Colleen Fitzpatrick – CSI meets Roots

Kia ora, It’s real different from gidday mate! Thank you for having me, I have spoken for the NZSG before How many of you attended the conference in Wellington last year, a few people have How many of you heard me speak before on my way back? A few, a respectable number. Okay I’m glad to be back so why don’t we get started and I hope to talk to you about one of my favourite subjects which is CSI meets roots, forensic geneology. The way this all got started, up to 2005, I was working for NASA Department of Defense in high resolution laser measurement techniques, and we had a company my partner and I, and we had to close it because the atmosphere was just not right for small companies at that time, so a long story short, I had my first book done about that time, ‘Forensic Genealogy’ and a contract with the publisher, and just as we were disintegrating and the walls were burning around us closing the company, the publisher decided he didn’t want to publish it. So it was done except for the final edit, so my partner who is a very out the box thinker suggested, why don’t we publish it ourselves? So we opened a publishing company, we did ‘Forensic Genealogy’ , the original edition and to our surprise it was a smash. So we went into forensics, and of course when you are a rocket scientist you can’t have a hobby per se, so you can’t just publish a book and retire. You wind up knowing everything on earth about forensics and working with the equivalent of NASA and forensics, you really kind of get into it. So what happened was it was it got a life of its own and now I work with the Armed Forces lab, and cold cases for police, for the military, I have been a part of several holocaust literary fraud exposures, nah, nah, nah, you know. So in the mean time the book has a life of its own and we felt that a couple of years ago, we had to update it, because the DNA part was kind of getting old So we published a revised edition and knowing a lot of people had the original edition we published just the DNA part separately, so if people wanted to get just the DNA updates which is the major part of the updates, you could just buy that separately, so this is still available I ran out of that, so you can order that from me. We have books here for sale and if we run out you can make an order for $5 postage from the US. We hope to get enough that we can put them in one big box, get the special rate for books. So we will fix you up, don’t worry So then subsequently we were asked to write ‘DNA & Genealogy’ by the Family Tree DNA for their big whoop dee do a few years ago, and this is the basics, it doesn’t have the autosomal DNA in it but it tells you pretty much what DNA is, a little bit of the history, about how people figured it out and also to make it really interesting we have these boxes throughout the book on one part of the box, one kind of box is DNA in the news and those boxes talk about cloning, gene therapy stuff like that, that you might hear on the news and you don’t know what it is but it will give you an idea of how it works and how it fits into what DNA is So it gives you a broader idea that it’s the same DNA but it’s just used differently We also have boxes called ‘weird DNA stories’ where something strange came up and it just defied explanation, but when we thought about it it gave us more insight into what DNA is and how it works For example there’s a discussion of chimaeras which are people with two DNAs in their bodies And these people they think were once twins when they were in the womb but the two eggs coalesced and made one person And one of those rare examples was actually a mass murderer in Russia He was a child murderer and he got away with murder for 10 years because the DNA at the scene of the crime did not match the DNA they collected at the police station It turns out it was the same person but he was a chimaera because he had two DNAs in his body So we have plenty of stories – the DNA of Anna Anderson who pretended to be Anastasia DNA of the Iceman, DNA of the cave bear, and they are not really long stories but little boxes that you can always look up more about them but that will kind of whet your interest about how DNA works and what it is, and how it can get weird if you don’t quite understand it We also have this book ‘The dead horse investigation’ and the subject is a poor man sitting in top hat and tails in the middle of an intersection in Sheboygan, Wisconsin This photograph went around the world and it also came to us because we love photography and we analyse old photographs We found out through common sense, just plain common sense, we were able to date this photograph to two individual days in the 1870s when it could have been taken, and that’s based on what’s in the picture What you can find in the senses, lots of different common sense things, not rocket science When we wrote the book we got it down to six days but then someone in an audience in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan say that 10 times fast pointed out there were trees in the back with leaves on them and so that must have eliminated any dates in the winter because it gets very cold in Sheboygan during the winter and the early spring so that eliminated four of our six possibilities and now we have got it down to just two The horse book and the white book you have to put on order because we ran out but I’ll get it to you $5 order The books are $35, the white is $20, $5 for an order shipped from the US it will come to Jan, we will get it to you Anyway, my first talk has three sections One is photography, one is databases – what you can do with records and the one at the end is DNA, and my talks almost never go into websites Websites you can look up what the new databases that Ancestry’s going to be uploading new books, I don’t do all that – I figure you can find that out from other speakers What I talk about is how to take your materials and look at what you already have with new eyes And you will be surprised, there is so much more actually right in front of you that you didn’t notice So I’m trying to encourage people to think differently, look at things differently You’re going to be amazed what you find I start my talks on photography with a pop quiz So I’m going to show you a picture and I’m going to ask you a question about it and I want you to see if you can figure out the answer, if you know the answer Now that being said When I show you the picture, if you know the answer off the top of your head Do not shout it out, whatever you do one of these chairs are equipped with an ejector seat Don’t shout it out, raise your hand if you want to exhibit that you’re the one who figured it out that’s fine, you will get an A+ in the class However do not shout it out Here we go… How long was the exposure needed to take this picture? Can everyone see it? Do we need to turn the lights down? Think about it, have a few seconds. Let me tell you about it During the 1930s and 1940s, our president Franklin Roosevelt instituted the WPA which was a make-work programme to get the economy started after the First World War and into the Second World War So Franklin Roosevelt had quite a number, or part of the make-work he hired a bunch of photographers to go out into the United States and just take pictures of people in their daily lives, daily scenes, very common, common places And if you have heard of Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Eudora Welty these are all American photographers they are well known in the US This picture was taken by a man named Frank Delano. He was actually a Russian immigrant to the United States who became a photographer and he was based in Chicago This picture is of the Chicago rail yards with the beer sign in the back He took numerous pictures of this same scene in day and night under different lighting conditions and with differents trains in and out of the station These are the Chicago rail yards and this is a picture He eventually moved to Puerto Rico and he retired and died down there Anyway this is one of his photographs and the question is How long was the exposure used to take this picture? Raise your hand if you know the answer Great Jan does but I think she’s seen it before All right here I’m going to give you a hint Raise your hand. Oh there’s Jan again I’m going to give you one more hint. Oh there’s another lady in the back, good good good Here’s the last hint you’re going to get It was four or five minutes. Got that everybody? I showed this to a friend, she thought that was a beer bottle or some ornament on the front of the clock No, it’s the hands of the clock are smeared So the exposure was four or five minutes. NOw if you go back to the original picture Everything you needed to know to answer my question was right there in front of you It’s just a question of how you looked at it How many of you noticed the clock? At least noticed the clock? Oh there’s a few Even when I zoomed in and showed you half of it Who saw the clock then? You could see there was a clock. All right all right so I gave you enough rope to hang yourself All right here’s one I’m going to give you several tips on how to look at old pictures What is the best clue to finding the date that this picture could have been taken? I’m going to count to three and I want everyone to say all at one time what they think the clue is One Two Three No its not the hat, most of you said the hat Buttons, no The pin, no Lipstick, no Collar, sorry Sleeves, no Think of the top, that’s a tear in the picture but that’d good because people think it’s a light bulb or something Ok guys, what about the shape? What about the curtain in the back? Where was the picture taken? – [In a booth] Bingo! All right, when was the photo booth invented? 1924 – you can look this up So 1924 it was invented by a Russian immigrant to New York and he had been an itinerant photographer along the Trans-Siberian Railroad So during those long train rides he sketched out his idea for a photo booth and when he came to New York he actually built one And it became all the rage, it was 1924 and all the politicians were going down to get their pictures done All the people from the theatres and all the people in the Wild West And so it became very popular, and the year after that, I think it was 1925 His patent got bought for the equivalent of $10 million So he retired. And the people that bought that invention introduced it to Coney Island, all over the United States all over the world So if this was your grandmother you could research when the first photo booth came to your town and if that grandmother, you’re sure never went to New York the earliest date would be the date the first photo booth got to your town or wherever she lived And if she did go to New York and you think she may have, it’s 1924 The moral of this story is That clothing is only one tool in photograph identification, it’s not a religion, got that? I cannot tell you how many times people come up to me and say ‘What can you tell me about this photograph by the clothing the people are wearing?’ And my answer is probably not too much You can say generalities, you can say an era, you can say a period Sometimes if it’s unique – if there’s a pin or something kind of different about it, you can say something better than that But people wore hand me down clothes, people kept clothing for a long time Even photographers had a wardrobe that their subjects could choose from So the clothing is a general guide. There are some styles like the roaring 20s and the flappers or the bob cut that you can get more information out But in general, clothing developed incrementally. There wasn’t a big bang where something changed and everyone went out a bought it So I want to say that sometimes when you’re daydreaming and you’re driving or you’re sitting somewhere waiting for somebody, you have these stories that come through your mind and one of mine is that I’m at one of these talks and someone comes up to me and there’s a picture of a women sitting in a boat, in like a little rubber boat She’s smiling, she’s wearing something, and in the back there’s this huge ocean liner that’s tipping and going down there’s pandemonium, people are jumping in the water, there’s screams in the background the guys have horror in their faces, there’s the ‘White Star Line’ written on the boat And the person comes to me and says ‘What can you tell me about the date this picture was taken by the clothing the woman was wearing?’ I have that, and I usually say ‘not too much, I’m sorry I cant help you’ So clothing is not the answer. It is a tool and I have come across photographs where it was ‘the thing’ but in general it’s just a tool it’s not a religion Sometimes the best hints to photographs are stuff you can’t see In the 1950s some of the companies that manufactured print paper started doping their paper with fluorescent dye So if you hold snapshots under a black light, like you have for African violets they will glow if they have the fluorescent dye in them This is five pictures from my family collection On the left, that one is taken in 1929 and it’s dead The second one is 1954, that’s my mum at her wedding shower So it’s glowing, it’s brighter than usual, so okay, that’s glowing a little bit The next one is 1957, that’s me and my little cowgirl outfit and it’s glowing The next one is 1965, it’s dead. And the final is 1979 and it’s glowing So the rule of thumb is: if it glows it was taken after the mid 1950s and if it doesn’t glow you can’t tell one way or the other because not all of the papers were doped with the fluorescent dye to make them look whiter Identifying the kind of camera might be able to help you A friend of mine about 10 – 15 years ago gave me a copy of this picture and it’s a picture of nothing, a man, a hat, a dog, a chair, a house, a tree, nothing And in the corner she says there’s a note that says ‘My Grandfather M Noonan’ and she says ‘Can you help me figure out which M Noonan it is?’ I have four in my family, one is Morris Noonan who was born in 1831 and died before the turn of the 20th century The second is Michael, he died about 1900, he was Morris’ brother Maurice Noonan who was still alive at the time, he was born in 1918. And Michael who was born in 1949 he was still living So she said ‘Which one is it?’ Okay First clue is this This picture was taken at home This man is in the privacy of his own home, he’s in his yard, he’s wearing his BVDs with his trousers There is nothing about this that says it was taken in a studio – it’s just a plain home photograph So that tells us that it had to been taken after 1900 because in 1900 that’s when the Brownie camera came on the market Prior to that there were some cameras, they were expensive you needed a little bit of savoir faire to know how to use them But as of 1900 that changed because Kodak came on the market with a Brownie camera. It cost $1 US Which is about equivalent to $20 now And the theme was ‘You push the button, we do the rest’ So what they would do is give you a camera already with film in it You use up the film, you send the camera back in the mail and they develop the pictures and they sent you the developed pictures and the camera together back so you could do another roll They made it real easy So for the first time people could go around taking pictures in their own home this poor guy got a snap of him in his BVDs So that eliminates the first two people So we had Maurice Noonan who was an old man at the time, and Michael who’s a middle aged guy What else can we do? Well I went to the Brownie camera website and I realised that the shape of that picture was indicative of the shape of the negative that took it We assume it hasn’t been cropped and that that negative was the same size as certain kinds of film that would fit in those Brownie cameras So I looked up on the website, I measured the picture and it was 5×4 The actual dimensions don’t matter, it’s just the relative shape and I found out there were five or six film sizes that came with those size negatives There was a variety of Brownie cameras on the market around the turn of the 20th century that used those kinds of film The latest being the No. 4 Pocket Folding camera that was on the market till about 1918 So if you look at our remaining two candidates Oops Neither one Okay now what? Put myself out of business, did I? Actually not quite Because Morris the old man, he kept insisting ‘That’s John Jeremiah, that’s John Jeremiah Noonan, my father’ He said ‘I’m sure about it.’ And so now that we have eliminated everybody We looked at John Jeremiah Noonan. He was born in 1868 So when that camera, the No. 4 Pocket Folding camera was on the market, he’d be in his 40s That man is about in his 40s or 50s, so that made sense And we also figured out that he was wearing a panama hat which came into style about 1908 when our president Teddy Roosevelt came back from the Panama Canal and he came back wearing this hat and it began a big fad. Actually they are not from Panama, they are from Ecuador by the way Panama is only the trade centre. In case that ever comes up on a quiz progamme So we said John Jeremiah Noonan, what’s the deal? We never considered that because his name doesn’t begin with an M And then we realised that my grandfather, M Noonan M Noonan is not the person in the picture, it’s the person that signed that note So now we are pretty sure that that’s John Jeremiah in the picture and we got to figure out which one of his grandchildren wrote the note The kind of photograph can be important This is a daguerreotype that was taken in Bavaria in front of a house of a composer named Max Keller He’s the elderly guy in the front row with his wife next to him The back row from right to left is a Keller daughter, a Keller daughter, a Keller son in law, the family cook and the controversy swirls around the woman in front, next to Mr Keller People say that could be Constanze Mozart, Mozart’s wife If this is true, this is really a find because Constanze lived to be in her 80s She far outlived her famous husband She married again, she married another composer. Mozart died in 1789, Constanze died in the 1840s So after some consideration let’s look at that. Constanze died 1842 so she was alive when the daguerreotype was invented She died, she was crippled with arthritis But also one of the things that bothered people about identifying this woman as Constanze was this That Constanze kept meticulous household notes of her activities and her expenses and nowhere does she mention a trip to Bavaria to meet the composer and his wife the Kellers Now she maybe had written it down, maybe not. She had not seen them in quite some time since her husband died But all of that is circumstantial saying she would had made a note probably of that But it’s negative evidence – just because she didn’t mention it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen We just say it probably didn’t happen because she was the kind of person who would have written it down However there is one very definite reason why this cannot be Constanze Mozart. Any clue? The arthritis? No you really can’t tell, that’s subjective See this is, I think you’re saying these are her two hands, maybe, maybe. But you can’t really tell You can’t really see her hands that well, but that is a good thing to look at She’s wearing a widow’s cap? I don’t know I don’t know, could be, could be something that looks like a widow’s cap She doesn’t look like she’s 80 but I don’t look like I’m 40 either so Well you all ready? Okay, it’s true that the daguerreotype was invented in 1840 But the first outdoor photograph of people was not made until 1842. It was made in England So let’s say this. This is what the problem was You remember the story in grade school where Isaac Newton was holding the glass up to the sun the prism up to the sun, and the colours of the rainbow were on the wall, and he saw that sunlight Well early lenses on early cameras had the same problem Basically an early camera was a pin hole with some film or a glass plate in the back and the light would come in, and the found out to collect more light, to massage it a little bit they put would put a very primitive lens in front and that was made out of the same quartz that Newton used for his prism experiment Well when you do that though, just like Newton found the colours dispersed, you know when it was against the wall early lenses had the same problem – that when sunlight came through you couldn’t get a sharp image on your developing material, your recording material, because the light, the different colours would disperse, they wouldn’t focus all in the same place It’s called chromatic aberration, it’s called dispersion Whatever it was, you would get a fuzzy picture and not that clean sharp picture you wanted The way around that would be to stop, for you photographers, stop the lens down, get the sweet spot But that would raise the exposure time and you had people sitting in the sun you know waiting for their picture to be taken, certainly they wouldn’t be moving around like the Keller family So that it was very impractical However in 1841 a man named Joseph Petzval in Austria developed what’s called a Petzval lens. It was the first lens manufactured by equation and not by trial and error It took him a year, by hand, to calculate the shape of the lens, and another year to actually make it And when he made it, it was a series of four lenses in a package Two lenses had the problem and two lenses subtracted the problem and so when you added them all together it was zero, and all the colours would be focused in the same place and you could get a nice sharp picture in the sun The first time that was used in practise was by Henry Fox Talbot in 1842 in England, so therefore this cannot be Constanze Mozart. That picture was not available during her lifetime Be sure to look at the back I cannot tell you how you how important, how silly this sounds, but how important My dad came to me one day with a picture, a portrait on a mat about this big of a little girl with ponytails holding her huggy rabbit and he said ‘I found this in my attic’ – He was getting ready to sell his house so he had scoured the house for all that stuff you know that hides in your house and he said ‘I found this and I have no idea who it is, but since you take care of the photographs for our family I’ll give it to you’ And I was stunned because it was a picture I had been looking for for 25 years It was a picture my grandmother had showed me of herself when she was three and she had the mumps back in about 1906 And she had shown it to me once or twice and then we lost track of it, and turned out it was in his attic And all of this didn’t matter because I turned it over and her name was written on the back How about that? The first dozen or so pages of the forensic book tell you what you can learn from looking at the back of a photograph This a beautiful example of that This is the Heywood family From Massachusetts in 1893 There’s a friend of mine called John Roberts who lives in New England and he’s a founding member of the ‘History posse’ and they go to antique stores and estate sales and they try to get old pictures that they can reunited with their original families And his crew consists of him, of local historians, local geography people school teachers, anybody who can contribute knowledge pertinent to what’s in that picture This is a picture he found in an antique store of the Heywood family It’s very interesting because on the back is an inscription naming all the people in the photograph and their birth dates Isn’t that nice? I’ll call your attention to the only woman in the picture Catherine Marie Heywood who was born in 1833 The only sister in that family There was something else on the back that was very interesting and that is There was a latent image of a young man Now they way this came about, we think is this In the 1880s there was a kind of photograph called a platinotype and the active element in the photograph was platinum and when platinum comes in contact with paper over a period of time, it will burn itself into the paper it will chemically erode So what had happened was apparently the picture, the original picture of this young man, long lost had been in contact with the back of the mat of the portrait of the Heywood family and over the years, the portrait had burnt itself into the back of the mat So John Roberts had the problem now, the challenge he starts to get interested in this young man, but where can you go with that? He did notice however that the man is doing something Does anyone know what the man was doing when he got his picture taken? Playing an instrument? No, that is not correct, good try Jigsaw puzzle, no Photography? No, good try He’s working at something, he’s doing something His hands are holding this, whatever this is He’s holding something A squeeze box – musical instrument It turned out John Roberts happened to work at the same thing for a dozen years This is a coincidence one of those lucky things we all find I’ll show you a picture of a contemporary guy doing the same thing He a silkscreener, this is the squeegee He’s leaning forward squeezing the ink through the screen And I think there’s a pointer, I want to show you, if this pointer works Anyway he’s got really built up, you see the built up arms, so he’s leaning forward squeegeeing something, he’s silkscreening something. Okay you see that All right back to Catherine Heywood She married a man named John Hodder. Now of course John Roberts researching the family and guess what John Hodder did for a living? He was a silkscreener Look at John Hodder, now look at a picture of the young man People come to me a lot and they say ‘I have a picture of my grandfather and I have a unidentified picture of a younger man, can you tell me if that’s my grandfather or not?’ And I always say ‘I can rule them out’ Pretty much that they’re not the same people but I can’t to a 100% certainty say they are the same becuase it could be a cousin, it could be an uncle it could be the same guy it could also be somebody who’s completely unrelated. I don’t know I thought if you look close enough there are certain clues that allow you to say to a certain degree of probability it’s the same guy So in this case if you have a look at the hairline, you know the two hairlines match more or less They were both silksceeners But also one thing that came to my attention, look at the moustache The young man has a moustache. You see the big black spot under his nose? That’s a moustache And I didn’t see that before, but both of them have a really nice bushy moustache So I told the person, to a high degree of probability, this is John Hodder as a younger man So even though the original is gone John Roberts was able to return not only the portrait of the Heywood family to the descendants but also a picture of John Hodder as a younger man Okay talking about databases I do the same thing with information and data that I do with photographs and I hope though the example I give, you can do the same. You start to look at your records with new eyes And you starting sucking things out of them that you didn’t know where there Pre-internet our challenge was to find facts All of us have had that experience of walking to the family history library or the library up hills both ways in the snow barefoot, right? And in those days you would crank the microfilm, and if you found a birthday, a burial record any kind of record from an ancestor it was a good day right? But nowadays, now that we have the internet finding facts is getting a lot easier. What our challenge is, is to make meaningful information from those facts Database is only a fancy name for a collection of related facts We know births, marriage, deaths, census, city directories. How many haven’t used Trove for newspaper obits? There’s a lot out there. How about coroner’s records? And I want to tell you something about this Coroner’s records, maybe you’ve tried it maybe you didn’t But if you do go back to the family history library, you do work with microfilm or microfiche any kind of set of data like that make sure you look at what’s on the whole microfilm reel. Because I have found while looking up something I’m really looking up something very small, a set of records and I keep cranking the microfilm and I find out there’s a lot more on the microfilm that’s not in the catalogue So in one case I found a set of coroner’s records from 1860s in New Orleans that were real gems And in fact I put a lot of them on the CD in the back of the book so that I could share them quite a few of them I couldn’t put them all in the book but I could put the best in the CD Coroner’s records are an unusual thing to look at if you haven’t thought about it. Police records, coroner’s reports But I want to give you the heads up, there might be stuff there that you don’t know about because it’s not in the catalogue So crank back and front to see if there is anything you don’t know about Another thing is medical records All right I do have, I didn’t include it today but I’ve done a lot of work on hospital records And hospital records are exquisite because hospital records usually when you do census records or other records like that you see a lot of misspellings you see a lot of names that were not written correctly, a lot of ages that are off But hospital records if you can get a hold of them, old ones not recent ones are excellent because when people were admitted to the hospital they were admitted by doctors or an intern who did that every day. Who knew how to spell the local names who knew the accents and who had the intelligence and the education to do things right And in the hospital records I have found for example, let me say this If you go and look online at the family history library catalogue, type in medical records or hospital records and you will find about 2000 hits They have medical records, I’m not sure about New Zealand or Australia I would be absolutely astonished if they didn’t have some, but I do know they have lots of them for the UK, for England, for Scotland, for France They are medical hospital records from different wars, they have hospital records from the Caribbean in Canada, I know that because that’s kind of my area, my domain of research But these records, the ones I have seen are excellent The ones from New Orleans for example, give you the day somebody checked in, they day somebody died or was discharged the ward, the name, the place of birth, the age where they were from before they were in New Orleans how long they had been in New Orleans, their occupation, their marital status, how long they had been sick what they we sick from, and the time they checked into the hospital Also sometimes including a note about a family member that came to collect them or brought them to the hospital or their address So I want to encourage you to go home and research this because it’s a very under-used resource And everytime I talk to some of the heads of Findmypast or Ancestry, they glaze over and they say ‘Yeah we’ll get to that’ But this is a treasure that you really need to check out because it’s worth it, lots of information in there Not recent ones, but ones say from the 1800s maybe, sometimes 1900s That last weird thing or unusual database is: how many of you have done genealogy using eBay or collectible websites? Trade Me, we use eBay you use Trade Me is a good one And I’ve used that because in dating pictures I know in one case there was a ballroom that is in the book and they had pictures on the wall, and it turned out to be liquor ads and in one of them you can enlarge and in the bottom its says Anheuser Busch which is an American Budweiser beer from Milwaukee Wisconsin So when I searched on Anheuser Busch I found this same picture on a set of collectible mugs Because this woman was the red dress Budweiser girl from 1909 and that helped start dating the picture to about 1909-1910 And Budweiser Beer is known every year for having a Budweiser girl, a Budweiser pinup and of course right now they don’t dress like they did in 1910. In fact they don’t wear much of anything But at least this woman was famous in 1909-1910, and that’s using what we call eBay, you would call Trade Me I was able to start dating that picture so dont discount that. Things in pictures, family relics and maybe that information is not right but at least it gives you a starting point The talk about databases that I’m going to tell you about is this This was a marriage certificate of my great great great grandparents Now what happened was, my grandmother lived in the same house for 40 years until 1968 and when she moved she finally cleaned out all her old closets and there was a box in the bottom of one of those closets and we found the key that was hanging in the closet which is a miracle and inside the box she had quite a few things including this marriage certificate of her grandmother’s parents from France signed in 1854 And this was a treasure for me because it was more like a prenup agreement where the two parties were coming into the marriage with various items like furniture and clothing and stuff for the house and the contract outlines what should happen if one of the spouses should die desert, go crazy, get sick, etc And this was very interesting to me because I was in high school at the time and I was studying French so I spent some time with my French teacher going over some of the word I didn’t know and then going home and talking to my grandmother about it for hours, we shared quite a lot of memories over this When she died many years later, I still have this, she gave it to me, she wrote a note ‘For Colleen’ and that came to me So I love this certificate and there’s a number on it and I knew what city this was from It was Reichshoffen in Alsace-Lorraine, so I wrote back to Reichshoffen with the serial number with the date and the names of the people And they wrote back, they sent me the fill in the blank part of the licence with the bride and the groom’s names, their birth dates the names of their parents. The two fathers had died and I got their death dates and how old they were where they were from. The two mothers of the bride and groom were still alive I got their ages, where they were living – this was a bonanza So of course I wrote back to France again with all this information and they sent me more about their parents and I wrote back to France again and they sent me more information, wrote back to France again and this went on for a year or two And finally I requested a death certificate from 1784 – and this is pretty good for doing this in the 1970s I had gotten back to 1780s or something like that – 1784 and I requested the death certificate of this guy in Alsace And when the response came, they had his birth certifcate in it and they had one other item And that was a note written in French that said ‘We have no further information for you, go away’ It sounded pretty nasty in French So okay I got the message. Anyway, life changed. I was finishing school, I had to get a job, I had to move, I had to do this and so I let it go for about 20 Years In the late 1990s when the internet started kicking in, I became aware that there was this new revolution of genealogy and maybe I could do more with this I was no longer living in New Orleans, I’m from New Orleans and when I was living there I didn’t realised this, but in the 1970s when I started this I was actually working with all of the original records being naive I didn’t know that, I didn’t value that But now living in California in the 90s I couldn’t do that anymore and I had to learn about the family history library So I had the family history centre near my house and I went over there and I started looking through what they had in the catalogue and I said you know maybe there’s more to this whole family here maybe I should just check in on that and to my complete astonishment I found out those people had lied Those dogs lied, they just tried to get rid of me Because those records went back 1664, more than 100 years more than they had admitted This is the first page of the baptismal records of Sigolsheim where the Ulmer family traced its ancestry And the first page was filled out in 30 September 1664 How about that? Furthermore, this is the death certificate of my 10th great grandfather He died 25 April – Anzac day, yes! – 1679 And I’ll read it to you, it said ‘The 25th of April died the honourable Mr Michael Ulmer who was at the time of his death without the sacraments provided he was about 77 years old He was frequently called on to be a judge or a councilman, he was a citizen of Sigolsheim and he was buried in the upper cemetery of Kientzheim in 1679′ This was amazing, this is where this family lived. The blue line down the centre is Rhein river Strasbourg is at the top and France is on the left. Germany is on the right. The Rhein cuts them down the middle and that forms the boundary of the two countries Sigolsheim is near Colmer where the red and yellow star is, it’s south of Strasbourg There is now a highway going down from Strasbourg to Sigolsheim Ok this was great so what I did was I started transcribing the records from 1664 trying to find out where the Ulmers married into, who they knew, where their children went. So it’s really funny because I knew my family back from now to several generations, and I knew them forward but I hadn’t quite connected the dots to get the whole story This is what I found out: I thought there would be tons of Ulmers in this town but their was just one family and this amazed me because it’s a common name They had Michael and Anna who were the parents and they had six children: Magdaline, Anthony, Anna, Jacob, Anna Margaret, and Michael Jr But something was very strange. What’s wrong with this picture? Anybody? 50 years between the children? No, there’s 16 years What’s that? What do you mean a tad out? Oh okay did I make a math error? Okay I made a math error, but you’re on the right track Okay, but you’re on the right track, I’m sorry about the math error but I’ll give you a hint – the Ulmers were a farming family What struck me is this – Anna was 31 when she had her first child That’s kind of strange and I asked myself, maybe she had other children but where were they? So I said is there a reason the Ulmers would be refugees to this area Could they have come from somewhere else? And the name was Ulmer which is German so I figured maybe they came from Germany and the women were called Ulmerin, they had a little particle at the end denoting the female version which is suggestive of Germany So I went online and I researched European history and I figured out that if the Ulmers were a refugee family and they brought with them all their children like sixteen and eighteen and younger I calculated when they should have come into town and it was about 1650 So I figured about 1650, what was happening in Europe at that time? – There was a war. – Thirty Years’ War Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia also called the Peace of Exhaustion It was not really one war it was a combination of political and economic squabbles that consumed most of the countries in Europe So I thought maybe the Ulmers were refugees because the Peace of Westphalia took Alsace-Lorraine it was part of Germany and it went to France as part of the treaty, so now it’s not German anymore it’s French So there were huge population upheavals back and forth across the Rhein people moving for political reasons Well I said, ‘How could I establish whether this was true or not?’ I went on a website that allowed you to ask free questions of a historian this was a while back and I asked ‘What would travel be like if these guys were going into France from Germany, for example What would they have done? How would they travel?’ And the historian came back and he said ‘First thing, they wouldn’t be alone. Especially a family with small children because they needed help They would need to be protected, it was very dangerous So probably they were with a group of refugees’ And he said ‘Travelling was very, very slow because you had cattle with you, you had your farm animals you had all kinds of stuff. You had wagons, you had small children So you may not make more than 1 mile a day and furthermore when you got the Rhein you would have to cross by boat and there was a supply and demand still in effect so it was very expensive and they would have to give up a lot of their possessions to get across the river’ So I said that sounds interesting, I said if they came with a group of families then let me look at the other early families in Sigolsheim And I looked at everybody in the village and this is very typical this is an example of the Umbhoffer family and I found, just like the Ulmers There was a mum and a dad, there was like an heir gap of 20 years and then there was three children in that family that came with them And the mother again was kind of old for having children at the time so maybe they left children behind too And then once we got to the grandchildren, the grandchildren were born, the generations kind of smeared and you couldn’t tell from then on So I said isn’t that interesting? And I looked at all of the families in this town and to my complete suprise all those families had those heir gaps And so I figured that the town had to be settled by a refugee party of young families that were parents with young children. There were actually only about two or three people I would consider grandparents at that time – elderly people But the rest for however many people were there, were parents with young children And they all seemed to stand for each other in baptisms and marriages, so you could tell they were kind of close Something else really strange I found out, because as I was transcribing birth, marriage and death trying to connect everybody, I came across the Nagler family And in July of 1674 they lost a 1 year old daughter Okay people lost children all the time back then But on 29 December they lost an 11 year old, the next day they lost a 10 year old, and that same day they lost a 3 year old. Three children in 24 hours 5 January about a week later, they lost a 9 year old. 24 January 3 weeks later, a 6 year old The father died at the end of January, and the mother died at the beginning of February, the next son died in the middle of March, and they only one to survive was their oldest son Christopher who died at 70 years old So I said this is very interesting, I wish I could figure out what happened because there has got to be a story behind this Okay I let it go, I kept it on the hard drive in the back and I just let it go. So anyway I continued and I became very aware of stuff like the number of deaths as I transcribed, the number of deaths that happened in the year that the Naglers died was this year and there were quite a few people that had died The next year not a whole lot of people died because whoever died was probably already gone for a while but was what really kind of bothered me was this this is the birth record and if you’re paying attention there, there about 10 years were there were no live births in that village And that was strange right? Because people study how populations grow where there bacteria or people and you can see that it’s steady growth and then suddenly there a drop out and then when it goes away it picks up where it was left off as if nothing happened And I puzzled over this and did some research, my partner Andy and I discussed it and we think we figured out what happened Any taker on this one? Plague? No War? That’s a good one. That’s one we looked at, no. And while you’re thinking about it, one thing I looked at let me jump into one subject is, childbirth practises Because I researched to see if somehow there was a developing medicine that wasn’t right and suddenly they started doing something that was actually very bad for newborn children And what I found out was during the 1600s there were very few deaths by childbed fever There were deaths, there were a few, but not any kind of extraordinary number And the reason was that, and childbed fever only started to come into play in the late 1600s when women started going to the hospitals to have their babies But typically there would be a poor ward where there were midwives delivering babies and there would be a wealthy area where the rich wives would go and they would be serviced by doctors who did not understand sanitation and hygiene And those doctors would service other wealthy individuals who had things like syphilis and they wouldn’t even think about going and delivering a baby right after that That’s their expertise and that’s where childbed fever started to come into play Because the women were starting to catch the diseases from other people So at that time wealthy women were even begging to go the wards and be helped with midwives like the poor women because the mortality rate was so much lower in the poorer areas than the richer parts of the hospital It wasn’t childbirth practises Okay did the deaths in the 1670s remove the fertile population? It couldn’t have because when it got fixed it went back as if nothing happened All right let me tell you what we think it is Has anyone heard of ergot? Ergot is a fungus on rye and at that time they thought it was part of the grain, they didn’t know it was a fungus and so ergot was known to midwives in the middle ages they gave ergot to women on the verge of delivering their baby to help stop the hemorrhaging during childbirth But if a woman ingests ergot too early in her pregnancy she will have a miscarriage There are three kinds of ergotism. There’s gangrenous, there’s convulsive and there’s hallucinogenic And it’s the original source of LSD So just by noticing that lapse of births I found a village of my ancestors that was on LSD for 10 years That explains a lot, I know A little bit about ergotism because it’s fascinating It was called St Anthony’s Fire because people that ingested they had such pains in their extremities and their hands and feet and these people would go to make a pilgrimage to St Anthony shrine to try and be cured and along the way they would feel better because they weren’t eating the same food and they think they were cured but unfortunately the damage that ergot does to your immune system is permanent and they would come home and resume eating the same food and they would die The second thing, ergot only comes out with hot wet summers followed by cold damp winters Now this is really interesting too there a whole another thing that I read about and the question is, France was just coming out of the ice age at that time. It’s known it was a rye growing region but they had hot wet summers followed by cold damp winters The hot and wet brings out the fungus and the cold and damp in the storage bin changes that into the poisoning that kills people This is also interesting because I had to read about how you reconstruct weather records from 500 to a 1000 years ago How did they know France was coming out of the ice age? Well they used tree rings They used ice cores, they used diaries about when the river froze and when it thawed out When the birds started singing, when certain species of birds started appearing in the area in the diaries They use radioisotopes, all kinds of ways they do this There was a lady called Mary K Matossian who wrote a book ‘Poisons of the Past’ and she did a study of the birth rate in England And she said that when you had hot wet summers followed by cold damp winters, she did a correlation between the weather and the birth rate She found out the birth rate went down in England but only for the under classes the wealthy people, the birth rate stayed the same because wheat was a wealthy man’s diet Rye was a poor man’s diet So when the hot wet summers cold damp winters the birth rate in the under classes went down because they were eating ergot infested grain Also she found that when the textile industry which is the big thing in England at that time when that was doing well the birth rate went up because people could afford to buy wheat And when the textile industry wasn’t doing well and there wasn’t a lot of jobs people went back to eating rye, they couldn’t afford the wheat and that’s when the birth rate went down again So she was pretty sure this was because of ergot Ergot affects young children teens and the elderly If a child is eating boiled food they’re fine, that kills the poison but the minute the child goes on hard food like bread he would be open to ergot And these categories young children, teens, and elderly are the ones with the worst immune systems the less than optimum immune system We know that teenagers eat more carbohydrates per body weight than anybody else so they are affected and of course the elderly because their immune systems are aged So this in a way explains why the birth rate could recover because the people who were less affected were the childbearing early adults that could continue to have children after a while And the most fascinating thing I found out about ergot was it was the cause of the Bubonic Plague Because they went back and reconstructed the weather records from the 1300s when the plague was around hot wet summers followed by cold damp winters – so what was happening was that the rye was infested with ergot, the rats were eating the grain, they were dying of ergotism the fleas were jumping off them and attaching people biting people who had also been eating ergot and didn’t have any immune systems and that almost wiped out Europe Believe it or not it was also the cause of the Salem Witch Trials Hot wet summers followed by cold damp winters and when the people started eating ergot they were ingesting LSD so they were hallucinating and convulsing and the only explanation that people in Salem had was that was witchcraft and they put many people to death We will never know why the Ulmers were spared from the ergot epidemic Maybe something as incidental as having a barn facing the sun kept their grain from infection Perhaps Michael Ulmer was the leader of the convoy the day the group discovered the site where they would build Sigolsheim, and he got the first choice for location of his house Maybe his barn was higher up in the village since heat rises maybe those few degrees of warmth afforded by his higher evaluation made the difference between life and death for his family Or perhaps it was the opposite Maybe he was last in the convoy that day because he broke his ankle or stopped to help deliver a baby so he was forced to take the least desirable property on the edge of town on a hill away from the village stream his misfortune became his family’s salvation Who knows The records left by the immigrants over 300 years ago leave few clues why some families faced tragedy while others were spared What is certain is the Ulmers watched as their neighbour hallucinated themselves to their deaths while their neighbours limbs fell off and while nearly every pregnancy in the village resulted in either a miscarriage or stillbirth for over 10 years Even if someone suspected infected grain as the cause the village had few options for food – it was either hallucinate or starve to death Maybe the Sigolsheimers ignorant of the poison that was systematically killing clusters of villagers believed it was a supernatural power or witchcraft causing the tragedy Yet the Ulmers survived, and their children survived, and their children’s children survived The number of Ulmer descendants 3.5 centuries later is in the thousands Yet no one alive today can tell their story – all we know about their lives is what we can be deduced from the slim volume of church records that has persisted through weather, war, politics and most importantly the passage of time If you are descended from ancestors from Alsace-Lorraine or even Southern Germany in the 1600s you are descended from survivors of multiple ergot epidemics We move on Using DNA this is the third part How do you use DNA what is it good for? Well DNA basically is this You take DNA number one you match it against DNA number two and the question is ‘Do they match or don’t they match?’ That’s all you need to know about DNA. Okay, class dismissed Just kidding So if you’re in the police and you find unidentified remains and you got to figure out whose they are You try and snag a possible relative and if they match, you have one answer and if they don’t match you have to try again Paternity. If a woman tries to find the father of her child, establish the father of her child then she will go out and find candidate fathers and the authorities will compare, and if they can find a candidate that matches they have one answer and if they don’t they have to try again In the third case for ancestry, when you get your DNA tested as a genealogist you go out and match it against possible relatives and if you do find a match you can go forward with that and if you don’t you have to look further for DNA cousins So really the whole process is you take an unknown and you match it against a known and you try to get some answers If there’s a match great, if there’s not try again A frequently asked question I get is ‘My uncle Fred is dead, can I use his envelope, fingernails, toothbrush, hair to get a DNA sample? I have a letter my uncle Fred wrote my mum in the 1950s, can I use it to get Fred’s DNA? He’s gone, he’s the only male that was in my family’ And the answer I give is ‘Probably not’ And there are two issues The first one contamination Because whether it is a letter, or toothbrush, or a lock of hair Somebody else has probably handled it, and that means it’s been contaminated with someone else’s DNA So probably not, you’ll get more than one DNAs and you can’t untangle them The second thing is, DNA breaks down under exposure to heat and humidity, even ambient wise So unless you have that letter or that locket in a freezer for 50 years, probably the DNA has degraded Now furthermore heat and humidity cause bacteria to grow So after a while the bacteria in itself can cause DNA to degrade even further So you may come up with a DNA soup where most of it’s bacteria and the stuff that you want to get is small amounts in that soup So in the end, really the answer is no. These relics really don’t work, even if you did keep that letter in a frezzer probably somebody else has handled it, so it’s going to be expensive and it probably won’t work Oh I got to hurry up? Okay I’m just about done. Okay I swear I’ll hurry up Provenance. I want to say that somebody came to me There was a contractor, a big burly contractor that came to me who wanted to build a house and he built a house for a customer and when he was done the guy couldn’t pay him So the guy offered him a flag and said instead of payment would you take this flag that’s been in my family for a long time And he wanted the money, you know he’s a huge guy But his wife said ‘Take the flag, take the flag If the guy can’t pay you, take the flag. It might be worth something.’ So he took the flag Well they started looking at this flag and it turned out that they found a woodcut of George Washington’s Inauguration and it looked like the same flag in the woodcut So they started wondering if this flag was authentic and they consulted a flag historian that looked at the size of the stripes, the stitching, the material, and so on Found out that, in fact it did seem authentic They tried dye testing and the chemistry of the dye was consistent with the dye from the late 1700s So he came to me and he said ‘What about DNA? Can I try DNA?’ And I explained to his the contamination issues and the enviroment and so on But after some discussion we found that there might be some worth to this discussion Because the man that gave him the flag was named Sy. His father was Hewitt, so he was Sy Hewitt His mother’s maiden name was Young, and of course he had grandparents by those names So after discussion we found out of course, he’s got a Young side of the family and one of Washington’s seamstresses was Rebecca Flowers Young So I said the Young family, that’s interesting So I said ‘If your mother has a brother, then what we can do is look at the Young Flowers family from way back.’ Now you guys are descended from convicts, we take pride in being descended from early politicians, which is really the same thing And many of these genealogies have been worked to the present So I said ‘Why don’t you find if you have a maternal uncle on the Young side of the family? You find a living descendant of Rebecca Flowers Young, a male that can take a DNA test and if they don’t match, it doesn’t mean anything right. It could still be authentic But if they do match, you have some kind of way to support the fact that that flag has been in their family for generations and it could be authentic So in reality, what we did was we wanted to take the pedigree of the Young family and really establish the pedigree of the flag instead

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