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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Two Degrees of Separation from a Genealogy Legend

Dick, friend Alba, and Charlotte (right) in 1954.

Lately I've been hearing more and more about people finding long-lost friends online through social media. Member volunteer Dick Rees found a friend and a connection to a genealogy legend.

Dick and Charlotte Cummings Douglas were good friends in high school in New Haven, Connecticut, but had lost track of each other during their college years. Earlier this year, they reconnected via email and caught up on their respective lives. When Dick told Charlotte of his genealogical work, she responded with this note:
When I was about 15, I had a summer job working as a copy holder for a quite elderly man (at least it seemed to me then) who published a genealogy journal. The articles were nothing but dates of birth and death, etc. Not much narrative, and lots of abbreviations. I would read aloud—including all punctuation—and he would follow along on the proofs. He had a marvelous house on the beach in Branford, and we would work on the screened porch. Sometimes we would take a swim at noon, and sometimes play ping-pong when work was over. I wish I could remember his name. His journal was supposed to be well recognized in the field.
Dick responded to Charlotte that her description sounded very much like Donald Lines Jacobus. Charlotte confirmed that Dick's guess was correct and she wrote reminisces of a summer job held more than sixty years ago.
I got the job because my aunt, my mother's sister, prepared Jacobus's meals that summer. (I never heard him called anything else but Jacobus.) Where they met I do not know, but she lived in the Westville section of New Haven, and he seemed to be known in the area. My aunt kept a boat moored somewhere in Branford. Mornings I would drive with her to Branford, she would busy herself in the kitchen, and we would leave around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. She left his dinner ready in the kitchen. I suppose her presence made it okay for a young girl to spend the day alone with a mature man. He was never anything other than gracious, and we got along well. 
When there was time, we did sometimes talk about genealogy, and about publishing the journal. He explained why many of the narratives (if that is what you call them) were anonymous, i.e. did not mention the name of the person they were about. And about "skeletons in the closet" and so on. But most of our day was spent on the proofs. He liked the fact that I read well, and made few mistakes.

Charlotte's employer the summer of 1951 was genealogist Donald Lines Jacobus (1887-1970). He was a prolific author and the founder and editor of the New Haven Genealogical Magazine, later The American Genealogist. At the start of the 2012 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy Course—"Advanced Genealogical Methods"—Dr. Thomas Jones called Jacobus "the father of the scientific school of genealogy."


The first person inducted into the National Genealogy Hall of Fame, Jacobus was the author of the classic text, Genealogy as Pastime and Profession, originally published in 1930. The second edition (1968) is still considered to be required reading for genealogists. In 1972, the American Society of Genealogists established the Donald Lines Jacobus Award to honor sound scholarship in the field of genealogical writing.

Thank you, Charlotte (and Dick) for sharing memories of a genealogy legend and making him a bit more human.

Photograph courtesy of Dick Rees.

Copyright © 2013 by Kathryn M. Doyle, California Genealogical Society and Library.

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