Episode 425 - Letter of Formerly Enslaved Man Leads To Ancestry Reality Movie / A Visit With The World’s First “Floral Genealogist!”

podcast episode Jun 20, 2022

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Military expert David reveals he never heard about the subject of his first story in Family Histoire News. We bet you haven’t either. Then, you might be surprised that “mullet” hair styles have an ancient history. David will explain. The guys then talk ancestral pocket watches. Next, here about an escape destination for escapees from slavery, largely in the 18th century. It’s in Florida, where excavation is facing a major complication. Finally, a news story out of Iraq provides a tourist warning. David explains.

Fisher then visits with Crista Cowan from sponsor Ancestry. Crista reveals Ancestry’s newest databases. She then talks about a new movie called “A Dream Delivered- The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson.” The film is based on the real letters of the formerly enslaved man, Hawkins Wilson, who wrote to the Freedmen’s Bureau following the Civil War, hoping to reunite with his family. For him, it never happened. But 150 years later, his dream has come true for his descendants, and those of his siblings. Hear about it, then watch it!

Next, Fisher talks “floral genealogy” with Barbara Holloway Smith, a horticulturalist with Clemson Extension in South Carolina. Barbara, a passionate genealogist, has tracked down plants… planted by her ancestors… and plants and maintains them in a garden of her own… some going back to her great great grandparents!

David then returns for another round 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 425

Fisher: And welcome America to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Great to have you along, genies! We've got two great guests today, of course one you're very familiar with already that's Crista Cowan from our sponsors over at Ancestry.com. They've got a movie coming out. Yeah, it’s actually already out and it has to do with the last letters of Hawkins Wilson. He was an enslaved man who wrote to the Freedmens’ Bureau about trying to find his family, but there was no success as a result of his letters until Ancestry found them and started to bring together his relatives. You're going to want to hear all about this and you're going to want to see the movie. We'll tell you where you can find it. Then, later in the show, Barbara Holloway Smith is on. We talked a little about her last week. She's the floral genealogist. She actually found flowers and plants and trees left on the estates of her ancestors, brought them home to her own garden and she's got them going to her second great grandparents. It’s an unbelievable story. You'll love to hear what she has to say. Hey, make sure you sign up today for our Weekly Genie Newsletter. It is a growing concern and it’s absolutely free. You get a blog from me each week plus links to past and present shows and links to stories you'll appreciate as a genealogist and family historian. Right now, it’s time to head off to Boston, Massachusetts where my good friend, David Allen Lambert is standing by, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello, David. How're you doing?

David: I'm doing great. Making my list of things I want to do genealogically during the summer, but I thought I'd first start off with some great news stories that out listeners might enjoy. One of the things I always try to talk about is military. But I love it when I find something in the military I've never heard of before.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So, on May 12th, 1896, a second lieutenant James A. Moss received permission to organize a 25th infantry bicycle corps. Ever heard of that before?

Fisher: [Laughs] No! That's crazy!

David: It was the first of its kind and actually there were eight enlisted black men in the US army who joined up and they would drill and do formations and they would peddle 40 miles a day. And then, to mark this, 125 years ago, they did a test ride 1900 miles, 41 day expedition, which started on the 14th of June 1897 and ended in St Louis, Missouri. I never knew this even existed.

Fisher: No, I've never heard of any of it. So you're talking about 125 years ago this past week this whole thing started. That's crazy.

David: It is. Wow! I always have new military facts. Here's one that you may have not known about while we're talking military. The mullet, that really funky hairstyle back from the '80s.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, it was back in the 80ADs as well. You can find traces of it in military history going back to the Trojan War. In fact, even Native American Nez Percé tribe wore a hairstyle that is cropped similar. So, as they say, business up front and a party in the back.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Also, an old Gaelic and warriors France, Celtic tribes in England, they all wore mullets. Your Viking ancestors did probably too.

Fisher: Maybe so. Did you have one, David? You might have been a little young for that.

David: No, I burned those photographs.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: No, I actually never did. I had curly hair. It would have looked rather ridiculous.

Fisher: Yeah, yeah.

David: So, I'm just glad to have a little hair now. Hey, I know that you love pocket watches and we've talked about the pocket watches in our family archive, but I mean, these things probably the smallest little heirloom shy of maybe a ring that you can get. And even if you bought one now and handed it down to your kids or your grandkids, you could start this tradition buying like a gold pocket watch or, hey, maybe even just a nice Rolex. There's so much history to them. I read a nice article online that talked about someone passing down a watch that belonged to their great, great grandparent born in the 1870s. It was exactly the same timeframe of my great, great grandfather who was a railroad engineer who I got the watch from indirectly from his step nephew who was in his 90s.

Fisher: Wow! Isn't that funny how that works? Sometimes, I mean there's somebody who you probably didn't even know and somehow it wound up in his hands and got it back over to you. It just works that way sometimes, doesn't it?

David: The greatest thrill about that is one thing, it’s an artifact. But if that works and you can wind it and hold it up to your ear and hear the same sound that your ancestor did? How cool is that!

Fisher: That's pretty fun, no doubt about it. And I love the one I have and it’s actually the replica of the one that my great grandfather gave to his mistress in 1890. My cousin, Jim has the original. It’s got my great grandfather's photo on the face of the watch that he gave to his mistress. And so I went out and got the same model. It’s not quite as fancy as that one. It doesn’t have the gold chain and it certainly doesn’t have my ancestor’s picture on the face, still it it’s kind of interesting to look at it and think about what he had in mind at that time. [Laughs]

David: Well, you know, I always love when we dig into the past but I love archeology stories. If you probably haven’t guessed, it would have been my profession if genealogy hadn’t grabbed me. In St. Petersburg, Florida, not very far away, is the remains of a Spanish Fort called Fort Mose. Now, Fort Mose was a Spanish fort where enslaved individuals from the Carolinas would escape. Well, there’s an archeology dig, now, it’s not just on the ground, it’s in about four feet of water where archeologists are looking for artifacts, pottery fragments, etc.

Fisher: Wow! And you know, it sounds like a very important place too. And this was an operation in the 1700s so long before emancipation. Those escaped slaves made their way south.

David: Very, very true. Speaking of pottery shards, if you’re in Iraq as a tourist, don’t pick any up. As you may have seen in the news, a British tourist picked up pottery shards in an archeological site in Iraq is now facing 15 years in prison.

Fisher: Ooh. That’s a pretty heavy price to pay for picking up a souvenir.

David: Well, on a positive note, we have the summer ahead of us and probably lots more stories. So, if you hear any good ones, let us know. I’ll talk to you on the backend for Ask Us Anything.

Fisher: All right David. Thank you so much. And coming up next, I’m going to talk to Crista Cowan from Ancestry.com speaking of enslaved individuals, Hawkins Wilson was one of those, and he sent letters to the Freedmen's Bureau after emancipation trying to get reconnected to his family. This has turned into a movie that you’re going to want to hear about. It’s coming up next in three minutes when we return on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 425

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Crista Cowan

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and look who I’ve got once again to talk to you about what’s going on over at Ancestry.com, our great sponsors, it’s Crista Cowan. And Crista, we’ve got a lot to cover this week, including a really incredible story that a movie’s been made out of it we’ve got to talk about today.

Crista: We do. We absolutely do. But before we dive into that, we maybe want to cover a little bit about some of the new records at Ancestry, one of the new features at Ancestry, and then we can spend the rest of the time talking about this great new movie.

Fisher: Absolutely. Well, where do we begin then?

Crista: [Laughs] So, let’s talk a little bit about content, I think last month I mentioned that Ancestry has been working on releasing a series of French birth, marriage, and death records, and that just continues. We’ve rolled out another 36 million records for the Indra France region, Calvados, France have another 15 million records, so that cadence just continues. Same with our cadence of our English Church of England records for marriages, and burials, and birth and baptisms, several million of those were rolling out of the cadence, a couple of million a week actually.

Fisher: A couple of million a week. Isn’t that insane?

Crista: Yep, it is. And then let’s get out of England and France. This month we just published a set of Norwegian immigration records. So, immigration of course is people coming into a country, which almost all countries keep track of. 

Fisher: Sure.

Crista: But emigration is people leaving. And so, for about 100 years Norway kept track of who was leaving. So, if you got roots there you might want to go check out that collection.

Fisher: Yeah, who has left the country, and I do have roots there so I’m going to be checking it out. Really looking forward to that. I’m still amazed though, when you think of Western Europe, you tend to think, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got everything from there.” But no, it just keeps coming in. And we’re talking about really important records in really large numbers, and the same for England. Of course, England is a very, very old country, but you’re still talking about a lot of records from just the last 225 years or so. 

Crista: Yeah. You think at some point we’re going to run out of them, but new records come to light every day. [Laughs]

Fisher: Absolutely. It’s great stuff. All right, can we talk about the movie now?

Crista: Yeah we can. [Laughs]

Fisher: I mean this is incredible. It’s called “A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson” and you can actually see it. It’s out right now. It’s on Ancestry.com/BlackHistory. It’s also streaming on Paramount Plus. And what a story! Just give us the background on this Crista.

Crista: Yeah. So, some of you may remember that last year Ancestry released a huge collection of the Freedman’s Bureau records. Of course, the Freedmen's Bureau was setup at the end of the Civil War to help the newly freed four million formally enslaved people kind of manage their transition into education, and labor contracts, and housing, and medical care. So, Ancestry has these records online, and as we look through them, there was a unique set of records we discovered within that Freedmen's Bureau collection. Some of those newly emancipated individuals were writing letters to the Freedmen's Bureau asking them to locate and deliver letters to their family members that they had been separated from.

Fisher: Wow. And that itself was just a crises trying to get families back together and find where people had gone who had been sold off to other plantations. But this one treasure trove of letters from one individual has created an amazing thing 150 years later.

Crista: Yeah. Hawkins Wilson was sold away from his family as a young boy. 25 years later as a grown man who’s now newly emancipated. His slave owner had taken him from North Carolina in Virginia where he had been born and raised, out to Texas. And so his writing this plea to find his mother and his sisters, his cousins, anybody that he could remember from 25 years earlier as a young boy, and asking to have this letter delivered to them so that they know where he is and how he is.

Fisher: And how did that request go?

Crista: Unfortunately, the letter was never delivered. And so Ancestry has set out on this journey to discover if we could reunite the descendants of Hawkins Wilson with the descendants of his family members that were left behind back east.

Fisher: Absolutely. And this has turned into this incredible real-life film. And I’m going to be really fascinated to see the reaction of the people who obviously never knew they were related, didn’t know of any connection, and are all going to be tied together not only by this man, but by his letter and what his dream was. An even though he never really achieved his dream from what we know of getting back together with his parents and his siblings and all this, look at this, the descendants have gotten back together.

Crista: Yeah. It’s such a powerful thing. And we’ve seen these kinds of reunion stories before. It’s different degrees. But this is just a whole new layer to that idea that families who were forcibly separated and that sought to find one another and weren’t successful, and that now we’ve got these records on Ancestry that can help us reconnect and reunite the descendants of those. I think it’s just such a powerful experience. And we’re not just reuniting them with each other, but with this shared history that they have as well.

Fisher: Right. That’s really huge. And Dr. Henry Louis Gates, our good friend, is involved in this project.

Crista: Yeah. A lot of people may know Skip from his television show Finding Your Roots on PBS. He’s done a lot of work with Ancestry over the years. He is such a powerful voice in the black community for black history. And he has also been studying family history for more than 60 years of his own life, and he recognizes the challenges and so throughout the video he provides context and understanding for black Americans just to help them understand that it is completely possible to explore your family history, and there’s never been a more important time to discover the truths of that history. And I think that, he has this thing that he says, he says, “The more we uncover our history as a society, the more we recognize our shared humanity.”

Fisher: Yes.

Crista: And I absolutely believe that that’s true.

Fisher: Absolutely. And you’ve also got Anthony Anderson from Blackish involved in this. You’ve got some big names.

Crista: [Laughs] Yeah. Yeah you know it’s always interesting when you start telling stories in a really meaningful way, the people that it attracts that want to lend their voice. And so yes, Anthony is involved in the film. He did some of the voiceovers for some of Hawkins letters that’s read through the film, and he’s also been doing some interview for us in the time leading up to the premier of the movie, just in time for Juneteenth.

Fisher: And I’m also excited about the idea that Nicka Sewell-Smith is involved in this. She’s so big in our space in the research side of it and she’s all a part of it. Tell us her role in this flick.

Crista: Yeah, Nicka is fantastic. Besides being a brilliant genealogist and researcher, very dynamic on-camera presence, she also happens to be my cousin. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] That’s a story in itself.

Crista: It is. We made that discovery through DNA testing, Ancestry DNA testing, so that’s kind of fun. So, she and I have been friends for years and she is absolutely – she is the guide in this movie so she guides Hawkins’s relatives on this journey of discovery as they explore Wilson’s life and his legacy as they go through the records and try to understand what the records are telling them, and then ultimately as they reunite with their cousins.

Fisher: I can only imagine the reaction of some of these descendants as they make these connections. It must just be incredibly touching.

Crista: Yeah. You know there’s always tears from the individuals when they’re having the reunion, but you know there’s something special when the cameraman and the crew are all weeping as well as they witness this reunion take place. You have to orchestrate it a little bit for film, for camera, but these are really real emotions and real experiences as these very real people make these connections. 

Fisher: Absolutely. And so now it’s out. Everybody gets to see it. Once again, it’s streaming on Paramount Plus, it’s on Ancestry.com/BlackHistory. It is the same film in both places. It’s not like a short version on one and the full version on the other. But just the whole journey, first of all of discovery, is what blows my mind. That people can go out and take this collection of letters and then pull forward to find these people completely unsuspecting, right? I mean, this is like the phone calls anybody makes to unsuspecting cousins, and then shares with them some information that might rock their world that’ll change their lives. And certainly in this case that is exactly what happens once again. You know, these things never get old. Even though the formula is always the same, it doesn’t matter your culture, your background, whatever it is, people want to know where they came from. And that’s such an important part of knowing who you are, is knowing that background.

Crista: Yeah. Absolutely. And there’s so much resilience and hope that is showcased in a story like this. And when you start to think I have some of those own stories in my own history and I can make those discoveries and then understand my past to such a degree that it impacts my future as well.

Fisher: Sure. Do you see Ancestry doing more and more of this type of..I would call it entertainment but it’s really a lot of infortainment as well because it provides a lot of inspiration and information about how you can track your ancestors, especially in the African American community that’s been held back in that research for so long. It’s just getting better, and better. I hate the word” easy” because it’s not. It’s never easy. But it’s less hard right now than it’s ever been.

Crista: Yeah. I mean, I think I’ve mentioned this before on your show but Ancestry has 30 billion records online. We release an average of three million new records a day. And while today we happen to talk about the English records and the French records, there’s also the 1950s census, which 154 million Americans, a large percentage of which are black Americans, that is the entry point for many people to discover their parents or their grandparents and start this family history journey. So, it is doable and more records every day are making that more accessible for more people.

Fisher: That’s great stuff. Well, thanks so much for your time again Crista. We will talk to you again next month, find out about the new databases and whatever incredible project that you’re engaged in and we will see you then.

Crista: Sounds good. Thanks so much.

Fisher: And the amazing stories continue next when I introduce you to the world’s first floral genealogist. What does that mean? You’ll find out in five minutes on Extreme Genes.

Segment 3 Episode 425

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Barbara Holloway Smith

Fisher: All right, back on the job at Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here and I’m so excited to talk to my next guest. I read about her online. She is a floral genealogist. What is that? Of course she’s a lot more than that, but let’s meet Barbara Holloway Smith. She is a horticulturalist at Clemson Extension, in South Carolina. Barbara, welcome to Extreme Genes, it’s great to have you!

Barbara: Thank you Scott. It’s a delight to be here. I hope you all can understand my southern accent.

Fisher: [Laughs] We love it. Hey, tell me, I’ve never heard of a floral genealogist before. Fill us in on exactly what you do.

Barbara: Well, I am absolutely, totally passionate about plants, have been since basically birth. My families on both sides of my family tree were extreme gardeners and farmers, as true of early South Carolina. I have plants that belonged to my grandmothers, my parents, my great grandmothers, my great, great grandmothers.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Barbara: And it makes me smile when I see these blooming in my yard, to know that for me collecting them from their gardens or the ruins of their gardens that they saw the same things blooming that I did.

Fisher: So, this is what you did, you went out and actually found plants that your second great grandmother grew at some place and time? How did you go about this? Obviously it involved some research.

Barbara: Well, I knew where the home places were.

Fisher: Okay.

Barbara: I always laugh. My family gene pool has been stagnating in South Carolina since pre revolutionary war. So, I knew where the old home places were and I’m fascinated with history. I grew up teething on genealogy because that research goes back for four generations with different family members doing extensive genealogy. Of course, I’ve taken it even further because of access online now.

Fisher: So, you’ve had genealogists in your family for four generations?

Barbara: Four generations, yes.

Fisher: Wow! So, did all their information get passed down to you along the way or at least find its way back to you?

Barbara: Part of it did. I have documents that date pre revolution, original documents.

Fisher: Wow!

Barbara: Civil war letters between great, great grandparents. I have a first cousin who inherited a lot of information also, and then several other more distant cousins and we have had weekends where we’ve all gotten together and scanned and shared information.

Fisher: Awesome.

Barbara: So, I have a pretty complete list.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s great. So, you took this, you obviously developed your tree. You know who your people are. You’ve got your documentation. So, when did this idea come along that you wanted to collect the plants of your ancestors?

Barbara: Oh, that goes back to my teenage years back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Fisher: Really?

Barbara: Well definitely in the ‘70s. Well, I’m telling you how old I am now.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Barbara: And like I said, I have always been fascinated with plants. I’m fascinated with plant material that sometimes I cannot identify. There is one buddleia now on the market, a butterfly bush called Miss Vicie. And I found a remnant of that plant at my great grandmother’s garden in Newberry County. Her name was Vicie Jenning Holloway. Everybody including her husband called her Miss Vicie. She had a very extensive garden and of course, by the time I saw the garden or whatever, it was covered in kudzu and wisteria and in ruin.

Fisher: Ooh.

Barbara: And I found this very interesting plant. It was in the winter, the plant had lost its leaves because it was residues. It had very interesting stripe bark on it. So, I dug it up, potted it up to see what it was.  And then, the next spring when it leafed out and started blooming in the summer, I knew I had something different.

Fisher: Wow.

Barbara: So, I took it to a good friend of mine, Rick Berry, who had Goodness Grows Nursery over in Georgia. I shared on one with him because I had propagated from it. And I told him, I don’t know what this is. They send it to the Arnold Arboretum to be identified. They said it was a new cultivar of buddleia that they had not seen.

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs]

Barbara: And they wanted to name it after me. And I said, no. I said, it was my great grandmother’s and she may haunt me. So, it has to be Miss. Vicie.

Fisher: Oh, that’s funny. That’s amazing. So, you actually discovered a new plant type as a result of all this.

Barbara: Right, a new cultivar type of it.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Barbara: Of course, I let Rick market it. So, they introduced it to the horticulture trade. So, it’s out there.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing. So, you’ve got this amazing garden now. Do you have rows of plants based on the generations of your ancestors that the plants came from?

Barbara: No, they are all mixed in because with plant material you’ve got to grow it where the plants will be happy.

Fisher: Okay.

Barbara: Some prefer morning sun, afternoon shade, some full sun, some more water than others. My landscape area covers close to about an acre and a half, two acres.

Fisher: That’s amazing.

Barbara: We live on a farm, which I always laugh, compared to farms out west; we’re probably the size of somebody’s backyard.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Barbara: So, I have a Sweetheart Rose that came from my paternal grandparents. The story is, it’s actually a Cecily Brunner and when it was blooming, the story in the family is that my grandfather would pick off a bud and put it in his lapel before he left for work every day and say, this is for my sweetheart, meaning his wife Sally.

Fisher: Oh, wow.

Barbara: So, the stories that goes along with these plants.

Fisher: Yeah.

Barbara: I have big American Boxwoods that are huge, eight or nine feet tall, that actually came from cuttings of my great, great grandparent’s home in Blackville, South Carolina.

Fisher: So, sometimes it wasn’t that you found a plant that they planted. It was just something that was on their property. That counts, right?

Barbara: Well, sure it does.

Fisher: Yeah.

Barbara: There was one that they planted. My mother had got cuttings from these plants and rooted them. She loved to root boxwoods and so she rooted them. So that makes it even more special.

Fisher: Sure.

Barbara: Because she got the cuttings from her great grandparents.

Fisher: Right.

Barbara: I have a lot of daffodil bulbs and narcissus bulbs that came from different ancestors’ gardens that I dug up and transplanted.

Fisher: Wow. Did you ever find any documents where they actually referenced planting any of these particular plants?

Barbara: There is one great grandmother. Her name was Mary Perry Millhouse. And not specifically referencing, but I have a cousin Edwin May, the diary he had in her possession that she wrote in the 1870s. I kept it for about six months, took me about that long to transcribe it because you needed a magnifying glass to see it word for word.

Fisher: Oh, yeah. [Laughs]

Barbara: And in it she talks constantly about what’s blooming. What’s growing in the yard. What flowers she’s picked to put in the house. She was very interested in nature.

Fisher: Yeah.

Barbara: She loved animals. She had a brother that lived in Texas. So, he sent her prairie dogs and horny toads. She had a pet alligator.

Fisher: Oh, my gosh. [Laughs]

Barbara: They said she had a little Carolina Anole, which is a little gecko type. It lives in South Carolina and she had a little chain and a duel collar made for it. So, she would pin the chain to her dress and the anole would crawl all over her shoulders.

Fisher: Oh, that’s funny. So, have you ever taken pictures of the plants so associate with the ancestors and their stories that you might be able to pass these along down the line?

Barbara: Oh, yes that’s documented. I’m very detailed. I have a folder and that’s one of my plans to have a photo of the ancestor if I have that, along with the photo of the plant that came from them and a description of where the house was located, and if I dug the plant up or if I took cuttings or whatever.

Fisher: Perfect. What a great idea. I think there are going to be a lot of people hearing this who are going to say, I’m going to go out and do that. I mean, you are unique in that you know where a lot of these people were from and that they all planted. And you were in their area, so that helps out a lot. I think a lot of people are going to have some fun with this. She may be the world’s first floral genealogist.

Barbara: [Laughs]

Fisher: She’s Barbara Holloway Smith from South Carolina. Barbara thanks for coming on and sharing your story. I love it. I think it’s a lot of fun.

Barbara: Oh, you are so welcome Scott, and this has been a delight, just love sharing my story with people.

Fisher: Thanks so much. Coming up next, David Allen Lambert, as we go through your questions once again with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 425

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, welcome back to the show. It is Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Dave, first question today, "Hello guys. A cousin recently gave me some documents all over a century old that have been folded may times. I'm afraid to fully open them and certainly can't frame them or put them into a binder. I'd like to enjoy them more, but don't know what to do with them. Thoughts, please. Mary-Lou in Cincinnati."

David: Ooh, well that's definitely a conservative's nightmare sometimes, especially if it’s acidic paper or pulp paper, latter 19th, early 20th century. It’s like finding those folded up newspaper clippings in the family bibles that your great grandmother saved. And you open them up, and now instead of one clipping, you have ten. It’s really the age of the paper. My personal estimation is that you look at something that may be from the 1700s or the early 1800s, it’s going to be on rag stock paper.

Fisher: Right.

David: And if it’s really early, it could be on parchment, which does have a tendency to crack only if it’s under bad conditions. But I've seen parchment that's 100s upon 100s, over 1000 years old that's able to be preserved and conserved, because sometimes it rolls up tight. Folding though offers another problem if it’s folded damaged, like a wedge, then you have the bleed of the ink across to the back of the page. There may be an adhesive like a wax seal that may have caused some damage to it, too or just iron ball ink itself, which is truly acidic and will eat through paper.

Fisher: Oh boy!

David: Now, rag stock is good, but I would use caution. I would also see if you can find if there's a person in a genealogical group that you're nearby or maybe even a university that does conservation. I can tell you, up north here in the north east Document Conservation Centre in Massachusetts, people will send things that you just can't even open, because they're folded so tight or wrapped together in a box. So, you may have some hefty bills to get it conserved, but what a treasure that lies in that folded letter.

Fisher: Yeah, the hardest thing about those too, Dave is, you can't really scan them either, you know. You might be able to hold it open enough to photograph it in various parts and try to use Photoshop to put it together digitally. But it is a real problem. I have a lot of old newspapers and I have a couple of marriage certificates from the 1870s that are really badly folded. I haven't tried with the marriage certificates, but with the newspapers, I've taken it to a framer's place where they had a technique for actually relaxing the paper. And, as a result of that, they were able to mount it on a piece of foam board. And so, I could frame it. I had a poster for instance from the 1980s that had gotten some wrinkles in it from too much humidity in the air and they were able to relax that and take it right out. Now, I don't know if that technique is available where you can do that with a paper and not attach it to something else. I don't know if they can just relax the paper and hand it back to you or how they use that. And I actually tried to contact the folks who've used that in anticipation to this question today and they're out of business, so I can't do anything with that to find out anything further. But I would suggest that if one framing shop had that type of device, there will be many others possibly in your area too to help you get those things relaxed, whether it’s an old newspaper, an old document, whatever it may be. But David's advice is excellent. Go out and get a conservator’s advice, because we don't know what kind of paper you're dealing with, we don't know about the acidity question. There are just so many things to deal with when you've got a problem like that. So, good luck with that. And hopefully you can find some way other than piling a bunch of books on it and watching the whole thing crack to make sure it works out. All right, we've got another listener question coming up when we return in three minutes with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 425

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher and David here, and our next question on Ask Us Anything, David is from Robbie in Flint, Michigan and Robbie asks, "Guys, of all the things you guys have preserved, what are the most unusual things you've collected?"

David: Ohh!

Fisher: That is interesting. I got a fern that was stuck in some bible pages once that came from Sweden. It had a little note that it was attached to and it had a date on it from the 1850s. And to be honest with you, Dave, I really don't know what to do with it other than to put it in some kind of binder with acid free stuff to keep it there. But it just falls apart, you know.

David: You know, and the same thing is true with anything, we just want to make sure that we're carrying it to the next generation, so they can figure out what to do with it maybe even a little bit better! I have an envelope that has the locks of hair from my 18 month old uncle who would later go on to fight at the beaches of Normandy.

Fisher: Oh.

David: So, he had curly blond hair. I knew him as baldly cue ball.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But these locks are, you know, nearly 96 years of age and they're still as bright as they would have been cut and put in the envelope back then. Hair jewelry, morning rings, brooches, there are people that specialize in collecting morning jewelry and it’s not always from the recently deceased. Sometimes it’s from family members. But I mean, that's probably for me the oddest thing. Now personally, I don't have any post mortem photography.

Fisher: Ohh!

David: So back in the 19th century, if you lost a loved one or child, you may not have a photograph and that was the last chance to get it. And a lot of undertakers would partner with photographers. Funerals were done at home, so sometimes the person is like propped up next to relatives and I've seen some of them.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: It’s like, is that person alive or dead? So, that would be the odd thing I think if I found that in my family photographs. I mean, if it was the only picture I'd have of a third great grandfather, I mean, we'd not frame it and put it out for general display.

Fisher: [Laughs] Right.

David: But I would be delighted to have it, because it was a picture of him, maybe the only one.

Fisher: Hmmm. I've got another one. I've got a pig. It’s a ceramic pig from 1902. When my wife's grandfather turned 4 years old, his cousin presented him with this pig. So, the pig was passed along to my wife's brother who's had it for these many, many, many years. And we told him, we didn't want it, but he didn't care. He packaged it up and sent it to us. So now we have it and we don't know really what to do with it. It’s an ugly thing. It has a chip out of it, its 120 years old. And so, what do you do with that? I don't know.

David: I hope that you have a loving descendant that will embrace that pig like it was their very own.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: I mean, the other thing with any artifacts that you saved for future generations, a little note, like a note in a teacup or a teapot will prevent these things from being discarded and/or sold on eBay, so people like Fisher and I will buy them.

Fisher: [Laughs] I also have a coffee pot that was given to my great grandparents in 1884. I mean, it’s just falling apart and I found it in my mother's effects and thought, what is this? And then I found some notes that she had once left about heirlooms and she described it, well literally to a T.

David: Uh oh.

Fisher: Yeah. So I was really quite surprised, but pleased to know that this was from 1884 in Sweden. So who knew? So, thanks for the question, Robbie and hopefully you can find some better stuff than these items as you put your family ancestral heirloom collection together. But it’s fun to see what you can find, even the strange stuff. Dave thanks so much again and we'll talk to you again next week, buddy.

David: Until then, my friend.

Fisher: All right, and that's our show for this week. Thanks once again to Crista Cowan from Ancestry, filling us in on this amazing new movie, A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson. You're going to want to see it on Ancestry.com/BlackHistory. Also, Barbara Halloway Smith the floral genealogist, talking about collecting the plants and trees planted by her ancestors. If you missed any of the show of course catch the podcast on AppleMedia, 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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