Monday, February 18, 2013
On Friday I received a phone call out of the blue from Bill Springer, a fourth great-grandson of Capt. George Donner, to inform me that his brother Don died last month.
Donald Donner Springer, a life-long resident of Springfield, Illinois, was an avid collector of Donnerana. He amassed a quantity of documents and other items related to his family history, gave talks to local historical and genealogical groups, and had a memorial erected to George and Tamzene Donner, along with other relatives whose graves are unknown, in the family plot at Oak Hill Cemetery in Springfield.
When JoAnn Brant Schmidt and I visited Springfield in 1998, Don put us up for a week, took us on a tour of Donner sites, and shared his remarkable knowledge freely. Don and Jo Ann were distant cousins, he being descended from George's son William and she from George's daughter Sarah -- naturally they had a lot to talk about! Don was a hell of a nice guy, friendly, generous, and a great host.
If Don's passing weren't bad enough, Bill also told me that Jo Ann died over a year ago, and her husband of 59 years, Gil Schmidt, passed away in October, less than a year after Jo Ann.
In addition to being sharp, funny, and having a great outlook on life, Jo Ann was an amazing genealogist. She's the one who cleared up the mystery of Sarah Donner (Capt. George Donner's daughter, not sister); found George Donner Sr.'s Revolutionary War service (North Carolina militia, not Continental Army), thus enabling any number of descendants to apply for membership the DAR and SAR; identified George Sr.'s wife Mary (surname Huff, though Jo Ann was always careful to say that while the inference was quite clear, she hadn't yet found any direct documentation); uncovered a collection of documents relating to the Donners back in Kentucky; and much, much more. A lot of information about the Donners in the family trees at Ancestry.com stems from her research, though she's rarely credited. Neither Jo Ann nor I had been working hard on genealogy for a while, so we hadn't been in touch lately, which I very much regret.
I'll try to find something more upbeat to post about next time.