Friday, February 12, 2016

He Inspired a Genealogist – Mr. George T. Ihnat

Today, I received notification that a teacher I had in junior high school and high school had passed away on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.  I hadn’t seen Mr. George T. Ihnat since the day I graduated in June 1973; however, he had a profound effect on me by instilling a love for family history.
George T. Ihnat in 1972
Beginning in 1967, I attended Park Terrace Junior High School in North Versailles, PA – where we moved from teacher to teacher instead of having one teacher all day.  I barely remember any of my instructors from Park Terrace, as there were so many – but one who made a lasting impression was Mr. George T. Ihnat who taught 8th grade English. I would later have him as my 11th grade American literature instructor at East Allegheny High School.
As I had many great teachers during my life, I can’t say I remember the specifics of the vast amounts of knowledge he imparted in either class; however, I do recall an assignment that had influenced my primary life’s interest.  One day in 1968, Mr. Ihnat assigned us a project to create a family tree – a typical project that occurs during many people’s school experiences.  I hadn’t thought about my ancestry until then and I haven’t looked back.
The assignment prompted me to ask my mother about her and my dad’s families.  Since my dad had passed away in 1962, I knew very little concerning my paternal lineage.  Mom knew my dad’s mother’s family, but only my grandfather’s name and a few scattered details about his siblings. She went into her secretary and pulled out a piece of folded paper in my father’s handwriting that had the names and dates of my father’s grandparents. He had jotted down these notes after visiting relatives in Ohio during the summer of 1960. She also found an old obituary about my great-great grandmother, Sarah Ann Jones Merriman, who was the oldest woman in McKeesport, PA at the time of her death in 1929.

Later that day, my mom and I went to McKeesport-Versailles Cemetery and found Sarah Merriman's and my second great grandfather’s grave – John Merriman was a Civil War veteran in the 101st Pennsylvania Volunteers. My research also inspired me to query my only living grandparent – my mother’s mother about her lineage. I was given a wealth of information about her and my grandfather’s sides of the family.

I also asked my Aunt Nath, my dad’s oldest half-sister who attended the same church as us, if she could provide some additional information. She gladly wrote down names of family members that she could remember. That was a little over 47 years ago and I still have all of these notes and clippings. It got me interested in family history and this was later rekindled in 1978 with the return of my great-grandparents’ family bible to its bloodline.

Mr. Ihnat’s assignment continues to inspire me even to this day in discovering family – old and new. This interest has expanded from archives, library, and cemetery research to DNA testing of relatives – a keen hobby thanks to an English teacher who went beyond the scope of grammar and composition with an assignment about a family tree.
Mr. Ihnat:  I am sorry that I never connected with your during my adult years to tell you how that one assignment changed my life forever. Thanks to you it did. While I am hard pressed to remember any of my junior high teachers, you’ll never be forgotten. Rest in Peace.