Transcript for "Ancestry - with Denys Allen"

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00:00.00
podcomm
Hello I’m Craig Constantine today I’m talking to Denys Allen welcome Denys my pleasure we did a little conversation beforehand as I always do and I think i’m.

00:04.86
Denys Allen
Hi Thanks for having me.

00:16.32
podcomm
I mean we could talk about podcasting. We could talk about Pennsylvania we could talk about then I think I’m more interested in Genealogy because wolf partly because I’ve had this side project thought about making a podcast ride just go around to all the state’s state historians at their state capitals. And like hole up in a hotel room nearby and then just do a bunch of long-form interviews with the state historian we would just like nerd out about all the things that they probably would love to talk about but anyway adjacent to that is the idea of so we’re in Pennsylvania and you and I were talking about how the records are spread out and I was reading a blog post. You had about There’s like a 105 year you know rolling window before they were before the records can even be public made publicly available and I guess I’m interested in you mentioned to me the idea about how history gets written and even how genealogy genealogical research is done. And how I don’t want to say it’s done like from the professional point of view because individual people do it professionally as well. But I’m wondering how you see the difference between me, we call it like grassroots versus top-down type of research and historical work or research for geneile genealogical work. Oh it’s going to be 1 of these episodes. So what do you think um, is the big difference between somebody who’s doing as you are research professionally but individually versus maybe somebody who’s doing it like at a graduate school like what are the big things that they do differently or they you do differently from how they would do it.

01:46.31
Denys Allen
Yeah, this is something I thought a lot about so one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how much genealogy is like a microhistory so you’re really looking at not just the family and what people used to call the pedigree like where you came from.

02:03.50
podcomm
Name.

02:05.21
Denys Allen
Um, but also you’re looking around often in the town that the people lived in and the county that they lived in and who who their friends were where they went to church what they did for work. You know who they married and and all that So um, oftentimes. Particularly the further you go back in time we don’t have as many records on people they didn’t have to have a driver’s license. They didn’t have a birth certificate issued when they were born. Um, many people were.

02:32.85
podcomm
You mentioned if they didn’t have any assets they didn’t have a will So it’s like man’t even know when they died.

02:37.25
Denys Allen
Yeah, they they were landless. They worked as servants they worked as Indentured Labor. And yeah, so um, for folks like that you you need to put them in a community of of people and a Historian often is looking at the records. Of people that are wealthy and famous and own things and trying to tell the tale of those folks. Um, that has well the other part with an Historian too is. Ah, who’s telling the broader history is you know they want to tell a narrative about what it means to be in that time. Period You know what?? what? The the zeitgeist was is another great word whereas a genealogist. You’re really.

03:23.21
podcomm
Ring.

03:28.59
Denys Allen
Trying at at this day and age to really deal with the facts as you see them I mean there’s definitely genealogy. That’s been done where people get swept up in the in the narrative like a historian would um and you know want to be related to ah a mayflower you know.

03:46.87
podcomm
My third cousin to George right.

03:47.31
Denys Allen
Person or a revolutionary war officer or something but you know for for me personally I I pursue the stories of of just everyday folks everyday people that lived in a particular time and place I find them fascinating if I can find a. Ah, court case that they were involved in or some details and a will or landi you know it’s or maybe a business ledger where you know the store that they shaft at and what they bought? Yeah at the corner store and I find stuff like that very very very interesting

04:21.82
podcomm
Have you ever had any success or have you ever tried um to compare that type of we call those microisttories to use your word have you ever tried to compare those micro histories like regionally like um. Western Maryland versus Eastern Maryland or 2 very different places right? or and like West Virginia is kind of like a little bit like Pittsburgh around you know and but it’s very different from the far eastern ends of Pennsylvania so have you ever tried to to just take like 1 microhistory or maybe 1 family’s microhistory and work with another genealogist and.

04:38.84
Denys Allen
He.

04:56.42
podcomm
To try and draw some societal comparisons using those micro histories because like that’s done on the big scale. Oh here’s my you know Northern Irish immigrants the us they do these giant histories and then they compare it to like the migrants happening in the different at like big scales I’m wondering if you’ve done it at the small scale.

05:12.89
Denys Allen
Yeah I I have not but there’s local historical societies in every county and Pennsylvania where people have picked up that charge and done it. Where they’ve tried to tell the tale of the various ethnic groups racial groups religious groups that have come into that area and why they came what they were doing ah who they married you know what foods they ate. You know they’ll tell the whole thing. Um.

05:38.67
podcomm
Um, right.

05:44.31
Denys Allen
And we were talking about that my peers and I the other day of you know who wouldn’t love a little clickable Google map of all the available people researching in one particular town right now like that would be great like are you researching in Pittsburgh me too. Um, which family me too. You know, um I think it would be fun people do collaborate um in every county of Pennsylvania there’s volunteers that run Facebook groups. Um, and if you go onto these Facebook groups. They do 2 things which are outstanding. 1 they ban any other conversation other than genealogy.

06:20.20
podcomm
Um, focus focus right? yeah.

06:21.88
Denys Allen
You can’t talk about anything other than genealogy and 2 they just people just really geeking out on um, local history. So they’re sharing local photos of the town from their personal collection. You know who who was there. Um. People will come on and ask like oh I’m looking for so-and-so so and somebody will say oh I’m like your third or fourth cousin hi and you know people make all kinds of connections on there. Um, so those virtual spaces have been wonderful particularly in our more rural counties. Um, there’s not 1 for Philadelphia though. No one no one. No one has taken up the charge to do Philadelphia but for the rest of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. There’s a yeah local groups where people can really connect. It’s fun.

07:11.90
podcomm
Um I just I’m fascinated by the scale. So I I havent been to all 50 states but I’ve been to probably more than half of the states in the us plus countries overseas and Pennsylvania Pennsylvania’s different like.

07:21.45
Denys Allen
M.

07:27.60
Denys Allen
We are.

07:29.80
podcomm
You know? Well, first of all, it’s wide right? I mean like Texas is enormous. Okay Texas you win but Pennsylvania is just like a sea of woodlands I mean for people who haven’t ever been here. They picture. Maybe they picture a city like Allentown or maybe they picture erie on a lake you know, but they they picture like.

07:47.96
Denys Allen
Man.

07:48.69
podcomm
Developed you picked Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or Harrisburg I’m like no mostly it’s you can’t get here. You can’t get there from here. You have to go like to the left down the valley and then you can either go around where the creek cut through and then it’s all because the appalachians run through and slice us Diagonally everything is divided into valleys and. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on are the counties really very much alike. In other words, you go to you know northern lazern and it’s completely different from lehi like ah is it what is it about the the county boundaries. Do they follow I know some of them follow geography. But like. For people who have no clue at all. Do they follow geography. Do they follow a culture. Do they follow religious boundaries like what you know why do we have 67 counties and how are they divided I don’t know about what happened that’s probably a tall order but you know like what really happens at the line when you go from one to the other.

08:31.22
Denys Allen
What happened yeah yeah sue you’re right about Pennsylvania and that that ah kind of. Ridge the ridges that go across you know from the northeast down to the southwest of the state really affected how the state was developed um, people don’t realize that when people settled ah came over from europe and colonized the southeastern corner. They then went. South to Maryland and Virginia and then back up to get to Pittsburgh that was easier than going straight across. So um, yeah, and that yeah, all the tunnels and bridges. Yeah, they didn’t do those.

09:10.60
podcomm
Um, ah, it’s still hard. How many tunnels are there on the turnpike to drive West It’s crazy. Yeah.

09:20.28
Denys Allen
So um, and then the northern half the top half of the state was really settled by people from Connecticut it was in fact, um, disputed with Connecticut for a long time until just after the state constitution was signed um in the 1780 s

09:34.38
podcomm
And for people who are bad at geography like me. We don’t normally touch Connecticut Connecticut is not a Jason defense.

09:39.57
Denys Allen
We don’t normally touch Connecticut now but Connecticut had a claim on the top half of the state and there was actual wars fought like people shot each other ah for like 50 years ah over land in um, that it was called the panamite wars and um during this. Ah, late 16 hundreds early 1700 so the the county lines are partly geographic for the most part you can see this because they’re very curvy. Um and people from the midwest yeah people from the midwest look at Pennsylvania county lines. They’re like what are you what? why.

10:03.83
podcomm
Um, yes, that’s a river. But they look at our roadmaps. They’re like what do you get come here.

10:19.27
Denys Allen
Yeah, yeah, someone from like Iowa’s like you do lines and straight you don’t make them crooked. What is your problem and they’re following creeks and mountains and things like that. Um some of the lines in the northwestern part of the state are a little straighter. Um.

10:24.90
podcomm
Um, yes.

10:38.89
Denys Allen
But yeah, during the eighteen hundreds counties got chopped up into smaller and smaller smaller bits and a lot of it was Political. You know someone influential would go to the state legislature and petition to have a new county formed and they’d say you know I have enough people Or. Um, the existing population because of resources what they were trying to do at the time whether it was mining or farming or forestry. They would have a population that would be too far from the courthouse because all the all your business was conducted through the courthouse.

11:10.12
podcomm
Right.

11:13.98
Denys Allen
So they would say hey can we form a new county over here and most of the time the state would say yes and then they got to pick the county name and then you could look at each county for how they they named the county. Um, but yeah, but that’s essentially how the counties were formed. There is no ah future.

11:29.80
podcomm
No central planning.

11:32.35
Denys Allen
Yeah, no future planning. There wasn’t a ah hundred year plan or anything like that.

11:34.24
podcomm
I think that’s an interesting point I hadn’t really thought about how and I’m thinking I thinking that I’m thinking Pennsylvania was settled from East Westward in like a ah water you know watercolor wash.

11:50.83
Denys Allen
Mm.

11:50.95
podcomm
Waves of different of different. You know here come the italians here come the irish here come the german um, but I hadn’t really thought about how that would make much more sense for it to have washed in from the different sides like from different directions because it is much easier to enter Pennsylvania from Maryland or from West Virginia

11:54.13
Denys Allen
M.

12:07.50
Denys Allen
Yeah, yeah, if you’ve made the drive and yeah and I do have to make a plug for Pennsylvania’s county courthouses because those were built in the eighteen hundreds almost universally some counties ripped theirs down and rebuilt them. Um at a later time but they’re beautiful.

12:09.30
podcomm
No yeah and.

12:23.95
Denys Allen
So if you if you if you really want to geek out you could drive to every Pennsylvania County Courthouse because they’re just adorable and they’re all unique.

12:28.93
podcomm
Um, do you have an idea roughly how far like the average dimension of a county like my brain’s thinking the county that I’m in is got to be 30 to 40 rty miles across like Lehigh County is not a particularly large county but it’s a. Big you know that’s a big chunk of land and when you made the point about county courthouses I happen to live not that far from the county courthouse but like yeah, where’s the next one Craig you know like you’re doing like the centers in the jigsaw puzzles or the the centers of the population areas in those jigsaw puzzles and. Yeah, if you were had a horse and buggy or you didn’t have a buggy and you just had to walk. It would be a long way to go to like Carbon County’s courthouse or bux county’s courthouse.

13:13.41
Denys Allen
Yeah, you know like ah ah, a person could walk like 10 miles easily in a day like back and forth right? So you wouldn’t and if you traveled by horse you would do you know 12 to 20 so that amount of distance from the courthouse was far enough for most people. Right? So if you think about it like that. Yeah 30 might 30 to forty miles across is about right right? Like no, you’d stay with friends or yeah I mean you you figure it out. Yeah.

13:33.54
podcomm
Yeah, and then and you’re not going to You’re not going to go there conduct your business and then come right back. You need to like go there and yeah, well now. Ah I’m also wondering. Let’s just geek out about Pennsylvania history. Um. So there where I grew up I grew up in a tangent is every square inch of Pennsylvania in a county or do we have any wacky geography where we have pieces of land that aren’t in counties.

14:02.22
Denys Allen
Yeah, we do and you know where the wacky is I mean in in Pennsylvania that’s Philadelphia so.

14:08.84
podcomm
I I was going to say we went top with that little triangle. The little Pennsylvania Delaware Maryland geometry oops is that actually the weird part.

14:16.37
Denys Allen
Yeah, yeah for people that don’t yeah for people that don’t know people in Pennsylvania love to tease Philadelphia it’s always like the outlier I guess people that live around Philadelphia think of themselves as being part of Philly. Yeah, yeah, but as soon as you get? yeah.

14:27.36
podcomm
Yeah, they wish they were in Phil but they can’t afford it I always make a joke that it’s Pence Atucky Pennsylvania is Philadelphia Pittsburgh and the rest of it’s Alabama.

14:38.80
Denys Allen
I Hate that joke I Really hate that joke can I Just tell you it’s just so mean because the people that they call penciltucky are the people that provide all the food.

14:42.49
podcomm
And.

14:50.36
podcomm
Um, actually make all the things of the food all the coal.

14:53.73
Denys Allen
Ah, all the food all the natural resources all the you know I mean through the you know there’s like hardly any crime in the part that they call Pennsylvaniatucky You know you know they provide most of the tax base you know for the state.

15:02.43
podcomm
I mean.

15:09.35
podcomm
That’s a good point.

15:09.82
Denys Allen
It’s just like it’s crazy and they keep calling it I’m like yeah that’s the majority of the state. You know the the state is 30000000 people and you know.

15:13.84
podcomm
Clearly I have hit a nerve that was my other question is how big is it? yeah.

15:20.96
Denys Allen
Yeah, it’s 13000000 people and and ten and a half of them live in like rural like rural to suburban areas. You know most of it is not urban. It’s very frustrating I always want to defend I I will.

15:30.69
podcomm
That was the other thing I was asking right? note this self I’ll stop saying pencil talking.

15:37.78
Denys Allen
Um, down and defend the everyday person over every time. Yeah, you you wanted to geek out on Pennsylvania history you want.

15:40.61
podcomm
In in my defense I didn’t grow up in the urban areas. Um, so yeah, it’s a pot calling the kettle black. Um, what? Um, yeah, and that led me to ask about the any parts of it that aren’t in counties. Um, yeah, my brain’s just going like you know I have like Harrisburg is why is Harrisburg over there. It’s because it’s kind of in the middle but our state legislature and our state um senate like it’s a long way to go I mean even today like if we want to go to.

16:15.61
Denys Allen
Me.

16:19.83
podcomm
The city. It’s not the Allegheny Forest what’s the forest there’s a there’s a yeah national forest north kind of almost to Pittsburgh yeah Bald Eagles up there but almost to pitsburgh. There’s a big nice national Forest whose name escapes me.

16:25.68
Denys Allen
Like Bald Eagle oh yeah

16:34.41
podcomm
It’s a drive it take you like 6 hours to get there by car from where I am because you got to go the wrong way and then you got to go the other wrong way, you get to go around and there’s just so much space. Um has anybody ever tried to subdivide like have we ever had discussions since William Penn about maybe we just cut this thing diagonally over here and the left half can be.

16:39.62
Denys Allen
Yep.

16:54.32
podcomm
Western West Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania to the East.

16:56.23
Denys Allen
Well I I think the way things are going in the Twenty Twenty s we might be able to split this up due to political lines I don’t know I mean um, you know states.

17:02.68
podcomm
I.

17:14.16
Denys Allen
Splitting I guess the last one was Virginia when it. It’s split into West Virginia and Virginia for the civil war right? and West Virginia went to the union and Virginia went to the confederacy so it’s not like it hasn’t been done in the history of the United States but um I don’t. Hey anything goes these days. You know we’re we’re making history every day. So let’s see.

17:36.65
podcomm
Um, yeah, how many good.

17:40.22
Denys Allen
Did you know that Pennsylvania when Pennsylvania was founded William Penn thought it was the end times. Yeah William Penn was a quaker and he took as um, kind of he he felt like at the time.

17:46.42
podcomm
Um, no I didn’t know that I I did.

17:58.99
Denys Allen
We were heading towards the end it was the apocalypse and we were heading towards the period of revelation and I’m like wow William Penn if only if a league be alive now.

18:06.96
podcomm
Yeah, off by a little bit. What did he make did he make particular decisions I don’t I don’t think that would work I would just be like culture shock but were there particular decisions that you think he made you know that that like how did you discover that and what makes you. Say that he was thinking that way or do we want to unpack.

18:25.61
Denys Allen
Oh it’s it was in his yeah it was in his personal writings and everything and it it maybe it influenced his decision for people to be a little more free here than they were in some of the other colonies. So you know William Penn ah was an englishman. And he had lived in Ireland you know he was a Quaker. We all knew that and there were a lot of english colonies that were founded um you know along the eastern seaboard but Pennsylvania was unique in that we allowed. Anyone to practice any religion here from the get-go so there were over 20 religions in Pennsylvania right from the beginning whereas Maryland to the south was a catholic colony and New Jersey to the east was ah pretty much episcopalians. So. and and New York was the dutch right? The dutch reformed mostly although also very cosmopolitan and very ah focused on economics from the very beginning good old New York but Pennsylvania was seen as a haven so we had a lot of people that came here that were very ah.

19:20.27
podcomm
Brain.

19:31.70
Denys Allen
Kind of mystical followers and you know started some very unique yeah that we had the moravians we had the swedenborgians. Um, they’re still around. They’re called the new church Now the brethren the mennonites, the amish the baptists.

19:32.46
podcomm
Um, the moravians and yeah Lutherans there’s there’s a lot.

19:49.42
Denys Allen
Very controversial. Um, we had Jewish people. We had a couple muslims. Not many um of course the quakers and ah yeah, the Lutherans the evancilical Lutherans It just goes on and on it was.

19:49.55
podcomm
Just yeah.

20:06.50
Denys Allen
So for people researching in Pennsylvania you really have to know and it’s hard to determine it. But you have to figure this out like what their religion was because I can tell you they were pretty much only marrying within their own religion for a very long time you didn’t cross you know.

20:18.37
podcomm
Right? right? And then that church would have its own records of of births and deaths and marriages that were performed super interesting I said that each of the church each of the religious.

20:22.43
Denys Allen
Ah, into other religions. Yeah. What? yeah.

20:33.14
podcomm
You know the central organization for the religion would keep its own records and probably still does. Yeah.

20:35.55
Denys Allen
Yeah, oh I forgot about the methodists. Yeah, they wrote up for Maryland.

20:41.67
podcomm
Um, all right? Well I’m watching the time and we’re kind of blowing past 20 minutes so I think as much as we didn’t talk at all about podcasting. Um, what’s the name of your website and the name of your podcast because we mentioned it but we didn’t really go deep on the podcast so give me the names.

20:55.68
Denys Allen
Yeah, so the podcast is your Pennsylvania ancestors. Um, and I interview historians and archivists mostly about Pennsylvania history and where our records are in the genealogy records because we do have things fairly disperse. Ah, for genealogists and the website is p a ancestors and p a’s the short way you say Pennsylvania and a lot of us use it here. Um, but it’s eaancestorsdotcom. Yeah, and yeah, check it out I’d love for you to if anyone’s curious almost ah I want to. Almost everyone in the country has an ancestor in Pennsylvania but we had ah a lot of very prolific germans early on so a lot of people and ah yeah, and Scott’s irish so a lot of people can trace at least 1 ancestor to Pennsylvania and immediately get stuck here like.

21:41.25
podcomm
Um, if you go several generations? Yes, yeah.

21:53.95
podcomm
Um, yeah, moving beyond that right? Yeah, all right? Denys won’t um as I say to everybody. It was a pleasure to get a chance to talk to you and thanks for taking the time today.

21:54.83
Denys Allen
Why can’t I find their records and here I am.

22:04.36
Denys Allen
Oh it’s great to talk to you too. Thanks for inviting me.