Episode 445 - Pair of DeWitt Descendants LITERALLY Dig Up their Ancestor

podcast episode Jan 01, 2024

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin by taking a deep breath over the crazy two part guest interview has in line for the show. A pair of eighth cousins… also eighth cousins to Fisher… who have exhumed the remains of their name line immigrant ancestor, Tjerck Claessen DeWitt, who died in 1700 in Kingston, New York, and his wife and two children. David then shares stories about the DNA Reunion Project, which seeks to reunite aging Holocaust survivors who were separated following World War II; The birthday celebration of “Papa Jake,” a World War II “dam buster,” who has been a hero to the British and a Tik Tok star!; The story of further conflict at the site of the former Pilgrim colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts where descendants of 17th century natives are angry. David will explain; And if you’re a Scottish researcher, David has some good news for you!

Then, in two parts, Fisher visits with Gage and Justin DeWitt… distant cousins to each other, and to Fisher… who have literally dug up the immigrant ancestor, Tjerck Claessen DeWitt of Kingston, New York. Hear all about the project which took place this past summer, and what they are hoping to accomplish. It’s a genie-journey on steroids!

David then returns for another round of Ask Us Anything.

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

Transcript for Episode 445 Classic Rewind

Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 445

Fisher: And hello, America, and welcome 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 been hearing a lot of talk back about what I was setting up last week, teeing up this show because we've got Gage and Justin DeWitt on the show. And if you didn't catch what was going on. Well, last week we talked about it. These guys not only dug up information about their ancestors who happen to be my ancestors, but they've also dug up the ancestors. Yes. You're going to want to hear the whole story behind this, how it came to pass, what they did, how they got their permissions, what they've discovered as a result of it. It's all in two parts coming up here in about ten minutes or so. And David, Allen Lambert is in with us from Boston right now, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And, David, this is going to be an interesting interview today.

David:  I really dig my ancestors, but you take it to a new level, my friend.

Fisher: Not me. No, no, no. Gage and Justin, you know, I would have been just as happy getting to the point where I knew the specific spot in a burial ground that my people were buried, where it's unmarked, right.

David: Right.

Fisher: But these guys just said, okay, we found it. Now we want to prove that we got the right guys. We're going to dig them up. And they got the permission and they got people to agree to help them out. And we're going to hear this whole story. It is absolutely insane, coming up here in just a little bit. By the way, if you haven't signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter yet, why don't you do that for 2023? Treat yourself. It's absolutely free. And you get a blog for me each week and links to past and present shows and links to stories you'll appreciate as a family historian. Well, David, where do we go with our Family Histoire this week?

David: Well, one of them is a guest that we've had on our friend Melanie McComb, and she really has kind of gone viral on something back on New Year's Eve. She put out a proposal to genealogists and historians alike to basically do a genealogical act of kindness each day. And that can be as simple as answering a query on Twitter or Facebook, Mastodon, or updating a tree that's on Wiki Tree. Or maybe you help out with Family Search or even do a look-up at your local library or genealogical repository. And she's had over 10,000 interactions with this post already.

Fisher: Wow!

David: So just think of genealogical karma. We can just do hashtag #Melanie2023, somebody suggested if you're going to do something like that.

Fisher: That's really cool. And you know, the thing is genealogists are the kindest people in the world to begin with. They're always happy to help. And so this doesn't surprise me in the least. And what a great proposal for Melanie. So I'm glad it's working out so well.

David: I get some great stories for Extreme Genes from Melanie all the time, and one of them actually is the Center for Jewish History, a DNA reunion project that's going on. And it's basically working with Jennifer Mendelsohn and Dina Neumann, who are experts in the field of Ashkenazi Jewish genetic genealogy. And the project is to help reconnect people that were lost during the Holocaust. So you do a DNA test, you might find you have a cousin over in Israel or over in Europe, or maybe vice versa, somebody in America that didn't know their link to a family that survived the Holocaust or find out you have relatives that actually did survive the Holocaust after thinking you did not.

Fisher: Wow!

David: A tremendous project.

Fisher:  Yes.

David: It just goes to show you how much DNA doesn't reunite us just with our ancestors. Sometimes it's with our close cousins.

Fisher: Exactly.

David: Well, you know, World War II is something obviously related to the Holocaust. And one of the people that was fighting the Germans in World War II is the last surviving dam buster, Johnny Johnson, at the age of 101. He was with a British air squadron that destroyed German dams in World War II. And he was a bit of a celebrity being one of the last. And they would bounce these bombs and destroy German dams. They were basically part of the war effort. So he died peacefully in his sleep last month. You know, we're losing World War II veterans all the time. But hey, listen, there's 100 year old one named Papa Jake. Jake Larson has had his 100th birthday. Besides being a celebrity, he's a TikTok star. Yeah, he has followers on TikTok. Well, they even have a Tik Tok page.

Fisher: No, there aren't a lot of 100 year old Tik Tok stars out there yet alone World War II vets. But this guy fits the bill, and I think everybody loves him for the fact that he's just real, you know?

David:  Exactly. You can see someone do a dance move or you can hear someone tell a story about World War II. I think I'd be more interested in the World War II story personally, I think I’ve had enough of my own dance moves.

Fisher: Right.

David: Well, you know, in 400 plus years now, the indigenous population and the colonial residents of Massachusetts have always been at odds for one time to another. And it continues. Unfortunately, there's an indigenous led boycott at the Plymouth Patuxet Museum, formerly known as Plymouth Plantation. There's some animosity basically between the Wampanoag population and how the museum is being interpreted. There's actually been some theft and damage done at the Native American portion of Plymouth Patuxet, and they basically have just had enough. So it's continuing to work to be resolved. But there are some serious tensions and you would think after 402 years you wouldn't have this situation in place. But it just goes to show you how history still needs to be reinterpreted. You know, with genealogy, I always say you have to kind of learn history. And I stumbled across something for this show the other day. And this isn't your typical genealogical database. This is going beyond the Hey, I'm Scottish. Let's find out what color my kilt is.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: This is the Highland Archaeological research framework. And basically it works with archaeology and history. But if you want to know the sources and information, a deep dive, think of it as almost like a free course in Scottish history. From the time of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Neolithic ancestors you have from thousands of years ago. Right up to Post-medieval.

Fisher: Wow!

David: So this is pre records, folks. You know the type of things you have to do, not as a genealogist, but as an archaeologist and might give you a little interesting view into a community or part of Scotland your ancestors lived in. I wish they had something like this similar for England. So, if you just do a Google search on Highland archaeological research framework and the word scarf, S-C-A-R-F, you'll find it very easily.

Fisher:  All right, very nice David.

David: Well, that's what I have from Beantown for you this week, Fish. This year is a year to become an American Ancestors member. Save $20 on your membership with a coupon code EXTREME on AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: All right, Very good, my friend, talk to you at the back end of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, the distant cousins Gage and Justin DeWitt, who literally dug up their ancestors, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 445

Host: Scott Fisher with guests Justin and Gage DeWitt

Fisher: Well, welcome back genies! It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and you know, over the holidays unfortunately my wife got sick with COVID. We couldn’t do much for Christmas. We were supposed to go on a trip, and so I wound up researching for about a week on some ancestors in Upstate New York, and among them is Tjerck Claessen DeWitt who is my seventh great grandfather on one line, and my eighth great grandfather on another line. And I found out that there are a couple of guys named DeWitt who wound up in Kingston, New York. And if you think you’ve gone down the rabbit hole before on a project, you’ve got to listen to this story. First of all, welcome to Gage DeWitt from Louisiana, Justin DeWitt from Kentucky, and guys, it’s nice to meet you cousins.

Justin: Nice to meet you too Scott.

Gage: Nice to meet you.

Fisher: Now these guys have gone deep in the weeds in researching Tjerck Claessen DeWitt, and you would think that everything from 300 to 400 years ago would have been dug up on this guy by now. Well, much of it has, but he himself has not until these guys came along. Yes, they have actually identified the unmarked grave of Tjerck Claessen DeWitt, and they have excavated it with the help of so many other people, and they’re doing research now on the remains. It’s unbelievable. First of all, you guys are not even close relatives, are you, other than your personal friendship. Now you’re like fifth cousins.

Justin: Yeah. We’re eighth cousins once removed.

Fisher: Okay.

Justin: I’m just a DeWitt. I’m actually a direct descendant of Andries DeWitt who is the eldest son of Tjerck Claessen. And then Gage is a direct descendant of Lucas DeWitt who is the youngest son of Tjerck Claessen. And that’s where our line breaks apart.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Justin: We haven’t had a Christmas dinner together as a family in about 300 years. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah. And I come from Rachael DeWitt and the sister Taatje DeWitt, so the three of us cover four of the children. And they had a big family. How many kids did they have? Like 10, 12, something like that?

Justin: 12.

Fisher: Yeah. Something like that. So, you guys met online as I understand it, and began a conversation. Take us through that.

Gage: That’s right. Well, I think it was 2017- 2018 somewhere around that period of time. I’m Gage DeWitt by the way. I made a trip to Kingston and I did not know Justin and we were not really involved that heavily, and family history was just curiosity about genealogy and my roots and my family name. So I made a trip to Kingston because I was aware that the house that Tjerck built still stands, still in the family until recent history.

Fisher: Yep.

Gage: And to see the church, the Old Dutch Church that Tjerck and Barbara were involved in its infancy, and took photographs of their homes, just various DeWitt house, the documents. I went to the Hall of Records. It’s all a bunch of documents. They put it in Tjerck’s will. And I took photographs of all these stuff. And I was a member of this group called Dutch Genealogy on Facebook and I just uploaded all this stuff and Justin messaged me and said, “Hey, we have the same last name. I think we might be related.” And we quickly figured out how we were related and it just kind of grew from there. We decided we had a common interest in the family history, and through our research, our early research we determined that there was really nobody actively pursuing DeWitt family history as a formal organization. So, we learned that the DeWitt family Historical Society was actually a group in the 1800s that kind of disbanded and we just picked it back up. We picked that group up, we reestablished it, and we set out almost immediately to determine where Tjerck was buried because it’s always been a mystery.

Fisher: Okay. And so how do you start with something like that because it’s a 300 someodd year old cemetery and the graves are not marked. How did you go about identifying the exact spot?

Justin: So that’s an interesting situation there. The big thing that Gage and I had talked about we have a likeness on is going back to the source documents where possible.

Fisher: Yes.

Justin: As we all know, and all the people who are doing armature genealogy that’s listening, you really can’t trust the internet. Because if one person gets something wrong, a thousand people will take that and start adding it to their family trees and the next thing you know it becomes cannon when it wasn’t really accurate.

Fisher: Sure.

Justin: And we’ve come across that on a few pieces. So we had decided that mutually we needed to try to find source material, and it really started off with going to the Hall of Records in Kingston and we started digging through the Hall of Records there to try to find information. And it was during that time when we had established finding some original documents. And the big piece was actually Tjerck Claessen’s will that was written in 1698 two years before he passed. That right there gave us an in to find out who donated that. And we found that person. And as it turned out, that person had a plethora of other family documents including Andries and Jannetje DeWitt’s bible.

Fisher: Ooh.

Justin: There was a lot of Dutch records, burial records written in the empty pages of the bible. And then from there we set out to reach out to somebody who could help us properly translate it because we didn’t believe Google translate would do well for Old Dutch.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Justin: And it turned out that the founder of the New Netherlands Research Center, a Dr. Charles Gehring. He had been doing Old Dutch translations for almost 50 years. He is the quintessential person in America to translate Old Dutch documentation. We reached out to him. He was more than happy to take this old bible in and start doing the translations. And that’s what started it. The translations he provided us with gave us the validity of not only the death dates of all these individuals, but also where they were buried at, knowing they were buried at the church yard in Kingston, so they were physically there.

Fisher: Yeah.

Justin: And then from there we started piecing in the puzzles around other documents that we found and started trajectoring it around a cedar post. And we knew that cedar post existed based on documents. And then from there we went forward into actually unearthing different types of records, again, all sourced material, until we actually came across a late 1840s, early 1850s very, very old photograph that actually showed the post still in the ground, and some of the old headstones, which are now withered to almost nothing. They were visible there. They were still there. So we knew from that perspective, an area of let’s say 6 to 8 inches of where that cedar post was. And based on the documents, based on the source material all these individuals including Tjerck Claessen should have been buried there by that cedar post.

Fisher: Well, and back then of course the Dutch had a different way of burying family. So, let’s talk about that because that’s important.

Gage: Yeah, absolutely. Justin and I we were researching this to figure out exactly what we should expect, how would these burials be laid out, where should they be buried, did they keep families together or did they separate families based on which line you came down, or what. We really didn’t know going into it but through our research we determined that the Dutch custom of burials is quite different from the English. All the headstones you see from that time period, 16, 1700s, are almost always English headstones. There’s not a lot of Dutch headstones, particularly in Kingston. Now, I really can’t speak for too many other areas. But at least in Kingston you do not see a whole lot of Dutch headstones from that era. And the reason being is because the Dutch would typically mark an entire family plot with one marker. And unfortunately for a lot of families, that marker was usually wood. And obviously after 300 years the wood’s gone.

Fisher: Yeah. Um hmm.

Gage: So, we were very fortunate to have evidence of the cedar post. If we can determine the location of that wooden post, that’s where we would find everybody.

Fisher: And you did, using a photo. It was actually a daguerreotype as I understand from the late 1840s, early 1850s and those are so clear and even though the DeWitt stone that was there for I guess it was your ancestor Justin, Andries?

Justin: Yeah. It was amazing because the headstone is still in existence. It’s no longer in the cemetery. It’s in the museum of the church because that was the oldest headstone that was in the church yard so they wanted to preserve it. But it would have been withered to a certain extent. But this old daguerreotype, because of the clarity of the photograph, we were able to extract not only ’s death record on the headstone but also his wife Jannetje, So that was important because that validated that two burials were there being marked by a single stone.

Fisher: Sure.

Justin: And if we go back to what Gage was talking about, the fact of how the old Dutch buried people, the practice, the original customary practices that came over from Greenland was the fact that you would put a single post or a single marker and you would bury the family around that. So, that was a very telltale clue to say we know that there’s more than one person buried here. And if we go back to historical knowledge of the Dutch customs in the 16th and 17th centuries, they would have buried the families all around a central marker. And knowing this marker existed based on this daguerreotype photograph, you couldn’t get any closer to X marks the spot that what we had.

Fisher: Yeah. Then my question to you guys is then, for most of us I think that would have been enough to say this is the spot. Maybe we could put a marker right here and say this is where the ancestors were. But you took it a step further and how did this evolve the way it did?

Justin: Well, to be honest it just wasn’t good enough for us to just put a marker there.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Justin: And the reason why it wasn’t good enough for us is because they built the current church building in 1851. The original church that Tjerck and Barbara and all the other family members would have went to was actually in the corner of what’s now the church yard. They built a bigger church in 1851, and they built it in the middle of the cemetery. So they covered up hundreds of graves and they moved a lot of stones and the old church lore, if you ask anybody locally, would be that none of the headstones are in the original location.

Fisher: Okay.

Justin: They’ve all been moved at some point and we knew that probably wasn’t the case in the DeWitt plot but we couldn’t really prove it unless we dug.

Fisher: Sure.

Justin: So what we didn’t want to do was put a marker there if they’re not there.

Fisher: Yeah.

Justin: I mean yeah, they would deserve a marker, but we wanted to 100% validate that that was where they buried. And we actually were validated and we know that those headstones have never moved. We have that photograph of the cedar post and that picture predates the building of the church.

Fisher: Okay.

Justin: Yeah. So we were validated in that.

Fisher: That is amazing! So, my question then is who did you go to, to say we want to exhume the bodies here?

Gage: Actually that was, believe it or not, a very direct point. We talked to the City of Kingston, we talked to several other people, and because it’s on church property it’s the church’s decision. They own the land so if they gave us permission, that’s all we really had to worry about. So, we set out to actually do that. We talked with an archeologist, Dr. Joseph Diamond from SUNY New Paltz who also led the actual project itself. So everybody listening, don’t think that a hillbilly from Kentucky and a Cajun from Louisiana showed up in a truck with a shovel.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gage: That’s not what happened.

Fisher: All right. We’re going to hold it right there gentlemen because we’ve got much ground to cover. We’ve got to take a break and when we return we’re going to talk about the dig, what you discovered, and what we’re learning about our ancestors as a result of this, when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.    

Segment 3 Episode 445

Host: Scott Fisher with guests Gage and Justin DeWitt

Fisher: All right. We're back on Extreme Genes, talking to my very distant cousins, Gage and Justin DeWitt. They're distant cousins to each other, and they've actually dug up our ancestor Tjerck Claessen DeWitt in Kingston, New York. And we were just talking about the process. Guys, let's just pick it up here. You met an archaeologist from over at SUNY New Paltz, which is State University of New York. And how did you get him interested in this?

Justin: So he actually was doing another project plan. They do field schools, which is where they take interested students that are studying anthropology and archaeology, and they take them to some of these older areas where they do digs. They look for typical structures and things like that. But they actually had a project that was starting up where they were going to be digging up bodies. And we reached out to him about this project and said, hey, we've got something going on in Kingston. We would like to try to find where our ancestors are. Would you be interested? And he jumped at it and he actually said, yes, there's a lot of interest there. I may actually have some students that we could bring in.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Justin: So that's how it started. So we brought the SUNY New Paltz team to the church. We got the church permission beforehand and we had this conversation with everybody to get an allowance to go in, do GPR scanning after GPR scanning to come in, decide the grid layout, which we did, and we then brought the students in with actual research teams, and Gage and myself and then we went through the process of shniding the ground down layer by context layer to remove all the artifacts that was in the ground through the different eras all the way down till we eventually came across to Tjerck’s family.

Fisher: That is unbelievable. What were some of the items you found as you dug deeper and deeper there?

Gage: Well, day one, I think we found a really cool stone ink bottle from England. It was probably two inches below the ground, the surface, and it was almost completely intact. I think the top was broken a little bit. That was an interesting artifact. Very quickly into the dig, we started coming across really interesting artifacts. Most people dig in and they find some old wood in the ground. They wouldn't get too excited, but I think it was day two or three. We started finding flakes of red cedar and we got very excited. And then almost immediately after that, about a foot away from where we were finding the red cedar, we found a metal band and we know through historical documentation that the ADW Stone and the cedar post were held together with an iron strap. And we know that. And we found the iron strap that held the stone in the post together. And not only that, there were two hooks that were staked into each side of the cedar post and wrapped around the top of the stone to further support it.

Fisher: And we should explain to everybody that ADW is Andries DeWitt, who was the oldest son of the ancestor Tjerck Claessen DeWitt.

Gage: That's right. He's the oldest son of Tjerck. So, there was never really a question where he was buried. It was just a matter of finding where the cedar post was and where the bottom part of the stone is, because his stone was broken off at some point and fell over and they put it in the church within the last hundred years. So, we knew we should find a piece of that stone in the ground. And right around all of this, the metal band and the hooks that we found. We found the bottom part of the stone. We didn't know for a fact that's what it was at that point. But we removed that stone and took it straight in the church and put it up against that stone like a puzzle, and it fit together just like a puzzle.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gage: So we knew it was the bottom part of that headstone. Yep. So that was some of the most interesting artifacts that we found. But once we got further down into the ground, started finding coffin nails, Coffin hardware, most of the coffin wood was gone, all the little hooks that you would use to lower the caskets down in the ground. There was no grave goods in the Dutch graves. They weren't buried with anything. So we didn't find any personal artifact belonging to any individual. We did find some pretty interesting stuff.

Fisher: Now, how many individuals did you find?

Justin: Well, we found seven, and we removed six because one of them basically was too far into the sidewall for us to remove the entire body. So we just made the decision to leave that person there for the time being. And two of the six that we removed actually had headstone markers. We knew who those people were. But in order for us to get a clearing of the area to ensure no bodies were buried at a lower depth, we had to remove them as well. And that was Nilka DeWitt and then Rachel Dubois. DeWitt, the wife of Colonel Andries, is the ones that we were most interested in. To the east of the cedar post were two men, and then to the west of the Cedar Post were three women stacked on top of each other. So those are the ones that we're doing the deep level analysis on to really validate those people.

Fisher: Now, you dug down and you've told me off air that you got about eight feet down to make sure that there weren't any people below, but the deepest one would have been the earliest one, which was the immigrant ancestor, Tjerck DeWitt. And you identified the man you thought it was. What has the analysis shown you?

Justin: So we've worked with SUNY New Paltz. They're currently still completing analysis. So everything that we say is theoretical at this point until the publications are out. But based on isotope testing, we were able to find out that the body at the bottom actually has isotope values that do not match their origin being within North America. Their origin was East Friesland, which is a great validation for the fact that's Tjerck Claessen, because he would have been the only one born in the entire family outside of America.

Fisher: Yeah.

Justin: The second thing that we were able to do was conduct bone density analysis to define what age the person was at death. And again, it's very telling because the male on top was in his 50s when he passed away and the one on the bottom was in his late 70s. Going back to what we had talked about earlier, about the records and why this source material is so important. We know for a fact that Andries DeWitt died when he was around 52/53. We also know that Derek died in his mid to late 70s, and that's exactly what the bone density evaluations told us. So it matches the age of the people that we thought should be there. It also matches the isotope values. And then one extra point was the fact that we know how Andries died. We have a record in the Bible that says that he was killed by the breaking of two layers, which are large beams. The male body that was buried atop on the upper body, his skull was fractured in multiple areas. He had clean breakthroughs all across this cranial cavity, which would have been mortal wounds. So we know, again, based on the records that matches the death of Andries, the age matches that his isotopes show that he was basically from North America. The one at the bottom did not have the same origin factors. His origin was East Friesland, and his age matches the death date age of Tjerck. So that's how we're able to validate who's who.

Fisher: WowAnd you guys haven't done DNA yet, but I assume that's coming.

Justin: Yes. Yeah, that's coming down the road. But we're also doing facial reconstructive work as well with a different university. I'll let Gage kind of step in and talk a little about that.

Fisher: Yeah.

Gage: So early on in the project, we were very interested in seeing what our ancestors looked like. We have no portraits from that time period of Tjerck, Barbara or any of the first three generations of our family. Either they never had portraits made or they just haven't been discovered. So we were always interested. We were a little bit concerned about the age of the burials Tjerck died 322 years ago. So we were kind of concerned about the condition of the remains. His skull was in good enough shape to actually photograph and send to LSU's In Baton Rouge. They have one of the best forensic facial labs in the country. And because our story was so interesting, we were able to convince them to do this for us. That is ongoing now. So hopefully within the next two months we'll have Tjerck’s face back.

Fisher: That is unbelievable. And guys, then when this is all done, of course, you're going to rebury these guys and mark the spot, which is going to be an amazing thing, too. When do you think that'll happen?

Justin: Yeah, so we're looking at probably between 18 to 24 months. We have to have time to go through everybody, do all the testing, all the validation lines. But the plan is to do a reburial back in Kingston around, like I say, 18 to 24 months from now. And we're looking to do a proper old style. Old Dutch burial and obviously we want to make sure that we have time to reach out to all the DeWitt lineages, as many people as we can, living descendants. So that way they all have an opportunity to come up there and take part in this and helping us rebury our ancestors.

Fisher: Amazing stuff. That's Gage and Justin DeWitt, distant cousins to each other and to me for that matter. They've dug up our ancestor. Thanks so much, guys!

Justin: Thank you all. And oh, by the way, just real quick before we close out, if anybody listening is interested in being involved in our project. You can reach out to us at [email protected]. Just send an email and we'll be happy to get back with you.

Fisher: All right. Thank you so much. Coming up next, David Allen Lambert, as we go through another round of your questions with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show in three minutes.

 Segment 4 Episode 445

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: Okay, we are back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David, I'm still kind of catching my breath from all this thing about literally digging up ancestors. So, it’s good to move back to the basics, right? Come back to center here with this. And our first question comes from Lisa. She says, "Your regular listener in Pocatello, Idaho. Fellows, I'm new to all of this and I'm stuck! I'd like to find some pictures of my great grandparents and two times great grandparents. I'd appreciate your suggestions." Boy there's a lot we can cover with that!

David: But I think you take the cake for 2023, because you're the only one I know that can do a selfie with their, how many great, great grandfather?

Fisher: Seventh great and eighth great, because I come through him twice.

David: Ahhh, I don't know if I want to see that selfie.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But I'm sure you're going to try it. Well, you know, the best place to try obviously is relatives, because your older relatives might be the ones that have the photos and better yet, as you learnt and I've learned, they're always looking for someone to give them to because they're afraid they're going to get thrown out, because not all their kids are always interested.

Fisher: Oh absolutely. And it’s not always the old people. A lot of the times, it’s just cousins. This is the thing, I think we've become so addicted to the internet, we think if we can't find it there, they're just not out there to be found. And we get a little bit lazy and we don't pick up the phone and track down a cousin and call and say, "Look, what have you got?" You know, "I've got things to share with you. Do you have some things you could share with me? And if you don't, who in your group, who in your circle, maybe amongst second cousins or even third has some stuff that you think might be interesting to everybody?" And I've done that so many times over the decades that I've come across so many things that wound up in my ownership. And if not, I've been able to make copies of them that are absolutely fabulous. So, there is just so much to be found out there. That is the archive in the attic that we refer to so often.

David: And these may not be online, but that being said, you never know what may have already been scanned and put online.

Fisher: Yes!

David: Places like FindAGrave. It’s not just photographs of gravestones. Occasionally, people who collect old photographs like I do. Well, I might scan it and match it with this grave in Ohio and I’ve never been to his grave, nor am I related to him. You know, there's a lot of different ways of doing it that way, too, and even Ancestry.

Fisher: Sure.

David: About five years ago, I was looking at shaky leaves of sorts for my wife's ancestor and I got a hint that there's a photograph and I thought, oh, it’s probably the same one I posted. No, he was born in 1853, Fish. There was a picture of him when he was nine in 1863 with his St. Bernard, which about almost three times bigger than he was.

Fisher: Wow!

David: This enormous, big dark, St. Bernard or maybe Newfoundland, kind of hard to tell. But there's a picture of him as a kid during the Civil War. And the relative that had it happened to be somebody that we didn't know. We've been in contact, and there's 20 other photographs we've got that we never had before just from one link on Ancestry.

Fisher: There's so many different ways to go about this. Check in with local archives. My wife has a lot of connections to Montgomery County, Indiana from her mother's side and they have an incredible local history museum with local genealogical section there and they put things online and they have a Facebook page. And recently, we found an incredible photo of her second great grandparents on her mother's line with all of their children, surrounded by them. We've never seen that before. It was incredible! Plus several others that we hadn't seen from that side of the family. So, they're out there. There are just lots of places to look. But just keep in mind that the whole point of all of this, whether you're looking for names or photos or any information is always trying to learn about sources. Sources, sources, sources, where do I find them? What's possible? Where can I go? Don't ever give up, because really, there's no end to the number of sources that are potentially out there. So, thanks for the question. We've got another one coming up when we return with Ask Us Anything in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 445

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back at it for our final segment on Extreme Genes for this week. It’s Ask Us Anything. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert. And this question's from Harman in Duluth, Minnesota, David and he says, "Happy New Year you two. I am just getting started and am trying to avoid mistakes. I hear they happen all the time. What are the most common things you think I should look out for?" That is a wide open question, David. Let's get going.

David: Well, you know, it can be very simple. I've been doing it for my review of my ancestor research for the past 40 odd years and its like, redoing it, writing up sketches. And I had a death of an ancestor, I couldn't find a burial. But it was carved on a gravestone from the 18th century that she died in 1778. Well, according to the burial records of the church, she didn't get buried for a year later, so something tells me they carved the date wrong and she died in 1779.

Fisher: Interesting.

David: And it’s definitely her. So, I always say, you know, no pun intended, don't take that gravestone for granted, because you never know if the date is correct.

Fisher: That's true. But sometimes that's the best place to look. I mean, if you can't find a death record or it’s before there were death records or maybe there's no church records, the tombstone is a good starting point.

David: Exactly. And also one thing I want people to keep in mind is, just because it’s not on FindAGrave or Billion Graves, there is possibly a gravestone out there. Not all of them are online.

Fisher: Yeah, exactly right. All right, that's one good one. Here's another one that really drives me nuts and that is people who try to extend a line one more generation than they should, and as a result of that, they attach people to the wrong parents. And we see this all the time and it’s just based on speculation and then it gets repeated over and over and over and over again and that happens of course because, well, it’s the internet, right? And so, you want to be really careful about those end of line ancestors, especially on Family Search where it’s all a Wiki model. You want to make sure that those names are correct, because people just, they want to feel like they've accomplished something, so they try to squeeze out one more generation and they get it wrong.

David: Well, that's true. And one of the things that people I find the least with New England research and any colonial is that, you want to get across the pond, you want to find your ancestor over somewhere in Europe.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

David: So the first time you get a match of a Thomas Wilson born about the same year yours was, it’s got to be yours by process of elimination, right? Wrong!

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: You've got to realize that, you turn the page in the church records and that baby may have died six months later. That baby may have grown up, got married and lived in that parish the whole time. If you don't have a probate that says, "I leave to my son, Thomas Wilson, now of New England." you're not going to be 100% certain, unless his name is Zachariah Longfellow.

Fisher: Yes! [Laughs]

David: May be you might have something there. But don't go for the common names and assume that you can connect the dots. And that happens a lot.

Fisher: It really does.

David: There are a lot of trees out there that are wrong.

Fisher: You know, I have ancestors in a little village called Yarm in northern Yorkshire in England and I have a John Fisher there, born in the late 1600s, and somebody went and put his parents as living in Boston. Are you kidding me? [Laughs] Of course! So, apparently, the parents went from Yarm over to Boston and then they came back to Yarm and somehow the family lived there for several hundred years. It just doesn't work. So, be really careful about that. Don't get too hung up on spellings that are wrong. Be very careful about dates. A lot of people mis-transcribe things, so it’s really important that you document everything that you can and take your time and make sure you get it right before you start sharing things. Thanks for the question of course, Harman. Dave, we're out of time. Thank you again. We'll talk to you again next week, my friend.

David: All right, until then.

Fisher: And that is our show for this week. Thanks once again to Gage and Justin DeWitt for coming on and talking about how they literally dug up our ancestors. Yes, theirs and mine. If you missed any of this show, you can of course catch the podcast on AppleMediaiHeart RadioTuneIn RadioExtremeGenes.com, we're all over the place. Make sure you catch that show. We'll talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice normal family!


Subscribe now to find out why hundreds of thousands of family researchers listen to Extreme Genes every week!

Email me new episodes