Millennium 2000: GenealogyAired January 2, 2000 - 7:00 a.m. ET
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COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: A new millennium and a new Russian president in power. Can he win a war that has kept his troops in battle for months?
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: A major Y2K upgrade pays off but more tests lie ahead this week.
MCEDWARDS: And India's new hero vows to flag in after a week long hijacking drama.
HARRIS: Hello from the CNN Center in Atlanta. I'm Leon Harris.
MCEDWARDS: And I'm Colleen McEdwards. Our special millennium coverage this hour includes a discussion on genealogy and some new ways you can trace your roots. That's coming up in just a few minutes.
We begin, though, in Russia where a new millennium also brings a new political era. Vladimir Putin is taking charge after military unexpectedly resigned Friday. One of the biggest challenges facing the new acting president remains the bitter war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
CNN's Alessio Vinci joins us now live from Moscow with more. Alessio?
ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Colleen, two days after taking the helm of the Russian Federation, acting President Vladimir Putin is primarily dealing with the war in Chechnya. Mr. Putin has made it no secret that he intends to keep the Russian, the Chechnya war in Chechnya very on top of his presidential agenda. On Saturday, his first day as the Russian, as the head of the Russian military forces, Mr. Putin flew to Chechnya and made a surprise trip to Chechnya and he met with soldiers there. He praised the military for their work against what Putin calls Islamic terrorists.
Mr. Putin said that he had no intention of hastily ending the military campaign in Chechnya and that he would let military commanders determine when to end the offensive, meaning that it will be up to the commanders in the field to handle the strategy for winning the war.
He told soldiers something that many Russians today like to hear, that is that the war is not only about restoring dignity and national pride but also about keeping the country together and avoid the backup of the Russian Federation. The war has so far been presented to the Russian public as a successful military operation and putting tough stance on the Chechen militants has given him a big popular support. Mr. Putin is the most popular politician today in Russia.
This is the kind of support Mr. Putin will need all the way until early presidential elections are scheduled at the end of March. Mr. Putin is, of course, the leading candidate. If the situation remains as it is now, this popular support, if he can keep the popular support all the way to March he is expected to win those elections.
Now, in order to win those elections, of course, he needs to keep the number of soldiers killed in Chechnya to a minimum.
I am Alessio Vinci reporting live from Moscow.
HARRIS: All right, thank you, Alessio.
President Clinton, meanwhile, is promising to work closely with Vladimir Putin and for more on what the changes in Moscow mean for the U.S.-Russian relationship, CNN's Kelly Wallace joins us now live from the White House this morning. Kelly?
KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Leon.
President Clinton began the new year with a call to Russia's acting president. According to the White House, Mr. Clinton told Mr. Putin that he was encouraged by the smooth transition of power and that he found that encouraging for democracy in Russia. Mr. Clinton also told Mr. Putin that the U.S. had some differences with Russia, in particular over the military campaign in Chechnya, but that the two countries had much in common.
Mr. Putin, for his part, told Mr. Clinton that while they have some disagreements, they always come together on "the core points." Mr. Putin also reaffirmed his commitment to democracy.
Now, the two leaders have met briefly two times over the past several months, including a short meeting in September in New Zealand at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference meeting. And so while Mr. Putin is not a stranger to this administration, U.S. officials admit they don't know him that well, certainly not as well as Boris Yeltsin. And one senior administration official tells us that Mr. Putin is a bit hard to read and this official says that the real test will come over the next three months, before the presidential election, to see how committed Mr. Putin is to democracy.
HARRIS: Well, Kelly, on another note, coming up this week the peace talks between Israel and Syria get underway. What is happening there at the White House to prepare for that?
KOCH: Well, that's right. President Clinton will be going to Shepherdstown, West Virginia tomorrow. That will be the site for this second round of peace talks between Israel and Syria. We are told Mr. Clinton will spend the whole day tomorrow in West Virginia and he is prepared to go back as needed. But U.S. officials caution us against expecting a resolution during these talks. They say a lot of work is ahead and so we should not expect any major agreement during this second round.
HARRIS: Kelly Wallace at the White House this morning. Colleen?
MCEDWARDS: Thanks, Leon.
So far so good, that's the assessment from officials keeping watch for any Y2K computer glitches. The first weekend of the year 2000 is going smoothly. But tomorrow will actually be the next big test.
Kathleen Koch joins us now from the National Y2K Center in Washington with an update. Kathleen?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Colleen. Officials here at the Y2K Information Coordination Center say that Monday is critical because it's the very first time that the world's computers will face the demands of a normal business day. Now, if performance so far is any indication everything should be just fine. But it is a very important hurdle that officials here will be closely watching.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KOSKINEN, PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL ON Y2K: On Monday, obviously the markets will open for the first time and the banks will be up and running, although a lot of banks are operating today without any noticeable problems. We do not expect in the United States any significant problems but again we cannot guarantee that. But we will not be, we will be pleased if we get through the day without any problems, which is what our expectation is. But again, I think we will probably find some small glitches, particularly in smaller organizations that may not have done any preparations at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOCH: The glitches that have cropped up so far have been relatively minor. Seven nuclear power plants had problems with some support functions. All were corrected quickly and officials say did nothing at any point to compromise safety or operation. No one even lost their power.
The only significant problem the Pentagon did one of its reconnaissance satellite systems was blinded for several hours during the date change until it was fixed so it was unable to process information from several U.S. spy satellites. But on the whole things here have been very quiet, so quiet, in fact, that the FEMA and the international Y2K centers are reducing staffing and eliminating briefings. They may consider doing the same thing here if things go well on Monday.
Reporting live from the Information Coordination Center, I'm Kathleen Koch. Back to you.
HARRIS: All right, thank you, Kathleen. Well, have we dodged that Y2K bullet? In an interview with CNN's Larry King, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said that all the major systems are working well but it's too early to sound the all clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL GATES, CHAIRMAN, CEO MICROSOFT: In terms of infrastructure, things like elevators and planes and missiles, I thought people would be able to do a great job making sure there were no dependencies there. There is going to be a, in the months ahead you're going to hear about billing systems or tax related software that's going to get screwed up. It's not going to be catastrophic I don't think in any case. But there's going to be lots of snafus that we haven't run, that haven't been ...
LARRY KING, HOST: OK. I see. Don't rest on laurels then?
GATES: Yeah, there's still a little bit of a mess there that'll be cleaned up and it ended up being a fairly minor issue because people really worked together. I mean if people had ignored the thing then we would be seeing some real impact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: And Mr. Gates should know what he's talking about. Microsoft has had to contend with some minor Y2K glitches of their own. Engineers had to fix some problems with Microsoft's Money Central Web site and its Hot Mail service as well.
MCEDWARDS: A Wisconsin man is just a little disappointed that none of the Y2 chaos materialized. Dennis Olsen (ph) spent $20,000 on food, water, medical supplies and even a generator. Now he may another challenge to deal with, what to do with the 400 or so boxes of Hamburger Helper in his basement. And trying to return unused Y2K merchandise could be costly. Sears says it will charge a 20 percent restocking fee for generators that are returned. Some hardware stores plan to charge similar fees.
But one Georgia man who sells survival gear isn't expecting a lot of returns. He figures people will just hold onto their supplies until the next emergency.
HARRIS: Just trade a few bottles of water with the Hamburg Helper guy. Work out a deal somehow some way. Well, you can watch, relive the first 24 hours of the millennium on a special edition of NEWSSTAND. That comes up on Tuesday at 10:00 P.M. Eastern, 7:00 P.M. Pacific right here on CNN.
MCEDWARDS: Coming up, the pilot of a hijacked Indian Airliner describes life at the mercy of his captors and the landing he feared he wouldn't make.
HARRIS: Also ahead, an American pilot with a message makes a risky flight over Cuba. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MCEDWARDS: Security is tight along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan today. Officials are on the lookout for the five men accused of hijacking an Indian Airlines jet. The eight day ordeal ended in Afghanistan on Friday but the hijackers' whereabouts is not known.
For more, CNN's Peter Bergen joins us by telephone from Islamabad, Pakistan. Peter?
PETER BERGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Colleen, yes. The Pakistan government says that it's on high alert on its borders with Afghanistan, on the lookout for hijackers and the released Kashmiri militants. Of course, no one knows exactly what the hijackers look like since they were masked during the hijacking. Last night I crossed the border from Candlehar, Afghanistan to Qatar (ph), Pakistan, which is the nearest crossing point the hijackers could have taken.
My documents were closely examined on three occasions by Pakistani police and immigration officials. However, the borders between Pakistan are long and porous, almost 1,000 miles long, and there are many isolated mountain passes the militants could have clandestinely crossed. So right now the hijackers and the released militants appear to have vanished.
MCEDWARDS: All right, Peter Bergen, thanks very much.
HARRIS: Well, many of the passengers of the Indian Airlines jet credit the pilot with saving their lives. He recounted the tense moments of the hostage ordeal to CNN's New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra.
SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRRSPONDENT (voice-over): A nation of one billion people has a new hero. Indian Airlines Captain Devi Sharan. Most of the released hostages say Captain Sharan's cool thinking and diplomatic skills saved their lives. Captain Sharan says it wasn't easy. One of his worst moments came on the first day when the hijackers forced him to take off from the Indian city of Amredsar (ph) to Lahore, Pakistan with only minutes of fuel.
DEVI SHARAN, INDIAN AIRLINES PILOT: I died many times. I died many times at least when I took off from Amredsar. They said we will not die in Indian territory. We will die in Pakistan territory. You take it to Lahore.
BINDRA: Captain Sharan says the hijackers told him they didn't care if he crashed. He says he was petrified about the safety of his passengers as he approached Lahore Airport in inky darkness. By the fifth day, living conditions on the plane had deteriorated. People were sick, the toilets had clogged up and the air was foul. Captain Sharan, though, had won the trust of the hijackers. He joked with them frequently and was allowed to walk the aisles, even talk to the passengers.
SHARAN: I had many passengers came to me let's fight. I told them the casualties will be very high. I cannot take the risk of fighting.
BINDRA: Captain Sharan says what sustained him during the ordeal was his vast reserves of patience. By the time India negotiated a deal to release the passengers in exchange for three Muslim rebels, Captain Sharan had been almost eight days with only a few hours of sleep. Now, his new year's resolution is to rest up so he can go back to flying again.
Satinder Bindra, CNN, New Delhi.
MCEDWARDS: U.S. Customs officials in Florida have questioned and released a pilot who flew into Cuban air space. The pilot has been identified as Ly Vong, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Vietnam in 1984. Officials say he flew a small rented plane over Havana yesterday and dropped leaflets urging the overthrow of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Two Cuban MIG fighter jets monitored his flight but didn't take any action.
Coming up next this millennium weekend, reaching back in history to answer questions about your future.
HARRIS: We're going to take an in depth look at genealogy coming up and you'll learn how to trace the roots of your ancestors through immigration, marriage and more, just ahead.
HARRIS: It is a question as old as man, who are we? Where did we come from? Who are our ancestors?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: I'm a descendant of Ivan the Terrible. Don't mess with me. It runs in my blood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: No matter where on the four corners of the earth you are from, the answers may lie in the heart of the American west buried inside a vault deep in a mountain of granite. We'll show you how you can access it using the technology of the next millennium to go back to the future and find your past.
MCEDWARDS: Well, like many countries, the United States is a nation of immigrants and for millions of U.S. citizens their history in this country began at Ellis Island.
HARRIS: That's right. The Statute of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation is working on a new family genealogy facility and Stephen Briganti is president and CEO of that foundation and he joins us from Ellis Island. Good morning and happy new year to you.
STEPHEN BRIGANTI, STATUE OF LIBERTY-ELLIS ISLAND FOUNDATION: Good morning, Leon.
HARRIS: Now, what is, explain, let's get a quick look at the wall behind you and explain to us what is that?
BRIGANTI: Well, this is the American immigrant wall of honor on which there are about 600,000 names of people who came through Ellis Island or came to America as immigrants. And they've chosen to honor their heritage by putting a name on this wall and supporting the restoration of Ellis Island.
HARRIS: It's 600,000 names. How many in all actually did come through Ellis Island up until now, do you know?
BRIGANTI: Well, 12 million people came through Ellis Island, another five million through the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924.
HARRIS: What was the biggest year for immigration there?
BRIGANTI: 1907. There were over a million people came through Ellis Island.
HARRIS: How about any, did, where did most of them come from? Is there any one place or one area where most of them did come from?
BRIGANTI: Well, primarily from Europe, although also from the West Indies and the Middle East. The largest country represented was Italy. Russia came in a close second.
HARRIS: Now what is it there that you're, the center does to help people look through the names there to find out if there's any relation between them and those who came years before?
BRIGANTI: Well, that'll happen at the end of this year or early next year. We're computerizing the records of about 20 million immigrants who came through the Port of New York between those years 1892 to 1924. Each one of them will have about 20 pieces of information on each person. So you'll be able to go to the computer and -- or on the Internet and find out the name of your relative, where they came from right down to the address that they left, where they were coming to in the United States, again, right down to the address, how much money they had with them, whether they were anarchists or polygamists -- surprisingly nobody said they were.
You'll find a lot of information about your family's history.
MCEDWARDS: Stephen, tell us how important that site is behind you for U.S. citizens and others in the world, important in terms of being able to go there, see that wall and get a sense of where their families may have come from. BRIGANTI: Well, it's the site of the largest single immigration or movement of people anywhere in the history of mankind and what's so important to Americans is that about 40 percent of us can trace the roots of one or more ancestor through this little island. So it's a very important place to the history of the United States.
HARRIS: You know, so many people whose parents or forebears did emigrate and did come through Ellis Island had the experience where recorders there did not either record their entire name or for some, whatever reason changed their last names as people came in. Does that complicate the process at all of trying to find out exactly where people have come from?
BRIGANTI: Well, it complicates it a bit but actually most people didn't get their names changed here. They chose to change them when they naturalized seven to nine years after they'd been here. They arrived on their ships with the manifest intact. If they had gotten the name correctly on the manifest, that's what actually led the processing. So they were processed here based on the name that was on that manifest.
HARRIS: So that's not a difficulty with your actually helping people then? You can actually still go through those kinds of, those hurdles?
BRIGANTI: On most, in most cases you can. The difficulty really will be is there'll be some names, we'll have hundreds of names, for instance, Cohen, there will be hundreds of pages of Cohens. You'll have to know quite a bit more about your particular ancestor in order to get the correct information.
MCEDWARDS: Has interest in family history and genealogy increased at all?
BRIGANTI: Oh, I think it's booming. The last poll I saw taken in 1996 said that about 130 million Americans in one form or another were working with their genealogy. So I think we've come to a time in this country when people want to know about their past.
HARRIS: And things like the Internet are now able to help people trace down information like that a lot quicker and a lot more easily than they could in the past. Explain to us exactly how it is that you're working with the Internet to help people do that.
BRIGANTI: Well, we're going to have all of this information on the Internet. It'll be available here, of course, for the two million people that come to Ellis Island each year. But it'll also be available on the Internet.
HARRIS: Where at?
BRIGANTI: So people will be able to come directly to the site.
HARRIS: And what is the address there on the Web?
BRIGANTI: Well, it's not up yet. It won't be up until the end of this year. But to get more information from us you can come to ellisisland.org or wallofhonor.com.
HARRIS: And where are these Internet files going to be cross referenced? Are they going to be tied into any other databases anywhere else?
BRIGANTI: Well, we're working with the Mormon Church and they're going to, they're actually, through their volunteer structure, putting this whole thing together for us and, but the primary records will be gotten through ellisisland.org or wallofhonor.com.
HARRIS: Since you bring up the topic, have you checked out your own family tree and then looked back to see how far back you can find your family roots?
BRIGANTI: I have, actually, and surprisingly I haven't been able to find it. I actually know the date that my grandfather, my first grandfather, arrived in this country. You can get this information now at the National Archives and I've spent time there. But it's a very exhausting process and I have yet to come up with mine.
HARRIS: No kidding. What an irony that you can't find that kind of information. Well, again, so if you can't find that information how is it that, is it really an easy process for someone who just comes in from nowhere or comes in from -- I shouldn't say from nowhere, but someone who comes in just as a visitor to the state to walk in and just immediately make a connection and all?
BRIGANTI: No. Right now it's not an easy process. You have to go to an office of the National Archives. But at the end of this year when we get this project up here at Ellis Island and on the Internet, it will be very much easier for people to get that information.
HARRIS: OK, Mr. Briganti, you stand by. Stay with us because we're going to continue our discussion in just a moment and we're also going to take you inside the home of one of the world's largest collections of genealogical records just ahead. So stay with us.
HARRIS: Welcome back at 32 after the hour. Much of the state of Utah is rugged terrain known for its breathtaking views. But thousands of tourists who visit the state are coming there for something else.
As CNN's Sharon Collins reports, they come searching for the secret to their pasts.
SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The rugged terrain of Utah is known for its breathtaking views. But thousands of the tourists who visit this state come for something else. These people want more than beauty. They have come searching for the secret to their past.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: Oh, my great, great, great grandfather and his family, his wife and his children. I'm just trying to do a time line on them.
COLLINS: They sit in the dark staring straight ahead. The sound of a fast turning wheel may be the only thing to break the silence. Armed with magnifying glasses, they roll through names of the dead.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: And she died the 15th at 12 o'clock. And what is this right here?
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: The illness that they died of.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: Can you tell what it is?
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: Tuberculosis.
COLLINS: They scroll past thousands of names all in pursuit of one goal, all of them hoping to find out who they are.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: I don't know, I guess we're interested in where we came from and who our family was and who they were and what they did and, you know, kind of our personal history.
COLLINS: Like Cory and Julie Pogue (ph) of California they come to Salt Lake City for information about their ancestors.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: You never know, maybe we're descended from some king or some -- which I doubt. More likely we're descended from some villain or something.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: That's a nice thought.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: Hey, all right.
UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN: That's interesting. I don't care. Could you imagine, it's like oh, yeah. I'm a descendant of Ivan the Terrible. Don't mess with me. It runs in my blood, you know?
COLLINS: This is the world's largest collection of genealogical records. It's called the Family Library Center and is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
RICHARD TURLEY, FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY: I think there is inherent within the soul of every individual a longing to know about where we came from and that longing, that innate yearning that we have ultimately, I think, focuses each of us eventually on our roots.
COLLINS: Records containing billions of names are stored at an underground vault in a mountain some 25 miles from the city. But you can access all those files here in the library or possibly in your home town.
TURLEY: We have about 3,400 branch libraries that we call family history centers. They're located throughout the world. But each of those facilities has the capacity to circulate microfilm from this particular library out to them.
COLLINS: The church began this project in 1894 because Mormons believe their ancestors can be baptized by proxy so any information you add to the records helps complete their mission. They provide the service for free.
TURLEY: We don't charge and it's not just exclusively for members of our church. In fact, worldwide of the millions of people who visit these facilities each year, the majority are not members of our church.
COLLINS: Or even better, you may find everything you're looking for on their new Web site, familysearch.org.
RANDY BRYSON, FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY: Ever since Alex Haley's "Roots" there's been an increasing interest throughout the world of people finding out where they're from, what are their roots, who am I and it's just the availability of the Internet provides just provides it to be accessible in a way it's never been available to people before.
COLLINS: Internet supervisor Randy Bryson used my family name, McCoy (ph), to show you how it works.
BRYSON: You start first with the information that you have available to yourself in your home with your relatives. You interview them, call them on the phone, write the letters and then put down what you know.
COLLINS: The first step is searching the big name databases and any Web site with links to your last name. If that doesn't turn up a relative, check out a section called vital records.
BRYSON: Records about a birth or marriage or a death.
COLLINS: If you don't know the spelling of a name or an exact date, just guess.
BRYSON: And we can select a range of plus or minus 20 years.
COLLINS: I'd always thought we were related to Kentucky McCoys, the ones who fought the Hatfield family.
(on camera): If I'm not really related to the feuding McCoys, I think I'll be crushed.
(voice-over): So were we connected to that famous Hatfield and McCoy feud? Well, there weren't any answers here. But the Web site did show what kind of microfilm I needed. It was the National Consensus Report that finally gave us a breakthrough.
BRYSON: We already know what you gave us and that Ramanus's father is Frank McCoy.
COLLINS: My parents always thought their family migrated from Kentucky. They were wrong.
BRYSON: That's where they're living.
COLLINS: The 1920 census showed that my great grandfather was born and raised in Pennsylvania.
(on camera): And Harrison, that's who my father was named after.
BRYSON: His father was born in Pennsylvania. His mother was born in Pennsylvania. He is ...
COLLINS: I never knew that.
BRYSON: He can speak English, which is a good thing to have.
COLLINS: That's good, that's nice to know.
BRYSON: He's a laborer and he is working in a lumber camp.
COLLINS: No grandeur for me, huh?
(voice-over): And in the midst of it all I may have found a distant cousin.
MIKE HULL: So we may be very closely related.
COLLINS: That's really bizarre.
(voice-over): Library researcher Mike Hull is also linked to McCoys who migrated from Pennsylvania.
HULL: You know what's fun about this is when you get in there you get in there with families and you start finding out the false things that happened with your family, all the old rumors that your family tells you may not always be true. We had a family that was, I was always told my great grandfather died in a shootout in Cambridge, Kansas with outlaws. Well, I went through and I found out that wasn't true. He just died of old age.
COLLINS (on camera): Well, I got the answer to one of my questions. It appears I'm not directly related to the famous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. But it's only fair to point out I had about four people working full time to get that answer for me. The one thing most people don't count on is just how long it takes to really find your roots.
BRYSON: That's going to be dependent on how much you're trying to trace. If you're trying to do a lot of generations, that's many, many days and in some cases a lifelong pursuit.
COLLINS (voice-over): It is a pursuit an increasing number of people are willing to make, perhaps because over the last century more than ever families who once lived and died in the same community have been uprooted and scattered around the world.
TURLEY: Now we've become an increasingly cosmopolitan and mobile society and because of that we've lost touch with our roots. In a sense you might say that today our addresses change but our ancestors don't and so those who are looking for an anchor for their souls go back to that unchangeable aspect, the ancestors. COLLINS: As we enter a new millennium full of uncertainty it may be that this trend of connecting with the past will help some people bring stability to the present.
Sharon McCoy Collins, CNN, Salt Lake City.
HARRIS: She got the name straight now.
MCEDWARDS: She certainly did. She knows a little more now than she did.
Joining us now is the executive director of the family history department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
HARRIS: Todd Christofferson is in Salt Lake City. Good morning and happy new year to you, Todd.
TODD CHRISTOFFERSON, CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS: Happy new year to you, thank you.
HARRIS: Well, let me ask you first of all the thing that occurred to me in watching this is how much of the population could you say, of the U.S. and then perhaps of the world, is actually traceable through your database?
CHRISTOFFERSON: Well, it's hard to say what percentage may be. We have collected over two billion names or information and data about over two billion people around the world.
HARRIS: Why is it that ...
CHRISTOFFERSON: And that's accessible through the Family History Library or its satellite Family History Centers around the world.
HARRIS: Why, let me ask you this, why is it that now is the right time for the church to do this sort of thing and open it up to the general public?
CHRISTOFFERSON: Well, we've always endeavored to make these records that we've been collecting for over 100 years now available to the public. It's much easier now with the Internet and we put up in May of this year our Web site familysearch.org to try to make it even more easily accessible. But still sometimes you'll need to go to a Family History Center or this Family History Library to get the microfilm or other data you may need. But we're using technology to make these records of the diverse people of the world as freely accessible as possible.
MCEDWARDS: Mr. Christofferson, how useful is it for these other organizations to be available and to be doing this kind of work as well?
CHRISTOFFERSON: Well, it's very useful particularly the partnership that we have with the church in getting this information on the manifest arrival records at Ellis Island and the Port of New York. It will provide a great deal of new information for millions of people.
HARRIS: Mr. Christofferson, let me ask you this, since you've got the Internet site launched, what's been the response that you've seen? Has it been what you expected? It is large? Is it small? What?
CHRISTOFFERSON: It's been a tremendous response. We're getting over seven to eight million hits a day on this Web site and that's been fairly constant since it was launched back in May of 1999.
HARRIS: What do you think is going to be I guess the future of this sort of, of genealogy and this, with this, the introduction of this kind of an information database? Is it something that hasn't been done before or seen before? Do you think this is going to make people a bit more aware of their own legacies?
CHRISTOFFERSON: I hope so because I think there's a wonderful social benefit that comes from that, a connection with the past, a sense of place, of identity that's helpful to, for the cohesiveness of families, of young people to their families, of societies in general. One of the challenges, though, is getting what we've collected on microfilm for over 100 years into computer usable data and that involves a labor of love of over thousands, well, thousands and thousands of volunteers who extract that data, put it in computer format and then make it available either at our libraries or over the Internet.
MCEDWARDS: What does a person do if you're from somewhere in the world where maybe records aren't kept, even current records. What do you do?
CHRISTOFFERSON: That's a real challenge. One can rely upon oral histories and genealogies to the extent possible. Sometimes there just are no records. We do what we can. We go as far as we can. Sometimes you're just, you reach a dead end. But in most cases people can find data if they're willing to dig and willing to look.
HARRIS: I want to ask you about how far back you've been able to go. I know certain cultures have been a lot better throughout history at keeping track of things like this for particularly the, say, Asian cultures. What is the farthest back that you are aware of that anyone has ever been able to go back through these records and check and find the name of a relative?
CHRISTOFFERSON: Well, as far as I'm aware some have been able to get back into the Middle Ages in Europe, particularly if they connect to a royal family, as everybody seems to want to do. But when they legitimately can they sometimes can go back to William the Conqueror and maybe earlier.
HARRIS: As a matter of fact, that would be a great question to ask anyone who walks in those centers, how many of them believe that they are related in some way to some ancestry of some royal descent somewhere. CHRISTOFFERSON: Well, as noted in that earlier piece there are a lot of surprises when people look for their roots. Sometimes they're disappointed that some of the legends didn't pan out. Other times they find some very interesting and intriguing things that they hadn't expected.
HARRIS: I would be willing to bet.
MCEDWARDS: All right, next we've talked about already a little bit, if you're not near one of these major genealogical centers any time soon you can always get started online.
HARRIS: That's right. We've been talking quite a bit about that this morning. And coming up, we will turn our attention to Internet search tools that are out there and, in fact, we will conduct an online ancestor search of our own. So stay with us.
HARRIS: Well, in their quest to trace their ancestors a growing number of people are taking the high tech route.
MCEDWARDS: Ancestry.com is a leading Internet site for genealogical research and Lou Szucs is the vice president of publishing at Ancestry.com and she joins us now live from Chicago. Tell us what's available at your site.
LOU SZUCS, ANCESTRY.COM: Good morning. Available at Ancestry.com, for example we have 500 million names to begin research. The technology has brought us to the point where we can sit in our own homes and begin to trace our family histories. It's such an exciting thing to be able to know that we can, with the click of a mouse, enter a name and most of us are looking to find out who our ancestors were by looking at a family ancestor chart go to Ancestry.com and begin a research by filling in a given name, a last name. Most of us want to have that feeling of knowing who our people were.
We have collected databases from around the world. We have people scanning records in every country so every day we add three to four new databases. We have the ability to add to that. We have maps online. We have lessons for people to learn how to trace their family history.
HARRIS: And in tracing those histories, how many different countries can you go through?
SZUCS: Essentially every country and the amount of material available is going to vary from one country to the next. But it's astounding to know that we can sit in our own homes any time of the day or night and to be able to find someone of just about any ethnic origin. I've been involved in this for 28 years now and it's still so much fun for me to click in a name and to be able to see.
For example, we have at Ancestry.com the ability to build an online family tree. This is new technology. We've had some ...
HARRIS: How do you do that?
SZUCS: Well, we've had some wonderful software programs before where you can organize that material. But for example my daughter and I have been working on my own mother's side of the family and we've been able to work with a cousin as far away as Australia and simultaneously we can add information to our family and anyone can do this. This is free at Ancestry.com, new technology. You can add to your own family pedigree. Everyone can get involved in it. It just is so exciting.
And one piece of information that I may have may be news to a distant cousin and we're so separated these days because of the transient nature of our cultures now. People are moved and separated from their roots. And it's so wonderful to be able to get online and communicate immediately with distant cousins.
MCEDWARDS: It sure is a long way from the old days, I guess. I mean I've heard of people actually going literally to a cemetery and finding the cemetery tender and looking through records that way. So it's ...
SZUCS: Oh, absolutely. And that part of it's not going away. But what we're providing now on the Internet is the keys. Where is that cemetery? Is my ancestor in that cemetery, in fact? So we have an idea before we waste a lot of time. We don't have to go to as many libraries. We can make some searches on the Internet immediately. We have these records at our fingertips so that we'll know, for example, is that library open? Is, what kind of records do they have? Does the National Archives have the record for the time period that I need? Incredible material becoming available at our fingertips.
HARRIS: Well, let me ask you something if I can real briefly, because as an African-American I must say that a lot of my ancestors didn't come here voluntarily and I don't know necessarily about how the records were kept in regards to that. Is your site able to track down even families who have my history?
SZUCS: Yes, they are. In fact, as a part of the American population, for example, we have census records. We have indexes to census records that will pinpoint. And obviously there are going to be some more difficulties encountered with families who came here of, not of their own volition but as Alex Haley so eloquently put it, in every one of us there is a hunger that's marrow deep to find our heritage and the possibilities are increasing with every day. We have, we're going to make available a number of records in the next month or so that are going to enable African-Americans to track back more easily.
HARRIS: All right. Good deal. Well, stick tight right there, Lou, because coming up we're going to take advantage of you and your Web site in just a couple of minutes. We'll check and see, we're going to look into the history of someone very close to me right now. OK?
MCEDWARDS: That's a hint. We'll be back.
HARRIS: Don't go away.
HARRIS: All right, now let's continue our interview with Lou Szucs of Ancestry.com. She's joining us from Chicago. And Lou, let's see just how good you and Ancestry.com really are. We're going to let ...
HARRIS: Let's check through the history of Colleen McEdwards.
MCEDWARDS: We have to admit, though, first, we did cheat a little bit and I did previous to this give Lou a name, well, a name on my mother's side, Wise (ph), and a name on my father's side, McEdwards and a couple of dates.
HARRIS: All right, now walk us through. Show us what you found.
SZUCS: Well, we found some very interesting things on Colleen's great grandfather, Benjamin Wise. For example, if we go to the ancestry home page and we -- most people are going to want to click in that name and we put in Benjamin Wise and we came up with a whole string of possibilities. We have, for example, at Ancestry.com a Social Security death index which is our most popular index. But because we understood that Colleen's great grandfather came through Canada it was a little bit different.
But we have immigration records that are available right now. That's the advantage ancestry has. We have found a record that we think matches that for Colleen's great grandfather. Here's a Benjamin Wise who was, in 1901, when the Canadian census was taken, 81 years old and it tells us that he emigrated to Canada in 1827. And so we think this is pretty extraordinary. He came into Ontario. That matches the information that Colleen had given us. And of course we're going to want to pursue that a little further and document it. But this record gives us the available, the availability to go immediately to the actual microfilm. It gives us the microfilm number. We can go through the microfilm records that we can find in many American libraries, Canadian microfilms of the census there.
The immigration records that we have at Ancestry.com are available right now and that's, again, the greatest advantage. We have not only these immigration records. We've got vital records. We've got church records, military records. So depending on where your people were and the time period in which they were living, we've got a tremendous start.
SZUCS: And there were 24 million names that we found in the ancestry world tree. People are contributing to that every single day. And we notice that in Colleen's case, for example, many people have already contributed something on the Wise family.
MCEDWARDS: Interesting. HARRIS: So you're on your way now.
MCEDWARDS: I guess I am. I know where to look. Thanks very much.
HARRIS: All right. Lou Szucs, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
SZUCS: And thank you, Leon.
HARRIS: Have a good one. We'll talk to you later on.
SZUCS: Thank you.
MCEDWARDS: And still ahead, former high school students keep a 38-year-old promise to their history teacher to reunite at the start of the new millennium.
HARRIS: It's a great story. At the New Year's Day gathering, when we come back. Don't go away.
MCEDWARDS: In Denver, a millennium meeting fulfilled a promise that started decades ago between a high school teacher and his students. In 1962, Dick Jordan started telling his history students to meet him on the steps of the Denver Public Library on the first day of the new millennium and some of them actually did.
Yesterday, more than 100 former students showed up to honor Jordan. They came from as far away as Alaska, Texas, Los Angeles and New York. Jordan also told the students to bring him a dollar because he would be a poor retired teacher by then and they would be successful. He plans to donate that money to charity.
HARRIS: That's a nice story. A nice touch. A nice way to end this one millennium and start the next one. All right, we end this hour and begin our next one. Coming up, finding inspiration from your pets.
MCEDWARDS: They're good company and good friends. But the benefits of having pets in your home actually go even father. Pets can offer physical and emotional benefits. That's coming up as our Millennium 2000 coverage continues right now.
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