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28 March 2016

In Memoriam: Henry Snyder

Dr. Henry L. Snyder
1929 ~ 2016

Dr. Henry Leonard Snyder was a charismatic scholar who embraced life’s adventures with a positive attitude, an ambitious work ethic, an intellectual curiosity, and a wonderful sense of humor. He died 29 February 2016 and is survived by his three sons, Michael, Christopher, and David, and seven grandchildren. Henry’s beloved wife, Janette Marie née Hannus (1932-2016), passed away in January of this year.

Circa 1930
Henry L. Snyder was born 3 November 1929, a third generation Californian on his mother’s side. His father, Henry Runyon Snyder (1900-1975), was born in New Jersey and was a civil engineer who worked for the telephone company in San Francisco. His mother was Mary Jane Rosenberg (1908-1982). Henry was predeceased by his sister, Mary Jane “Janey” Snyder Pearson (1933-2007).

Mary Jane Rosenburg
Henry Jr. and Henry Sr.
It was clear from an early age that young Henry would make his mark on the world. His first job was delivering groceries when he was 12 or 13. Even as a middle school student, Henry was interested in books. He spent much time in the school library and recalled that at the age of 14, he purchased his “first seventeenth-century book, Jeremy Collier’s A short view of the immorality and profaneness of the English stage.” [i]

Henry developed a love for music from an early age, particularly opera. He and Janette attended many performances and especially loved Madame Butterfly. His passion for music was undoubtedly nurtured by his father, a talented pianist who could play several instruments.
Henry was always an excellent student. He graduated from high school in 1947, second in his class. It was natural for Henry to head straight to the University of California, as many of his relatives were “Cal” graduates. In 1951, he graduated with a B.A. in history, and went to work as an assistant buyer in the china and glass department of a local department store, eventually rising to the position of buyer in 1956. Simultaneously, Henry joined the California Army National Guard and became a company commander.
High School Graduation, 1947
Pyramid Peak, 1950
Cal Graduation, 1951
Army National Guard, 1958
Ever the intellectual, Henry decided to further his education. In 1959, he returned to Cal, earning first a Master’s degree and then a PhD. in British History; his dissertation was about the Third Earl of Sunderland. To complete his research, Henry spent about 18 months in England. 

Henry’s best friend, Roland Jesse Lunday was married to Janette in 1953, and the three were dear friends. Like Henry, Jesse was in the National Guard and a Ph.D. student from Cal. In a tragic turn of events, Jesse was killed in an accident in England. Janette, then expecting her first child, returned to her parents’ home in Hawai‘i. Henry continued to correspond with Janette and eventually flew to the islands to visit her. According to Dave Snyder, “my dad proposed to my mom under the mango tree at her parents house. They were married at the Central Union Church in Honolulu." Michael was born in 1960. Henry and Jan returned to England, where their son, Christopher, was born in 1962. Following the completion of his doctorate, Henry and his family moved to Kansas, where he took a position as an English Historian. Son David was born there in 1965. From Kansas, Henry moved to a post at Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge, where he became a professor.

Honolulu, 21 July 1961
England, 1962
Michael, Christopher, and David Snyder, 1972
Acropolis, April 1974
Henry travelled the world and held numerous prominent positions. In 1986, following his position in Louisiana, Henry settled in at the University of California, Riverside, as the Director of the Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research. More significant in terms of genealogy, Henry became the Director of the California Newspaper Project. Family historians around the globe know this as the "California Digital Newspaper Collection," an indispensable tool used by thousands of researchers on a daily basis.

In a 2001 article and interview, author Daniel J. Slive wrote, “Henry Snyder’s indefatigable energy is at odds with the term retirement.” The California Genealogical Society was the beneficiary of Henry’s so-called “retirement.” He joined our organization in 2009, after past President, Jane Lindsey, invited him for a tour. Henry immediately jumped in as the Library Director, was elected to the Board of Directors in 2012, and remained in the position until his death.
May 1986
Jan and Henry Snyder, 2001

Henry was more than the Library Director at the California Genealogical Society. He was a vibrant member of our community. He developed many close friendships, especially with the numerous volunteers who worked with him. He initiated countless projects, including an acquisition of a large collection of California Directories, he increased the scope of our general collection and sold duplicate items, which brought in much-needed revenue to our all-volunteer organization. More significantly, he moved us from an internal catalog system to OCLC, a global, online catalog-service for nonprofit organizations. 

San Francisco, 2014
California Book Club
Mechanics Institute, 2015

The volunteers at California Genealogical Society had much to say about the loss of their friend and colleague. The following are just a sampling of their kinds words:
I love Henry’s “Can-Do” attitude. 
~ Arlene Miles, Library Manager
He was one of those forces of nature who are not buffeted by the winds of change, but one who powers those winds with their own sheer will. For genealogists, especially those with family in/from California, you can rest assured this force helped you, by driving a site of digitized newspapers from the Golden State. He seemed to live MANY good lives, and for a while, one of those lives was as a board member and volunteer at California Genealogical Society with me and many others. Each one of us will always be richer for the time he shared there. 
~ Kim Cotton, FGS Delegate and Past Technology Director

Henry’s legacy, all that he did for so many – will be there forever. We all benefited from Henry’s joyful life. I will miss the burst of energy that filled the room whenever he entered. 
~ Chris Patillo, Investment Chair 

He was unique and will be sorely missed. 
~ Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, Past President
Henry was a solid vessel of information, which he shared with one and all. His guidance of the CGS Library was essential to its success, from re-shelving to cataloguing to the OCLC. The depth of his knowledge was shared for everyone's benefit. His dedication to his family genealogy was amazing. 
~ Jeffrey Vaillant, Past President

Henry and I did not always see eye to eye on things, but we loved sparring and always valued one another’s opinions. He was such a positive “make things happen” kind of person. I loved problem solving with him and we got so much accomplished for CGS. He was like the “ever-ready bunny”. He always wanted to get things done faster than the process we sometimes needed to adhere to… I loved his comment, “I think sometimes it is easier to just do it and apologize later.” 
~Jane Lindsey, Past President

Dr. Henry L. Snyder was an influential man. At the California Genealogical Society, his work is visible everywhere we turn. We will miss you, Henry. As you would likely tell us, we wish there was just “one more story…”

A memorial service for Henry will be held at the 1st Congregational Church in Berkeley on May 14 at 2:00 PM. You can read more about his service in his obituary
Contributions in Henry’s memory may be made to the California Genealogical Society, 2201 Broadway, LL2, Oakland California, 94612-3031. 

Photos provided by the Snyder family and the California Genealogical Society. The editor wishes to thank the Snyder family for providing the details for this blog. 

[i] Daniel J. Slive, “Exit Interview: Henry Snyder,” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, American Library Association, 2:1 (2001) 73-92.

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