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The legacy lives on

A stroke, the medical folks tell us, is when “the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the brain is blocked” and it “can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death.”1

What they don’t tell you is that it can cause your heart to hurt — in this case, the heart of an entire community. Because it was a stroke that felled John Thomas Humphrey, CG, on Sunday, August 12, in Washington, D.C.2

Just two weeks earlier, he’d been the coordinator for the week-long German Genealogical Research track at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.3 In May, he’d been one of the speakers at the National Genealogical Society conference in Cincinatti.4 A nationally known author and lecturer on German and Pennsylvania research, John was teacher, mentor, friend to many genealogists.

And news of his death, at age 64, comes as a shock to all who knew him and a blow to the entire genealogical community.

His obituary is straightforward:

John Thomas Humphrey, age 64, passed away suddenly of a stroke on August 12, 2012 in Washington, D.C. He was the son of the late David and Edythe Humphrey of Pen Argyl, PA. John was graduated from Pen Argyl High School in 1966, and was graduated from American University with a BA in government and public administration in 1970. He is survived by his sister, Joan E. Mack (nee Humphrey), nephew Jonathan Mack, niece Jennifer Mack, and John Doney, his partner of twelve years.

Soon after college John began renovating townhouses on historic Capitol Hill, eventually completing more than twenty properties. John transitioned to professional genealogy, and compiled the fifteen volume Pennsylvania Birth Series, authored four books, and innumerable articles. As a certified genealogist, John lectured and taught nationally and internationally on Pennsylvanian, German, Welsh and Moravian ancestry, and could read and write old German typeface. In addition to his love of genealogy, John ran more than twenty marathons, enjoyed worldwide travel, and the endless devotion of his Polish Lowland Sheepdogs and Labrador Retrievers.

A public viewing will be held on Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 9:00 A.M. at the Guerro & Ruggiero Funeral Home in Pen Argyl, followed by interment at Plainfield Township Cemetery.

As expressions of sympathy, memorial contributions may be sent in John’s name to the Northampton County SPCA, the Maryland SPCA, and/or the annual fund of Moravian College.5

We can add to it accomplishments that mean the most to our community: John was an award-winning author who specialized in German and Pennsylvania research. In 2010 he was invited to give a presentation on researching Germans in America at Schloss Dhaun in the Rhineland-Palatinate; in 2008, at the request of the German Embassy, he gave the keynote address at the 400th Anniversary Celebration in Williamsburg, Virginia commemorating four centuries of German immigration into the United States. He was the past president of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society, a past vice president of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, leader of the National Genealogical Society German forum and former director of the NGS Learning Center.

What doesn’t show up in any of those words are his kindness, the depth and breadth of his knowledge, his willingness to share what he knew and, above all else, that enthusiastic “c’mon along, this is fun” smile.

It simply wasn’t in him to see family history as anything other than an exciting journey, one he loved best when sharing it with others. He had an easy, graceful, gentle style even when dealing with complex materials, and no matter how tough the questions were, John always delivered the answers with that smile.

The loss of a genealogical scholar of John’s caliber is a terrible blow to our community. Yet we have cause to be grateful — grateful for his time with us, grateful for all he shared with us, and grateful above all else that he lived when he did. Because he lived when he did, his work — his genealogical legacy — lives on.

Sure, his written work would survive him. As his obituary notes, he authored the Pennsylvania Birth Series — a multi-volume set held by many libraries (check out the Worldcat listing for a library near you). Among his many article credits were several contributions to the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (all available online for NGS members):

     • John T. Humphrey, “Palatine Origins of Some Pennsylvania Pioneers,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89 (June 2001): 152-153.

     • John T. Humphrey, “A Rhoads Family History: The Family and Ancestry of Jay Roscoe Rhoads with a Genealogy,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 91 (March 2003): 69.

     • John T. Humphrey, “Minimum Resources, Maximum Yield: Reconstructing the Schuck Family in Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 91 (September 2003): 165-182.

But the written word could never capture what John had to offer as well as his spoken words did, and because John lived when he did, we have his spoken words as well. First, you can see him in Finding Your Family at the National Archives, and he’s featured in a 20-25 second clip in the National Genealogical Society’s Paths to Your Past (starting at about 01:58).

And because he lived when he did, his lectures live on as well. Starting as far back as the early 1980s, various genealogical groups including the National Genealogical Society arranged for lectures at their conferences to be recorded. When John began speaking widely at those conferences, starting in 1997, his lectures were recorded too.

The earliest of the recordings are available at, and John’s lectures available there — all on cassette tape (the firm will convert to CD format for an additional fee) — are wide-ranging:

     • Early Church Records: Identifying Problems and Solutions
     • Essentials In German Genealogical Research
     • Character and Genealogy
     • Colonial Pennsylvania: Finding Families in Penn’s Woods
     • Developing the Skills to Become a Genealogist
     • Documentation-It’s Essential!
     • Finding German Ancestors Using Church Records in Germany and the U.S.
     • Moravian Settlements in the Chesapeake Basin
     • Palatines to America luncheon: Exploring the German “Character”
     • Reconstructing Families on the Colonial Frontier
     • Reconstructing Families When Church Records Are Sparse
     • Researching Pennsylvania Ancestors
     • Researching the 18th-century Germans
     • The Genealogist’s Handbook for Baptismal Records and Practice
     • The German Character
     • Using Church Records Effectively

Just enter “Humphrey” in the search box to find these lectures.

More recently, lecture recordings at conferences have been done by Jamb Tapes. All available on CD, John’s lectures available here are wide-ranging as well:

2007 National Genealogical Society Conference, Richmond
     • T 205- Early Germans in Pennsylvania and Virginia (with D.A. Boyd-Bragg)
     • W 105- Researching Eighteenth-Century Germans
     • S 437- Researching German Ancestors: The Agony and the Ecstasy

2008 National Genealogical Society Conference, Kansas City
     • T 237- Finding German Ancestors in Published Sources
     • F 316- The WWW of Germany Genealogy
     • F 321- Midwest German Immigration, Migration and Settlement Patters within the U.S.

2008 Federation of Genealogical Societies
     • T-72- Researching Eighteenth-Century Germans
     • F-112- Pennsylvania’s Early Church Records

2009 Ohio Genealogy Society Conference
     • F-2- Finding your German Ancestor Place or Origin
     • S-17- Finding Families in Penn’s Woods

2009 National Genealogical Society Conference, Raleigh
     • RAL-W127- Exploring Economic Forces that Influenced our Ancestors’ Lives
     • RAL-S423- The Moravians: Eighteenth-Century Clerics and Clerks

2010 National Genealogical Society Conference, Salt Lake City
     • S458- German Ahnentafeln by the Thousands!
     • W151- Understanding the Process that Creates the Records

41st Annual Southern California Genealogical Jamboree
     • Fr-018- The “WWW” of German Genealogy
     • SA-040- Understanding the Process that Created the Records
     • SA-061- Pennsylvania’s Land Records: An Indispensable Resource for Genealogists
     • SU-078- Reconstructing Families on the Colonial Frontier
     • SU-096- Using Church Records Effectively John T. Humphrey

2011 Ohio Genealogy Society Conference
     • S-15- Finding Your German Ancestor’s Place of Origin
     • S-25- Pennsylvania’s Land Records: An Indespensable Resource for Genealogists
     • S-27- German Church Records: “The Heart and soul of German Genealogy”

2011 National Genealogical Society Conference, Charleston
     • W126- Finding Your German Ancestor’s Place of Origin
     • T214- Researching Eighteenth-Century Germans
     • F306- German Church Records: “The Heart and Soul of German Genealogy”
     • F322- Reconstructing Families on the Colonial Frontier

2012 Ohio Genealogy Society Conference
     • F-23- Pennsylvania’s Eighteenth-century Economy

2012 National Genealogical Society Conference, Cincinnati
     • T226- The “www” of German Genealogy
     • F341- German Language Skills for the Genealogist

To order any of these, go to the link for the specific conference and, in the drop down box for available options, find the entry with the code shown to the left of the lecture title. Jambs was offering a boxed set of four lectures (Finding Your German Ancestor’s Place of Origin; Researching 18th Century Germans; German Church Records: the Heart and Soul of German Genealogy; and WWW of German Genealogy) for $45 at the NGS Conference in Cincinnati6 and although it’s not specifically offered on the website, an inquiry via the contact link may well produce it.

I’ve been reminded recently of that African proverb, spoken of those whose knowledge goes with them to the grave: “When an old man dies, it is as if a library is burnt down.”7 And though our hearts are heavy, all we can say is… Thank you, John, for leaving so much of your library with us here to share.


  1. What Is a Stroke?,” Health Information for the Public, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute ( : accessed 14 Aug 2012).
  2. John T. Humphrey obituary,” Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter, posted 14 Aug 2012 ( : accessed 14 Aug 2012).
  3. See “Course Coordinators: John T. Humphrey, CG,” Faculty, Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh ( : accessed 14 Aug 2012).
  4. See Karen Miller Bennett, “2012 NGS Conference in Cincinnati, Day 2,” Karen’s Chatt, posted 10 May 2012 ( : accessed 14 Aug 2012).
  5. John T. Humphrey obituary,” EOGN.
  6. Judy G. Russell, “NGS 2012 Day 3,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 May 2012 ( : accessed 14 Aug 2012).
  7. Judy G. Russell, “IGHR: Day 1 highlights,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Jun 2012 ( : accessed 14 Aug 2012).
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