Sunday, January 6, 2013

In Loving Memory of Joan Miller - Genetic Genealogist, Blogger and Dear Friend

I am extremely saddened today to learn of the passing of my dear friend and fellow genetic genealogist and blogger, Joan Miller.  Joan passed away on Friday after a very brave battle with a long illness, throughout which she always stayed positive and full of hope. She was just that kind of person.

When I first started blogging, Joan was extremely encouraging and generous. At the SCGS Genealogy Jamboree 2011, she encouraged me to attend the GeneaBloggers' Ice Cream Social. While there, she lovingly walked me around the room and introduced me to every person there. I was deeply impressed by her kindness that night and continued to be so throughout our friendship.

The timing of her death meaningfully coincides with the announcement of the SCGS/ISOGG "DNA and Genetic Genealogy Conference" to be held in conjunction with SCGS Jamboree. This is very significant to me since my dream of this conference was born from Joan's vision. At the 2011 SCGS Jamboree we discussed her idea to approach the organizers of the event to host a genetic genealogy pre-conference. She never got the chance to do so, but when they came to me with the same idea, I immediately thought of Joan. It is a reality now and I know that she would be so proud. My participation in this conference will be in her honor and we will be memorializing her contributions at the event.

Due to the distance between our homes, our friendship was mostly "virtual", but I had the pleasure of interviewing Joan at the 2011 Family Tree DNA Administrator's Conference. She spoke about her love of genetic genealogy with passion and intelligence (just like she did everything). She was such a joy.

Joan was a prolific and award winning blogger at the Luxegen Genealogy Blog. One of her favorite subjects to write about was genetic genealogy and we owe her gratitude for introducing many of her readers to DNA testing for genealogy. As a retired manager of a medical research lab and a self-described "science geek", Joan was uniquely positioned to understand the complexities of DNA testing and, as a natural teacher, translate that knowledge into easy-to-understand language for her readers. She also coordinated the Alberta Family History Society DNA Interest Group where she was an active volunteer. They were very lucky to have her there to mentor the participants in person.

As a long-time genealogist, she was an early adopter of using the Internet to connect with other genealogy researchers. According to an interview at, she set up her first genealogy webpage in 2001. She was well known as an active and beloved member of GeneaBloggers and the online genealogy community as a whole. As such, I'm sure that my memorial post will not be the only one.

As I write this memorial to Joan, the word generous comes to mind over and over. She was the definition of that word in so many ways. It was Joan who inspired many of us to join the Kiva Genealogists for Families Project where she was a team leader with Judy Webster. Making a commemorative loan in her name seems like a fitting tribute. [Update - Joan's daughter Heather has asked that commemorative loans or donations in memory of her mother should be made through Kiva and the Genealogists For families Project linked above.]

For the recent Fall 2012 Issue of the AFHS Chinook Journal, Joan and I co-authored a Genetic Genealogy Reference Guide. She did most of the work on it, but generously insisted that I receive credit for the updates that I made to her list since she had been away "From the GeneaSphere" (the name of her regular column in the journal) due to her illness.

Alberta Family History Society's Chinook Journal

She also asked me to look after her small, but beloved Aumack DNA Project while she was healing. I guess that was a more permanent request than I had hoped. Joan had first started working with DNA for genealogy in 2005 when she asked her brother to test so she could join the Kerr/Carr DNA Project (Kerr = her maiden name). She speaks about that experience and what she learned in our video interview above.

Joan and I shared regular, albeit brief, correspondence since she learned of her illness about a year ago. In our last exchange, she was her typically encouraging and positive self and more interested in my well-being than hers. Always thinking of others, she enthusiastically shared an idea she had for me - to create a DNA ebook for beginners. I should listen to her advice.

She described herself and her interests on her Google+ page:

A retired manager of a med research lab,  Joan Miller is a genetic genealogist with an interest in social media and technology to complement traditional genealogy research. Her genetic genealogy activities include Aumack Y-DNA project administrator and coordination of the Alberta Family Histories Society (AFHS) DNA Special Interest Group.

Joan has been involved in genealogical research for over 20 years and she tries hard not to bore the rest of the family with her hobby (addiction?).   Several family members do read her blog and they all love the family tree banners she creates and the stories she collects. 

She is a member of the Genealogical Speaker’s Guild, and various genealogy societies. This busy genealogist writes a regular column entitled “From the Geneasphere” for “Chinook”, a publication of the Alberta Family History Society and serves on the Public Relations committee of that Society. 

Joan is the creator of the Luxegen Genealogy Blog which was named in Family Tree Magazine’s Top 40 Genealogy Blogs for 2011. She served as an Official Blogger for Rootstech 2011 and is delighted to be continuing in that role in 2012.

Joan, who lives with her husband and their daughter’s cat in Calgary, Alberta, Canada enjoys varied activities.  She volunteers with Toastmasters International, plays indoor soccer, relishes outdoor pursuits, and travels widely. She has admitted that she is a “Genealogy Conference Junkie”.

She loved her family so much and was extremely proud of her beautiful children. My condolences and love go out to them at this heartbreaking time. The last Tweet from the former enthusiastic advocate of social media (retweeted from Alex Flint) passed along some poignant advice to us all on December 15th:

Turn off the news. Get off twitter. Go spend some time with the people you love instead. Much better use of time. Peace out. 

I think I will go do that now, but I will be thinking of Joan who I loved very much. We all did. She was one of the most generous, kindest souls I have ever know. I will never forget her. 

Signing off to Joan the way she always did to me...Xoxoxo


  1. My heart goes out to Joan's family and friends. I am sad that I did not have a chance to meet her in person, but I treasured our on-line friendship. Joan was immensely helpful and supportive when I set up the Genealogists for Families project. She was my co-captain on the project's Kiva team, and she was also the first person to contribute a 'Meet the Team' profile for the blog. She will be missed, but her legacy will live on.

  2. Such a wonderful tribute to a wonderful woman. Joan will be missed!

  3. Wonderful tribute. I did not know Joan but subscribed to her blog. I learned alot from reading it over the last year or two. I wish her family and friends heartfelt wishes and the comfort that comes with time.

  4. Wonderful tribute CeCe! I am so saddened by our loss.

  5. Simply beautiful. I know of Joan through social media, and the Genealogists for Families Kiva group, but I can she made a big impact on many, many people, and her loss is going to be felt for a long time.

  6. Joan is a member of our family - married to our cousin Reg. As everyone who marries into the "Aumack family" soon finds out - you become part of us whether you wish to or not. We insist! We loved Joan dearly - her & Reg were at every family function - homecoming, wedding, and alas, even funerals & she was as important to us as Reg was. Thanks to her, we have a family history which she did all herself. The rest of us, were tremendously interested in our heritage but too lazy to do anything about it. We are so sad that you had to leave us, much to early. And it is wonderful to say - that what we have are great memories. Our family has another angel in our midst.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with Joan's friends here. As you know, you are very lucky to be able to call her a family member. Thank you also to your family for sharing her with all of us - her online and genealogy friends. I hope that someone in your family will pick up the family historian torch that Joan is now so lovingly passing on.
      Please accept and pass on my condolences to your entire family.

  7. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this loving tribute. Joan will be deeply missed.

  8. What a great tribute! Very beautiful! We will all miss Joan. I will remember her family in my prayers.

  9. Beautiful tribute to a very special person! RIP Joan, you will be missed.

  10. Joan's daughter has suggested that commemorative loans or donations in memory of her mother should be made through Kiva and the 'Genealogists for Families' project.

  11. A beautiful and loving tribute...Prayers for the family and you..

  12. Cousin Joanie was such a kind soul. Joan's mom and my dad were siblings. Joan always had time for me when i was a little kid and she was a grown adult lady. She always took the time for every one and had such loving patience in deciphering our grandfather's diaries. Her Husband Reg and children Kevin and Heather always shared and cared just like Joanie. She loved kayaking with Reg and the kids and would tell me stories of the BC gulf island kayak trips. She inspired me to explore my own province as I lived in BC but to also explore myself and my family. We came from farming roots so family roots came naturally. Love cousin Mel

  13. Beautifully written and from the heart

  14. Such sad news. She will certainly be missed.

  15. Very sorry to hear of her passing. Blessings on her family and her at this time.