In the 1990s, it was my privilege to serve as vice president when Dr. Thomas Roderick was president of the Maine Genealogical Society.
Tom Roderick, who died Sept. 4 in Bar Harbor, was a dear man who generously shared his knowledge as a geneticist to further and enrich the family history studies of MGS members and others around Maine and in other parts of the country. We will miss him.
His talks were challenging, but never condescending. For many of us, he was the helping hand that guided us up a step or two in understanding genetics and appreciating concepts such as mitochondrial DNA — the genetic material that comes from the mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and so on.
A senior scientist at Jackson Laboratory, Tom knew Bryan Sykes, author of “The Seven Daughters of Eve,” and was a close friend of Dr. Victor McKusick, the Parkman native who researched at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was key to the Human Genome Project. Tom was credited with coining the term “genomics.”
From Tom, we learned about a family history mystery that was solved by tracing the presence of hemophilia; about the prevalence of deafness on Martha’s Vineyard, and about the advantages of studying genealogy of a place such as Iceland, where nearly everyone really is related to each other.
He founded the Annual Short Course on Medical and Experimental Mammalian Genetics, which brings geneticists from around the world to Bar Harbor, and co-founded the Center for Human Genetics in Bar Harbor. The center offered free clinics for families with medical issues in genetics.
Tom also responded kindly to the millions of questions he was asked by non-scientists, from “Why are my children’s eyes blue?” to “Should I be worried that my great-grandparents were first cousins?”
I asked him the second one, and was relieved to find out that lots of people can trace their ancestry back to first cousins who married and had children, and things usually turned out fine.
From Tom I learned about organizations such as the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. Visit the website at isogg.org and learn more about famous genealogy and haplogroups, etc.
Tom had a wonderful sense of humor to go along with his kind demeanor. He loved the Maine Genealogical Society and its chapters, and he was a blessing to all who knew him.
He came from Michigan and didn’t have much New England ancestry at all, but he chose to be buried in Bar Harbor. I am glad about that. My condolences go to Hilda and Tom’s family, and a sincere thank you for sharing this dear man whose work has benefited countless people.
Donations in memory of Dr. Thomas H. Roderick may be made to The Jackson Laboratory, 600 Main St., Box 610, Bar Harbor, ME 04609.
My apologies to those who didn’t receive the handouts I promised attendees of the Penobscot County Genealogical Society meeting on Sept. 18. My computer printer took the day off, and I was unable to attend the meeting, but will bring the handouts next month.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.