Sometimes, it takes only an incidental occurrence to trigger a volley of memories. I'm not really sure what pushed me over the edge, back at the beginning of this week, to go on such a rant about the changes in the genealogical research world over the past two decades. I don't regret making the observations I did, and I'm certainly alarmed about the effect of this incremental change. Bottom line, though: despite the angst, I'm still glad to be pointed back in the direction of reviewing my old—and I mean old—research notes. It's been—and still will become—time well spent.
All this sturm und drang wasn't for naught, though. It brought me face to face with lots of unfinished research business in a family line certainly worth pursuing. And it reminded me that I really hadn't ever satisfactorily uncovered an answer to my question: whatever became of that fascinating researcher with whom I had spent years corresponding over our mutual genealogical goals?
You would think, of all people, someone trained in genealogical research could come up with an answer to a question like this. After all, the last I had heard from my fellow family researcher, before a long and ominous silence, was that she had been recuperating from a stroke. A small one, she assured me. And for a while, it seemed we were back on track, alternately regarding or discarding our hypotheses on how various members of one particular surname might have fit within that one extended family—no "collaterals" barred.
When that long silence stretched from months to years, though, I wondered whether my friend had been struck by "the big one"—another episode rendering her incapacitated. Or worse.
We genealogists can find these answers, can't we? Believe me, even assuming the worst and searching through my subscription newspaper services for obituaries, I found not a word about her. Which only made me wish she would write again. Maybe with a different email address. Yeah, surely that was the problem...
There's no shortage of information online about this delightful research partner. I mentioned before that she was a college professor, specializing in Russian history. It turns out that her doctoral dissertation—a study of a Russian author, human rights activist and dissident during the reign of Alexander III—was published, as was her more politically-minded master's thesis on an earlier era of Russian history.
At the point of her retirement, this well-trained researcher had turned her attention to a different sort of historical account: that of her own family. The reason will sound all too familiar to many of us. As she mentioned in a statement forever frozen in time in the Rootsweb archives,
I found a short barebones outline of my ancestors which was among my mother’s papers. After I retired, I decided to create a family history since little was really known about my own direct line of descent....
As it turned out, the line this researcher chose to pursue was that of the very progenitor from which my husband also descended: the family of John and Mary Helen Duke Gordon, an extended family which, by the 1830s, had emigrated from Pennsylvania to Perry County, Ohio—home, ever since then, of my mother-in-law's family. Perhaps now you sense my thrill at having made the acquaintance of such a one as shared my specific research goal.
Sad to say, for the last few years, my Gordon project has languished as I attended to the many other lines demanding research attention. Perhaps it was in reaction to missing this research companion. Who knows. It might be a good thing that it all is resident on a computer which threatens to quit working any day now. Procrastinators need deadlines.
What of my disappearing research friend, though? Not finding that telltale obituary, I toyed with the idea of writing a letter to her last known address, in hopes a sympathetic family member might respond. After all, I had checked all my subscriptions with no trace of her name. Ditto Google.
One more thought prompted me to try again—this time, pulling up the "Recent Newspaper Obituaries" section at GenealogyBank.com. Though my friend always included her maiden name in her correspondence, when I searched this time, I omitted it and just tried first and last name.
Sad that I found it, but relieved to put that question to rest, I retrieved the verdict: Ruth Gordon Hastie succumbed to a subsequent stroke and passed away on September 24, 2012. May I add to the many condolences my belated wishes that she not only rest in peace, but rest in the remembrance of many who appreciated the person she was.