Episode 76 - Roots Tech Wrap: Where is Family History Going Now?

podcast episode Feb 23, 2015

Fisher opens the show with a quick overview of his Roots Tech experience, where over 22,000 people attended in three days.  (Roots Tech is the world's largest family history conference.)  In Family Histoire News, King Richard III is back in the headlines.  What has he "told" researchers now?  Fisher will tell you.  And... it's probably the most amazing DNA story you ever will have heard, or ever will hear.  Catch Fisher's summary and then read the entire article at ExtremeGenes.com
Guest Dick Eastman, of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, perhaps genealogy's best known blogger, shares his post- Roots Tech thoughts.  Where is the business of family history taking us, and what are some of the best new products... perhaps even some we didn't know we needed?!  No one knows better than Dick Eastman.
Fisher then talks to a genie who used DNA to identify a great-great grandfather who had changed his name and never revealed his secret.  You'll be amazed at how his original identity was uncovered.
Tom Perry then answers another great listener question on preservation.  

It's all this week on Extreme Genes!

Transcript of Episode 76

Extreme Genes, America’s Family History show

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 76

Fisher: It is so great to be back from RootsTech in Salt Lake City. Hi, I am Fisher, your congenial host and this is America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Wow! What a time last week at America’s... no the world’s largest family history conference. RootsTech in Salt Lake City, Utah, over 22,000 people came over three days, from all over the place and we are talking unique individuals here. Someone was there from every state except West Virginia. Where were you people? And visitors were there representing nations all over the world. By video it’s expected at least another 180,000 people will have participated around the world. Isn’t that crazy? It was a great time. Last year, 13,000 people came and when this all started five years ago, 3000. So you can see where this is going. Because we have only an hour a week, you’ll be hearing a lot that came from this conference over the coming weeks and probably months ahead. Lots of new expert guests and lots more ordinary people who have made extraordinary discoveries, and don’t we all love those crazy stories? By the way, at RootsTech we got so much positive feedback from listeners who catch the show using our free Extreme Genes podcast app. It’s the best way to keep up to date with current and past shows and you can listen on your iPhone or Android wherever you go. Just go to your phone’s store and type in Extreme Genes to find it. Our first guest today coming up in about eight minutes is an iconic figure in the family history world. Dick Eastman is a blogger who has been around for many, many moons. I’ll talk to dick about what he took away from RootsTech and where all this technology is going and how we’re going to benefit from it.

Then later in the show, a listener I met at the convention named Mark Donnelly will share a very different DNA story. You know, DNA stories to me never get old. But this one has nothing to do with the reunion. If you’ve got a brick wall ancestor, you’re going to want to hear what Mark has to say. And of course my good friend Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com, is back with suggestions on what you can do to preserve your 19th century letters. Our family histoire news this week is loaded up, so let us begin. We start with a story of a Virginia grandmother they call her granny Culler. She is still as spunky as she was as a teen, which by the way was back in the 1920s. Yes, granny is 106 years old, still very energetic and loving life. She writes and sews and plays music. She’s a mother of six. This is the part that gets me though; she’s never eaten eggs and hates vegetables. She keeps Reese’s peanut butter cups next to her bed and she drinks Pepsi everyday. I mean this is great, I have a soda everyday and my wife tells me that I shouldn’t and now I have my answer to her argument. Happy birthday to granny Culler in Virginia! I wonder if she called it the 77th anniversary of her 29th birthday. [Laughs] You know, back in 2013 when we started the show, it seemed that every week there was a new story about the corpse of King Richard the III. The monarch found under a parking lot in Lester, England in 2012. Varies factions were battling to be awarded the King’s final resting place. You know it’s a great tourism thing. And scientists were analyzing the hump on his back, what his diet consisted of and all kinds of stuff. In 2014 a few more stories dripped out and now we’re hearing the report of scientist who knows exactly how the king died! According to their findings, Richard suffered 11 total injuries, with 9 of them to the skull, 1 to the pelvis, and another to the ribs. And they believe he lost his helmet while fighting and ultimately died at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. All this from the skeleton of a man who died 7 years before Columbus came to America.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re going to have a great story of discovery through DNA coming up later on in the show. But this one may be the most astonishing find I’ve ever heard of, involving spitting in a cup. It can be verbally explained only so well, but I’ll give you the best simple version I can, then you’ve got to go to ExtremeGenes.com and read this entire blog. It begins with a woman named Jess, half Asian and half Jewish descent. Her father died when she was young but the family plainly knew of their paternal roots in Poland and Russia. Well, Jess took a DNA test and plainly saw her mother’s Asian side but her father’s side came back with virtually no eastern European blood, and over 17 percent British, Irish. Well her first thought of course was that the test had picked up a fairly recent illegitimacy. The test revealed she had a second cousin designated only as “P.” The author didn’t contact P but heard from a woman named Alice who was supposed to be P’s cousin, but wasn’t. Furthermore, Alice from a well established Irish family came back Polish, Russian, and Jewish in her DNA test. Alice’s father was only 5’4 while his parents were taller. Jess’s grandfather Phil of the same generation as Alice’s father was much taller than his diminutive parents. Well Alice’s theory was a simple one. She believed that Jess’s grandfather and her father had been switched at birth. Alice asked one simple question “Was your grandfather born on September 23rd 1913 at Fordham Hospital in the Bronx, in New York?” Well Jess didn’t know, but when she found the record the date was September 24th 1913 at Fordham Hospital in the Bronx.

They exchanged photos of the ancestors in question and the pictures seemed to make it clear. 102 years ago to babies in New York were placed in the wrong bassinet and no one ever realized the error. Read the story at ExtremeGenes.com, make a chart and check out the photos, it’s unbelievable. And that’s your family histoire news from the pages of ExtremeGenes.com. And by the way, before we break I’ve got to thank the countless members of Genie Nation that came by the Extreme Genes booth at RootsTech to say hello and ridiculously nice things about the show. It was awesome to meet so many of you! We took a bunch of pictures of a lot of our visiting genies with me and you can see them in our newly constructed genie gallery at ExtremeGenes.com. And coming up next, he’s an iconic figure in the world of genealogy. His name is Dick Eastman, blogger extraordinaire. We’ll get his take on where the industry of family history is going and what benefits may be in store for us all, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 76

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dick Eastman

Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. America’s Family History Show. I am Fisher, and on the line with me is Dick Eastman. He is the editor and chief, the writer, I mean you pretty much clean the place out too, don’t you Dick? Online Genealogy Newsletter!

Dick: That’s correct. I think I’m also the chief janitorial officer.

Fisher: [Laughs] And Dick has been around since like the days of CompuServe. I mean way, way back. So he’s kind of the gold standard in genealogy newsletters. You’ve got to check out product Eastman’s online genealogy newsletter. All right, let’s talk RootsTech now. You were there and I was there, what are your observations? 

Dick: Well I was there up through the whole thing. I think I saw about 25% of it.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Dick: I mean the place was... saying it was huge does not do justice. It was monstrous. I mean, it was mobbed with people, there were about a 170 vendors, there was something like 400 sessions, pressed in to four days. Now how do you get to see everything in that amount of time?

Fisher: Oh you can’t. You can’t. Twenty two thousand five hundred people there, is the number. I haven’t heard a final number on that yet, but I mean that is just... considering where it started a few years ago with like three thousand, this was monstrous.

Dick: Right. I was at that first one and I wrote on my newsletter at the time, “This is a huge conference with three thousand attendees!” I think I put an exclamation after that.

Fisher: [Laughs] You don’t know what to say now. What do you do, that’s seven times that.

Dick: Yeah. Well now I probably should put seven exclamation marks after the statement.

Fisher: There you go. And my legs were kind of tired by the end of the third day just going from one end of the whole thing to the other. There were classes everywhere, there were actually classes going on, on the big theatre and as you mentioned, a 170 exhibiters there as well including Extreme Genes. And the thing I kept hearing from attendees was, they were getting a little bit overwhelmed. Too many products maybe out there now? Too many that was kind of similar? What were your thoughts on it?

Dick: Well, I would never say that too many products is bad. I admit it can be confusing at times, but having a wide variety of things to choose from is always a good thing in my mind. And it also makes each and every one of those vendors and supplies work a little harder to do better than their competitors, and therefore we all benefit. So I wouldn’t mind if they had 270 exhibiters. However, I’ll switch the other way around, having 400 presentations in four days NEHGS and three days or Roots Tech itself that to me was overwhelming. I had a hard time with that.

Fisher: So what did you take from it? Where are we going with genealogy? Obviously we’ve looked back now over the last thirty, forty years and things have changed so remarkably it’s difficult to keep up with. If you’re a young person coming in I would imagine it looks like this is doable, for an older person sometimes it might be a little bit more difficult. Where do you see us going?

Dick: Well, I agree with you. For the younger people, they just come in and say, “Oh this is the way it is.” They don’t have the history of the way it used to be in the old days, so they just accept it as normal. It’s us old fogies that are around with our mouths hanging open. But I think it’s all good news. I mean, there may be bits and pieces here and there that I’m not happy with, but the bottom line is, it’s growing in popularity. We’ve got big conferences, we’ve got multiple color television programs, and of course we’ve got this little thing out there called the internet that is feeding genealogists. The bottom line is, I compare it back to when I started, and I don’t want to tell you how many years ago that was.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Dick: We’ve got so many avenues, it’s so much more convenient, information is available at our fingertips, you can learn more at a shorter period of time than ever in the past. So even with a few road bumps along the way, I still see it as a great thing.

Fisher: You know what I’m excited about is the alliances that have sprung up among seeming competitors. I mean they’re all kind of working together now even though they have a lot of overlap to make things better within each of their own realms.

Dick: Absolutely. Even ten years ago, certainly not fifteen to twenty years ago, but even ten years ago you would not have seen that. We did not see it. And there’s a new buzz word that’s become popular in the high tech world called “Coopetition” That is you cooperate with your competition. I’ve seen agreements in the last year or two amongst companies who are loosely in the same kind of business. Such as providing online images of original documents, yet they’re cooperating and sharing them. And what they figured out is that if they work together they both benefit. That is, they both get more customers and they both have more products to offer. So you or I, we come along as consumer, and maybe we prefer brand a instead of brand b or brand c, but they all have very similar or even overlapping data. In the old method of doing business, if we wanted to see all the records we had to sign up with three different companies, a, b and c. What we see now is a trend where we can sign up with one company and get most of the records, and I think that’s going to continue to change, eventually it will be all the records. But we will pick the one that we think has the better user interface, or the one that looks nicer to us on the screen, or the one that works a little bit faster when it retrieves records. Again, I think from the consumer viewpoint, this is good news.

Fisher: Absolutely true. All right, some new products that you may have seen out there that really struck you and made you go “wow!”

Dick: Oh, I thought you said this was going to be a short interview, you got an hour?

Fisher: [Laughs]

Dick: [Laughs] There literally are hundreds. We’ve got some search engines out there that are looking only at genealogy sites. They work like Google but they only look at genealogy sites. There’s at least two of them right now, probably be about three or four of them before long. They’re great, they focus. Today if you have a common surname, my own surname is kind of middle of the road, but if you’re looking for somebody whose name last name is Washington, that’s very difficult to find genealogy information when you start on Google, but it’s a lot easier if you’re starting with a search engine that looks only at the genealogy sites.

Fisher: Right, right. So you’re talking like Mocavo?

Dick: Right. Mocavo is a good one. There’s another new one that just came out and I think there’ll be another one before too long. And again, I love to see the competition amongst them. The strongest one will survive and that will benefit the consumers. The other thing that really enthuses me, and I have a hard time explaining this, is the fact that we’re going to cloud based databases. In the past we’ve always struggled with installing software in to our own Windows or Macintosh machines and keeping the software running wasn’t always easy. Keeping our own records and keeping it synchronized and all that, and then printing it out probably putting it on three ring binders or something.

Fisher: Right.

Dick: Now that we’re going in to a realm where everything is in a cloud, and can be kept very secure, probably better security than our home computers, and we can share it with other people or not, we can import from other sources or not, as we wish, and it’s available. We can do it at home, you can do it on your smart phone you can do it on a tablet computer, wherever. The good old days, which is about five years ago, I used to keep my data on a computer in my house and when I went down to a library or an achieve that was five miles away or five hundred miles away, and then I want to look something up while I was back on my computer at home, or it was in these printouts, about thirty pounds of printouts that I had to carry with me.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Dick: Today it’s no big deal. I pull out my smart phone or I pull out the tablet computer, I click on a few icons, and bang, there’s a reference sitting right in front of me. And it’s great. I had an occasion last week at RootsTech where I was chatting with somebody and found out that we probably were distant relatives. In the old days I would have said I’ll go home and then send you something by email, instead last week I pulled out the iPhone, tapped a few icons, brought up the entire descendents chart, showed it to the other person, she agreed and I touched a couple more icons and I sent the whole report to her by email.

Fisher: Isn’t that great?

Dick: Yep. Then she had her iPhone of course, I think it was an Android phone whatever, few seconds later she received the message, she pulled it up on her screen and there it was, and then she could save it or do whatever. So the phrase is, “Connected everywhere, all the time, and online all the time everywhere.” Whatever and I’m a big fan of that. 

Fisher: I love that.

Dick: It makes things so much easier.

Fisher: By the way Dick, what is a distant cousin anymore? [Laughs] 

Dick: [Laughs] We heard definitions last week that I’m not sure I agree with, but then again I’m old fashioned. There’s a trend right now that say that just a distant relative even related by marriage and so on. Traditionally we always said blood relatives. That definition seems to be getting a little fuzzier. 

Fisher: Right. [Laughs] You’re talking about AJ’s thing?

Dick: That’s certainly a part of it, yep. I’m not sure I’m for or against it, but you know what, if it creates more interest in genealogy, it’s a good thing.

Fisher: Exactly. But I’m thinking a distant relative to me is anything beyond fourth cousin at this point. Genealogically speaking, up to fourth cousin is pretty close.

Dick: Yeah, but we’re talking, when you talking DNA, you find out we share ancestors back a thousand or five thousand years ago, fourth cousin, that’s modern times.

Fisher: Yeah, that’s exactly right. [Laughs] Very excited about StoryWorth and their big win on the technology innovation day last Wednesday at RootsTech, and looks like they’ve got something very exciting going there.

Dick: Absolutely. I’ve only had a brief look at it. I’m planning to spend more time with it this week or next, but it certainly looks very, very good, all the products that were in that competition looked good to me. I particularly liked the one called “ARGO Search” I could get kind of enthusiastic. They weren’t the number one winner but they on the top three or four.

Fisher: Top four, yeah.

Dick: And some of the others in the top, I haven’t had a chance to evaluate yet but I’m looking forward to them.

Fisher: Imagine these products that are looking to actually read and index handwritten records. I mean that’s just insane to me.

Dick: Well, two years ago I would have said that’s impossible, you know? Even today I think it’s almost impossible but there’s people out there doing it.

Fisher: Yeah, they’re working on it. It’s getting better and better. I don’t know that we’re there yet, but people are getting excited enough about the progress they’ve made to think, “Yeah, this is going to happen.” Dick, tell us about the newsletter. You’ve been doing it for how long now?

Dick: I almost forget, actually no, that’s just a joke. I’ve been doing just over nineteen years. Next January I’m going to open a bottle of bubbly and celebrate my 20th anniversary.

Fisher: Well, we’re very excited about what you’ve done because it certainly makes it easy for everybody to see what’s going on within the industry. It’s Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. Just Google it, it’s easy to find. And Dick, thanks for your time, thanks for your insight. It was great seeing you at RootsTech and I look forward to catching up with you again soon.

Dick: Thank you for doing all this. It’s great hearing from you and I know a lot of people get their news through you, and that’s a good thing.

Fisher: Thank you Dick.

Dick: Take care.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to a man I met at RootsTech who had the most remarkable DNA discovery for a breakthrough that I’ve ever heard of. You’re not going to believe how this man figured out the identity of an ancestor whose name had been changed. He’ll tell you how he did it, coming up next in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.      

Segment 3 Episode 76

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Mark Donnelly

Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth and on the line right now with me from Chula Vista, California, Mark Donnelly. Hi Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark: Thank you for having me.

Fisher: It was so great to have to drop by our booth over at RootsTech. And we got to talking, and you shared one of these stories. And, you know, I'm often asked about the show, people say "What do you do on this thing?" And one of my favorite segments is basically what I refer to as "Ordinary people making extraordinary finds." And I think yours absolutely fits into that category, and this involves DNA discovery. So let's set the table with this whole thing, Mark. You had an ancestor; you had a brick wall which, for the newly indoctrinated, means you can't get beyond that. How long did you have this brick wall?

Mark: For this particular individual, this is on my wife's side, great, great grandfather who had changed his name sometime in the 1890s and no one really knew what it was. We knew that he had changed it because he got a falling out with his family. But it was pretty much a 100 year old mystery. I mean, his children didn't know his real name and his grandchildren didn't know his real name. We think that his wife might've known his real name, but she didn't share it while she was living.

Fisher: And no legal records?

Mark: No, not really. The only that we had was just information starting at about 1900 with him showing up on the census under his new name and his family, and then death records, that was about it.

Fisher: So when you say he was kind of hiding from his family, you're not talking about his wife and kids, but maybe his parents and siblings?

Mark: Yeah, pretty much.

Fisher: Any idea why?

Mark: Not really. I mean, this is kind of the word of mouth was they had some sort of falling out based on a financial arrangement that went sour, or something like that. That's about as much as I knew.

Fisher: So it's kind of a rumor more than anything?

Mark: Yeah.

Fisher: Okay. And what was his name? What was the changed name?

Mark: His new name was John Howard.

Fisher: Okay.

Mark: And he moved to an area on the western side of New Mexico, eastern side of Arizona, which was really kind of one of the last places the Wild West, really existed, so.

Fisher: [Laughs] Right.

Mark: He was really trying to, you know, get away from civilized society in the best way possible.

Fisher: And where did he live before that?

Mark: Before that, the rumor mill as I like to call it. Had him born in Montgomery County, Maryland. That was one of the clues that lead me to, like, try to figure out okay, you know, how many people born in July of 1863 lived in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Fisher: Right.

Mark: I tried just solving the riddle based off of just some attributes that he had.

Fisher: It's like Apollo 13, right? It's work the problem, people, work the problem. And what I'm so impressed about is you really did go through the process right from the simpler stages and trying to work forward, and finally, you know, you did what many of us have to do and that is say "Okay, what's left?" And what you came up with was DNA.

Mark: Yes. My wife's grandfather had passed away in 2009. You know, Ancestry.com DNA testing wasn't available. But he had a living sister, so I had her take a DNA test, submitted that and six weeks later we had her DNA, and she had two 4th cousins that had some pretty well developed trees that I couldn't find any common relationship with. I was pretty sure that it was on that missing line of John Howard's ancestry.

Fisher: Okay.

Mark: What I did was I looked at both of their trees, and the two 4th cousins were actually 4th cousins to each other as well.

Fisher: Well, that helps, doesn't it?

Mark: Yes. So it was like... So then I started the process of triangulation and looking for a common ancestor that was two 4th cousins had, and as I went back I ended up with a Nathan Smith White who was born in 1743. And then from Nathan Smith White, I searched down and I looked on all the lines and I ultimately landed on one line where they had a son who had the same birth month and year and no death information attached to him where all the other siblings in that family had the death information.

Fisher: Interesting. Now where was this? What was the location of it?

Mark: Montgomery County, Maryland.

Fisher: Well, wasn't that convenient?

Mark: Yes, it was, it definitely helped. So the thing that was kind of interesting is I found that he was actually living next to some Howards, so they were neighbours. And then there was another thing I thought was kind of interesting was he changed his name to John, which was actually the name of younger brother who passed away prior to his changing his name. So he might have changed his name after his brother died, you know, I don't know, out of you know, some sort of memory of him, I'm not quite certain, but... And I'm pretty sure I know when the name changed, it was probably sometime between 1890 and 1900.

Fisher: Were you able to find records of him in the census under the old name then and kind of follow him forward?

Mark: Yes, I was able to find him on the 1870 census and then in the 1880 census. So that was really kind of like what confirmed it. And you know, the other thing is that he was a Pharmacist, so, you know, it wasn't, you know.

Fisher: Not like being farmer, or something, right?

Mark: Yeah. You know, that was the other thing I was looking for, he supposedly attended Jon Hopkins University, but he attended right before they started keeping the type of record we would have needed to find him in attendance of that school.

Fisher: Were you able to find any other records that tied into him that made it certain for you?

Mark: Most the census data, the location of Montgomery County, Maryland. All the attributes that the other two trees had gathered on him, you know, pretty much lined up perfectly. None of them had death information. I had death information and not birth information. So it was literally, like, you know, two hands coming together where I had one half of the puzzle and they had the other half.

Fisher: Did you have a communication with any of these people?

Mark: Yeah. I reached out to both of them, and just really that trying to confirm that they didn't have any death information, and both of them... It's obvious that based on the size of their trees that keeping a sort of record was very vital for being that it was such an old mystery, I don't think it had quite the emotional impact, but they were definitely pleased with the result.

Fisher: Well, I think more than anything they had to have been shocked by it. I mean, it's really an unusual and unique way to solve a brick wall problem when you're dealing with a name change. I mean, that's extremely difficult.

Mark: Yes, I agree. One of the difficulties that we had in getting information about them was the way they passed away. He was a Pharmacist. He actually started using some of his pharmacy drugs and...

Fisher: Uh oh.

Mark: He ultimately ended up in an institution, and that's where he passed away. You had that early, I wouldn't say early exit, but just not being able to really be able to pass on his memories in a way that connected with his immediate family and the people he was close to.

Fisher: Now I take it your great, great grandmother married him under the new name?

Mark: She married him under the new name. She might have known his previous name, but she didn't share it.

Fisher: So it never came down the line? You never had anything other than this big mystery, and now DNA has solved it.

Mark: Yeah. And essentially, you know, some of it is probably over 100 years old and it was like my wife's grandfather spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out on his own. And I mean, he's a fairly educated man, professor of chemistry. The school that he taught at, there's a laboratory named after him. So it was something that he threw a lot of his own mental resources at and wasn't able to figure out. I mean, he had a list of boys that kind of fit the description in Montgomery County, Maryland, but, he needed to have some tools available to use it. He just didn't have.

Fisher: Sure.

Mark: I think the DNA really made the big difference to, you know, saying "Okay, these two are common ancestors, so we know that he is related this common ancestor based on being 4th cousins." So then tracing the lines down until you get to the one family where it was like it was a perfect match. I mean, there was no other place that it could possibly been. The right location, the right time frame, all of the descendants, 4th cousins, so you know, that was nice.

Fisher: I don't think I asked you, what was his original name?

Mark: Oh, his original name was Klimet Augustus Sanders.

Fisher: Oh, you can't miss that. [Laughs]

Mark: No.

Fisher: Hey, great stuff. Thank you so much, Mark Donnelly, Chula Vista, California. You know what, for coming on I'm going to hook you up with a free subscription to MyHeritage.com. And MyHeritage, of course, has the best technology out there. It's kind of like having a professional genealogist work on your lines 24/7 for just 50 cents a day. So, enjoy!

Mark: All right. Thanks Fisher. Wonderful! Thank you so much.

Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority, talking about preserving your 19th century letters, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 76

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, family history radio and ExtremeGenes.com, America's Family History Show. I am Fisher, you Radio Roots Sleuth. And its preservation time with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority. And welcome back, Tom. Good to see you again.

Tom: Awesome to be here!

Fisher: And, last time we talked, we were getting into this whole thing about white gloves and handling documents. And wouldn't you know, that leads to another question about old documents. We have an email from Karine, in Galveston, Texas. She says she's got a bunch of old family letters from the 1880s that she is concerned about, you know, if they're going to fade or they're going to fall apart. What is the best way to preserve old letters?

Tom: You know, that's a really good question. The first thing that I tell people to do is, you have no idea a lot of time what condition they're in. You don't know if they're going to fall apart once you take them out of the envelope. So I tell people to get a good scanner. That's the most important thing. Whether they have purchased one or they're renting one from somebody like Easy Photo Scan, so you've got a good quality one. Jut start like you're putting a puzzle together. Scan everything before you take it apart. Scan both sides of the envelope, then open the envelope, scan it again, take the letter out, scan that. Start opening it, scan, scan, scan, scan, scan!

Fisher: In high quality.

Tom: Exactly!

Fisher: Yes.

Tom: The highest quality you can go. You can always compress it and make it, you know, lower quality if you don't need that, but you can't go the other direction. So just keep scanning, scanning, scanning, and this might sound like overkill, however, if you get into a situation where you don't scan it and you open it and the whole thing falls apart, you going to say, "Why didn't I do that??" Scanning nowadays is like taking digital photos. Back when I was young, you shot a roll of thirty six frame film or twenty four frame film, and you didn't know what you got until a week later after you took it to the pharmacy and had them turned into photos. Where now with digital cameras, you shoot a hundred pictures, you keep one and you throw the other ninety nine away.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: Same thing with this. You just scan, scan, scan. And any of the scans you find, "Oh, I don't really need this, because this is okay." throw them away! Delete them! No big deal. But you want to go and scan as much as you can when you first opened it, scan it. And one thing too, this is a time you need to be careful too, like we talked last week, make sure you wash your hands very well, because you're going into surgery. So when you're touching these, you're not getting the oils or your breakfast cereal, whatever you had onto these materials. This may be a "duh" but I'm going to say it anyway, make sure the work surface that you're going to be working on is clean.

Fisher: Yes. Don't use kitchen counters. That's a really bad place.

Tom: They are really, really bad. In fact, they say kitchen counters a lot of times are worse than toilets. But I don't recommend working on your toilet either.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: So get a place cleaner, the best you can, and then if you have a cotton tablecloth or something like that, set that down and then work on top of that. But don't use one that you've eaten on, because it could have things in the cotton that are going to transfer to your letters. So make sure you're working on a really, really clean surface, make sure your scanner's clean, make sure, you know, your hands are clean. And if you have to go answer the phone, answer the doorbell, get a snack, go back and wash your hands again, because this is stuff you can't undo. Sometimes I've even got ones that are kind of a thicker paper and they don't want to really unfold, you can scan them, or even with a digital camera, take a photo of them in that position too, before you go and kind of force them flat in the scanner, because that sometimes can cause the creases to break up.

Fisher: That's a good point, because I've had people ask me about books, old books with very fragile binding. And they know they can't take it and put it flat on a scanner, but you can maybe hold it open as far as you can without breaking that back and then taking digital photographs of that and it'll work the same way.

Tom: Oh absolutely! And it’s a wonderful thing. And a lot of the preservation societies across the country have these kinds of cameras. So call your local historical society, and maybe they have one that you can borrow or that you can go in and use their machines, either at a small fee or sometimes even for free.

Fisher: And with some technical support.

Tom: Yeah, they're there to help you.

Fisher: All right, we're going to take a break. And when we return, what are we going to talk about?

Tom: How we can keep you letters from fading and the best way to preserve them.

Fisher: All right, that's in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 76

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Hey, welcome back, final segment, Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher here. We're doing preservation this time with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, talking about preserving old letters, after a great email from Karine, in Galveston, Texas. Thank you for that, Karine. And we were mentioning last segment, Tom, about scanning with all the stuff on it, whether it’s a paper clip or a rubber band around a letter, even tape on it. You want to leave those things on for the first scan.

Tom: Oh absolutely! You want to scan it in sections like we talked about. Then once you're done doing that and you've preserved that, you want to very carefully remove the rubber bands. Don't be in a hurry! Same thing with staples, paper clips, be very, very careful, because they can get rusty. And sometimes that adds nuances to it anyway, but once you've scanned them with them on, take them off very carefully and scan them. If you have some of the old tape, it’s just going to be brittle, it’s just going to fall right off that's fine. Don't worry about trying to put your letter back together perfectly. That's what Photoshop's for. If it tears into four pieces, scan each piece separately, then kind of put them together with space between them, so you have an overall view of it. And then in Photoshop, go and put them back together. You can remove staples, you can remove all the marks, but DO NOT put rubber bands back on even if they're good. DO NOT put the staples on. DO NOT put paper clips back on. Chuck them, or if you want to preserve them in a viewer box or something, knock yourself out.

Fisher: Yeah, because when you leave those things in there, you can actually add rust or something that's going to later eat away at this paper.

Tom: Rust is really, really bad. You know what is does to metal, just imagine what it does to paper! Besides getting the goop on there, you put another letter to it then you're going to transfer from one to the other. So you want to be really, really careful, if you have some really sticky tape, some of the real old tape that the stickiness never goes away. I usually use something like wax paper to put between the different letters. You don't want to use that for anything else. Don't use that as a normal thing to store. If you're in a situation where you're got to do something, you don't want to get out a Qtip and start wiping that stuff off and ruin your letter. Get some wax paper and put it on both sides of it, then put it in the storage envelope. Don't fold your letters back up and put them in the envelope. Leave them the way they are. Leave your envelopes open and store them all in a nice flat area. Put them in special archival boxes that they make. Keep it in a place that's not too dry, not too wet, the humidity's right. Your local authorities will be able to tell you how's the best way to preserve them in your area, because whether you're in the desert or you're on the pacific coast or down south or up north where its cold, there's different parameters, and your local people will be able to help you with that. Now one thing too, you need to be really careful with is when you're doing paper. If you have these old letters that are usually before 1865, they're made out of cotton which is great!

Fisher: Right.

Tom: And they'll last a long time. They usually don't fade. And around 1865 is when they started using what they call "wood pulp" instead of the cotton pulp. It has this stuff called like lignin in it, its spelt, L I G N I N, which is really, really bad stuff, as it ages, its turn your paper yellow. If you've ever lived by a paper pulp plant, they are stinky!

Fisher: Oh!!

Tom: They are so bad!

Fisher: Yes!

Tom: They're worse than a sewer place.

Fisher: Yes, they are! [Laughs]

Tom: And it’s because of all these chemicals that they put in them. Break the tree down to make the paper or recycling and such as that. So what you want to do is, you want get these. Get an archival sleeve to keep your letters in, your envelopes. And it’s best to put each one in its own. Don't put a whole bunch into one. It’s best to keep them all separate. You have less chance of transferring different things to them. Put them in the archival box we spoke about and then store them in a good place. And DO NOT store them in your closet about a heating duct!

Fisher: And can we mention this too? If you want to display these things, it is best to display a scanned copy of it and keep the original in darkness somewhere, protected in an acid free sleeve.

Tom: Oh absolutely! I see people do this all the time. The take their original, put it up in a frame, the sun shines on through their front window all day, and it goes away. Even with UV coated glass, you can still damage it. If little Mary spills a drink on one of your pictures, the photo will adhere itself permanently to the glass and you'll NEVER get it off again.

Fisher: All right, Tom. Great having you again! Thanks so much.

Tom: Good to be here.

Fisher: Can I confess? I am really kind of disappointed. I mean, that is the end of the show for this week. And there's just so much more we can talk about after RootsTech. Once again, great to meet so many of you there! Don't for get to download our free app for Android and iPhones. You can listen to our podcast more easily. Thanks once again to Dick Eastman from the Eastman Online Genealogy Newsletter, and Mark Donnelly for his great story about DNA discovery. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

Subscribe now to find out why hundreds of thousands of family researchers listen to Extreme Genes every week!

Email me new episodes