The legacy of Donn Devine, 1929-2019

This has been a difficult post to write. I have lost friends and colleagues in the genealogy community before, but this one has affected me the most.

Almost a decade ago, I wrote about the Pennsylvania Family History Day, held on 5 November 2011 in Exton, Pennsylvania. After the day-long event, I was invited to have dinner with Donn Devine and Curt Witcher. It was the first time that I met Donn, though we would become much closer until he passed this May.

(l to r) Curt Witcher, Michael Hait, Donn Devine, Exton, Pennsylvania, 5 Nov. 2011
(l to r) Curt Witcher, Michael Hait, Donn Devine, Exton, Pennsylvania, 5 Nov. 2011

Donn touched many people in his long career—or should I say careers. He worked as a chemist, an editor, an attorney, city planner of Wilmington, Delaware, and archivist of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, in addition to his genealogical activities. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard dating back to the Korean War and marched for civil rights during the 1960s. In recent years, he fought to make the Delaware state song—for which he wrote the fourth verse in 1959—gender neutral, so that it would be more inclusive for young girls as well as boys. Donn’s influence can be witnessed by reading the statement issued by the current Mayor of Wilmington, who described him as “a true champion.”

His influence in genealogy cannot be overstated either. His chapters on “Defining Professionalism” and “Evidence Analysis” in Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians are two of the most profound in that book, studied by hundreds of genealogists of the ProGen Study Group since it started over a decade ago.[1] He is thanked in the acknowledgments of such important books as Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian and Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, and both editions of Genealogy Standards.[2]

For years Donn served on the boards of the National Genealogical Society and the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Most recently, he served as General Counsel for BCG. His service to BCG was rewarded this past December, when he was honored with CG Emeritus status in a small luncheon ceremony that I attended with other BCG Trustees and associates as well as members of the Delaware Genealogical Society. He had been named a Fellow of the National Genealogical Society at their annual conference in 2013.

In addition, at the December luncheon, BCG announced the creation of the Donn Devine Award for Extraordinary Service to the Board for Certification of Genealogists.[3] The first recipients of this award were Elizabeth Shown Mills, Thomas W. Jones, and Alison Hare, announced at the National Genealogical Society annual conference in May 2019.[4] The Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) has also announced a scholarship in Donn’s name for “full tuition for one 2020 course.”[5]

The most touching tributes to Donn, however, are those written by his daughter Mary Beth, for Father’s Day 2011 and Patriot’s Day 2011, and one written for Father’s Day this year, after his passing.[6] I extend my deepest condolences and sympathies to Donn’s family, as I know that their loss must be far greater than I can imagine.

Personally, I will miss the many conversations that I had with Donn over the years since that first meeting. Even after that first dinner—-when Donn, Curt, and I discussed the recent changes to the Catholic liturgy—-Donn and I had a brief but inspiring private conversation about my growing genealogical career. We would see each other at events in Delaware and Pennsylvania, once sitting on a brickwall panel together with the two other Board-certified genealogists in Delaware, Joe Harland and Debbie Hooper. Donn was proud of asserting that Delaware had the highest per-capita concentration of Board-certified genealogists. Including him, we had five, but Delaware has a low population, so . . . .

We would both attend the NGS Conference each year, often meeting at the BCG booth in the vendor hall. When he was thinking of retiring from his archivist position, he invited me to visit the diocesan archives and gave me a long tour, showing me their full record holdings and describing his efforts to index and digitize them.

But more than anything, I will miss the drinks we would share after the Friday-night Banquet at the NGS conference each year. It was here, usually away from other attendees but sometimes with one or two other friends like Sandi Hewlett or Judy Russell, that Donn and I would have deep conversations about genealogical concepts and many other topics. It was a conversation with Donn, for example, that caused me to research the history of the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine. I would often have to lean in to hear him over the noise of the hotel bar, but it was worth hanging on every word.

At the NGS Conference this year, just five days after he passed, I sat at the bar alone Friday night, and drank a Guinness in his honor.

I will miss you, Donn. We all owe you a debt of gratitude for your many contributions to our field. And I owe you for your years of friendship and your many contributions to my own knowledge, understanding, and career.

Donn’s obituary was published in the Delaware News-Journal from 12 May to 15 May 2019. Another memorial to him appeared in Delaware Online on 14 May 2019. They are both worth reading.

SOURCES

[1] Donn Devine, “Defining Professionalism” and “Evidence Analysis,” in Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed., Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001), 5–14, 327–42.

[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997); Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), 11; Board for Certification of Genealogists [BCG], The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, millenium ed. (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), vi; BCG, Genealogy Standards, 50th anniv. ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014), xvii; BCG, Genealogy Standards, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2019), xvi, xxiii.

[3] “The Donn Devine Award,” Board for Certification of Genealogists (https://bcgcertification.org/about/donn-devine-award/ : accessed 28 July 2019).

[4] “Board for Certification of Genealogists names first recipients of the Donn Devine award,” posted 11 May 2019, BCG SpringBoard Blog (https://bcgcertification.org/ddevine-2019/ : accessed 28 July 2019).

[5] “GRIP 2020 Courses Announced! Donn Devine Scholarship Announced!,” posted 8 May 2019, Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (https://www.gripitt.org/grip-2020-courses-announced/ : accessed 28 July 2019).

[6] Mary Beth Devine, “Father’s Day 2011 : ‘DA’ by Editor Mary Beth Devine,” posted 18 June 2011; “CaFleureBon Salutes Patriots Day 2011: Ode to ‘DA’ by Mary Beth Devine,” posted 18 April 2011; and “Father’s Day: 8100 Words – The Many Lifetimes of Donn Devine,” posted 15 June 2019, ÇaFleureBon (https://www.cafleurebon.com/ : accessed 28 July 2019).

3 thoughts on “The legacy of Donn Devine, 1929-2019

  1. Thank you Donn for your inspiration and leadership in important issues. Michael, your words are honorable, kind and true. These, too, describe Donn.

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