Donna Logan changed my life and my perception of how our Pennsylvania German pioneer families have grown to vast sizes and shaped Americana. She left us too soon. Sadly, it’s taken me a baker’s dozen years to complete writing this memoir which I began in 2007.
For more than 15 years, from the late 1980s to her death on Jan. 4, 2006, Donna was a pioneering researcher as well as organizer of the National Younkin Reunion and publisher of the “new” Younkin Family News Bulletin. She spent those years digging into old records, copying photos, visiting cemeteries and corresponding with Younkin descendants all over the United States and beyond. She freely shared her vast resource of research information, always with cheer and enthusiasm. As said her sister Jean, "Donna would do anything for a Younkin."
I don't know where she got her drive -- or her energy.
Perhaps her greatest achievement and most enduring legacy was the lesson of inter-connectedness, that while we all share a DNA link, we also are part of the greater whole of our nation in its mainly good, sometimes bad and occasionally ugly.
Her last discoveries were of Younkin-Junghen connections in Germany, and also the launch of a Younkin DNA project utilizing technology to determine precise bloodlines. Her passing was a powerful shock, and she is still missed by many. Among veteran Younkin reunion-goers, she stands as a one-word name, simply “Donna.”
~ Donna's Mind ~
Donna's mind and motive always fascinated me. She had a deep belief that one of the greatest qualities of life was to have a history. And she seemed genuinely gratified when giving others the gift of their genealogy. I don't kinow if this was the product of being the eldest child of divorced parents, or starting to face an empty nest once her children were in high school -- or having her Younkin grandparents living so far away in later years after having grown up with them nearby. She considered the sharing of memories to be a "true gift."
She definitely was blessed with a high curiosity drive from a young age. She once wrote that "As a child, I was forever asking my Dad why we were the only family with this name. A name, I might add, that my teachers always spelled and pronounced incorrectly! Each year the new phone book would come out. I would check to see if any new YOUNKIN's had moved to town."
After having not seen them for about a decade, Donna and her sister Jean and young nephew Derek flew to Arizona in about 1987 to see their grandparents Karst and Catherine (Brown) Younkin, of the family of Aaron Schrock and Sarah (Alton) Younkin. While there, Donna's grandmother brought out "a huge box from storage filled with memories," Donna later wrote. "This box contained an emormous collection of photographs, documents, hand-written memoirs and one very special item - an old (published 1938) issue of the Younkin Family News Bulletin." She also saw a photograph of the Nebraska sod house where her grandparents had once lived.
These finds fueled her imagination and sense of purpose in going deep into her family's past.
Her daughter Jennifer suggests that Donna's personality type was as a "campaigner," someone who is "extraverted, intuitive, feeling, and prospecting." Some of the fruits of this type are a free spiritedness, charm, independence, energy and great joy in making emotional connections with others. These truly were her gifts.
~ The First Call ~
Her first call came one Saturday afternoon in July 1989 as I was hurrying to get out the door. My brothers and I were about to embark on a road trip to Cleveland to see a ballgame between the Indians and Oakland A’s. I didn’t have much time, but once I knew why she was on the phone, delayed for just a bit and ended up talking for several minutes.
Donna identified herself as an extended Younkin cousin interested in genealogy, and had gotten my name from fellow Younkin genealogist Joseph W. Thomas of Pittsburgh, of the family of Michael A. Firestone. As I had to cut the call short, I promised to call back.
Early the following week we spoke again. We engaged in deeper conversation. She asked the right types of questions, and made the right kinds of statements. I could tell that I was dealing with someone whose mind was deeply engaged in a voyage of discovery.
Her gesture of outreach launched a relationship that would profoundly change my perspective on life and origins and how families can reconnect after many years, decades and perhaps centuries of fracture and forgetting.
As a double Younkin, I had been tracing Younkin genealogy since about 1984. My forbears had engaged in the practice of marrying cousins, thus the reason I had two distinct Younkin branches marrying into my Minerd-Miner lines. My gr-gr-gr-gr grandfather, Jacob Minerd Jr., married Catherine Younkin (1787-1847). Their son Henry (1809-1888), my gr-gr-gr grandfather, went on to wed his mother’s first cousin, Mary (nicknamed "Polly") Younkin (1815-1886).
The problem at the time was that I did not yet have any specific facts about how Mary/Polly fit. Rather, I had conjectured several theories (all of which proved wrong in the end, after much wasted time and energy).
Donna told me of her own family and of seeing the old Younkin family newspaper. This really caught my attention as I too had known of the newspaper, the Younkin Family News Bulletin, published by Charles Arthur Younkin of Charleroi, PA in the 1930s.
~ The Reunions at Kingwood ~
As we talked, Donna told me of her desire to form a Younkin Reunion and publish a Younkin newsletter. I told her I’d be glad to help. About a year later, after many letters and issuing several editions of the newsletter, Donna did indeed host the first gathering. It was held on Aug. 23-25, 1990 at the Kingwood Odd Fellows Grove, site of the original reunions of the 1930s.
Coming along to that first event was Donna’s long-suffering husband, Larry, who always was a good sport despite what must have been daily inundation with Younkinalia. He even had begun writing a column for the newsletter, entitled “I.M.A.Y. – I Married A Younkin.” It was hilarious in Larry’s dry, typically satirical way, and the first of many.
I can still remember the very first instant of the very first meeting with Donna, at a Friday evening hospitality suite at the Ramada Inn in Somerset. We met, shook hands, etc., and I knew this was going to be a fascinating relationship. She was busy meeting many other cousins, so I contented myself with looking at some old genealogy materials she had brought. I was not prepared for what would come next.
Five minutes could not have passed until I was immersed in old genealogy notebooks compiled in about 1934 by the late Otto Roosevelt Younkin, first and only president of the original Younkin National Home-coming Reunion. These notes contained specific references to a host of marriages between the kissin’ cousin Younkin and Minerd families of the 1800s. I was able to obtain a copy of these documents and began delving into the treasured references they spelled out.
At the reunions, I met many, many great people who generously shared photos and information about their branches – among them Tom and Evelyn Younkin, Mickey Martin, Esther Humes, Diana (Younkin) Burnell Egan and her brother Jim, Ron and Barbara Younkin and Ron’s father Delano, Loretta Kelldorf, Kay Lynn Younkin, Everett and Chris Sechler, Merrill Younkin, Olive and Howard Duff, Linda Marker, Barb Park, Ailene Lantz, Avis Engelka, Mary Ellen Hall, and many others I will probably insult by not naming them here. I tried to attend as many of the annual reunions as I could. From this came an opportunity for me to speak at the 1998 Younkin Reunion-West in Salem, Oregon, hosted by double cousin Diana Egan and her family.
Donna always approached her work in a first class, practical and meticulous way. That first reunion, meals were catered by a local restaurant, with the resulting charge of $14 per person. Some local cousins refused to attend, saying they should not have to pay to attend their own family reunion. But in fact it was a very efficient way to provide a meal to a lot of people at one time, and not very expensive, all things considered.
The 1990 reunion was the first of many reunions where I got to see old Younkin places and objects, and met many more distant cousins, some of whom shared Minerd-Miner bloodlines. They came from Ohio, California, Kansas, Iowa – in some instances the first time a member of their particular branch had returned to Somerset County for 150 years. At this realization, I realized what a magnificent, intellectual accomplishment Donna had achieved – bringing these families back together despite the ravages of time and disinterest.
The artifacts that emerged from oblivion at these reunions were remarkable – long, horizontal panorama photos of groups; framed oval portraits of Civil War soldiers in uniform; yellowed newspaper clippings; old hand-lettered family tree charts; and much more.
Donna gave much focus to work that would have lasting impact. I'll never forget one reunion in the mid-1990s when she and a group of cousins agreed to place a new Revolutionary War marker at the grave of Jacob Younkin at the Hogback Cemetery near Ursina. The event was a real "event" -- with a long line of colorful flags, guest speakers at a podium and microphone, and re-enactors in vintage frontiersmen clothing, all with an audience seated in chairs right in the graveyard. There was a bit of showmanship to it all, nothing disrespectful, and I liked it.
This led to other cousins making similar gestures in future years of a permanent nature. One was installing a new grave marker for Jacob's brother Frederick in an old burial ground on the farm of Kay Lynn Younkin, and another in 2019 for our immigrant ancestor Johann "Heinrich" Junghen at Keller's Church in Bucks County, PA. See my blog post, "Re-Marking a Legacy in Stone."
~ The "New" Younkin Family News Bulletin ~
Over the years, Donna published 28 editions of the YFNB – from Jan.-Feb.-March 1990 to June 2005. They were chock-filled with biographies and photos of cousins of old, her husband's IMAY columns, and updates on cousins living today all over the United States. At one time she desired it to be a quarterly, but that proved to be too much.
The substance of the newsletters demonstrated Donna's strong work ethic and a mind ravenous for information and precision of facts. I always have been grateful that she published a handful of my articles about the much-married Younkin and Minerd-Miner families. These articles were the formative basis for my decision to establish the Minerd.com website which went live in 2000.
I still have the yellow Younkin coffee mug from the 1992 Younkin Reunion.
One of my favorite Donna memories was our joint two-day research trip to the Somerset County (PA) Courthouse in September 1996. The mission was to investigate lawsuits filed by or against Younkins in the late 1700s and early to mid 1800s. What we found was intriguing – showing that the Younkins were a litigious, argumentative bunch. From the late 1700s to the mid-1800s, more than 30 lawsuits were filed naming Younkins as defendants or plaintiffs. Donna found a fascinating case involving a Younkin who sued his Minerd cousin for slander – for being accused publicly of stealing a sheep. The best part was that the words of slander were spoken in both German and English – showing that the early Younkins were fully bilingual. The attorney handling the case for Younkin wrote out the words in both German and English for benefit of the judge, providing us with a direct comparison of their dialect. Here we were finding this cultural gem after all these years. I ended up writing an article for Donna’s very last newsletter, “Some Things Never Change.”
~ The Toll of Overwork ~
During that two-day research trip, Donna confided that she was over-extended, burnt out and was ready to back away. She was caring for her mother, an elderly grandfather and a dying cousin, and just had too much on her plate. That was like her, sacrificing her own interests for those of others, and trying to do too much. But she kept on as best as she could.
At the 2000 reunion, she handed me a CD containing the full breadth of her research up to that time. The disk contained a Word document of 900 pages, with entries on 6,512 Younkin descendants, and how they each fit into the overall massive puzzle of Younkin-ness. It was an index of sorts to her library of thick, three-ring notebooks containing copies of her research discoveries. With her passing in 2006, that document became to me a living embodiment of her voluminous work product, endless hours of research, and even more hours of sorting, labeling and organizing.
In about 2004, Donna published a groundbreaking report on her trip to Germany, and friendships she had made with Junghen cousins living there. She found the old family church in Siegen and the Junghen name in old baptismal records of the 1700s – just the stuff to give one goosebumps. She also began another pioneering effort to establish a Younkin DNA project to try to establish scientific proof of connections for Younkins where no paper trail could be found. This work serves as a model other families can follow in the future. She also launched an extensive website with family trees, photos, obituaries and a DNA information.
The last time I saw Donna was at the 2005 Minerd Reunion in Kingwood. She and Larry just popped in later in the day to say hello. We had a chance to chat, and talk about the latest questions and discoveries. I looked forward to the next time when we could visit at greater length and go over even more of the material in detail.
Sadly, that next time never came. I sent Donna an email in January 2006 but received no reply. Then, out of the blue, her husband Larry wrote to say she had passed away. They had returned from a year-long cross country trip to find she had terminal cancer and six months to live. The news was devastating. It left me in a blue funk for a long time. I vowed to do some sort of honor to Donna in writing and to continue some of her work as time permitted.
In the years since Donna’s passing, her sister Jean has worked to keep Donna’s website online, and to preserve her encyclopedic three-ring binders filled with typed notes, family tree charts, photographs, news clippings and the like. Jean and I enjoyed a visit in her home a few years back.
In 2014, invited to lead a cemetery tour at the annual Younkin Reunion in Somerset, I made a decision, clearly irrational at the time, to begin publishing Donna’s work online. The objective was to find a greater purpose for her research findings, share the stories of long ago lives in a format which interested other people could find via Googling. Since that time, I’ve written 150-plus Younkin biographies, often of great length, and authored another 25-plus feature pages about legacies and human interest stories that document the uniqueness of Younkin peopleness.
I plan to keep this Younkin-Younken-Youngkin Biographical Archive online as long as time and funds will permit. Her work must be kept alive for the coming generations of like-minded cousins who will someday share a sense of wonder and prize her research as much as we have. They will have many more names to add by then!
~ A Few Other Highlights ~
Donna’s Modern YFNB – Donna’s newsletter provided me with an opportunity to write and publish biographical material about my branch of the Younkin family. My first article appeared in the edition of April-May-June 1990, headlined “The Much-married Miner and Younkin Family.” Several other articles followed, in July-Aug.-Sept. 1991 and Oct.-Nov.-Dec.1992. In doing so, I was creating my own foundation for development of my own proprietary Minerd.com website. Once I asked Donna when she was going to publish detailed bios on the Younkin website she had created. She said she had that in mind but knew she was too much of a perfectionist and would see too much fault in the work. And it never happened.
Re-publishing the Original YFNB – While at the 1998 Younkin Reunion-West in Oregon, thanks to a display by the late Paul Younkin, I saw original copies of all eight of the YFNB printed between 1937 and 1941. Paul graciously gave me copies of a few duplicates. Over time, I was able to secure or borrow the rest, and a few months after Donna's death, made the decision to publish them for current cousins and researchers to enjoy. That was a very fulfilling project to me.
Civil War Pension Files – While I had known that it was possible to request copies of Civil War soldier files by mail from the National Archives, Donna taught me that I could find much more by visiting the Archives in person. The trick was to request and handle the original papers, and copy more than the minimum amount of documents than the Archives would have provided. That has led me to make 18 trips to the Archives, often in company with cousin-researcher Eugene Podraza of New Jersey. As a result, the Archives has produced primary material about more than 213 Minerd-Miner, 155 Younkin and many other soldiers of branches of my father’s family.
National Reunion Concept – Donna’s magic allowed her to invite cousins from all over the country to come back to their ancestral home for the reunions, often after many generations had passed since they migrated away, a re-uniting of the diaspora. I once sat for a meal with some Youngkins from Iowa who were the first of their immediate branch to return in 100-plus years. It just got my mind racing about the meaning of these reunions. I just thought that was a fantastic concept and have tried to encourage that with our national Minerd gatherings.
Voluminous Research Binders – Donna organized her research findings into three-ring binders devoted to many of the earliest pioneers of southwestern Pennsylvania – Henry, Jacob, Frederick, John, Herman as well as Rudolph of Ohio and cousins in Northampton County, PA. She offered these to me in September 1996 over dinner in Somerset. I had nowhere to put them and so declined. Then after her death, after I had purchased a home with some storage space, they again were entrusted into my care by Donna’s sister Jean, with the expectation that they would be scanned in high resolution to be shared electronically and widely. Thanks to a host of cousins who helped with the tedium of scanning thousands of pages, this has largely been accomplished. Linda Marker of Rockwood, PA has placed these files online on the Younkin Reunion Pennsylvania page on Facebook.
Wind-down Time – Because Donna was so uber-busy during the reunion events, we rarely had time for more direct, longer conversations in person. But the one window of time where this did take place was on Saturday nights in the bar at the Ramada Inn. She would be winding down and waxing philosophically about genealogy and people we had met and what more we could be doing. Our talks ranged from religion and business to politics and even American funeral practices.
Donna's Tree – For a more permanent, physical memorial, at the Younkin Reunion on July 22, 2006, a tree was planted in her name at the Kingwood Odd Fellows Picnic Grove. It directly faces the building in which our picnic lunch and auction were held. Double-cousin Warren Clyde Sterner, a lay pastor of the family of Amanda (Younkin) Hechler, said prayers at a moving ceremony. And as hoped, the tree has grown wonderfully and keeps getting larger year by year.
Sometimes when I need to hear Donna's voice again I watch her Keller's Church Cemetery tour on YouTube.
What I remember most, above all, was her passionate desire to help people have their own histories by connecting them with their genealogy. She went to the Nth degree, always giving and giving more. She was so smart, hardworking and unselfish. What an inspiration she continues to be.
Copyright © 2020 Mark A. Miner