Episode 458 - How Three Years of Covid Changed Genealogy / Morning Reports- Getting the Details on Your World War 2 Soldier

podcast episode May 01, 2023

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  David begins by sharing his diagnosis of “Gen-Somnia.” (We might ALL have it!) In Family Histoire News… there is now only one surviving crewman of the USS Arizona following the passing of Ken Potts of Provo, Utah at age 102. Lou Conter of Northern California, a friend of the show, is 101. He is the last survivor. David next has news of the underwater discovery of a Japanese transport ship that was sunk in World War 2 transporting over 1,000 POWs. Then, a recent cruise miraculously brought together an American woman and an Irishman who learned they were cousins. And she had thought that the last of her Irish kin had died! Hear the details. What’s with all those stone walls in Vermont and elsewhere? David shares material from a recent story on them. Finally, several Revolutionary War soldiers who had been killed in the Battle of Camden have been reburied.

Next, Fisher catches up with Curt Witcher, Genealogy Center Manager of the Allen County Public Library, the largest in the Midwest. Curt shares his thoughts on family history’s silver lining during the pandemic. So much has changed in our world since early 2020. Curt then talks about how the Allen County Library is approaching adult education these days, as well as the latest on the remarkable Internet Archive.

Then, from NEHGS, Melanie McComb shares some valuable information on researching your World War 2 soldier. Yes, most of the personnel records were burned in 1973, but all is not lost! Let Melanie tell you about the “Morning Reports.”

David then returns for 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 458

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. We are loaded today. We're going to talk to Curt Witcher today. It's been a long time since we've had him on the show. He is the director of the Allen County Public Library, family history division, of course in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And he's got some great insight on what all we have learned through the pandemic. We're going to talk to him about that. Then later in the show, we're going to talk to Melanie Macomb, from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. She is an expert in all kinds of areas in family history research, including military records, and we're going to talk about one today that you might be able to access concerning your World War II ancestor who was in the army, that's coming up in just a bit. And speaking of which, of course, NEHGS My good friend David Allen Lambert is standing by in Boston with our Family Histoire News today. David, you took a little trip here recently. How did it go?

David: Oh, it was lots of fun. I went to Manassas which was where the first battle of the Civil War, Bull Run, occurred. I went to Washington. I took my kids to see the Liberty Bell.

Fisher: Nice!

David: Went to see some caves in Virginia, the Luray Caves are lots of fun. But I'll tell you something, since I've been back, you know how it is, I’m suffering from something I want to share. I have Gen-somnia.

Fisher: Oh, yes.

David: When you really should be sleeping, but it's 3am. And you got that thing on Ancestry you found that you just have to chase down that rabbit hole.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah.

David: There's only one cure, more genealogy.

Fisher: Exactly. Gen-somnia. It’s a real thing.

David: Well, I'm really sorry to share this news. Ken Potts, one of the two remaining crew members of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor has passed away. He just turned 102, Fish, out in Utah.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I heard that news and I called Lou Conter who has been on our show a couple of times, and he and I have become pretty good friends. And he was asleep at the time. So I was talking with his daughter, Lou's going to turn 102 in September, and he's still sharp as a tack. And his daughter told me that he was very much aware of Ken's passing. He had just talked to him the week before on his birthday. These two would talk every month. And so this is kind of a tough thing for him because he realizes he's the guy that gets the champagne bottle. You know how the people would always celebrate if you're the last one out of a unit in a war than you would get that of course, there's no literal champagne bottle for the Arizona. But Lou Conter is the last survivor of that great ship and what happened at Pearl Harbor.

David: Right. And we really have been honored to have conversations with him on the show.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: He’s a great guy and definitely now the Sentinel of the USS Arizona.

Fisher: Yep, that’s it.

David: Speaking of World War II, a shipwreck, this is actually a Japanese passenger ship called the Montevideo Maru, which sank back in July of 1942. Now, it was sunk sadly by US Navy submarine on onboard were over 1000 prisoners of war, most of them from Australia. But they also had people from 16 other countries. Now the story that I found doesn't indicate Americans, but I would imagine there must be.

Fisher: Oh, yeah.

David: It's actually down 13,000 feet in the Philippines. It's actually as deep as the Titanic, which sank back in 1912.

Fisher: Yeah, my grandfather had a first cousin who was a Japanese prisoner as well. And the same thing happened to him. They took the prisoner ship back to Japan, and our forces took it down. Of course, they don't know who's on board this thing. It's a Japanese ship. So that's how he was lost, actually, in late 1944. So I guess this happened fairly commonly.

David: But the nice thing is it put some closure, because I'm sure there are grandchildren and maybe even children of some of these veterans that have never known exactly where the coordinates are for the vessel their dad or grandfather died on.

Fisher: Yeah, sure.

David: You know, not all stories on the seas are sad. There's a recent story about an American couple that went on a cruise, and they just recently lost a cousin, who was their last connection with Ireland. Well, ironically, gentleman gets onto an elevator and starts talking with a couple of where they're from. And they mentioned Donegal, and he mentions about a connection for this cousin Nora that had died. It turns out that they were relatives of Nora.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: So, two couples on a vessel just happened to get into the elevator, made a connection and now they have a lifelong link back to Ireland.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: One still in Ireland. So they thought they had lost all their family in Ireland. Lo and behold, right. That's not the case.

Fisher: Right, on a cruise ship. And both of them have kids living in Boston. So they have now visited each other on the East Coast, in Connecticut, and they're going to get together again in Ireland and they've really hit it off and what an amazing thing that is. I love the serendipity of it all.

David: I tell you I was reading a story which really hits home for me in New England because our best crop is stone.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: That’s why we guild stone walls everywhere. I'm sure in Connecticut you saw the same thing. Well, this article is about the stone walls in Vermont and who made them? Obviously, they weren't made by giants and coals from years ago. They were made by farmers because again, as you're plowing your field up, there's another boulder and that added to the wall. So, sometimes if you can’t locate the farmhouse and the barn that your ancestor lived in hundreds of years ago, but if you'll walk the property line and you see a stone wall, chances are your great, great, great grandfather may have lifted that boulder off a wagon and put it into that pile.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: There's a lot of history miles upon miles of stone walls and they're protected. In fact, my hometown in Stoughton, Massachusetts, you can't take a stone wall down, Historical Commission prevents it.

Fisher: Nice. And I'm glad they do because those things are really part of the whole character of New England.

David: They really are. Well, we talked about the Revolutionary War soldiers that were found down in the Battle of Camden in 1780s, well, they're going to be-burying them. 12 US soldiers died out in South Carolina over 242 years ago. And now they're going to have a proper memorial and burial. They had actually been found on the battlefield by archaeologists and their names will soon be discovered through DNA testing and genealogy. So who knows? It could be one of your ancestors out there, folks.

Fisher: You never know.

David: Well, that's all I have from Beantown this week. Don't forget, if you're not a member of American Ancestors, we'd love to have you as a member and you can save $20 with the coupon code EXTREME on AmericanAncestors.org. All right, talk to you at the back end for Ask Us Anything.

Fisher: All right, David. Thank you so much. And coming up next we're going to talk to Curt Witcher. He is the director of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Kind of get his take on the post pandemic health emergency that's ending actually officially on May 11. We're also going to talk about the library, the Internet Archive, we're going to cover a lot of grounds coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 458

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Curt Witcher

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here and it is such a joy to talk to my good friend Curt Witcher once again, he, of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And Curt, we ran into each other at RootsTech, it was good to see again. And that was really pretty much the whole point of RootsTech this year right, to have a big family reunion of all of us in the space.


Curt: Absolutely. It was great seeing you too Scott. It was really wonderful to be back in person and really doing some networking that we kind of tried to do during the pandemic online. But it was yeah, it was great. I had a lot of great conversations. Hope you did as well.


Fisher: Yeah, sure did. And for those who aren't familiar with Curt, not only is he involved with the Allen County Public Library, but also with the Internet Archive. And Curt, you've been a leader in this area for such a long time. And I wanted to talk to you about now that we're coming out of the pandemic. The president's declaring the end of the health emergency coming up on May 11. How do you look back on this period and how it impacted family history research?


Curt: Great question, Scott. And as you and I have mused over the years, and even recently, I always think it's a great position to look at things not negatively but as opportunities. And so what I see right now in the genealogy space, and I think you do as well as we should take a breath and look around. I don't think we spend enough time looking around as what opportunities have presented themselves. And what opportunities have all of us really been engaged in. Isn't it amazing that many of us took the lemon that was the pandemic, and made great lemonade from it, right?


Fisher: Absolutely.


Curt: It's such great virtual programs. We've been using Zoom not only to network with each other and virtual programs, but to actually have consultations between libraries and their patrons between genealogists and experts. So, I think that's a big benefit that came out of the pandemic is that we added some more tools to our toolkit, right?


Fisher: Yeah, absolutely.


Curt: We’ve gotten really comfortable with technology. What does that look like rolling forward though Scott? I think a lot of people still embrace, and if I can use the word, long for being with other people in the same physical space.


Fisher: Yep.


Curt: I think that there are some that are very comfortable staying in the virtual space for a while. But how do we as people who love to share, who love to help each other find our family stories and verify our family stories? How are we going to take the learnings, the lessons of the pandemic and try to move them forward? What are conferences going to look like? I think we're prudent. We're going to be looking for slightly or greatly different conference models. We kind of knew but didn't really want to embrace it before the pandemic that these conferences where you'd listen to someone for an hour and have a break, and listen for an hour and have a break, that's really not best practice and adult education. So, are there other things we can do, maybe we can do that more traditional, 45 minutes to an hour with Q&A, maybe we do that virtually and maybe in person we have more impromptu TikTok like presentations.


Fisher: Yeah. That’s an interesting thought.


Curt: Where we come together with people who have a specific ethnic interest. Like, I'm interested in Germans from Posen. I'm interested in Irish during that big famine of the 19th century. And we really have experts that are kind of extemporaneously sharing their experience, and then kind of gleaning experience from those who are participating.


Fisher: Yeah.


Curt: So conferences, I think, will radically change. I think those who want to go back to normal, I've said that to my team here, and I've said it to anyone who would listen, Scott, if you want to go back to normal, it's not back to normal, it's forward to normal. Take our learnings and do even better, do even more.


Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you look back to the beginning of the pandemic, our world was a different place at that time. I mean, in terms of family history research from where we are right now. And I look at what FamilySearch did, for instance, during that time, they took advantage of that period, to do so much work in digitizing, they completed the digitization of everything that was in the vault, if you know what I'm saying.


Curt: [Laughs]


Fisher: And so we have access to that material. And then we have seen, for instance, just the local county archives did a lot of indexing and cataloging of things they had, because I've always been struck by the fact that all these archives are out there that don't even know what they have, you know, they just collect it. They don't know where it is. And so a lot of things have been organized in that way. And I don't think I'd ever heard of the word Zoom before the pandemic had you?


Curt: No, it was brand new. And in fact, the pandemic success almost caused that company to say, whoa, we can't handle this. They were able to but your phrase there Scott more discoveries. That was the challenge. And wasn't it awesome to see the individuals and organizations that stepped up? And yeah, use the opportunity, use the time to make more discoveries. That has been a challenge for archives and record repositories for generations for centuries. Well, we might have it here. You know, Fred, Fred used to work here 57 years, but he retired now, we really don't know what's here, because Fred's retired.


Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.


Curt: So, got to find more of those inventories, you know, oh, my goodness, a lot of great things came out of that pandemic.


Fisher: Sure, absolutely. Well, let's talk about the Allen County Public Library a little bit. People are coming and gathering there in Fort Wayne, you're kind of getting back or moving forward, as you say to the new normal. What's that look like Curt?


Curt: Well, it's not that we are going to okay, stop doing this because we've had such great success during the pandemic. It's what else can we add to our services? And what else can we modify to make it even more meaningful? So there are a lot of our patrons who are still deciding whether or not they want to do as much physical on site research as they've done in the past. But last year, even though we were totally open the year before, we were totally open, last year, Scott, we had over 30,000 people attend one of our virtual programs.


Fisher: Wow!


Curt: It was pretty amazing. We're on target to do the same thing this year. We've seen growing numbers of people come here. We're hosting the International German Genealogy Partnership conference, in June, June 8 through 11th of this year, registration is off as it has been for every single conference. But still, there are hundreds of individuals who are interested in coming and listening to experts using a good physical collection. So when they're back home, they can do virtual things even better. I don't think one take the place of another, I think our virtual experiences enhance our physical experiences and vice versa.


Fisher: Absolutely. I guess the challenge would be, I mean, I put myself in the position of the decision makers who have invested in putting on many of these conferences. I can't imagine that we're not going to see a huge drop off in the number of them just because of what you said you have 30,000 people attending a virtual conference from your library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


Curt: Right, right. It will cause people to look anew, to not go back to normal but go forward to normal. I think the conference models have to change because the economics of it, and then the reality of people saying you know, I can do so much more if I'm more judicious about where I spend my dollars.


Fisher: Sure.


Curt: I can spend some $2,000 plus to attend a four day conference somewhere not near my home, or I can do so much virtually and maybe every other year target something that really hits my area of interest.


Fisher: Right.


Curt: Maybe I'm interested in my ancestor from Mecklenburg or Posen, Germany. So I'm going to look for something that really fills that need. So organizations, libraries, societies are going to be challenged to do better what I call environmental scans, look around what our members want, can we develop mechanisms for finding out what they want and then responding meaningfully to those needs and desires.


Fisher: And this is where a place like Tami Mize's site ConferenceKeeper.org comes in so handy, because this is like the one place we can find out where everything is going on.


Curt: Isn't that amazing? Isn't that site amazing?


Fisher: Yeah, it is. And it's never been more relevant than it is right now. So it's very exciting. You're also tied in with the Internet Archive, which has gone on for some time. And I'll tell you, I can't do anything online without running into something that is an Internet Archive from old books that have fascinating information, it's invaluable, and it's almost like the Greek library of old, right?


Curt: Exactly. In fact, that's what the founder Brewster Kahle is trying to replicate in a digital form. He wants to be the Alexandrian library of the 21st century. And we're just so honored to have this awesome partnership with the Internet Archive, where we're just methodically book after book day after day, scanning everything we possibly can, scanning those things that are out of copyright that are not in any way restricted, and we still have 1000s more to scan, and over 117,000 items out of our collection are available on the Internet Archive for free. You can search them, you can download them, you can read them online, whatever is your pleasure.


Fisher: Yeah, I have a few of those books that I've downloaded just to keep in a folder on my research on various family lines and give everybody the URL on that.


Curt: It's simply Archive.org. Amazing site. Brewster Kahle and his team have put so much into that an amazing contribution to humanity and certainly to genealogists and family historians. There is so much great data.


Fisher: There really is, and historians in general. So you guys actually do the digitizing right there in Fort Wayne?


Curt: Yes we do. We have two awesome digitizing partners. One is Internet Archive. And the other is our good friends from Family Search. They also have a scanning center here. You know, Scott, you and I, as genealogists, we have a personal digital library of over 560,000 items, because that's how many genealogy and local history books are in Family Search digital library for free. Isn’t that amazing? Half a million books!


Fisher: It's bigger than anything we could have ever visited in any facility. Right? I mean, it's, it's just amazing. And then you can peruse through them and find them so easily.


Curt: Yeah, best of times. It really is.


Fisher: It really is. He's Curt Witcher. He is the director of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And Curt, so good to talk with you again and I appreciate your thoughts on where we are right now because it's kind of a new beginning, isn't it?

Curt: It really is a great way of putting it.


Fisher: All right. Thanks for coming on. Great to talk to you.


Curt: Absolutely. Thank you, Scott.


Fisher: And coming up next, those army personnel records may have been burned, but the morning reports live on. We'll tell you more about that coming up with Melanie McComb when we return in three minutes.


Segment 3 Episode 458

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb

Fisher: All right back at it. It's Fisher here on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Delighted to go back to Boston to talk to my good friend Melanie McComb! She is a woman of many hats at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. She's the Irish expert, the Jewish research expert. She is the expert in DNA there. She also works the military stuff, which hat are we wearing today, Melanie?

Melanie: Hey, Fisher, today we're going to be wearing the military hat.

Fisher: The military hat. And this is good because you had an ancestor, a grandfather, right? Who was in World War II and that kind of leads to all this kind of research.

Melanie: Absolutely. So I was definitely interested in finding out more about his story. And I thought it was going to be like where a lot of people had ended up where they had requested a file from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, and find out the file burned.

Fisher: Sure. And that was in 1973. And did you find out, did his file burn?

Melanie: His file did burn. So the only file that remains there that was held separately was his final payment voucher. But that still gave me a little bit of information to know that I had a little more detail on his address and information. But having a service number from other records was really the next key.

Fisher: Sure.

Melanie: And I wanted to pursue it further. So, the next thing I needed to do was seek out what records are available. And even though the official military files were the ones that burned for Army and Air Force, Navy Marines were still intact. There are other records you can pursue, which could include company rosters. My big find was the morning reports.

Fisher: So tell us about that. The morning reports have been around for some time, right? Not just in World War II, it was long before that, right?

Melanie: Correct. Yes. And we have morning reports that go back, even to World War I as well. 1912 is when we started having the first few morning reports available. And actually the National Archives worked with Ancestry via Fold3 to start adding those morning reports online.

Fisher: Okay, so describe what a morning report is specifically.

Melanie: Sure. So, the morning reports are going to be at the company level. And they're going to include where that company is on a specific date in a specific location in the war theater. And it's going to include their service numbers for the individuals that were a part of that company, their names, and they're going to include details on if they were transferred to another unit, were they hospitalized, were they taking prisoners? You know, in other notes about what was going on at that time.

Fisher: Interesting. So it's basically a journal for the company.

Melanie: In a way, yes. It was a way for the military to document what was happening to each of the different companies and to keep track of changes over time. And we find that these records get more and more detailed as we move from World War I to World War II, where I even got down to seeing what the weather was like on that particular day.

Fisher: Oh, wow! [Laughs]

Melanie: I could see it was snowing in Germany in Munich when my grandfather was over there with the Thunderbirds, actually taking the city.

Fisher: So, does this only cover the army or do they also have these morning reports for the Navy and the Marines?

Melanie: So this is specifically for the army.

Fisher: Okay.

Melanie: With the Navy, you will see more items like the Navy death logs and other records. So there are other record sets that have similar purposes of like I said, documenting what's going on. And that's combined with using muster rolls as well.

Fisher: So what did you learn from these morning reports about your grandfather?

Melanie: So, these morning reports helped document his journey from when they first arrived in Italy, made their way up through France, and then over to Germany. So, I was able to really track where the company was almost week over week at a time.

Fisher: Wow! What fun.

Melanie: Yeah. And what was nice, as I also saw when there was actually a division change where he was transferred over. So that was documenting that at that time. And you also see notes in there about different awards might have been given as well, sometimes you see those noted, and then that can lead you to then general orders and other documentation if awards were given out to specific people.

Fisher: Wow. Now, you knew your grandfather, I assume, yes?

Melanie: I knew him for a very short time. He had actually died when I was a small child.

Fisher: Okay.

Melanie: So I really knew him for through the family. And his military service is something that it wasn't talked about, as you can imagine, at that time until I was much older. And now there's been more of a renewed interest where my family started sharing more stories in which my uncle would even document different stories of things that had happened when he was in the war, which could include things like if there was friendly fire incidents, or if they had cases of PTSD starting to come up amongst the soldiers.

Fisher: Yeah.

Melanie: There was one story I remember where they got stuck near a river and one of his men couldn't get out. I think he was like, stuck in the mud or something. And they were under heavy fire. And they basically had to leave him because they couldn't risk the rest of the company being killed during that time. So I think there was a lot of survivor's guilt. My grandfather had that he had relayed over to my dad and my aunt and uncle about what he had experienced.

Fisher: When did he pass away, Mel?

Melanie: He passed away in 1986.

Fisher: Okay, so yeah, you would have been very young then. So, this was all passed down to you. So this is something you've always kind of known. Have you found some things that have confirmed what you heard, and have you found some things that contradict what you've heard?

Melanie: I would say that it mostly confirmed a lot what I heard, but I think it was more the depth of what he experienced.

Fisher: Sure.

Melanie: So, one of the things, for example, is he received the Silver Star. And it was always known that he had this medal and everything that was going on, but we didn't really have a lot of the details of exactly what battle was it at, how did he get it. And through the power of Facebook, I actually connected with a group that was founded by other veterans of the Thunderbirds. And one of the administrators would actually go to the National Archives, and he was copying out all the general orders and different documentation on men in these units. And he actually was able to identify and had a copy of the general order for my grandfather, where it told exactly what had happened. And it was very much corroborating almost exactly to what was reported in the newspaper. He had a decision of whether he was going to throw a hand grenade or fire a grenade out of the gun and he made the right decision and fired the Grenade out of the gun and it destroyed the German machine gun.

Fisher: Okay, so took out a machine gun nests saved the guys, so he was recognized for it. And he was obviously under heavy fire himself at that point.

Melanie: Absolutely. Yeah. So it was very much like he basically had very little room to really be able to stick up his head and do what he needed to do without getting shot down.

Fisher: So these morning reports, Melanie, where can people find them?

Melanie: Sure. So, the morning report through World War I and all the way up even through 1939. Those are available now on Fold3.com. And they have been fully digitized and available. The record since then, are going to be added on since 1935 through 1945. They are still in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. So, you will need a researcher on site to look at those on microfilm. However, they are going to be added in the future to Fold3. So stay tuned.

Fisher: It's just amazing how much stuff is still out there for us to find and suddenly have these things drop in our lap. We're sitting up at two in the morning with what Dave called gen-somnia and all of a sudden finding these incredible details that we never imagined could be located for very little effort and money.

Melanie: Absolutely, yeah. And it doesn't even have to necessarily be someone that even took up a gun during that. I recently was working with a patron and he had his grandfather served in an ambulance corps attached to one of the base hospitals. And then it was the same case his grandfather's file had burned in the fire. And it was okay, what can we find next? And we started off with finding a history of the base hospital. And that was really important because that gave us that fan club approach.

Fisher: Sure. Yeah, friends, associates and neighbors.

Melanie: That's right. So he was actually able to contact a descendant of one of them. And they had a diary that they had kept during the war, mentioning his grandfather.

Fisher: Wow! This is such a great thing. And these are the rabbit holes we can follow sometimes for years, and continue to find great material. Melanie thanks so much for coming on. It's always a pleasure to have you. I think this has been really informative and helpful.

Melanie: Thanks so much for having me. And if anybody's in the New England area, we are having the New England regional consortium conference next week, and I'll be talking more about this topic.

Fisher: All right, great stuff. Melanie, thank you. And coming up next it's Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert when we return and three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 458

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Dave, our first question today comes from April in New Orleans. And she says, “Fish and Dave, how might I research my ancestor who was supposedly a prohibition agent?” Wow, that's an interesting one!

David: Oooh, yeah, especially since your ancestor probably knew my ancestor, the bootlegger.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, sure, let's talk about her ancestor, because I'm tired of talking about my grandfather. So let's see, identification cards for prohibition agents actually is a database on Ancestry.

Fisher: Really?

David: They have the cards. Yeah, with photographs, Fish.

Fisher: Ooh!

David: 1920 to 1925. It's part of the identification prohibition agents’ collection from the Internal Revenue Service collection, record group 58, at our very own National Archives of Washington, DC. So this is amazing. You can go in here and see the variety of the different cards. So, it's like almost like passport photos. So I'm looking at one right here for JP Ferguson, federal prohibition agent. There's a photograph of him, both a straight on shot and a profile shot. And other information in there is the fact that he is an agent on a certain date in the 1920s. So, he can actually go for it. So these are all their identification cards.

Fisher: Wow!

David: So, this is another source for finding photographs.

Fisher: Yes.

David: So that being said, in Seattle, Washington, there's also another collection of records that's available, the records of the Bureau of Prohibition, and these cover 1927 to 1933. So the National Archives has the finding aid of this, and this has 14 linear feet of case files that contain information about the investigations, clippings relating to investigations, correspondence between law enforcement officials, and informants. Ooh, the informants.

Fisher: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, is this all indexed, then, all the names in there?

David: It is not indexed. It is actually a collection that you have to go through in person.

Fisher: Okay.

David: In this whole collection itself, there are over 30 boxes in Seattle, Washington.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Now the one on Ancestry is indexed, so you can search on the name. So, who knows, maybe you might find your ancestor who was prohibition agent and you didn't realize what they were doing for work between 1920 and ‘25. Well, here you go and a photograph to boot.

Fisher: Yeah. And if they could then take that and then extend the research into what you're talking about, these boxes up in Seattle and find connections to actual cases they worked on. I mean, wouldn't that be a goldmine!

David: It is, and I'm looking at the location, Seattle, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Alaska, Boise, Idaho, Denver, Colorado, Everett, Washington. So it's dealing with a lot of different places when prohibition was the law.

Fisher: We're talking about the days of Eliot Ness, right, and guys going up and shooting up bars. I mean, there's, there's a lot of stories here. And I would imagine, also, David, you've got to find some newspaper stories connected to this.

David: Exactly. I mean, the case files here in Seattle, Washington mentioned about newspaper clippings. So, I mean, using Newspapers.com, I'm sure you're going to be able to put in your ancestors name. It might be using the word agent and the last name.

Fisher: Sure.

David: Don't expect his first and middle name to be included. And sometimes, it may be an event that's local. So, I would look for, you know, prohibition agents in the place that he worked out of and get news stories as well. And the other thing is, if your ancestor was really tied up into a criminal activity during that timeframe, see if the FBI has a file on your grandfather or great grandfather.

Fisher: No question.

David: There's all sorts of angles that you can try in this, but sometimes your ancestors were on the right side of the law, and well, sometimes they weren't.

Fisher: [Laughs] All right, great question. Thanks so much for it. We got another one coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 458

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right back at it on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. We're doing Ask Us Anything. And David, our next question comes from Jeff and he says, “Fish and Dave, greetings from South Carolina. My second great grandfather was adopted sometime in the 1870s. Any ideas on where I might find some kind of record of this that might identify the birth parents? Jeff.” That's a good question, and there's a lot of things to talk about here.

David: Oh, wow. And four minutes too. That's going to be a tight squeeze.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, I mean, knowing the location, Jeff would obviously help, because there are going to be limitations to state laws. I mean, even in some states, adoptions are closed indefinitely.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: However, if you find that the state that your ancestor lived in has open access to early adoption records, I mean, the county probate courts, for instance, are going to be the first place, because there’s going to be usually an index to the probate. One is going to have the original name, the other one is going to be the name decreed after the adoption.

Fisher: Okay.

David: One of the things I find with that is a quick way of finding out what the original name is, because, wait, they're going to have the same docket number. And then, if you're lucky enough that Family Search has digitize these probate records, you can look up the record right there. So, there may not be a birth record recorded early enough to record it, but there should be a court record, but back then, Fish. Sometimes adoptions weren't done through the courts, like the neighbor would take the child, because the parents died in a house fire.

Fisher: Oh yeah.

David: So and so died.

Fisher: Or a baby was dumped off on somebody's porch.

David: That's true. And if that's the case, then you have to turn to that magical kit called DNA.

Fisher: Yes.

David: I mean, how many stories that we talked about, you know, babies that were orphans. I mean, this is the same thing with the adoption. So, if you can't find the paper trail, and this is an ancestor, that you still possess some autosomal DNA, and maybe if it's a male child, you have the Y DNA, which is even better.

Fisher: Potentially, yeah.

David: Part of the paternity, yeah. There's so many options. I mean, if we were doing adoption research 40 years ago or even 25 years ago for that matter, we wouldn't have half the tools with the internet and with the DNA. And then of course, you never know, if the person adopted may have been part of an orphanage. Are orphanage records around?

Fisher: Yes.

David: Were they adopted from an orphanage? Is the story of this child being adopted small town news? I mean, Newspapers.com, how many adoption stories are buried in those records. Just search the name and adoptions or probate court and the child's name, you might find something on a calendar of events going on in the courts. So there's all sorts of things.

Fisher: Oh, the list is so long. But the fact of the matter is, though, those records from the back that far often very difficult to find, nonetheless. I still think DNA for anybody who was adopted, whether it's somebody living now or somebody from just a few generations back, you know, a second great grandparent, as he's talking about here is well within reach of DNA. And hopefully, you would be able to put together a family tree. I had a friend whose grandfather was on the orphan train from New York City to the Midwest. And he wanted to know who his grandfather's parents were. And so, we worked on the DNA and very quickly found who the grandparents’ of the grandfather was over in Scotland. He had 10 kids, and eventually, we were able to narrow it down and at least figure out who the parent was on one side, and then he took it from there and used DNA to discover the mother's side. You know, that's the thing about DNA, it is just such an all inclusive tool for quite a few generations. Obviously, when you get back, you know, many, many you got to rely on Y and mitochondrial and all that type of thing. But, there's a lot of things out there, a lot of options. And there you go. Our four minutes are up, Dave, so. [Laughs]

David: Perfect.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: Good luck with that, Jeff.

Fisher: All right. Thanks for the question, Jeff. And of course, thanks for listening to the show this week. And we'll talk to you again next week, Dave.

David: Until later, my friend.

Fisher: All right. And thanks to Curt Witcher for coming on the show, Melanie McComb from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, and thanks to you for joining us. And if you missed any of the show, of course catch the podcast on Apple Media, TuneIn Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, iHeart Radio and Spotify. We'll talk to you again next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice normal family!



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