Roots & Branches is an award-winning, weekly newspaper column begun in 1998 that currently is published in the Altoona Mirror. It’s the only syndicated column on genealogy in Pennsylvania!

Posted December 17, 2017 by  |  No Comments

Ray Schott, left, and me at the Pennsylvania State Library before Schott’s retirement as a volunteer.

It wasn’t too many years after I began doing genealogy that the State Library of Pennsylvania endured some budget cuts and no longer had paid staff assigned to proctor its huge Genealogy and Local History collection.

That was in the late 1980s and a patron named Ray Schott, a native of Pittsburgh who was retired from the steel industry, stepped up and became a volunteer who made it his business to staff the genealogy room.

Well, some 29 years later, Schott has decided at age 93 that it’s time for him to retire again.

Deputy State Education Secretary Glenn R. Miller helped make it official by giving Schott a proclamation at a luncheon earlier this month sponsored by the State Library with several dozen people in attendance, including your “Roots & Branches” columnist.

While Schott’s hearing became more impaired during his long years as a volunteer, his mind has not dulled a bit.

I’ve written a number of columns over the years about how the “local expertise” of people who know a particular area are assets that aren’t often found on the Internet.

Well, you can call Schott an example of “repository expertise” – no one knows the State Library’s genealogy collections like him.

On the last day that I would be researching in the State Library during Schott’s watch – the day before Thanksgiving just a few weeks ago – it was getting close to the end of the day and I knew exactly what books for which I was looking (the encyclopedia-sized, two volumes called the Genealogical Record of the Schwenkfelders).

All I had to do was write down the title for Schott – and he immediately pointed me to the correct shelf in the genealogy room’s second floor.

And at his party, Schott surprised and flattered me by recalling a time that I didn’t remember.

It was 1999 and I was debating whether to leave my job as a newspaper copy editor to become executive director of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania.

Schott said that he was glad he recommended that I take my career in a new direction. “Look at you now – you’re nationally known for genealogy!” he said, as the usual warm smile came over his face.

For sure, I’ll miss Schott whenever I go to the State Library from now on.

But I can’t think of anyone who’s better earned an end to a longtime routine.

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