Episode 456 - “Creative Non-Fiction,” Another Way to Write Your Family Story / When Your Russian-Jewish Ancestor Isn’t Russian

podcast episode Apr 17, 2023

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin with David’s recent amazing discovery while visiting the National Archives. In Family Histoire News, David tells the story of a pre-photographic era artist from Virginia whose silhouettes from 1803 to 1812 have been digitized. Then, a treasure trove of Neanderthal tools and remnants has been discovered. David has details. Next, one of the more bizarre stories you’ll hear anytime soon is about a giant meatball that contains DNA from the Wooly Mammoth and other extinct creatures. President Biden is learning about his ancestry in Ireland. And a kitchen renovation in England has revealed some insane 17th century artwork!

Next, Fisher visits with Jewish researcher Katheryne Thorne from sponsor Legacy Tree Genealogists. Katheryne will explain why your Russian Jewish ancestry may not be so Russian after all. She also explains the challenges of Eastern European Jewish research.

Fisher then talks with author Anne Hansen about her book “Buried Secrets- Looking for Frank and Ida.” These were Anne’s grandparents who apparently had no past! Hear about Anne’s research process and how she writes in a fascinating genre called “Creative Non-Fiction.”

David then returns for another round of 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 456

Fisher: And welcome America, to America's Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here your Radio Root Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree, and watch the nuts fall out. Oh, we've got guest for you today! We're going to be talking to Kathryne Thorne today. She is with our sponsors over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. She's a specialist in Ashkenazi Jewish research and Russian Jewish ancestry. You know, if you have Russian Jewish ancestry, you might be surprised to find out that you may not actually be Russian. She will explain coming up here in about ten minutes. Then later in the show, we're going to talk to author Anne Hanson. She has put together what she calls creative nonfiction. Basically, it is the story of her search for her grandparents and their bizarre secrets, and how she put the story together kind of filling in between the facts that she has with some of her creativity, and we'll talk about how you might be able to do the same thing as you write your family story. Hey, it's time we check in with Boston David Allen Lambert is standing by. He's the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and AmericanAncestors.org. David, welcome back. Good to have you. What have you got for us today?

David: Well, you know, I was in Washington, DC recently, and it's a lot of fun discovering ancestors of the participants. But during my lunch hour, I worked on one of mine.

Fisher: Ah.

David: My third great grandfather, who was in the War of 1812, was an artificer with the United States Light Artillery. I just happened to ask one of the archivists at the National Archives, whether or not the muster rolls from the US Army military list from 1798 to 1914. Do they still survive? And he says, yes, but they're pretty fragile. You can't look at them. But here's a finding guide. Well, the condition of the muster roll from my ancestor’s unit listed in as being silked. And silked is similar to being laminated.

Fisher: Oh!

David: But they're more sturdy. So I said, is there any chance I can look at these? They rolled out a cart an hour later and I was handling the original muster roll with my ancestor and all of the people he served with. Now it's almost impossible to use the US Army list to try to pull it by your unit because you can't search on the unit, you can only search on the person. So now I have a full list. I put it into Excel. I have 102 of these guys from Captain Stribling’s Company. I've put in their heights, and ages, and birthplaces from the Ancestry database. And I've used the muster roll to put in when they were sick or in the hospital, or killed.

Fisher: Oh, wow.

David: But I now know another battle my ancestor’s unit was at which is the Battle of Sackets Harbor, really a major battle in New York during the War of 1812.

Fisher: Right.

David: And he was at the Battle of Plattsburgh. The same week I get back, I get the War of 1812 Magazine then they tell me in September they're having their managers meeting in Plattsburgh, New York in September. Guess who I think I'm going to be visiting.

Fisher: That's pretty fun. [Laughs]

David: Well, that actually ties a little bit into the first story I want to share with our listeners. And this comes from the Smithsonian Magazine, a Virginian artist who was before photography, when silhouettes were the popular medium for the ancestors. He went out and copied all of the ones he made between 1803 and 1812 as a duplicate and put it into a book. This book has arsenic, so they had to wear special equipment, Fish, to go through when they digitized this book. And now there's over 1000 images that you can search on the database, and the artist’s name was William Bache. It's pretty amazing. And they've used Ancestry.com to research who the people are, and basic biographical information. So, who knows maybe one of these people is your ancestor, folks, take a peek.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Well, you know, let's go back a little further. And of course, we all know from 23andMe how much Neanderthal you have in your family tree. Well, in the Jersey Channel Islands, there is a small island with a cave that was inhabited by possibly your ancestors 250,000 years ago. I want to let you know that what is lost is now found again, and the 16,000 plus stone tools, animal bones, and sediment samples that have been taken may be related to you.

Fisher: Yeah, your Neanderthal ancestors, amazing.

David: Exactly. Well, I love the stories about the mammoths and the way they want to bring them back with the DNA. And I nearly fell off my chair, Fish, when I read this, a giant meatball made from extinct mammoth DNA. No, don't worry, they didn't find a frozen Mammoth and make a meatball out of them. They've used African elephant DNA, sheep cells inserted into a singular mammoth gene called a myoglobin. And they've created this meat ball that looks the size of a bowling ball. And it smells strangely like crocodile.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: And they say it's currently not for consumption. But you know, just like any meat if you leave it out on the counter for a long time, probably not good to eat.

Fisher: Yeah. So, tell me then if it's not consumable, why did they make it?

David: Just because they can.

Fisher: Ah.

David: This was presented at the NEMO Science Museum over in the Netherlands. You know, a lot of people like to research their ancestors, and that does include our President Joe Biden, who is currently over in Ireland, researching 10 of his 16 great, great grandparents who left Ireland during the great potato famine in the middle of 19th century, so even the president is hooked on genealogy.

Fisher: Sweet! But I imagine he's not doing his own research. If I'm to guess I'm thinking they will present him with all the information that he was looking for.

David: I think he is touring cellar holes and walking in churches, probably with a tour guide.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Going across the Irish Sea over to England. Somebody was renovating their kitchen recently. And you know, when you renovate your kitchen, sometimes you find old layers of wallpaper, maybe an old newspaper for filling?

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Yeah. How about 17th century artwork that's painted on the wall? These are murals that were painted in the 1660s. That's quite a nice surprise.

Fisher: Wow!

David: I wouldn’t ask for a new fresh coat of paint, would you?

Fisher: No, no, I think that goes right to the museum or maybe I'd want to sell it. But these pictures are remarkable because they're like nine feet across. It's unbelievable.

David: Well, don't forget, American Ancestors may be closed for visitors’ in-person, but we're still open and if you want to take advantage of being an American Ancestors member, but on AmericanAncestors.org. And don't forget, you can use the coupon code EXTREME and save $20 on your membership at any time.

Fisher: All right, David, thank you very much. We'll talk to you at the back end of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, you're going to learn a lot about Russian Jewish ancestry and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry from our next guest Kathryne Thorne from Legacy Tree Genealogists when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 456


Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kathryne Thorne


Fisher: Hey, welcome back genies! Its Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fish here, along with Kathryne Thorne. She's an expert researcher over at our friends and sponsors at Legacy Tree Genealogist. She's a specialist in Ashkenazi Jewish research, research from the Russian Empire, and Kathryne, welcome to Extreme Genes. Great to have you!


Kathryne: Lovely to be here.


Fisher: We’ve just gone through Passover, of course, a great Jewish holiday throughout April. What else do we have coming up here? Because I know it's a busy time of year for Jewish celebrations.


Kathryne: It is. Next up is going to be in late May we have Shavuot.


Fisher: Which celebrates what?


Kathryne: That is the holidays celebrating the receiving of the Torah to the Jewish people.


Fisher: Interesting. Well, you've been researching now for many years. Well, you know, we talk about Russian Jewish research, but that doesn't necessarily mean Russia does it?


Kathryne: No. So there's a pretty big misconception. I have a lot of clients that come and say, “Well, my ancestors are from Russia. And while technically that was part of the Russian Empire, that area that most Jewish ancestors come from, is actually Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland now.”


Fisher: Wow!


Kathryne: But prior to World War II, these were all parts of the USSR, and then before that, before World War I, part of the Russian Empire.


Fisher: Wow. So you really have to kind of know a lot of stuff. Because every area is different as far as research goes. How do you first of all, help people separate out which country their people were from? I mean, if they think they're from Russia, which technically as you say is correct, how do you help them kind of identify exactly where they were from, particularly if they didn't know what village they were from or what little specific area?


Kathryne: There are a couple of ways. So, the first way is more the traditional way that a lot of people work with immigrant ancestors. So, finding their passenger lists and naturalization paperwork and determining from those, what area that we're actually looking at in Russia, and there will be clues as far as you know, in some cases, there were locations that were once part of Austria that became part of Russia or the USSR after World War I. And so that can help you narrow down to a location, or even just the list of specific Gubernia, which is a province in the Russian Empire that will point you to a location within those other countries that were once part of Russia.


Fisher: Wow, it just sounds so complicated to many of us who've never had to deal with so many border changes. I mean, even within the United States, you have counties that change borders and the like, but when you have countries that are changing names and locations and what their borders are at which times and fairly rapidly too, right? I mean it often happens quickly. You really have to know what time and place exactly and try to narrow it down. How do you deal with researching over there? Is there a lot of material online?


Kathryne: There is. It is dependent upon the country itself.


Fisher: Okay.


Kathryne: So depending on the country, there is either a lot of material online I will say for Ukraine, there is a lot of Jewish material online that can either be accessed through the Family History library, or there's a citizen archivist, Alex Krakowski. He has an online archive where he's personally gone to the archives and scanned images of the books.


Fisher: Wow!


Kathryne: Lithuania has an online system, as does Latvia and Poland. The one that's really hard is of course is Belarus. They have no digital archives. And there are very few copies of the records anywhere online.


Fisher: So how do you deal with that when you come across somebody who has ancestry from Belarus?


Kathryne: Well, the first thing we would do is, first of all, ensure that there are no records online. And then we would go to work with an onsite researchers. So someone who lives in Belarus that has access to the archives that we can work with to say, okay, we want to look at this set of records, what is available there. Another option, while more time consuming, and requiring a little bit more information from your part is to work with the archives directly. So sending them individual requests for individual records. They won't complete genealogical research, but if you know you have an ancestor born in a certain town on a certain day, you can send a request in either Russian or Belarusian to the other Russian archives, and they will search for the record for you.


Fisher: Well, of course over here, depending on when you were born, there are certain privacy laws, right? How far back does somebody have to have been born for them to say, oh, yeah, here's the record of the birth.


Kathryne: In the former Russian Empire countries, typically that mark is 1918. So that's the date of the Russian Revolution and so all records prior to 1918 are typically publicly available. And all records after 1918 are not.


Fisher: Interesting. Okay. Well, you know, I'm thinking about the waves of immigrants that came over I mean, in the 1840s, and 50s. It was the Irish and then later on in the 19th century, we had the Italians come over, the Russians and the Jews or the Russian Jews also, and the Ashkenazi Jews from all over the place. They started coming in, in the 80s right, the 1880s?


Kathryne: Yes. So, the largest wave of Jewish emigration to America began in the 1880s. From 1880 to 1924, roughly 2 million Eastern European Jews arrived in America.


Fisher: Wow!


Kathryne: So, a massive amount of people coming primarily into those eastern seaboard immigration courts.


Fisher: Of course.  Yeah. And so did you see a lot of name changes as a result of people coming over here trying to Americanize their names? Is that a real challenge for you?


Kathryne: It can be a very significant challenge with Americanization of names. The last name is more common with a lot of people doing immigrant research. You can typically find that information on their passenger list. The real struggle is with the first name when we're doing Jewish immigration. So traditionally, a lot of Jewish people have two names. So, they have a Hebrew name or an Aramaic name. And then they have typically a name from the region that they're living in. So for our Jewish ancestors living in Eastern Europe that might be a Yiddish or a Russian name. And then they have a third name when they emigrate. So they come to America, and they say, actually, this name is too hard for people to say, or I stick out like a sore thumb, so I'm going to change Hakhayyam to a Harry.


Fisher: Okay. [Laughs]


Kathryne: And so finding that connection can be a little difficult. One thing that I would suggest to help with that that is unique to Jewish research, is looking at the cemeteries. So you want to go and find the grave of your immigrant ancestor, and on that, very frequently, there's a Hebrew inscription that will include both their Hebrew name or sometimes Yiddish name, and their father's Hebrew or Yiddish name. And that name is going to be much closer to the name that they went by when they were living in Europe. And that can help you find them much faster than it would through trying to locate them on passenger lists with a name that they didn't even go by when they came over.


Fisher: Sure. Yeah, I mean, it's got to be so complicated. I think about okay, in America, in a lot of other places, Elizabeth often went by Betty, or Henry went by Harry, or Robert went by Bob, is there an association with those Yiddish names and those Hebrew names to a name they actually adopted for use in the United States?


Kathryne: I would say most frequently. It is the sound of the name.


Fisher: Really?


Kathryne: If the first initial sound is like an H, their name might become Harry.


Fisher: Okay.


Kathryne: If it's Byla, which is a woman's name, it might become Betty. And so that initial sound will stay the same. Typically, there's no shared meaning between the names and sometimes it is, unfortunately, completely random. They heard a name and they really liked it and they adopted that name.


Fisher: Wow! I just think of your job here Kathryne. This sounds really complex. I'm glad that people who do this type of research have you to work with. This is amazing. So let's talk a little about Ashkenazi Jewish research, and how that differs from Russian Empire research.


Kathryne: Okay. So the first biggest difference is that, of course, the name changes are more complex when we're dealing with Jewish records, because we are dealing with three potential names that they could be going by.


Fisher: Right.


Kathryne: The other thing is Russian Empire records were separated by religion. And so the Jewish records were separate from the rest of the records, Russian Orthodox, were separate, the Jewish records were separate from the Catholic records, and so you're wanting to find records for that specific religion. And very frequently, those records are not for every single individual town. You need to find the exact town that they were from in order to then figure out okay, where were these people registering at? What synagogue were they going to, to register their children that were being born, rather than the exact town that they were living in. And there are gazetteers that can help you figure that out once you know what town your family was from.


Fisher: Interesting. How did the Holocaust impact the records in these areas?


Kathryne: So for the Holocaust and the Russian Empire, there is some impact in the records, primarily in terms of just war time damage to the records. I know in Belarus, especially during World War II, there was a large loss of records, especially in the area just next to Poland, a large number of records were lost. So sometimes you will find large gaps in the records prior to 1940 in just the Jewish records at that time. There wasn't really a concerted effort to destroy Jewish specific records. However, one resource that was destroyed very heavily in the Holocaust were Jewish tombstones in eastern Europe.


Fisher: Yes.


Kathryne: And so they were taken and were actually broken up and used as paving stones in some places.


Fisher: Yes.


Kathryne: Yes. And so that's a massive resource because of course, as I mentioned before, the father's name is listed on and you could trace the family back using the cemetery, that resources in a lot of places now gone.


Fisher: Have they actually ever taken some of these paving stones and created a database of the information that's on them?


Kathryne: In the case of the ones that have been broken up, they're typically in such bad shape that I don't think that they could. As far as the cemeteries that are still standing, there are plenty of databases that have records related to what is located inside of the cemeteries.


Fisher: Wow, you've got a lot of knowledge here Kathryne, to share with your clients. Thank you so much for talking to us about it. I find it always really interesting to find out about different types of research and different groups of people and how they came over here and how we figure out who they are and what happened to them. Thank you so much for your time.


Kathryne: Thank you.


Fisher: And coming up next, a woman who learned from her dad that her grandparents may not have been who they said they were a lot of secrets there. She did a lot of research and now she's written a book. She calls it creative nonfiction. You're going to want to hear what Anne Hanson has to say about writing histories in this way and what she learned. It’s all coming up next in five minutes when we return on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.


Segment 3 Episode 456

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Anne Hanson

Fisher: All right back on the job at Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here with another fascinating guest. She is an author. It's her first book! It's called Buried Secrets, looking for Frank and Ida. And the author is Anne Hanson from Brookline, Massachusetts. And Anne, welcome to Extreme Genes. It's great to have you!

Anne: For sure. It is wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me.

Fisher: You know, I know this is your first time around. And this is kind of in the same vein is what I've been working on lately, something you've called, and I think it's a great term, creative nonfiction. [Laughs] Which basically fills in the gaps and conversations that we can only imagine, but still keeps it true to the facts. And this is about finding your grandparents.

Anne: Yeah, it's a story of the quest that began when I was in college. And my dad had always been mystified about his parents’ extreme secrecy about their past. And you know, as a child, he was always wondering, “Why don't I have any relatives? Why do my parents just refuse to talk about their past?” It was really like taboo to ask questions about their past. So, when I hit college, he asked me if I could research his parents, you know, validate their family tree, you know, learn more about their families and their backgrounds. And I searched, and I searched, and I searched and I could not find a single thing. [Laughs]

Fisher: Really? I mean, you're talking about with their names and you couldn't find where they lived. They weren't in the census. Were they going by assumed identities?

Anne: Yes. Well, I think I won't tell you all of the details.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Anne: But let's just say they invented identities that suited their purpose.

Fisher: Ah! Okay, that makes sense. So, talk about the process here, because you are not by profession a writer. And yet I've read one of your sample chapters, and it's very well done. And I'm very impressed with it. It's like, “Okay, I’ve got to do as well as Anne Hanson does here with mine.”

Anne: [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Anne: Well, you are very kind. Thank you. Well, I had been interviewing my dad, doing family history interviews for years. So, I had all of this material and information. It's a sad story in some ways. My dad's two favorite brothers both died suddenly in the year 2000. And he came into possession of his parents’ photo collection. And I finally persuaded him to let me look through the photos to see if I could find out anything that would help us solve the mystery of our missing parents and grandparents. And based on this photo, I ultimately got this little clue that led to more things that pretty much like blew the whole case open.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing!

Anne: And so, this happened in 2003. I'm a research pack rat. I just save everything I come across.

Fisher: Of course.

Anne: So I had reams of research that I had done on my grandparents’ real pasts. Then I had many, many hours of recorded interviews with my dad. And my dad was actually the first one to say I should write a book.

Fisher: Right.

Anne: And I said, “Okay, how hard can that be?”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Anne: [Laughs] I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought, “Okay, you know, it'll be you know, six months to a year I'll write the book.”

Fisher: Uh oh!

Anne: So, I soon realized that I didn't know what I was getting into. And I took some classes at this wonderful writing center in Boston called Grub Street. I had actually been a newspaper reporter in the past, so I knew how to write the 20 inches. You know, with old fashioned newspapers and have a 20 inch story. And I had done some corporate communications and writing.

Fisher: Yeah, but that's all entirely different style, and doesn't really require imagination or anything, because you're talking about facts here, but also creating, I've always called it the grout between the tiles, right?

Anne: [Laughs] Right.

Fisher: You've got the tiles, they're just the things that keep it all together.

Anne: Yes. So one of the smartest things I did was start taking classes at Grub Street. And I learned how to write narrative nonfiction in the genre of what we call, creative nonfiction, where you stick as close as you can to the facts. I mean, obviously, when you're thinking of conversations you have with somebody 20 years ago, you can't remember the exact words.

Fisher: Yeah, of course not.

Anne: So, you just recreate it as best you can. So I started doing these writing classes in 2007. And so, I was working on the writing and I was still always like talking to my dad, we'd be having a conversation, and then all of a sudden, he just sort of come up with this, like interesting little tidbit about his parents or his childhood, or whatever. And I'd say, “Why didn't you tell me this before?” And he'd say, “I didn't think of it before.” [Laughs]

Fisher: That's how it works, though, with the family history interviews, right?

Anne: Yes. Right.

Fisher: You go talk to people, and you got to keep going back, because it gets their minds going, right?

Anne: Exactly. You know, my dad and I, I'd be down to Philadelphia visiting. And he and I would just be, you know, hanging out after dinner talking. And then we'd get on to the whole family topic. And then I'd start saying, like, “Oh, Dad, this is great. Hold on, I've got to get a pad. I've got to write this down.” So it was really an iterative process of going back and forth. I learned how to write narrative nonfiction, but I also found I had a lot of facts, but there were scenes that I know occurred. But there's just no way for me to know the exact details. And that's when I got the idea of starting doing imagined scenes, where like, we know certain things happen. We just don't know the exact details. So, I started adding in the imagined scenes. And so, I had a first draft of the book done in about 2010 or ‘11. And I gave that draft to my dad. And this turned into one of his favorite leisure activities, reading the book about his life. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Anne: And then he'd be lying on the couch, and then he'd think of something and he’d call me up, “Hey, Annie, I just remembered. I want to make sure you put this in the book.” So I had multiple drafts of the book going over time and that there were times when I didn't do anything for several years, you know, because life intervened and that was really busy.

Fisher: Funny how that works sometimes.

Anne: Yes, yes and you know, I was fortunate enough I met my husband in 2001. We got married in 2010. So, you know lots of fun things going on that had nothing to do with the book.

Fisher: Well, what a great lesson for all of us who would like to write a history. I know I hear from people all the time saying, “You know, what's the best way to do this?” Well, we can write histories where we write out the things that we know. But certainly, the most interesting way to tell a story is the way you're describing, and that is to kind of fill in the blanks here with these imagined conversations that likely did happen in one form or another, right?

Anne: Um hmm. And one of the other things I learned, some very good advice I got. There were times where I'm writing a real scene, where I'm the protagonist and I'm in it. And I was afraid of, well, if I write it this way I might offend someone or hurt their feelings or whatever. And some very good advice I got was, just write it as if nobody but you is going to read it. And then you can always edit it later.

Fisher: Yeah.

Anne: And I did that. And I found that it was just very freeing, you're no longer censoring yourself. So, for a few scenes where, you know, I didn't want to hurt someone's feelings. You know, I took very little out. It was just a very freeing feeling. And it ended up me just writing much more fluidly. And I ended up taking out very little that I thought somebody might be unhappy with or hurt their feelings.

Fisher: Sure, sure. Well, and that's partly because of the fact that you're talking about fairly recent times. And there are people still living who remember these individuals.

Anne: Yes, absolutely.

Fisher: And who love them and had some connections with them. And that's part of the problem we have in writing regular histories, yet alone, a creative nonfiction like you're talking about.

Anne: Yes, especially when you're writing about living people. You're not going to please everyone.

Fisher: Nope. That's right.

Anne: But I do think that honesty, coupled with kindness are the best policy.

Fisher: Yeah, that's great advice. She's Anne Hanson. She is the author of Buried Secrets, looking for Frank and Ida, a great creative nonfiction. And you can get it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the usual places. Anne thanks so much for coming on and taking your time. Enjoyed it!

Anne: Thank you for having me.

Fisher: Good luck with the book!

Anne: Thank you!

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert with another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 456

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, it is time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. David Allen Lambert is back from NEHGS. And David, our first question is from Rudy in San Francisco. And Rudy says, “Gents,” I feel very distinguished.

David: I do too.

Fisher: “In the 1840s, my ancestors were farmers in New Hampshire. However, I heard they were factory workers in Lowell, Massachusetts about a decade later. How can I confirm this and maybe learn why they made such a huge change? Rudy.”

David: Well, I mean, first thing that comes to mind, United States census. So if you find them on the ‘40 census in New Hampshire, hopefully a decade later, you're surfacing them in Massachusetts in 1850 in Lowell.

Fisher: Yep.

David: The nice thing about Massachusetts is, we have two state censuses that were kept, one was an 1855. So you don't have to wait another full decade if you want to try to catch them. And say, if they showed up in 1851, ‘52 range, so the ‘55 might catch them there as well.

Fisher: Yep.

David: The other thing, city directories. Lowell was a thriving industrial city during the Industrial Revolution. The factories were popping up everywhere and it doesn't surprise me that a farmer may move his family for more money and more opportunity to a city. My families did similar moves from northern New England into the factories of Massachusetts in the 19th century. And I'm sure in your own ancestor, Fish, you've probably seen people that have changed occupations multiple times.

Fisher: Ah! And they did because we had things. For instance, there was the panic of 1837. There was another panic of 1857. And this is what they call them at those times, but it led to these financial recessions or depressions for a while. My great, great grandfather, Fisher started out as a cabinet maker of some note, and then he had to stop doing that. He was a Cartman right out of that period, which was a real come down from where he had been as a craftsman. And then he became a real estate agent, because of all the people coming into New York City with the famine over in Ireland, right?

David: Uh huh.

Fisher: So, he did that for about 12 years. And then he became a machinist for the Singer sewing machine company making sewing machines.

David: Oh wow!

Fisher: And he did that for maybe a decade before finally retiring. So you know, you can see they're very different types of things.

David: Absolutely. And the other thing of course are newspapers. So you find somebody in a city directory may actually give you the address of where they're working. So, if you contact say, the Center for Lowell History up in Lowell, Massachusetts, you can find out what factory in, say, 1855 was located at that spot, find the factory owners. And in the perfect world, they're very, very rare to find. You might find records of the employees, you might find a record, a lawsuit about the company, maybe they had fraudulent ways of treating their employees, and they were brought to court, maybe there was a disastrous fire or something, or better yet, find out what the address would be now and drive your family there. And hopefully, you're not in the middle of like a parking lot for Walmart.

Fisher: [Laughs] That’s true.

David: I mean, this is great ways of investigating a story in your family history by proving it with records that you can find online with sites like Ancestry.com, or American Ancestors, and then connecting it and going there. I mean.

Fisher: That’s a lot of fun. There's no more fun than going someplace and finding the exact spot. Although, I'll say, on one of my wife's lines, we found out we were in a parking lot. And her ancestor is buried under the parking lot, because they hadn't removed all the bodies when they built this thing. Very few of them got moved out. So, when you park, you might be actually right on top of him, is like kind of a frightening thing!

David: Would that be reserved parking for the family?

Fisher: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, would probably be the case. But it is a lot of fun to go there and see where it may have been. And if there was actually any remnants of a building or something like that.

David: Yeah, you could walk the same streets and see the same buildings that your ancestor did.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. Great stuff. And of course, stop by the historical society and see what they've got to say, as you mentioned, Dave. So, great question. Thank you very much, Rudy. Hope that helps you and good luck on it. We got another one coming up next from Hawaii when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 456

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, here we go, our final question this week on Ask Us Anything as we return on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. And David, this question comes from John. He says, “Fisher and David, Aloha from Honolulu!”

David: Ooh! Aloha!

Fisher: Yes. “I recently found a newspaper ad of an ancestor in a scrapbook of my great grandmother. It's for a floral shop of her father. It has no date or clue to which paper it was in or specifically where it was from. Any idea how I can solve this mystery?” Great question, John. And yeah, the best way to go about it is to actually Google specific phrases from within that ad and see if something comes up. And then I would say, if you don't find anything that way, go to Newspapers.com and try it the same way. If you have any idea at all, even the state that it was in, you might be able to narrow it down if the phrases are particularly common, but often that can bring something up. I had somebody actually show me a story they had once about Pablo Picasso talking about how he would paint these really weird paintings, and people would buy them thinking there was some deep meaning to it and how it was just foolishness. And she wanted to know where it's from I said, I think I might be able to figure that out. So, I actually took some of the lines from the newspaper story, and put it into the search engine with quotes around it from Newspapers.com and it brought it up, told me it was from August of 1965, I think it was something like that.

David: Wow!

Fisher: And then I was able to actually get a nice cleaner image of it, and it's digitized. So, you can find maybe even more ads as a result of that once you narrow down exactly the location of where that came from. And I think ads are fascinating. Dave, don't you, because they reflect the personality of the person who places it.

David: It's true. In fact, you know it's, while we’re talking about my third great grandfather in the War of 1812, about 15 years before, he ran a store and the store’s still there! In fact, they rededicated it last year. I was part of that. But the ads for the items that they sold was almost as good as having an account book.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Because I got to see the items he was selling. So I know where he was buying stuff from. I mean, some of it was timber from up north. I mean, it's a great insight and it brings a person's location where they work alive, if you can get details from advertisements.

Fisher: Yep, yeah, absolutely. Here's what I found from the brother of my third great grandmother in New York City. He was a confectioner there and really quite well known. And I found this ad from 1838. And this had to have been like a three page poem or something that these people wrote. It's incredible! He says, “Come All Ye who have most desire to live, and like the good things that this world can give, pray stop one moment with John PS and son, and in Division Street, where 44 and 1 burst on the site Behold, not asked for more, the rich confections that he has in store.” And this goes on and talks about sponge cakes and Lafayettes and pound cakes and jellies and raisins and fancies and citrons and plums. It just, it's like, how many weeks did it take them to write this poem before they published it in 1838. But it's really fun.

David: How did they write it with not going to run and get some food? I mean, it's made me hungry! What a sweet story. No pun intended.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] That's true. “Then we have candy, which we just have made, as beautiful as can be, called the braid. And then we have Iceland moss, as clear as lady's kisses, which we hold most dear. And then our pastry that will fill your eye, of oyster cranberry custard pumpkin pie.” I mean, it just goes on forever. It's really fun stuff. So good luck with that, John. That might be the best way to figure out where that ad came from. And then see what rabbit hole you can follow it down to and get a lot more information. David thanks so much. We'll talk to you again next week.

David: All right. Sounds good, my friend until later.

Fisher: All right. That's our show for this week. Thanks once again to our guests Kathryne Thorne from Legacy Tree Genealogists, our sponsors, talking about Russian Jewish ancestry and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. And to author, Anne Hanson talking about creative nonfiction, how she actually wrote the story of the mysterious grandparents she knew virtually nothing about. If you missed any of it, of course catch the podcast. We're on AppleMedia, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, ExtremeGenes.com and iHeartRadio. Talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. 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