Episode 459 - Son of World War II POW Gets Dad’s Legendary Camp Cartoon Strips Back

podcast episode May 08, 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 open Family Histoire News with word that the last survivor of the Hindenburg disaster (1937) has died. Hear the details. Then, it turns out that a world famous movie star is actually related to the person he’s portraying! Find out who it is. That search for a missing cemetery on a Florida high school campus is complete. And the findings will astound you!  DNA has revealed the unexpected when it comes to illegitimacies from the Middle Ages. Find out what’s been learned.

Next, Fisher visits with a California artist named Morgan Weistling. His father, Howard, was also an artist… a fledgling one when he was a POW in World War II. Morgan was most familiar with his Dad’s stories of creating a camp comic strip to give his comrades something to distract them through the harsh conditions. And now those original strips have been found and returned to Morgan and the family. Hear Howard’s incredible story and the miracle of the find and return of these precious family heirlooms in two parts.

Finally, David Allen Lambert wraps things up with another couple of rounds of Ask Us Anything.

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

Transcript for Episode 459

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 459

Fisher: Welcome to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and Extreme Genes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Hey, it is great to have you along. Great guests again today. You know, last week we touched on the story about the Weistling family. Howard, the father, had been in World War II, and was in a POW camp. And using cigarette papers he created comic strips that went around the POW camp. And recently his son, Morgan Weistling got these things back. And how they were found and how he got them is an incredible miracle. And we’re going to talk to Morgan who’s an artist himself a little bit later on in the show in two parts about his dad’s story, all about the cartoons, how he got them back. It’s going to be a great visit and we’re really looking forward to it. And of course at the back end of the show we will take more of your questions on a little thing we call “Ask Us Anything.” Hey if you haven’t signed up by the way for our Weekly Genie newsletter yet, this is something you can do right now. Just go to our Facebook page or ExtremeGenes.com. It costs you nothin’! We don’t share your email addresses with anybody. It’s a chance, though, for you to keep up with current stories in the family history world and past and present versions of Extreme Genes. So check it out! Right now, it’s time to check in with Boston and David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How are you David?

David: I’m doing great.  

Fisher: Hey, we’ve got some great Family Histoire News today, and really interesting stuff, starting with a passing that wasn’t too far from your neck of the woods.

David: That’s true. They’re actually up in Laconia, New Hampshire, where 90-year-old Werner Gustav Doehner died. He was an eight-year-old on the Hindenburg, Fish


David: And it’s amazing. They’re all gone now, but he was an eight-year-old and his mother and he survived. However, his father and sister did not.

Fisher: Right. He was actually thrown by his mother off the Hindenburg. And if you’re not familiar with the Hindenburg story, I think most people are, it was a Nazi dirigible. And this was before the war and they were flying from Germany across to New Jersey and as it was about to land, it caught on fire. And there was a live broadcast going on at the time. There’s a famous announcer quote, you can hear him going, “Well, here comes the dirigible. Oh, it’s on fire! Oh, the humanity! Oh, the people, all the passengers!” It’s a very dramatic thing and I was shocked to learn there was a survivor still living from that experience.

David: Yeah.

Fisher: Unbelievable!

David: Like with the Titanic and World War I, we’re losing these people that have that connect from long ago. Soon, we’ll have people that weren’t even alive during the Great Depression.

Fisher: Right.

David:  Well, you know, one story that’s really in the news today is, of course, Tom Hanks portraying Mr. Rogers and who would have thunk they’re actually related. Ancestry.com, through their research and some DNA has now proved that they are sixth cousins. So, Fred Rogers’ fifth great-grandfather was Johannes Mefford. Well, Mefford had a couple of sons and one of them was Fred’s fourth great-grandfather William who served in the Navy, captured by the British in 1782, was held in Barbados and Antigua in a prison ship at least ten months later. Tom Hanks is related to one of the other brothers and he was in a skirmish in the Chesapeake Bay.

Fisher: I love that!

David: I see the family resemblance. Don’t you?

Fisher: Oh yeah, absolutely.

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: You know, it makes you wonder though why wouldn’t we research connections like this from all these actors who play historic figures and see if there’s a tie. I mean, I think that’s really interesting.

David: I’ll have to check if Paul Giamatti is actually John Adams’ cousin. [Laughs]

Fisher: Right, yeah.

David: Okay. Well, this is an update to a story we talked about last week out there in King High School in Tampa, Florida. They have determined now through the Ground Penetrating Radar, which I’m still hoping for, for Christmas. There are actually 145 coffins or at least grave shafts, that are three to six feet down located right adjacent to the high school.

Fisher: Wow! To the building itself, but it’s on the grounds.

David: Um hmm.

Fisher: The good news is it wasn’t under the football field, and that always bothered me because I thought how would those kids feel about knowing they had been playing football over the graves of all these people. I mean, it’s just ugh, you know.

David: Yeah, it’s scary. Well hopefully, either that will be set aside as a cemetery and they’ll mark the area appropriately or they’ll be removed by forensic archaeologists and reburied in a proper place.

Fisher: Umhmm.

David: You know, we always talk about the illegitimacies in the royal family. Endogamy and paternity can always be a player in looking at royal ancestry.

Fisher:  And the aristocracy in general.

David: Exactly. But it turns out that it’s really the people who are working downstairs or the people who are living down the street. Illegitimacy with the lower classes over the past 500 years is very common with the urban poor the geneticists are saying.

Fisher: Yeah. In fact, they’re saying that farmers who were way out there, they had a very low illegitimacy rate, only like half of a percent. But you get into the urban areas and the lower classes, it was like six percent.

David: Hmm.

Fisher: And that went quite contrary to what the expectation was of those who put this study together, so really interesting. You can see the link on ExtremeGenes.com.

David: Well, here’s a new one that’s coming up and I think people would probably want to know about it. It actually ties in to my blogger spotlight. My blogger spotlight this week shines on Lara Diamond. And Lara has a blog called Lara’s Jewnealogy that can be reached at LarasGenealogy.blogspot.com. She alerted me personally to something that’s of great interest to our listeners. If your ancestors came over in the early twentieth century and never became a citizen, it’s possible that they had an A-File, an alien registration required started in 1940. Currently these files now cost $240. They’re looking at raising them, Fish, to $625 for a single file. But the catch on this, and I’m hoping Lara can talk more with us soon, is that they really fall under Freedom of Information, so technically there should be a lower fee.

Fisher: Wow! We’ll have to look more into that.

David:  Well, that about all I have for this week. Remember, if you’re looking for a holiday gift for your loved one or your fellow genealogist or suggest one for yourself, how about a membership at American Ancestors where you can save $20 by using a secret code, the word “Extreme” on your checkout. [Laughs]

Fisher: There you go David. Thank you so much. And coming up next we’re going to talk to Morgan Weistling. His dad was a POW in World War II. He did cartoons on the back of cigarette papers to entertain some of his fellow POWs and now Morgan has recovered those cartoons. We’re going to hear the whole story, coming up in two parts, starting in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 459

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Morgan Weistling

Fisher: Back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. You know, I’m always looking for stories that are fascinating, and inspiring, and uplifting, and it was really fun to discover this man’s story. His name is Morgan Weistling. He’s in Santa Clarita, California, near Los Angeles. And Morgan, welcome to Extreme Genes. It’s great to have you.

Morgan: Thanks for having me.

Fisher: Now, your dad was in World War II, and as I understand it, it was like his initial run on a plane, and he got shot down and wound up on a POW camp?

Morgan: That pretty much sums it up. [Laughs]

Fisher: Really? Okay. Was he in the Air Corp? Was that what it was?

Morgan: He was in the Army Air Corp. He was a flight engineer with a crew of eight. And they got hit over Austria, actually, and when the pilot could see that he wasn’t probably going to make it back, he said, you know, we’re going to have to all jump out. And so that’s what they did,and they all got captured and were put in Stalag 1 in Barth, Germany, prison camp. So,   they actually ended up together in the same barracks.

Fisher: So what year are we talking about here? 

Morgan: This is ’44.

Fisher: Okay, and how old was dad at that time?

Morgan: You know, that’s a good question. I honestly don’t know exactly. [Laughs] But he was a young guy.

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: But they all were, you know. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. Well, you figure also, at ‘44 if he was just getting in at that point then he was probably about 18 or 19, right?

Morgan: Yeah. Yeah, he was probably about 19, I would imagine.

Fisher: So, they parachute out, they hit the ground, and what happens?

Morgan: Well, some of them got captured immediately. My dad, actually, he took three days. He hid in a barn of a farmer who found him, gave him a meal, and then called the Germans to come and get him.

Fisher: Oh boy.

Morgan: And so, they all took a train into Barth, Germany, and originally were put into solitary, and kind of gone through the usual routine that prisoners of war all had to go through. And then it was just living in a prison camp. For him, the main problem was starvation constantly going on.

Fisher: Wow.

Morgan: That was the big thing. They didn’t torture them or anything like that, but they just didn’t feed them. And so food was constantly on his mind all the time.

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: And I have one of his journals that he kept there were simply recipes of things that he wants to combine and try to eat when he comes back, if he gets out of there and have his mother make for him. I mean list after list of foods. And all he did was obsess on food because it was all that was on his mind.

Fisher: Wow. How long was he in there?

Morgan: A year.

Fisher: One year. So, here is a kid, and you just think man, here’s somebody who just be starting in college probably at that point in their lives, and just sitting there stuck, not knowing if they’re going to survive, starving and they’re with a bunch of other guys. How many other people? How many other prisoners were in the camp?

Morgan: You know, I don’t know what the population was in the entire camp, I just know in his barracks he drew a picture of the actual, you know, room that they stayed in, and it looked like there was about 12 to 14 of them in one barrack room.

Fisher: Hmm. Okay. And you mentioned drawing because I know that Howard Weistling, your father, was into art and he had kind of aspirations to go in that direction, didn’t he, before the war?

Morgan: Yeah. When he was growing up he was great at drawing and he loved story telling. And he loved the comic strips of that time period in the ‘30s, which were Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon and you know, all the ones, Dick Tracy, all those ones that he wanted to someday grow up and that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to have his own comic strip and tell his own stories. And Pearl Harbor came along and he enlisted right away and he thought it would be a smart idea to get into the Army Air Corps because he might survive that better than if he was a ground troop. And so you know, little did he know that was going to end up as a POW.

Fisher: Yeah.

Morgan: Because that’s what it did.

Fisher: Wow. No question. But he used this then as kind of a survival tactic in this POW camp.

Morgan: Well, it was very boring in that particular camp.

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: It wasn’t a concentration camp obviously.

Fisher: Right.

Morgan: That was a whole other kind of thing. This was a POW camp. So basically, it was mostly Americans and they were bored. They were literally just trying to survive with little food and bored. And the morale was very low. And he saw that as an opportunity to fulfil his dream as a comic strip artist. So, he started collecting cigarette wrappers because the back of them were white, blank, and he makeshift a sketch book out of all these wrappers and then started a daily serial comic strip, which he told me by the time one panel got passed around the entire camp it was about three days before it would get back to him to continue the story. So, he would continue this long running storyline that everyone would look forward to and wondering what’s going to happen next and it kind of made them feel like they were back home getting their newspaper with the comic strip.

Fisher: Yeah.

Morgan: And I grew up, from the time I was, you know, before I could talk, hearing that story and looking at my dad as just the coolest hero to me because I loved art and I loved that he used it to help, you know, kind of bring everybody else around and have some morale pumped up. So, I just looked at him as a hero in that story and I told that story as I became a famous artist. I have a website that has that whole story on it and how that influenced me as an artist myself. Thinking that was it, now part of that story was always, “Dad, did you bring any of those drawings home?” That would mean so much to me, being what I became. Gosh, [Laughs] I’d love to have a couple of those drawings because then when I tell those stories someday I could show them to people. And he said, no, you know, when the Russians came in and liberated the camp he didn’t even know where they were, you know?

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: They were always being passed around and it wasn’t the main thing on his mind. There was a lot going on in that camp when the Russians came in. But, you know, I said, “Well dad, you know, that’s a really bummer part of that story [Laughs] and I really wished you’d grabbed a couple.”

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: And later, as I continue to always tell people the story, and it was always the do you have any of them? And no. He eventually passed away at 83 and that was the end of the story I thought until a few years after his death,that’s when I got the part of the story that really gets interesting. [Laughs]

Fisher: Well, it does really get interesting because you got them all back. And how this happened is just incredulous to me. Who found them?

Morgan: Good question. Yeah, well, you know I’m a well known artist so people find me very easily and so I get emails every day from people asking me questions and stuff. And all of a sudden I walk into my studio one day and I check my emails and there’s this one, it’s from a man, it’s an older gentleman he says, and he used to be a businessman in New York and he read my bio and realized that he definitely has the right guy. But he goes, “I think I have some of the drawings that your father did when he was a POW.” And then he ended it with, “Would you be interested?” [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Are you kidding? Hop on the first flight today, right?

Morgan: What? Are you kidding me? And I cried. I literally just started crying.

Fisher: Of course.

Morgan: And he put his phone number there so I immediately called him and he told me this crazy story at that time of that call when I called him. Twenty years ago he had a business in New York with two other business partners and one of them embezzled a lot of money. And before they caught him, he went and spent it all on Nazi artefact, a whole truckload of them. So, they caught the guy after he spent the money, couldn’t get the money back and now they’ve got a truckload of Nazi artefact. And he said, “We’re Jewish!” Of all the things this guy did he bought stuff from the holocaust.

Fisher: Yeah.

Morgan:You know, it’s like the worst possible thing in their minds and so he said, “We were just discussing it.” And in this truck was three of Hitler’s watercolours, and billy clubs, and batons from Auschwitz, and mingler'suniform, and dinnerware, and all this crud that had Nazi stuff all over it. And he goes, “We just didn’t know what to do with it so we started donating it to holocaust museums and other things. And he said, “You know, we just want to get rid of all of it. But I kept a couple of the little items back because I could tell they weren’t Nazi. They looked like something the POW had done, so I decided to keep them and then I’ve held on to them for 20 years.” And it ended up being my dad’s drawings.

Fisher: Wow!

Morgan: And he said, “I was recently moving and I was looking at them again and saw that his name was on the cover of one of the books, and so I looked up the last name.” And he immediately found me because my name is very unusual. And it was just like, “You want me to send them to you?” [Laughs] Yeah!

Fisher: Wow! It’s fantastic Morgan and you just must be giddy about it. And so what have you done with them since?

Morgan: Well, he FedEx them to me and that was a big deal just waiting for that truck.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Morgan: I’ve never in my life waited so long for a truck to drive up.

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: And it was just a big deal and I opened up and held that book that was, you know, and it was done 75 years ago.

Fisher: Yeah.

Morgan: All I could think of was first of all I feel like I’m getting a piece of my father back.

Fisher: Of course, you were.

Morgan: He’s telling me these stories now and I never really knew the story itself. He never actually told me what the story was in this comic strip, and now I’m holding it in my hand and he’s telling me the story for the first time. He’s been dead now for like seven years at this point. And all of a sudden, you know, here he is telling me the story. And you couldn’t help but wonder where have you been all these years? [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] All right, we’ve got to take a break. And when we return we’ll get more of the story from Morgan Weistling talking about his POW dad and the recovery of his comic strips from the camp, in five minutes.

Segment 3 Episode 459

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Morgan Weistling

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. We’re having an amazing visit with artist Morgan Weistling, talking about his dad who was a POW in Germany, and kept his fellow prisoners entertained by writing a comic strip on cigarette paper and then binding them and sharing them around the entire camp. And Morgan just recently got them back and he was wondering before the break just where these things had been the last 75 years. [Laughs]

Morgan: Because the last I heard Russian tanks were coming in and I would just have imagined everything just getting grinded under the tanks.

Fisher: Yeah, levelled.

Morgan: You know like nothing is going to survive, and all of a sudden here these are. And one of the ways they survived is the way my dad had put these books together. He had taken tin cans that looked like they were army olive drab cans. So, they were probably from the Geneva Convention which would sometimes give them cans of something at the camps. So, he would flatten out the can. He would take the lids off, flatten it out, and he made a binding out of two tin cans, put a nail through it and held all the papers inside of the wrappers and made it look like a sketchbook. Well, because it was encased both sides in metal, it survived being passed around the camp first of all, but then it survived who knows where it’s been throughout the years.

Fisher: Yeah.

Morgan: And just that it ended up in my hands again is a miracle. You know, just, wow!

Fisher: It is. It’s got to be one of the greatest things that’s ever happened in your life.

Morgan: And the story was a western which I hadn’t even known that and I became a western artist, as an artist.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Morgan: That’s so ironic.

Fisher: Wow.

Morgan: It kind of came full circle. He’s telling stories about the old west and that’s exactly what I ended up doing. [Laughs]

Fisher: Isn’t that something.

Morgan: But, not only were they given this book with hundreds of these drawings in it with the story, but the other book was a complete surprise too. It wasn’t just one book. The guy who I talked to on the phone he said, we had two books. One of them I gave to the other partner and I haven’t talk to him in 20 years. I don’t know if he still has it but I could call and try to find him. Literally two days later the other book showed up.


Morgan: And the other man who I never had to talk to, immediately just said, oh yeah, sure, I’ll send it. And I got both books miraculously. The other book was a record of his time in the prison camp. Not only did he record all the names and signatures of everyone else in the camp, but he also had like an account of what happened when they were liberated and there’s literally a, 10:24, we woke up and there’s Americans in the guard tower. 11:40, they just announced Hitler is dead.


Morgan: All these kinds of records of stuff going on at that moment. And also, drawings of things that he had seen in the train ride on the way to the camp of different landmarks. He obviously kept this hidden because the Germans would have immediately thought he was a spy.

Fisher: Yeah.

Morgan: Having recorded what the camp looked like and he was just recording things all the time. So, it was like, wow! This is just incredible. [Laughs] You know, this treasure trove of information that suddenly ended up in my lap so many years later.

Fisher: I bet you just can’t get your brain around it sometimes. So, do you have it on display? Do you have it loaned to museums? What are you doing with it?

Morgan: I’m keeping it in the family. I try to tell this story whenever I can and I brought them to lectures that I give and different things. As an artist I’m always having to talk to groups of people all the time and I always share this. So, I show them to people and let them actually touch them and see them, but then I put them back under lock and key.

Fisher: Oh, yeah.

Morgan: You know, if my house burned down that would be the first thing I’d be worried about and say, oh no! So, I always keep them in a safe deposit box. I live in a fire area.

Fisher: Oh.

Morgan: In California.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah.

Morgan: We’re being evacuated like every week around here.

Fisher: Yeah and your power is being cut out a lot too isn’t it?

Morgan: [Laughs] Yeah it is, all the time.

Fisher: I mean, gosh, all the time because of PG and E. I’m overwhelmed with the story first of all, as you were telling it I was getting emotional just listening to you. I mean, the idea that you would get that piece of your father back, which was obviously one of those events in his life that defined his life, wouldn’t you say? That was the defining moment.

Morgan: It really was. It’s one of those things that you know when you’re a POW I don’t think you ever go through a day probably that you don’t remember you’re a POW.

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: You went through something that is not like anything else. And as he got older in life he talked more about it and he kind of used to not share the bad parts of it. He tried to give me more of the uplifting things that may have happened in the camp.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Morgan: But I saw it become more like flooding back to him as he became weaker as a human being and frail. It all really started to come back to him and psychologically it was actually like terrifying at moments for him because it was suddenly coming back but he wasn’t really prepared physically or mentally to handle some of those memories. So, I was sad to see it later in life. As a fact, here’s a question I would always ask him, what was it like? And what he would say it was like. And I said, dad, we’ve watched The Great Escape together. We’ve watched Stalag 17, all these prisoner of war movies. Which one is closest to the way it really was? And he goes, “None of them. There’s only one show on TV that actually just immediately makes him feel like he’s back in the camp, and it was Hogan’s Heroes.

Fisher: I was going to ask, Hogan’s Heroes. [Laughs]

Morgan: Believe it or not, he said it’s the most accurate thing he’s ever seen.

Fisher: Really?

Morgan: It’s just like the way the barracks looked. The way the camp looked, outside camp, even the way the politics worked. There really was like a Clink.

Fisher: Uh huh.

Morgan: And there was a real Hogan, because they had this one captain that was the leader for the Americans who would fight and get the rights as best they could for what they needed from Clink, you know the guy that was the Clink.

Fisher: Well, there was the Geneva Convention and there were rules for prisoners of war which often were not followed.

Morgan: And it was the American captain that definitely was the one who had to be constantly fighting for those rules to be kept. And he said, that guy really kept them alive sometimes because he would go to bat for them. And it’s amazing that they would listen.

Fisher: Sure.

Morgan: That there really was a structure involved that they would try and keep the Americans happy at some point you know, with certain things.

Fisher: Have you ever thought about how amazing it is that these books survived because of the fact that they had to have done inspections in these barracks at some point or another.

Morgan: Well, like Hogan’s Heroes, he told me they had like secret things going on. In fact, the very first thing the Americans took him aside as soon as he entered the camp and all the new guys. And one by one the American interrogated each guy, and said, “Do you have any information that would be helpful to the allies for bombing situations or anything you could say that you saw on the ride over here?” We could get you out.

Fisher: Wow!

Morgan: We do have the ability but we will never use it unless you have something absolutely crucial for the effort.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Morgan: My dad saw nothing of usefulness, he had to stay. But, it sounds like Hogan’s Heroes! [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. It really does. [Laughs] He’s Morgan Weistling, he is the son of Howard Weistling, who was shot down over Germany in 1944, spent a year in a POW camp and drew cartoons to entertain his colleagues for that year. And just recently Morgan has got them all back. Miraculously they’re in the family and I know that everybody listening right now has just got to be absolutely thrilled for you Morgan.

Morgan: Oh, thanks.

Fisher: And have enjoyed hearing the story, absolutely. So, I thank you so much for your time and coming on and sharing it and wish you the best! And enjoy sharing that story for generations on end in your family.

Morgan: Thank you!   

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to reopen our portal to Boston, Massachusetts, get David back in here and answer a couple of your questions. It’s Ask Us Anything coming up next when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 459

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: It is time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. David Allen Lambert is back from Boston. And David, our first question comes from Liz in Schenectady, New York today and she says, "I am researching an allusive ancestor who lived around Salem, Massachusetts around the time of the witch trials." and she says, "Records are scarce and I'm not finding anything much beyond the vital records. Any ideas?"

David: Well, you know actually for Salem, there's vital records and there's of course church records you can look at, but there's also the probate records. American Ancestors has the Essex county probates, which includes Salem. Family Search, you can search deeds right online for Essex county, so the grantor, grantee. One of the things that you may not know about and if you drill into the family history library catalogue on FamilySearch.org, look for Salem, Massachusetts and then look for taxation. They have really good tax records from 1686 right on through to 1700. I mean, of course beyond that until the 19th century. And that's where you'll find an aspect a lot of people don't look at, Fish. I don't know, tax records are so valuable, because they're kind of like mini censuses in a way, you know, with the kids being listed. You can put a person specifically in a town on a given year. Like for instance, one person I've researched up in Essex county, I know they're in the tax records, but I don't find a deed for them, so it’s a clue. So there's different types of taxes they paid in colonial New England, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this with your ancestors. So you have a local tax that was often paid for the upkeep on the minister in the town, because there was just one church back then and then you have a town tax for taking care of the roads and whatnot, you had a county tax and you would have a provincial tax, which would be for in this case, for Massachusetts bay colony. There's a variety of different taxes that were often raised for particular reasons, maybe for the military. So, you can use tax records to fill in the blanks a little bit with your Salem people, again using FamilySearch.org with the millions upon millions of images that you can search there. That's just one of them. And of course,American Ancestors has the probate, you can take a peek at that as well.

Fisher: One other thing I found out with tax records, Dave is, sometimes you can identify who are children of certain people, because they have to reach a certain age before they're taxed. And so, when somebody first appears on a tax record, you can assume that's the year they turned, say, 21 years old, and if prior to that the father was the only person in town of that surname, you can assume these are all kids from that same family if you put other factors together, but I think that's a real key thing.

David: It is. And the other thing is you can notice when someone listed as a widow, all of a sudden she's paying the taxes or it says EST for the estate of somebody. So you may not have a death record, but you know that he paid taxes in, say, 1695 and in 1696 he has a widow in the place of that tax assessment.

Fisher: Yeah, we had one where the ancestor was listed as having moved on, basically having left the area and that really helped us with our timeline. And as everybody knows, I'm really big on timelines for putting people's stories together, but tax records can do that as well. So, that tax record was essential to us linking this ancestor to his parents and then to his siblings and then to the timeline of when he moved from this area, in this case it was in Pennsylvania and left for Maryland.

David: Great stuff. You know, one of the things I found with the tax records is, these are something that you can search quite a lot online and in cases of, you know, a county burned and there are no probate or deeds or no vital records, sometimes its county tax records or town tax records are all you really have, and that's one thing to know is that towns did collect taxes so did counties sometimes there's even a state tax. One I love in Massachusetts was a book that was published a number of years ago called, The Direct Tax of 1771, and I use that all the time, because I mean, here's something that's nearly two decades before the first federal census.

Fisher: Sure.

David: So it becomes sort of a quasi census.

Fisher: Well, you've already inspired me to go on and check some tax records on some of the people I've been researching lately. So, great question, Liz. Thanks so much for it. We've got another one coming up for you next when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 459

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, we're back, it’s our final segment, it is Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. We appreciate your questions. David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, you were right there in the heart of Mayflower country, so this questions hits right at home. It’s from Donna in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She says, "Where are the passengers’ lists for the Mayflower?"

David: Wouldn't we all love to know.

Fisher: Right.

David: Well, Donna, the answer to that lies in the second governor’s journal. William Bradford, who millions of people are descended from was a far thinking person as far as keeping a journal, it’s called “Of Plymouth Plantation” and he recalls the passengers, he recalls the people who died in the first winter and of course has access himself to the Mayflower Compact, where the original does not exist anymore and transcribed that into his journal. And this very valuable book is preserved and exists today. But there is no passenger list. If you want to get the updated scholarship that goes beyond Bradford's work, you would want to look at Robert Charles Andersonwho's been a guest on Extreme Genes before. He wrote a book back in 2004 called The Pilgrim Migration, immigration to Plymouth Colonybetween 1620 and 1633 and that filled the benchmark, we're talking about the first people under the colony including those that came over after the Mayflower.

Fisher: Isn't that amazing. And to think that this journal somehow survived. And it was like the only real record of all this. Where would we be, David, if that journal had been burned, say, in a skirmish with the natives, right?

David: Right, exactly.

Fisher: Or later on, because it would up back in England and was held secretly over there for, what, centuries, because there were some fear over in England that descendants of the pilgrims were going to come back and try to claim property over there that had belonged to their ancestors if they knew who they were, right?

David: Absolutely.

Fisher: And so, finally this came over here at the end of the 19th century, it got back in American hands and thank goodness it did. But it was really the only record of the whole thing, otherwise we wouldn't know the name of the ship, we wouldn't know the content of the Mayflower Compact, we wouldn’t know who the passengers were. We might be able to figure some of them out, but I would assume we would just know them as, "those people who settled at Plymouth", right? That there was an early colony there.

David: It’s kind of like Rowan Oak to have a complete list of everybody and it was a journal, Jamestown, all the Indian fights were going on with the Powhatan Indians. I mean, was there a journal there? Well, no. I mean, maybe scanned documentation. But Plymouth Plantation, which is really a good read, especially if you're a descendant from anybody who was on the Mayflower, you're really getting kind of the heartbeat of what was going on in Bradford, pretty eloquently about the goings-on of the colony at that point in time. And it does preserve that history in one volume.

Fisher: It’s amazing detail what's in there. And if you find you have Mayflower ancestry, I found mine eight years ago now, coming up in December, and it was an absolute thrill, because I knew what kind of history was waiting for me when I got into in, finding out what my people did at that time and suddenly that story that I had read about as a kid so much became part of my story and that changed everything about how interested I would be in it, you know what I mean?

David: Um hmm, it gives a different twist on Thanksgiving, doesn't it?

Fisher: There you go. Thank you, Donna for the question, a great question. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, all you have to do is email us at [email protected]. David thanks so much. Have a great Thanksgiving and we will talk to you again next week.

David: All right, my friend.

Fisher: Well, that is our show for this week. And thanks so much for joining us. Thanks to Morgan Weistling. Yeah, the artist in California whose dad was POW in World War II and created these little cartoons on cigarette wrappers, cigarette papers that he passed around the POW camp. Morgan recently got them back. If you didn't hear the interview, catch the podcast on iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com and of course on iTunes. And don't forget to sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter, its free. You can do it at ExtremeGenes.com. All kinds of great blogs and links to stories and links to past and present podcasts. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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