many amazing things I found on the internet. Somebody had uploaded yearbooks from this high school from 1928 to 1935.
Nadia: Incredible. And I found my dad named in these documents. I could see what grades he had earned. I could see what classes he had taken, what his rank in the class was. There was also demographic information about certain percentages of the pupils came from these different backgrounds and so on. There was just a mine of information.
Fisher: [Laughs] You’re on fire now.
Nadia: Yeah. From these military records I also saw that after graduating from the high school with a battle laureate, so that’s kind of equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.
Nadia: He was 21 when he left this high school with a degree. And his degree qualified him to attend an officer’s artillery school and that was located in a city called Torun which is in the North of Poland. In the meantime, I heard back from this cousin that I had written to. She was still at that same address. And I made arrangements to go to Poland and to travel with her across the border into Ukraine. We went to Drohobych, this town where my father had grown up and attended school. And we actually went to the village where my grandmother had a farm and this was the place where in the dead of night on the 13th of April 1940, Red Army soldiers came to that farm and arrested her and three sons. They were given a few minutes to collect their belongings and then they were forced at gunpoint to get on carts to be taken, they had no idea where or for how long.
Fisher: Ugh! How horrifying. Were you able to find the farm?
Nadia: Well, the farm no longer existed because it was wooden structure.
Nadia: But the land appears to be just like wastelands. So, I could the extent of the land, it was quite sizable. A piece land, they kept animals and grew crops and everything. Now, the reason I know this specific date when they were arrested is because in 1941, German troops were ordered to invade Russia. This was Operation Barbarossa.
Nadia: It was the biggest military blunder that ended in their ultimate downfall.
Nadia: So, when they moved east through Poland to get into the Soviet Union they started distributing propaganda leaflets to the Polish population because they wanted the support of the people there to collaborate with them against the Soviets. Among their propaganda that they produced was lists of names of all of the Poles that the Soviets had deported to the penal camps. This list was acquired by one of my uncles who kept it, a great personal risk all through the decades of communist rule after the end of the war. This was something that was passed down from him to his children and then they gave me a copy of this list.
Nadia: A list with thousands of names on it of people that were deported. And all together, Scott, the estimates were something like 1.7 million Poles were deported to the Soviet penal system. And the tragedy is that almost nobody knows anything about that.
Nadia: And there are no graves for family members to go and mourn their relatives or even really much documentation as to where they ended up, what happened to them. So, it’s really a terribly sad story.
Fisher: Yes. My question for you is, how has this changed your life? I mean, you said, you had no interest in history in the past and look what you know now just because you tied your family into history.
Nadia: Yes, exactly. You know, when you read about statistics like this from war, it’s very difficult to wrap your brain around what that really means on a personal level to me, probably not that much.
Nadia: But when it’s somebody that you know, that you’re descended from and you discover that there were crimes and atrocities committed. This was 64 year old grandmother for goodness sake.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Nadia: It’s just heartbreaking to think that the Soviets were able to get away with completely covering up all of their genocide and war crimes that they perpetrated during that war. Just as they are doing now in Ukraine, not much has changed.
Fisher: Now much.
Nadia: But you know, once you discover something like this that is so personal, I couldn’t just walk away from it and shrug my shoulders and say, well, that was too bad. It was something I really thought passionately I had to bring to people’s attention because it’s an aspect of World War II that you don’t find in history books and I think people should know the truth of what really happened.
Fisher: I understand entirely. It’s really interesting to hear your journey with us because I’ve always maintained that when you tie your family into these historical events and you start making these discoveries, they’re just not a fact in a book anymore. They are something that happened to you and your family and obviously it’s changed how you view your father after all this. As you mentioned earlier, you felt he had really not done much in his life, but what you didn’t know is he had done much before you were born.
Nadia: Yes, that’s right. Among some of the other astonishing things that I found out about my dad, he earned the Virtuti Militari on his first day in active combat.
Nadia: Yes. So, I mentioned before that I saw in his records that he trained at an artillery officer’s school in Torun. So, once I was back home from that first trip to Poland, I Googled this military school and then eventually, I found that there is still a military base in that town and from their website I saw that it was originally established before the war and it used to be called The Artillery Officer’s Training School.
Fisher: Wow! So, have you been able to go there or find out more about it?
Nadia: Yes. I got permission from a commandant to go and visit there, and when I arrived, he introduced me to somebody that’s a military historian. When this guy read my dad’s military records on my laptop, he immediately took my hand and kissed it. And said, “Madam, I am so honored. We have never been visited by the relative of such a distinguished war hero, as yourself.”
Fisher: Wow! She’s Nadia Rupniak. She is a pharmaceutical researcher who has become a major family historian on her own family and it’s changed her life, down in Houston Texas. Nadia, it’s been a joy to talk to you. I wish we could talk all day long, there’s so much to cover here, but thank you for your time and God bless you in your research.
Nadia: Thank you so much, Scott!
Fisher: Coming up next, David Allen Lambert is back as we take your questions on Ask Us Anything, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 423
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: And welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert back for Ask Us Anything. And our first question Dave is from Mesquite, Nevada. Pam asks, "Fish and Dave, I had a great aunt, Betty who I only recently learned was actually named Elizabeth. I thought it might be good for you to remind people about common nicknames, because learning this has really changed my research results." That would do it. Great! Well you know, that's absolutely true. There are so many different names that are actually nicknames and aren't necessarily original. I think of the name, Jack right away, Dave.
David: Oh sure.
Fisher: Because John F. Kennedy was known as Jack. But Jack is also a real name in and of itself. But one can be a nickname and one could be the real deal. There are just a million nicknames and many that are very common, like Elizabeth she mentions, like Beth and Betty, Eliza is another one, Liz, right? I mean, there's so many that just come from that.
David: Yes. Sarah, Sally or sometimes even Sadie. You've got names that may even be a little polar opposite. Your name could be Ann, but your nickname could be Nancy.
Fisher: Yep. My great, great grandmother was Nancy, but her real name was Ann, um hmm.
David: And then of course, you know, take that and compound it even one step further, did they use their middle name as their given name?
David: And getting a baby book or one online may help you, because it will give you alternates on given names.
Fisher: Yeah, there are actually long, long lists of these that you can find online, websites that cover all the nicknames. But most common names have them. And you can go through a really, really lengthy list. But you're right, I mean, it really does make a difference to know that you found the correct person when you're doing your research, to make sure the names match up or that you simply understand, oh wait a minute, Sally is Sarah or Eliza is Elizabeth or Betty, as in your case. There are really so many things that you can do once you have the code broken.
David: Well, I mean, I'll give you an example. My father never went by his given first name, George. I mean, if they did, it was something formal and someone was, you know, calling his name, you know.
Fisher: Like his mother? [Laughs]
David: Right, or his mother. Well, actually it was his parents who gave him the name, Buddy, because his father, who was James Albert George Lambert never went by James Albert. He went by George. So, his little buddy was his son who was not really a junior, but he was George Junior, but they called him his little buddy. So therefore, Buddy took on his name.
Fisher: Isn't that interesting?
David: Yeah. Nicknames have a different play. I mean, look at yours!
David: I mean, your nickname is part of your last name!
Fisher: Yeah, they call me, Fish.
Fisher: But I've never been listed as Fish Fisher.
David: Well, that's good.
David: And I've never been Lamb Lambert.
David: So that's good. [Laughs]
Fisher: Exactly right. You know, when you look at the names like Buddy though, you can't really associate that with any one formal name. My uncle Winfield was known as Bud or Buddy also, but it doesn't tie to any name. There are some of those as well.
David: Um hmm. Or how about if you're just called Junior? [Laughs]
Fisher: Right, yeah. What do you do with that, huh? [Laughs]
David: Exactly. Well, you might assume that your father had the same name, so maybe it is a genealogical clue. The other thing is that you could have, you know, shortened versions of names like great grandmother could be Tillie. Is that a real name or is it for Matilda?
David: And that could also be Mattie. My grandmother was known as Maggie, but she was really Margaret.
David: I mean, sometimes it’s not just an abbreviated shortened version of the given name, but something that's, well completely polar opposite sometimes.
Fisher: But the good news is here for anybody who does research, most of the major genealogical sites if you haven't signed up for them yet will give you people whose names should match what you put in there. So, if you put Betty in as the first name, they will still give you all the people who list as Elizabeth or Beth or Betty, and same for Jack or John or Nancy and Ann. They already anticipate those things. It’s amazing the algorithms that have been developed by all the major sites over the last decade or so, I would say, Dave. So, great question and/or comment there, Pam and thanks for it. And we've got another question coming up as we continue with Ask Us Anything in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 423
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, question number two as we continue with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And Dave, this question is from Leonard in Boise, Idaho. He says, "Guys, I just started to get into genealogy and recently obtained from my aunt, my great grandfather's business journals." Ooh! "And there are many names in them. Could this be of value to other researchers? What should I do with these journals?"
David: Well, the first thing I would say is, don't get rid of them.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, right!
David: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately, you think of how many millions of business journals in the past, 100, 200, 300 years that existed from colonial America or even before. "Well, the business is closed. What do we need these for anymore?"
David: And I think that they are really underutilized in genealogy. I think of them as census substitutes. And one of the reasons I think they're so valuable is because they kind of place our ancestors in a community at a given point in time.
Fisher: Good point.
David: When you think of decennial censuses, Fish, I mean, you know 1790, 1800.00 But if this journal is from 1802, you might find your ancestor not on the 1800 census, but they appear in this journal for making shoes in 1802 for them. So, we know they arrived in this country at that point in time.
Fisher: Yeah, that's really good, Dave. And you know, actually, several years ago, I was at an archive in Connecticut and found one of these business journals. It was a general store basically that sold everything in there. And everybody seemed to have an account in town, including my forth great grandfather who was in the Revolution. And you could see where he was buying things like lumber and food items as well. But you could tell from the many things that he was ordering at the time that he was preparing to build a new place! And indeed I had from the census records, we were able to add to the timeline and figure out, "All right, this is where he was building this house." And he was preparing to leave Connecticut, because he wound up in Duchess County, New York along the Hudson River. It really added to the timeline, which helps us tell his story.
David: It’s true. And you know, one of the things that make the listener probably wants to know is what to do with them. I mean, obviously they're genealogical treasure for you, but if you digitize them and share them with the local historical society, that's where that journal was originally kept, you're giving a treasure to other genealogists and historians that they've never realized even existed, because it’s been in private hands for so long.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. I have a birthing book from my great grandmother who was a midwife and she delivered lots and lots of kids. And this particular record gives the address of the mother, the maiden name, when the child was born, what they named the child, how long the mother was under the care of my great grandmother at her home. And so, that has actually helped to crack open cases for other people who were not able to determine the origins of their ancestor, because we had that book. I digitized it, put it online and would often actually go to some of the pages for some of the people she delivered and put that information up there for other descendants to find. And it’s been revelatory for many of them. So, you know, it’s really very much the same principal. You want to get as much information to add to the timelines, so you can create that story.
David: And most importantly, I would say, share the news that you have them.
David: Especially with that local historical society. And who knows, they may even have a budget to digitize them if you want to have the originals back. And I always think that it’s important to have sort of a genealogical will. If there's not a family member that's going to take these and pass them on, find a place that they should go to in your lifetime, so you know that your wishes are fulfilled.
Fisher: Great advice, Dave. And as always, thank you very much, sir. We'll talk to you again next week.
David: Look forward to it.
Fisher: All right. And thank you to Leonard for the question. And of course we'll answer a couple more questions next week on Ask Us Anything. Thanks so much to our guest, Nadia Rupniak who has an incredible journey to describe. If you missed any of it or you want to catch it again, of course listen to the podcast on AppleMedia, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, we are all over the place. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!