Members of the GenHaven genealogy Web site spend most of their time helping each other track down long-lost relatives who died decades, maybe centuries, ago. But sometimes their work gets a bit more personal. Not to mention immediate. GenHaven ( GenHaven @groups.msn. com ) was formed three years ago by Guy Merritt of Oliver Springs, his cousin Jan Loveday of Williamsburg, Ky., and a few other local people bitten by the genealogy bug. The group now boasts 600 members from around the world. "We're serious about genealogy," said Merritt, a retired military police officer who works in hospital security in Oak Ridge. "In fact, there's probably only about five groups like us. You might find a lot of 'genealogy sites,' but when you check into them, you discover they exist for other reasons." Online porn, for instance. Not here. I clicked onto the site and found everything from family tales to recipes to poetry and prose to prayer requests - plus a ton of questions and answers from individuals trying to unravel their roots. "In addition to the United States, we have members in Australia, England, Holland, Chile, even one in China," said Merritt. "We have message boards and a state page for every state in the union. If anybody has any questions about tracking down their ancestors, we can help. "The members communicate often through our chat room and have gotten to know each other pretty well. We even have a reunion once a year." There was one member who could be counted on to converse nearly every day. He was 45-year-old Jortis Webb, a computer technologist who lived in St. Petersburg, Fla. "We knew Jortis had some health problems," said Merritt. "When we didn't hear from him, several members started getting concerned." Via their chat room, GenHaven participants relayed worries to each other. Finally, a person in Tennessee and another in Texas decided to pursue the matter directly. They contacted the St. Petersburg Police Department, expressed their apprehensions and asked that an officer call on their friend. Shortly after midnight Sunday, a paramedic knocked on Webb's door. Getting no response, he peered into a window and saw a man slumped over at his desk. Jortis Webb had died online. "There was no sign of foul play," St. Petersburg police public information officer George Kajtsa told me via phone. "His online friends said Mr. Webb was a diabetic, and they were worried since they hadn't heard from him. Mr. Webb's neighbors had not seen him in two days." "This is the first time anything like this has ever happened in our membership," said Merritt. "Our members are getting older, and it's only natural that some are going to pass away. But I've never heard of contacting the police this way." As sad as they were to receive the news, the GenHaven "family" could only marvel at how the connection was made.
As Loveday noted: "The wonders of this age."
Article By: Sam Venerable