Episode 93 - Hear A Guest Who Was Switched At Birth! / Ron Arons on "Black Sheep" Ancestors... Like His!

podcast episode Jun 29, 2015

Fisher and David Allen Lambert open the show with great news about FamilySearch's announcement about the new indexing project for the Freedmen's Bureau records... the largest collection of records of freed slaves.  What does this mean and how many records are involved?   Listen and find out!  Then David shares exciting Independence Day news... free access to some of NEHGS' earliest records from the Great Migration.  How can you look for your ancestors in this great database for free?  David will fill you in.  David also has another great Tech Tip of the week for indexing your own personal records, making it easy even for those of us who aren't very "tech savvy."
In the second segment, Fisher visits with Gene Williams who, at age 19, was informed he had been switched at birth with another boy!  But it wasn't until decades later that Gene went to work to find out how real this information was.  Hear about Gene's journey and how he learned the truth.
Ron Arons of "Mind Maps for Genealogy" then joins Fisher to talk about the discovery of his ancestor in Sing Sing Prison, and all the records connected to it.  Ron will share with you where to research your jail birds and perhaps other "black sheep" ancestors.
Then Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority, answers another listener question about old home movies and syncing up matching audio.  
It's all this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 93

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 93

Fisher: Greetings Genies everywhere! Welcome to Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. I am your congenial host Fisher, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. How would you feel if your grandmother told you, the day before you leave the country for two and a half years, at the age of 19, that you had been switched at birth with someone else? You know, there’s a DNA story to be had in here, and we’ll be talking to the man who at age 65, decided it was time to know if what his grandmother told him was true. I’ll be talking to Gene Williams about his fascinating saga, coming up in about ten minutes. Then, Ron Arons, a man who like many of us learned a family secret from a century ago. It is a story that has changed his life’s course. For many years, he became a speaker and was an advocate for releasing records that will help in learning more about our black sheep ancestors. Of course, our friend Tom Perry from TMPlace.com returns to answer another listeners question about preservation. Before we get into any of that, it’s time to bring in a member of the “Old Guard from Harvard Yard.” Direct from Boston, Massachusetts, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society and American Ancestors, David Allen Lambert!

David: Hello, Fish. How are you this week?

Fisher: Great, David. How are you?

David: Great.  Happy belated Father’s day to you!

Fisher: Thank you, sir and back at you! This has been a huge week in Family Histoire news. What do you have for us?

David: Well, I’ll tell you one of the biggest things that has hit the news is the announcement by FamilySearch in regard to the collaboration with the Smithsonian and other organizations to the release of all these millions of wonderful records of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Fisher: Boy, this is huge! I think for a lot of people who are familiar with the Freedman’s bank records, it’s important for us to understand the difference between them.

David: Right. These are the actual records from the field officers from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and quite a few other locations. These records cover over 1.5 million documents, covering the seven years between the end of the Civil War in 1865 through 1872. I mean just in linear feet alone, it’s over 1,400 feet, and over 1,800 rolls of microfilm. That’s a lot of reading and to think, that we can digitize these records into a million and a half images, and just already it’s almost up to ten percent done.

Fisher: Wow, and they’re thinking it was going to take maybe nine months, but it doesn’t sound it, at this moment.

David: It almost sounds like it would take to the end of the summer if you get some people with some free time. I know I’m going to volunteer in the next couple of weeks, and I hope others do also. It’s such a valuable part of American history and to involve everyone in getting behind this and to start helping with the indexing. These records are going to unlock the ancestry for countless African Americans who are stonewalled generally since the 1870 census, because their ancestors were slaves.

Fisher: Right.

David: Before that we had statistical numbers on our federal census.

Fisher: Right. You know we had Kenyatta Berry on the show not too long ago and she was saying that there are a lot of records back there, but mostly from the plantations and you have to dig into those and it’s a lot of work to get that stuff. But with these Freedmen records coming out now, this is many times what the bank records used to be and it covers all these former slaves. What an amazing thing.

David: It really is, and it’s one of these things that I think is just going to grow with time and just like we’re announcing it now, telling people about it. So get involved and start indexing. What Family Search has done with these collaborations is just amazing. I know at NEHGS we have partnerships with them and had many projects we have worked on together. This is just very, very exciting.

Fisher: It’s great stuff. All right, what else do you have?

David: Well, one of the things I wanted to offer, as I say every week NEHGS and American Ancestors have released a free database. Now you do have to become a free guest member in light of the 4th of July and Independence, we’re releasing all of the Great Migration databases free for a week. That’s over seven thousand names.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Now you know about the Great Migration?

Fisher: Oh absolutely.

David: It covers 1620 to 1640. Everyone who came into New England between 1620 and 1635 is listed in a searchable database. As well as the Great Migration newsletter this was published for over twenty years, and is just a wonderful way to search if you have ancestors that came in to New England that first time from the time of the Pilgrims through the Winthrop Fleet and into the 1630s, your ancestor is there. A lot of the time people are looking for the name of the ship, if it’s a proven record, and Bob Anderson, Robert Charles Anderson the mastermind behind this, one of the fellows of the American Society Genealogists and hopefully one of our guests very shortly, has done yeoman's work putting this together and it continues on. In fact, in the next couple of weeks we’ll have his new book that’s going to cover a bibliography if you will, of the sources for all those who came over from 1620 to 1640. So that’s a new exciting thing to talk about soon.

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs]

David: So again, free and all you have to do is to become a guest member on AmericanAncestors.org. The database will be up from July 1st to July 8th, and becoming a guest member again is free and you’ll get exciting free databases every week.

Fisher: Well what a great way to celebrate the 4th of July.

David: It is, especially if you have a rainy 4th of July which sometimes does happen.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: And the other thing I wanted to talk about is a new technological tip from Dave here called ENIndexer. It stands for “Every name indexer” and it’s a low cost indexer for genealogists to use for family history as well as just a historical society project. What it basically does is, it allows you to pull up a program and index, say a manuscript, or an account book, or a diary your grandmother wrote and you want to index the names. Low cost, it comes in at $74.95 at the retail from any software.com. You can also download a free trial in Windows and Mac. I’ve used it already, I think it’s fascinating. It’s a real easy – if you have limited computer skills. You’ll be surprised how quickly this creates a file that you can just dump right into your work processing program. Dump it at the end you’ve just created an index.

Fisher: All right, and it’s called what again?

David: It’s called ENIndexer, ENINDEXER.

Fisher: We can get this linked on our Facebook page as well?

David: We can. In fact, as I said last episode, all of the website links about the things I’ve talked about, you’ll be able to find on the Extreme Genes Facebook page, the Extreme Genes Twitter, which I highly suggest following, or even on my own, @DLGenealogist as well as American Ancestor’s Twitter and American Ancestor’s Facebook page. 

Fisher: All right, David Allen Lambert thanks for joining us again. Talk to you next week.

David: Talk to you soon.

Fisher: All right and coming up next, he was told he had been switched at birth, when he was 19 years old, perhaps intentionally. He didn’t worry about it for decades, but along came DNA and other digitized information. We’ll talk to Gene Williams about his journey of self discovery in three minutes on America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 2 Episode 93

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Gene Williams

Fisher: Welcome back to Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. You know, in recent weeks we’ve had some incredible stories about birth parents being found and half siblings being located in happy reunions. And then from these stories sometimes we get a little spinoff. Somebody said, “Well, you’ve got to talk to my friend.” And one of those friends is Gene Williams. Gene, how are you? Welcome to the show.

Gene: I’m doing great. Thank you for having me on.

Fisher: You know, there are not a lot of people that I’ve ever spoken to who have come to know that they were switched at birth. You are the first.

Gene: Well, [Laughs] I guess there’s always a first for everything.

Fisher: Let’s go back to the beginning and talk about your life a little bit. When you did you discover that something wasn’t quite right?

Gene: I don’t think I really discovered anything for sure until I was about 19 years old. My mom and dad were divorced when I was just a child, and my mom left dad and me. I knew growing up as a child that I really never looked like dad. We never had much in common. I’m fairly tall, my dad was short. So I just kind of always assumed I looked more like my mom than I did my dad. But she was gone, two years later dad remarried and my step mom became my mom. But when I turned 19 years old, I had a grandmother tell me that when I was born, there were two babies born in the hospital at the same time and somehow they got those babies switched. She also told me, “Don’t worry about it, I got you to the right mother so everything is okay.”

Fisher: Now wait a minute, what does that mean? You know?

Gene: Well, [Laughs] honestly I don’t. She’s long since deceased, and I really at the time didn’t give much thought to it because she said don’t worry about it. Everybody got to the right people and everything’s fine.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gene: So I just continued my life.

Fisher: I guess you did. So from there what happened? I mean you must have been curious about this the moment she said that.

Gene: Well, there’s no question, I was. As I continued to go through school and begin to raise a family etc. etc. Our children, my wife and I have five children, and I told them about what grandma had told me that there had been a baby switch, but we were sent to the right people so I’m not to worry about it.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gene: As our kids got older they finally said to me they said, “Dad you know, maybe once and for all you need to do something and make sure you are who you think you are. If for no other reason than we need to know what our family health history is. If you’re not really who you think you are, say you’re somebody else’s son, we need to know that. We need to know if we have diabetes or cancer or whatever, in our family line and in our genes.”

Fisher: And so you made the decision then?

Gene: Yes, we made a decision and this was much, much later in life. We finally made a decision to maybe look into trying to figure out what we can do to find out if I’m really who I thought I was.

Fisher: Now, what year are we talking about here Gene?

Gene: 2009.

Fisher: Okay. So DNA had just come along pretty much at that point. Did you get into that or did you start going into records first?

Gene: No, we went into DNA. Found out that we could get a kit, needed to find a relative on my father’s side so I could collect DNA from Dad’s side of the family. It happens to be that my doctor is a match. His dad and my dad were brothers, so they said that it would be the perfect person to do the DNA with. We did it, it came back and it said very conclusively, “You are not biologically related.”

Fisher: Oh wow. Did you start finding matches though to people you might be tied to?

Gene: Well no, we didn’t. What we then decide to do was to go to the hospital where I was born and check their records to see. It was a little small country hospital and I thought, “Well this will be easy. We’ll just find out what other babies were born on that day and we’d be able to trace that person.”  And we were told that unfortunately two things, all the records were stored in a basement that had a flood. They were all destroyed.

Fisher: Oh!

Gene: But they also said even if we had those records we could not give you any information because of what is known as “hit and lost” they won’t allow that.

Fisher: Right.

Gene: So we were very discouraged. How were we ever going to find out who we are? Well let’s go to the newspaper. They’ll probably have some announcement.

Fisher: Of course.

Gene: We went to that little country newspaper, it’s still printed weekly and they pulled out the newspaper from March of 1944 and we went all through it and could find one baby blessing announced. It was my dad and my mom, the ones who I thought were my parents, but we could not find a second one. There was nothing about a second baby boy being born.

Fisher: Really?

Gene: So we could not trace it through that. Then we went to the county, the county records did not have anything, so my wife and I were very discouraged thinking well we know who we’re not.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gene: We will never know who we are.

Fisher: Wow that had to be just one of those frightening dead end moments where you said “Okay, where to now?” 

Gene: Yeah you know, we were very much discouraged. We knew half of the story. We know we not who we thought we were. I’m not really a Williams. My mom and dad, my cousins, my aunts, my grandparents were not really my family by birth.

Fisher: How did that affect you emotionally as far as your identity went?

Gene: Well, I think I’m pretty well grounded. I was raised by good people and here I am 65 years old, so I thought well it’s not going to be that traumatic on me emotionally, but just psychologically I thought, well it would be really nice to know who my parents are. At that point in my life I figured they’re probably long deceased so I’ll never meet them, but it would be nice to know who they are.

Fisher: Sure, and if you had any siblings or relatives on that side.

Gene: Yep absolutely.

Fisher: And so what happened next?

Gene: Well, I was gone out of the country for about two and a half years from age 19 to about 21 and a half.

Fisher: Okay.

Gene: While I was out of the country I wrote letter back and forth to my girlfriend keeping her abreast of what I was doing and the experiences that I was having. I came home after that two and a half years and married her and we raised our family. And we’ve kept all that correspondence literally for fifty years.

Fisher: Okay.

Gene: So my wife, one night, said, “You know, maybe you wrote and told me that you were puzzled about wanting to find out more and maybe there was something in some of those letters.” So we started going through this box of letters and cards and things that I had gotten while I was out of the country, and I came across a card that was sent to me in November 1963 by the mother of the lady that divorced my dad. Who I thought was my birth mother.

Fisher: Okay.

Gene: So this was my grandma on this lady’s side. And it was a lovely card. And then on the very bottom right hand corner of that card in very small letters she wrote “Inside.” I am sure in November of 1963 I never saw that. I looked at that and thought, “Inside?” 

Fisher: What does that mean?

Gene: I thought “What is she...?” Well I opened that card up completely flat and there on the inside was a card she had written, “Here is the name of the little boy that you were switched with at birth.”

Fisher: Oh!

Gene: She gave me his name, Rodney A Fisher.

Fisher: Rodney Fisher? No relation by the way Gene.

Gene: [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gene: Well at least I have a name of perhaps the person I was switched with.

Fisher: Yes! So what did you do with that?

Gene: Well, my wife and I Googled that name, and sure enough his name came up. He lived still in Idaho where I was born. I finally got enough nerve to call him up. Not sure what I was going to tell him or say to him on the phone.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Gene: Nobody answered. I thought they had just discontinued their landline and gone to a cell phone. So I had to do some research to finally get a cell phone number and was able to make that call eventually and get to meet this young man that I was switched with. We shared stories and pictures back and forth. I met one of his cousins here where I lived, and by showing a picture of the dad that raised me and he said “That’s got to be Rod’s dad.”

Fisher: Yeah.

Gene: Then he said to me “Our extended family have known for years that those babies got switched, but they said there was nothing we could do. Everybody was gone. You had moved away. There was just nothing that could be done.”

Fisher: So the story was already in the other family, so when you called Rod, it was no surprise to him.

Gene: Well, he said it was. He said he was shocked by it. But eventually he and I did DNA and of course it didn’t match, but another brother, his younger brother, he and I did DNA and of course it came back a perfect match. And that told me that I was the son of Allen and Maxine Fisher. Rod did DNA with my cousin the doctor, and it came back a perfect match. So he knew he was really a Williams not a Fisher.

Fisher: Wow!

Gene: And after that all transpired, then he finally said, “You know, I have suspected for many, many years that I wasn’t really a Fisher by birth.

Fisher: And so he had kind of the same experience you did?

Gene: Yes. Other than the fact that he was perfectly content to just leave it alone, not pursue it. That’s the way it is and I’m not going to do anything about it.

Fisher: And so when you came along, how did that affect him and his identity?

Gene: Well, it was an emotional blow for him. It took him several months to come to grips with that. His feeling was “I have no roots. I have no family. The people that I called mom and dad my entire life, my brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles” he said “They are really not my people.” And his people, his actual birth family, mom and dad are long since deceased. This really sent him back quite a while until finally he started to come to grips and all the Fishers wrote to him and said, “Rod, this doesn’t change anything. We still love you. You are still Rod Fisher. You are still part of the family.” So he finally came around and thought, “Well, I haven’t lost a family, I’ve just gained another family.”

Fisher: Yes, exactly.

Gene: And he has met cousins and aunts and uncles. And there’s a happy ending to the story for both of us.

Fisher: Wow Gene, what a journey!

Gene: [Laughs]

Fisher: I’m glad you’ve both come out of it well with happy endings, and you’re enjoying your lives and being part of two families now.

Gene: That’s exactly right. [Laughs]

Fisher: Well Gene, thank you so much for coming on the show!

Gene: You’re very, very welcome. It’s been a pleasure.

Fisher: Unbelievable. [Laughs] We’ll talk black sheep ancestors next with Ron Arons on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 93

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ron Arons

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth, and anybody who's followed this show for a while knows that I have a special love for the black sheep in our families, because of course that makes for great stories and we've got more than our share in my lines and my wife's lines. And I ran into another guy who has at least one great one in his lines, back in New York at the Global Family Reunion that AJ Jacobs put on, he's Ron Arons from Mind Maps for Genealogy, he's on the phone with me right now. Hi Ron, good to have you on the show!

Ron: Great to be here.

Fisher: I heard your talk Ron and I loved it because of the fact it was nice to know that there were others who were running into folks who had kind of stumbled in their journey in life. Yours was in Sing Sing Prison.

Ron: Right. It's one of the most notorious prisons in the country, known for gangsters and really violent criminals. And my great grandfather was in for not such a violent crime.

Fisher: What had he done?

Ron: He was in for bigamy.

Fisher: Bigamy! Okay. [Laughs] And how did you find out about this? Did your family know about it? Had it been passed down the line?

Ron: I think it was a secret my mother took to her grave. I came across it by researching records that you wouldn't expect to find something like this. I found someone by the name of my great grandfather in a U.S. census of 1900 and I thought, "Couldn’t possibly be my guy."

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ron: And I researched it further and I determined it was him.

Fisher: And this kind of took you on a whole new path in your own life.

Ron: It was life changing for sure. I thought of myself as a goody two shoes, and now I understand that I'm 1/8 criminal if you follow the DNA.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ron: It turned me into a speaker, and now I've been giving talks for a solid fifteen years and it has truly changed my life.

Fisher: Did it have any negative impact on your self image to discover that you had an ancestor who had been behind bars?

Ron: No, I thought it was hysterical. And I shared it with my brother and he and I had a really good laugh. I did share it with my aunt who did not know this information, even though her sister, my mother knew this. And she didn't take too well to this news, but I thought it was hysterical.

Fisher: Had she known him?

Ron: She must have known him. She doesn’t remember that much about him. She was much younger than my mother. My mother clearly knew him and my mother took up calligraphy, because my great grandfather criminal had beautiful handwriting and I have many samples of his writing.

Fisher: Well, maybe he should have been a forger.

Ron: He did that too!! That was a good guess.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ron: He actually cooked the books, he was working for a musical instrument company called Gretsch which survives today, but he cooked the books to a sum of $5,000 in 1916, which was a lot of money back then.

Fisher: Wow! Yes. And did he get nailed for that, back behind bars?

Ron: No, but there's a police report about it and a couple of newspaper articles, but nope. If they knew what I knew, they would have arrested him, but somehow he got off.

Fisher: Isn't that funny how almost a century later you can go back and prove things that the police at the time couldn't get to. And this has been kind of fun for you obviously, helping people to find records of their black sheep ancestors. What have you discovered?

Ron: Well, there's just records galore across the country. I even wrote a book which is a reference book showing where different criminal records can be found state by state across the entire United States. So there are just a lot of records, and there's some of the most fascinating colorful records you can find. Some of them have pictures, and some of them have lists of other family members. They're really terrific records and they're worth exploring. And court trial transcripts are also wonderful. You actually get people's very own words. I have the words of my great grandfather who was put up on the stand and he was asked if he married my great grandmother and he said, "I can't recollect. I don't recognize that woman over there in the red dress."

Fisher: And yet you have the marriage record.

Ron: Clearly!

Fisher: [Laughs] How many women did he marry?

Ron: Ultimately, four. And he didn't learn his lesson. He served three years in Sing Sing for bigamy. And then in 1921, he was out of Sing Sing and he married yet another woman while he was still married to my great grandmother. And I just figured that out in the past year. It took maybe twenty years of research to figure that one out, so I'm still learning. He's still the best teacher I've ever had. And the story continues to unfold.

Fisher: Now how is he the best teacher? What do you mean by that?

Ron: It boggles my mind that he wouldn't learn his lesson after he got thrown in jail for bigamy the first time. And he has two World War I draft registration cards. He's actually listed in the 1925 New York State census twice, once with my great grandmother, once with his third wife. So I wouldn't expect that, but he's teaching me.

Fisher: So he's teaching you how not to live.

Ron: Right.

Fisher: [Laughs] Now, you went on and actually approached the state of New York about certain records to try to get them loose which I think is a great idea for all of us. I recently approached the New York Municipal Archives about digitizing their fireman records, and they're now considering that. And it's nice to know what one person can do. Talk about your experience with that.

Ron: So, the New York City Municipal Archives where you went has court cases, and in fact, I have two court cases against my great grandfather, one which is for the bigamy trial where my great grandfather said he didn't recognize the woman in the red dress, my great grandmother. And he got in trouble yet one more time in 1925. Though he was a convicted felon, he wound up being a New York State Income Tax auditor, and he was accused of attempted extortion.

Fisher: [Laughs] Somehow it just seems like that is not the person that should be in that position!

Ron: It's mind boggling.

Fisher: Well, what kind of advice would you give to people when they find out they have a black sheep in terms of, first of all, the emotional side of it, I think the further you're removed from it, the more entertaining it is. I know it is for me, and obviously it is for you. But for people closer to it, maybe people who actually knew the person that might not be as easy for them to deal with. What kind of recommendations would you make in dealing with the family and sharing information like this?

Ron: I totally agree with you, the further away you are from the action, if its several generations, then you can sit back and really enjoy it. If it's closer in generations, you have to be really careful and be considerate of other people's feelings and move accordingly. Searching for the truth is incredibly viable regardless of how close or how far you are from the action. And I finished three year training on what's called “Family Systems Theory” which talks about dynamics through multiple generations. And this is really powerful stuff. And even before I took the training, I understood that by understanding my great grandfather's behavior, it explained events of my childhood, the events that took place at my grandparent's house, that could be explained or understood only by understanding my great grandfather's life. And he died nine years before I was born.

Fisher: So explain that.

Ron: Well, so one day I went to my grandparent's house and teased my grandmother that, should I be a bad boy, she'd have to lock me up in Sing Sing.

Fisher: Oh! [Laughs]

Ron: She pulled me aside and in very stern words said, "Don't you dare use those words in front of your grandfather! That will annoy him very much." Now that story has meaning for me.

Fisher: Yeah, I bet it does, huh. What else did you hear that made you wonder?

Ron: Many times, if my grandmother did something stupid, my grandfather would needle her and yell out the name, "Mina! Minaa! MINA!" And it was this private joke. And even if you did not understand what was going on, it was hysterically funny. So the second wife of my great grandfather was Minnie Ott and if you make a contraction of Minnie Ott, you get Mina.

Fisher: Mina, yes.

Ron: So basically I believe my grandfather was telling my grandmother, "If you don't get your life together grandma, there's a woman out there named Mina I'm going to fool around with."

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ron: He would chuckle under his breath and my grandmother would get really indignant. It was this trick that played itself out over and over again, and it was hysterically funny. But now it has meaning for me.

Fisher: Sure. And the aunt that you mentioned earlier in our conversation had probably started to make sense of it herself, as well.

Ron: Absolutely. I've been joking about for years that this is extended psychotherapy that these are things that my therapist in Berkeley cannot explain to me, but it’s truly powerful stuff and it will help you understand who you are by understanding the activities of your ancestors.

Fisher: And that's a positive way to spin it too, because obviously we can learn from the good things our people did, the courage that many of them exhibited when they went through difficult times. But we can also learn from the bad choices that people made and understand ourselves a little bit, what temptations we might feel and what pitfalls we have to avoid.

Ron: Absolutely. It explains for me why my grandfather, the son of my great grandfather was a clown. My grandfather had a very sad childhood and he tried to make up for that for his grandchildren. He would put on routines and he would make us laugh, but he was a clown. But he was a very sad clown. I didn't understand until much later.

Fisher: Well Ron, it’s a fascinating journey you've been on with your great grandfather from Sing Sing and some of the things you've learned to share with others about embracing their black sheep. And thanks so much for coming on the show.

Ron: Thanks for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, our Preservation Authority answers another listener question on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 93

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It’s Fisher here with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, our Preservation Authority. How are you, Tom?

Tom: I'm super-duper, thank you.

Fisher: And we've got another great email here from Bruce Allen, and Bruce sent that to [email protected], and he says: "Hi, Tom. I have seven rolls of 16mm color film my dad took in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. The film is on 7 inch reels, one half, one three quarters, the rest mostly full. I also have some 15 and three quarter inch diameter 33 and a third RPM transcription disks. One is the music for one of the rolls of film. Can these be converted? How long might the conversions take? Or is it even possible to convert? Thanks. Bruce."

Tom: Well, Bruce, that's a really good question. Basically what you have, the seven inch reels are 400 feet, if you have four of those it's an hour. Eight of those would be a two hour normal disk, unless you want to go to BluRay because BluRay we can get about 3 and half hours on a disk. Now something like this, especially when you're talking about 16mm, you definitely want to choose high definition. Don't go with center definition. Don't go with anybody that projects your film. You want to go to somebody that actually scans it in high definition. Because what happens is a lot of people when they project this, they're shooting it with a standard camcorder which is 4x3 when your old film is 16x9, like the old movies were. And so what they'll do is they'll chop off the sides, and who knows, Aunt Martha can be over there standing on the side, and she's the one that's important to you and you don't even see her in there, and you didn't even know she was there unless you have a way to look at your old film. So you want to go and make sure you get the high definition.

Fisher: Is this where they do it frame by frame, Tom, as you did with mine?

Tom: Exactly. The same way we did with yours. Another thing is, if this is a very unique film -- you might want to get jpegs as well, because then you will have the photos like you found of your uncle, your brother and your dad.

Fisher: Yes. In fact that's an amazing thing. You can lift out photographs that you might not have anywhere else in stills. But it takes several frames sometimes to find one that would actually work.

Tom: It's a lot of frames, and you want to definitely go to high-def, you want to definitely go to a hard drive, because you figure for your standard films 24 frames per second, every second you're getting 24 pictures, and some people are: "Oh my goodness! That's so many pictures! I'll never be able to even go through it." Well, if you have a good computer like my Mac air, I can scroll through them and it's like watching a movie, and then: "Oh, hey, hey, wait! Wait! There's a picture of me with grandma and grandpa. I didn’t know that existed." And then I start scrolling back and forth and saying: "Wow! There's a picture just like you found where all of us are looking up at the camera, we all have smiles, and nobody’s picture their nose. That's the one I want to print out of.

Fisher: [Laughs] And you can just do a simple screen capture with that.

Tom: Oh, absolutely. Because the neat thing is when we scan or film like that, or anybody that does true scanning, will provide you with jpegs. So you can take those jpegs and go through them. We had a customer come in that made a flip book out of them. They didn't do every frame, they did like every third frame, and they got 50 cards just like a deck of cards and made a flip book. So you can sit there and go through the book and it would look like a motion picture.

Fisher: Like the early 20th century where they would do that for a Nickelodeon, I think. It was much the same way, right?

Tom: Exactly. You put the nickel in, you turn the little thing, and it shows you a little movie, and everything's just on a card. It makes it really, really neat. So what you want to do with your 16mm film is to make sure you go to a hard drive, because definitely you're going to do some editing, because you're going to want to synch it with these recordings you have as well. If it's on a hard drive, it's going to make it a lot easier. So basically what you're going to need to do is you're going to need to combine your audio with your film together, and so then you'll be able to have this thing so it will be in lip sync. It will look wonderful, and it will look better than the original would. In the next segment, we'll go into some more details about exactly how we can do this.

Fisher: Alright. This is interesting stuff, can't wait to get back to it in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 93

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: We love it when you write to us, and especially if you have a question for Tom about preservation. Email him at [email protected]. It's Fisher here with America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes, with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, the Preservation Authority. We're talking about Bruce's email concerning these old color films that his dad had taken back in the late 30s and early 40s, and it includes a 33 and a third RPM transcription disk that I guess syncs up. I have never heard of something like this. Is this how it used to be done, Tom?

Tom: Oh yeah. In fact a lot of people used to have the old film strip machines, and some of them had the audio recordings that were on disks, not like our disk but like a vinyl record type situation.

Fisher: Really, and you play it with the film?

Tom: Exactly. I remember them in high school and it would be the "Ding” sound and
then you change the slide, "Ding" and you would change the slide again.

Fisher: Oh yeah, yeah, I remember that.

Tom: We've had quite a few people bring in old presentations that they did back in the 60’s and 70’s. They're still in the same business and they just want to update the presentations so they're not going in and people are watching this film strip and hearing “Ding! Ding!"

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: So we try and sweeten them up, make them look more like current stuff.

Fisher: But you talk about matching up lips. I mean, lip syncing to a film here? I've never heard of that.

Tom: Oh yeah, you can do it. In fact, I used to do music videos back in the olden days, and we would spend days on lip syncing the video to the audio because they're never recorded together.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: You know, because they make the recording in a studio, it sounds beautiful, they want the recording to sound the same way on MTV, so they go and shoot this video and then they have to lip sync it together. So with a record like this, usually what they did is they had a device when they were filming it, they were also recording the audio at the same time.

Fisher: And this was for home movies?

Tom: Oh yeah... Oh yeah. A lot of people did stuff like that. In movies they had a magress type system where they would record the two and they would encode them so it's easy to edit.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: But in some of these situations they didn't have that ability.

Fisher: Because it was just for home movies?

Tom: Exactly! That's why if you pull out your old 16mm and some Super8, if you can see something looks like a little brown or copper color thing on the side of it-- that means it's got a magnetic strip. Now a lot of times it was actually put right on the film, so then it was okay, unless sometimes the reader and the writer are not in sync so you have to adjust it. In this situation where it's a vinyl record, there's no way they're going to be in perfect sync. So what we have to do is we generally take down the photo, which is off of the film, and we line all those up. So we would lay down the video on track 1, then we would go into the audio that we got off the record on audio track 2 so we have an open track, and then we would go through and see, first off, if there needs to be any editing or any sweetening, because the vinyl might have some really neat sounds on it, but it might have some kind of...

Fisher: Scratches and all that. Sure.

Tom: Yeah. Scratches and undertones that don't sound good, so then we want to sweeten that. Once we get that all sweetened, then we put that on audio track 1, which is going to go with video 1. Then what you do, is you set up these little time marks as you're watching through the lip sync, and as you start seeing it get out of sync you can stop it and then back it up and change the time. That's one neat thing you can do, in Final Cuts Pro, is it will allow you to stretch and shrink the sound. But you don't want to go at the very beginning or the very end and push and pull, because then you're going to have some place that's lined up and some place that it isn't.

Fisher: Wow! That sounds so complicated.

Tom: You know it isn't really complicated. It's very time consuming. So it comes back to the same thing: What's more valuable to you, your time or your cash? If don't have the time to do it but you have some cash, we're happy to do it for you. And so what you want to do is you want to go in and send these little fence marks, so to speak. Then it’s just this audio and just go through it, then by the time you're done with it it's going to sound fabulous just like you had the original, and people are going to think: "Oh wow, they did such a good job back then."

Fisher: Yeah, [Laughs] Great stuff, Tom. Thanks so much to you. And thanks to Bruce for the email. And once again, if you have a question for Tom, send to [email protected]. See you next week.

Tom: We will be here.

Fisher: Well, how do we cram so much stuff into one show? I have no idea. Thanks once again to David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors. Also, to Gene Williams, sharing with us his story of being switched at birth, and how he found his counterpart. Amazing stuff! Listen to the podcast if you missed it. And also to Ron Arons with his advice on discovering your black sheep ancestors and what to do with them, interesting stuff! Remember to spread the word about Extreme Genes. Give us a “like” on our Facebook page. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice normal family!

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