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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Richard Roe, Researcher

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 7, 2016

Working in a public library, our staff gets to know lots of people over their years of employment.


Sandy Day, our retired Local History and Genealogy Librarian, was recently recounting her introduction to a man who made a real difference in the library’s collection and the information available to the public.


His name was Richard Roe.  He was a private individual, rarely involving the staff in his daily life, and keeping to himself as he sat quietly in the library reading.


The staff noticed him using the library several days a week, and he eventually made his way into the Local History Room at the Schiappa Branch Library where Sandy worked.


She inquired if he needed assistance, and he responded with a firm, yet quiet “No.”


Eventually, he had read many of the books in the Local History Room, and would greet Sandy, and perhaps inquire about something in the collection.


One day, he said to Sandy, “What books would you like to see in your collection that you don’t currently have?”


Her response was “birth records for the time period before they were collected by the State of Ohio, and cemetery readings for county cemeteries.”


Little did she know that triggered a decade of research and copying by Richard Roe.


He sat quietly at the microfilm readers hour-by-hour making indexes to Birth Records and U.S. Census records for the late 19th century and early 20th century.


One day he appeared with a stack of papers in-hand, and gave them to Sandy saying that he was also doing cemetery readings.


Sandy introduced him to me one day, and he looked very uncomfortable in talking to me, but I thanked him for his work.


We found that he did not drive, but walked to all the cemeteries with a small note pad, carefully writing all of the names from the gravestones.


He then carefully recorded his work, indexed the names, and then printed them giving the Library a copy of his work to be published and bound and placed online in our Digital Shoebox.


The library catalog shows 11 different books produced from the work of Richard Roe, from birth records, naturalization records, census indexes, and the 7 volume cemetery readings of Jefferson County and one volume of Brooke County cemeteries.


From time to time, Richard Roe would disappear for a while; then re-appear with some new information.


Most of his work spanned the 1990s with his last book a compilation of place-names of Jefferson County which he found while researching his other topics.


Then Richard Roe went away.


Sandy worried about what happened to him, but could find no further information about his whereabouts until his niece appeared in the library in 2007 to sadly inform her that Richard Roe had died in 2005.


His niece had little contract with him, but recently donated books to the Library System in his Memory, and talked with me about her reclusive uncle.


Richard Dodd Foster Roe, his complete name, was born in Steubenville in 1928, the youngest child of Foster and Ida Kelly Roe.


He grew up on Sherman Ave.  His father died when he was a child, and he lived his life as an extremely private man, removed from society.


The saddest part of the story of Richard Roe is that he died alone in 2005 in public housing, and had shared no family information so his cremations were lost to time, and it is unknown if he was ever buried anyplace.


The man who recorded the deaths and burials of thousands of area residents has himself no resting place.


On the other hand, his name and work will be remembered forever as future generations will utilize his books which contain his work, his name, and often his signature on the title page.