Episode 96 - Reunion Prep 101 / Pursuing Lincoln's Mother

podcast episode Jul 18, 2015

This week on Extreme Genes- America's Family History Show, Fisher opens with David Allen Lambert of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  David talks about FamilySearch.org's upcoming "Fuel the Find," an effort to get 100,000 volunteers indexing records for one week in August.  David shares his experience with a direct descendant of a very important figure in American and French history, and has another awesome Tech Tip of the Week.  Plus... if you'd like a FREE house in Italy, perhaps where your ancestors lived, David tells you how you might get one!
Fisher then visits with NEHGS genealogist, Christopher Child who, as a teen, began researching the confusing maternal ancestry of Abraham Lincoln.  (What were YOU doing as a teen?!)  Hear what Christopher learned and all about the journey his research took him on.
Janet Hovorka from FamilyChartMasters.com returns with some unique and fun ideas for getting family of all ages involved in the heritage side of family reunions.  It's that time of year, and some of these things can be done last minute... so don't miss this segment.
Then Tom Perry talks about cheap audio cassettes and how to maximize what still may be left on them.  The Preservation Authority always leaves us with important things to think about!
That's all this week on Extreme Genes- America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 96

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 96

Fisher: Greetings Genies, across the fruited plains! This is Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show, where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. I am Fisher, your congenial host, and we’re going to cover a lot today. On the way, in nine minutes, we’re going to be talking to a man who for years, beginning as a 16 year old, researched the maternal lines of Abraham Lincoln. I mean, I was collecting baseball cards then. Anyway, he’s been the author of some fascinating conclusions about this complicated line, and you will meet Christopher Child, later in the show. He’s got quite a story. And then, Janet Hovorka from FamilyChartMasters.com returns. It’s family reunion season and she has some great fun ideas on how to get kids and old folks alike, to discover and share their heritage. And if you’ve got a reunion coming up soon, don’t worry some of these ideas take no time at all to put together. And of course, Tom Perry, the Preservation Authority, will join us after Janet to tell you a thing or two about your old audio cassettes. There’s family history gold on those things, but there are some things you need to know about them. But before we get to any of that it’s time to find out what’s happening in Family Histoire News, and in the world of genealogy with our friend from Boston, the Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors, David Allen Lambert. Hi, Dave!

David: Hey, Fish, how are you today?

Fisher: I am awesome. This is the beginning of the third year of Extreme Genes.

David: Well, that is Family Histoire News in its own right!

Fisher: You are absolutely right. And we are so glad to have you as part of the show as we move forward into our third year.

David: Yeah, I can remember back when I was just a wee little person talking to you and being interviewed. So I’ve come a long way.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes you have. All right, where do we begin today?

David: Well, I would like to talk about “Fuel the Find” FamilySearch.org has been very much responsible for with the help of their volunteers.

Fisher: Yes.

David: And with the over 1.3 billion records that they have, couldn’t do it by themselves. So on August 7th to14th they are looking to recruit. Again, any people out there that are willing to help index, August 7th to14th, “Fuel the Find” will be looking for a hundred thousand online volunteers!  I know I’m going to sign up.

Fisher: Yes.

David: And spend a little bit of my down time, typing and indexing. Go to FamilySearch.org to find out more. So that’s really, really exciting, and I assume that you’ve probably done some indexing in your spare time.

Fisher: Oh yes, I have! And I tell you what, if you get a hundred thousand volunteers, it does not take much to create millions of new indexed records, which is incredible.

David: Exactly. And we just talked about it, in recent weeks all of the Freedman’s records of the Freedman’s Bureau, that’s going to be amazing to have a lot more volunteers online to help that project push along as well. I’ll tell you, it’s a great time this summer to look at going on family vacations back to where your ancestors come from. Any of your listeners from Sicily might be very interested in this.

Fisher: Okay.

David: I’ve found on the web, that the town of Gangi in Sicily is giving away over three hundred homes!

Fisher: What?! [Laughs]

David: Yeah. Well I guess between the 1890s and 1920s, this small village near Mount Etna, with great views apparently, have all these abandoned homes. Now, keep in mind, if you remember the movie “The Money Pit” from years ago, these could be a little bit of a fixer upper, if you will.

Fisher: Hmm.

David: But these homes are being offered by the community for those to fix it up and help build the economy and help bring this out of sort of a ghost town back to a thriving community. So maybe your ancestors lived there... or you ever dreamed of retiring to Sicily... here’s your chance folks, to own a little fixer upper. Oh, don’t forget all of these links can be found on the Extreme Genes, Twitter, and Facebook pages, and as well as my Twitter page @DLGenealogist or AmericanAncestors.org will no doubt re-tweet it as well. So, another story I want to talk to you about actually ties into somebody that we had as a visitor. On Monday we had Count Gilbert De Lafayette!

Fisher: No!

David: You know the name Lafayette might tie in a little bit to history of the good friend of Washington.

Fisher: Yes.

David: Well, Count Gilbert De Lafayette is the fourth great grandson of the Marquis De Lafayette.

Fisher: How cool is that! And he came by to visit?

David: He came by. He’s an honorary member just like our friend A.J. Jacobs of New York, of NEHGS, and he wanted to research some of his genealogy. So, we pulled out some rare books from our collection, and I gave him a personal tour of some of the 18th and 19th century French genealogical rare books we have. That was a real honor, so that was kind of neat, but I also remembered to tell him that I was a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati.

Fisher: Yes.

David: Now, the Society Cincinnati is interesting. It’s the oldest hereditary military organization in the country. Started back in 1783, founded by the officers of George Washington. And I am delighted to tell you that the free database from NEHGS guest users is the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati database. Now that is only one of fourteen. Can you imagine why there are fourteen?

Fisher: Yeah. The thirteen colonies, of course including Massachusetts, but there had to be one more.

David: Right. And the Marquis De Lafayette was one of them. It’s all the men from France they came over to help us.

Fisher: Really?

David: The 14th Association for the Cincinnati is the French members of the Society of Cincinnati.

Fisher: Ha! So he’s a member?

David: He is. In fact, the medal was designed by the same man who designed Washington and Alphonse. He is the one to decide the eagle medal which is the emblem of the Society of Cincinnati.

Fisher: Fascinating.

David: Now you know everybody takes family out on family field trips for genealogy... “Sneak in here.  We’re gonna go to the mall, but by that cemetery.” Well, one of the questions a lot of people ask is, “Ah! Gosh if I need to sit and calculate in the heat of summer 69 years, 7 months, and 14 days to March 7th 1809...”

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Don’t worry about scratching it down on the back of the pad of paper on your son’s head anymore. Take out your smart phone, go to Google and type in “Gravestone calculator.” This will quickly give you a way to plug in the date of death, the year, month, and day, hit calculate, boom! And for free find out the date of birth and save yourself that frustration, and then move on to the next gravestone.

Fisher: Wow. I love the sound of that.

David: Well, I just put in gravestone calculato. There’s any number of free websites that have that on there, just grab any of the top ones. I don’t have one in particular. They all seemed to work streamline about the same, but it’s great. Hopefully this @DLGenealogist, or Dave Lambert’s Tech Tip will solve a little bit of stress relief when you’re in the cemetery in summer.

Fisher: [Laughs] And I would imagine this would account for leap years and things along these lines.

David: Absolutely. The calculation does it. You don’t have to remember how many days has November, etc, etc.

Fisher: [Laughs] He’s David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors. Talk to you again next week, Dave!

David: Talk to you next week, Fish!

Fisher: All right. And, coming up in three minutes we’ll talk to another genealogist from NEHGS. A man who began searching Abe Lincoln’s mother while he was still in high school. Not Abe, but the researcher! [Laughs] Christopher Child has some fascinating material to share on the maternal line on of our 16th president, next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 96

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Christopher Child

Fisher: And welcome back to America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with another of the genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, a colleague of David Allan Lambert, Christopher Child. Chris welcome to the show. Nice to have you along!

Christopher: Thanks for having me on.

Fisher: And I was very excited because David and I talk a lot off air and he was saying, “Oh you’ve got to talk to Chris Child because he has been researching Abraham Lincoln’s mom.” First of all, where did you get the interest in this to get started on that course?

Christopher: Well, I’ve been interested in presidential genealogy for quite a long time, and what really attracted me to the issue of Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, was the complexity of the project. When I first looked at Gary Roberts’ Ancestors of American presidents in 1995, Lincoln’s mother had five possible sets of parents.

Fisher: Whoa! I had no idea that there was an issue going back that far.

Christopher: Yes, it’s for a variety of reasons, but you know they listed all these different possibilities based on different scholars and genealogists who would work on the problem in the past. So my interest became what could I contribute to this genealogical puzzle? And could I offer any additional ideas? Or, were there some theories out there that didn’t make sense and did some theories make more sense than others?

Fisher: So you’re talking about back in the ‘90s you started on this, and you’ve been doing this continually through the years? Or just off and on?

Christopher: Off and on. I was really seriously involved in this in the late ‘90s, and early 2000s was sort of when I published my article in New England Ancestors magazine in 2003 that summarized the findings that I came up with.

Fisher: And what did you determine? What did you discover?

Christopher: So, one of the big problems is, I mean Lincoln’s mother is born in Virginia in the 1780s and if you’re familiar with southern genealogy, especially for a relatively poor white migrant family, leaves Virginia and goes off to Kentucky and they make their way to Indiana. There’s a great deal of sort of non-record keeping. There’s no record of Nancy Hanks’s birth. One of the only records is Lincoln’s parents’ marriage record. It’s one of the only sort of contemporary records you’ve got. And basically when he became president, then you’ve got a lot of different people who sort of were saying they were related to Lincoln. A lot of these people didn’t exactly know how they were related to Lincoln. So sometimes people made themselves more closely related to Lincoln than they actually were.

Fisher: [Laughs] And that doesn’t happen at all today does it?

Christopher: Yeah. [Laughs] I mean there were people who were probably his second or third cousin that said they were his first cousin and things along that line. A lot of times anyone who was being talked to in say, the 1860s, ‘70s or 1880s was getting their information probably at best, third hand. So it was something that their deceased parents had heard from their deceased grandparents or something along those lines. And Lincoln himself, his mother died when he was nine, and whoever her parents were had been dead for quite a while as well, so he himself was getting this from other people. And he or colleagues of his sort of made some various, ambiguous statements about his mother’s origin.

Fisher: You know, you would never think that somebody as prestigious as Abraham Lincoln himself would not necessarily know much about his maternal lines.

Christopher: Yes. So one of the big statements that is probably the most intriguing as he had a law partner, William Herndon. William Herndon later said that Lincoln told him that his mother was illegitimate and was the child of a Virginian nobleman planter. And Lincoln claimed that all of that person’s qualities were the qualities he had, sort of to differentiate himself from the rest of his relatively poor uneducated family. So whether Lincoln had said that or not, is debatable. This fellow Herndon didn’t always tell the truth about things and Lincoln wasn’t around to confirm or disprove that he said that. But that’s been one of the theories out there, that Lincoln’s mother’s father could have been this sort of noble planter of the area and if so, who could that have been?

Fisher: And that kind of brings up the question then, have any of the Lincoln family descendants done the DNA thing to find out what might be going on over there?

Christopher: Well Lincoln himself has no surviving descendants. The last descendant of Lincoln died in 1985. But we’re going through Lincoln’s mother’s ancestry, so DNA is a possibility but it’s a little more complicated than descendants of Lincoln himself. It could involve descendants of various cousins or proposed cousins, but it hasn’t made its way out there yet.

Fisher: All right. So what did you discover as you went about your investigation? 

Christopher: Sure, so there’s a few different things on whom Nancy’s parents could be. The biggest idea out there is that her mother is a woman named Lucy Hanks. And there’s some idea that she had different parents or what have you, but I generally started with that idea that her mother was Lucy Hanks. The question becomes, was she Lucy Hanks a widow or was she Lucy Hanks, an unmarried woman?

Fisher: Hmm.

Christopher: And Lucy Hanks gets called into a courthouse in Kentucky on charges of fornication in, I think, late 1780s or early 1790s and it’s right before she gets married to a fellow named Henry Sparrow, and they go on to have eight children. So the ultimate question is, was she widow, Lucy Hanks, or the unmarried woman, Lucy Hanks. And there’s definitely this Hanks family that Nancy belongs to, the Joseph Hanks family of Virginia and Kentucky that are sort of all going in the same migration path. But then there’s also the Shipley family of Maryland that is going in the same way. And later in the 1860s and ‘70s you have the descendants of both the Hanks and Shipley families that are sort of making their own statements about how Nancy Hanks Lincoln tied into the family. So my general conclusion based on all this was that I thought that Nancy was likely the legitimate child of Lucy Hanks, and Lucy was originally born a Shipley and she was a widow Hanks, and that her husband, who probably only lived to be about twenty five years old, was one of the elder sons of Joseph Hanks of Virginia and Kentucky. And part of the reason there are no records about him is because he died so young. And in this case we’re only dealing with second and third hand accounts of Lincoln’s grandfather.

Fisher: Wow! And still to this day then we’re really kind of little bit in the midst, aren’t we? When it comes to knowing for sure what his roots were.

Christopher: Yes. The other interesting theory is the idea of the nobleman planter grandfather idea, and that’s based on the idea that Lucy was born a Hanks and her child was by this mystery man of Virginia. And there was a fellow named Paul Van Gogh who wrote an article in the early ‘90s that explored that idea and he came up with the idea that if that was true, who could these Virginia planters be?  And he actually came up with a couple of candidates who were living in the same area as the Joseph Hanks family, one of them being a fellow who was actually a nephew of Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, who were both signers of the Declaration of Independence. So that’s kind of an interesting theory.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Christopher: So one of the reasons I generally don’t count on that theory is, Joseph Hank’s will doesn’t include a daughter Lucy. So that’s one of the reasons I don’t completely fall into that theory. But that’s sort of a theory that could also work. I haven’t found documents that disprove that theory. So those two become – after I evaluated the five different theories – I thought those two ideas were the most promising with the idea that Nancy was the child of James and Lucy to be a little more likely than just Lucy.

Fisher: Fascinating. Now on the father’s side, is the line any clearer?

Christopher: Yes. The clearest part of Lincoln’s family is through his father’s father. There’s also difficulty when researching his father’s mother’s family, which is an avenue I haven’t explored as well. But Lincoln’s father’s father’s mother is the Flowers family, which are Quakers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And those families are fairly well done, and then patriarchally Lincoln goes back to the Lincolns of Hinge, Massachusetts, so that’s his connection to New England. And they go from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania then down to Virginia.

Fisher: You know it’s just hard for me to imagine that at this point in time we don’t know more about him and his lineage and the records relating to his family.

Christopher: Yes. And I think a lot of that does go into the fact that his mother died when he was nine. He had a stepmother. One of the Hanks cousins who he grew up with him was also his step brother-in-law who was a fellow named Dennis Hanks. And he wrote a lot of things that we can show were not true. And the question is was he lying? Or did he just not know? Sometimes if you don’t know the answer you might just make something that makes the most sense to you.

Fisher: Or it’s something you heard along the way and then you just believed that to be the case.

Christopher: Yes. I started doing this research I may have said when I was sixteen years old, and I was actually initially working with a previous Lincoln scholar Dr. Raymond Martin Bell, so the two of us sort of put our heads together. He was ninety years old and I was sixteen.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Christopher: We explored different ideas. He had one theory going in and then I had another theory going in and then we both ended up settling on these other theories that I talked about. So it was a really neat little collaboration where we wrote postcards back and forth and letters from about 1996 ‘til his death in 1999, and we put a lot of things together so he was a scholar who had worked with other Lincoln scholars who were around in the 1870s and ‘80s!

Fisher: No kidding!

Christopher: So a neat little connection back then.

Fisher: That is absolutely incredible. Boy, were you properly mentored.

Christopher: In terms of whether or not James Hanks was the grandfather of Lincoln, one of the people who looked at the document of Lucy Hanks and her fornication trial indicated that he thought right before it said “Lucy Hanks,” it says “D-A-Y Lucy Hanks.” He observed the faint letters ‘W I,’ so that’s another indication that she could have been widow Lucy Hanks, but it’s sort of buying this one person’s testimony from over a hundred years ago that he saw those faint letters on a particular document.

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, isn’t that funny that we can see testimonies from records way back when, and yet sometimes those are tremendous clues that we can go through and verify by other means today. Whereas some other things come along like this that you can’t even see the original document to make that comparison.

Christopher: Yes. So sometimes we’re going on how the person viewed it way back when. And we also follow it up on the whole Shipley family. And once we thought the Shipley family did make sense to belong to Lucy Hanks, we did discover that her father Robert Shipley, we actually did find that he also had gone to Mercer County, Kentucky, which we found some documents in Mercer County court records, and those were documents that no one had found prior to this. So it was sort of making the case that if Lucy was a Shipley by birth, we showed at least who her dad would have been. Robert Shipley had also gone to the same area as his daughter.

Fisher: Amazing stuff. And it sounds like it consumed your youth and then some.

Christopher: Yes.

Fisher: [Laughs] He’s Christopher Child. He is a genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Great stuff Chris. Thank you so much for sharing!

Christopher: All right, thanks Scott.

Fisher: And coming up next, it is family reunion season and that means we’ve got to be ready to share our history! Janet Hovorka joins us in five minutes from FamilyChartMasters.com to talk about how to get ready for those family reunions, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 3 Episode 96

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Janet Hovorka

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth with my good friend, Janet Hovorka from Family Chart Masters, and Janet, it's so great to have you back on the show!

Janet: Thanks. It's good to be back. Good to talk to you again.

Fisher: And what a great time of year it is. Family reunions are coming together for the summer and fall. And I thought we'd spend a little time talking about that, because I think there are a lot of reunions that really miss the boat when it comes to preparing family history related activities and information that can be provided. A lot of it can be done at the last minute, so let's get going. Let's dive in. What have you got?

Janet: Absolutely. You know, the whole point of a family reunion is to share that background that you have, right? And so, in family reunions, those at the water park having picnics together or whatever, those are great things and you can spend time together. But really, the thing that bonds you together is the family history. So it’s just so important to talk about your family history and to make it fun and to make it something that's not just where all the old people sit together and talk about the family history, right? And the kids don't go off and do their other things. You've probably been to that family reunion, right, where the kids are doing something else in the other room or further away?

Fisher: Oh absolutely! And the old folks are telling stories from the ‘20s!

Janet: Exactly. But we want to get the whole family involved in that. And you know, with most families, too, you have so many different personalities and different people that are interested in different things. And how do you bring them together and make them fill that hole and create those bonds? Well, I really think the way to do that is to talk about what you have in common, and that is those ancestors and that history that you have in common. I've talked a bit about how there's nature genealogy and nurture genealogy. And how with nurture genealogy, you know, it's all those things, those neuroses! [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Janet: The hardworking assets or my dad tells joke number twenty three, and everybody knows what joke number twenty three is, right?

Fisher: So all you have to do is say, "Joke twenty three!" and then you laugh. You don't even have to go through it.

Janet: Right, right. But that's something that you share in common, that you celebrate when you get together. And so, it’s essentially important to talk about that family history and that heritage that you have together. And my team and I have been working on some new stuff with family history. We have some new ideas we've been working on with social networking; how to get excited about the family reunion beforehand and then also some fun things to do to get everybody involved once you get going. So, as far preparations go, there's a lot of families connecting better now on social media with Instagram and with Facebook. Some of the things you can get going beforehand with publicity and getting people excited about the family reunion. And one of the funnest things that we came up with recently is playing cousin tag.

Fisher: Really?

Janet: You start a string, you have Facebook or Instagram or wherever your family is and you go in and you tag as many cousins as you can. And then you challenge them to tag more cousins than you did. And then you watch that string either through Instagram or Facebook or even you could do it through Twitter or somewhere like that or Google+. You watch that string and you may find cousins that you're not connected to, right?

Fisher: Interesting, yeah.

Janet: If it’s a little larger family reunion, you watch who your cousins tag and then if there's a few that you don't have, then go friend them and go find them. And you'll end up knowing more people on social networking before you even get to the reunion, right?

Fisher: Boy, that's great!

Janet: And then promise them some kind of a prize. You will be surprised what people will do for a candy bar, right, when they get to a family reunion.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Janet: So promise them some kind of prize. Play cousin tag and see if you can get better connected online as a family, before you even get there. Of course, a lot of people will have set up maybe a family page on Facebook or even a family account on Instagram. And there's of lots of games you can play there. Do a picture captioning contest, kind of like the New York group where you put up some funny picture from your past and see if people can write funny captions and build on it when you get to the family reunion. One of the best ideas too, I think, is to get people ready, especially if you're doing a family reunion of extended family members that maybe don't know each other as well. We just got three others last night with some extended cousins. And my daughter, who is fifteen, she was able to spend some time with a cousin that she doesn't get to see very much, who's just about her same age. And at first they were a little awkward, right, because they don't get to see each other much.

Fisher: Sure.

Janet: But we've got one of the best ways to overcome that too, would be to put together a "get to know you" YouTube channel and challenge each family to do a little five minute YouTube video. It doesn't have to be anything super if you're worried about the privacy of others, it might be about your dog or what your family likes to eat for dinner, what you do on weekends kind of thing. The channel challenge is put up a YouTube video, just a little short video about who they are and what they're like. And encourage the family to go watch each other’s videos before the reunion to kind of get to know each other and to have something to talk about once you see each other at the reunion, right?

Fisher: No, I like that. Yes.

Janet: They sit down, talk to you, just grab a teenager and they’ll play.

Fisher: [Laughs] Isn’t that the truth! You know, the one thing, you mentioned Instagram quite a bit here and I think there're a lot of older people who are not into that quite yet but I think they will find that is a better environment for what we're interested in than even Facebook, because it's very simple, it's just posting photographs.

Janet: Yes. It seems like the younger generation is kind of moving over to Instagram and that they're more interested in Instagram than they are in Facebook, whereas some of us older people are on Facebook. So, it’s a good way to bridge the generations a little bit.

Fisher: I think so. I think that older people will move in that direction in time as well, because it’s a lot less effort. And still, it tells an awful lot when you send a photograph.

Janet: Absolutely, this is such a great medium for family history. You know, if I tell my kids, "Hey, we're going to do some videos about family history." or "We're going to video an interview of somebody." or something like that, they'll go, "Oookay, we're going to do history again!" But if I tell my teenagers, "Hey, we're going to make a YouTube videos about us." whole different scenario, right?

Fisher: Yeah. Yes, the attitude.

Janet: “We’re making a YouTube video” that's a whole different thing. It's just hitting them where they love and making sure that everybody's involved.  Also, for preparations, make sure you're decorating using charts of course, and using photos, decent photos, decorations for tables, you can use family history recipes for your family reunion. Everybody can bring a cookie that grandma made or even cook together if you have the facilities to do that. Maybe your family makes tamales or eggrolls or just chocolate or something and teaches the younger generation how to do that. Those are all some things to set up beforehand.

Fisher: Great idea!

Janet: But then once you get there, there are all sorts of games you can play together as far as...when you get there, to get the generations talking to each other and working together. One of my favorite ideas, one of our users submitted to zap the Grandma Gap blog, was that her family had a story telling contest. And so they asked all of the older to prepare just a two, three minute story, something funny, something interesting, something that happened and then they made the younger generation the judges. And they gave away prizes for the most inspiring, the most outrageous; things like that. My sisters and I just did a twist on that at Mother’s Day. What we did was, we did three true stories and one that's false.

Fisher: Oh, I love it!

Janet: And we had the kids try to decide which one was false and which one was true. That was fun! So we each had to think about one of the most outrages stories we had from our childhood about my mom, so that the kids wouldn't believe it.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Janet: So there were all sorts of things that in each one remembered things a little differently. It was really interesting how even though we all grew up together, we all experienced these things together, and we each remembered it a little differently. And it was so fun to watch my mom as we were playing this game, she was like, "Ooh, I remember that! Yeah, I forgot about that!" And things that had impressed us as children, she didn't really remember. The kids had a great time listening to crazy stories about their grandma. Another thing if you've got younger kids, you could do a story illustrating contest. Someone of the other members of the family tell a story and you have the kids illustrate it. And again, I think everything should be a contest, because that gets everybody excited. But you can award prizes to color coded, the most realistic, and the most detailed. Just because there's presents, it doesn't mean everybody doesn't come away happy, right?

Fisher: Right.

Janet: All right. Well, there's some good ideas for you.

Fisher: And they're just starters, too. And you've probably posted some of these online, yes?

Janet: Some of them are online. They're all in our family reunion books, too.

Fisher: And where could people see this?

Janet: ZapTheGrandmaGap.com, the blog there and then the blog at FamilyChartMasters.com as well.

Fisher: All right. Great stuff Janet Hovorka from Family Chart Masters. Thanks so much for coming on!

Janet: No problem, always great to talk to you!

Fisher: And before we move on to Tom Perry, I want to mention that we've got a lot of new listeners who’ve joined the show recently. And if you are one of those, first of all, welcome aboard. Secondly, we've got a lot of past shows that you can catch up on, with a lot of information and a lot of great stories on our Extreme Genes podcast. You can listen to us through iTunes, iHeart Radio's talk channel, ExtremeGenes.com. You can even download our free Extreme Genes app to your iPhone or your Android. Just search in your phone store for "Extreme Genes" and it'll get you where you need to go. Also, coming up in the next few weeks, I'm excited to tell you that we're going to have a DNA expert join the show on a regular basis. So, if you have questions, be sure to email me at [email protected]. DNA is the most powerful tool out there right now, not only for finding the dead, but for the living as well, as we've learned that last few weeks through our friends who have been searching for birth families. So, great stuff coming up. And on the way in three minutes, Tom Perry is here to talk about preserving those cheap little audio cassettes that have so much family gold. That's next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 96

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: It is preservation time once again at Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, we call him the Preservation Authority. Why does my voice go down when I say "Authority?"

Tom: Maybe it's just something with your royal lineage or something.

Fisher: Possibly so, Tom. Exactly, all right, we're talking about audio cassettes today. And this is because you've just been swamped with these things lately, I understand.

Tom: Oh, it's amazing. We probably had more audio cassettes coming in, in the last six weeks than the last six months, and tons of questions. People are writing to us at [email protected] on cassettes. And there's just so much to talk about. Unfortunately, or fortunately, back in the day when audio cassettes were all the rage you could buy them at like, we had a place called Scags, Walmart, all these places back then, would sell these cassette bag, it had three cassettes in it for a dollar.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: "Oh! That's great! Let me buy these for a dollar because the others are like $1.50 for one." The bad thing is the reason they were only a dollar, they were really, really bad. The best way to tell if you've got a good quality cassette, the first thing you can look at and see if it has screws on it. If they're the kind that are just melted together, they're cheap. And usually if the case is cheap, the tape inside is going to be cheap also.

Fisher: Right, and thinner?

Tom: Oh, oh absolutely. That's why it's so confusing when people would bring in audio cassettes that have no labels, no numbers to say they're a 30, a 60, a 45, a 90 or whatever. And we can't tell by looking at the tape like you can usually on a VHS because of different thicknesses. You look at this tape: "Hmm... Well that could be a 60." And then we go and run it, it's a 120. Because a tape was so thin, which means you're going to get print bleed through which we talked about a few weeks ago.

Fisher: Right. Like that echo.

Tom: Oh, exactly. The echo before the talk which drives you nuts! It's really, really thin, so it breaks easy. Which means it's going to cost a lot of money to fix that cassette. Because what happens when we have those brought into us, we have to basically become a surgeon. So I have to take these and cut them apart with an X-Acto Knife very, very carefully without touching the cassette tape itself. And so once you get it open then you can splice the tape together. We had one that came in about a week ago that we had to fix three times.

Fisher: Wow.

Tom: We opened it up, and I could see where it had broken so I was going to splice it back together, and there was still about two twirls around the reel, I couldn't even get them off of it. It had been exposed to such extreme heat, it had basically melted to the reel and there was no way to get it. And fortunately it wasn't the middle of the tape, it was one of the ends. So hopefully it was at the rear end of it where probably there was nothing anyway. But there's no way to ever salvage that. There's no way to get to any of that. If it's starting to flake, we can do the shake and bake thing which we've talked about before where we can bake your cassette. Don't try that at home.

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Tom: Please don't. And so then we would take this and splice it together the very best we could, because I always go the extra mile to try to preserve as much of the tape as possible. Where a lot of people that have a higher IQ than I do, they just go and cut it where ever it's good and just, they just don't worry about it. Give it back to you in a bag. Give the little pieces. I try to save as much as I can, and we start running it, and it would break again. And after so many tries you just have to give up and go with the other way and find a real good piece and try to splice that together. After the third time we had to end up getting a new reel and splice in to that, which I'll go into in a little bit more detail in the second segment.

Fisher: All right. We're going to get to that in just a few minutes because it sounds like we're all in a lot of trouble with these old audio cassettes.

Tom: Oh, we are.

Fisher: All right. We'll get to that in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 96

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: We are back. Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher here, the Radio Root Sleuth with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. He is our Preservation Authority. And it's like everybody suddenly had the light turn on about audio cassettes and how they're starting to not only fall apart, but melt together and we're losing an awful lot of audio, many times of people who have long since passed. And so this is a very tricky situation right now, Tom. People don't have a lot of time.

Tom: You know, this is a "Do it now" type thing. You need to get these cassettes transferred, whether you want to do it at home on your computer, whether you want to bring them in to us or drop them off at one of our locations, we're happy to do it for you. Now one thing to remember too, audio cassettes take a lot less bandwidth than doing video. So a lot of times you can do audio at home, even if you don't have the world's fastest computer. You can transfer them, preserve them, but somehow get them digitized as soon as you can. And like we say here time after time, make sure you store it at least on a hard drive, burn it on a good Taiyo Yuden disk and store it in the Cloud. So you have three backups to your original. And never ever throw your originals away.

Fisher: Well, that's great advice. Now, what other types of cassettes are out there? We talked about the real thin ones. Are there others that we should be less concerned about that might be a lower priority?

Tom: Well the thing is, if you get good tapes, and I've always been a fan of Sony, Sony usually does a good job with their stuff, look at the cassette, if it's made out of a what seems to be a good quality plastic and has screws in it, it's usually a better quality. And since it's a better quality case, usually the tape inside also is a better quality. We have people bring in hundreds of them. And so if you can't afford to do them all at once, start with your old ones without the screws, get them done. If they come apart we've got to splice them back together. And one thing as a tip, if you start messing around with them and try to fix them yourself, knock yourself out. But if you run into trouble, when you take it into us or somebody else to have them fix it, be honest with them. Tell them that you're an idiot and this is what you did to your cassette.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: Because so many times people bring them in "Oh, hey, this needs to be fixed." And doesn't tell us what the problem is, so we get in and find out all kinds of problems that we didn't expect. Where if they were to say, "Hey, I tried fixing this myself. I lost this. I lost this. I couldn't put it together." Then we know what we're looking at and what we can do, and we can do a better job than maybe actually taking you backwards by trying to fix something and find out it broke again because you weren't honest with us. So if you have somebody fix it, just tell him the truth. Say hey, “You know, I did this, I did this, I couldn't find this, I bent this trying to put it in.” Because then they can go in a fix it because they know what the problem is. So don't hide what the thing is. And if you do it at home, make sure you go online to Amazon or eBay and find a place that's actually a recording company that will sell you splicing tape. They're usually not very expensive but it's rare.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: And get some splicing tape. They usually make the wider kind which is quarter inch, which is for the reel to reel type. And then they have the thinner one which is for audio cassettes. And try working on it yourself. Don't go to the dollar store and buy the three rolls of tape for a dollar and think that's going to work, because it might work right now, but it's going to be really, really bad down the road. And make sure you have in your quiver a good razor blade. Because when you splice the tape, you want to make sure there's no overlay on the two sides, because it's going to ruin your heads, it's going to get caught on things. If somebody has a high end machine it could actually damage their heads or even crack their heads and they're not cheap to replace.

Fisher: And while you're working on this I think you need to listen to some old 70s music.

Tom: [Laughs] Exactly.

Fisher: You know, I mean, I used to do this stuff all the time, obviously professionally. And I got pretty good at it. They called me Dr Blade.

Tom: [Laughs]

Fisher: Because I could take the 'S' off the end of a word and you couldn't hear the thing jump, but it is very difficult and something you might need to practice on some cassettes that you don't care as much about.

Tom: That is absolutely wonderful advice. In fact if you have an old cassette that's never been used that's brand new, you're never going to use it, get that out and mess around with it. Splice it. Do some different things to it. And then like Fish says, make sure you know what you're doing before you get into Aunt Martha's funeral where you can't fix it. If you're having problems figuring out how to do it, give us a call, write to us at [email protected] and we'll get back to you just as soon as we can.

Fisher: All right. Great advice, Tom, thanks so much for joining us! That wraps up the show for this week. Thanks once again to Christopher Child, Genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, for talking to us about his incredible research into Abraham Lincoln's mom. And to Janet Hovorka from FamilyChartMasters.com, giving us some ideas about how to get ready for those family reunions, talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice normal family!

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

Email me new episodes