Episode 435 - Photo Detective Maureen Taylor on Digital Image Life Spans, Ghost Pictures and Post Mortem Photos of the 1800s

podcast episode Oct 17, 2022

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with guest host David Allen Lambert of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin Family Histoire News with info on a new BETA feature over at Ancestry DNA that allows you to separate your matches by paternal and maternal sides. And you don’t have to test your parents to determine which are which! Then David has good news for Irish adoptees. Next, the man who cracked the genome of Neanderthals for medical research has received the Nobel Prize for medicine. Find out more about it. In Canada, police in Edmonton have controversially released a suspect photo, created by that suspect’s own DNA! They are catching a lot of flack for it. In Spooky Season news, Dan Aykroyd has shared that it was his own grandfather’s interest in the paranormal that led to Ghostbusters! The guys have more details.

Then, in two segments, Fisher visits with Photo Detective Maureen Taylor talking about the potential life span of digitized photos, and how to ensure the longevity of your photo files. Then, Maureen shares the history of 19th century post-mortem photos as well as the fake ghost pictures that rocked the world in those times.

David then returns for a couple more questions on Ask Us Anything.

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


Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 435

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. Boy, we’ve got a lot to talk about today. We’ve got Maureen Taylor, the photo detective on the show, to talk about a couple of things that have come up over the last few weeks. I ran into this photograph that had been digitized 16 years ago and was posted on a website, and it split. Yeah, half the head was like half an inch lower than the other half of the head. Anyway, we’ll talk about that coming up in just a little bit. She’ll talk about how long these digitized photos might survive. Also, we’re going to do a segment talking about post-mortem photographs of the 19th and early 20th centuries, where they came from, some of the history of that, as well as ghost pictures you might find from that era. And she’s got a great history on that to share as well. So, good stuff coming up with Maureen in just about ten minutes. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, we invite you to by going to our Facebook page or ExtremeGenes.com. You can sign up for free. Of course, you get a blog from me each week, links to past and present shows, and links to stories you’ll appreciate as a family historian. Right now, it’s time to head off to Boston where David Allen Lambert is standing by. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And Dave, we have a lot to cover today in Family Histoire News.

David: Oh, we do. And like Ancestry DNA, and knowing what comes from mom and what comes from dad is now very easy to figure out.

Fisher: Yeah, it really is. It’s on your DNA match pages now. It’s a Beta thing. And you’re going to find possibly a few issues with it at this stage as they roll this out. But basically, it’s this, in the past, just a few months ago you were finally able to see which side of your genome came from one parent and which came from the other. Well, now they have extended that where you can actually see which matches come from which side without ever having to ever test your mother or your father. So, this is kind of a big deal because you can split out the father’s side for instance, and then look for all the matches within the father’s side, or within the mother’s side, it’s really interesting stuff. And if you haven’t looked on your Ancestry DNA account recently, you might want to take a look today because this is really kind of fun.

David: And you what I think is really amazing is, both my parents died in 1998 and 1999, couldn’t test their DNA. It wasn’t a possibility really yet.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: And now I can clearly see the cousins, that I’m not sure on paper how they match, but now Ancestry has allowed me to see them which I think is pretty remarkable.

Fisher: Yeah, good stuff.

David: Starting in Family Histoire News, I’m going to start across the pond in Ireland, until recently, if you were adopted you couldn’t have access to your original birth record, which I think for a lot places across the United States this has become a recent reality for people. And now, through a new story I read on the BBC, people born in the Republic of Ireland are now being able to look at their original birth certificates. They were closed to them after adoption almost permanently.

Fisher: And this has been an issue for adoptees from Ireland for a long time, especially those who were then shipped over to the United States, and are still trying to figure out where they came from. So, great news for those Irish adoptees!  

David: Well, you know looking way, way back is something we always do in genealogy, but I think the one that takes the prize, in this case the Nobel Prize in medicine, Svante Pääbo who won the Nobel Prize in medicine for pioneering the use of ancient DNA to unlock so you can understand evolution. And back in 2010, he took bones from a Neanderthal that he sequenced out and was able to determine the genome and now they’re using it for medical research today. So, it’s not just knowing that we have distant cousins that Neanderthals, we can actually benefit by it.

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, and we see also when we go to our DNA page on 23andMe, that we have a certain amount of Neanderthal DNA, and it tells you what percentage above or below other matches on the site. And that’s really kind of interesting stuff. We all have that DNA. It’s somewhat controversial to talk about it for various reasons.

David: It is. I love that I have, I’m not going to say which of my three living siblings, but I did a comparison and they had more Neanderthal than I did.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: And I said, well, that’s because you can climb the heck out of trees when you were a child and I couldn’t. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, you know Dave, we’ve got more police stories coming out and of course we’ve been talking police stories since 2018 in the Golden State Killer case when it comes to genetic genealogy and using DNA to fight crime. And recently, the Edmonton police up in Canada released an image of a suspect created from a DNA profile of a suspect by Parabon NanoLabs. So, they created this picture, the Edmonton police released it to show what this suspect may look like. They did have a description of him given from witnesses. So, there’s a lot of discussion about that. The police chief has since apologized, a lot of discussion about privacy. A lot of racial issues involved in it. You can check it out. This is the first case that I’m aware of where they actually created an image of what they think the suspect may look like, from DNA.

David: Can I just have an image of my great, great, great grandfather?

Fisher: That would be fun to do. Maybe that could come someday, right?

David: Well, that’s what CeCe Moore eluded to when we were at RootsTech one year. I’m waiting for that technology. I better be alive when it’s around. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah. All right, and it’s time for our spooky season story for this week Dave. And this has to do with the origins of the film Ghost Busters. You know it was put together by Dan Aykroyd.

David: I love that film.

Fisher: Oh, yeah. And Dan Aykroyd says that his grandfather worked for Bell Telephone, as an engineer. And he was actually talking to colleagues about maybe putting together a high vibration crystal radio as a way to contact the dead. Well, his son who was Dan Aykroyd’s father saw these séances that they put on when he was a child and kept records on this whole thing, and that’s how Ghost Busters wound up being created. How’s that?

David: Oh, you’re kidding me! That’s wonderful.

Fisher: Yeah, isn’t that great?

David: I love that story. I can’t wait to tell my kids. That’s great.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, that’s all I have from Beantown this week. And if you’re heading east and you want to stop by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, you can become a member and save $20 by using the coupon code EXTREME, before you get here.

Fisher: All right David. Great stuff! We’ll talk to you later when we get to Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, Maureen Taylor the photo detective, talking about the shelf life of digital photos and post-mortem photos of the 19th century, and those crazy ghost pictures from 150 years ago. You’ll hear the whole history, everything, coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 435

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Maureen Taylor

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and this past couple of weeks I’ve had some interesting experiences with photographs that had been digitized some time back that are online that don’t look the way they should. And that’s why I’ve blogged about this, had some response from many of you about concerns about digitized photos and how long they last. So, I thought why not go to the expert in the field, the photo detective Maureen Taylor, who’s on the line from Rhode Island today. How’re you doing Maureen?

Maureen: I’m glad Scott. Nice to hear your voice!

Fisher: Thank you. You too! You know, this is a strange thing. There was a photograph posted online, it was dated 2006 as to the time that they had scanned this. It was a 1914-ish photograph of my wife’s grandmother with her elementary school class back in Indiana. It was on a public library site. They have a great local history section there. And as I looked at the photograph, yeah, there was my wife’s grandmother as a teenager, but she was split in half and half of her face was just a little bit lower than the other half of her face. And as I went through some of the other faces in this class, there is one guy who was actually split into thirds with different layers going back and forth. It’s like first of all, I don’t even know how that happens with a digitized image. And it was very nice of these people, I reached out to them, and they scanned again the original photo for me in a higher DPI so I have a really nice copy of the picture, and I’ve cleaned it up and colorized it as well. But I am concerned and so are some of the listeners too about how long some digitized pictures will last and what could happen with them over time.

Maureen: Oh, such a good topic. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Right?

Maureen: Such a good topic. Where do I start? So, I think the problem with those photos, and I can’t say because I haven’t seen them so I’m going to have to check out your blog post. But when websites get updated, the software might be different.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Maureen: And that might be the problem. Because if it were uploaded as a JPEG and in 2006 and even today we’re saying, if you’re going to upload an image to a website, it should be about 72 DPI.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: Which is really low resolution, right?

Fisher:  Yeah.

Maureen: So, I recommend people scan everything in as TIFF files. It’s a really high resolution image. It’s preservation quality.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: But you don’t necessarily share those online. Websites aren’t setup.

Fisher: They’re larger files.

Maureen: There’re large, right.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: So now there are new image formats. So, the standard for image formats are JPEG, which the more you touch it, the more digital quality you lose. TIFFs PNGs, I mean, there’s a lot of different digital images files, right?

Fisher: Sure.

Maureen: If you have a really brand new digital camera you can shoot RAW, which is really high resolution but a smaller file than a TIFF file, right?

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: But there are different RAW formats for each manufacturer.

Fisher: Hmm.

Maureen: So then you have to use the proprietary software to view the images.

Fisher: Oh boy.

Maureen: So that’s not so great.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: TIFFs you can view on pretty much anything. But there are two new image formats. There’s HEIF and HEIC. So, I have an iPhone and when I take pictures with it, it saves as one of these formats. So, image quality is good, its significantly smaller file than JPEGs.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: Better image quality and you can I believe share it online, because I share them online all the time.

Fisher: Sure.

Maureen: Now some websites reformat your image in order to share it on their website.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: But I’m having trouble understanding what happened with that image that became split.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: I’m pretty sure it must be like it was a website that they set up in 2006 or before, they uploaded images probably at 72 DPI, it’s 16 years later, they probably redesigned the website and oops, maybe somebody didn’t notice what happened to the pictures when they did that.

Fisher: Yeah. Now I don’t know, it was all the others. I did see some other pictures there but they didn’t have the same problem. Of course, a lot of people, all of us have been digitizing pictures for a long, long time. I guess the concern we all have is how long are they going to last? Now I know Family Search for instance, if you upload pictures to Family Search connected to the names of your ancestors and the page you have for them there, they are constantly upgrading their system and making sure everything transfers over so it’s like every few years. It’s pretty good.

Maureen: Well, I don’t know how long a TIFF format is going to last.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: Right now we have these two new formats. Are they going to do away with TIFFs? Are we going to be able to read them? And that’s the problem with digital media in general, is remember when we used to do VHS tapes?

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: Know anyone with a VHS player now? I had to buy one on eBay.

Fisher: Um hmm. Yeah. [Laughs]

Maureen: Let’s talk about CDs and DVDs. You have to buy a little gizmo that sits on the side of your computer now. They don’t come with a CD player or a DVD player.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: How many people have DVD players?

Fisher: Sure, of course.

Maureen: So, it’s right to be concerned because digital media has a history of built in obsolescence.

Fisher: Yes, of course.

Maureen: No one’s saying, I’ve been doing some research before we did this interview to say what’s the future of digital imaging, and no one is saying you’re not going to be able to read a TIFF, you’re not going to be able to read a JPEG.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: But it’s likely that, that might happen. So you have to just be aware of what’s happening and keep updating your image formats. If you save everything as a TIFF, you’re pretty good. It’s a good basic format.

Fisher: Yes. Well, and let’s not frighten people who have JPEGs too.

Maureen: No.

Fisher: I mean if you’re going to look at them a lot, it really takes at least a 100 views of a particular picture before you start to have any deterioration at all. They’re a really solid format. The thing I’m telling people is several things. First of all, make sure you make copies to put on the Cloud because your biggest risk isn’t necessarily the deterioration of the image, but the total loss of the image, right?

Maureen: Yes. Yes the total loss because you haven’t backed it up.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: But I will say I can speak to this because I had this conversation with them, Permanent.org, right, it’s a non-profit.

Fisher: Yes, right.

Maureen: And they encourage people to upload their images, create a digital archive, they have this whole thing called Digital Legacy. I know that they have a company policy where they say that your photographs are safe and that they will keep up with any new image formats and just keep updating what you’ve got stored.

Fisher: Yes. That’s encouraging and that’s part of preservation, that’s part of updating the formats to make sure that this is going to last forever, and then again like I say, we get back to the bottom line is we don’t want to lose the images, period. I also like to make actual copies, physical copies because there’s something in my mind Maureen that has always said what if somebody somewhere someday figured out how to take down the internet? And everything you’ve got is gone everywhere all over the world. I mean, that’s the ultimate fear isn’t it?

Maureen: That’s a pretty dark future Scott.

Fisher: [Laughs] Did that ever cross your mind?

Maureen: Of course it does. But here’s the thing, yes, I advise people to print significant images.

Fisher: Yes.

Maureen: Why? Because it’s another backup.

Fisher: Yep.

Maureen: Two, think about scanners and how that technology has evolved. I was actually just trying to think like when did I have my first scanner? My mother in law actually gave it to me for a Christmas present once and I was like over the moon.

Fisher: Sure.

Maureen: I was like oh my goodness I would love to have this scanner.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: I think it was like 2000 or maybe even before that she gave me this nice beautiful Epson scanner. And the resolution of that scanner was not what the scanners are today.

Fisher: Right. I’ve got an HP here myself and I typically will scan around 1200 DPI. I feel real good with that.

Maureen: Yeah, I scan at 1200, right. You can always go smaller, you can’t go larger.

Fisher: Exactly. So, it’s really important stuff to do but it sounds like we really don’t have any real answer to this and what happened to that one photo, and is that something we need to be concerned about in terms of our own archive of digitized photographs.

Maureen: I don’t think so. I really believe that had something to do with their website.

Fisher: Okay. Let’s hope that that was the case. [Laughs]

Maureen: Let’s just talk about the history of digital media so we can see where we’ve gone.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: I’m not sure people actually understand how long digital imaging has been around. So, its electronic images and its sensors, okay?

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: So that any electronic image sensors can be digitized. And this was achieved and this is according to Wikipedia as far back as 1951.

Fisher: Really, who knew?

Maureen: 1951. And then there was another improvement in April 1970.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: I will tell you that I once had a digital camera. It took horrible photographs.

Fisher: Oh, they were awful, yes.

Maureen: It had a little, you know those little hard, it’s not a floppy drive, what happened after the floppy drive.

Fisher: Yeah, that little disk thing, yes.

Maureen: Yeah that little disk. It had a disk. You would stick the disk in there and take pictures and it was on the disk. And then you’d put the disk in your computer.

Fisher: Sure.

Maureen: Oh the picture quality was oh it was dreadful. I actually used it for about a day and I took it back.

Fisher: Have you noticed kind of a gap in your pictures from about 2000 till about 2008/2010 somewhere where we were in that transition period to digitized photographs and we weren’t using film so much anymore but the pictures were so crummy [Laughs] and we didn’t store them the way we do today. So there seemed to me, at least in my collection, a vast gap of pictures in the early part of this century.

Maureen: So, the first consumer digital cameras actually were marketed in the late 1990s.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: So that coincides with what you’re saying.

Fisher: Yeah, exactly. And what you’re saying too about how crummy the pictures were in those days. But we all thought this was great because we didn’t need film anymore.

Maureen: Oh, break free the pictures of the digital era, right?

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: No more buying film, no more developing film, all of that. We saved all that money, but what happened to all of those pictures?

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: Did people save them?

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: Did they back them up?

Fisher: I think a lot of them are saved and maybe backed up, but a lot of them were probably lost and even more are just so miserable [Laughs] on how they look that I think we lost a few years there in that transition.

Maureen: Well, we continue to take film over here because I wasn’t happy with the digital stuff. But if one of your listeners has one of those early pictures, I’d love to see it.

Fisher: Really? Okay.

Maureen: One of those early digital pictures. Maybe you have one Scott.

Fisher: I might. I might. I’d have to take a look. Where do you want them sent?

Maureen: [email protected].

Fisher: Okay. There you go. And she is the photo detective. And we’re in the spooky season right now Maureen and there are a lot of spooky photographs we should be talking about that go back well over a century. Shall we get into that next?

Maureen:  Sure.

Fisher: All right as we continue in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 435

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Maureen Taylor

Fisher: All right, we’re back on Extreme Genes talking with Maureen Taylor, she is the photo detective. And it is spooky season Maureen. And we know that there are a lot of spooky photographs that go way back. There were actually things done in the 19th century that we do not see anymore, thankfully, particularly, those post-mortem photographs. Do you know what the history of these things are?

Maureen: I do. And Scott, I have to correct you, they are still being taken today.

Fisher: Oh, no! Really?

Maureen: Oh, yes. Yes.

Fisher: I’ve never seen a modern one.

Maureen: Oh, there are.

Fisher: Is that in other parts of the world or here?

Maureen: Here.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: Digital photography makes it easier because you don’t have to send it to the photo studio.

Fisher: Um hmm. Yeah.

Maureen: But, I did a while ago talk with someone from the Association of Gravestones Studies and they were talking about how, yes, post-mortem photography was still happening. And you can tell that by the number of flash cubes that were in the trash.

Fisher: Oh! [Laughs]

Maureen: Right. I didn’t talk to them in the flash cube era, but they were talking about how it was still happening and still happening today.

Fisher: Are you talking about at viewings?

Maureen: Yeah.

Fisher: Okay. I stand corrected.

Maureen: Yeah, post-mortem photography goes all the way back to the daguerrean era, and before that there were paintings.

Fisher: Okay! I always understood that the post-mortem photographs were because people didn’t have a living photo of somebody or baby and they wanted to remember what they looked like. So, when photography came along they started to take those pictures. But, you would think that if you’re going to do a painting of somebody, you would want to do it in life. Why were they painting them in death?

Maureen: Blah!

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: For the same reason. It’s an artistic representation of this person’s life.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: There was actually a whole show in New York, I saw a few years ago. The Folk Art Museum in New York City, I don’t know the exact title off the top of my head, but it was a fascinating exhibit because there were lots of daguerreotypes and photographs, but there were also paintings. In the memorial paintings, there was this whole language of symbolism in paintings that would represent whether certain subjects in the painting were dead or not, like you’ve got a whole family. The one I remember was a whole family in a house and there were symbolism to signify which children were deceased and which ones weren’t.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: It was fascinating.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: And then into the photography era this just continues. I don’t collect them. I find them deeply disturbing. Death is not attractive in any way.

Fisher: Right.

Maureen: But, I can understand that desire to have a picture of someone in your family or pose with them if you don’t have any other photograph of them.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: I had a client come to me with a daguerreotype, and we dated it. It was taken in France, absolutely beautiful daguerreotype. And the person standing next to the coffin was not actually a relative of the person in the coffin.

Fisher: Why?

Maureen: It was like someone that they worked with or admired, you know, a mentor with the dead.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: So, it was pretty amazing.

Fisher: We also have those pictures out there of photographers propping up people to look like they’re alive just after they had passed. These are online all the time. Crazy!

Maureen: Oh, yeah! They’re online. They’re on YouTube. Post-Mortem photographs are among the most misunderstood and misidentified images. I’m not sure Scott, what the attraction is with thinking that you have a picture of a deceased relative when the people in the photograph are actually alive. I will say, just this past weekend I went to a photo show. There’s haven’t been any photo shows for a long time, so I was so excited to go, and I saw a post-mortem. It was 1880s, a woman sitting in her living room and she was holding a deceased infant that looks like it was either premature or there was some sort of birth defect, something was definitely wrong with the infant. But, the woman was sitting in her living room holding this deceased infant in a full like christening outfit.

Fisher: Interesting.

Maureen: It was sad and disturbing.

Fisher: Of course.

Maureen: But there are other images that we could talk about from the 19th century and actually they continued into the 20th century, the spirit photograph.

Fisher: Yes! [Laughs]

Maureen: So, the spirit photographs are actually a double exposure.

Fisher: Yes.

Maureen: They’re not actually a spirit in them. But, a guy by the name of William H. Mumler really made money on this. So, he took an image by mistake in 1861. Basically, he took a self portrait in a friend’s studio using a plate that he did not know was already exposed.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: So, then it was, oh, this is a joke, look at this how funny. But then a spiritualist got a hold of it and then he became incredibly popular.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: Because everyone wanted a spirit photograph of themselves with supposedly their ancestor standing behind them, hands on shoulders, things like that.

Fisher: Wow!

Maureen: So, things didn’t go well, but Mary Todd Lincoln even had her picture taken by Mumler.

Fisher: Really, as a ghost?

Maureen: No. She was sitting but Lincoln was a ghost.

Fisher: I have never seen that picture.

Maureen: He was a ghost or one of her children was a ghost, one or the other. And probably the Lincoln collection at the Allen County Public Library has one of those. The whole thing fell apart, I’m going to quote you something from the Getty.edu, website.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: What they report is that in February 1863, a doctor sat for a portrait and when he was given his spirit photograph, he said, wait a minute, that man that’s a spirit, I actually know him and he’s very much alive. So, suddenly Mumler was cast out. He was called a fake. His whole idea of being a Medium was shot.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: He was sued and acquitted, but that’s the end of it. And then you think maybe that came to an end because everyone knew that it was a double exposure. No, no, no!

Fisher: Yeah. Well, you’ve got to think about that because photographs back then I mean that was a new technology. The idea of double exposure was like the highest end tech that was available in photography at the time. The general public isn’t going to understand that stuff. He could have gotten away with that for a long time.

Maureen: Exactly! Well, there were other techniques in the 19th century that you could make a collage. Mathew Brady’s studio did that.

Fisher: Yep.

Maureen: Where you put a head up on a different body, they did that.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: General showed up late, he just added him in later. So, these photographs continue to be popular into the 20th century.

Fisher: Really?

Maureen: Way into the 20th century.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: Yeah. Well, Mumler’s reputation was destroyed but that didn’t stop other people. I actually have a short, it’s like a one hour webinar on my website called “Dead or Alive: Mourning, Memorials and Spirit Photos and the undead.” If anyone is interested.

Fisher: [Laughs] I’d love to see that. That sounds fun.

Maureen: It is.

Fisher: You’re saying that a lot of people who were photographed as being deceased though, were still living?

Maureen: Well, I’m not saying that exactly. What I’m saying is that there are a lot of photos that appear online, and someone will say, oh, that person is dead.

Fisher: Oh, I see. Okay.

Maureen: Yeah, but I think you have to prove it. Does all of the information in the photograph actually add up to be the time that it was taken after this person was deceased? In my family, viewings are popular.

Fisher: Sure.

Maureen: I’ve been to many of them. Death is hard to look at.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely.

Maureen: It’s not attractive. The average photographer could not make someone look alive if they were dead. And I know this is going to be controversial. I will be slammed for this. I have been slammed in the past for this statement. But, in the photo community everybody just kind of rolls their eyes again and again when somebody posts an image online and says, this person is definitely dead. And they’re standing with their whole family and their eyes are open, you know? They’re alive. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: Oh, this is not going to go well, Scott.

Fisher: Well, I have seen pictures with corpses being propped up by photographers in the late 19th century theoretically, but maybe that was staged as well for whatever reason.

Maureen: Yeah, and they probably look like corpses.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. [Laughs] I couldn’t imagine doing it. That was just a whole different era, and yet, I guess we have our own versions of it today Maureen. So, fascinating stuff!

Maureen: I like to say, there’s nothing new in photography that wasn’t done in the 19th century, pretty much. You know what I mean?

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. Hey Maureen, always a pleasure to talk to you! Thanks so much, it’s been great to catch up. Have a great fall, and we will catch up with you again soon.

Maureen: Always interesting to talk to you Scott. Thank you so much!

Fisher: All right, and David Allen Lambert is coming up next as we get into another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show, in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 435

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back on the job here for 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 David, our first question today comes from Kansas City. Lawrence writes, "Hi guys. My wife and I are getting up there and I'm always hearing you guys talk about eBay. Well, we have lots of family stuff I'm concerned might end up there if we don't do something now. What do you think we should do? Lawrence."

David: Well, yeah, I think that's a thought that haunts all of us, especially genealogists with our papers and things like that. But family ephemera and heirlooms, it’s a total other ball of wax. Well, the first thing I would do is, identify things that are already known to your family members and maybe you reiterate who was going to get what or tell the family connection to that.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: I mean, it could be as simple as talking a picture of it and creating a scrapbook from the pictures or even a webpage if you really wanted to or just putting a piece of paper in that item that says, "This was great grandma's teacup from when she got married in 1917 and its been in the family. This is the one I never let you touch, because I was afraid you were going to break it. So, don't eBay it after I'm gone." I mean, probate's another thing. I mean, you could probably leave certain things in your probate. I mean, if you have, say, a grand piano or a doll collection or a signed baseball collection, you might entrust that to a certain family member and maybe put the conditions that, if you're going to sell it, half of it has to go to your favorite charity or something like that. Or maybe it shouldn't be sold at all and divvyed it up amongst the other family members.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: How about you, Fish? What are your thoughts?

Fisher: I like those ideas and I think we all have those same concerns. I have made that book that you were talking about taking pictures of them, just throw them in using a Word file and writing a little paragraph what the significance is. You know, I had this situation myself when my mom died. I wound up with this really old and really crummy beat up coffee pot, and I had no idea what it was until I ran across some notes that I'd saved from my mom and she had a list of things that were heirlooms and it mentioned this coffee pot and it said it was a wedding gift to my great grandparents in Sweden in 1883. I had no idea! I would have easily thrown it out if I hadn't known the significance of it, because, Dave, it’s ugly, oooh! So, you know, for it to survive another generation or so, you've got to make sure they know. I like the idea however of combining the book along with the notes, either inside the item or attached to it somehow, maybe underneath. That way, you're doubling your chances and maybe even spending a little family meeting at some point, brining these things out, helping them know what they are and maybe farming some of the stuff out before you go.

David: Yeah, I think that's really important. I mean, it may be something at the next family gathering. I think that you have a Swedish death cleaner. Thank goodness she didn't Swedish death clean that coffee pot.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: If you have something that you know that you want given to a child or a grandchild that's old enough to entrust it, then give it to them now.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: This is a great way of getting the artifact that you have long worried about into the proper hands while you're living.

Fisher: Right. And hopefully it’s the right people, and you know, that's part of the game, too is trying to figure out who wants what. I mean, there might be somebody who wants everything and there might be others who say, oh, I'm really interested in this or somebody else who said, I'm really interested in that. The other thing is, you might want to consider just getting rid of all the junk in your house before you even deal with this stuff, so that this stuff doesn’t get mixed in with that in people's minds as to what it is. So, there are really so many ways you can approach this. But the bottom line is communication, making sure people understand the significance of the items and maybe trying to farm it out before you're gone. That's the best you can do, because let's face it, once we're gone, David, there's no turning back.

David: That's true. And my idea of building King Tut's tomb to put all my stuff in it, uhh, wife isn't agreeing to that.

Fisher: No, it’s not.

David: Oh well!

Fisher: All right, great question, Lawrence. Thank you so much. We've got another question coming up next on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 435

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, we're back at it for another question here on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. And Dave, our next question comes from Jonathan and he says, "Fisher and Dave, I have a Norwegian ancestor who came to the US around 1878. I have family records and even his obituary that tells me where he came from in Norway, but I am unable to find his birth or christening records. Any thoughts? Jonathan." I think in my bailiwick here Dave, because I do have some Norwegians who also came over in the 1870s and I ran into the same situation in fact where I couldn’t' find the birth record or the christening, but when you consider the patronymic name, aha! Things are a little different.

David: True.

Fisher: Yeah, so my great grandfather was Amol Oscar Olsen and he wound up coming to Utah in 1874 and his father came over as well. So, we had all kinds of information about where they were from, but I hadn't really considered early on that he wasn't an Olsen when he was born, because over in Norway, they will give the patronymic name. That kind of changed in the middle of the 19th century. So, people would take on the same last name as their dad. In this case, originally since his dad was Hans Olsen. He was named Amol Oscar Hansen! And so, when I looked for that. there I was able to find the christening from 1849 in Oslo. Now, here's the other thing that you could do, too if you're searching for a christening like on Family Search in the records there or you do it through Ancestry, just search simply with the parents’ names in place and maybe a range of years that this person was born and you can see all the children who came up with those parents, even if they had a different last name, which inevitably they did with the patronymic system.

David: That is a very astute way of doing it, sir and I think that you've obviously done this a couple of times with your Scandinavian.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: My wife has some of her Swedish ancestors I’ve played the patronymic game, but the biggest problem is when they came to America. The way it’s written down here is different than the way it is written down over in the old country. For instance, her ancestor who came to Massachusetts, the American record said he came from Boris, Sweden, B O R I S. It’s Boras, B O R A S, which made it a little difficult to figure out, why am I not fining Boris? And I was going to ask Natasha, but she didn't know anything.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Old joke for someone who would know that reference.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: But no, seriously, this is great. Good tip.

Fisher: And what you're saying, Dave is absolutely true. I think it helps now that we have the internet, we can go through and find what the spelling was really intended to convey in some of these records, right? I mean, they have lists of all the towns and all the provinces and all the different countries. So, if you run across a name that you're not recognizing, go to some of these websites and look for the towns and villages in these various regions. And I bet you if you go through alphabetically at least starting with the first letter, you're going to have a much better opportunity to discover the truth as to where these people were actually from. Then, if you consider the patronymic name or maybe just using the parents' names, you're going to be in good shape. And remember too often that the wife used the patronymic name as well, but may not have used that when she came over. So it’s not just on the husband's side. It’s also on the wife's side, so it can get a little bit tricky.

David: Very true.

Fisher: All right, Jonathan, thank you so much for the question. Dave thanks for your help today, and we will chat at you next week!

David: All right, until then, my friend. Take care.

Fisher: All right and that's our show for this week. And thanks so much to Maureen Taylor for coming on and talking about digitized photographs, how long might they last and also those ghostly pictures from the 19th century and those postmortem images as well. If you missed any of the show, catch the podcast on AppleMedia, iHeart Radio, TuneIn Radio, ExtremeGenes.com and Spotify. And don't forget to checkout your Ancestry DNA matches and that new beta feature they testing out, separating the paternal matches from your maternal matches without having to test your parents. It’s a great new thing. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice normal family!


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