Episode 460 - Ancestry’s Crista Cowan on AI: You’re Already Using It! Plus, Legacy Tree Genealogist’s Ryan Rockwood with a Japanese Research Story

podcast episode May 22, 2023

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.  In Family Histoire News, David updates us on the long-running War of 1812 Pension digitization project. Then, hear about how authorities finally figured out what happened to the man who, when he was 16, murdered his parents in 1958 and later escaped from prison. The story involves DNA… and has a twist! The guys then talk about a World War 2 vet who just started having nightmares from his experiences… at age 99!  Smithsonian is carrying an interesting story about steamboat racing in the 19th century. The guys explain. Then, David talks about a strange place that is (essentially) named Hill Hill Hill Hill. He’ll tell you where it is and why it is called that.

Next, Crista Cowan joins the show from Ancestry.com. Crista and Fisher talk about artificial intelligence, how she’s using it, the possibilities she envisions, and (surprise!) the fact you’ve likely already been using it.

Ryan Rockwood then joins the show. He is a Project Manager for sponsor Legacy Tree Genealogists, specializing in Asian research. Hear Ryan’s remarkable story of a Japanese man that settled in Texas over a hundred years ago that tied all his studies together back in college, and how he researched him.

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 460

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. Hey, it is great to be back with you after a couple of weeks off. I went down to Costa Rica. And here's David Lambert. He's off in New York. So I guess we're all travelling right now, Dave. How are things in the Big Apple?

David: They’re excellent. I got to lecture at the New York City History Museum with my colleague Chris Child. And then we jetted off home as we took the train to Albany where I've been at the New York State Capitol where I walked around where the 1911 fire was in the very room that it occurred.

Fisher: Oh, boy! Yeah, well, it's great to be back with you. I mean, I had a great time. I'm very tanned right now, got to feed monkeys. I would have loved to have brought a suitcase full of iguanas back, but my wife said no. But nonetheless, it was a great time. And what's funny is that everybody down there I was meeting was talking about their families and their ancestry, you know, the tour guides would talk about the original settlers in this area and the Spanish and how he was just kind of a combination of all these people as part of the tour. And then many of the folks who are at my son's wedding, that's what it was, it was a destination wedding, they were bringing up things. And so I asked, “Well, did you try DNA? Did you do this?” And everybody suddenly is talking family history. It's like there's no vacation from this. And I don't know that I would take it any other way, because it's so much fun!

David: Well, I'm going to have a story probably in the next week or two if all goes well. I may have solved a mystery here in Albany that they've never been certain about. And I stumbled across it yesterday.

Fisher: Interesting.

David: More on that very shortly.

Fisher: [Laughs] All right, what do you have for us in Family Histoire News, Dave?

David: Well, thanks to the efforts of FGS, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and now their successor, NGS, the National Genealogical Society, they've contracted with Ancestry and the United States Archives in Washington to resume digitizing the War of 1812 pension files.

Fisher: Ooh!

David: And the nice thing about that is that they almost had finished, but they're now going to do SJ through U, and they hope to start it up sometime this year.

Fisher: Excellent. That's good news, because that's been going on a long time.

David: It has. But now that looks like they're back on full speed, which is exciting news. I'll tell you, murder is an interesting thing. And that news story told me about the 16-year-old is interesting. You want to talk about that?

Fisher: Yeah. Leslie Arnold was his name back in 1958. This kid wanted to take his girlfriend out on a date, go to the movies, but mom wouldn't let him take the car. So he shot mom and dad and went to the movie with his girlfriend, and then went back home and buried them in the backyard. Well, after a couple of weeks of them being missing, you know, people came snooping around. And the police kind of put the whole thing together. They arrested him. He showed where he'd buried the bodies. They put him in prison. So, about nine years later, he and a fellow inmate engineered an escape from this prison in Nebraska. And they both wound up in Chicago one got caught, but Leslie Arnold disappeared, and they were never able to find him. So, here's an investigator who took up the cold case here just a few years ago, went and visited this guy's brother in Canada got a DNA sample, put it on a database. And they actually found Leslie Arnold’s son over in Australia. And as it turns out, Leslie passed away back in 2010. But they were able to put the whole story together and trace him under a fictitious name. And the family had no idea he was a great father, a great husband, raised these kids. Obviously, he did not let it define him. Although you would think that might be something that would do that.

David: You would think so.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: That is amazing. Given a new sense of genealogy for the family.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: I’m sure he didn’t tell the kids, “By the way, I murdered your grandparents.” One story that really warmed my heart is a gentleman who's 100 years old, John Wenzel, as many of our World War II veterans are. He was personally involved in bombing the Nazis during World War II in the Air Force of the Army Air Corps, actually. And poor guy is suffering from nightmares.

Fisher: Yeah. And it didn't happen until he was 99 years old. All this time. So, he's been actually counseled to start opening up about his experiences, and he's telling his stories now to his kids and grandkids. And the nightmares have gone away.

David: Well, that’s wonderful news. And we're very blessed to have so many of our veterans still with us from that generation.

Fisher: Not many. That article says we're down to 99% of the people who fought in World War II are gone now.

David: Ah! New York with Robert Fulton and the invention of the steamboats, you know, this modern invention became another way of sort of drag racing, if you will, but in the 19th century. Steamboats would have races against each other or try to beat records, and they would blow up.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: For they’d overload. During the Sultana Disaster from 1865 with prisoners of war who were not even strong enough to swim, 1,800 individuals perished.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: And you had a relative I think that was killed on a…

Fisher: In a steamboat.

David: The Henry Clay.

Fisher: Yeah, the Henry Clay in 1852 which was going up the Hudson River. And apparently the captain started racing another ship. He later denied it. But all the survivors are saying, no, he was actually going for it and just picking up more and more steam. The thing caught on fire. And there were I think it was 80 people killed on that, including a former mayor of New York, who was part of it. But it was a relative, not a direct ancestor. But it was interesting to learn about that. And then when you find out about these historic events that there's some personal connection to it, it's amazing. And by the way, you can read about this in Smithsonian Magazine online.

David: I have some Welsh ancestry and I thought I would share with you a fun little place name story. So, in Wales when the Saxons arrived, they asked the local Welsh, what was the name of a particular hill. Well, the Welsh word for hill is Pen, like P E N. So, they called it Tor, which is Saxon for hill. So it was called Torpen, essentially, that would be Hill Hill.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: Now, the Norse arrived and asked the same local Welsh, what do you call this? Hill Hill, but the Norse word for hill is how. So it became Torpen How, so it became Hill Hill Hill.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Well, later on when the English came by, they just added a hill to Torpen How, and so now let's Turpanhow Hill, which is essentially Hill, Hill, Hill and oh, wait, Hill.

Fisher: [Laughs] Oh, wow!

David: That's four.

Fisher: All right, David, thank you so much. Of course, you're going to be back at the back end of the show for more of Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we're going to talk to Crista Cowan from our friends over at Ancestry.com, talking about artificial intelligence. Where does she see it going? Coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History show.

Segment 2 Episode 460

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Crista Cowan

Fisher: All right, it’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and my next guest is no stranger to anybody in our field. She is the lovely Crista Cowan from our friends over at Ancestry.com. And Crista, you know lately everybody’s been talking about artificial intelligence. Are we going to actually be able to use this stuff eventually just to do all our work and it’s done, do you think?

Crista: Well, [laughs] I wouldn’t go that far otherwise we wouldn’t let you keep having the fun that we’re having.

Fisher: That’s true.

Crista: But I certainly think it would be an increased benefit in the future.

Fisher: I would think so. Now, let’s just talk about this a little bit because its coming on strong. I’ve already talked to some other folks on the show in the last few weeks on their take on this. Have you been using AI in your own personal research because I know you do a lot of it? 

Crista: Yeah, you know what, the sneaky thing is, is that anybody who uses Ancestry has being using AI. They just might not realize it yet. [Laughs]

Fisher: Okay. Well, let’s talk about that for a minute here because that’s been going on for some time, has it not?

Crista: Yeah. So, it’s interesting because you now with the rise of ChatGPT and of course artificial intelligence it’s kind of the new buzz word and people are focused on that. But artificial intelligence is just simply using computers in a way that allows them to do some machine learning and provide a benefit to us to do something faster. So, some of the first use of AI technology at Ancestry was the Shaky Leaf that came out over a decade ago now, where Ancestry is comparing information you enter into your family tree to the information in the now 40 billion records on the site to be sure to provide you with hints that we hope are close. Now of course, those algorithms and that machine learning that artificial intelligence has to do are continually being tweaked and reviewed, and feedback is being put back into the system to make sure that we’re delivering the best hints. And there’s always room for improvement. But that’s kind of one of the advents of AI usage at Ancestry.  

Fisher: Well, you know, I thought about this you know, back in the day, back before the turn of the century, we used to look at census records using, what do they call that with the different spellings?

Crista: The Soundex .

Fisher: The Soundex! Remember the Soundex? It’s almost out of mind at this point, but when we go on any site everything is kind of automatically Soundexed, isn’t it?

Crista: Yes. Not only that, we can apply different kinds of Soundex depending on the names. So AI has gotten smart enough to say oh, this name looks like Eastern European, Jewish name so we can apply the Daitch-Mokotoff version of the Soundex to this particular surname. So yeah, the search algorithms are getting smarter and smarter and are able to apply different kinds of that artificial intelligence to the process to provide you with better search results.

Fisher: Absolutely. And then you guys partnered with Family Search, working on the 1950 census and that was using AI, right?

Crista: Yeah. You know what, I love talking about this because it’s kind of mind-blowing and I think this is what we’re seeing right. So, AI has had this kind of really long runway to get started, but now I think we’re at this inflection point where things are just really going to start taking off.

Fisher: Yeah.

Crista: If you compare the 1940 census, which was done over a decade ago, it took about nine months of human indexing and reviewed to get that fully indexed and available. The 1950 census was indexed with artificial intelligence handwriting recognition technology. Ancestry used that proprietary technology that we created, and we were able to index the entire 1950 census in nine days. 

Fisher: Nine months to nine days.

Crista: Right. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Isn’t that insane. And you know, that was kind of the holy grail for the longest time to be able to read handwriting, right?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Crista: Right.

Fisher: And we’re there now. And we’re not only just doing it in English, we’re doing it in other languages and they’re actually figuring out what some languages are saying that were ancient.                                                                      

Crista: Yeah.

Fisher: As a result of all this stuff, the analysis of it all.

Crista: So yeah, Ancestry has applied that same handwriting recognition technology to some of the older French censuses. And starting June 1st when the Canadian government releases the 1931 census for Canada, we’ll be using that same technology there.

Fisher: Wow. And so boom, by the end of the month it’s all done.

Crista: Yep. Maybe by the end of the week. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] I know. It’s it funny, you’re all giddy here and I understand it because it’s just so amazingly cool what we can find these days. What about ChatGPT, have you played with this at all for any family history purposes yourself?

Crista: I have yeah. I spent actually quite a bit of time with it. And there’s so many applications if you understand its current limitations.

Fisher: Right.

Crista: I’ve used it to analyze a document that I’ve transcribed. So, I take like an old deed or an old probate file that I’ve already transcribed and then dump that transcription into ChatGPT and ask it to analyze or summarize it for me. And it can kind of break it down to the basic elements, which I think for somebody who’s a genealogist, a lot of our time is spent in that analysis and interpretation process and so it just speeds that right up.  

Fisher: So, what did it say when you asked it for a summery?

Crista: Well, so it can pull out the pertinent facts and if you ask it to, it can also pull out pertinent relationships. So example, if I dump the transcription of a will into ChatGPT, I can ask it to tell me who are all the relatives and what is their relationship to the deceased. And it will say this is the spouse, these are the children, these are the executers. I can ask it to present it in list form. And so it can give me that kind of a breakdown without me having to go through and extract all of that information line-by-line. 

Fisher: So, this is still the model-T version of AI, right?

Crista: Yeah. Sure.

Fisher: So, my question to you is then did you go back and analyze it to see how accurate it was?

Crista: So I did, yeah. I’ve compared a few things. The key is to get the right prompt to ask it to do the right thing in the right format and then to give you the right output. So, as long as you tell it to do those things and you give it the input, it can do it accurately. So if you compare the output to the input, it’s accurate. Where I find ChatGPT is still kind of in its infancy, maybe needs a little work, is if you ask it for original thought. Like I can’t feed him my grandfather’s birth date and death date and say write me a biography about him. It will, but that will not likely be accurate. [Laughs]

Fisher: Right, right. And I’ve seen this for some things. I’m working on a novel right now and there’s so many details about the time and place. I ask it about those things and it gives me some great information but I don’t trust it enough yet for materials like that to know that it’s 100% accurate. In fact, I’ve had to go back and scold it a couple of times to say no, no, you got this – and it apologizes, which is, “I’m sorry. We’re working on getting better” and so it’s fascinating. Where do you think this is going ultimately? I mean, especially with things interactive AI like Chat. 

Crista: Yeah, you know, here at Ancestry we’re actually exploring some of those things with some of our engineers and right now where we’re seeing it have a huge benefit is with some of our writers, so people who are doing blog writing, people who are doing marketing copy, people who are doing genealogical reports, again, as long as you give it the right input you can ask for edited or creative output. So, it can change the language, it can simplify the language, it can adjust the language, it can flower it up if you want it to do that. And I love that for those of us who in the genealogy space are writers who are trying to craft narratives around the stories of our ancestors’ lives. Not everybody is a writer. 

Fisher: Right.

Crista: But as long as you give it the right information, it can help with that writing process and speed that up, which for professional genealogists is also I think a huge boon. Professional genealogists spend large chucks of their client research hours doing that writing process.  

Fisher: Yes.

Crista: And so this I think can speed that up quite a bit. But ultimately, if we can get the ChatGPT like tools connected to large databases and information to improve its accuracy, I think the sky’s the limit.

Fisher: Yeah.

Crista: I think we can see all sorts of exciting things coming out of that.

Fisher: Yeah. Absolutely. I was just thinking as you were saying all this, timelines, very important but you are already doing that with AI, right, on Ancestry.

Crista: Yeah.

Fisher: And I love it because to me timelines really tell the story of anybody’s life, right? All the materials, what happened when, and trying to tie that into other people. I think where it could be very interesting is say you had a family of five, and you had a timeline on each individual, what if you could tie those timelines together and you start to get some kind of sense of the interaction of the family members and what they were doing.

Crista: Well, yeah. And then you think about this. If you take it a step further what if there was an entire database full of relevant, local, national, global, historical, and cultural facts that you could import or move into that timeline at will, right?

Fisher: Yeah.

Crista: Instead of it being imposed upon you or somebody shoving something into your family story. You can say well, based on what I know, I can pull these off and send to that timeline. That again can start to create a real picture of who those people were and the experiences that they lived.

Fisher: I’m just so fascinated by this whole thing, and I’m hearing from all kinds of people with different ways that they trying to use it. I know Curt Witcher from the Allen County Public Library was talking about using this of course with Archive.org and how much faster they’re getting now at getting books up. I mean, it’s just an astonishing thing what we’re seeing right now.

Crista: Yeah, if you think about it, it’s like I get super excited because I like to speculate so you know, don’t take this as official Ancestry words, but if you think about all of the old local and family histories that were written and have been published, many of them have been digitized and are available online but there’s goldmines of information just trapped in those books because the indexing of them was done with old OCR technology.

Fisher: Right.

Crista: Now, we if we can apply new AI technology to that, we can take it from a history book for example and what if we could extract family trees from those narratives? So, instead of going from a tree to a narrative, which some of us are using ChatGPT to do, could we take old narratives and turn them into trees that can help people make additional discoveries. 

Fisher: She is Crista Cowan with our good friends over at Ancestry.com. Crista, thank you so much for your time. Really interesting conversation and it’s going to be fascinating when we talk about this again say next year or the year after that just where we are.

Crista: Yep, I can’t wait to see.

Fisher: [Laughs] And coming up next, Ryan Rockwood is going to join us from Legacy Tree Genealogists talking about Asian research and a fascinating case study he did actually in college that got him going on this. You’re going to want to hear it coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 460

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ryan Rockwood

Fisher: All right, back to work. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with my next guest, he’s a project manager for our sponsors over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. He’s an Asian research specialist. He covers the Japanese. He covers the Koreans. He covers the Chinese. He’s Ryan Rockwood. And Ryan, welcome back to the show! It’s great to have you.

Ryan: Thank you so much! Always great to be back.

Fisher: You know, I was just thinking about some of the stories you’ve told me over the years, and of course, how you got started over at Brigham Young University. What was your major?

Ryan: So, I majored in Japanese, and then I also had a minor in family history, and then another minor in international business.

Fisher: And look how that has all tied together in your life at this point.

Ryan: Well, I had no choice!

Fisher: You had no choice, exactly right. But, you have a great story to tell about one of your research projects in school. I thought it would be really interesting to share with everybody because you tracked this guy who came from Japan, way before the usual immigration to America, that period in the 1920s, up to the war. What got you interested in this man? How did you find him? What was the tale? And how did you make these discoveries?

Ryan: Yeah. So, I knew I wanted to focus in on Japanese history and people of Japanese descent. But, I also needed to get my minor at BYU, in family history, and in order to do that I had to take a Southern US history class. So, I was talking to the professor and I was saying, hey, do you think there’s any chance that we had some Japanese people that lived in the South, in this time period? I had a professor who said, “Probably no chance at all, but maybe you can search and find someone.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ryan: So I honestly did. I did an ethnicity search in the 1900 census in Texas and I found this individual, and that just exploded into something much greater.

Fisher: So, this was your minor but you were Japanese major so you were just bonding them together and you found this guy. So, there’s your subject, where did it go from there?

Ryan: Exactly. So yeah, once I found him I was just excited to have anyone at all. So I just started researching more to try to figure out why was this guy even there?

Fisher: Yeah.

Ryan: So, it was pretty incredible to see. His name is Seito Saibara. He was born in 1860, in Japan. This is kind of a tie-in in Japanese history where they had just gone over 200 years of this kind of secluded period where all of their boarders were closed off to the outside world, which is kind of crazy for us to think that an entire country closed off for over 200 years. But, 1860 was just coming out of this where they had opened up. So, they had a lot of western influence and they were kind of learning about how the world was working and adopting things, and also sending out delegates to share what they were doing and so there was a lot of this kind of western fervor throughout the country. And during this time Seito Saibara was born. He went to an English school. He ended up adopting Christianity. So, he kind of had a lot of western ideals that were really new at the time. And that prompted him to eventually want to visit America to actually visit a Christian theology school in Hartford, Connecticut.

Fisher: Really?

Ryan: Yeah. So, in the early 1900s, there’s this Japanese man from a little prefecture that’s now in Hartford, Connecticut learning more about Christianity. And it was during that theology visit that he decided he wanted to live the rest of his life there, primarily to grow rice and silk, and he settled on Webster, Texas, right outside of Houston, as the place that he wanted to start his family and kind of start a new life for him.

Fisher: That’s incredible. A real adventurer you know. There are those types of people in all of our lines, but it’s really interesting to hear from somebody coming over here from the Far East actually.

Ryan: Yeah.

Fisher: So, it’s pretty amazing. But, things didn’t really go very well for this guy, as I understand it.

Ryan: Unfortunately, no. I mean, at first it certainly did. The agricultural pursuits that he had, he was able to be very well accomplished. He even created a bit of a Japanese Christian community there in Webster. I looked at some aggregate census data and there were 13 Japanese people in the county, in the year 1900.

Fisher: Ha!

Ryan: By 1910, there were 340 people in the county of Japanese descent. So, he kind of ushered in a bit of a boom and created a Japanese colony there, and really had a bit of an agricultural empire that he wanted to move to Alabama to start a nursery there and all these things, but then in 1924 it was the Johnson Reed Immigration Act that obviously put a clamp down that no one of Asian descent was allowed to immigrate to the US, which also trickled down a lot of hardship to those of Asian descent that were already here. And so, as a result, he actually had to move to Brazil. So, he went to Brazil and tried to play the same song there, tried to make it a bit of an agricultural empire in Brazil as well.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ryan: But then, unfortunately, in later years started bouncing around from country to country dealing with illness. So, it’s like a lot of our pioneer heritage, that maybe have more of a western heritage here in the US.

Fisher: Yeah.

Ryan: It’s always good to hear that there are similarities in some of the pioneer heritages of everybody.

Fisher: Well, you know, there are similarities of pretty much every culture. We just don’t often look for those things. We see the differences and find them interesting, but the similarities can be as well. So, this man then ultimately wound up back here in the United States. How did that happen?

Ryan: Yeah. So, after he went to Brazil and the employment opportunities didn’t pan out he ended up going to Formosa, so modern day Taiwan. And then back to Tokyo. And it was while he was in Tokyo in the mid 1930s that he actually fell quite ill. And it was also around that time where some of the restrictions had loosened, so he at that point came back to Texas. He lived his last year and a half with his family in Texas. Because at that point he had a child that stayed, so his son was still living in the US, by that point he had grandchildren there in the US. His wife had actually come back to the US at that point. So he lived the last year and half of his life there in Texas, and eventually passed away, but it’s kind of beautiful because his legacy certainly lived on. Like I said, his son then had a lot of agricultural pursuits in Texas and New Mexico. And the story is not finished yet. I was able to track down even the great, great, great grandson of his through social media.

Fisher: Ha!

Ryan: So, there’s this one immigrant, his got great, great, great grandchildren that completed degrees at Texas A&M and LSU, and are still living in the Southern United States, and it’s amazing to see the legacy of this one individual.

Fisher: Yeah, it’s a great American story, isn’t it?

Ryan: Exact, exactly.

Fisher: Yeah. So, how did you find a lot of this information? You obviously tracked this one man down through ethnicity research project at the turn of the century. Where did it go from there?

Ryan: Yeah. So, a lot of it at the very beginning I would say pretty similar to a lot of people tracking down an immigrant ancestor. So, obviously leveraged the initial census documents from when they were first here. Then I went back through some ship manifests. He specifically, he came through Canada. And then came down from Canada into the US, so there were records documenting all of that, which was very helpful. But then, one of the real goldmines, which was incredible to find, I did some searches, some academic articles both in the US and actually in Japan, and I did some searches in Japanese. I knew he was a prominent individual in Japan. I imagine he must have been quite a story coming to America when he did, so I wondered if there was anything published in Japan about his life in America. And sure enough, there was actually a professor of one of the universities over there that had such an interest in him that he compiled his diary and then translated it into English.

Fisher: Oh. [Laughs]

Ryan: I can read Japanese, but let me tell you, that was a really good surprise to see.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ryan: Anyway, I didn’t have to strain too hard to read it.

Fisher: Wow! What a story and what a great way to learn your craft, Ryan, as you have. That’s why you are the project manager for overseeing all the Asian research for Legacy Tree. So, thanks so much for taking us through that. It was really interesting stuff and we look forward to having you on the show sometime down the line.

Ryan: Of course! Like I said, always a pleasure. Thank you again.

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert returns as we do another round of Ask US Anything, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 460

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, we're back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, David Allen Lambert is back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, on the road in Albany, New York, doing a little work there, David. And our first question today is from Kelvin in Santa Cruz, New Mexico. And Kelvin writes, “Gentlemen, welcome back. Question, I have a ton of old pictures I need to digitize. Is there an ideal way to do this in large numbers?” That's a good question a lot of people ask.

David: I know and I you know, I do it by hand, because I'm picky. You know, there are places including like Family Search, where you can bring your photos in batches. Now, have you ever done that before, like you have them do a whole pile?

Fisher: Yeah, I've done it with some of my wife's pictures. And she went down and ran them. And we found actually that some of the scanners are better than others. And there was one batch that came in and it kind of had some light lines on it. Now, I can't speak to it and say, oh, this is the case, in every Family Search, centre, that there's going to be some issue, but it's certainly worth looking into. Because if you can rip through a whole pile of them fast. And then you can go through maybe and improve them using Photoshop or going to My Heritage or something like that. That would be a great start to a large pile of photographs.

David: Oh, don’t even get me started with all the things you could do with My Heritage! You can make great great grandma sing. It’s funny.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes!

David: The idea of backing them up. Scanning is great, because then you can put them in the cloud, you can burn them onto a thumb drive and then burn them. I suppose that's burning a CD, but copy them onto a thumb drive and share it or keep it in someplace, so you don't have the sole copy of the photo.

Fisher: Yeah, that's right. And you know, there's so many people today that only want to look at photos digitally, right on their phones, online, wherever it may be. Obviously, it makes for a great storage place to put them on Family Search to put them on Ancestry to put them on My Heritage, wherever that might be that people can find them later. And you know, it's funny, because also a lot of people today do not want to inherit piles and piles of photo albums. They'll just wind up, in many cases, in the trash. But if you've digitized them and made them available and made them beautiful online, at least the digital's may survive even if the physicals do not.

David: Yeah, I mean just alone of all the instamatic photos, Kodak Instamatic that are still developing within the chemical process under the emulation.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: I mean, they're developing a way. And they are like almost fading. So, you know, people are worried about their 1800s photographs. I say, get to the ones from the ‘70s in the ‘80s and get those scanned before they're gone.

Fisher: I think you're right. I think the ones from the 19th century are actually holding up in many cases, much better than those from the mid 20th century.

David: Very true. I think those Daguerreotypes are going to be a long time after we’re all gone. But those Kodak pictures, you might live longer.

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, and that this is the thing too with Photoshop. You can take some of those faded pictures or the ones that are just turning into faded yellow or something, you can clean that up. And one of the best ways you can do that with Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements is to completely remove any color, and then start darkening it and giving it contrast and saving it and then do it again and again and again. And then you can fix any tears that might be in it. And you can completely restore these things. And then, even though it might not have color, you could actually have My Heritage add color to it.

David: It's pretty amazing. I like to see just what you can do with your cell phone alone with taking a picture of an old photo, cropping it, emailing it, sending it to 20 cousins in just a keystroke is amazing.

Fisher: Yeah, all kinds of options available for you now. So Kelvin, if you want to go for it, first of all, check out the Family Search centers. See if you can find a machine that will satisfactorily do your pile quickly. And then have fun with those. And if it's not to your satisfaction, slow down and just do a few at a time at home by hand, and in time, you're going to have an amazing collection of photographs. And best of luck to you. All right. And coming up next, we have another question on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History show in three minutes.

Segment 5 Episode 460

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right back at it for our final question this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Next question Dave is from Drew in Key Biscayne, Florida. He says, “Dave and Fish, did factory work in World War II change security in factories afterwards?” Interesting question. I wish he had explained to us what he's working on, what he's thinking about here, Dave.

David: Well, I can tell you, from my dad in World War II, he worked in the shipyard in Boston, and he had to go to the customs house to get his papers to work in the shipyard, essentially getting a security clearance. And this is not military. This is a civilian worker.

Fisher: Sure.

David: And I've always wanted to track those records down, but my dad later worked for Northrop Grumman into the ‘50s. And because that was later aerospace tied into the Mercury and Apollo missions, he always had some form of security clearance and photo ID for all the different places he had to go into to work. So, the problem is finding the paperwork. But if it's federal, you would think our friends at the FBI might be able to help out.

Fisher: Boy, that's a good question. And you know, we just found out, I think a year or so ago that my wife's great grandparents worked at a munitions factory in Indiana. That all came as a result of seeing the name of the employer of her great grandmother on her Social Security card from during the war. And we looked up who the company was and found out they were running this munitions factory there. And they'd actually set up a town to house the workers. And the stories behind it are that they had to go through clearance every time they went through a doorway in this place. It was really tight. And so, I'm thinking the same way as you, Dave, that there had to have been some kind of record created that the government may still have that freedom of information could bring to us.

David: Right. I mean, you and I both love eBay. Just do a quick search on employee IDs from like the World War II era. I have one for a factory worker in my hometown of Stoughton. After the war, they made golf spikes, but they were making military contracts as many of these factories were. And it's like a mug shot, Fish. It's got like, his height in inches and feet behind him. And he doesn't have a name on the ID, he has a number. So it's almost like you couldn't get their identity if someone stole the ID. And these show up on eBay. I mean, they go for anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the company. And there are people that collect these things. I'm sure, Maureen Taylor probably has some of these photo IDs. But think of it if you had a relative that worked on the Manhattan Project, there's got to be oodles of paperwork, you know, and background checks and things like that. So yeah, if you're working in World War II, even if you're in a factory that was a government contract, you know, you don't want to be in there spying for Germany or Japan. They want to know who you are. So it wasn't just like, “Hey, Charlie, you want to come and get a job?” They probably did a little bit of checking.

Fisher: Oh, no question, no question. I wonder before World War II what people did in factories at that time, and certainly, we had military factories prior to the war. I wonder if it was that tight prior to World War II? It'd be interesting to find out.

David: There may have been. I mean, I know that if you look at like conductors, like railroad conductors and things like that, they always had a number badge. Fire badges had numbers on them.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s true.

David: I mean, so the idea of an identified badge is a 19th century element anyways.

Fisher: Yep.

David: But I mean, the idea of adding the photo element to it, made it, you know, it's yours and you just didn't grab somebody's badge off of a coffee shop table and decided to go in and spy on what's going on, you know. So, I love these questions our listeners give us, because it gives us a sense of like, what else is there out there for our own family we can look for.

Fisher: Yeah, right.

David: What are those photo IDs and badges and you know for your own genealogy. Yeah, you may have hated that company you left, but that photo ID is a genealogical clue for that company you hated.

Fisher: Absolutely right.

David: You might save it.

Fisher: All right, David, thank you so much. We'll talk to you next time around.

David: Alright, I'll be back in Beantown by then.

Fisher: All right, my friend. And thank you for listening to the show this week. If you missed any of it, of course, catch the podcast. You can do it on iHeartRadio Apple Media, TuneIn Radio, Spotify or ExtremeGenes.com. We'll talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice normal family!



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