Category Archives: research

The Day I Was on a National TV Show

Now I’m an Expert?

Sometime last year I was contacted by the production company that produces the Travel Channel Show The Dead Files. I had never heard of it before. I was told that they would be filming an episode in my town and wondered if I’d be interested in appearing on the show as their genealogy research expert. Now, that doesn’t happen every day, does it?

While the show is about paranormal activity, my part had nothing to do with that. I was just the “expert” who talks about the history of the people involved. Genealogy is my thing, and this sounded like fun so I agreed. The film crew kept referring to me as the expert. “Bring your expert in now.” “Have the expert sit here.” And so on. So weird, let me tell you!

I should add here that the show’s “experts” do not get paid. The really nice producer named Jeremy did buy me lunch, though, at The Mexican Place. (Not the actual name of the restaurant, but everyone who lives here will know what I’m talking about because that’s what we call it.)

About The Dead Files

If you haven’t seen the show before, here’s a quick summary. This year is the 12th season by the way, so it’s been around a long time! Basically, someone contacts the show and says they have some paranormal activity in their home and they need help. There are three segments to the show.  Steve DiSchiavi, a retired New York City police detective comes to research what’s going on from a detective-type point of view. He talks to “experts”, collects information, and then talks to the family. The second part involves a medium named Amy Allan who does a walk through of the house to see what she senses. I’m glad I had no part in that. It’s not that I don’t believe in the supernatural, I do. Jesus spoke to demons. They are real. But yeah, that’s creepy. No thank you. Anyway, they really do this in the middle of the night. That part you see on the show is true. Then the third part is where both Steve and Amy meet with the family. They each individually discuss their findings and then Amy tells the family what they need to do to rid themselves of this activity.


What I Did

Jeremy discussed with me what they’d found out and asked me to look over it. We discussed the research over the phone. I can tell you, they really do put in the research for these programs and double-check, using a lot of genealogy techniques I’m familiar with. They aren’t making this stuff up. It’s true that truth is stranger than fiction. Even so, some information wasn’t discovered, or at least revealed to me, until the day of the filming. That was because they were continuing looking for new information.

It was a hot Saturday in August. I was nervous, but Jeremy practiced with me until I felt confident I could remember all the names, dates, and details they wanted in my interview with Steve DiSchiavi.


Steve is a really nice guy. All the crew were very nice, polite, and patient. It was quite the experience. I’ve done television interviews on baseball topics and on my books before, but this, a full-fledged television program, was different. I kept saying, “This is just not my world.” Steve said, “It’s your world now!”

We met at a bar. We had water in our coffee cups. There seemed to be cameramen everywhere. I welcomed them to Ohio. They said they’d actually been to Ohio a lot. There is apparently a ton of paranormal activity in Ohio. Had I heard of a place called Springfield? Uh, yeah, I have!


I had the cord of a mic slung down under my dress and I sat on an extra cushion on my barstool because…yeah, because I’m so short! All the bottles at the bar had to be turned so that the labels didn’t show. The whole crew had to be completely silent during the filming. My glasses pushed up just right on my nose. Little details like that fascinate a novelist like me!

I made some mistakes. They just shot those parts over again. Sometimes an idea came to the producers so they decided to have me say something different. Sometimes Steve ad libbed something that he decided would work better. And there was the time I handed Steve a death certificate and he just smiled and handed it back to me. It was actually an obituary so I had to do that over again. They kept telling me I did great. They were super encouraging. At the end I told them I knew that I appeared terrified but I actually enjoyed it. Both Steve and Jeremy assured me that I did not look terrified. If I had, they would have done it over. They even asked if I’d be willing to do it again if they came back this way. Well, apparently that’s a possibility since it’s Ohio!

Season 12 Episode 5

It airs Thursday, February 27th on the Travel Channel. I have YouTube TV and the Travel Channel is on there now. There are other services if you don’t have cable, but you may not be able to see it right away.

I hope I don’t look dumb!

I don’t know who the family is. You’ll find out when I do. I do know the location of the house. Not because they told me, but because I don’t totally suck at research. I hope the people there are not truly in distress. I hope they find what they are looking for. There are two families mentioned in my part of the research, families who used to live on that property. Some are buried in the local cemetery. The oldest family name mentioned on the show is buried there too. I came across that plot by accident when I went to the cemetery to find the grave of the woman I mention in the show to pay my respects. I do hope she’s resting in peace. As a Christian, I also hope that God brings all those involved in this episode some peace, the peace of Jesus.

My 15 Minutes of Fame?

I hope not really. I’d rather be remembered for my books. Research is my passion, though, and seeing how this show goes about researching was fascinating. Seeing a national TV program filmed was educational and fun. I’m pleased they asked me!

Researching the 1920s

Bits and Pieces

The 1920s will only be a small part of the novel I’m working on, but as we all know, we are made up of past events, and for my character WWI, the 1920s, the ’30s, all build to bring him where is in 1946. So, I have to go there with him.


When my character arrives in America in 1920, Prohibition is first set into law. He ends up in New Jersey where there are lots of rum runners, so…have to learn about that.

Guess what else was huge in New Jersey in the 1920s? The KKK. I’m discovering this is news to a lot of people. We know about the KKK in the south right after the Civil War. We know about the 1960s Civil Rights and the KKK. But what is lesser known is the reemergence in the north in the 1920s. Besides being anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, they were pro-Prohibition, meaning they supported it. They were all about the Constitution so they had to.

Rabbit Holes

Praying I don’t go down one. It’s fascinating stuff!

Today’s Research: Sunrises

Pausing to Research

Quite often as I’m writing, I realize that to describe something I need to better understand it, or even see it. I know some writers do not pause. They just make a note to come back to it later. I’ve learned to accept the fact that I must pause. And so I did today.

YouTube Research

Of course, I’d rather be in Ireland, but since I can’t be today, many times YouTube is the next best thing. I thought you might like to experience it with me, so below is the video that I hope will inspire a good description. I’m on Chapter 23!

Today’s Research: Humorous Scribes

What Your Teacher Wasn’t Suppose to Read

I’ve read some of these before, little notes written in margins or on scraps found inside book bindings. I can relate right now to these medieval scribes. See if you can figure out why.

photo by Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts

Complaints by Medieval Scribes

  • New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.

  • This page has not been very slowly written.

  • The parchment is hairy. The ink is thin.

  • Thank God it will soon be dark.

  • Oh, my hand.

  • Now I’ve written the whole thing. For Christ’s sake, give me a drink.

  • Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.

  • St. Patrick from Armagh, deliver me from writing.

And my favorite:

  • As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.

I’m a long way from the last line right now.

How I Would Rewrite These Scribe Complaints

  • New version of Word crashing. I say nothing more.

  • This page HAS been very slowly written.

  • Laptop battery is dead. The charge is slow.

  • Oh God, why did you create electricity?

  • Oh, my hand. (And wrists, and shoulders, and elbows.)

  • I can’t seem to write the whole thing. Give me a drink!

  • Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides. (I couldn’t improve on this one!)

  • Oh shopping girlfriend, save me from writing.

  • As the hot tub is welcome to sore muscles, so is the typing of The End to the novelist.

I feel a kinship to these ancient scribes, although my complaints are nearly as charming.

Getting Out There to Learn About the Scots-Irish

Part Two from Finding Help With Your Scots-Irish Line originally appearing in Tracing Your Irish Roots, Moorshead Magazines Ltd., 2012 ©Cindy Thomson.

 How Ireland Can Help Researchers

Family Tree. Tracing your Scots-Irish roots.Tracing a family line back as far as the 17th century might seem daunting, but records do exist. And where better to get help and learn about this group’s culture than a society established for that purpose?

A special school for genealogists researching Northern Ireland roots is offered in conjunction with several Northern Ireland agencies, such as the Ulster Historical Foundation; the University of Ulster; Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, County Tyrone; and local historical societies. Past participants came from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, The Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland, to enjoy a holiday researching with the help of local experts. Billed as “An Activity Holiday with a Difference”, the program stretches over a week and involves local history lectures, research visits to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and visits to historical sites. It is these visits to important sites within the homeland of our ancestors that help make this school intriguing to many, but the value of having access to local historians and genealogists should not be underestimated.

Previous students have enjoyed touring Belfast City Hall and Parliament Buildings. They

Tracing Your Scots-Irish Roots, Cindy Thomson

Ulster American Folk Park

also visited historical locations in the countryside, such as Sentry Hill House, and the Ulster American Folk Park and Centre for Migration Studies at Omagh. The Duke of Abercorn gave a personal tour of his home at Barons Court.

[Since this article appeared, I’m not sure the school is still running. But for research assistance options, check this site.]

One benefit is that because this effort is being supported by the University of Ulster, registrants will have access to that university’s library and electronic resources for genealogy research.

Short of making the trip, there are some materials available that can aid your research. Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors by William Roulston, published by the Ulster Historical Foundation, 2005, is said to be the first comprehensive guide for family historians searching for ancestors in 17th and 18th century Ulster.Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors

The society also offers two pocket histories/fold out maps entitled “The Scots in Ulster Surname Map and Pocket History” and “The Plantation of Ulster: The story of the Scots, 1610-1630.” You can order these for only the cost of postage and handling through these links: Surname Map    Plantation of Ulster

An online resource worth plugging your surname into is the Scots in Ulster. I found several hits for Thomson in this database, which could provide some clues for own research.

Closer to Home

In America, researchers should not overlook local organizations where help may be found, such as The Ulster-Scots Society of America, whose stated purpose reads: “The Ulster-Scots Society of America is primarily an educational and social organization committed to the promotion of the Ulster-Scots history and heritage, especially as it pertains to the nearly quarter of a million immigrants who left the north of Ireland (Ulster) during the 18th century and settled in America (often referred to as: The Great Migration).”

The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America is another group to check into. From their website: “The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America was founded to promote and preserve Scotch-Irish history and culture of America’s Scotch-Irish heritage and to keep alive the esprit de corps of the Scotch-Irish people. Membership in the Society is available to United States citizens, and to legal permanent residents of the United States, who are of Scotch-Irish descent.” The Center publishes issues of the Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies.

[I had more links in the article, but since links are hard to keep up to date, I won’t repeat them all here. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments. And by the way, did anyone else find it amusing that the Scotch-Irish Society used French to describe themselves, or is it just me?]

Tom&Cindy Thomson, Ireland 2010

Our 2010 trip to Ireland, taken at Inch Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland.

These are just some of the resources available, but by consulting those who have gathered together to promote research and understanding of the Scots-Irish people, you will find like-minded people who can help you along your research journey.

Stepping Into the Past

Deadman's Curve NYC, www.cindyswriting.comHow to Go Back in Time

How many of us have remarked that we wished for a time machine. We have to see and experience things ourselves to truly understand them. But since that’s not possible, we can do the next best thing (something I always try to do when writing historical fiction) and read the words and thoughts of those who lived before us. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Read Their Words


Thomson Family Book

There is nothing like a diary or journal to get into the mindset of the people of the past. Did you know John Adams kept a diary? Here is a fascinating list of online historical diaries. There are slave narratives (audio believe it or not) on the National Archives web site.

You can find more at local historical societies and libraries. Sometimes they are hard to read but worth the effort. My husband found a hand-written genealogy written in 1888 by one of his relatives. It’s not just a genealogy, though. It has memories and stories that relatives told as well, including one man who was a chaplain in the Union army and accompanied the troops on Sherman’s march to the sea. It has remembrances about how one man’s mother was distressed when he joined a different church until a pastor set the mother straight, and even one interesting story about a trip to a fortune teller.

Live in Their Society

Nothing beats contemporary newspapers for learning about the world our ancestors lived in. Of course you can look for names and dates, but to get a feel for how they lived their lives and what events influenced them, read newspapers and magazines. The magazines often contained serial fiction that later was put into books that you’ve probably heard of. In my novel Annie’s Stories I talk about Harper’s doing this, and you can even read some issues online here. For historical newspapers look here.

Russian Immigrants at Ellis Island, www.cindyswriting.comLook at Photographs

There are many sites where you can find old photographs, and just doing a Google search will bring up many. If you’ve ever seen photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island, you’ve probably seen Augustus Sherman’s photographs. He makes a cameo appearance in my novel Grace’s Pictures. I love to study the expressions, but you can also learn a lot from the clothing (were they rich or poor?) and even from the setting (in a studio, at home, outside?) Those Ellis Island photographs often depict people in their native garb, something they may have quickly discarded once they stepped foot in Battery Park when relatives met them with more American clothing (so they wouldn’t stand out.)

Dutch Immigrant at Ellis Island

These are just a few things that help me go back in time. What other ideas do you have?

Today’s Research: Dogs

Or rather the personality of dogs and what people can learn from them. A dog is key in Book Three of my Ellis Island Series. The inspiration is The Master’s Voice advertising icon. That dog is a mixed breed but mostly fox terrier.

I’d love to hear from some dog owners about what spiritual lessons they’ve learned from their dogs. And I have a question: What one thing might someone who doesn’t own a dog and might not really understand dogs learn from YOUR dog?

Talk it up, please.