Episode 88 - "Genealogy Road Show" Star Kenyatta Berry On Enslaved And SlaveholdersMay 25, 2015
Transcript of Episode 88
Host: Scott Fisher
Segment 1 Episode 88
Fisher: Greetings genies everywhere! And welcome to another round of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, I hope you’re making plans for some great family history outing this summer. Reunions, adventures and cemeteries, there is so much to do. As you know, coming up on Saturday June 6th in New York City, is the Global Family Reunion, put on by our good friend from the Esquire magazine, the New York Times bestselling author AJ Jacobs. I’m excited that he’s asked me to MC some of the events. So I really look forward to meeting some of you in the big apple on June 6th, and to find out more about it just click on the “ Global Family Reunion” link on our website ExtremeGenes.com. I haven’t been to the World’s Fairgrounds in 50 years, and I can’t wait to return. Great comments have come in over the past week concerning last week’s show about my mother deliberately stowing away, on a ship to Hawaii in 1947, with three friends. Allen in Baltimore emailed, “Fisher, you mother’s friend Terry-- even at 90 sounds like she could stow away on a ship right now. [Laughs] She was a hoot. Thanks for sharing her and your mother’s crazy story with us.”
Brenda in Chattanooga commented, “I love Extreme Genes. Out of all the things I’ve learned, and there have been a lot of them, I take comfort in knowing my family isn’t the only one with people doing crazy stuff. Fisher, sounds like your mom got away with one on that ship.” Well, I’m not so sure about that, Brenda. She lost a great job and a lot of potential that came with it, but she had a story that mesmerized people for decades. I think I now know where the genetics came in that led me to sneak into the Yankees dugout clubhouse to meet the players when I was a teenager. You need to see my autograph collection, it was big! Hey, don’t forget to check out all the vintage pictures and articles relating to this stow away story on ExtremeGenes.com. Hey, just a reminder, we’ve got a growing community of passionate family history sleuths on our Extreme Genes Face book page, so check it out and give us a “Like” and tell your friends about it.
Our guest this week is someone you may already know. Kenyatta Berry is one of the hosts on PBS’s great program, “Genealogy Roadshow.” She is a family history lecturer, professional researcher specializing in African American heritage. She’s an attorney. She’s one of those people that have somehow been granted 36 hours a day. Kenyatta is going to share with us how she got on Genealogy Roadshow, her best experience there so far, her take on Roots to television in 2016, as, well as, at least one major myth about researching black history. You may be as surprised as I am. She’ll be here in about 8 minutes. Then, Tom Perry the Preservation authority returns from TMCPlace.com, to talk about when you should be concerned about your old negatives turning to dust. Yes, it may frighten you to hear what he has to say.
It is time, once again for your family histoire news from the pages of ExtremeGenes.com. This has got to be the biggest story this week-- it’s from St. Louis Magazine. Imagine how you would feel if you learned that a man was conducting tours of graveyards and sites relating to your family and their legacy and claims his father is a previously unknown son of your mother. Well, we’re talking about the Lemp family, of St. Louis. At one time, the William J. Lemp Brewing Company dominated the St. Louis beer market. This was pre-prohibition, of course. When prohibition hit, the Lemps lost all staff trademark and the brewery was shutdown. Well, over the next several decades three family members committed suicide in the Lemp family mansion. As a result of all this, few descendents today ever speak of their heritage, and one woman has even instructed her children never even to use the Lemp name. Well, then in 2010 a man emerged claiming to be the last of the Lemps. He called himself “Andrew Lemp Paulson.” Saying he was the last descendent of the eldest daughter.
He would travel from northern Illinois to St. Louis to share Lemp memorabilia with interested parties with an eye to creating a Lemp museum one day. He even set up a website called “Lemp treasures” to sell Lemp memorabilia purported to have belonged to his illustrious ancestors. He had a key to the Lemp mausoleum and paintings done by one Louis Lemp. He used Facebook to share incredible stories of his ancestors with the public and the press. He spoke of his grandmother, Ann Marie Contour, who, he said taught him many things and had charged him with the responsibility of preserving the legacy of the Lemps. Well, with all the attention, the Lemp mansion was named to the list of top ten most haunted places in America. Now, the problem with all this is that his alleged grandmother, Ann Marie Contour died in 1973, 11 years before Andrew Paulson was born. Ann was indeed the daughter of Annie Lemp of St. Louis, but grew up in New York where she had two daughters through three marriages, neither of which had children of their own.
Two years ago, the eldest daughter ran across one of Paulson’s eBay listings concerning the Lemps. She asked a cousin to look into it. The cousin Jeffery Legler did. He found dozens of photos of a woman who certainly wasn’t Ann Marie Contour, as well as a photo of his own great grandmother Maria Amanda Goodhue to whom Paulson attributed a wild story about a Lemp staffer being killed at a party by a chandelier and her concern that cancelling the party would mean the caviar would go bad. Well Legler’s eyes about popped out, emails began to fly, lawyers became involved, and Andrew Paulson has never produced a single document proving his link to the family. He has changed birthdates to align them properly in the family timeline and made excuses that his aged father would have his health impacted if he were to trouble him to produce a birth record. Oh, and that mausoleum key, it was given to him by the current owners of the Lemp mansion after convincing them he was a descendent.
Needless to say, the two daughters of Ann Marie Contour are beside themselves that this Andrew Paulson is saying Ann Marie gave birth to his father out of wedlock. Interestingly, the dates of his father’s birth which Andrew has changed at least twice, always line up with something else that was going on in Ann Marie’s life, such as the fact that she was pregnant with her daughters at the time Jenson claimed his father was on the way. Needless to say it’s a complex and fascinating story that leaves everyone baffled. Why someone would want to highjack another’s family history, is the question. There’s a lot more to this, read all about it at ExtremeGenes.com. And that’s your family histoire news for this week. Coming up next, I’ll be talking to one of the stars of PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, Kenyatta Berry. She’ll fill in on some of the misunderstandings and complexities of researching African American history. That’s in 3 minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 88
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kenyatta Berry
Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with my friend Kenyatta Berry. She is, of course, one of the hosts you all know from Genealogy Roadshow. First time on the show, Kenyatta, welcome!
Kenyatta Berry: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Fisher: Well, we’re excited to have you. Last week, we were talking about how Roots looks like it’s going to be coming back sometime in 2016. Now, that was the mini-series with LeVar Burton back in 1977. It still ranks as one of the most watched mini-series in the history of television! So I’m thinking, you know, this is kind of a sacred thing for a lot of people, to think that somebody could actually remake it and make it even better than it was originally. What are your feelings about this?
Kenyatta Berry: Well, I think it’s great to have Roots come back, because it’ll show for the young generation, kind of understanding about slavery, and I think we see a lot of TV shows and movies that are related to slavery, so it’s a bit of a hot topic. It will be interesting to see how they treat the story, compared to when they did it originally and, as everyone in genealogy knows, Roots kind of changed or shaped genealogy and family history, because people became so interested in discovering their ancestors after watching that mini-series.
Fisher: Yeah, I remember, when it came out at the time and it was just absolutely wonderful. It was one of those shows, that you didn’t see on the TV networks, but you saw it elsewhere and yet everybody was still as intrigued by it as anything they would have seen on CBS or NBC or ABC at that time. Now to see it come back, it will be interesting and what a challenge, though to try to redo something as iconic as that for LeVar Burton.
Kenyatta Berry: Absolutely. I mean, I think it will be interesting to see what they do with it and how much it changes. I remember watching it and seeing it, and it was very kind of raw, and just real for a lot of parts. That may be tough for people to deal with, so it will be interesting to see how they treat it, or they kind of sensitize it a little bit.
Fisher: Do you think LeVar Burton will be back in front of a camera, or just staying behind it?
Kenyatta Berry: Probably behind the camera, I think. You know, kind of to maintain the authenticity of it. I don’t know if he’ll be in front of the camera, at this point.
Fisher: Right, unless his character came back as a much older person or something like that. [Laughs]
Kenyatta Berry: Exactly. [Laughs]
Fisher: Well, you have been added as a researcher and as a speaker. You’re an attorney as well-- forever and ever. Let’s talk about some of your experiences, especially with Genealogy Roadshow. What has that done for your life?
Kenyatta Berry: It’s changed it. obviously, in ways that I couldn’t imagine. I mean, I’m truly thankful and blessed that I am able to do something I enjoy doing, and people like it. But, it definitely, you know, living here in Santa Monica, in the LA area, I didn’t come out here to be on television. So, to have that opportunity is really fantastic. What I think we do, is make changes in people’s lives, and that’s what I enjoy about it. I enjoy the people on the show and they want to know about an ancestor, or they have a family story, and we’re just able to kind of complete something for them and give them that closure. That’s very rewarding for me, to be able to do that.
Fisher: How do you wind up selecting your people for the show?
Kenyatta Berry: There’s a casting department, with the production, and everyone submits their information, their story and an application. Then they go through the process of selecting them, and trying to see if they’ll be good on TV. I mean, it’s a little nerve wracking being on television-- if you’re not used to that, because there’s so many moving parts, so many different people, so they try to look for people that will be able to kind of deal with that, but also has a good story. Because at the end of the day, it is entertainment as much as it’s about genealogy. So they want to make sure the story is good, the person’s good, and they group that product. We just really manage their research and the on camera presentation.
Fisher: Now, how did you wind up on the show, Kenyatta?
Kenyatta Berry: Well, actually I was president of APG, Association for Professional Genealogists and I received a call from the team of Genealogy Roadshow, and they were looking for a local genealogist. I met with them to talk about that, and I kind of, you know, didn’t have any idea what was going on. I didn’t realize I was meeting with the casting team at that time, and after hearing me talk about genealogy and how passionate I am about it, they wanted me to go home and do a Skype video, so that’s what I did. I came home and did the Skype. They sent it up to PBS. I talked to them about other stuff, and then the next thing I know, they’re like “PBS loves you.” And I’m on television.
Kenyatta Berry: So, it is not something I auditioned for.
Kenyatta Berry: It just kind of happened, you know.
Fisher: Yeah, well that’s often the way it is in life, right? Hard left turn, hard right turn, you never know where you’re going.
Kenyatta Berry: Exactly, exactly. So it’s been great. It’s been a very great experience.
Fisher: That’s awesome. How many years have you been doing it now?
Kenyatta Berry: I’ve been doing professional genealogy about 17 years. In the show we’re on our second season and we’re hopefully getting a third season. We should hear about that next month or so, so fingers crossed.
Fisher: Yeah. Yeah, welcome to the business. You know, cancellations and renewals it’s always kind of a little bit scary that way, but you’re obviously having a great time with it. What’s been the best experience with the whole thing so far?
Kenyatta Berry: I think the best experience has been, in season two, their kind of working out the kinks, you know, so to speak, and we still have a lot to do. But, the best experience has just been one of my really hard stories, and about one of my favourites. There was the woman named Gail, who came onto the show, and 15 years ago or so, had done research on her family and she grew up as a white woman and she went to do research on her mom, and her mom who was listed as coloured from New Orleans. So Gail talked to her mom about it, and her mom denied, denied, denied it. Finally she said, “Here’s the proof,” and her mother said, “Yes, this is true”. I’ve been passing for white -- however, you can’t tell anyone while I’m alive. When I die, you can do whatever you want.” Then when her mother passed on, she came on the show.
Kenyatta Berry: You know, she didn’t even know that her mom had four half siblings. Like, she was able to find an entirely different family, you know? Another part of her family and for me, this is so rewarding, to see her, someone who kept that secret for so long to bring it on the show and to be brave enough to do that, on national television. I was really nervous about it, you know, because it’s a really big thing.
Kenyatta Berry: It’s life changing. So, just having that courage and experiencing sharing that with her just meant so much to me.
Fisher: Well, when you think about it, we all have cultural identity. I mean, that’s just part of the core of who we are, and to actually have that change has got to give you an entirely different perspective.
Kenyatta Berry: Um, hmm, it did. And you know, I think a lot of it was interesting because she was there with her family, her two kids, grandkids and her husband, and as we just started to talk, what was really interesting is her husband remembered things about her mother; one of the things that he just said is, “Your mother never liked to go out into the sun” And I said, “Do you know why?” And she said, “Because she didn’t want to tan.” I mean it was just like all this stuff came back. They never went back to New Orleans, to visit the family. You could just see the light bulbs going off, and that’s the one thing I just so love about the show, is you never know what reaction you’re going to get, but when you get something that’s really good, you’re just like, “This is incredible.”
Fisher: Well, think back on it, I mean, what a different time and place New Orleans was for the mom, as compared to the world that this daughter is growing up in now.
Kenyatta Berry: Absolutely! Absolutely, for her to make that choice, and one of the things, I thought was interesting, is that people often comment about that particular segment when they see me. Because they’re just like, “Wow!” For her to make that choice, for her to have to do that, and, you know, now for her daughter just to be coming out and sharing this with the world and saying, “This is what happened.” Now having this other piece of her family that she never knew, I mean, I think it’s just really cool, and it kind of goes to why I love genealogy and what’s great about it is, it’s those connections, right?
Fisher: Oh yeah.
Kenyatta Berry: It’s history.
Fisher: And the surprises, too.
Kenyatta Berry: Yeah.
Fisher: I mean I would imagine there are a lot of surprises among African Americans when they find out that they have European blood and how they have to deal with that.
Kenyatta Berry: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of surprises at that, but it’s also through one of these things where you heard about it, and you read about it.
Kenyatta Berry: But when it’s there, whether it’s DNA, whether you find that ancestor, it kinds of brings it all to fruition, you know? It’s like right there in your face.
Fisher: Well, I’m thinking about African American research. It has been a challenging thing for a lot of people, for many, many years. I’m not one of those people who ever say, “Genealogy is easy.” I don’t think that that’s fair to most people who are interested in it, or are interested in getting started in it, because it’s just really not the case. But it is easier now by far than it’s ever been in the past. How has this affected African-American research?
Kenyatta Berry: I think with African American research…Yes, access to basic records, records, your vital records, and associates records which is much easier than it has been in the past. I think with African American research, being able to have access to Freedmen’s Bureau Records.
Kenyatta Berry: That would be good, because you can find information around whether it’s the bank records, or it’s a labour contract which was the case in my ancestor’s background, you can now have those connections. What’s so important for us is, that we need to be able to identify if your ancestor was a slave, (the slave holding family), because those records lay with that family. So we get that bonus family, right? There’s not only.
Kenyatta Berry: It’s not just our family, but there’s the other family we’re researching. I think, having access to those records online makes it easier, but you still have to go to the court houses to get the wills, the estates, and all those things, and appropriate records.
Fisher: Right, which is the challenge thing that everybody faces, because as much as there is online right now, there’s still so much more that’s not and hopefully will be, over the next 10 or 20 years.
Kenyatta Berry: Right, right. Yeah, I think we continue to see technology evolve and how we can leverage the technology for genealogy, not in just having those newspapers and those records, but just figuring out how we can make it, I wouldn’t say “easier” but more manageable, right.
Fisher: Yeah, that makes sense. All right Kenyatta, let’s take a break --and, when we return, we’re going to talk more about African American research and the challenges that are face there; more of what you were talking about, Kenyatta about not only finding your ancestor’s family, but often the slave holder’s family and what that involves in connecting with descendants on both sides. That’s got to be an interesting challenge for everybody.
Kenyatta Berry: Absolutely.
Fisher: All right. We’ll get to that in three minutes when we return on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 88
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Kenyatta Berry
Fisher: We are back on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here, talking to Kenyatta Berry. Of course, you know her from Genealogy Road Show, she's a lecturer, and she's an attorney. We were talking about the challenges of African American research, and you were telling me, off air the other day, Kenyatta, that there's a real misunderstanding about records for African Americans -- going way back.
Kenyatta: Yeah. So I think one of the largest misconceptions we have is that 1870 was the first federal census and African Americans were enumerated that were former slaves. So they were free, before the Civil War. They were enumerated in 1850, but a lot of people hit that 1870 brick wall, right?
Kenyatta: They get back to 1870, and they can't go beyond that, and then they think there are no records there, and that is not true. With slavery, slaves were property, so there were records related to slavery. But the challenge we have is, I talk about that Dorner's family, we have to really understand or know the last slaveholding family or owner, because our relatives’ records are tied to their records. So, anything related to my family is going to be tied to the slaveholding family. I think, just getting to that point, often frustrates African Americans and they often go like, "Oh, I can't get there." But you can! And that's one of my goals personally, is to let folks know that's available.
Kenyatta: That record is there, you know, you can do this research.
Fisher: Well, and that's what this show is about too, making sure people understand that there are misunderstandings out there that you have to get through. Don't make assumptions and besides, even in areas where there are records that are difficult to obtain, maybe your record is available, and that's the point.
Kenyatta: Right, absolutely. That you shouldn't give up and you shouldn't just kind of make a blanket statement or think it’s not possible. I think a lot of times African American research, we just run into that, because dealing with or getting through slave ancestor research can be difficult, but it is part of our history, it is part of our American history and its part of who we are. So I just really hope, and I hope people see that from the show that we can just find these records and we can help people discover their ancestors.
Fisher: Well, talk about that, Kenyatta. Have you gone through that experience of finding slave families in your lines, and then where did the records come from that you found?
Kenyatta: Yeah. So I had two experiences. One was with my third great grandfather, Louis Carter. I actually looked at a Freedmen's Bureau contract in Virginia. So when I look at a D.C. area, I lived about fifty miles away from Culpeper County, which is where my ancestors are from, part are from Madison. And I was able to find a sharecropping agreement he had with a Doctor Taylor Culpeper or in Madison, and that led me to other records during slavery related to him and his family.
Fisher: Now, the Doctor Taylor, was he a slaveholder previously?
Kenyatta: He was, yes. He was the owner of my third great grandfather.
Fisher: Okay. That just sounds so strange to me. [Laughs]
Kenyatta: It does.
Fisher: Those words. [Laughs]
Kenyatta: It does you know, but I think that's one of the things about being an attorney, and I talk about this often, and people who know lawyers understand it. One of the things that we're taught in law school is we are taught to remove emotion from a situation. And I think one of the ways that I'm able to do the research that I do is that I do it because I know it’s important. And I know, therefore I can get through it. I'm not helping someone uncover their ancestors or teaching them how to do so.
Kenyatta: That's how I get through the research. And I think it’s really important research to do, you know?
Kenyatta: When doing African American research, there's really two avenues you take in finding the slaveholding families. There is the sort of very common surname like Berry or Carter or the unusual surnames, because most slaves did not take the name of their last owner. They could have taken the name of a previous owner or a family member or just pick one out of the blue, because they didn't have surnames as slaves. So, you can't necessarily say, "Oh, my ancestors were owned by the Berry family." But if there's unusual surname, then more than likely, it is related to a slaveholding family. I had that happen on my paternal side with a family member, and I was actually able to connect with the white descendants of the slaveholder. They were able to verify that this second great grandfather, his second or third, that his owner was actually his father and a white descendant said that. They sent me a photo and like, "Oh yeah, he looks just like him."
Kenyatta: Which never really happens, I mean, I think I had one of the better experiences.
Fisher: It sounds like it.
Kenyatta: But it’s pretty interesting.
Fisher: How was their reaction to you approaching them?
Kenyatta: Oh, they were very open to it! They were very excited about it, and they shared the photos, the family stories, they talked a lot about stuff, and you know, we emailed back and forth for a couple of months. So they were very, very open. I mean, like I said, it was probably one of the better reactions you could have to that situation, because I don't think everyone will get that reaction.
Fisher: No, I would imagine not. It’s kind of like approaching a birth parent, in an adoption situation, right?
Fisher: I mean you just don't know where it’s going to be. I've often told people that I've can help, and tell them "Look, you know, we've got numbers, and we've got relative's names here. You can call these people, but just remember you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. You've got to be able to know that you might have to deal with rejection. Are you prepared to do that?"
Kenyatta: Um, hmm, absolutely, I often tell people, "You never know what you're going to find when you start digging through your family history." right?
Fisher: Yes. Let me ask you, how many people in the African American community now, are researching? Are you finding it comparable to the rest of the population at large?
Kenyatta: I don't think it’s comparable. I think there're a lot more people researching than when I started. I still think there is that misconception about not being able to find the records and also, people may not want to know. The one thing I do feel is that African American research owes DNA. One of the big things in African American history is always having this connection back to Africa.
Kenyatta: Everyone wants to get back to Africa, right? So with DNA, you're able to have that connection so to speak, I think a lot of people are doing DNA, but not necessarily doing the research to back up the DNA, if that makes sense.
Fisher: Yeah, that's right.
Kenyatta: Yeah, they're just kind of rushing to judge and be like, "Okay, well I got myself back to West Africa." or wherever, and then all of a sudden, "Okay, well this is great! I've done my family history."
Kenyatta: You haven't done anything. But I do feel like that preset bridge, right, to get us back there and to get people feeling like they're connected and DNA has been very interesting. I mean, it’s still evolving.
Fisher: Getting back to the emotional side of this, you said you've been able to insulate yourself from it to some degree, basically, because of your legal background and your legal training. When you've been working with clients and they discover some of these stories, have you actually had to help them work through some of the emotion of that discovery?
Kenyatta: Yes, absolutely. It’s very interesting, because for me, I have to remember to not be so lawyerly, right?
Fisher: Right. [Laughs]
Kenyatta: Have that emotional peace right? Because I'm working with someone and I'm not going to react the same way that I am reacting or they're not living it every day, you know?
Kenyatta: As much as I am constantly watching things about slavery, reading about slavery. People aren't doing this and it’s a very real emotion to see your ancestor listed as property. It is!
Fisher: Yes, of course.
Kenyatta: Just having to have them work through that, and kind of just help them get through that process, it can be challenging, but it’s so important, too.
Fisher: Now these records, they are time machines.
Kenyatta: Um hmm, they are.
Fisher: And the more we pour ourselves into them.
You know, I time travel all the time and I find it fantastic! [Laughs] I love it!
Kenyatta: Absolutely, yeah!
Fisher: But there are times, you find stuff that takes you back up and it’s not so fantastic. It kind of sits with you for days, maybe even weeks.
Kenyatta: Yeah, yeah. It is. I mean, I think when I first started doing research, I remember seeing this probate record and you know, seeing the mother and the child listed as property-- that emotion was so real for me, and it is like, "Wow!" It was just very, very interesting, because I thought, "Okay, this is something that I'm going to have to deal with in my family. And this is something that I'm going to have to help other people deal with." So, as I said, I think it’s very important, but it’s also something we need to do, and I think we can, if we address it and it may help us heal, so to speak.
Fisher: That's right.
Kenyatta: As a nation I mean, because it’s something that we can't sweep under the rug.
Fisher: That’s right. And you know, really, 150 years ago was not that long ago.
Fisher: It’s only like four, five generations, that's it!
Kenyatta: That's it. I know. Sometimes it’s kind of mindboggling to see. It's like "wow!"
Fisher: Yeah, not that long. Kenyatta Berry, she's from the Genealogy Road Show. You can catch her on hopefully a third season coming up here soon.
Kenyatta: Hopefully, yeah. Fingers crossed.
Fisher: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us on the show. And hope to have you back again sometime.
Kenyatta: I would love it! Thank you so much for having me.
Segment 4 Episode 88
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority. Hi, Tommy, how are you?
Tom: Super duper. Thank you.
Fisher: All right. We're moving into warm weather, this means things when it comes to preservation, doesn't it?
Tom: Absolutely. Some of the worst things you can do whether you have vinyl, audio tapes, video tapes, photos, anything, is heat.
Fisher: Oh boy.
Tom: Leave them in the attic, leave them in the garage, it's just really, really bad. This is again what we call "Preventative Maintenance." Go over to grandma and grandpa's house, go over to your parents' house and rummage through their attic and anything that is like in an analogue form like photos, slides, negatives, VHS tapes, video tapes of any kind, audio cassettes, film, anything, get it out of the attic.
Fisher: Right. Now if it's in there and it's been there for years, you might already have a lot of problems, but it is salvageable, yes?
Tom: Generally. And the thing is this could be the year that pushes it over the edge.
Fisher: That's right. That's right.
Tom: And we don't know that, so don't take the chance. We have people bring in 60mm film to us quite often that have gotten so hot and cold temperatures it's been through that it's actually wavy. And sometimes it's kind of... I guess the best way to put it is "Shrunk in size."
Tom: --- and so it can't go through a normal projector anymore because the holes don't line up. So what we can do is we have a belt machine that we can transfer it on, it's more expensive to do it that way because it's a lot more labor intensive, and sometimes it is so bad you can't even do anything. In fact, the test I give them is called the “Vinegar Test.” Open up the top of the can and if you smell vinegar you need to get that thing transferred ASAP, or you might put it in a beautiful cool area, but just sitting there in this state could make it just turn into dust.
Fisher: Wow! All right, and most people do have something in their attic.
Tom: Oh, absolutely.
Fisher: Or in a warm place. But there's also that concern about being in a closet with a wall that goes outside, especially if you're in an exceptionally hot place like in the South West, or even in just the South in general.
Tom: Oh yeah, external walls are really, really notorious for that. Another thing we talked about a few years ago is we had a customer that came in once that brought in some film. He had about 10 reels of film and he brought them in, hadn't even opened them, just brought them in and said, "Hey, I want to get these things transferred." The first thing we opened it was just dust. It had just totally turned into dust.
Tom: The next one, it hadn't gone to dust, but it smelled real bad vinegary and was starting to break down.
Tom: But as we got further down they were fine. So we asked him, you know, where was this stored? He said, "Oh, it was just in my closet." And I say, "By any chance is there a heating duct above your closet?" And he goes, "Well, yeah, but there's no vent in there." I say, "Well, the heat from the duct itself, getting hot and cold and hot and cold, because it's extreme, it's not like it's in the middle of the room where it's going to, you know, gradually get there. That heat going through that duct, and so the top one basically took the brunt of it, and as it got down further and further, it's more insulated."
Fisher: Isn't that interesting? So the top ones protected the bottom ones?
Fisher: But took the bullet for them. [Laughs]
Tom: [Laugh] Right, yeah. Took the bullet for them, and if you have my kind of luck, the most important ones weren’t the ones on top.
Fisher: Weren’t the ones on top, yeah. [Laughs]
Tom: So you always want to be careful there's not a duct going above or below. You know, sometimes they have heat returns and heat exhausts and stuff on the outside of your house, but the ducting is inside. So if you have your stuff even down on the floor up against a wall, if there's a duct going down there, there's an external, like a dryer vent or anything like that, you're going to ruin them.
Fisher: You know it's terrible that we really have to spend so much time talking about preservation in the context of fear.
Tom: Oh yeah.
Fisher: [Laughs] you know, that's really what it's about. Is it in the right closet? Is it attic? Is it warm? Is it hot? Is it too cold? All these things kind of start to tally in your mind, and you go, "You know, it really is a matter of urgency" and you might be the only person in your generation who's ever going to do anything about this to salvage this material.
Tom: Usually, when we get into our later years is, when we really get interested in this kind of stuff. When we're young, sometimes we don't care, even though younger and younger people are really getting into the preservation deal. But you've got to be proactive. Don't just assume that everything's going to be fine. You want to check it out. Because it's not like, oh you're scared of going over the speed limit because you're going to get a ticket. If you get a ticket it costs you 100 bucks, 200 bucks. If you ruin your film and your photos and stuff, you may not get them back. So in the next segment let's talk a little bit more about how we can preserve these.
Fisher: All right. We'll get to that in 3 minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 88
Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: All right, we are back in the final segment, Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, our Preservation Authority, is here. I am Fisher, the Radio Roots Sleuth and we’re talking about the problems that the warmer weather brings on for preservation. Especially if you, your parents, your grandparents have been keeping stuff in the attic or in a closet that might receive a lot of heat maybe through vents and Tom, let’s just start with the assumption that you’ve got damaged goods now, what can people do to restore some of these things?
Tom: Okay, the best thing you want to do is go through all your stuff like we talked about several weeks ago, and you want to have a room where all your funky stuff is, so to speak. Then when you work on it, you want to put that on a different spot then when you clean up a little bit more and get it ready for storage you will put it in a third spot. So you don’t get dust from what you got out of your closet and put it with stuff that you’ve taken some time to clean. So first thing that I would do, is go through your film because that usually is the most volatile. Take your film, make sure you dust off all the cans and everything and put them in another box. Then, once you’re done doing the dusting, and then take that box into your second area. Then you want to go through your film and actually look inside the cans. If there’s rubber bands that’s been around them get those out of those.
Fisher: And those usually fall right off. They just break.
Tom: They do and if you run into ones that have become so hot that they’ve actually melted on to the film, just leave them there. Let us work with that.
Tom: Sometimes we can take them off and still get your film. Sometimes it’s shot. But you don’t want to take that kind of a chance ripping them off yourself and damage them where we could have taken them off the proper way. Same thing with negatives, if you have negatives that have been rolled up for a long time, the chance of getting them to lay flat is almost impossible. We see people that get out and string them up, put books on them and stuff and then they crack.
Tom: So we can’t get them in how they supposed to be.
Fisher: Is there a way to take those that have curled, to uncurl them? Is there a proper way? Or is that something you or your people have to do?
Tom: It’s best to bring them in to us. If you want to try doing it yourself you can. Usually the best way to do is take the big rolls and make them smaller. What I usually do is, I take them whether they’re film strips or whatever, and cut them in to sections of about six frames and those are the same kinds you can put in to archive sleeves. If you go and cut them into those six pieces, it’s going to be a lot easier to get those in an area where its cooler and let them cool down and try and get them flat. Some people do the book way, some people do other things, but that’s something you want to have a little bit humidity because it makes the Mylar come back so that it’s a little bit softer. It’s a little more flexible. I’ve even had people go so far as to put them in a water bath and then hang them up, which is okay.
Fisher: Wow, and you’re talking about lengths of film?
Tom: Right, right, lengths of film. This is film like photographs, not 8mm and 60mm film. You don’t want to go cutting that up.
Tom: You want to bring that in to us and let us do that. Otherwise you’re going to have all these one foot sections that are going to be... you know?
Fisher: Yeah, that wouldn’t work. [Laughs]
Tom: Very expensive. We can do it, but it’s not the way to do it.
Fisher: No, very labor intensive.
Tom: Yes. This is more like 35mm film that you’ve taken in your enzymatic or something. In the old days it came in 24 and 36 exposures and you put it back in the cans and they’ve sat there for 20 – 30 years and they’ve been hot and now they’re so tightly wound you can’t get them apart.
Tom: So if you cut those into usually about six sections, so each picture count six, and cut those, then sometimes what you can do is put them in the sleeves and that will make them come out flat just by letting them sit in there. If you have the big long reels, bring them in to us or somebody that’s a photo finisher, because then what we can do is, we can get it wet again and we can hang it up and then put like equivalent to clothes pins on the bottom to kind of stretch it out. And if you do that, as soon as you get it wet you’ve got to put it up because if they touch on each other you’re going to damage your emulsion.
Fisher: And so this is how you’re able to make prints from these negatives ultimately?
Tom: Right. Because if you’re just taking these long things and put a big weight on them and cracked them, they’re not going to sit in our system where we go in and scan them. Because we actually scan the film, whether we’re doing movie film or whether we’re doing individual films, we scan them frame by frame so you don’t want to get them cracked. If you don’t know what you have, bring them to us. Let us help you.
Fisher: All right, thanks so much Tom.
Tom: Thank you.
Fisher: That wraps up the show for this week. Thanks once again for joining us. Thanks to Kenyatta Berry from PBS Genealogy Roadshow for sharing some of her insight in to African American research. Join us again next, take care, and remember, as far as everyone knows, we’re a nice normal family!