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John Humphrey, a special genealogist

For those in the “Roots Branches” readership who do either Pennsylvania or German genealogy – which is presumably a good many of you – it’s unlikely that you haven’t heard of John T. Humphrey.

Some two decades ago, Humphrey started compiling books from his county-by-county database of Pennsylvania birth records, mostly from the 1700s, that are still consulted by researchers. His lectures on all aspects of German genealogy have been both scholarly enough for the academic world and accessible to family historians.

And as a human being filled with humor, wit and good nature, he was without peer.

No doubt you’re noting that I’m using the past tense regarding John. And as tough as that is for me to do, it’s a fact that he died from a stroke a week ago.

John was a mentor and friend to me as well as so many people in the genealogical world. In another of the genealogical “hats” I wear, I edit Der Kurier, the journal of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society. John was president of that society when I was named editor and remained a guiding light on the organization’s strong board of directors until his death.

While there are so many anecdotes from our friendship, I suppose the one that sticks out in my mind comes from spring 2010, when John had lectured in Germany and was stuck in Europe longer than anticipated because of the Icelandic volcano eruption that had stalled air traffic.

John was scheduled to lecture at the Ohio Genealogical Society conference, and when

he couldn’t make it back in time, I was asked to pinch hit since I, too, was already scheduled to present.

Every day in Ohio, there’d be a new John Humphrey rumor – one said that he had hopped the Chunnel to England, and another claimed he had taken a train to Spain since airports there were believed to be ready to reopen more quickly. I opined that very likely John had wasted no time and went back to researching.

When we caught up with each other a few weeks later, I recounted the rumors to John and he confirmed my surmise: With his patented good-natured smirk, he said, “Are you kidding? I went right back to the archives!”

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Dick Eastman, the longtime blogger who puts out Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter on a daily basis, will be featured on Sept. 22 at the sixth-annual Ancestry Fair cosponsored by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Center.

Eastman will discuss searching on Google, organizing research using digital techniques, using wikis to publish family history online and using satellite technology to locate cemeteries.

Admission is free to the Ancestry Fair’s vendor hall and presentations for beginners and use of Mormon FamilySearch Centers. A ticket to all of Eastman’s presentations costs $45 for GSP members and $55 for nonmembers. Boxed lunches are available for $10 additional for those who preregister to hear Eastman.

The fair will be held at the Bucks County Visitors Center, 3207 Street Road, Bensalem, PA 19020. Interested readers may register and purchase tickets by visiting the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania website at

Beidler is a freelance writer and lecturer on genealogy. Contact him either at Box 270, Lebanon, PA 17042; or by e-mail at

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