Rex E. Stevenson, Jr., founder of the Herkimer/Montgomery Counties NYGenWeb, passed away on May 9, 1997. Rex is very much missed by us, researchers Rachel Meyer and Martha Magill, whose tribute to him, we hope, can try to describe the experience of being a Friend of Rex.
Distant cousins (as Rex termed: kuzzins - which he said was "usually reserved for Kissin Kuzzins") don't always become dear friends, but from the time Rex and I found each other on the Internet it seemed like we had known each other for a very long time. It was his contribution to our relationship that made it so - just as I'm sure he endeared himself to hundreds of genealogists, related or not. Even though I feel I knew Rex well, I also wish I had been able to learn more about him.
Rex Stevenson touched not only my life, but the lives of my husband and our three teenagers. Until we began exchanging e-mail in the Winter of 1996, my family thought that genealogists were dull and boring. Rex, with his wit and charm, was able to dispell their pre-conceived notions.
Rex described his first adventure in genealogy like this:
rs= "Anecdote: When I first became interested, I went to the Public Library in Miami, FL (I didn't know about the LDS-FHC) and when I asked a little old gal that was in charge of the genealogy section, where to start and how----she suggested the census, and specifically my aunts and uncles. She said, "When you find your father's name and his siblings and his parents------I gotcha!!!!" She was right!"
When asked if he had read the book, "Drums Along the
Mohawk," he responded:
rs= "Nope, but I've seen the movie several times, and still get goose-bumps when the opening screen comes up that says 'German Flats'."
Rex was a great teacher-- patient, diligent and willing to explain aspects of research in detail. He was also very particular, documenting, organizing-- only including those links of which he had proof. His involvement with the GenWeb Project was his part of his effort to publish his work - to make the knowledge he possessed freely available to descendants for generations to come.
Once when I was explaining the possibility of a link and how badly I
wanted to find anything that would prove or disprove it, he responded:
rs= "But isn't it great when you find a piece of the jig-saw puzzle that we call genealogy, and it fits perfectly into place!!!!"
And that is what Rex wanted for all researchers-- especially those researching the Palatine Germans and the area of Herkimer and Montgomery counties in New York. He wanted to help make the pieces fit. Thank you, Rex.
I met Rex Stevenson in June of '96, when I responded to his listing for Stevensons in Cayuga County on the Roots Surname List. Since we were looking in the exact same northern townships, we started trading material back and forth, comparing other surnames who tied in with our respective families. We never found our mutual link in that county, and Rex's namesake's origin is unknown... so far. To the benefit of many other researchers now and to come, Rex had carefully traced his maternal lines back to the Palatines of Herkimer and Montgomery Counties.
About a month into our daily chats Rex told me about his having signed on as one of the first coordinators of the NYGenWeb project. He needed a partner who could handle the HTML end of the Herkimer/Montgomery site. A few paragraphs later he cheerily and casually let it drop that he'd taken the liberty of "volunteering" my services! We became the first co-coordinators of the NYGenWeb, taking on the responsibility of the only double county page. Rex always felt that, above all counties, Herkimer and Montgomery's early history were one.
Before we went online Rex offered many ideas for the look and content of the page. Rex always affectionately referred to his online correspondents as "kompooter kuzzins". I won't elaborate on his original "Kompooter Kuzzins of Herkimer/Montgomery" title for the page, but we were able to compromise most of the time, and did then. Our discussions about the development of the page were always interesting, a mix of professionalism and zaniness. We could run a conversational thread as if it were in real time:
rs= I'll throw in some commemorative stamps of historical
mm= I hate to use the expression "are you serious". Will the govt. allow you to do it? Is it a crime like photocopying money?
rs= ...They now allow videos of money - never did in the good old days. At the most, they tell you to change the page (besides, since you're in charge of the page, I'll keep your job open, as long as you're gone!)
mm= ...we be less verbose as possible on the first page. But you and I
are both windbags!!!
rs= You have to stop first!
mm= unh, unh, unh. You've been doing it a lot longer than I have!
rs= That's true. It follows, then, that because of my wider and more flexible experiences, my verbosity is REQUIRED in order to compensate for your own short-comings.
mm= Now I have a good excuse to learn CGI scripting.
rs= Good.......but I learned to write a long time ago----but we called it the Palmer method script!
As Opening Day loomed and Rex saw his dream come true...
mm= ....working on drawings now. It looks so drab without graphics .
rs= Let's upload ASAP. The tempo is rising-- and we don't want to be last--- nor do we want to be canceled..... nor do we want to use all our ammunition on the first charge...... keep some for the follow-up.
And in the midst of it all we never let rest our obsession with
tracking down all the pre-1850 NY State Stevensons to find the parents of
his Walter and my Norman. But every path we pursued led to a dead end. One
day I got desperate and Rex, ever the businessman, saw an opportunity to
make money on the Net:
mm= This outfit is not reselling phone book listings. I think I might spring for the Stevenson stuff.
rs= You must believe in miracles! Save your dough. BTW, would you like to buy a lovely bridge located in Tucson, AZ?
Of course, our research discussions managed to fit in tidbits about
the known ancestral Stevensons:
mm= I watched the moon landing with my grandmother back in the summer of '69 and she just couldn't believe it. She used to tell me about how she had to crank the car up from the outside when she was young.
rs= Do you mean that they changed that on the new cars??????????
There was much discussion of our beloved pooches:
rs= Also, thanks for the introductory lead-in to Dobie's background. I held Dobie up so she could see herself, but she merely shrugged and mumbled "Yeah, yeah, but when are we going to the park to play with the frizbee?" She's very shy and modest.
Rex was not shy, but was sometimes modest. He was what the French call a "raconteur" - a teller of enthralling stories. We could be discussing something serious or highly technical and Rex would hit me with a zinger and segue into a wild and colorful story, such as: his seeing a famous actress smashed in a hotel lobby while he was a young man on leave during WWII, playing cards with a well-known t.v. actor on a plane...and losing, the time his father slipped the vodka into the lemonade at the family reunion, and so on.
But when problems arose, such as when either of us didn't understand what the other was talking about, or neither one of us knew what we were both talking about, Rex became "Wrecks" and I became "The Frantic One". If he spotted a potential Stevenson tidbit, he became "The Vigilant One."
As the queries came in to the brand new Herkimer/Montgomery Counties GenWeb, "The Vigilant One" jumped to the fore to help people, as he did on all the lists he subscribed to. Rex's correspondence was extensive; when he complained that his mailbox was too full you had to laugh. He went out of his way to look things up for people, send files, recommend books, and above all, the ultimate "Networker" delighted in introducing his friends to other online contacts. Rex had contributed most of his vast GEDCOM information to the IGI, although knowledge of exactly who his many correspondents were is lost to us. But those of us who were privileged to be his friends and correspondents will miss him, his encyclopedic knowledge, his wise counsel, and his legacy of research, sharing and most of all friendship. In my mind I'll still say "Rexie, we got another Bellinger query!"
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