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dave obee A tribute to Ryan Taylor

By Dave Obee

ryan taylor The bad news about Ryan Taylor came on Thursday, in an early-morning phone call from Brenda Merriman in Toronto. She told me that Ryan had not been seen since Sunday night, that he had missed a flight home to Fort Wayne and that his luggage was still in his hotel room.

We both hoped for some logical explanation for his disappearance, but the news only got worse. A few hours later, there was word that a body had been found. It had been tentatively identified as Ryan's.

That afternoon, I received a copy of an e-mail sent to Toronto branch members of the Ontario Genealogical Society. "A sad day for genealogy in Toronto and Ontario," it said.

That statement was accurate, as far as it went. But the death of Ryan Taylor is a loss for genealogists across Canada and the United States. He touched hearts and minds from coast to coast as a speaker and as an author. In his role as a genealogy librarian at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, he was able to help genealogists everywhere on the continent.

I met Ryan for the first time at a conference at the Heritage Inn in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He was the star attraction, and I was impressed by his depth of knowledge and his friendly manner -- and more than anything, his enthusiasm for the never-ending hunt for roots.

I asked him if he would consider coming to Vancouver Island to give a seminar, and he told me that he would love to. He'd prefer, he said, doing it in the winter -- giving him a chance to escape the cold weather of Indiana.

That was, as the saying goes, the start of a great friendship.

The Victoria Genealogical Society brought him to the coast for a day-long seminar in 2001, and he wowed the crowd. He had a knack of announcing sources that had just become available, sending a buzz through his audience.

Ryan and I got together again the following year in Edmonton, at the annual conference of the Alberta Genealogical Society. By the end of that weekend, we had agreed that I would post copies of his newspaper columns on the Interlink web site.

In 2004, Ryan returned to British Columbia. I put together a tough schedule for him, with seminars in Victoria, Nanaimo, Campbell River and Vernon. He didn't complain about doing four seminars in eight days.

Not only that, he was concerned that a couple of the societies were too small to pay his usual speaking fee. So he didn't ask for money; he asked instead for local history books that he could donate to the library collection back in Fort Wayne.

Whenever possible, I acted as his driver when he came to British Columbia. It was fun to chat with him. He had been working on genealogy since the 1960s, but he had never become jaded. He still could get excited over the discovery of new sources, or finding a way past a brick wall.

In 2005, he was approached about taking part in a new Canadian television series, Ancestors in the Attic. He was thrilled to pass the screen test, which meant he would be able to share his passion for family history with a wide audience.

That June, he went to Toronto to start work as a panelist on the show. His enthusiasm was evident in the e-mail he sent to me.

"I am going to TO tonight to film part of the pilot for Ancestors in the Attic -- the story of my solving a family legend, first disproving it and then discovering the truth behind it," he said.

"I film in TO on Thursday and then go to Sudbury for more filming with the family whose ancestors are concerned. They are good chums of mine, so we'll have a great time."

He had other plans as well. In November 2005, he told me about another trip to Toronto, which included a meeting to discuss a major book project for 2007. But he wasn't all business.

"Had dinner with Brenda Merriman on various topics. Very profitable and lots of fun. B took me to a Japanese noodle house in her neighbourhood, which we enjoyed very much. None of that tempura or boiling pot stuff, but little plates of various things which we shared. Some excellent baby eggplant with seaweed," he said.

I saw Ryan for the last time at the Ontario Genealogical Society's conference in Oshawa in May. We went to the Outback for dinner, and the conversation went on long after the food was gone. Other friends managed to take in a movie at the theatre next door while Ryan and I worked on solving all the problems of the genealogical world.

He was back in Toronto in July to film more episodes of Ancestors in the Attic.

"More fun, I hope," he said. "It is a really fresh approach to genealogy."

On Sept. 7, he spent six hours on a conference call sorting out some of the puzzles of the final three episodes of the show. He was happy to report that he had been able to answer two questions quickly -- one with the books just outside his office door, the other with the census indexes on Ancestry.com.

We were completing plans for a trip to British Columbia in February. Once again, he would be able to escape winter for a few days. There would be seminars in Victoria, Vancouver and Campbell River. We were going to confirm the dates as soon as he finished working on the television show.

On Sept. 19, just before he left his office in Fort Wayne to catch a flight to Toronto, he sent an e-mail to me.

"This will be my last communique," he said. "I am off to TO for the final round of shooting. I am scheduled to return on Monday."

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard pulled a body from the Lower Niagara River, near the New York Power Authority intakes. There was no identification on it.

At 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Toronto police held a press conference outside the hotel where Ryan had been staying, spreading the word that he was missing.

By Thursday afternoon, the Canadian and American authorities had put their heads together and come up with a tentative solution to both mysteries.

Ryan may be gone, but his good work lives on, through his columns, his books, and the things he taught us -- about genealogy and about life.

Ryan's columns are on the CanGenealogy web site.

Photograph of Ryan was taken in Victoria in 2001.

Newspaper reports on Ryan's death


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