Episode 428 - 9th Anniversary Show! Woodbury’s Tips and Tricks for DNA Matches / Bill Griffeth’s Follow Up Book “Strangers No More”

podcast episode Jul 18, 2022

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with guest host David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  Fisher and David talk about Fisher’s recent use of two New York City databases, one of which neither had ever heard of before. David then explains how it was discovered that in the Declaration of Independence, technology revealed how Thomas Jefferson changed the word “Subjects” to “Citizens.” Next, hear about the discovery of a secret cave in Pennsylvania with remarkable ties back to the Revolution. Also, the last of the “Band of Brothers” has died. David has details.

Next, Fisher visits with Paul Woodbury, lead DNA specialist for sponsor Legacy Tree Genealogists. Paul shares his “tips and tricks for DNA matches.” If you struggle to know who a key match is, who, perhaps, doesn’t share a family tree, you’ll want to hear this.

Then, Bill Griffeth, well known retired TV financial reporter returns to the show. Bill learned ten years ago that his father was not his birth father. The shocking find let to his book “Stranger in My Genes.” Bill has now followed that up with a new book… “Strangers No More.” Hear how Bill’s journey has gone since that shocking day in 2012.

Then, David 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 428

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. Well, we’ve got some real hall of famers on today. First of all, coming up in about ten minutes we’re going to talk to the lead DNA specialist over at our sponsors at Legacy Tree Genealogists, Paul Woodbury is going to come on. He’s got tips and tricks for DNA matches. You know how many times you find a DNA match, they’re a good one it looks like but there’s no tree there. What do you do? How do you figure how they’re tied in? What’s the connection? Paul’s got some ideas for you. Then, later in the show, Bill Griffeth the former financial TV news reporter is coming back on. Bill of course, 10 years ago was the guy that found out that his father was not his birth father and it changed his world. It just rocked it and he came out with a book about the experience called, “The Stranger in My Genes.” It’s pretty standard in the genealogy world these days. Well, he’s got a follow-up to that about what has happened since. It’s called, “Strangers No More.” And Bill will tell you all about that a little bit later on in the show. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, boy, we’ve got a lot of people following and we’d love to have you be part of it. We’ve got blogs from me each week, plus, links to past and present show, and links to stories you’ll really appreciate as a family historian. Just go to our Facebook page or ExtremeGenes.com, to sign up, it’s absolutely free. Right now, it’s time to head out to Boston Where David Allen Lambert is standing by. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How you’re doing, Dave?

David: Hey, I’m enjoying the summer. How about yourself? Are you keeping busy with any genealogy?

Fisher: [Laughs] Count on it. You know, I had a little Covid this past week and I figured, okay the best way to keep busy was to do a little research. Nothing particular in mind, but I found a couple of new indexes that are very helpful for people who have New York ancestry.

David: Oh, do tell.

Fisher: Yeah. Both of them are on Ancestry.com. The Almshouse records of New York have now been indexed and that led me to find that my third great grandfather on one line Oliver Secord had died in the lunatic asylum in New York City in 1836.

David: Oh!

Fisher: He had been in and out of there, brought in by the police. I mean quite a story there. I was really shocked to find it. Then I got to research, okay, where was the insane asylum at that time? It’s right where Columbia University is today, at Broadway, at 116th Street. So, that was really new and interesting. And then furthermore, Ancestry has indexed New York’s jury censuses and I had never heard of these things before.

David: I’ve never heard of them either.

Fisher: No. I’ve been researching for like four decades there. Well, it turns out that the city was looking to identify people who could potentially serve on juries. So, they created this census of the city in 1816, they did it again in 1819 and 1821. I had three families living in the city at that time and all three of them appeared in at least one of these jury censuses. So, it gives their names, their occupation, where they lived. It tells you how many males and females were living in the household at the time and any reason they shouldn’t be considered as a juror. So, it was really interesting stuff, kept me really busy. Now that I’m feeling better of course, I’m writing stuff up on that for my own family’s use. So, a lot of fun check it out, it’s available through Ancestry with the indexes, but the original images you can find through the Department of Records in New York City, just go to their website.

David: Well, you never know what you’re going to find online when you’ve got time to kill.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: And you know, genealogy is one of those things that you stumble upon some of the best databases sometimes purely by accident.

Fisher: Yep.

David: Well, the Library of Congress put a lovely post out on social media I thought I’d share with you. They’re using digital technology and they were going over a word in a draft of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. And in the draft it says under “our fellow citizens” it really says “our fellow subjects.”

Fisher: Wow, really?

David: Well, think about it. We were the British subjects so it would have been more of a common thing that would have slipped off your tongue back then.

Fisher: Sure. Yeah.

David: But yeah, they’ve used scanning and it’s rather fascinating. You look at it quickly you might not see it, but there was like some smudging going so they cleaned it up and then all of a sudden found the letters underneath it and then brought those out, got rid of the word that was copied over, and you can clearly see the word “subjects.” 

Fisher: Cool!

David: I think digital technology is amazing. Well, in the County of Bucks in the great state of Pennsylvania they have found a cave. Now this is not just any old cave, this is a cave where Revolutionary War outlaws were hanging out and may have even included British spies, armed thieves, a group called The Doan Gang. Yeah, not gangs from out west, but from Pennsylvania. And they’ve already dug, Fish, 18 feet into the ground. Apparently, the Doan brothers robbed the county treasury in 1781 and escaped with all of its funds and the loot still has not been found till this day 

Fisher: That’s awesome! What a fun adventure.

David: Well, if you’ve ever followed the series Band of Brothers, the last of the band of brothers who parachuted into France on D-Day has passed, and that is Bradford Freeman at the age of 97. 

Fisher: Ah, great loss but boy, what great men. And we’re going to remember them forever, especially with that TV series.

David: True. It was a great series. They did lots of interviews so we’ve got that captured, which is great. Well, you know in April this year, an unmanned vessel set forth on a voyage that had already occurred over 400 years ago, retracing the rout of the Mayflower. This vessel just arrived in the past couple of weeks in Plymouth Harbor. No pilgrims on board this time though. IBM created it. They had some glitches. They had to stop in the Azores and stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but if you think about it, the Mayflower kind of got knocked off course too and so I guess 400 years later technology hasn’t changed too much. Well, that’s all I have from Beantown this week. And don’t forget, if you’re not a member of American Ancestors you can save $20 with the coupon code EXTREME on AmericanAncestors.org. Talk to you in a bit. 

Fisher: All right David. Thank you so much. Yes, we’ll have your questions with Ask Us Anything coming up at the backend of the show. And on the way next, the lead DNA specialist from over at our sponsors at Legacy Tree Genealogists, Paul Woodbury giving his tips and tricks for DNA matches, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 428

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Paul Woodbury

Fisher: Welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. My next guest is familiar to those of you who’ve been following the show for some time, he is Paul Woodbury. He is the lead DNA specialist over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. And we’re going to talk today about Paul’s tips and tricks for mystery matches. And Paul, I love this because there are so many people out there who think if somebody doesn’t have a tree up and they’re an important match, that’s the end of the story. I mean, we’ve got a lot further to go with this, don’t we?

Paul: Absolutely. And definitely, something that you want to focus on are those close matches. And even if we don’t have a tree, in terms of prioritization of the evidence, and finding the best evidence to help you answer your research questions and your family history mysteries, those close matches, regardless of whether or not they have a tree, are going to be some of the most important pieces of evidence in your search.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, let’s start at the beginning okay. I mean, most people will now go through say on Ancestry or elsewhere and start to categorize who their matches are. Most people know their first cousins. Most people have an idea maybe of where a lot of the second cousins will fit in, and they’ll use a little color code to identify which branch of the family they’re related through. And then they’ll go through also and see what matches are shared. And some of those shared matches are often much more distant. And this is a really good thing because you can use these shared matches obviously to potentially break through brick wall lines in your family tree.

Paul: Absolutely. By using some of these more distant matches and building out their family trees and exploring their family trees, finding out how they connect to each other, you can better understand how you and your family connect into the further back distant generations. And it’s really important to prioritize the matches that are closer because they’re going to give you the best evidence.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: There are your closes matches. They are going to provide the most beneficial information in terms of level of relationship and determining how you fit into those families. 

Fisher: Yeah. Now, you’ve got then these names all separated out. Obviously, if you find that you share a lot of matches with someone you know, then you can assume that they come from that same branch of the family as a relationship. And a lot of people then will say okay, let’s look at that person’s tree and then they can extend it from there. But when you run into somebody with no tree, there are things you can still do.

Paul: Absolutely. And I want to start by saying sometimes when we look at those trees, we can say oh, it’s a small tree. They only have their parents, they only have their grandparents, but hey, that’s gold!

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah.

Paul: You know, you’re a genealogist, you can figure it out. You can extend that family tree and build the tree for them and often times figure out how those people are related. But it can be a little bit more challenging when we don’t have a lot to go on. You click into a really promising looking match, and no tree. And that can be a little bit disappointing. But it’s not the end of the line. And some of the clues that we can gather from, those matches are ultimately going to break open the cases that we’re researching. The key there is to consider all of your available clues that are given to you in that key genetic cousins match profile.

Fisher: Right.

Paul: Those elements include the usernames.

Fisher: Yep.

Paul: It includes how much DNA they share with you, it includes maybe shared ethnicity. If you have unique ethnicity add mix to your estimates, and they have unique ethnicity add mix estimates you can maybe explore some things that way. It includes all of their profile details. So, click outside of their match profile and click down to the profile for the company. What have they said in terms of their age, their residence, their research interests, they might have an early known ancestor that’s been reported, or a list of ancestor locations, or surnames. They might just have a profile picture. And all of those elements can really help us to explore who is this mystery match, and who are their ancestors. Because our ultimate goal here is to extend their family tree and figure out how they connect with our family.

Fisher: So this is how to become a DNA safe cracker.

Paul: It kind of is.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Paul: You know, I think really it’s just evaluating all available clues, evaluating all available evidence to help us figure out what is the nature of my relationship with this individual. Now before jumping into that, it’s worth mentioning that well, one way to figure out how these people might be related to you is to simply send a message asking for information about their family tree. I think sometimes as genealogists we like to sit at our computers. We’re kind of a little introverted and ignore the world and just you know, work with the dead people. But in some of these cases it could be beneficial to find some extrovert, strive, and try and connect with some of these people and reach out and ask for information. 

Fisher: Don’t you think though that part of it is we just kind of assume they’re not going to respond especially if everything’s private.

Paul:  Yes.

Fisher: They don’t put a tree up. You kind of assume immediately well, they were just looking at the ethnicity, they’re just following the TV ads, that kind of thing. I think there’s just an assumption like, I can probably get more from it myself than waiting for an answer. But you’re right, I mean why not at least try. Send out a quick message and see if something happens.

Paul: Yeah. Try and send out a message and see what happens. Now if they don’t respond, this is where some of these tips and tricks can come in handy. The first thing I want to mention is usernames. So, a lot of the times they will have at least a username.

Fisher: Yeah.

Paul: A lot of the time people will say, oh I’m going to use a weird username that’s not traceable to me. But most of the time usernames are associated with an individual. You might be able to recognize elements of their first name, their last name, maybe a middle initial.

Fisher: Yeah.

Paul: And you might be able to determine okay, what is their likely name. You might have really weird usernames. It’s like okay, this has no bearing on what their real name is, but even in those situations usernames often come from handles that are used at other sites. So they might be using the same username on their social media. They might be using the same username as part of their email. So, it’s worth in those situations just doing a search for that username on Google, or in public record indexes.

Fisher:  Yep. [Laughs]

Paul: There’s resources like Been Verified, White Pages, Spokeo, Intelius, and many of these sites enable you to do a search by username, or search by email address. 

Fisher: And some of them you need a subscription for. And others are free like FamilyTreeNow.com.

Paul: Yeah.

Fisher: And what I love about those places too Paul is they’ll often tell you closely related people, they’ll give you where they’ve lived, or where they’re living now, they’ll even often have phone numbers and email addresses.

Paul: Exactly. So, that really helps you to get a step up in being able to reconstruct the family tree. If you can determine a name, if their username is a name, consider searching for their name in genealogy databases. I think we often think of genealogy for the deceased, but many of our genealogy databases have information on living people. Ancestry, MyHeritage, Family Search, all have public record indexes, many of them have indexes of vital records, they have indexes of newspapers. So, there’s lots of ways we can find information on individuals who maybe have only given their username.

Fisher: And of course, social media sites too can reveal information.

Paul: Absolutely. And before we talk about social media, I do want to just mention one last thing about usernames. Sometimes you get numbers in a username.

Fisher: Yeah.

Paul: And we can kind of sometimes glance over those but those numbers are often associated with important life events. It might be their birth dates or a marriage date, maybe their graduation from high school. I’ve also come across recently several instances where people have these numbers at the end of their usernames and it’s their age at the time they created their account or took a DNA test.

Fisher: [Laughs] Interesting.

Paul: Right. So you can sometimes find what that number might be referring to. Like you said, when you perform these searches on a username, you can often find information on people on social media. And that takes us into a whole other area where you can use social media to reconstruct close family relationships. Some of my go-to’s are if I’m trying to figure out who the parents of an individual are, and I found their social medial, I look through their posts and public photos to see if they have published anything that looks vintage. That looks like it is an older photo of a parent, of a grandparent, of an ancestor, and if you can find those, then often you get the whole family commenting on those photos.  

Fisher: Yep.

Paul: Like say, “Oh, I miss grandpa so and so. Oh, this is such a great photo you and your father.” You know?

Fisher: [Laughs]

Paul: And you get your answer right there. Some other tricks there are to look for what the individual is posting on Mother’s Day, on Father’s Day, what are people posting on their birthdays if you need to determine their birth date. If you’re trying to figure out who they’re married to, look for Valentine’s Day and anniversary posts. If you’re looking for the parents of an individual, look for photos of that individual’s children. 

Fisher: Right.

Paul: Because grandparents often self identify and say, “Oh, I just love my grandchild so much.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Paul: So, there’s some great tips and tricks for looking at social media, and being able to reconstruct family relationships based off of who is commenting, what they’re saying, and what they’re posting on their social media profiles.

Fisher: And you can really take that information and extend trees back as far as you want to go. I mean, essentially what we’re doing is we’re building their trees for them, and I guess the question would be, Paul, how far back do you find that this is most effective in terms of if you’ve got a 10 centimorgan relationship versus a 25 centimorgan relationship, how minimal a relationship are you looking for to work this?

Paul: Yeah. Really, the emphasis may not be necessarily on the amount of DNA that they share with you. Certainly, you want to prioritize those that are sharing more DNA with you.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: But the priority really in these situations comes down to what are you trying to research, who are the genetic cousins who are clustering around particular known relatives, and who are likely pertinent to your research question. If we can identify a cluster of matches who are related to other known descendents of the subject of our research question, then building out the trees of those individuals may give us answers regarding who are the collateral relatives of this ancestor that we’re researching.

Fisher: He’s Paul Woodbury, the lead DNA specialist over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. And Paul, great tips and tricks for mystery matches and for those who are just getting into DNA, this is really important stuff for them to know. So, thanks so much!

Paul: Thank you.

Fisher: And coming up next, Bill Griffeth the TV financial reporter is out with another book called Strangers No More. You’re going to want to hear more about it coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes. 

Segment 3 Episode 428

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Bill Griffeth

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and my next guest has made quite a splash in the family history realm over the last several years with his book “The Stranger in My Genes.” Bill Griffeth came out with this and talked about the shock of discovering that his father was not his father. Bill, welcome back! It’s great to have you on the show.

Bill: Great to talk to you again Scott. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years now this summer that I took that DNA test. And that’s really kind of ancient history in the world of DNA testing.

Fisher: Yeah.

Bill: We’ve really come far.

Fisher: Absolutely. Well, and now you’ve got this follow-up book because there were still so many things left undone, left unsaid, by the time you got to the end of The Stranger in My Genes. Tell us about, “Strangers No More.”

Bill: Its multi parted. The first part that most people who have read The Stranger in My Genes would be interested in is to know that I have in fact reached out to my biological family when the first Stranger book came out. By the time the book came out, I had yet to reach out to a member of the biological family. I just wasn’t ready, and many people were disappointed in that. You know, “How can you not reach out to somebody from that family?”

Fisher: Really?

Bill: Well, I just wasn’t ready yet. I finally did in 2017 and I was warmly received thankfully. And I have a great relationship with this relative and I write about that in the book, so that’s part of the story right there.

Fisher: Hard phone call to make?

Bill: Well, I wrote a letter, in The Stranger in My genes, I wrote a letter. I posted the letter that I had written to a relative that I never ended up sending, but when we finally narrowed it down to who I should reach out to, I just sent that letter. I’m an introvert, believe it or not. And I’m not the type to make a cold call on the phone. So, I wrote the letter and let it steep. And thankfully, my goodness, it took three days for the letter to get there and my relative called me the very next day and was so excited about it. I couldn’t have been more warmly received. It was such a great relief.

Fisher: I’m sure it was. And this is a thing that anybody in your situation goes through. Everybody is anguished over it, and some people are worried about a rejection And yet, we see over and over again, that’s not usually the case. I mean, it happens, bit not very often.

Bill: Certainly it happens. I’ve heard plenty of stories where that has happened. But, I’ll tell you, the one I think, common feeling that most of us have who have been through this is by reaching out to the biological family, these groups of strangers that we are related to, you feel like you are cheating on the family you grew up with.

Fisher: Yeah.

Bill: Especially the father that raised you that was not your biological father. I’ve heard so many people say, I feel like I’m cheating on my father. Well, I sort of felt that way too, that was dishonoring his memory.

Fisher: Sure.

Bill: He’s been gone for a long time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that for a while, but it worked out.

Fisher: Did you go through a lot of counseling as a result of all this?

Bill: Not per se. It’s funny you should mention that. About three months after I took the DNA test, I reached out to my doctor, my general practitioner because I was really having a very hard time. I mean, I like to say, I was in an emotional fetal position for maybe nine months after I took that initial DNA test. So, I went to my doctor and I just bared my soul to him and he said, “I can give you two options. One, I can send you to a psychiatrist or psychologist who can help you, or I can write a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication.

Fisher: Give me that. [Laughs]

Bill: That’s what I want because I want relief today, now.

Fisher: Yeah.

Bill: So, I take the same thing that as it happens, I read that David Letterman takes. He had credited it with saving his life, giving him a sense of well-being. And I’m still on it.

Fisher: Really.

Bill: Yeah.

Fisher: Interesting. Now, as a result of this new book Strangers No More, which by the way, just came out this past week through AmericanAncestors.org, and on Amazon. You’ve also had several similar stories that have come your way as a result of this. I’m certainly aware of one of them personally. 

Bill: Yeah.

Fisher: Let’s talk about that.

Bill: You know, when the first Stranger book came out, I felt my story was unusual if not unique. The thing that surprised me were the number of people I heard from who had the very same story to tell. They reached for guidance, for comfort, just knowing that they were not alone. That really surprised me. I’ll give you a statistic. In 2019 the Pew Research Center did a study of DNA tests and they determined that up to that point in the summer of 2019, by that time 20 million Americans roughly had taken a DNA test and they found that 27 percent of them found a relative that they didn’t know existed before then. That’s 5.4 million surprises out there.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Bill: I’m a member of a group on Facebook of people just like me who took the DNA test and found out that my father was not my father. There are more than 8600 people on that group alone. So, I heard so many stories, people reaching out to me and I decided, their stories need to be heard as well. Some of them are inspirational, some are tragic, but they all have the same common denominator that we have this shock, this unbelievable shock of learning that we really weren’t who we thought we were. Our parents had hidden this tremendous secret from us. So, I wrote several chapters including some of these stories and I’ve already heard from some people who find them pretty inspiring.

Fisher: You know, I’m always amazed by some of the psychological trauma on this because this is all about something that happened before you were even born.

Bill: Right.

Fisher: Nothing in your past that you’ve been aware of has ever changed and yet everything has changed as far as your identity goes. 

Bill: Right. And so many people would say to me, friends, relatives, don’t be upset, they try to comfort you.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Bill: And I hear this from other people as well in my position, don’t be upset. What are you upset about? Nothing has changed in your life. Well, yeah, nothing has changed in my life, but I have changed. I’m different.

Fisher: Right.

Bill: And the way I look at things is different. Relationships change. That’s something that changed, especially with my mother. The other main theme that I hear from people who reach out to me with their stories is the reluctance of our mothers to want to talk about it, which is understandable.

Fisher: Sure.

Bill: There’s a stigma to it. There’s a shame. There’s an embarrassment. And that was certainly the case with my mother and it affected our relationship unfortunately, and not for the better. It was subtle, but it was enough that we had a much more superficial relationship the last few years of her life, which is unfortunate. I just didn’t want that to happen, but it was inevitable, I guess.

Fisher: Yeah. I can completely understand where that would come from. Have you found anything new lately in your research?

Bill: [Laughs] Well, yes. I have an epilogue at the end of the book. I have mentioned that it contains a surprise that’s based on another DNA test that I took that revealed what I believe is an even bigger surprise than finding out that my father was not my father, believe it or not. But I’m going to leave it at that. And I would urge anybody who buys the book, don’t peek. Wait until the end of the book to read that. But yes, you know, building a family tree is like building a house, you’re never finished. It never comes to an end. There are always new people to discover and new avenues to pursue. New brick walls to tear down. And like you, I love that process of discovery and adventure that is all part of the family history research process.

Fisher: It really is true. And for people who are trying to get a grasp on how hard and shocking this kind of discovery is like Bill made. Look at this, 10 years later he’s still thinking about it. He’s still dealing with it like so many other people because it just changes your entire identity. But I’m so glad, that as a high profile person who was a financial reporter on television for decades that you’ve written this story and given other people a chance to see that they are not alone.

Bill: It has been very satisfying. I guess, I was naïve going into the whole process several years ago to write the first book, not realizing the impact it would have on other people’s lives. But it’s so satisfying to know how many people I’ve been able to help in that regard. Just for people finding out they’re not alone, that has been very satisfying. And for me too, it hasn’t been a one way street. I’ve developed very close relationships, friendships with other people who are in my position. And we’ve become very good friends and confidants in that regard and we help each other, which has been very special.

Fisher: The book is “Strangers No More.” It’s the follow-up to The Stranger in My Genes. It’s from my guest Bill Griffeth. It’s just come out. You can get it at AmericanAncestors.org and Amazon. And Bill, it’s always a joy to talk to you my dear friend.

Bill: Same here, Scott.

Fisher: And so glad this book is out. It’s going to help a lot more people.

Bill: Thank you! I appreciate your interest in it. Thanks very much.

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert rejoins me as we get another round of Ask Us Anything in, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 428

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, we're back on the job here at Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here with David Allen Lambert back from The New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David, our first question is from Randall in Baltimore, Maryland. He says, "Fisher and Dave, I am puzzled! I found my ancestor's probate in a ledger book, but a friend says there should be more. What should I be looking for? Thank you." Dave, you want to handle it?

David: Oh, sure. Well, the thing about probates, there are two different sets of records that you may find microfilmed or digitized. Now, the record book or the ledger book is basically the copy that was transposed by the probate court in case the file papers got lost. So what your friends is talking about is locating those file papers. Now, you might think everything is copied over. Not everything is and I'll give you an example. Say today was 1750. I wrote a will and I left everything to my two daughters and my wife. My two daughters may not be married as they are currently today. So the will may not reflect their married name. Now, say I die 10 years later. I never rewrite my will. There's no codicil or a change to my will. In the file papers, you will probably find a receipt stating that this daughter received her portion from her father's estate and then she signs her name or makes her mark, but it identifies her with her married name.

Fisher: Hmm.

David: These slips aren't in the record book obviously. Only typically did the signing of the administer, the will and the inventory. Now there's all sorts of other documents they could find. But these little slips of paper that are probably the size of a 3x5 card or smaller could make or break your genealogy when you’re trying to join the DAR or the SAR or the Mayflower.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Getting that connection to know if that probate you found truly is your ancestor's parent.

Fisher: Right. And probate really is a word that covers a lot of different things, and you mentioned inventory there. If you're really looking to put together somebody's story, that inventory can tell you an awful lot.

David: Oh gosh, I love inventories! It's like glancing back through the window of your ancestor's house from hundreds of years ago. And what's in each trunk, you know, you find out every type of clothing your ancestor owned, including their old clothes and their best clothes and the new clothes. It's amazing stuff.

Fisher: Yeah, it really is. And sometimes, you mentioned once, it would be a great idea to have a little game with your kids to go cut out maybe a picture that they find in a magazine or something of each item that is in some ancestor's inventory. And it would be really interesting to see what they possessed.

David: That's true. And the other thing is, you might possess something that shows up in your ancestor's inventory. Or maybe one of your cousins does. If something looks like it's been in the family for a long time, it could have been handed down and listed in that inventory itself. You know, the main reason inventories are done incidentally anyways, where is in cases the estate has debt and they had to auction it off, so you have a complete working inventory for an auction. And that's often times what they were used for.

Fisher: I'm just curious if we see much of that today. I mean, we don't look at many modern wills. Are you aware of inventories?

David: Financial breakdowns and property are typically listed. Not the amount of shoes or pitchforks you have. But I suppose if you want to pay the lawyers whatever funds they need they probably could go through your garage and inventory all the nuts and bolts and screws. And that's basically what it was like back then.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, they didn't have much of anything else, so yeah they would have to do that. Everybody needed an extra axe or another pair of shoes, size 10 or whatever it was. So yeah, they would do those lists. But boy, I love probate records. They tell you so much about an individual and can really lead in some interesting directions. So, really good question, Randall. Thank you so much for it. And coming up next, we're going to talk about conflicting dates. Boy, it happens all the time! When we return in three minutes with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 428

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, final go round on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher here, David over there. And we have another listener question. It's from Pamela in Corvallis, Oregon. And Pam writes, "Guys, I have a record of a related child from 1855. His christening record says he was born on August 2nd and christened on August 5th. He died on August 11th. And Find A Grave says he was born on August 5th. How do I sort all this out?" It's a very common problem, isn't it Dave?

David: Oh, it really is. I mean, looking at gravestone dates sometimes, it's hard to read them or the handwriting on old town records, is it a 3 or is it a 5 or is it an 8?

Fisher: Yeah. Right?

David: It's tough.

Fisher: And sometimes I think that some of the records were indexed and they were misinterpreted in the writing, including stuff that's put on gravestones. For instance, I have an ancestor. The cemetery says he died September 8th and was buried on September 10th. Find A Grave says, based on the records of the cemetery, he died on September 10th. I recently found a record of him that said that he died on September 10th, but has nothing to do with the cemetery. And then there's a tombstone, a big monument that one of his sons put up 70 years after he died and it gives his death date as September 29th!

David: Really?

Fisher: Yeah, yeah. So, try to sort all that stuff out. So now I'm trying to actually work with the cemetery, because all of their records are online, but they were transcripts of the originals. And so I said, "Can you dig out the original records and see what that says?" because think of the number 29 for instance right? A number 1 if written fully and completely could look like a 2, and a 0 could look like a 9. That could have been the 10th.

David: Or a 7 and a 9.

Fisher: Yeah, yeah!  You see 7s and 9s, 4s and 9s, they all look like different dates. So this is a really common problem. And yes, it really is frustrating, Pam when you run into something like this.

David: Well you know, one of the things that I find is double dating from you know 17th or 18th century. When you look at a gravestone date and you're like, "Well, wait a second, what is 1745/6?"

Fisher: Yeah.

David: The modern dating process would put it into 1746.

Fisher: Yep.

David: But when vital records are taken and transcribed, some people have modernized the generator March dates and you get the 1746. Now the bigger question, is it 1745/46 or 1746/47? That's why you always want to consult the originals.

Fisher: Right.

David: Now the gravestone would probably have the double dating on it, but the original record may throw you. Well, the gravestone's wrong, the year's not right. And then reality is, the gravestone is right, the transcription of the vital record is incorrect.

Fisher: Yeah. You know, one of the things I had to learn when I was first starting in this was how it was that somebody could die before they were born. [Laughs]

David: I hate when that happens.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] Yeah and this was the result of this very dating dilemma that you were taking about, but this was at a time when there were two calendars in use around the world. And so, until we merged them all into the Julian calendar in what, 1752, this was absolutely a problem. And it still remains so today, because like you say, David, the people who transcribed the old records often didn't recognize what they were dealing with.

David: Right. And that's one of the problems that we have with modern historians and genealogists, having trouble reading handwriting.

Fisher: Yeah. All right, good stuff, David. Thank you so much. And Pam, thank you for the question as well. We'll have more questions for Ask Us Anything next week. Hey, that's our show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. Thanks to Paul Woodbury for coming on and talking about tips for tracking down those DNA matches that may not have a tree up there, and Bill Griffeth for talking about his follow-up book to The Stranger in My Genes, it's called, Strangers no More. If you missed any of the show or want to catch it again, of course listen to the podcast on AppleMedia, iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio or Spotify. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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