Episode 81 - FamilySearch International CEO Brimhall On Where We're Headed

podcast episode Apr 06, 2015

Fisher opens the show with the story of a woman whose personal research got sidetracked by documents that told her the sad story of an English housekeeper who was sacked because she became pregnant.  By her husband!  Tesse Boase went to work to find out what happened to the woman after losing her job.  Then, the DNA study of the "closed" population of Iceland is over, and some interesting discoveries have been made that could affect our futures, and the futures of our descendants.  Fisher then talks about the great find of a Minnesota woman who kept running into a piece of metal in her garden.  That piece led to quite an adventure, and ultimate connection with the people she knew had to have it.  What was it and what happened?  Fisher will tell you.
Then, it's a rare interview with FamilySearch International CEO and President Dennis Brimhall, in two segments.  Dennis is one of the great leaders in family history research, being instrumental in creating partnerships with MyHeritage.com, Ancestry, and FindMyPast, accelerating the pace by which we get digitized family records from around the world.  He will tell you about where we've been, where we are now, and where we're going in the next coming years.  His answers will make your jaw drop!
Then Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com returns to talk about what to do with documents and videos when they're damaged by water or fire.  And what NOT to do!  
It's all this week on Extreme Genes- America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 81

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 81

Fisher: Genies, welcome back to Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the show where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, this week’s show is a little different, not a lot of stories this week because we have as our special guest today Dennis Brimhall. He is the president and CEO of Family Search International. He was a keynote speaker at Roots Tech. He’s a driving force in making our researching easier and easier, better and better. He is right in the middle of partnerships with MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.com that are bringing us more digital records from around the world than has ever been available in history. How did we get to this amazing place? Where are we going over the next several years and in the long run? Dennis Brimhall one of the great visionaries in Family History will tell us in our first of two segments in about eight minutes. You will be astonished at what he has to say. Then, Tom Perry our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com returns with advice on dealing with damaged documents, good advice coming later in the show. Well genies, I have had an incredible privilege and opportunity the past three weeks to assist authorities in Utah, in finding and bringing closure to living family members of a murder victim. She died in 1983 and her remains were only recently discovered. On Wednesday we finally got the breakthrough we were looking for. There are still some things that have to happen before this part of the story is complete and I will share lots more with you about it in the next week or two when I hope to introduce you to one of her high school classmates who has done so much in preparation to assist the family and honor her memory.

This person has been of no small assistance to me in finding the next of kin. It’s an emotional story and when the time is right there will be much more to tell. Well, I am flummoxed. [Laughs] Yes, flummoxed at the response to last week’s show and all the stories it contained. And I’ve got to admit, it was right up there with any episode of Extreme Genes we have ever aired, certainly highlighted by Stan Lindaas’s review of the life of a revolutionary solider, from that man’s soldier’s pension application. If you missed it or any of our past shows catch the podcast at ExtremeGenes.com, iTunes, iHeart radio’s talk channel, Tune in radio, I mean there’s so many places you can go to find it. And don’t forget to download the free Extreme Genes app to your iPhone or Android. It is time once again for your family histoire news from the pages of ExtremeGenes.com. The Telegraph of London has published a terrific article on one British genie who hit a brick wall in researching someone she wasn’t even related to. Tesse Boase was working on a book about English housekeepers when she was sifting through some letters at the Southerland collection in Stafford. Well, in the pile she found a record that told her about a woman named Dorothy Door. Now Dorothy was the head housekeeper to the Duke and Duchess of Southerland, for some 14 years. From 1818 to 183, certainly a very high position within a household, think Downton Abbey. Dorothy made a great mistake in her service. She got pregnant by her husband. Well, naturally the lady of the household wanted her out, and in an emotional hand written letter Dorothy begged the family for six weeks leave to have the child, then she would find someone to nurse the baby so she could work without distraction. As she became more and more desperate Dorothy Dorr began to steal from the store cupboards. She hoarded all kinds of things, from dusters to soap, tablecloths, sweet wine, and when it was all discovered, Dorothy Door was out. Well, naturally Tesse needed to know what happened to her. Neither the first year of the English registration in 1837, nor the first English census in 1841 showed anything concerning her. She looked through all kinds of other records, work house, immigration, and parish registers, nothing. Tesse became as frustrated with not being able to find what happened to Dorothy Door, had she would have had it been one of her own ancestors. Dorothy was lost to history. Well, three passed and Tesse gave a talk on the sad story of the housekeeper who was sacked for the crime of becoming pregnant by her own husband.

Well, someone in the audience became intrigued too and did something about it. What did she find? How did she find it? Read the story now, linked to ExtremeGenes.com, I know, I am bad. We have talked about this before, the remarkable study of a virtually isolated population, people of Iceland. Well the results are out with the biggest set of full genomes ever found from one population. A private company called “Decode Genetics” has gathered data that shows genes that yield new disease risks, as well as a lengthy list of over one thousand genes we really don’t need. It is hoped that this project is used as a model for other countries to do the same. We here in the US, can soon expect a similar study with a million of our guinea... our fellow citizens over the last part of the coming decade with the hope of using the information to come up with individualized treatments for various maladies. One of the big finds of the Iceland study was of the mutation of one gene whose presence signified the doubling of the risk for Alzheimers among those of us with European ancestry. In Lismore, Minnesota, Barbara Schwartz planted a lovely front yard garden for some 20 years. Well, last spring Barb was tilling it and ripped out of the ground a little piece of metal which she flicked aside. And then when she went to plant she ran into it again and tossed it aside. Well, when picking time came in August, once again it got in the way, so she brought it into the house and placed it on a shelf. Well, once in the house Barb’s father in law Donald Schwartz and his brother Darrel Schwartz took a closer look at it. They cleaned it up and discovered it was a WWI dog tag from a man named Gilbert Denfield. It noted his enlistment date, his date of birth and serial number. And with the help of a veteran service officer the Schwartz took the next step and located Denfield’s grave in South Dakota and through the cemetery received a copy of his obituary. Since Barb’s mother in law was very much into family history research, Barb decided to take a crack at it herself, eventually locating Sharon Baker of Bend, Oregon, one of Denfield’s grandchildren. The Schwartzs are planning to send the tag to Sharon who will then pass it to her brother Gilbert. And isn’t that the way we like things to happen? Find something, research it, find the right place for it to go and give it to them. It’s a great feeling whether you’re on the receiving end or the sending end. I’ve been fortunate to experience both meeting many great people over the years. And coming up next, he is true visionary in the growth of digitized family history materials and so much more. He is the CEO and president of Family Search International, Dennis Brimhall. How is all this new information coming to us with such speed and what can we expect over the next few years? Dennis will fill us in coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 81

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dennis Brimhall

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth with a very special guest today. He is the President and CEO of Family Search International, Dennis Brimhall. Dennis, it is just an honor to have you here.

Dennis: Thank you. It’s fun to be here. I love talking about this so it’s a great opportunity.

Fisher: Well, you know I saw that at Roots Tech with your presentation and your keynote address and I remember hearing you talk about how you had left your business, in the past you were a hospital administrator, you wound up in this opportunity and you went on to get those little letters after your name to become a professional genealogist.

Dennis: Well, I want to be very cautious. I’m not a professional genealogist, but I decided that if I was going to do this, I probably ought to have some training. So I enrolled in the BYU Idaho course to get a degree in family history, and I’m now taking the courses online and working through that process to see if I can get a little bit of credential.

Fisher: Well and I’m sure it helps because you’re probably a very busy man back in the hospital days, not doing a lot of family history research at that time. But a year ago we were doing the Roots Tech Media Night and you did a hand out, which was fantastic, it talked about the preservation of documents over the last century and a half. Now family search is a portion of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which has the big vault in the side of the mountain. And in there are all the records that had been gathered by generations of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And as a result, we have seen a great access. Of course the church has become famous for their family history library and a lot of these records are available there, but not necessarily available in digital form. And you set that as a goal, to get those records in digital form and spread throughout the world and some partnerships. Let’s go through some of these numbers here. I mean, they’re pretty incredible. I mean there’s an estimated 5.3 billion records that you had from all these different regions on a map and you were estimating there were ten million more. And the time that it was going to take to digitize these was like a generation or more.

Dennis: It was an interesting thing. Back about 120 years ago the church decided it was important to start collecting records and provide families the ability to connect together over generations. And then it was about ninety years ago that the technology started to become available to start doing that. So we sent camera crews out with microfilm cameras in to archives all over the world for the purpose of microfilming these records. And we’d get them on microfilm and bring them back here, develop it and to store it in a place that would be safe, we built these vaults in the mountains up out at Salt Lake City. And we stored these microfilm records in the vaults, and then when people wanted to see them they would send an order in and we’d get a record and we’d copy it and send a microfilm out to them. And sometimes we had big collections outside of the United States so we don’t have to ship everything from here, such as in Germany and places like that. But what happened was, we collected these records but getting them to the people to see them was so awkward because it required a physical duplication and sending microfilms.

Fisher: Right.

Dennis: Well of course with the advent of the computer and digital imaging, we began to say, “Okay, we’re going to do two things. First of all we’re going to quit taking microfilm pictures, and we’re going to take digital pictures.” So we replaced all our microfilm cameras with digital cameras. And that allows to capture the image digitally to begin with. Then we went through all the rolls of microfilm we have in our vaults, that’s about 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. We said okay, how do we convert a microfilm to a digital image? And we developed some equipment where you can put the microfilm rolls on a scanner, and in four minutes it runs the rolls through the scanner and creates 180GB picture. One picture 180GB big. Then the computer will take it and divide it in to pages. Then we do some quality control on it. And now you can publish that online and people can see the image online as opposed to seeing the microfilm. Now we’ve done about 30% of the microfilm in the vault, has been digitized or digital copies made. But we expect within the next couple of years, and we used to think it would take fifty years to get all that done, but with technology and everything else we expect within the next, roughly, two years, we will have all of the vault in digital format. With a rare exception of some where the rights to it didn’t allow us to make digital copies. And we’ll respect those rights and they’ll stay in a micro film. Well that’s one of the important parts of the process because you still have to look at these images. So what we are now in the process of doing is having volunteers look at the digital image and type in to the computer what they see on the screen. So if they see a census record that has John Jefferies as the head of the family, it’s only a picture of it. But they see that and they can enter it on the computer and now it’s indexed what we call indexed.

Fisher: Searchable.

Dennis: It can be searchable.

Fisher: Right.

Dennis: And so we have about three hundred thousand volunteers who do this every day, and every single day we index, which means make available for searching 1.3 million names.

Fisher: That’s unbelievable.

Dennis: Every day.

Fisher: And all of these volunteers, they’re not necessarily members of the church, they can be from any place in the world and they go about finding out how to read the strange handwriting. I mean, I remember the first time I had to work with the old German language writing, and it was absolutely... it was like a child’s scribble to me. I couldn’t make out anything of that.

Dennis: Right.

Fisher: But I did learn one thing, that when you work at it enough, your eyes begin to adjust.

Dennis: Yeah, right.

Fisher: And suddenly you can see the words that you wouldn’t see at once.

Dennis: Well, we do have volunteers because we’re imaging, in Italy we have imaging projects. We’re imaging at the request and at the contract with the Italian government. We’re imaging four hundred and eighty million Italian civil records. And so we look for Italian people to Index. And so the indexing volunteers, we get it from everywhere in the world. We were in the Samoa a few week ago and Samoan kids doing indexing in Samoan languages. So we do that. Now the problem is that indexing is the bottle neck, so we’re beginning to find available to us technology which can begin to automate some of the indexing so people don’t have to look at it and do it. It’s amazing where some of that technology is coming from, that allows us to do this. And so, we’re beginning to find technology that can take some of the indexing burden off of us and do it much, much faster.

Fisher: So how reliable is that technology at this point?

Dennis: Well we test it, and so let me give you an example. If you have your phone and you take a picture of somebody, it will look at the person’s face, recognise that face and search through all of your images to find any place where that face is there. It’s facial recognition technology. It’s quite common and used. Well we’re beginning to explore and doing some research with some universities to try to figure out can you take facial recognition and apply it to a word. So imagine a word is the face now.

Fisher: Right, right.

Dennis: And so you may find an old German Heinrich, so it looks at Heinrich, it’s not a face it’s a word, but uses the same technology and you can go through ten thousand records and pull up every word that looks like Heinrich. So what you do now is, you go and you say okay it’s pulled up five hundred matches, you go through that and say yes this is a match, so it adds it, and it get’s smarter and smarter and smarter. So on certain fields such as fields that give male or female or it gives age, or it gives birth dates, or dates, or things like that, we can get that accuracy up over ninety percent.

Fisher: Wow! It must be better than that though.

Dennis: Yeah. Indexing accuracy is, because we index it twice and have it arbitrated so somebody checks the two if there’s a disagreement, somebody makes a decision.

Fisher: Right.

Dennis: That accuracy is over ninety seven and ninety eight percent. But we in certain areas we can get the accuracy to come pretty close to that. Well, you can imagine if an indexer doesn’t have to do certain fields it’s done automatically for them, then we can improve efficiency of indexing dramatically. So there’s some technology that’s coming our way that’s going to really improve how fast we can do this.

Fisher: So if I’m looking for, like you mentioned Hugh Heinrich, would the technology allow us then to find Henrick, Henry, Heinrich, you know that type of thing?

Dennis: It can do, the technology can say okay we found something that’s a perfect match, we can find something that’s almost a match, you decide whether you want to include it or not. So that is a combination of technology in the human eye. And so it’s not an either or, it’s never old, it’s never all technology or all human. It’s the combination of the two that will get us closer. And the nice thing about the technology is that you can train it to do any language o any era.

Fisher: Wow.

Dennis: It doesn’t care what language it is, so if you to Uzbekistan and Uzbekistanis, I don’t know what that is really called, but it doesn’t really care. You can train it to do any language it doesn’t matter. So we’re in the infancy of this but we see if we progress in this technology the way all technology progresses, it’s only a matter of years before we’ve got the accuracy up where it needs to be and we’ll be able to start doing this. We have another technology we call “Robo Keen’ which takes obituaries and it knows kind of certain languages, and it will say how an obituary is laid out because it will say “born in” or “born” or something like that. After that its usually a date. The Robo Keen looks at those things and through artificial intelligence, kind of calculates what that is. And we can get some of that up to about ninety five - ninety seven percent accuracy. But that’s in typed format.

Fisher: Sure.

Dennis: It’s different from handwriting, but you know we got to do it all. So it’s just a matter of getting the technology that works for the problem.

Fisher: Is there a level where you say “This isn’t just quite good enough yet” or where you say, “I’m close enough, maybe three or four percent less than what people would do, we’re going to get so much good stuff from that we’re going to move forward any way.

Dennis: Yeah, we have a little saying, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.”

Fisher: Right. Love it. [Laughs]

Dennis: And so what we want to do is that at some point we’ll say its close enough, with some disclaimers and some help that we can send it out. Now one of the things we’re going to be doing is, we’re going to be doing what we call “indexing on the fly.” See, right now people index in batches, we send them a batch and they index it. But what if you found a record and you really like the record, and we say, “Oh by the way, now that you found the record, why don’t you take a minute to index it.” And so instead of three hundred thousand people doing it, there’s two million people doing it when they found it. And they’ve been through the record anyway. They’ve studied the record over and over, because their families in the record, we say, “Oh by the way while you’re here, why don’t you just index this?”  And so we’re testing that out. We find that people like to do that. And that’s going to bring a big dividend to us as well.

Fisher: Well it’s their people too right?

Dennis: It’s their people.

Fisher: I mean that makes a big difference.

Dennis: Yeah.

Fisher: We’re talking to Dennis Brimhall. He is the President and CEO of Family Search International, and when we return, Dennis, let’s talk about the future, the partnerships, that are going on right now at Family Search that are really moving things forward, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.                   

Segment 3 Episode 81

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dennis Brimhall

Fisher: Welcome back, its Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. I am Fisher, the Radio Roots Sleuth, with Dennis Brimhall. He is the president and CEO of Family Search International. And, Dennis, once again, thanks so much for coming and spending some of you valuable time with us. You are a leader right now, and putting together some partnerships that just are unbelievable. We've got My Heritage, we've got Ancestry.com, we've got Find My Past, and now they're working in terms of what they call Frenemies.

Dennis: [Laughs]

Fisher: And I like that term because it means they're working together and that there's recognition that no one entity, including Family Search, can get it all. And so now you're all working together in certain ways. Let's talk about those partnerships, how those have come together, and what you see as the future of the partnerships, and what that's going to be bringing us, say, over the next 5 to 10 years.

Dennis: Well, thank you. We are very excited about this because we've been at this again for 120 years, and offered free, we have limited resources, we rely heavily upon volunteers, but there's a limit to how much we can get done, and there's so much to do. And what we've found is that there are people who do what we do, and they do it very, very well. And so you have people who are admittedly in the commercial side of this thing which we commend and we're glad. They offered to their customers, to their patrons a service that they charge for which allows them to get involved in family history. Probably the three biggest ones are Ancestry.com, which is here in the United States, Find My Past, which is out of London, and My Heritage which is out of Israel. So we simply went to these people who have the same values and the same purpose that we do, and we said "Let's not compete. Let's work together. And so why don't we share records? Let's share our records with you, and you share your records with us, and then we'll figure out a way to not compete and not duplicate records, not go after the same record sets, and make these things available." And we recognize they have to make money to exist, we want them to, we don't want to take their business away from them in any way, but we want to also, where appropriate, make records available free to people, so that more records are available. That's our goal, more records available, and more people searching.

Fisher: Right.

Dennis: And so it was a very, very simple thing when we met with the CEOs of these companies to say let's work out a deal. No resistance at all, everybody said "Of course we'll do this." And so what we've been doing now over the last really 12 to 18 months is we've been able to work with these colleagues and basically say "Let's integrate our data and our trees, and let’s make things searchable in a way that you can go to kind of one place." And we don't really care where a person goes to. If a person has a better experience on Ancestry than on Family Search, we don't care. We're not making money on this thing, so we just want people to go wherever they can find the records and build their family tree. Once you enter into a partnership where you don't have any pride of ownership or proprietary interest to succeed over somebody else, it's amazing what you can do.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Dennis: And that's the basis there. So now, we then worked to where we have partnerships. And so we don't only share data, but they said "Listen, we're quite interested in getting another record set in a country." So they may say there's some records in Germany that we'd like to get on Ancestry, you're good at capturing records, you have these camera crews and volunteers who do that, why don't we provide you some resources, you get that, bring them in, we'll pay to have them indexed so that they get done faster, and then we'll put them up on our line behind our pay wall, but for certain customers of Family Search, usually the members of the church who support Family Search, they'll get access to them free, and that way you get significantly more records coming up that we would've never had before. And so it's really one of those 2+2=5, it's just a great deal. We're very excited about what these partnerships are doing.

Fisher: I think most of us are. Just to watch it and see the development of it. Not only the more records that are coming out, but you're also swamping technology.

Dennis: We are. We found that... And I must say, I commend, we have some terrific engineers they do a great job. But everybody's good at different things, so sometimes we'll send out engineers, we send a bunch of our engineers over to Israel to meet with their engineers, and we always work really closely with Ancestry because they're just down the road. But, you know, we found that we're sharing technology and learning from each other and having things. I mean, Ancestry really pioneered some of the work with Shaky Leaf.

Fisher: Right.

Dennis: What they call Shaky Leaf, we call it Hinting. And so we've learnt some things about how we can do that. And My Heritage has some pretty good stuff on search and match technology.

Fisher: It's unbelievable.

Dennis: Yeah. Of course, we're the masters of records and acquiring records and getting them quality checked and online. And then Find My Past has some wonderful things with the whole area of newspaper archives and getting access to the British newspaper collections over the years, which we would never be able to do that. And so if you take the best of everybody and you bring them together, you end up with, you know, 2+2+2+2=14, or something, as opposed to everybody kind of doing their own thing.

Fisher: So would you say the focus is on 1500 up to the current time? Or do you see a lot of interest in pre 1500 records?

Dennis: Well, there is a lot of interest in pre 1500 records, but there's a lot of scepticism about the quality and value of those records.

Fisher: Right.

Dennis: So from our standpoint, we want people to search the records back as far as they go, but when people start getting to pre 1500s, we're a little more cautious about the quality of that. Because prior to that time, with some exceptions, a lot of those records were kind of put together for the purpose of connecting into certain families to get access to land, and a lot of it was fabricated. So we are a little bit cautious about 1500. Now 1500 was when people really started writing stuff down and collections were kept and everything else. You go pre 1500 hundred and it was really only a few people who collected records. Now that's different in the Chinese records. They have elegant records back thousands of years, elegant, really accurate records, but they're narrow, they're oldest son to oldest son and they’re not very broad. So we look at records sets around the world and we find out what are strengths and weaknesses and we just acknowledge those. We just acknowledge that there are strength and weakness in those. And one of the things in kind of our Anglo Saxon western culture is that pre 1500s it's a bit harder to really document them and be accurate on that. Now in the future we're not going to be as concerned about archival records. So our great grandchildren will not be worried much about 1500, 1600 records. Our great grandchildren are going to be worried about the records we're collecting today. And those records tend to be living memory and digital. And so we're moving out of an archival area into a digital area, as we think about who will be using this, you know, four of five generations from now. So we really have to not be just so focused on archival records that we forget that much of the data today is born digital. We've kind of closed the archival period. We're really kind of into a digital period, and we have to bridge the two as we go forward.

Fisher: Which means, we all kind of benefit from the archives in the now, because we all have access.

Dennis: Right.

Fisher: And so we preserve what's happening. I think a lot of people forget that we are part of the family history that you know, we're going to have that dash between two dates eventually as well, and our story is going to matter to our descendants just as much as our ancestors' stories are important to us.

Dennis: Well, we have a saying "What would our great, great grandchildren wish we would've done?" Now, they certainly are going to know names, dates and places. But just like we always say "I wish my great, great grandfather would've just recorded one more bit of information." Every genealogist says that.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes.

Dennis: But our great, great, great grandchildren are going to say the same thing "You had cameras, why didn't you keep pictures?" Well, we keep pictures. We have so many pictures. We had thousands of pictures a week to the website. And so we just want to be able to take advantage of the culture today and make sure we preserve that, the stories, the photos, the relationships, in a different way than our ancestors did, and accommodate what our great, great grandchildren are going to wish we would've done.

Fisher: So how many records are out there? And how long is it going to take to ever gather them all, say, from 1950 on back? Because we're thinking big here, right?

Dennis: Yeah. It's a debatable number, but we calculate that there's somewhere... Give or take, billions, hundred billion people lived on the earth. We think that probably about... Of the 100 billion people who lived, there's probably records that exist on about 10 billion of those.

Fisher: And are they linkable?

Dennis: Well, it's a good question. We calculate that the average person has about six records. And so if you say there's 60 billion records out there, and maybe we've got 10 billion of these that we've got today, I mean, we've got a lot of work to do. But we have a plan. I mean, we know how to do it. It's not a matter of we don't know how to do it.

Fisher: Right.

Dennis: But you have to find the records. You have to get the digital rights to them, and then you have to image them and index them and all that kind of things. But we know where the records are. We have a very sophisticated way of acquiring records and getting rights. It won't happen on my watch.

Fisher: [Laughs] Or your grandchild's watch.

Dennis: Or my grandchild's watch. But we know, we have the plan, we see the plan, we see the image, we know what we need to do. As long as we remember that the archival records is one group, but the current born digital is something that we have to be focused on at the same time. So we have to be able to not only look at the past, but the present, as we plan for the future.

Fisher: Dennis, this is a conversation that I wish we could continue for another hour or two, or five, because there's so much ground to cover. But thank you so much for your time and sharing with us your vision for where this is all going, because it is an amazing era we're in, in family history.

Dennis: It is. There's nothing like it. And people love family history. And now they can do it with ease and comfort and excitement. They can discover themselves. Family history is creating the museum of me, and every ancestor is an exhibit in your museum.

Fisher: Hey, let's see gardening do this, you know? [Laughs]

Dennis: [Laughs]

Fisher: He's Dennis Brimhall. He's the president and CEO of Family Search International. Thanks so much, Dennis.

Dennis: Thank you.

Segment 4 Episode 81

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: We are back, Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth with Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com. Hi Tommy, how are you?

Tom: Pretty good, thank you.

Fisher: Well, we're going to talk about damaged materials today, damaged documents and photographs. What happens when you have a flood? And you know, there's a lot of experience Americans have had in this area in the last many years going back even to Katrina. Are there ways to recover and restore documents that have been damaged by water?

Tom: Oh, yes, there's a lot of things! We had a lot of people come into us after Katrina that sends us things that have been damaged. The best way to restore documents is not to get them in a position where they need to be restored.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: You know, you can buy fireproof and waterproof safes for under $100 now, and it’s the best investment you will ever make.

Fisher: Can I make a comment on that though?

Tom: Oh, please.

Fisher: Back in 2001, we had a one in a 500 year rain shower and it flooded our basement. And I had some very valuable documents in a fireproof safe. I leaned, fireproof does not mean waterproof.

Tom: Exactly!

Fisher: And some of my treasures that had to do with a collection of historical documents were damaged severely. And so, don't confuse the two. Fireproof will not protect you from water.

Tom: Exactly! And the way that works is, there's a special chemical inside the safe that when it gets hot, it seals the safe. So if it’s not getting hot, it’s just getting wet, that chemical doesn't come out and seal the safe, so the water's going to get in. So what you can do if you want to be very careful is what I do. I have a fireproof safe that I can lock and I put it inside what's called a pelican case. It’s a big plastic case. It’s made for putting camera gear in, but they will actually float.

Fisher: Really?

Tom: They're waterproof. I've tested them. I've done all kinds of things with them and they won't leak. So you can on the internet, Amazon.com or whatever, and buy a pelican case. Make sure it’s one of the ones that is watertight, and then put the safe inside that. It’s a hard case. It’s made out of hard plastic. And they have these clamps that clamp down, and there's a sealer in between them, almost like a giant Tupperware. It will seal and keep the water out. If you have a fire, the pelican case is probably going to melt, but it doesn't matter, your fireproof safe is inside. If it just floods, you take it out, you open it up and your fireproof safe is inside there, fine. So it’s kind of like killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. That's the best way to do it. They float, so even if you have a bad flood where your house is totally destroyed, maybe somebody six blocks from you will find this pelican case. So you want to make sure, just like you're shipping something, you have a label with your phone number and address inside a Ziploc bag, inside the pelican case, and then also one inside the fireproof safe, because you never know where these things are going to end up. Your house burns down, they take away all the debris, you never find your safe. Then somebody in a junkyard or someplace finds this thing, "Hey, what's this?" and breaks it open, and they see all these documents who they belong to.

Fisher: And by the way, these things really do happen. I never imagined in my wildest dreams we'd have a flood in our home. We're on a mountainside! [Laughs] You know?

Tom: Oh absolutely!

Fisher: You don't get floods there, but we did! It was crazy!

Tom: We had some people not far from us, we live on a mountainside also, and a great, big, huge water tank ruptured and it flooded everybody downstream from that. So you could have mud slides. If you have a fire and there's nothing there to hold, there's so many different ways you can do that. Now if that's already happened to you, there's some things I want to tell you NOT to do. So in the next segment, we'll talk about some exact things you can do once your documents have been damaged.

Fisher: All right, looking forward to that, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 81

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And we are back for our final segment of Extreme Genes, family history radio, America's Family History Show for this week. I am Fisher with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he's our Preservation Authority. And we're talking about the unthinkable, and that is fire and flood. And what happens to documents that have been damaged, what can be restored. Obviously, flooding is a little more forgiving than fire, Tom. Am I right?

Tom: In certain circumstances, you are correct. Usually, only the time a fire situation is better than a flooding situation is with old fashion film and video tape.

Fisher: Really?

Tom: Yeah. The reason for that is a lot of times, the flashpoint with film and video tape is a lot higher than you would think it is. This 2 year old gets his parent's wedding video and put it in the oven. And mom, not knowing it was in there, turned on the oven to preheat it 350 degrees, and started smelling something. Open up the door and she could see the video tape in there and the smoke, and so she pulled it out of course. And they hung onto it for several years. They just couldn't bring themselves to throw their wedding video away. Her husband one time was driving by our store and thought, "Hmm, they repair CDs and DVDs. I wonder what they can do with my tape." And stopped in and asked. We said, "Bring it in." So he brought it in and we were able to totally restore it, because the shell itself was pass the flashpoint and had melded, but we could cut all the shell away from it and get the tape and put it in a new case. And we were able to play it. We recovered the entire tape.

Fisher: Really? Oh, they had to be thrilled! All right, flooding?

Tom: First, what you DO NOT want to do, and I have had disaster places to this with their stuff. They tell people, "Oh, put it in the freezer." No! They say, "Because it will keep soaking into the item, but so if you freeze it, you'll stop the soaking." Yeah, but the freezing can crack it and then when you thaw it, the water is back there again anyway.

Fisher: With the expansion, right?

Tom: Exactly!

Fisher: And contraction. It'll damage the paper especially.

Tom: Exactly! That is so true! And so, what I suggest you do is, get sheets of wax paper and put those between every one of your pictures, because that will keep them from sticking to each other while they dry. And then take them to a place like us or any professional photo lab, especially ones that do their own film developing, because they can re wet them and run them through their drum drier. And it will make a nice, clear, shiny coat on them again and make them just like brand new.

Fisher: Well, and you know, I had this happen with the photographs that I had damaged. I had three pictures signed by the Apollo 11 astronauts. Yeah, valuable! And they had all these wrinkles in them from the flood. And they were actually able to take them and re introduce some moisture that flattened them and then they steamed it out and they went completely flat. And then they were able to put it on a backing which was acid free, and they're just like new. They are fabulous!

Tom: Oh, it’s amazing technology. So many things, whenever you're in a disaster and you think there's no way out of this, make a few phone calls, Google some things. There's almost always you can fix things. The technology now is so amazing, but you have to use this big drier that's super polished chrome. And so when they out the picture on it, it will, you know, adhere to the chrome, and then it will peel right off when it’s fully dry. And they have all different kinds of things like that. You can buy them yourself, but I really wouldn't recommend it unless you're a closet photographer and have done your own developing and such, like I grew up on that in high school. Take it to a professional. Don't mess around with it. Don't just throw it away and think, "Oh I can't use this."

Fisher: Yes, don't throw it away, whatever you do, there might be a way it can be rescued. I was thrilled, because it took about a dozen years before I finally stumbled onto the fact that they could fix each picture for about two dollars. And the value that it added back to this was thousands.

Tom: Oh yeah!  Because it’s not a hard process, it’s not a time consuming process, so they could do it pretty inexpensive. So don't assume this is some big expensive thing. Ask around. If it’s too expensive, just store them for awhile, because maybe one day down the road when you hit the lottery, you'll be able to have them all done. So don't ever throw stuff away, even if they look really, really bad, because a lot of times you can scan these later on with special scanners that do ultra violet light. And they can actually pick up stuff that has been washed away, and restore it in Photoshop.

Fisher: This is great advice and I hope everybody remembers this, especially if they're ever in this situation. Good stuff, Tom.

Tom: Yeah, we're coming into hurricane and tornado season, so you know, buckle down!

Fisher: Thanks, Tommy. See you next week. Thanks once again to Dennis Brimhall, the CEO and president of Family Search International for his insight on where we are and we we're going with family history research over the next many years. And of course, if you missed any of that interview, you want catch the podcast on our website, ExtremeGenes.com or on iTunes or through iHeart radio. I am Fisher. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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