Episode 52 - Shattering Myths About "The Old Days" and Amazing Facts About 19th Century PhotographyJul 28, 2014
Transcript of Episode 52
Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show
Host: Scott Fisher
Segment 1 Episode 52
Fisher: Hello Genies! And welcome back to Extreme Genes Family History Radio, America’s Family History Show! I am Fisher your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, all through July we’re celebrating our first anniversary and we thank you so much for spreading the word about the show, liking us on Facebook and participating in all the ways you do! If you have a story or question you’d like to run by us feel, free to call us toll free at, 1-234-56-GENES. That’s 1-234-56-GENES, G E N E S or of course you can Facebook us or simply email me at [email protected]. Well, it’s funny how it sometimes works out. You start running across people with similar information to share. Sometimes it’s about DNA, other times it’s about soldiers. Well, this week we wound up with two guests who have assembled two really interesting and entertaining lists. First, in about eight minutes, Tom Kelleher joins us to talk about common myths about old times, myths about people’s sizes, death by fire, death period. You will enjoy hearing what Tom has to say. Then later in the show Minnesota’s Erica Vetsch joins us with her list of five fascinating facts about early photography. You cannot imagine how different photography then was not only from now, but from how we imagined it was, from clamps and hidden parents to exploding studios. Wait till you hear what Erica has to share. It’s all good stuff. We got a great email from Leslie Pace in Bristol, Rhode Island. She says, “Fisher, I had no idea there were so many wars before the Revolution. I learned that my eighth grade my great grandfather was wounded not far from here in the great swamp fight in 1675 in the King Phillip’s War.” Thanks for the info. Glad to help, Leslie. And if you missed David Allen Lambert’s visit last week on Colonial Wars, give him a listen on our podcast. You can download the free podcast app to your iPhone or Android to always be up to date on our latest shows. This week’s survey on ExtremeGenes.com was about heirlooms and the oldest ones in your possession. 44% of you said your oldest heirloom was between 101 and 150 years old. 36% said than more than 150 and 20% said 50 to 100 years. That is a lot of old stuff. And I hope you’re digitizing and photographing those items to share online. This week’s poll has to do with a family sports tradition. Does your family have a team that you have followed for more than three generations? In our family, the answer is yes, five. I’m not going to tell you which team, because well, they’re terrible, and I’m really struggling to end that tradition. It’s difficult. Vote now at ExtremeGenes.com. From the pages of ExtremeGenes.com it is time once again for your Family Histoire News. Of course the big news this week is the start of another season of “Who do you think you are” on TLC. Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon was featured in the first episode. It was quite the adventure as she discovered just as we talked about in recent weeks that she too had an ancestor in prison. But, it wasn’t a man. It was her great, great grandmother. Yes, Martha Curnutt was only the second woman ever in the Missouri State Penitentiary. And she was there, separately of course, with some 800 guys. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you just in case you’re going back to check it out. DNA testing is in play again down in Texas. David Parker is an Indiana Native who grew up hearing that there had once been a Native American in his family. He later learned that person may well have been Quanah Parker, the last of the Comanche Chiefs and a fierce one at that. Back in 1836 a nine year old girl named Cynthia Anne Parker was taken captive by the Comanches, and she spent most of the rest of her life living with them. It was she who later became the mother of Quanah Parker. When David learned about this, he and his adult son, Tim, decided to be part of a Parker Family Reunion at Fort Parker State Park in Texas. There are over a hundred Parkers there, all descended from elder John Parker. David believes he comes through a brother of elder John, a James Parker, who is something of an enigma to the elder John side of the family. It’s believed that David’s ancestor James stayed behind in Indiana when John departed for Texas in1833. Cynthia Anne Parker was a daughter of elder John and so the annual reunion is alternately hosted by the Texas branch and the Comanche branch based in Oklahoma. David is now waiting for his DNA test results to come in to confirm his connection to this very interesting and involved family. Mary O’Melia has been found! She was a young widow who came to America from Ireland with three kids in tow before she was hired on as a housekeeper at the White House. No, not that White House, the other one that belonged to the Confederacy. She was a confidante to First Lady Varina Davis, wife of President Jefferson Davis. Considered something of an enigma, a photograph of her, the only one ever known, was recently turned over to the Civil War Museum which is located next to that other White House in Richmond, Virginia. Mary was visiting friends from her home in Baltimore when she was stranded by Virginia’s seceding from the Union in 1861. Wanting to get back to her children, she appealed to a Roman Catholic bishop who approached Varina Davis. Davis instead, convinced Mary to take the position of housekeeper to the First Family of the South. After her service there ended, she returned to Baltimore where she died in 1907. Read more about this and see the newfound picture contributed by a descendant at ExtremeGenes.com. And coming up next, he’s a curator at a living 1830’s museum, who’s about to destroy some of the facts about life in the 19th century that you’ve heard all your life. Tom Kelleher joins us in three minutes on Extreme Genes Family History Radio, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 52
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Kelleher
Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, Family History Radio, and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth with a special guest from Massachusetts. In Old Sturbridge Village Tom Kelleher is the curator there. Hi Tom, welcome to the show.
Tom: Hi Scott, thanks for having me.
Fisher: Tell me about Old Sturbridge Village. What do you do there?
Tom: Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum, an outdoor museum. We’re the biggest one in the Northeast. We opened in 1946 for basically a lot of buildings that had been moved from all six of the New England States and we basically recreate everything like in the early years of the American Republic.
Fisher: Wow, it sounds a lot like a North Eastern version of Williamsburg.
Tom: Yeah, it’s exactly that kind of genre. We’re the same kind of thing.
Fisher: Well, I was looking at this list you put together and you published in an Old Sturbridge Publication, talking about some of the common myths that people have about back in the old days. I couldn’t disagree with you on any of them and I thought maybe we’d go through and talk about some of the stuff.
Tom: Actually I put the list together as the top ten myths as a memo to my staff, and our newsletter Editor decided that she didn’t want to devote that much text in one issue.
Fisher: [Laughs] All right, so the first one was that people in the past were a lot shorter.
Tom: You always hear that when you’re in a living history environment. The thing about these myths, these kinds of things that your first grade teacher told you. I know my first grade teacher told me. Usually, we historians can ascribe them to one or two things, either conflation which is basically taking all the pasts and lumping into one past, instead of saying, you know, “A thousand years ago this happened, and ten years ago that happened.”
Tom: The other thing they, well no, it’s kind of like every February, Washington and Lincoln selling Toyotas. We figured they knew each other.
Fisher: Right. [Laughs]
Tom: And of course, Washington was dead ten years before Lincoln was born.
Tom: But they’re always clowning around on the TV commercial. Anyway, the other thing is called the myth of the universality. They take something that is more or else true, and make everybody always these absolutes.
Tom: Well anyway, in early America, compared to today, most people on average were a little bit shorter. But, early Americans weren’t the berated dwarfs running around singing “we represent the law.” Something like that.
Fisher: Right. [Laughs]
Tom: I mean, you know, if you or I, I don’t know how tall you are because of this radio.
Fisher: Six feet.
Tom: But if you or I went back in the past, there’d be people taller than us, there’d be people shorter than us, and we wouldn’t be this race of giants towering over our predecessors. Whether you’re Abe Lincoln or Clint Eastwood, six foot four, that’s tall, that’s tall. Then there’s tall.
Fisher: That’s true.
Tom: At five foot tall, Martha Washington, Paula Abdul, the Olsen twins, that’s short.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.
Tom: They’re now.
Tom: Nowadays, most of us for the past fifty, sixty years who had better childhood, nutrition, and are a little taller. In fact, a couple of hundred years ago, Europeans coming to America, you know, those Americans were a little taller than they were on average, because Americans had better nutrition than most Europeans.
Fisher: Well, that’s a good point. Well, this kind of leads to the second point you made that, “everybody died young back then.”
Tom: [Laughs] Well, that’s the thing. That’s the universality, the everybody. Benjamin Disraeli who was Queen Victoria’s favorite prime minister is quoted as saying, “There’s three kinds of deceit, there’s lies, there’s damned lies, and there’s statistics.”
Fisher: Right, a great quote.
Tom: Exactly. I’ve always loved that one. But the point is, at birth, the life expectance for most in the 19th century and before in America was about mid forties. But if you made it to your twenties, you would probably live to your late sixties. And if you hit the fifties, you’re could probably even live into your mid seventies. So, it’s the average. I mean, three thousand years ago, in the book of Psalms, they wrote, “The days of our years are threescore and ten.” That’s seventy.
Tom: Or eighty for those that are strong. Hey, so it’s not like, Oh, everybody’s going to die at twenty. The difference, I think is that nowadays, death is something, for most of us, that happens to old people.
Tom: Because of these tragedies. But in the past, death was something that happened to people.
Fisher: Right. At any time, right?
Tom: Yeah, you could easily as an infant from things we get shots for now that we don’t die of in this country, like measles, ditherier, protosists, all the stuff that most Americas never even think of. Because they give us a shot when we’re babies and kids, and we don’t get these terrible diseases that killed people then.
Tom: And Americans don’t tend to die of things that they died of then, like cholera, typhus, typhoid fever. These are things in our history books, where other places in the world still are prone to them.
Fisher: All right, next thing on your list, “People back then never wasted anything!”
Tom: Oh, this is one of my favorite things. I mean, we project this, “Oh, they lived in a simpler time.” Well, first off, they’re just a lot fewer people and they’re a lot poorer than we are today by and large. So they just had less stuff to waste. But you’ve got to remember, these people polluted their environment with as much of abandon and more abandon than most Americans do now. They just had less means and a lot less people to do it with. The population of the United States in 1830 was 13 million. So they just had a lot less people to despoil the land, and they had a lot less wealth to despoil the land. I mean, packaging now from all the stuff we buy and consume. But these were also the same people that were going out and burning whole forests just to clear the land.
Fisher: That’s right.
Tom: Or to make potash from the ashes of the trees they burned. So these weren’t the ones who were environmentalists singing, Kum Ba Yah. They basically just didn’t have the means to do the mess.
Fisher: All right, next on your list is, “People were a lot thinner.” Now that makes sense to me, because we know we have an obesity crisis going on in this country, but what’s your thought on this?
Tom: Well, more than two out of three of us today are overweight or obese in America. And certainly, in early America, most people compared to today were a lot leaner, but there were certainly heavy people back then as now. That’s one of those universal things. On an average test, we’re a lot heavier to your people today than we used to be on average, but there were certainly large people back then. The problem is, people will look at things like clothes that have survived for 200 years and say, “Look how tiny they were!” Well, remember, they were a poor people, so clothes tended to get handed down and reused. What if the clothes that can’t be taken in or reused are the clothes that are already for the smaller people that you just can’t let anybody else wear? So that tends to be what gets thrown in a trunk and survives. In the collection of Old Sturbridge Village, we have a lot of small clothes. We also have clothes that are for quite heavy people, that for whatever reason, these clothes have survived. So on average, it’s true, but as a universal, it’s not true.
Fisher: We’re talking to Tom Kelleher, he’s the curator for Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, talking about some of his favorite myths from the past. All right, next on the list Tom, “Women tending to fires, wearing dresses, tended to burn to death.”
Tom: Oh, I love that one. There’s an old saying that, “If a dog bites man, that’s not news. Man bites dog, that’s news.”
Tom: If you look at old newspapers, everyone once in a great while, you’ll see a newspaper article that talks about some poor person, sometimes a child, sometimes a woman falling into a fire and burning to death, or getting burns and then later succumbing to the injuries. And so, that’s news. It was so rare, that it was remarked on, but it didn’t really happen very much. And usually, if you look at the articles, it’s usually a cautionary tale, because usually if it’s an adult, the adult was an inebriate. And basically saying, “Look at this poor, inebriate, the drunkard who couldn’t control herself and fell into a fire, and see why you shouldn’t do this.”
Tom: But no, it’s a very, very rare thing that happened. I mean, certainly, sometimes the edges of skirts got tinged, but people erupting into flame all the time, that didn’t happen.
Fisher: No. I think it might have been more common with the spirit gas lamps back then.
Tom: Well, certainly in the mid 1800s, there was a lamp fuel called, well, there was burning fluid and kerosene which are both very volatile, almost explosive. And these sort of substitute lamp fuels trying to make up for our increasing shortage of wale oil by the mid 1800s were dangerous. And sometimes these lamps did sort of blow up or erupt into flame. So yeah, that contributes to it.
Fisher: Yes, okay. That’s the entire list that I have, but you say there are more things?
Tom: There are more things to come. Well, one thing is that there’s a common myths we hear a lot in living issue. It seems that houses in the past didn’t have closets, because they were trying to avoid a closet tax, and that people had fewer windows in old houses to avoid a window tax. Well, the thing is, here in America, there were no taxes on those things.
Tom: Taxes were on the assessed value of real estate. Now in Europe and some European countries, England, Spain, they did do things like tax windows, but that just wasn’t done certainly where I come from in New England. The other thing about the closets, well, people had a lot fewer clothes. They tended to keep their clothes in chest of drawers and other pieces of furniture. They didn’t have coat hangers like we do now. We have clothes hangers. That’s now how they stores their clothes, so the idea of a closet. They had the word, closet, but there weren’t closets. You look at the early dictionaries, appears to be a small room, which is what our closets are now. We just keep clothes in those small rooms. They didn’t have that many clothes. So if you look at old houses, sometimes there are what they call, cupboards, they’re storing things in. But there was no tax on closets. That’s just some created myth that people have come up with.
Fisher: All right, what else is on your list?
Tom: One of the things you hear a lot is, “Back in the past, people burned down the houses to get the nails.”
Tom: This is one those things that there is a basis in fact for it. It was very uncommon, it was very rare, but there is s basis in fact. Of course it’s ridiculous to burn down a house if you just want the nails, but if you think about it today, it’s ridiculous to wreck an apartment building to rip out the copper wires through the copper pipes, but on abandoned properties, on properties where somebody can come in, in the dead of night and steal the copper pipes or the copper wires out of somebody’s house for the scrap value. It’s a form of theft that certainly goes on.
Tom: And that’s where that nail myth comes in. Back in the 1640s, in colonial Virginia, the House of Burgesses what became the Virginia legislator did pass a law in 1644 against burning down unoccupied buildings to recover the nails from the ashes, but that wasn’t people burning down their own houses to get the nails. You have a society in 1640, Virginia, where you’ve got a lot of men, a lot of women and a real land hunger. So people were starting to move west. So when somebody is not in a building at the time, it might catch fire accidently, “wink, wink, wink, nudge, nudge” some night. And then somebody can come by and get a few cents or pounds for the scrap iron in the nails, or you can strain out the nails and resell them. But nobody’s burning down their own houses to get the nails. So the House of Burgesses did to prevent this crime akin to stripping out pipes or wires from apartment houses today is, they set a law saying, “If you have a building you don’t want, just tell us. We’ll send an assessor out and we’ll pay you what the nails are worth.” Of course nobody took them up on it. That’s not how it was working, but that stopped a lot of this arson that was going on at the time.
Fisher: That’s funny. Amazing! Tom Kelleher is the curator of Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Thanks so much for you time.
Tom: Oh, thanks for having me on, Scott. It’s been nice talking with you.
Fisher: And coming up next, we go from Massachusetts, to Minnesota for a continuation of our day of lists. This time, it’s a list of five fun facts about 19th century photography, and you’re going to be amazed. Erica Vetsch joins us next on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.
Segment 3 Episode 52
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Erica Vescht
Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, Family History Radio, and ExtremeGenes.com, America’s Family History Show. It is Fisher here with my guest Erica Vescht. And Erica, we’ve been doing some lists today. We just talked about some old myths from back in the day that people believe are true, but aren’t quite true. And you have a great list that you posted on Keli Gwyn’s blog not long ago that I really like, five fun facts about photography. Where did you get your interest in photography, Erica?
Erica: I chose doing research for a novel that I wrote that was published a couple of years ago. It’s called A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas. So I needed to learn about old time photography.
Fisher: And so you dug in and you found out some things that were unique and different. Well, let’s go through the list and start with this, the sour expressions that people always have when we see it. Now, I just got a whole batch of daguerreotypes five or six weeks ago from the estate of a distant cousin and they do. They all have that sour look on their face. What is the cause of that?
Erica: Well, it actually comes as a result of the timer to expose the negative. If a person smiled or if they moved at all the picture would come out blurry. It’s hard for a person to hold the same expression for even up to twenty minutes for the exposure time.
Fisher: Oh, that long? Wow! You’ll often see a hand that’s kind of blurry. It’s like they just have to move at some point.
Fisher: What about the eyes? Do we see many blurry eyes on those things as a result of people just, you know, they sneak a glance at some point?
Erica: Or they blink, which can be a problem, but early photographers also became quite adept at touching up photos. And it was not unusual for them to paint the eyes that’s on if someone blinked during the exposure.
Fisher: [Laughs] Wow, so it’s as much art as it was science.
Erica: Pretty much. [Laughs]
Fisher: All right, that brought up the next point. You mentioned braces. I hadn’t thought much about this. I’m thinking, “Braces? Are they wearing something in their mouth? No, it was around their neck!”
Erica: Yeah, neck and head restrains to keep your head perfectly still. If you’ve ever seen one, it looks torturous. For small children often there’s a parent’s hand. Sometimes, if you look close you can see there’s a hand that’s behind where they’re holding the baby’s head still.
Fisher: I’ve seen those, and also where they look like a ghost or something from behind them because they’re wearing a blanket or something over themselves. You can see the shape of their head and shoulders as they hold the child in place.
Erica: Yes, it’s hard to get a child to hold still for a photo now.
Fisher: Oh absolutely. That had to be almost impossible, and you would think with the time involved and the expense of the daguerreotype they were like five dollars, which was what a white collar worker would earn in a week. They had to be a real adventure.
Erica: Yes, and with daguerreotypes it’s a one shot deal. They are not negatives that you can create prints from, so all the precautions were taken to make it come out right the first time.
Fisher: Absolutely. So they had braces on their necks and moms and dads holding the kids in place, and asking them not to move. Not really a likely thing.
Erica: Not so much. [Laughs]
Fisher: All right, the next thing you had on the list was to me really heartbreaking and sad and that is a lot of dead people were photographed.
Erica: Yeah either for sensational reasons or sentimental reasons. The famous dead were often photographed VOC, victims in gun fights or, I was just recently in Northfield, Minnesota, the site of the Northfield Raid and the demise of the Jesse James Cole Younger gang and they photographed all of the victims and they were posed and posted in the newspaper. But, the saddest part was often if an infant or child passed away. They would photograph the infant because it was their only way of remembering the child. Often there hadn’t been time to photograph the child when they were alive so they would photograph after the child had passed away. Then again, often the photographers would touch up the portrait to make the child look alive. They would paint the eyes on as if they were open, paint a little bit of a smile on the child’s face, but I doubt you can find a lot of those photos.
Fisher: So were those photos basically done to make it look as if the child had been photographed while living or was it to remember what the child looked like at the time of its burial?
Erica: More to remember the child when they were alive. You’ll see them posed with their siblings or often with their mother, not splayed out in a casket.
Fisher: Right. Held in the arms of the parents
Fisher: I remember one that I saw some time back that was just amazing to me. It was an entire family next to an old man in a coffin and they propped the coffin up and then took pictures with him that way.
Erica: Yeah, that’s not something that you see too much these days. But again, it was, sometimes that’s the only photograph that they would ever have of the person.
Fisher: Right. And those are the things that survive, and boy are they interesting to look at. Wow! All right, the next thing on the list was poisoning. Tell us about what went on with the photographers and in the process.
Fisher: Oh, if you tried to create a photograph from a, it’s called a collodion process, it’s about sixteen different steps just to prepare the negative..
Erica: To take the photograph. So you have to use like ether and ethyl alcohol and iodine and bromide and you’re mixing chemicals. You’re as much a chemist as you are a photographer. And over a period of time these metals and chemicals can build up in your system and slowly poison you. Often photographers had to take a sabbatical from their work in order to cleanse their systems out. Also, there was the danger of burning down your photography studio, or causing an explosion and all of these chemicals needed to be transported, because most early photographers were not stationary, they travelled around to where the people were. So you’re carrying this floating lab with you.
Erica: You know, everything that you’re doing to run your own business had the side benefit of poisoning yourself.
Fisher: Did a lot of people die then from this poisoning or were they just permanently ill?
Erica: You know, eventually they could take a sabbatical and mitigate a lot of the circumstances.
Erica: Earlier on people did perish because they didn’t really understand what was happening. It was a known hazard and photographers just sort of took that on, said, “Well, I’ll be careful.” but there were long term effects that you would have from being a professional photographer at that time.
Fisher: Well, I would think though it’s like anything else, if the money is right people will take an awful lot of risks. And there was good money.
Erica: Exactly. And there’s also the artistic factor and the novelty factor, you are doing something that not a lot of people can do. And you did what you did to make some money so you could do what you wanted to do, experimenting with different exposures and light and just trying new things. You were really “cutting edge” as an early photographer.
Fisher: Absolutely. What other things have you discovered along the way that made you go “hmmm?”
Erica: The last thing on the list was that risk of explosion. The potassium chloride and the aluminum they were using to make flash powder.
Fisher: Did that happen a lot?
Erica: Yes, actually. You could explode these powders if you just spilled some on the floor and stepped on it.
Erica: You’d create a small explosion, but a lot of photographers did. They would burn down their studio through the use of these chemicals, or you could burn your skin with them or cause visual damage just through the flash exposure.
Fisher: So did people get blinded a lot from that?
Erica: They could. That was a very real danger.
Erica: One of the things I found interesting was that the count of Kansas, Abilene, Newton, and Dodge City in particular had a lot of photography studios, because nobody wanted to get his picture taken more than a cowhand just off the trail. They wanted their picture taken in their full cowboy regalia with all of their weapons and occasionally their horse, pulled into the studio and taken a photo.
Fisher: No! Really? [Laughs]
Erica: Yes and often they’d take pictures with their trail buddies and they wanted to send these pictures home to their mother and it is bristling with guns and knives and chaps and hats and, yeah. They were very proud.
Fisher: And a lot of these folks did come from the East. I mean, I remember that Sundance kid was from the Philadelphia area, so that’s not really surprising.
Erica: So, in fact the photograph that inspired the novel that I wrote is of a cowboy who brought his horse into the studio to have his picture taken because the horse was his best trail hand.
Fisher: Well, we’ve come a long way to digital cameras now Erica. And thank you so much for your fun facts about photography, they’re fascinating.
Erica: Well, thank you. It’s been my pleasure.
Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com with more advice on preserving audio on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.
Segment 4 Episode 52
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: Hey, welcome back, its Extreme Genes Family History Radio, America's Family History Show. Fisher here with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he's our Preservation Authority. We've been talking about audio the last week or so. And last week, we were talking about the importance of having headphones when you record interviews with grandma and grandpa or even record a wedding or whatever it may be. What are we onto this week, Tom?
Tom: Okay, we're going to talk about microphones. And we've got a couple of letters since we were on last time, that they say, "Where's a good place you can get some basic skills?" One of the easiest no brainer ways is, go to Boy Scouts of America website and look under photo merit badge. And even though it’s a photo merit badge, it has basic framing techniques, it has basic audio techniques. And just go click on all the different links. If you're more into audio, go click on those links and you'll learn a lot.
Fisher: I would have never thought of that. That's a great idea!
Tom: Oh, it’s awesome. And if you're young enough, get a merit badge out of it. One thing that we talked about, don't just assume that audio can be fixed in a mix. It can't. People ask, "What's a good audio editing program?" One of the best ones that we've mentioned before on this show that you've yourself is Pro Tools.
Fisher: Yes. Yep.
Tom: It’s an awesome program. It’s not very expensive. And it’s amazing with all the apps you can hook onto and all the different kinds of addons that you can do to make Pro Tools do amazing things. So if you want to do it yourself, you're a do it yourself type person, get Pro Tools, it’s great. Now once you have the good equipment, another thing you need to worry about is your room. Do you have a live room or a dead room? [Laughs]
Fisher: Right. And this is something everybody deals with. It’s very difficult to deaden a room.
Tom: Oh, it is.
Fisher: And that's why certain cloths come into play, certain devices that you can put on the wall to take the sound out from bouncing all over the place.
Tom: Right. That's the biggest problem. Like you mentioned, most studios you go into, they're not just four walls, a roof and a ceiling that are all square, because the sound is going to bounce off of them, you're going to hear echoes, it’s going to drive everybody nuts. And if you don't have a big budget, you can do things as simple as get those big laundry bags that are kind of made out of mesh and fill them full of loose fill and hang those around in the room. Hang up some burlap bags, anything that's going to absorb sound, mats you put under your sleeping bag, anything like that to kind of “unsquare” the room, so to speak.
Fisher: You know, this really goes back to what you were talking about last week, Tom, far more important to get it right while you're recording than to try to fix it later.
Tom: Exactly. I remember, in my younger days when I did a lot of video, they go, "Oh, don't worry about the audio. We'll fix it in the mix." It never happens. You need to get your audio right from the beginning. The preservation is going to be so much better if you have something that's enjoyable that everybody wants to listen to that's going to feel comfortable. Like last week, we talked about where they had the two people watching the same movie, but yet they had different audio tracks. One group loved it, the other one didn't love it. And the only thing that changed was that music. So that's so important. And as we talked last week, headphones, headphones, headphones, headphones! When you're interviewing somebody, whether it’s a little pocket recorder or a camcorder or whatever, put on a set of headphones, because that will tell you before you start, "Hey, there's some weird sounds in here. Oh, let's turn off the air conditioner for a few minutes. Oh, let's turn off that fluorescent light up about that's buzzing, the refrigerator." Because your brain is going to tune those things out, because it doesn't want to hear it, but the camcorder's going to hear them.
Fisher: I actually had a studio that was built for me by some engineers. The problem was, there was a computer in there with a bad fan. And because of the bad fan, everything they did was no good until we could replace that computer with the fan.
Tom: Twenty five dollar fan.
Fisher: Yeah, that's it. [Laughs]
Tom: Oh, it’s crazy! And you would never notice that if you don't have the headphones on and listen to that. So what you want to do, a day or two before, go and set up your equipment, put on that set of headphones and listen to the room.
Fisher: And preferably find a small room to do this.
Tom: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. You don't want too big of a room. You don't want to make it sound like a concert hall.
Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]
Tom: So get a small room, hang up some sleeping bags, some blankets, different things like that that's going to help deaden the sound, but sit and listen with your headphones and turn them on full volume with nobody in there. And just do what we call "listen to the room", and if there's some sounds in that room that you don't want to listen to, like the fluorescent lights humming, halogen lights can even be making bubbly sounds, your refrigerator, something in the wall. You might find out you have mice in your wall.
Fisher: Wow, that would be awful! [Laughs]
Tom: That would be awful, but as least you're going to know it ahead of time. You're not going to hear the "scratch, scratch, scratch."
Fisher: All right.
Tom: So that's a great thing. And let's talk about some different kinds of microphones in the next segment.
Fisher: All right, coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.
Segment 5 Episode 52
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority, talking audio again this week. And Tom, let's talk about microphones a little bit.
Tom: Okay. Microphones are a great thing to talk about. It’s not only important to have a good microphone to go with your headphones, the placement is also important. So, first thing when you start looking for a good microphone, I'd suggest going on the internet and just do some searches on microphones and learn the basics of whether you're looking at a condenser microphone, a ribbon microphone, whatever kind of microphone you're interested in. You can see, "Oh, this is what’s going to best suit me." When you're ready to buy, we've talked about them on the radio before, go to BandH.com, B as in boy, and the word and, A N D, and then H as in Harry.com. And they have all kinds of audio equipment that's available there. The hyper cardioid, there's lavaliers, omni directional, directional, PZMs and shotguns. So like if you're going to be getting sports and things like that, your kid's games, usually use a shotgun, because they're very, very directional. You kind of aim them at where you want them to be. If you see people at the side of a football game where they have what looks like a half of a dome with a microphone in it, those are very directional, but they take in all the sound. They want to get the crowds. And whatever it’s aimed at, they're going to get all kinds of sounds from things like that, which on most situations, you don't want all that kinds of sounds. You want something that's very specific. A lavalier is what you'll usually see on the news programs when they're sitting there and they have a little, teeny microphone clipped onto their lapel.
Tom: That's a lavalier, and they're usually very, very directional, so they only get the talent that's talking into it. The person sitting next to him, they won't get that.
Fisher: And that's by the way what you see your weathermen usually using on the evening news.
Tom: Exactly! Because you only want them. You don't their feet walking across the floor, you don't want other people that are in the studio getting ready for their segment talking. You want something that's very, very directional. An omni directional means basically, he gets everything, it just gets everything. In most churches, when you're looking at the podium, you'll see a mic that has kind of a screen on the top of it and a screen on the side. So that's usually a directional microphone. Usually, it’s called a cardioid or super cardioid, because it only wants you, but then there's going to be speakers up in the ceiling that are going to be letting everybody else listen, and some of that sound's going to come back to the microphone. And so, the mesh part on the side of the microphone and the south end of the microphone is going to take those sounds, reverse them and cancel each other out, so the indirect sounds won't be recorded in the microphone. But if you're getting a whole bunch of people around a boardroom table, like all your family and friends and talk about something, if you have a directional, some people are going to sound good, some people are going to sound bad. So what we recommend is something like what they call a PZM, a pressure zone microphone, and what that does, you set it on the desktop, and it turns the entire top of the desk into a microphone.
Fisher: So, are these mics that you could go out and actually rent as opposed to buying?
Tom: Oh, yeah!
Fisher: Because I'm sure some of them are very expensive.
Tom: Oh, absolutely! That's what's so nice about renting. Look in the yellow pages under pro audio, and I can guarantee, in almost any place, you're going to find somebody that rents. If you're in a really small area, just look outside and there will be somebody there that will ship them. Like we have people in Florida that have us ship them, you know scanners. We have people in Washington State that want us to ship them scanners, and the same thing with microphones. And a lot of the good companies, they won't count the travel time as part of your rental. So if you have a three day family reunion, they'll be worth every cent you paid to have that done. So, basically you want to make sure you get the right kind of microphone. If you're just interviewing grandma and grandpa and they don't want to be mic’d separately, what you want is get something like a good cardioid microphone, which basically has a pattern that looks like a heart, that's where the cardioids comes from, and aim it at grandma and grandpa and it will be able to pick both of them up. Same thing with a shotgun, a shotgun mic is usually always good to get two, maybe three people. When you start getting crowds, you're going to want to get more on an omni directional microphone. If the people are sitting around, like in a half circle, you're going to need more of an omni directional microphone or you're going to want to get a PZM like I told you. If they're sitting around a table, like a kitchen table, talking, because it turns the entire top of the table into a microphone, and just remember, hang up carpets on the walls, hang up sleeping bags, anything you can, to kind of retard some of the noises that are going to be reflecting off the walls and windows.
Fisher: All right, there you go. He's Tom Perry, he is our Preservation Authority. If you have a question for Tom, you can always [email protected]. Wow, today's show has gone fast! Thanks for joining us. Remember, you can catch the podcast, starting tomorrow on iTunes and iHeart Radio, as well as ExtremeGenes.com. We'll catch you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family.