I am sitting at my desk, in disbelief, still shocked by the sad news that Leland Meitzler shared yesterday about the passing of Ruth Ellen Maness, AG.
My friendship with Ruth began with a fortuitous meeting. Back in 2011, I decided that it was time to attempt to crack the brick wall in my family tree that was blocking the path to Denmark and Sweden and the family of my maternal great grandmother. Technology did the trick and I was able to find my family living in Copenhagen in their 1850 census. From it, I learned that my 3X great grandfather, Johannes Jensen, was born about 1810 in Copenhagen (per census information) and that he was a career musician/soldier in the Danish Army. The family lived in the barracks at Rosenborg Castle, which houses the crown jewels.
Johannes Jensen became my new brick wall. In 2011, FamilySearch still had its forums up and running. Researchers could post queries and request help with their problems. Volunteers trolled the boards and provided terrific help and guidance.
I had heard about the Danish laegdsruller records (military lists somewhat like draft lists) and was hoping that those records might help me trace the parents of Johannes Jensen, as neither his baptism nor parents/siblings were to be found anywhere.
Someone on the Danish forum took the time to answer my query and typed out a two page guide to the steps I needed to take to search the laegdsruller microfilms. The person who responded was “RE Maness.”
I live in Tucson, but try to get up to the Family History Library once or, if I am lucky, twice a year. Soon after my forum post, I was off to Salt Lake and the international floor in the library.
I immediately headed to the help desk (in the old library configuration, Scandinavia had its own reference/help desk) and explained to the lady that a very nice person had given me all this information (as I held the print out) on accessing Danish military lists, but I needed to be pointed in the right direction to get started and would definitely need some help reading Danish.
The lady at the desk glanced at my print out and replied, “I’m the one who helped you.” It was Ruth and, thus, our friendship began. During the following couple of years, I actually made it to Salt Lake five or six times, as solving the mystery of Johannes’s life turned out to be not so easy, but the goal was accomplished with Ruth’s tremendous help and guidance. (Answer: Johannes was born at the unwed mothers’ hospital in Copenhagen and given up for adoption. Later hospital records identified his mother by name and, indirectly, also named his father.)
There were others who helped me in my quest – Naomi, Anka, Liv and Roy – but it was Ruth who spent many, many hours and days with me, guiding me from one place and filmed records to another until we hit the jackpot.
I was only able to hear Ruth as a lecturer at a conference once and I hadn’t realized that she would be there. It was in Mesa, Arizona about five years ago when the Family History Expo held a conference. I ran into Ruth while walking around and attended the sessions at which she presented. She was as excellent a presenter as she was a teacher in the Family History Library.
Even after Ruth retired a few years ago, she still came to the library a couple of times a week, at the least, to help patrons. It was clear that she loved what she did.
I last saw Ruth in February when I was in Utah for RootsTech. As usual, she had a hug for me and asked how the Jensen research was coming along. Before leaving for home on Saturday, I said goodbye and mentioned that Dave and I would be driving to Yellowstone National Park this summer and that I would have some time in the library both going and returning. I was looking forward to seeing her then. Little did I know.
I would describe Ruth as a gentle soul, somewhat quiet and low-key, but an absolutely top notch researcher who loved what she did and maybe even loved helping others even more.
Another friend of Ruth’s posted a farewell to her on Facebook and those leaving comments pretty much say it all about Ruth:
Lived her entire life for others
Selflessly shared her time and knowledge
Wonderful lecturer and teacher
Encouraging and thoughtful
Generous with her expertise
Remembered fondly, special, kind
Shared her considerable talent
Friend and mentor
Love for people
The epitome of family history
She was the consummate professional who contributed so much to the genealogy world.
Ruth Ellen Maness
Source: BYU Religious Studies Center
R.I.P., My Friend