Episode 471: CLASSIC REWIND - British “Who Do You Think You Are?” Host and Researcher Learns Great Uncle was a Soviet Spy

podcast episode Dec 25, 2023

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin with the story of a Canadian man who learned from a newspaper birth listing from the early 1950s, and DNA, that he had been switched at birth. Then, one of the oddest stories of the year… a married couple is freaking out because they learned that they share ancestors eight generations back! Then, a cannon ball has shown up at a beach in Rhode Island. You won’t believe where the finder is keeping it. At Colonial Williamsburgh, a dig has revealed a remarkable new find at a spot that David has walked over countless times. And finally, Europe’s oldest publication has been dated at over 2,300 years old.

Next, in two parts, Fisher visits with Dr. Nick Barratt, best known in the UK for his hosting and research on four seasons of “Who Do You Think You Are?” In his own research, Nick has discovered that his paternal grandmother’s brother was a spy for the Soviet Union leading up to World War II! Hear how he discovered this shocker, how it has impacted him and his immediate family, and how it has changed his understanding of how he presents information he provides to others.

Then, David returns for another couple of rounds of Ask Us Anything.

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

Transcript for Episode 471 CLASSIC REWIND

Segment 1 Episode 471 Classic Rewind

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: And welcome America to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree, and watch the nuts fall out. So glad to have you along! Dr. Nick Barrett is going to be here today. He's one of those people that those of you across the pond would be very familiar with, because he's been a host, a presenter on Who Do You Think You Are over in Great Britain and a researcher for four seasons. And Nick recently discovered that he has a traitor on his family tree, not a trader, a traitor! And you're not going to believe the story about his great uncle and the espionage he was engaged in for the Soviets just before World War II. Nick’s going to tell us about it in two segments. Right now, it's time to head out to Boston, Massachusetts, because standing by is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Here's David Allen Lambert. Hey, Dave!

David: Hey, how's it going with you, Fish?

Fisher: Just grand and glorious. I finally got over my jetlag from the trip. You know, eight hours is a big difference, you know.

David: Um hmm, well, welcome to the American time zones. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. We'll take it, absolutely. Let's get going with our Family Histoire News today. And where do you want to begin?

David: Well, I'm going to be here with Andy Perkins. He's 73 years old. And for the most part of his life, he thought he didn't look a lot like his family that he grew up with. And of course, you know where I'm going with this. Yep, another switched at birth.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Andy had a DNA test and they saw all the matches. And, well, didn't recognize any of the names, but it was actually a newspaper article that they found online that talked about another child born at similar hospital the day before.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: And all of that family matched the DNA results he was getting.

Fisher: Isn't that amazing? And so now he's 73 years old. Unfortunately, his biological parents never got to meet him, because they're both gone. But, he's gotten to know all of his siblings from that family. They're full siblings. Isn't that amazing! He feels now he's got the family that raised him and loved him. And now the family that lost him through an accident in the hospital.

David: So many of these will probably never know about the courage, because the people have died, never took a DNA test. But for those that are discovering this, what a game changer!

Fisher: Yep.

David: Well, I learned a new term, because of some Tik Tokers. You know what the term husband is?

Fisher: I have not heard that before, but I did see this. And this is probably one of the strangest stories we've had a while. It just makes me laugh.

David: Yeah, this Tik Tok couple found out they were cousins, but sharing eight generations back doesn't make it a bad thing! [Laughs]

Fisher: No. And she was saying, “We were freaking out! Oh, we're just, we were horrified!”

David: “We have children together!”

Fisher: Yeah. “We've been married 10 years, and he's my cousin! And what's this going to!” It's like, you share sixth great grandparents. We're talking like the early 1700s. There is nothing to worry about. It's absurd. And what's funny to me, too, is that there was actually a reporter who wanted to write this up as a serious story. Like somehow there's some issue. It's like, nobody in this thing, not even the writer knows what they're talking about.

David: I don't know, my wife and I share ancestors back about 10 great grandparents. My kids turned out okay.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

David: And hey, my great, great grandmother's parents were first cousins.

Fisher: Yes.

David: She was a brilliant lady, and had 10 fingers and 10 toes last time I heard.

Fisher: Yes.

David: So, not a big deal.

Fisher: No.

David: Okay.

Fisher: Just funny. [Laughs]

David: Well, you know, sometimes in life you find those great discoveries in genealogy or your sixth cousin is your spouse.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But in this case, Jamie Carlson was strolling down the beach in Jamestown and thought what she found was a cannon.

Fisher: This was Jamestown, Rhode Island. Kind of a strange place when you think about the Civil War, but they were doing some war games there.

David: Well, it's actually 180 year old cannonball. And this came from the Civil War where they were using a Fort Dumpling, firing a cannon from Fort Adams. So, this is a projectile from the Civil War, which is conveniently placed in the side table next to her in the living room.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Have you ever heard those stories where they find ammunition and they have to blow it up? I don't think I'd leave it in my living room.

Fisher: No, I wouldn't either. I do have a friend though in Salt Lake City, Utah, who has a Civil War cannon in his dining room.

David: That's a blast.

Fisher: Yeah, yes. [Laughs] But you're right. I mean, periodically, you hear stories of somebody finding a cannonball from the Civil War and they take it home and they drop it and it goes off and it kills them or maims them or something horrible. So, yeah, those things happen.

David: Well, speaking of Civil War, you know, I'm always on vacation once a year with the family. We go to Colonial Williamsburg, and one of the most fascinating historical buildings there is actually a Powder Magazine right there in old Colonial Williamsburg and it's 200 years old. And recently, doing archeology around it, they have found skeletal remains of Confederate soldiers, as well as three amputated legs, a couple of gold coins and a toothbrush.

Fisher: Yeah, the toothbrush does not have the brush part on it. You can just see the holes where they were in there.

David: Um hmm, exactly. Well, I mean, it's amazing to think I have walked over where these poor veterans have been buried for years, waiting in line to queue up to go into the Powder Magazine upstairs.

Fisher: Wow!

David: It just goes to show you, you never can be sure what you're walking over.

Fisher: Right?

David: You know, I love old books. And recent news in the Greek reporter talks about the Derveni Papyrus was founded in 1962, in the remains of a funeral pyre in a tomb. And it dates from 340 to 320 BCE. And it's considered Europe's oldest legible manuscripts still in existence today.

Fisher: Wow! So we're talking 2300 years old, is that right? That's crazy!

David: And the type of thing like this, you're probably not going to be able to find on Amazon.com. [Laughs]

Fisher: No, it probably would not be there, or a book.

David: Well, American Ancestors is closed currently, but our website is not. And all the benefits you can get from membership, you can obtain and save $20 by using the coupon code “Extreme” at AmericanAncestors.org.

Fisher: All right, David. Very good. Thank you so much. And we will talk to you at the back end of the show for Ask Us Anything. And coming up next, we're going to talk to someone you're familiar with if you're in Great Britain and you've watched Who Do You Think You Are. Dr. Nick Barrett is coming on talking about the traitor tour he discovered in his not so distant family. It's an amazing story and you're going to want to hear Nick's reaction to the discovery. It's incredible stuff, coming up next in two segments on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 471

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Nick Barratt

Fisher: All right, welcome back to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And we reach across the pond today to talk to my good friend, Dr. Nick Barratt, known to many of our British listeners as a great presenter on television over there, tied into Who Do You Think You Are for the first four seasons as a researcher and presenter. Great to have you on the show!

Nick: Oh, first of all, thanks for inviting me. It’s always lovely to chat with an old friend about subjects that I’m passionate about. I’ve done various bits of telly and written books, but I still can’t get more enjoyment than talking about stories, particularly if it’s about my nefarious ancestors. So it’s lovely to be on the show Thanks for the invite.

Fisher: Well, you know, there's so many stories that we find from ordinary people. You're an extraordinary person with all that you do in the space, and yet you've made an extraordinary find. And let's just talk about how this came about.

Nick: Well, in one sense, it's my badge of honor. But on another way of looking at it, it could be a badge of shame. Because having done all of this work for celebrities and private clients through my agency, I hadn't really found time to do my own genealogy. So, in that sense, I felt like it was a bit of an imposter. So when I did start to dig, I didn't expect to find anything spectacular. Now, a lot of my family have done some research already so it wasn't exactly starting from scratch. But you tend to explore the side branches as a result. And there was one character on my father's family tree that no one seems to know anything about. No one thought to research him. We know that he died in the 1930s. He didn't have any children of his own. So there was no descendants to tell us stories about him. And he just kind of dropped off the family tree. And then one day having trawled the National Archives discovery catalog, his name emerged. But it came from a really exciting part of the collection. The reference was KV2. Now, having been a former archivist, you talk in these sort of letter codes.

Fisher: Right, right, right.

Nick: And KV2 should immediately get you sitting up with excitement, because it's the Secret Service collection relating to secret service activities of the British government so I thought immediately, oh, my goodness, I have got a secret agent in my family tree.

Fisher: MI5, MI6 something like that?

Nick: Yeah. Well, this is it. It's the MI5 records. That initial excitement immediately deflated. But I realized it wasn't the files of the agents themselves. It was the people they were tracing. And this particular collection related to people who were under British intelligence surveillance, because they were suspected to be Soviet agents. So suddenly, instead of having James Bond, I'd got the James Bond villain in my family tree. So, a bit of a shock to the system.

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, how was that shock to the system? I mean, you don't know what you're going to find yet because you just found the reference. You have an idea that he's under suspicion. Where did your mind go in this circumstance?

Nick: While, it was really hard to sort of reconcile first impression with the reality. So obviously, then all throughout the document, you dive in, and you have a look through. And it's a really thin file. But it was quite revealing because it tells the story of the last few months of his life, from the moment when the British got wind of what he might be doing, to the moment where he disappeared from surveillance. And as you work through it, you realize that he had led this incredible double life. Following the back story, the reason why he was under suspicion was that he previously worked for the foreign office, in the communications department. So, he was entrusted with making sure that all the British correspondents, telegrams, communications, all of that was under lock and key. And when it was ciphered, and deciphered, so put into code, the code books were kept safe. That was his job. That was his important job. So you can see where this is going. He was sacked for drunken behavior and absenteeism from work. But the reason for that when I really dug deeper and put the flesh on the bones and looked at the story was that by this stage, he'd already started working for the Russians selling the same secrets he was meant to be protecting, via their embassy in Paris. And it had fallen under the control of the Russian Secret Service at the time, an organization then known as OGPU. And his behavior became more and more erratic, as he was trying to satisfy the Russian handlers, but also maintain his job, which of course he couldn't do. So he's had a very weak character, his mental health collapsed, turned to alcohol and drug abuse, and essentially, he was sacked. But the ridiculous thing was the Foreign Office let him come in to visit his friends. And they even let him keep a safe deposit box, which gave him a perfect excuse to go in and get the records. I mean, he couldn't make this stuff up.

Fisher: Really? [Laughs]

Nick: Genuinely. So the only reason they got suspicious was one day, he'd come in on the pretext of looking at his friend and getting stuff out of his box. He made a dash and grabbed some keys to the safes where they kept the code books and tried to make a wax impression of the key so he could then break in later got rumbled by security and fled. And that's when the Foreign Office called in MI five. And various agents were put on his tail trying to work out what he was going to do next.

Fisher: Wow. This is just like an adventure in and of itself. I mean, you just had to be riveted. How many pages was in this file you got?

Nick: Well, the file isn't even that big, probably because the surveillance didn't last very long.

Fisher: Right.

Nick: He was first put under surveillance in July. They put a home office warrant out so they could tap his phone. Now, before the days of you know, internet technology and smart devices. It's very rare that you'd have transcripts of phone conversations between husband and wife. Yet that's what I've got in this file.

Fisher: Really?

Nick: They were tapping his home phone. His wife had left him but she kept hold of the house. And he'd gone off to various hotels, mainly because he was still being controlled by the Russian agents. And he got this phone call. Or essentially she says that she's leaving him and that the foreign officer wanted him and that he was a terrible husband, you know, really tragic stuff. But the file isn't that big. Because once he's got wind of the fact that the foreign office had brought in MI5, he disappears. He just vanishes. He manages to slip his surveillance. He goes to the continents, we think with his Russian handlers, he holds out in Geneva for a bit and then probably into in to Paris. And they lose him. He just disappears. So there's this sort of gap in the correspondence where they're going through all of his bank records, passport, and there's just nothing.

Fisher: Stop right there. What about the bank records? What did it show?

Nick: It showed that he had no money at all.

Fisher: Really?

Nick: And this was the motivation for him selling the secrets. They were strapped for cash. And this flies contrary to the lifestyle they were living. His wife was much older than him. And she has a very affluent upbringing. She'd married into money, she'd come from money, but she'd spent it all so she'd latched on to my great uncle thinking that this foreign office life and prestige and status would revive her fortunes. And of course they didn't. So he had to, I think be coerced into finding other means of getting money. So the bank was a bit of a bust because there was nothing there.

Fisher: Nothing and it didn't reflect any money from the Russians?

Nick: No. He basically spent it all on drink and paying off some of the debts that had accrued buying a nice house and having a chauffeur driven sunbeam coupe and the trappings his wife essentially spent it all for him.

Fisher: Wow! Do you have any idea of how long he was doing this?

Nick: We suspect it was about four years. There's evidence that he was doing it towards the end of the 1920s and he certainly kept going until 32-33 which was eventually when he was sacked and still getting back in and managed to get access to the records. So he was doing it for some time and you know, the pressure just broke him.

Fisher: Well, what ultimately happened to this man?

Nick: Well, the investigation is about to be stood down when suddenly he reappears in London. And it was only by accident that he was spotted hanging out at a hotel in German Street, so the affluent part of town. And it seems that he had been told almost at gunpoint to go back by the Russians to get one last look at the books. So, he was trying to bide his time to summon up the courage to break back in again. But he was spotted by one of his former colleagues, who then tipped off MI5, and immediately the surveillance was put back in on him. And that's when the fall starts to beef up again, because they decided to work out what he was up to, by engaging in an elaborate sting operation. It's not quite James Bond, like they essentially took him down the pub and got him drunk.

Fisher: Really.

Nick: He got so drunk, they took him back to his hotel, he passed out, they went through his things, and worked out that he was receiving information from Paris. But get this, there's a note in the file saying they can't tap the phone to the hotel because, and I quote, “There are no operators able to speak French available at this time”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Nick: It's totally inept.

Fisher: Yes.

Nick: So they keep watch on him for a few days, and then he disappears again. And they can only assume that he's gone off. And the file then gets quite sad, because instead of reports from the agents on the ground, there are a couple of newspaper clippings about a man found dead in this house. And it turned out to be his house, and he'd gone back there. And he’d killed himself. He gassed himself to death. At least, that's what the newspapers and the coroner concluded.

Fisher: Right.

Nick: We suspect the Russians bumped him off because his behavior was getting worse and worse and they knew now that he was being tailed. And they thought, well, if he falls into British hands, the chances are all of the names and the secrets will be coughed up in an attempt to plea deal away from either being prosecuted, and potentially executed for treason. So we think they killed him.

Fisher: Yeah.

Nick: A Russian handler has written the biography. And again, he quotes that “We have destroyed our greatest asset”. So we think the Russian handler killed my great uncle to stop my great uncle spilling the beans to the British.

Fisher: That's quite a bit of research right there finding the records of the Russian handler. How did you find that?

Nick: Well, the Russian handler fell foul of Stalin's purges a year or so later. And he was sent to a gulag, a concentration camp for a number of years. And when he emerged, he eventually gave an interview, which turned into a book, which was the source of a lot of the information. We've got some records from Russians who defected to the Americans and the British. And we've got some of the Churchill archive, but a lot of them are still under lock and key in the Kremlin. So, if it wasn't for the interview, the Bystrolyotov the Russian handler gave with Emil Draitser, we would know very little of the Russian side of the story. And both sides make it really clear. And we now know that if it wasn't for my great uncle, the Soviets would not have switched from paying for secrets to ideological recruitment. So the Cold War, the ideological drive to recruit the Cambridge spy ring was a result of my great uncle.

Fisher: Oh my goodness.

Nick: So he's got a lot to answer for. He's got a lot to answer for.

Fisher: All right, we got to take a break here. I'm talking to Dr. Nick Barratt from across the pond over in London talking about his great uncle, who he learned was a spy for the Soviets unbelievable, to be continued in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 471

Host Scott Fisher with guest Nick Barratt

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. I’m talking to Nick Barratt, a great presenter over in Great Britain. You know him from Who Do You Think You Are over there. And Nick’s just been telling us about an interesting discovery he made. His uncle was a spy for the Soviets back in the late ‘20s and early 1930s. And Nick, just as we finished that last segment you were saying that you could actually pin certain changes in how things were done on your great uncle.

Nick: Absolutely. Up to that point, the Soviets were quite happy to pay for access to secrets, but because of the difficulties, let’s say, emerging characters such as my great uncle who was prone to alcohol and breakdowns, they realized that this was really highly risky. Because he failed, they switched ideological recruitment. So, trying to get people who believed in the Soviet cause, to infiltrate the higher levels of British society and they turned to universities, the most famous being the Cambridge spy ring.

Fisher: Right.

Nick: And you can almost track to the minute the decision made in the Soviet Intelligence OGPU, to abandon this approach and move to ideological recruitments. So, we can put this at his door, but I think you can probably go more than that.

Fisher: Really?

Nick: I think you can almost pin the origins of the Second World War to my great uncle as well.

Fisher: Now wait, wait, wait, really?

Nick: [Laughs]

Fisher: Come on.

Nick: Well, one of the last things that he seems to have done according to Bystrolyotov, his handler, was attend a really important peace conference on the continents at the end of 1932. And the aim of the conference was to have open conversations with Germany, about whether they should be readmitted into the League of Nations after the First World War, end the crippling reparation payments to France and the allies, which was destroying their economy and essentially rehabilitate them.

Fisher: Okay.

Nick: Now, this was Russia's worst nightmare, they would have been even more isolated. So the thought of the Germans coming in, and essentially presenting a united front against the Soviets was terrifying. So what my great uncle was charged with doing was intercepting some of the correspondence and outcomes of that conference and sending them across to the Soviets. And we know that there is a huge archive of material from this period, which they had, which allowed them to be one step ahead of what the Western forces were planning, and then start to think about how they could negotiate with Germany. So the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which essentially begins the start of German aggression into Poland, and the carving up from Russia and Poland, traces back to this understanding of what the Germans were trying to deal with France and Britain. So if it wasn't for the fact that my great uncle had shared these secrets, they would have been in the dark, they might have taken a very different approach, and may be less amenable to some of the deals that were done towards the end of the 1930s. So it's a bit of a stretch but genuinely intelligence gathering started at that moment,

Fisher: Nick, how did this impact you? I mean, this is not something you expected to find.

Nick: Oh, you know what, I've felt different things about this story at different times. Initially, it was excitement that finally I've got my Who Do You Think You Are moment. I've got my badge of pride. So I can say yeah, I don't just do it for others, look, I'm a bonafide genealogist, I've done my own family tree. I mean, I've written a book about it. This isn't a plug, by the way. But I've written a book. And in the course of that research, you look at the politics of the time, and you look at the ripple effects. So we've just talked about the Cold War and the spy rings, we talked about the start of the Second World War, the ripples start from my great uncle, and millions of people have lost their lives. Even just within this the circle that we're talking about, many people died as a result of what he did. So there's that sense of shame and almost horror about how someone that you’re relate it to could do such cold blooded things for money, even if there'd been a sense of ideological motivation, I think I could have felt a bit more comfortable about it, because at least he was doing something he believed in.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Nick: And then you have to go further back and look at the rest of his life, it’s not just the 1930s. He was in the First World War. He was a war casualty and a war hero. He got blown up trying to save his men. But he was treated really shabbily by the British establishment, and having been passed over for promotion, because there was a stigma associated, a) with his class of society, and, b) with the fact that he had gone over to Paris as part of the peace negotiations in 1919. I think he felt alienated. And you can again look at those causes. So you have to empathize with him as a person, you might not like him. And he had some very unpleasant characteristics. But you also have to look at some of the sympathetic reasons about how he ended up like he did. And for me, that's where genealogy becomes something more profound.

Fisher: Yeah.

Nick: And that applies just to everything. It's not about gathering names on a websites and going as far back as you can.

Fisher: Right.

Nick: It's creating a fully rounded three dimensional picture, so that you can empathize with these human beings who went before us, and in many ways shaped our lives. And that is the biggest lesson, as well as the fact that when I'm presenting information to clients, I have to think about the impact on them, of some of these discoveries. You know, I still get that thrill of the research process and the excitement of discovery.

Fisher: Sure.

Nick: And you want to share that with people. You want to tell that story to them. But actually, you've got to think about the fact they’ll be living with this for weeks, months, years reflecting and thinking and having that sort of changed feeling towards these people.

Fisher: Yeah. And some of its immediate and some of it is after a long pause, right? They process. And then that shows up some time later. I've seen that many times. Absolutely. Well, you know, you were a researcher for years before this discovery. Did you not feel that same empathy then or did this change you a little bit?

Nick: I think it changed me because suddenly you experience what your clients experience, whether it's excitement, disappointment, shock, and I still get that eureka moment doing a lot of research on my mother's family. Her mother, my grandmother was illegitimate. And the only reason we cracked that case was through DNA, but it's revealed all sorts of things that we're still processing. And for me, it's great. I found something new, for my mom it's someone you know, who brought her up. And there's that sense of just thinking a little bit about how you introduce ideas and concepts, and what it means for you and yeah, you do step into the shoes of your clients a lot more and think about what their motivation is and how they're going to react.

Fisher: Yeah, I think so DNA is where a lot of the surprises and shock and awe come from these days. It's not too often you just stumble upon what you did just through the records, right? It's biological, in many cases, most cases.

Nick: It is. And I think the more records appear online, the less shocks there are likely to be. There's going to be some, because the records are there, but you've got to connect to them somehow. And let's make no bones about it. Mine is an extraordinary story. And I was very lucky.

Fisher: Yeah.

Nick: If that's the word to use, that it was there to be found.

Fisher: Have there been any ramifications among people, you know, because of the fact you're related to this guy?

Nick: No, I think the way I used to introduce it, and genuinely, I felt a shift in how I would introduce this story to people since February, March last year, because Soviet spy how exciting, James Bond, now it's okay. So this is when we were in Russia, and there were these folk doing these things. And well, hold on. Your ancestor was part of that? And it just makes you think twice about introducing a story. There'd be no ramifications personally, but I have to be more cautious about how other people might feel about talking so candidly, about this subject matter. So yeah, there's a bit of caution.

Fisher: Um hmm. He’s Nick Barrett. We all know him from Who Do You Think You Are, over in the UK. And Nick, this is amazing stuff. I can't believe that you weren't hooked on your own genealogy before you started all this other stuff for other people.

Nick: It was a bit like a busman's holiday. It's something I'd get round to eventually, as so many people do.

Fisher: [Laughs] Right.

Nick: I was four years flat out researching others, and then with the agency taking off doing that for clients. So there was a little bit here, a little bit there. But I don't know, maybe, maybe it was right to wait until I've had a few more techniques and experiences under my belt.

Fisher: Nick, it's great to talk to you as always. We look forward to seeing you at RootsTech again, hopefully next year, and look forward to the next chapter of the story because I don't think you're done finding every detail yet.

Nick: Lots more stories to tell. And very happy to update, as and when they fall into place. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thanks so much for inviting me.

Fisher: You betcha. And coming up next, David Allen Lambert will join me once again for another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 471

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, back for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. David Allen Lambert is back from Boston. And David, our first question is from Dallas, Texas. And Kylee writes, “Guys, what sources would you use to determine ancestor’s political affiliation?” Interesting question as we move into a presidential year. What do you think, Dave?

David: Well, I mean, there's any number of things. I mean, right away, the top of my head is voter lists. Voter lists are going to give you the affiliation that you're voting for, or if you're registered to vote early on, they might not say what your affiliation is, but it proves you’re a naturalized resident of your community, is going to be indicated as well. I found some really interesting ones. Boston, the voter lists are on Family Search. But one year is fascinating. In 1896, to prevent voter fraud, they asked you your name, you signed it and you put your age, your address, your occupation, your physical description, your height and your weight. Tell me what records other than military or a coroner’s record are you going get the height and weight of your ancestor?

Fisher: That's really good, isn't it? Yeah, you don't get that too often. Wow!

David: So that's one. And I realized from this record that my great grandfather didn't vote, but his two younger brothers did. And now I have their signatures and their height and weight and I realized where the shortness of my family can come from. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] There you go. You know, my great grandfather named my grandfather, Winfield Scott Hancock Fisher. And I never thought much of it early on where that name came from, until I learned that Winfield Scott Hancock was a civil war general. And he ran for president against James Garfield. You know what year? 1880, which was the year my grandfather was born.

David: Oh, excellent!

Fisher: So that kind of was a little hint to me what my great grandfather's affiliation was, because Garfield was the Republican, and Hancock was the Democrat. So, he was a New York City Democrat in 1880. That kind of led me to some other things. And I did find newspapers actually publish registered voters. And so, I found him listed there. And they usually do it by address. But of course, the way we can search it now with search engines and everything for Newspapers.com, it's really easy to find that stuff. Another thing that can help you out with that is if you had somebody who was actually very active in politics, maybe ran for office or was a poll watcher, they list the poll watchers by name and also give what their affiliation is. So, you can find those through many, many years as well. So there's a lot of great stuff that you can find to help you with this.

David: Yeah. And in fact, one of my relatives, he ran for the Democrats in Ward 11 in Boston in 1837. I would have never guessed my war of 1812 veterans political affiliation would ever be anywhere in a record, but there it was in the newspaper.

Fisher: Yeah, yeah. And my great grandfather ran for the New York assembly in 1869. He didn't make it, but there are a couple of stories that were out there. So, you can figure these things out, especially if they were particularly active. If they were just, say, a standard voter, it might be a little bit more challenging. But, I think there's a lot of things that you can pursue and see what's out there.

David: That's very true. One of the other things that I find is preserved, especially if your ancestor ran for office on a local election, historical societies. They have political pins and banners and maybe signs, the old newspapers showing the ads for people running for office, you know, in the 20th century, people taking up political ads in the newspaper. It's very possible to find some things on the local level too, even if your ancestor was just running for selectman.

Fisher: Sure, or city council or something like that. I mean, there's a lot of ways to go. So, yeah, and I think people were very politically active in those days, especially in the smaller towns. You're going to find a lot of things. So, great question. Thank you very much for it, Kaylee. Hope that helps you out or at least gives you a little encouragement to continue to pursue. And coming up next, we have another question about fall activities in family history, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 471

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right back for our final segment. It's Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. And this question, David, comes from Sharon up in Vermont. And she writes, “Fisher and David, I've had a great summer visiting family history sites, both here and abroad, and I've learned a lot about my ancestors, and I'm organizing my notes. Obviously summer is a great time for that and for reunions. What are your suggestions for fall family history activities?”

David: Wow! Well, around here when everything is dead, it's always good to go look for those cellar holes of your ancestors’ homes versus in the middle of the summer where you're dealing with briar and poison ivy.

Fisher: Right?

David: So, that's a good thing. Although cemeteries that are way, way off in the woods, you know, you know that you have to track a half hour in.

Fisher: And the leaves are down, right? I mean, that makes a big difference for that.

David: Exactly.

Fisher: I'll tell you what I'm thinking is, that you're getting all this information together it's time to start thinking about your family history Christmas gifts. And this would be the time to put something together, maybe print up a pamphlet or a book or something to share with the family about some of your discoveries or the stories you've found or photographs you've discovered. I mean, there's so many things that you can do in that way, you know, little projects that you can do indoors as it gets colder.

David: Yeah. And I think that it's never the wrong time to start working on your family history. When the weather gets cooler and you can't do a lot of those outside activities, why not sit down and write some of those emails that you need or get on the phone and call those cousins that you know are also going to be indoors.

Fisher: Right.

David: And maybe plan a trip, interview someone, get down there and scan some photographs that they have that you know that aunt Mary's daughter has all those family photos. Now is the time to make those plans for those fall trips.

Fisher: Well, and think about this, too. I mean, it's this time of year where you are stuck indoors, why not take some online courses? I mean, RootsTech is still happening right now! And you can go on and pick out of free courses and lectures. Same with Family Search, which is of course the sponsor. They're the ones who put on RootsTech, they've got their own classes as well. So you go to FamilySearch.org. And the best part about this is, it's all free! And I will tell you firsthand that for many of these things, it's a revelation. Even for many of us who have done this research for decades. Some of the things that are revealed there, it's like, “Oh, I had no idea!” The education just really never ends, does it, David?

David: It really doesn't. In fact, you know, I've worked at NEHGS for 30 years and I'm always looking to attend a lecture on a topic I may not be well versed in, or it's something new, like artificial intelligence is going to be a big thing at RootsTech.

Fisher: Yeah, I think that's, that's going to be this coming year. But I think it's already begun to some extent. So, you can find courses on that. You can learn languages, right about your ancestors or how to research something. I just got back from Germany. How about learning about German records and record sets and how to obtain them, what's available online for free? What's available for cost? And what kind of materials that you might be looking for to help you extend your lines over there? Because I'll tell you what, those European ancestors, sometimes you get in one of these lines, and they go back for centuries.

David: Oh, sure. And you know, and Family Search, American Ancestors all have their YouTube channels where they have free lectures that may be a little outdated, but you're still going to pick up stuff from it. And it goes back for a past few years.

Fisher: Yeah, there's just a ton of stuff. So, that's a great thing to do as the weather gets colder now and you start to move indoors. And I think that's the kind of thing I do all the time when it gets cooler out there. So, thanks so much for the question, Kylee. David, as always, thanks for coming on. It was great to talk to you and we'll catch you again next week.

David: All right, until then, my friend.

Fisher: All right. And thanks once again to Dr. Nick Barrett for giving us a lot of his time to talk about this amazing discovery that his great uncle betrayed the United Kingdom to the Soviet Union and was pursued by MI5. If you missed any of that story or want to hear it again, of course catch the podcast. We're on AppleMedia iHeart Radio, TuneIn Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, Spotify, we are all over the place. Thanks for joining us. 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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