Roger Minert was my German research professor at BYU for many years. Last night we went to his retirement party at the Rotary park near his home in Provo. In 2004 I took my first class from him. Because he changed my life, I’d like to tell the story of how that happened.
This week is the BYU Family History Conference. People come from all over the country to attend this conference. In the summer of 2004 one of John’s old girlfriends came to Provo from out-of-state. I got a phone call from John in the late morning that went something like this, “Ann–can you come to campus right now? Cynthia is here in my office and I’d like to take her to lunch.” Dang, I thought. I have to look presentable and be on campus in 20 minutes! I probably put on some mascara and lipstick and changed into something nicer and drove over to campus, feeling a bit put out that this old girlfriend had intruded in my busy day.
We met and went to lunch. She had a quick break between sessions and was eager to get back to the conference. Trying to be polite, I asked her what her favorite class in the conference had been so far. I’ll never forget what she said. She started to describe the last lecture she had attended before visiting John at his office. She told me about the German researcher named Roger Minert who had just opened her world to German research. Her face was animated. She looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you live Right Here and could just take a class from him! You are so lucky!” I wrote his name on my napkin.
In that moment something in my world shifted. As I think back on it now, I can make sense of what happened, although I didn’t fully understand what Compelled me that day in such a strong and urgent way. I believe generations of my ancestors on the other side of the veil were there pushing me forward down a new path.
As soon as Cynthia walked away, back to the conference, I found Linda, John’s secretary and asked her, “What do I have to do to sign up for a class at BYU?” I knew spouses of faculty had privileges, but I’d never taken advantage of them. In the next hour she helped me with phone calls and registering for a class that would begin in a few weeks. It was a German Paleography class taught by Roger Minert.
On 31 August 2004 I recorded this in my journal: Class is from 9:30 to 10:45. There are 9 of us in the class. Roger Minert is the teacher. I liked him right away and felt that I was being in the right place at the right time. I am learning to know that feeling well. I seem to be led to people I need to learn from and I can tell already that he is one of them.
This was our text book:
As we learned to read this handwriting, we were given an exciting assignment for the semester. We were each to spend 40 hours extracting names out of German church records in Wisconsin. These American church records are often one of the only places where German hometowns are mentioned. Once a family can identify the hometown, they can cross the ocean to the excellent church records kept in Germany. This is the most critical piece of information for a German researcher. With the name of a hometown, you are basically home free!
The records we extracted that semester turned into these volumes!
Our names are on the cover as compilers:
In the years since 2004, when I first began working with Roger, all of these volumes have been published, 28 so far. We are working parish by parish and state by state. Many states have multiple volumes. John and I have happily supported this project and continue to do so. Dozens of BYU students have been involved and employed over the years. Thousands and thousands home names are connected to ancestral hometowns here. These books are available in libraries and Family History Centers across the nation. (They are also in our basement!)
Here are a few photos from Roger’s retirement party last night:It was wonderful to see old classmates again!
Here are some of the volumes published so far:And here’s what the extracted records look like:
Here’s a letter I found in my files, sent to BYU President Samuelson the following semester:
5 January 2005
Dear President Samuelson,
I saw you zipping across campus Tuesday morning as I was on my way to class and I wanted to flag you down and say Hi, but I was too far away, and you were too fast on that little cart.
Then today I received the birthday card you sent and I wanted to thank you for the kind thoughts. I’m sure you get a lot of mail from students, so I hesitate to take your valuable time, but I just wanted to tell you of the wonderful experience I have had.
When I graduated 20 years ago, I had a feeling that someday I’d be back. But then my life went other directions, and once John and I finally met, family life took over and I was content. That changed last August when I was visiting with some friends who were in town attending the BYU Family History Conference. When I asked them which classes had been the most valuable, they immediately told me of a German teacher who alone made the whole trip worthwhile. Their comment was, “I can’t believe you live right here and could just take classes from him.” That’s all it took. I went right to John’s office and found Dr. Roger Minert and enrolled in one of his classes.
The class I took was a German Research class (Hist. 422) where we learned to decipher and read old German and Latin documents. It was hard, but I loved every minute of it. I now have skills that will be invaluable to me in my own family history work.
I want to tell you a bit about Roger Minert. I think he’s pretty new here at BYU. I don’t know how he came to be here, but what a blessing it is to have such an outstanding professor here on campus. I’ve known a lot of professors here, but I have known few who have the vision he has for the work that can be accomplished in his field. He is a man driven to teach and share skills that will prepare us to really make a difference in the world with the things that really matter. As I sat in his classes, I felt the Spirit very strongly that that was exactly where I needed to be, learning from exactly the right person.
Bro. Minert is humble and Good, and is quietly making a very big difference in the world of German Family History Research. It almost scares me to think that I could have missed learning of his classes. I hope you have a chance to meet him if you haven’t yet and hear about some of the many projects he has involved his students in. As part of our 422 class last semester, the students in my class extracted thousands of names from documents that few people are able to read. These records will be published and made available to people desperate to read them or understand them. It was a wonderful experience, and John and I will do all we can to help support his work.
Anyway, I just wanted to check in and let you know I’m a happy student having a great BYU experience. I’m taking two more classes from Bro. Minert this semester, and I’m really looking forward to learning the things he’ll be teaching us.
Thanks again for the birthday greetings and for all you and Sharon do to make us so happy to be involved with the University.
Roger Minert has been one of my dearest mentors and friends for almost 20 years now. Because of what I learned from him, 20,000 of my own German ancestors and family members have been found and are in my data base. I also became a full-time student again at BYU, taking more than 80 classes in the next 10 years.
John and I have traveled with Roger and his wife, Jeanne to my ancestral hometown, and through German and Poland together. We’ve had some wonderful life-changing experiences. What a gift it has been to have this world of German research opened to my mind and heart! “Indeed, ” as Roger would say, it’s been a life-changer!