Episode 461 - Sunny Morton on “The Case of the Missing Nun” / New Study: Family History Research Reduces StressMay 29, 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 talking about a unique experience he had with some well hidden documents at an archive. In Family Histoire News, the first story is perhaps the saddest we’ve ever had. It involves a grandfather’s trunk and a hand grenade. Then, a metal detectorist in Italy has made a remarkable find and flew all the way to Boston on a special mission concerning it. Next… the Connecticut House of Reps has passed a bill to exonerate all 17th century accused Connecticut “witches.” It still has to go through the Senate. An 1875 shipwreck off the coast of Washington state is getting a good looking over. David describes what was aboard and what the researchers are looking for. Lastly… Russia has finally agreed to share a scan of some ancient stolen documents related to Spain that is in their possession. David explains.
Next, Sunny Morton, author of “How To Find Your Family History In US Church Records,” returns to the show. For months she has been working on “The Case of the Missing Nun.” Hear the details, what’s she’s discovered, and how she did it.
Then, Dr. David Wood from Brigham Young University discusses their recent study connecting family history research with reduced anxiety and a better sense of well being. He’ll explain the conclusions and methodology they used.
David then returns for another round of “Ask Us Anything.”
That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 461
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! So great to have you along. We've got some great guests today, of course. We’ve got Sunny Morton back. And she's going to tell you the story of the Case of the Missing Nun. Yes, and how she found her and how she found these records that nobody even knew existed, at least not in our world. She'll explain the whole thing coming up here in about 10 minutes. After that, we're going to talk to Dr. David Wood from Brigham Young University. They've done a new study out there about family history research, and your sense of well being. I think it's an important one. You're going to want to hear what they did. The methodology was really interesting. You're going to catch the whole thing coming up later on in the show. Right now it's time to head out to Boston, Massachusetts where David Allen Lambert is standing by. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hey there, Dave, what you've been up to lately, my friend?
David: Well, you know, I like to always be one step ahead of the game.
David: And we were preparing for an upcoming research tour to the Boston City Archives. And my family's lived in Boston early on in the 1600s. But more recently, my third great grandfather, that War of 1812 veteran, and I wanted to look at the tax records. So yeah, Family Search has digitized them and you can find them online on Family Search. But then I got a chance to flip through the pages versus just flip through the scanned images. Then I thought about some other things that I had heard they had there. And they brought out a box for me. And within it was a complete census, with head of household and statistics for the 1837 residents of Boston.
Fisher: Hmm, wow!
David: So, I knew my family was in Ward 11. Turned to the page in short notice, I found them. So, I'm really excited about this, because I got to see it firsthand. And I really expressed to them how valuable they're working to get more and more things on their digital archive.
David: And now they’ve pushed this up the priority level. So, I really hope that they get it online. And maybe there's some crowd-sourcing to get it indexed.
Fisher: Yeah. Wow! You are very influential, obviously, David to get them to do this. So that's great news. Good stuff, strong work.
David: Well, and then right after that, I went to the cemetery down the street and visited my great grandparents.
Fisher: [Laughs] Well, there you go. Well, let's get on with our Family Histoire news today. Where do we begin?
David: Well, you know, the first story is a tragedy. A father was killed and two children were injured when a grenade they were playing with that belonged to their grandfather exploded.
David: People have trunks in the attic, and the souvenirs that people brought back included live ammunition.
David: And this has been a problem for generations.
David: Since probably the Civil War. I mean, how many times have we talked about a national park they found a live canister that had to be exploded by the bomb squad?
Fisher: Oh yeah. German bombs over in England are being disarmed all the time. They have to reroute traffic. And it's been, what, 80 years? It's insane. But we have our own arsenal in those trunks, like you're talking about, and this took place in Indiana. It killed the father and seriously injured two of his teenage kids, a son and a daughter and they're in the hospital right now, because somebody pulled the pin.
David: It's a terrible shame that this has happened. And it just goes to show you, when you're looking through your family belongings. If you think you need the bomb squad, please call them before you play with the items.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah.
David: Oh my gosh!
Fisher: No doubt.
David: Well, speaking of World War II, a young teenager over in Italy is a metal detectorist. No, he didn't find Caesar’s treasure or anything like that. But he did find something which was a treasure to a Boston family. He found a soldier's bracelet with a name on it. So he decided not just to do the work on the internet. He came to Boston and actually visited the cemetery where the soldier was buried. He died back in the 1970s. And with the help of the cemetery, the Mount Hope Cemetery in Boston, tracked down that the family only lived about three miles from the cemetery. And he brought the bracelet back and gave it to the awestruck family.
Fisher: Wow! That is, that's a story of a lifetime for that family that they get a hand delivery of the bracelet of their World War II vet from some guy in Italy. Amazing!
David: Yeah, dated 1943 in the bracelet and the soldiers name was Ernest Holtzclaw. So, not exactly a John Smith. So it made it a little easier.
Fisher: Yes, yes, indeed.
David: Well, you know, we had on the show the guests for the exoneration of the Connecticut witches from the 17th century, and I'm delighted to say that it passed the House with 121 yay votes and 30 nay votes.
David: Now let's go into the Senate. So, stay tuned for those of you who had an ancestor accused of Connecticut, before the Salem witchcraft trial.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, Connecticut was hot on the trail of the witches long before Salem. It’s crazy.
David: Well, my next story goes way onto the other side of the United States out by Seattle where a crew is preparing for a series of dives off the Washington State's coast to locate the SS Pacific. Now the SS Pacific, Fish was sunk in 1875. It was going from Seattle to San Francisco. It collided with a sailing ship at night and sank, losing 325 people onboard, only two survived. Now the ship, besides having passengers had tons of coal, oats and hops, and a substantial amount of, this is why they going for the ship, gold.
David: I always have mixed feelings when they start going on to the shipwrecks, especially when there are passengers that died, because to me, that is also the grave of these people. So, if your ancestor was on that vessel, stay tuned. You know, sometimes documents end up on eBay, and you know, we buy some really cool things you and I. But in Russia, well, they raided someplace early on, and hundreds of documents dating back to the 19th century have been found in St. Petersburg. Well, originally, they wouldn't even make copies of them. But now they're offering scans and these are documents that date back to the early history of Spain, including a last will and testament for somebody who lived in the 11th century.
Fisher: Wow! So what are they doing this for goodwill around the world? [Laughs] It seems an odd time, doesn't it?
David: Yeah, it really kind of does.
Fisher: All right, David thanks so much. We'll talk to you the back end of the show with Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we're going to talk to Sunny Morton about the case of the missing nun that she solved and how she did it. It's all on the way in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 461
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Sunny Morton
Fisher: All right, onward with Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and my next guest, we all know her and we all love her because she’s got amazing stories, amazing finds, and amazing ways of finding them to share with you. She is Sunny Morton. She is the author of “How to Find Your Family History in US Church Records” – an incredible book that’s selling on Genealogical.com and Amazon. Sunny welcome back to Extreme Genes!
Sunny: Hi Scott. Thanks for having me today.
Fisher: So, you’ve got a story here, and I suspect it ties back into this whole church record thing?
Sunny: It does.
Sunny: I have a story for you today about a mystery nun
Fisher: What? Where do you find records of nuns? Nun records?
Sunny: There are. There are records but okay, let me tell you the story here because she doesn’t show up first in church records. She shows up in the obituary of my mom’s ex uncle, Henry Fox.
Fisher: [Laughs] Okay. I’m confused. Go for it.
Sunny: Okay, so Well, first of all, Henry Fox, so I know he's an ex uncle, right. I shouldn't even be researching him. But he's a favorite to me. Because the story that I know about him is that when my mom was a baby, she had colic and she cried constantly. And Uncle Henry showed up and sat and rocked her on the porch just to give her mom a break. And that made me want to go learn about Uncle Henry story.
Fisher: Right, yes.
Sunny: I wanted to build his tree. That was my way of telling him, thank you. But years later, I've never met him of course. I started with his obituary, and it mentions his kids. And it says he was the brother of Sister Mary Bartylla of Waterloo, Iowa.
Sunny: So Sister Mary Bartylla doesn't mean that that's his sister. He called her sister Mary Bartylla .
Fisher: Right. That's the nun name, right?
Sunny: Correct. So this isn't her birth name. So that's the name of a religious sister. She's assumed this new name. But here's the thing Scott. Henry was his parents’ only child.
Fisher: Okay. This is a head scratcher, isn't it?
Sunny: It was for me for many years. I have to admit this. I can say this super confidently because I have their divorce record from 1897. His mom Mary filed for divorce from his dad, Mike. And she got full custody of Henry, who was only eight and was their only child. So where did this sister-sister come from?
Sunny: Clearly not from both of them. So this would have to be a half sister. Was it on his dad's side or his mom's side? I couldn't find what happened to his parents next. But if I could find her, I could probably at least find the parent she shared with Henry, right?
Fisher: Yes. Okay. Yes, I'm, I'm following this.
Sunny: Okay. So, here's what we know from the divorce. Mike had skipped town a long time before. So he was not even in young Henry's life. He was out of state. There weren't like long distance calls back then. So I'm pretty sure that Mary raised him and he really just kept in touch with Mary and her family. But I also know from the divorce record that Mary was in such poor health that she couldn't even work or pay the court costs, and she was living with her sister in Pueblo, Colorado. The sister wasn't named so that wasn't super helpful. Mary didn't sound like she was much long for this world. So I really didn't know who was the parent here of sister-sister.
Fisher: Right. [Laughs] is that what you called her through the course of your research? Sister-sister?
Sunny: Yes. And I'm being very respectful about that. I'm trying to be like, that's all I knew her as she was Henry’s sister and she was Sister Mary Rotella.
Fisher: Right, Sister Sister.
Sunny: Yes, she's Sister Sister. So I'm working backward. I find Mike and Mary's marriage record. It says they're married by Catholic priest and I'm all about the church records. So I follow up their civil marriage record by tracking down the church marriage record, which had her parents’ names on it, which is great. Now I know Mary's parents names at least Joseph and Catherine Eyerman. So I'm looking for them after the divorce in 1897 and I find Joe Eyerman living with another daughter and a son-in-law in the 1900 census still in Pueblo, there's no sign of Mary. But there's a boy living with them named Henry, who's the right age listed as a son to the couple.
Sunny: So, I think I've found Henry at least, but there's no sign of mom. There is the father and there is this sister that it says she was living with if that's her. If this is all who these people are. It's like Mary though just vanished. So did she die? But then who's the mom of the sister, right? Okay, so I'm still working through this and I come back to this. My only clue is Sister Mary Bartylla of Waterloo, Iowa.
Sunny: So, I started contacting several religious orders. And that's where we get to your questions, Scott is wait a minute, there are orders, there are records for nuns. Yes, religious orders are distinct from, say, a local congregation or parish in the Catholic faith. Every order has its own organization independently. And many of the orders have their own mother house with an archive.
Fisher: Isn't that funny? Because you would think that that would be kind of obvious to us, but how often does this come up? We don't think of these things
Sunny: Until you find a Sister Mary Bartylla.
Fisher: Right, a Sister Sister.
Sunny: So, I started contacting several religious orders that I found that were active in Waterloo during the time period but I kept striking out. And then Ancestry published Henry's work record and hinted it at me and said, hey, is this your guy? Yes, it is. And in fact, it names his next of kin, a half sister, Lena George, living at Sacred Heart orphanage in Pueblo, Colorado.
Fisher: Um hmm.
Sunny: So, is this Sister Sister?
Fisher: Sure sounds like it.
Sunny: It could be now it's possible he had more than one sister but I'm going to go with this. Okay, so I started looking for her. I got the orphanage records. I found the census, where I find young Lena George in the orphanage, listed just under another girl named Mary George, who was two years older. Wait, is this another sister?
Fisher: Uh oh.
Sunny: So I'm not sure but I stay focused on Lena. And I eventually went back with all this information to the religious orders, and I started Googling with a vengeance. So I find her Find A Grave memorial for Sister Mary Bartylla, aka Helen George in Waterloo, Iowa. It's got an obituary. All of this kind of leads me to the right religious order, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They respond with her biography with her parents’ names and confirming Mary Eyerman as her mother, Dominic George as her father that gives her a birthplace in Washington State, a biography of her, her 51 year career in nursing, pictures of her memories of her, Jackpot, Scott.
Fisher: Yeah, it sounds like it. When did this all happen? When did this come together for you?
Sunny: This has finally come together for me probably in the last three to six months. I've been working on this one for a long time. At least I've been able to put together Henry step family, his half sisters, yes, the other girl in the orphanage was also his sister. So Sister Mary Bartylla, sister Sister, was not only interesting to discover kind of in her own right with this fascinating life and career, but she really unlocked the door to the rest of Henry's family and that missing additional sister, I didn't even know what to ask about.
Fisher: You have been working on Henry for some time, and he just keeps leading you on these adventures.
Sunny: You know his name is Henry Fox, and he has been something of a fox over the years. But he has been fascinating to research and I feel like I'm paying him back a little bit for the kindness he showed my mom.
Fisher: Yeah, yeah, that's right. You know, it's fun to go down some of these rabbit holes with people we've known in our lives. I think about neighbors that I grew up near and gee, who were they? I found out a couple of them were actually related to my dad way back in early New England. I had no idea and that was kind of fun, which meant some of their kids were related to me and my brother. And like you say, here's a kindness that was done to your mother that impacted her life for you to go back and put this together, maybe that will tie together to somebody else that's actually related to Henry, sometime down the line.
Sunny: I hope. So I hope that they find my research online, and then it puts the story back together for them.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I think about this a little bit, I think what I'm most struck by here is the fact that you discovered really a whole new set of records that like we just talked about, nobody really knew exists. And you don't even think to pursue but it's nice to know that they were helpful to you in providing this material for you.
Sunny: I think so. And I think it's especially poignant to think of our many people who have gone into a lifetime of religious service and lives long and meaningful lives, but never perhaps had any of their own children to carry on their legacy or to remember them. So the idea that we would pay attention to and remember, the aunts and uncles, and others in the family that may have gone into religious lives like this, by learning more about their lives, and by using what you learned to fill out the rest of the family, I think can be pretty meaningful.
Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. And you've certainly proved that. Now my question to you is, does this kind of inspire you to pursue this new set of records for another book? I mean, there's got to be a lot of records out there in these various religious orders.
Sunny: I have to confess I've spent a lot of time researching other house archives online lately, and I might make myself annoying at a few of them. Hey, can I come visit and see your records? I would really love to better understand them so we can have a better understanding of who all these wonderful people were. Yeah, yeah, you're going to see more on this from me?
Fisher: Well, so have you found a great willingness? I mean, obviously, these people helped you out. Were they enthusiastic about it or were they hesitant? Did you feel you had to be a bother or what was the sense of it?
Sunny: You know, I contacted so many orders, and all of them responded to me immediately. All of them check their files, and many of them went out of their way to offer additional suggestions. They sent me photocopies from directories. They were all so responsive and so respectful. Every single one of these archives of these motherhouse orders.
Fisher: Wow. Alright, let's talk about your book a little bit. “How to Find Your Family History in US Church Records” It's doing really well. It's been out for what, a couple of years now, right?
Sunny: Yeah, it has been out for a little while. It just won the NGS Best Book Award last year so it's gotten a little bit of buzz lately. My co-author is Harold Henderson, of course. But yeah, it's done very well. And I think the thing I love about it is that it's brought a lot of people success, Scott, I've heard from a lot of people who said, I tracked down these records for people I thought were lost to me forever. Because of their church records I was able to find them again. So that's been really rewarding.
Fisher: You can find the book of course on Amazon and@Genealogical.com by the author, our guest Sunny Morton. Thanks Sunny for coming on. Always great!
Sunny: Thank you.
Fisher: And coming up next, Dr. David Wood from Brigham Young University. There's a new study out that connects family history research and a sense of wellbeing. You’ll want to hear about this coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 461
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. David Wood
Fisher: And welcome back, to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. My next guest is a professor at Brigham Young University who has been doing some studies about family history and how it impacts the family. Welcome to Dr. David Wood. It’s great to have you Dave. How are you?
Dr. David: Thank you so much. I’m excited to talk about this. It’s a fun topic and to share what we’ve learned.
Fisher: Yes, absolutely. And you know, there have been studies on this going on for some time, most famously I guess at Emory University in the past. But, there was one that actually said that family history is correlated with but does not produce psychological wellbeing. And I know you took a little umbrage with that.
Dr. David: Well, how science progresses, it’s everybody has an idea and you go test it and you come up with another idea, and you keep testing.
Dr. David: So, we read this original paper and it found some interesting correlations to show, people who know more about their family had better psychological wellbeing. And they said, well, it’s not the knowledge of their family, but that’s proxy for something else, such as, really strong families are more willing to talk about their family. And while we thought that was interesting, we said, well, I actually think there’s something about just knowing your family. It’s not just the strength of how nice your parents are, but knowing about your ancestors connects you to who they are, which will help you in your life.
Fisher: Absolutely. So, you had the previous study, you wanted to look into that. And now you wanted to try to improve on it or at least maybe even disprove what they had come up with. How did you go about it? What was your methodology?
Dr. David: So, it wasn’t so much disproving but extending.
Dr. David: So, their initial effort showed that people who knew about their family were correlated with these better outcomes. And we said, well, wait a second. We’ve got some really cool data and some unique ways of doing this. One of our co-authors teaches family history here at BYU. And we said, well, let’s measure students’ self esteem, their resilience, their anxiety levels, all of those types of things before the semester starts.
Dr. David: And then we compare that with another group of students who aren’t taking the family history class. And by the end of the semester we then compare how much they’ve changed over the course of the semester. The expectation is, if you’ve been studying family history and working on that, you should see greater improvements in all of these other factors we measured.
Fisher: Ha, interesting! So, what did you come up with from this?
Dr. David: So, the key finding is a model that shows how family history relates to positive psychological outcomes. To unpack that a little bit, what we show is people who study their family begin to identify with their family more, which makes sense. If you know more about your ancestors you can talk more about them. You know who they are. It helps you understand who you are.
Fisher: Have you found anything that says how far back that has to go to have that effect?
Dr. David: You know, that is fascinating. The first question we usually get is, well, what if my family were a bunch of criminals or we’re bad? [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah, right. [Laughs]
Dr. David: And we didn’t pass out if you had the bad guys in your family or the good guys. It just seems to be that if you know anything about your past family, recent advance we did, we didn’t tease that out. That would be a fascinating question. But, once you know about your family that then gives self esteem and there’s a large body of psychology research that shows that, when you’re in a group that’s positive you get the benefit of that group. You think of sports fans. When your team wins the NBA finals or the super bowl and you’re a fan of that team, suddenly you’re a little bit better, you walk a little bit with your chest puffed out a little bit more the next day at work.
Dr. David: And this is the same thing, because families are groups that you can’t get out of.
Dr. David: So, by identifying more with your family and coming to know who they are good or bad, you then have this group of people who are surrounding you, who help you feel more of who you are.
Fisher: And so, when you talk about surrounding you, you mean mentally because obviously the ancestors, more of them are gone or you’ve never ever known them personally?
Dr. David: Exactly. They are the people who came before, and that helps you know who you are. With all we’ve been talking to, our answer was super involved in family history or a cousin and how long they can talk to you about who their family is and all of the stories, and that richness. That imparts identity and that helps you know who you are, which then leads to self esteem, which reduces anxiety, increases resilience and helps you cope better with life.
Fisher: In the hierarchy of identity, where does family fall into that?
Dr. David: So, we all have multiple identities.
Dr. David: Your school, your alma mater, your sports team. Groups that are harder to get into and out of will give more identity. So, if it’s your neighbor and you’ve lived by him for 30 years, that’s going to be important, that cul-de-sac. But if it’s just the latest team that you’re a bandwagon fan, that’s not going to.
Dr. David: So, with a family essentially you don’t get to choose and you can leave a little bit, you know, there’s adoptions or there’s divorce, but largely who your family and your ancestors are, you can’t ever change. So, that would say family would be one of the most important identity bestowing groups that exist.
Fisher: Sure, even ahead of race and culture, and national origin.
Dr. David: I couldn’t empirically say that, but yes. Those are again, your race and some of those things can’t be changed either. So, they would probably be on par with that same thing as family.
Fisher: So, talk about how you measure somebody’s emotional wellbeing? You talked about doing that before and after the semester with these two different groups. How is that measured?
Dr. David: So, there is a large group of psychology research that looks at this and it makes sense. We care about these things of anxiety and resilience. And there’s just questionnaires that developed over time and they refined them. There’s a whole methodology for showing. And these measures show reflections of resilience and anxiety. So, we used measures that had already been very well vetted in the literature before.
Dr. David: They’re not perfect. It’s not like you can just take a number out and say you’re a 7, and you’re a 4, but on average they worked.
Fisher: Well, it’s like math, right? You average it all out, maybe somebody reports a little low, and somebody else reports a little high. So, what did you conclude?
Dr. David: Yeah. So, this first part of the study, we show that yeah, taking a family history course increases your family identifications, separate from just knowing about your family, which is what the prior research had shown.
Dr. David: This is separate from that. And then that increases self esteem, which reduces anxiety and resilience, and the effects are actually pretty large. One semester in a family history course increased people’s self esteem 8 percent, and that reduced anxiety by 20 percent.
Fisher: Wow! That’s significant, isn’t it? And we’re talking about young adults here.
Dr. David: Exactly.
Fisher: So, I would assume with children and the like it would be even better.
Dr. David: Exactly. This is students who are pretty high stressed with finals and important semester and learning. So, I would envision having similar affects for children or people who are older. I don’t think there’s a shortage of stress in any of our lives. So, I think this is a way to kind of help you see the bigger picture.
Fisher: So, did the family history group similarly to the non family history group at the beginning of the study?
Dr. David: That’s exactly right. And we look at the difference, so there’s a few small differences before, but then we control for that by just examining how much they changed. How much they improved or worsened over the course of a semester.
Fisher: And the other group, you didn’t see anything?
Dr. David: No. Largely stayed pretty flat and changed a little bit more anxiety because, you know, as the semester goes on, it would make sense that you'd be a little bit more stressed out at the end of the beginning.
Fisher: Sure. But, the family history course group actually got through finals probably a whole lot better. [Laughs]
Dr. David: [Laughs] Exactly right. Maybe we should assign some family history for them, before they study for the final exams.
Fisher: Absolutely. So, what’s the ultimate conclusion from this in terms of, you know, how do we project this family history? How do we share this in such a way that we can help, because right now there’s a crisis of mental health in this country that we’re trying to deal with? Is this a real part of a solution?
Dr. David: You’re exactly right. There is some serious problems. We see it more and more with our students here at university. We did a follow up as part of this study where Family Search they track how much work you do. And you go in and see how many sources you’ve attached, and memories, and people you’ve added. And what we find is that the real key is attaching sources, getting in and learning about the census records and where your family members were at, and those sort of things, above and beyond what memories or other activities do. So your high level question, what do we do? I think we encourage more people to be involved with family history, from storytelling, to actually going and doing the research and learning about your roots. People want to know who they are. And that fundamental question “Who am I?” can be answered in part by who your parents were and your grandparents and all the stories that came together to form you and your family.
Fisher: Fascinating. It sounds like a great medication to me. [Laughs]
Dr. David: Yeah. It’s kind of like when you go to your doctor and you say, how can I be more healthy? And they say, you want the hard route or the easy route?
Dr. David: The hard route is to eat right and exercise, and this is a little bit like that. It’s going to take some effort to do, but much more than the pill that the doctor can prescribe. It will make a difference in your life.
Fisher: Dr. David Wood, from Brigham Young University. Thanks so much for coming on! This is really interesting stuff. And keep up the good work.
Dr. David: Thanks for having me, sure appreciate it.
Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert is back for another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 461
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, it is time for David and me to put on our thinking caps. It's time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. And David, our first question today comes from Lincoln in Annapolis, Maryland. And Lincoln writes, “Fish and Dave, how reliable are census records?” Interesting. He says, “I see a lot of things there that don't match other records. How do you manage the mismatches?” That's a great question. [Laughs] And it's a loaded one, isn't it?
David: It really is. And you know, I can remember back to the days when Ron Vern Jackson did the bound census indexes.
David: We didn't have digital. You had the microfilm at the national archives or your family history library that may have had a copy of it. And you would look and hope to find your ancestor. Well, sometimes, you know, the same technology we use today, our eyes doesn't always read the handwriting correctly.
David: So, my ancestor, Joseph Phagins in Portland, Maine in 1830. They read P H A G I N S as P H Y S I C S.
David: And he was for the longest time the only person of the Physics family.
David: So I had to learn physics to find my genealogy. Then I have the great, great grandmother who every 10 years gets younger.
Fisher: Yeah, we all have those.
David: Oh, yeah. I think censuses are about as reliable as the person giving it. And that could have been the 10 year old at home, the neighbor next door or the person who didn't speak a word of English, just trying to answer the questions.
Fisher: Yeah. And then you have the question of the indexers. We usually all start with an index and see if we can find our people and the misinterpretations of what's online, complicates it even further. You know, the thing is, the census record, I think, is generally considered the most valuable genealogical tool that you can work with. Would you agree with that?
David: I would think so, yeah. Because I mean, so many of them are already indexed for us. I mean, even the 1950, even though I can't find my dad in it.
Fisher: But that's because, like everybody's in it when there's a census, especially the federal ones. And so, it gives you a snapshot of what a family looks like, generally, every 10 years. In some cities, it might be a different 10 years. The thing is, like you say, it's really the human side of this thing people mishear, people misspeak, there are people who couldn't write or read and they couldn't even tell you how to spell their name. So, people had to write it down the way it was. I think, for most of us, Dave, and maybe you do this, too, I just kind of look for what did the majority of the record say, and that's kind of what I go with.
David: Right. Exactly. You kind of rule it out. It’s like a process of elimination. It's like the 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 census that will start recording the state in which your mother or father or the country in which your mother and father were born. Look at a family of 10 kids that span those 40 years of censuses and you're going to find different answers for each one of the kids.
David: In all those decennial censuses.
Fisher: Yeah. You know, you're absolutely right about that. I've been working with a family right now. And there was a Hamilton Gillyard. He died and his wife died and the kids were all farmed out. In the census, it called him Hampton Gillyard. Two of the children in their death records called him Hamilton. But then two of the kids after they died were shipped to a Tom Hambilton. And so, I'm thinking, okay, I bet you that's an uncle on the mother's side, something like that. So you know, really, the census is just another clue, just like any other record out there. You have to do comparisons to other things to try to really drill down and figure out what the person was trying to share at the time. And if they even knew, I mean, some people didn't even know what their age was, right? Or they lied about it, like the people you're talking about in your particular records. And we all see that stuff as well. So, don't let it bother you, Lincoln. Do the best you can, try to match it up and come to the best conclusion. And you know what, you're going to make the wrong ones once in a while and you'll have to fix it as time goes on. And you discover the truth. It's just part of the game. So, enjoy! Thanks for the question. We've got another one coming up here, Dave in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 461
Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Fisher: All right, final question this week on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here your Radio Roots Sleuth with David Allen Lambert, back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Dave, could you shorten that name at some point?
David: Just call me Dave. [Laughs]
Fisher: Not, not your name. Oh, never mind.
David: Oh! [Laughs]
Fisher: Okay. So, here's the next question. It says, “Guys, I have been fortunate to have a lot of stuff from my great grandparents which seems to me to be unusual. Do you agree? Leah in Clearwater, Florida.” That's a great question. Do you have a lot of stuff from your great grandparents, Dave?
David: Well, on my dad's side for his paternal side, I have nothing.
Fisher: Nothing, okay.
David: I don’t even have photographs of them. My dad's mother's side, I have two pictures of my great grandmother, nothing that belonged to her. However, remember a few years back, I got that package from Canada.
David: The pocket watch that belonged to my great grandfather, the railroad engineer.
Fisher: Yeah, that was great.
David: It was, because I have no photograph of him. But now I can hold the watch up and listen to something he heard, something he held.
David: Definitely what was well loved for a while. So I mean, it had some use to it.
David: My great grandparents from England, my mother's father's side, I have a postcard that he intended to mail his wife from World War I that he just wrote on the back his name. I don't have anything else that belonged to him or her. And on my great grandmother through my mother's mother, I have the book that was presented to them by the Minister. And there was a teapot that my sister had that was a little broken. And I completely destroyed it when I was about eight.
David: Because my sister used to keep change in it and I thought I was going through there looking for wheat pennies and the things fell off the bed, smashed into a million pieces. And of course, now looking back, I'm thinking to myself, so why didn't I put it in a box and buy some crazy glue?
Fisher: Right, right.
David: You know, to try to fix it. Dennis the Menace did that all the time.
Fisher: [Laughs] We're kind of making her point, I guess. It is kind of rare to have a lot of stuff from three generations back. I myself, I have one contract signed by my great grandfather, Fisher. I have a lot of photographs from my dad's mom's side, but not personal items. On my mother's side, I have a lot of letters and pictures and things from my mom's dad's side. And then on my mom's mom's side, I have a coffee pot that was given to them in 1883 in Sweden as part of a wedding, and it's pretty badly damaged. I would have thrown it out, except at some point along the line, I discovered a note from my mom, where she listed some of the heirlooms and the stories. And that was on the list. And it's like, oh, this went from being a piece of junk to being a treasure. So we take good care of that now for sure.
David: Well, you know, it's amazing if you think about how many generations things can get split up.
David: And just stop to think when we go on to eBay and there are names associated with a family bible or a photograph or some form of ephemera. Like, you know, maybe a trunk or something. That's somebody's ancestor.
David: Why isn't that still in their hands? And is because people die, people don't care about family heritage unfortunately in some cases, things get mislaid, left in attics. I mean, my family moved to the South Shore. Apparently there was a trunk of photographs that they left up in the attic and forgot about.
David: And just think what was in there.
Fisher: Yeah, no kidding. Well, that's the thing too sometimes you don't know what you have. Like I said, I would have thrown that coffee pot out in a heartbeat. It’s like, what in the world is this!? But once you know what the connection is. And that's why it's a good idea to kind of make a list of things and what they are, so that you can appreciate what you've got. So, great question, Leah. And thank you, David. And we will talk to you again next week.
David: Until then, my friend.
Fisher: All right. And that is our show for this week, people. Thank you so much for joining us. Thanks to Sunny Morton for coming on and filling us in on, the case of the missing nun. And to Dr. David Wood from Brigham Young University, talking about the new study connecting family history research with your sense of wellbeing. If you missed any of it, of course catch the podcast. You can hear it on iHeart Radio ExtremeGenes.com, Spotify, TuneIn Radio and Apple Media. 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!