Carol Skydell, R.I.P.

Longtime Marha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, resident, Carol Skydell died on March 4 in Camarillo, California, at age 94. Quoting from her obituary:

“Carol thrived in her role as town clerk for eight years before finally retiring. She was seldom idle and followed her evolving and diverse interests with an all-encompassing and tireless passion. For several years she devoted herself to genealogy and through her extensive work with the Jewish Genealogical Society, she assisted hundreds of people the world over in finding their roots, and in at least two notable cases she discovered close living relatives of people who were thought to have died many years before.”


“Long before she left the Vineyard for the last time, Carol gave instructions to her sons that when the time came, her ashes were to be spread along the Squibnocket shore at sunrise. On rare moments of indecisiveness, she would change that request to Menemsha at sunset. While this dilemma remained unresolved at the time of her death, Carol had already placed a granite marker at the foot of her husband Marvin’s grave in the Hebrew Cemetery. The marker bearing her name is engraved, ‘She’s at the Beach.'”

You can read the entire obituary at:

Massachusetts Governor Baker Appoints Brenton Simons Vice Chair of State Commission

The following announcement was written by New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)–American Ancestors:

Brenton Simons Named Vice Chair of Plymouth, Massachusetts, 400th Anniversary Commission by Governor Charles D. Baker

March 5, 2020—Boston, Massachusetts ― Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker has appointed Boston nonprofit executive Brenton Simons as the Vice Chair of the State Commission tasked with organizing commemorations of the Plymouth 400th anniversary this year. Since 2005, Simons has served as President and CEO of the nation’s largest genealogical society, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)–American Ancestors. The organization, founded in 1845, has grown exponentially during his tenure ― now serving more than 325,000 members and millions of online users with 1.4 billion searchable online names.

Dusty Rhodes of Conventures serves as Chair of the Commission, formed in September 2016 by the two-term, Republican Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to ensure a befitting national and state observance of the settlement of Plymouth Colony in 1620. “I’m delighted that Brenton has accepted this appointment as the new Vice Chair of the Commission,” said Rhodes. “He brings talent, vision, and an enthusiastic team spirit to the organizational efforts of this important leadership group—charged with creating a commemoration which is a true reflection of Massachusetts’ rich history and diverse cultural contributions.”

Johni Cerny, R.I.P.

Fascinated by family trees since childhood, she became, Henry Louis Gates Jr. said, “the proverbial dean of American genealogical research.”
Johni Cerny, the chief genealogist for the PBS series “Finding Your Roots,” who helped some 200 famous people — among them Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi — trace their ancestry, died on Wednesday in Lehi, Utah, near Salt Lake City. She was 76.
“Johni Cerny was the proverbial dean of American genealogical research,” Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor who is a host and executive producer of “Finding Your Roots,” said in a statement. In an email message on Thursday, he described her work as “transforming raw data into narratives and metaphors about diversity and our common humanity.”
You can read her full obituary in the New York Times at
My thanks to newsletter reader W David Samuelsen for telling me about this sad story.

Ruth Gray, R.I.P.

Well-known Maine genealogist Ruth Gray passed away on December 28, 2019 at the age of 103. She was born in Old Town, Maine, on April 15, 1916, to Samuel Braley Gray and Bessie Pendleton Benson Gray. She was a descendant of George A. Gray who helped start the Old Town Canoe Company in 1901.

Ruth Gray accomplished many things in her busy life. During World War II, she was appointed by the Governor of Maine as the Municipal Chairman of the Women’s Division of the Civilian Defense Council and served with the American Red Cross driving a Clubmobile just behind the front lines in the European Theater with the 19th Corps. As a Red Cross volunteer, she drove a halftrack through the Battle of The Bulge to bring coffee and doughnuts and other food to soldiers behind the front lines.

Destroyed Identities – the Digital Reconstruction of Auschwitz-Birkenau Victims’ Data

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is dedicated to the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Oświecim, Poland. The museum is attempting to identify all the former prisoners who were incarcerated there. According to the museum’s web site:

“More than 1,200,000 entries from the post-camp documentation have been created by the Digital Repository of the Memorial Site. So far, more than 60 per cent of the 400,000 prisoners registered in the German Nazi concentration camp have been identified.

Human Remains Found in Idaho Cave Identified as Outlaw Who Died Over 100 Years Ago

Talk about a “cold case!” Joseph Loveless most likely died in 1916 at age 46. His remains were preserved in a Cave for as long as 63 years, researchers say.

The dismembered and headless John Doe, whose remains were found in the Civil Defense Caves near Dubois, Idaho, in 1979 and 1991, was identified as those of Joseph Henry Loveless. His remarkably preserved remains are thought to have been placed in the caves in 1916.

You can read the full story in an article by Janelle Griffith in the NBC News web site at:

While the human remains have been identified, the “cold case” is not yet solved. The cause of death has not yet been determined. If Joseph Loveless was the victim of a crime, such as murder, the perpetuator also has not yet been identified. Admittedly, for a crime committed 63 years, the perpetrator probably will not be arrested. He or she probably is deceased by now. Of course, Joseph Loveless may have died of natural causes.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who wrote to tell me about this story.

Another Interesting Obituary: Katy Lynn McDonald

This isn’t so much a humorous obituary as it is a thoughtful remembrance of what sounds like a very nice lady. Here is the beginning:

“Katy Lynn McDonald escaped this mortal realm on December 14, 2019. She was 80, we think. The family believes she did it on purpose to avoid having to cast another vote in the American elections.

“Katy was world-renowned (#itsasmallworldafterall) for her generosity and kind disposition. She never met a stranger but she brought a few home (David W., you were our favorite). Mom offered a charm, wit, and undying love to those who were her friends. She was simply an amazing gal, part saint part sinner all bundled up into one marvelous package. If you were fortunate to have met her, you’d have liked her immediately… she was just that kind of person.”

Steven Smyrl Elected a Fellow of the Society of Genealogists

The following announcement was written by the Accredited Genealogists Ireland:

The prominent Irish genealogist Steven Smyrl has been elected a Fellow of the Society of Genealogists (SoG). The London-based organisation is one of the most prestigious bodies dedicated to ancestral research and it is, indeed, an honour to be granted its Fellowship. His election may be seen as due recognition of his long years of distinguished service to the field of Irish genealogy.

Steven’s most significant contribution to the wider genealogical community, and to society at large, relates to civil registration in Ireland. He was the driving force behind a successful campaign which achieved fundamental change on both sides of the border.

American Society of Genealogists grants ASG Scholar Award for 2020 to Denise Cross and Candace Marx

The following announcement was written by the American Society of Genealogists:

The ASG Scholar Award rewards talented genealogists with stipends to pursue advanced academic training in genealogy. At its meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, on November 2, 2019, the American Society of Genealogists granted the ASG Scholar Award to two recipients:

To Denise Cross of Berlin, Massachusetts, for her article “Uniting the Identity of Samuel Fletcher of New York and Vermont.”

To Candace Marx of Norridge, Illinois, for her article “A Luxembourger Family Comes to America: The Wagners of Aurora, Illinois.”

Ms. Cross will use her award to attend the Genealogical Research Program of Pittsburgh (GRIP) and Ms. Marx will use her award to attend the Excelsior College Genetic Genealogy Program.

American Society of Genealogists awards Certificate of Appreciation to David E. Rencher

The following announcement was written by the American Society of Genealogists

David Rencher

On rare occasions the American Society of Genealogists awards a Certificate of Appreciation to an individual or organization in recognition of extraordinary contributions to the discipline of genealogy. At its Annual Meeting November 2, 2019, the Society awarded a Certificate of Appreciation to David Rencher, A.G., C.G., Chief Genealogical Officer of FamilySearch and, from 1999 to 2002 and again since 2018, Director of the Family History Library, in recognition of his vigorous and visionary efforts to serve the aims of scholarly genealogy at the Family History Library and at FamilySearch.

Laboratory for Advanced Medicine Inc. has Hired a new Chief Executive Officer: Kenneth Chahine, a former Executive

Friends and former co-workers might be interested to know that Kenneth Chahine, Ph.D., J.D., has moved to Laboratory for Advanced Medicine Inc. He is the new CEO and is competing with several venture-backed startups in a new market for blood tests that detect cancer in its early stages.

Laboratory for Advanced Medicine is an AI-driven healthcare company focused on commercializing early cancer detection tests from a simple blood draw.

You can read the announcement at:

Matt Menashes Tapped as Executive Director of the National Genealogical Society

The following announcement was written by the (U.S.) National Genealogical Society:

FALLS CHURCH, VA, 1 NOVEMBER 2019—The National Genealogical Society (NGS) Board of Directors welcomes Matt Menashes, a veteran executive with twenty years’ experience in association management, as executive director. He will begin his employment with NGS on 1 November 2019. Menashes will lead all operational aspects of the national membership organization, while working with the Board to develop a shared vision for the future as NGS moves toward a merger with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) by October 2020.

Menashes comes to NGS from the natural resources sector, where he was a senior executive in associations in outdoor recreation, coastal and marine management, wildlife, and forestry. He has driven increases in member engagement, revenue, and educational programming for multiple organizations. He is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and a longtime member of both the American Society of Association Executives and BoardSource. Menashes currently serves on the Board of Leveling the Playing Field, a charity that provides sports equipment to underserved youth throughout the Washington, DC/Baltimore region.

American Ancestors Presents Lifetime Achievement Award to Author, Historian Joseph Ellis

The following announcement was written by American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society:

American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society Present Lifetime Achievement Award to Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author and Historian Joseph J. Ellis

Two Local Luminaries of Boston’s Cultural World—Vivian Spiro and Donald Friary—Are Honored for Leadership in History and Preservation

October 29, 2019—Boston, Massachusetts—On Thursday evening, October 24, 2019, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)—known to many as American Ancestors—honored one of the nation’s leading historians and most popular authors, Joseph J. Ellis, with its coveted NEHGS Lifetime Achievement Award. Ellis is the author of many acclaimed works of American history including Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, which won the National Book Award.

Roy Stockdill, R.I.P.

The world of genealogy lost a good friend last week when Roy Stockdill passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was a professional genealogist, writer, researcher, and lecturer in England. He ran a one-name study of the surname STOCKDALE, STOCKDILL and other variants. Before his retirement, Roy was a journalist at a number of Fleet Street newspapers and elsewhere, including: the TODAY NEWSPAPER, News of the World, the Sunday Citizen, the West Herts Post, the Coventry Evening Telegraph, the Leicestershire Live, and at the Halifax Courier.

Roy also was well-known for his many humorous articles, many of which dealt with genealogy. Here is one example that he allowed me to publish in this newsletter some years ago. I can no longer ask him for permission to publish it one more time, but I don’t think he would mind.

First, my introduction to the article, written in August, 2000:

A person who apparently is a newcomer to genealogy research posted a message this week on a British mailing list challenging why anyone would spend time looking for genealogy information in books and in dusty old records offices. Roy Stockdill responded with what I think will become a classic answer. Roy kindly has given permission for it to be republished here:

Roy’s article:

Find All Your Ancestors Online!

Dear All

Welcome to my super-fast instant ancestry programme! I am proud to announce the launch of an exciting new service for wannabe family historians who find research the old-fashioned way rather boring. You, too, can have a family tree back to Adam and Eve ENTIRELY from the Internet!!! Here is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be repeated offer…..

SEND me 10,000 dollars, your date of birth, your chest and inside leg measurements, the location of the pub where your granny met your granddad and the name of that milkman with the hairy nose that your Auntie Maude had the wild affair with – and I guarantee I will have your family tree at least back to Nebuchadnezzar the Daft of Outer Mongolia in the 3rd century BC before you can say “IGI” !!!

Follow-Up: How the Irish Man Hilariously Pranked His Family at His Own Funeral

This is a do-it-yourself article. You could do this yourself when the day comes. Well, you do have to have assistance from someone else at the funeral…

If you haven’t already read it, first read my earlier article, Irish Man Hilariously Pranks His Family at His Own Funeral, at Now Andrea, the daughter of the dearly departed Irishman, has revealed how her late father came up with the idea more than a year earlier.

(When the video starts playing, click on the speaker icon near the lower right corner to enable the sound.)

Irish Man Hilariously Pranks His Family at His Own Funeral

I have been collecting humorous obituaries for a while. This story isn’t about an obituary but about something related, as created by a man with a similar sense of humor.

As described by Ellie Houghtaling in the Mashable web site:

Shay Bradley of Kilnamanagh in the south of Dublin, Ireland, passed October 8, but that didn’t mean he was ready to give up his life’s passion of pranking his family. When his coffin was lowered and the bag pipes began playing, something unusual happened – an audio recording of his voice began playing.

(When the video starts playing, click on the speaker icon near the lower right corner to enable the sound.)

Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter and Gene By Gene Join Forces to Shape the Future of Investigative Genetic Genealogy

The following announcement was written by Gene By Gene, the parent company of FamilyTreeDNA:

Barbara Rae-Venter, PhD

HOUSTON, Sept. 27, 2019 — Genetic genealogist Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, recognized for her groundbreaking work in the Golden State Killer case, named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2019, and Nature’s 10 people who mattered in science in 2018, has been named Director of Gene By Gene’s newly formed Investigative Genetic Genealogy Unit.

Gene By Gene, known in the direct-to-consumer business as FamilyTreeDNA, was the first company to market direct-to-consumer DNA testing, and first to provide familial matching through a person’s DNA signature. “Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter pioneered law enforcement’s most revolutionary crime-solving tool since the fingerprint,” says president and founder, Bennett Greenspan. “We are excited to have a genealogist of Dr. Rae-Venter’s caliber working with us to set industry-leading standards for investigative genetic genealogy.”

Ontario Genealogical Society Presents Peter Wilson with the Society’s Award of Merit

Peter Wilson (left) was presented the Award of Merit by the Ontario Genealogical Society’s President Steve Fulton

Peter Wilson, the Richmond Hill, Ontario, Public Library’s Local History Librarian, was recently award the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Award of Merit for his work in leading the Library’s efforts in the organization, preservation, and digitization of genealogical and local history material.

According to the announcement, “Peter has worked tirelessly to preserve the area’s local history and to ensure that materials are made available and accessible through digitization. In addition to providing access to a diverse local history collection housed in the Richmond Hill Public Library’s Mary-Lou Griffin Local History Room, Peter and the Library also support the Ontario Genealogical Society’s York Branch by showcasing the branch’s collection of material through the RHPL online catalogue, and by offering training opportunities for the use of genealogy tools like Family Tree Maker software and Ancestry Library Edition. Congratulations Peter!”

My thanks to newsletter reader Terry Mulcahy for telling me about this award.

Follow-Up to Another “Interesting” Obituary about Joseph Heller, Jr.

Last week I published an article at about Joe Heller’s obituary. It seems that his funeral and burial ceremony have now taken place and, as you might expect, both were a bit “unusual.”

According to the New York Times at

On Friday morning, Mr. Heller’s body, in a coffin draped with an American flag, was placed on the 1941 Mack fire truck he helped restore and taken to Centerbrook Cemetery to be buried next to his wife, Irene, who died in 2015, and whom he embarrassed daily “with his mouth and choice of clothing,” according to the obituary.

Family members followed the fire truck in Mr. Heller’s immaculately restored 1932 Plymouth roadster with, as per his request, a set of plastic testicles dangling from the rear bumper.

There’s more information available at:

Another “Interesting” Obituary

I have published a number of humorous or otherwise interesting obituaries in the past, simply because I enjoy reading them. Apparently, humorous obituaries are also enjoyed by many others. Two different newsletter readers have now sent me links to the same person’s obituary and I must say that I am sorry I never met the man. He sounds like “my kind of guy.”
Joseph Heller, Jr.
Joe Heller made his last undignified and largely irreverent gesture on September 8, 2019, signing off on a life, in his words, “generally well-lived and with few regrets.” When the doctors confronted his daughters with the news last week that “your father is a very sick man,” in unison they replied, “you have no idea.” God thankfully broke the mold after Joe was born…
Also, you will enjoy these words to describe his memorial service:
Joe despised formality and stuffiness and would really be ticked off if you showed up in a suit. Dress comfortably. The family encourages you to don the most inappropriate T-Shirt that you are comfortable being seen in public with as Joe often did.