Irmgard Johanna (Joan) Lorch Staple (1923-2022): A Woman Ahead of Her Times

Last month my cousin Wink Lorch informed me that her aunt and my fourth cousin, once removed, Joan Lorch Staple had passed away on November 27, 2022, after living a remarkable life for more than 99 years. Joan was related to me through our mutual ancestors, Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, she through their daughter Martha and me through their son Moritz, my three-times great-grandfather.

Joan was born in Offenbach, Germany, on June 13, 1923, escaped from Nazi Germany to England with her parents during the 1930s, and married Peter Staple in England in 1952. Together they had two sons and immigrated to the US, settling first in Alabama and later in Buffalo, New York. Joan also had a long and successful career while raising her family; she was truly a woman ahead of her times..

Joan had a remarkable career as a scientist and as a scholar and teacher, as described below in her obituary, and she wrote two memoirs about her life: Chance and Choice: My First Thirty Years (2007) and Change and Challenge: My Life After Thirty (2009). I have read them both, and they are fascinating. They tell not only the story of Joan and her family, but provide valuable historical insights into living in Germany before the Nazi era, the persecution of Jews during the Nazi era in Germany in the 1930s, life in England during World War II, and racism in Alabama before and during the Civil Rights movement, as well as the struggles of being a woman scientist in the years before, during, and after the Women’s Movement.

But the obituary written by Joan’s sons tells her story much better than I can. Thank you to my cousin Wink Lorch, Joan’s niece, for sharing it with me.  

Irmgard Joan Staple: Path-Breaking Canisius Scientist and Women’s Advocate Has Died

Joan Staple (known professionally as Dr. I.J. Lorch) passed away at the age of 99 on November 27, 2022, in her home at Canterbury Woods, Williamsville, New York.

A Professor of Biology at Canisius College for more than 30 years, Dr. Lorch also pioneered women’s studies programs at Canisius. Her ground-breaking research in the field of cell biology at the University of Buffalo was recognized by the New York Times and led to more than 30 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Early Life and Education

Dr. Lorch was born into a Jewish family in Offenbach am Main, Germany. Her father was a co-owner of Rowenta, the innovative electric appliance brand. Her family escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Birmingham, England in 1938. Lorch’s forced emigration from Germany is marked by a series of Stolpersteine — commemorative bronze plaques — set into the sidewalk outside her former home at 19 August Bebel Ring.

She attended public schools in Offenbach until 1935 when Jewish children were banned from secondary education. After emigrating, she continued her education at King Edwards High School for Girls and later graduated from Birmingham University. She went on to earn a PhD in histochemistry from the University of London in 1949.

Scientific Career

As one of the very few women working in the ‘hard sciences’ at that time, she continued her post-doctoral research on cellular aging at Kings College, London. Rosalind Franklin worked in the lab next door. The many challenges facing women in building scientific careers are well documented in the struggle to properly credit Franklin for her critical role in discovering the structure of DNA.

In 1952, Dr. Lorch married Dr. Peter H. Staple, research dentist and fellow post-doctoral student. For the next 10 years she became a homemaker raising two sons and over-seeing the family’s move to Birmingham, Alabama in 1959, and then to Buffalo in 1963.

Once in Buffalo, Dr. Lorch rejoined her King’s College mentor and colleague, James Danielli, who was then the Director of The Center for Theoretical Biology at the University of Buffalo. The team was funded by NASA and carried out pioneering work on how cells age and whether living cells can be created from cellular components. This work came to a spectacular conclusion from the controversy created by the Nov. 13, 1970 New York Times article declaring that University of Buffalo scientists had documented “the first artificial synthesis of a living and reproducing cells”. Hundreds of media outlets picked up on the story that UB scientists were creating living cells that might be shipped by NASA on spaceships to Mars.

These reports misrepresented the research and the ensuing publicity upended the  research agenda. In 1973, Dr. Lorch left the University of Buffalo accepting an offer from Canisius College. 

She shifted her professional focus from research to teaching becoming Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology. To address the discrimination against women in scientific fields, with the support of the Canisius College leadership, she spent over 20 years training and hiring women scientists and also broadening the scope for women’s participation in the management of the College. Dr. Lorch founded the women’s studies program at Canisius, now called Women and Gender Studies. She created a course for non-majors called the Biology of Women (sex ed for college kids) that soon attracted so many men that she had to limit enrollment.

In recognition of her devoted advocacy for women, in 1992 Canisius established the annual I. Joan Lorch Award to “honor a person who has made a significant contribution to women and who exemplifies the pursuit of liberation and justice regarding sex, gender, and sexuality.”

Following her retirement from Canisius in 2003, Dr. Lorch published a two-volume memoir: Chance and Choice (2007) and Change and Challenge (2009).

As recounted in her memoir, Dr. Lorch witnessed many of the 20th century’s historic events. She saw Hitler speak at the opening of an autobahn near Frankfurt in 1935, and Martin Luther King at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo in 1967. She personally knew the discoverers of DNA (Watson, Crick and Franklin) and saw the fruits of her own research on amoeba used for cloning new organisms.

In 2019, Canisius College awarded Dr. Lorch the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to celebrate “her exceptional achievements in scientific research, unwavering dedication as an educator and for being a steadfast advocate for women.”

Since learning to ski as child in Switzerland, Dr. Lorch was also an avid outdoors woman. She skied well into her eighth decade in Europe and North America and was also an active member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. In recent years, she loved playing Scrabble with her family and connecting on-line daily with other players of “Words with Friends”.

She was pre-deceased by her husband of almost 60 years, Dr. Peter Staple, Professor of Oral Biology at the University of Buffalo’s Dental School. She is survived by her sons Gregory (Siobhan) of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Alan of Chestertown, Maryland; four grandchildren, Nicole, Nico, Justin and Camille; and one great grandchild, Naomi Joan.

A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst in 2023. Donations, in lieu of flowers, should be made to Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo.

A more abbreviated version of her obituary appeared here in The Buffalo News on December 4, 2022.

Joan’s life and career are an inspiration. She overcame leaving her homeland, adjusting to two different countries (and two different regions within the US), learning English, separating from her family, facing prejudice and discrimination, and nevertheless having a highly successful career balanced with a highly successful family life. Her two memoirs taught me so much about grace and strength and persistence.

Tracy E. Carnes June 30, 1954-August 26, 2018

I am very sad to report that Tracy Carnes, my fourth cousin, once removed, passed away on August 26, 2018. Tracy had been battling cancer for a number of years and was only 64 when she died. She was survived by her partner Rita Goodman and her sisters Rebecca Alden and Virginia Voges.

Tracy had connected with me almost three years ago when she left a comment on my blog saying that she believed we were related through her grandmother, who was born Celia Nusbaum, but known to Tracy and her family as Sally Carnes. Celia’s story had been a challenge for me as she and her husband Inglis Cameron and their son Edward James Cameron had seemingly vanished in the 1920s. Together Tracy and I combined our information, and through further research we learned much more about her grandparents and father, though some questions were left unanswered. We concluded that the family had probably changed their identity and gone into hiding after cooperating with the government in the prosecution of a securities fraud case in Philadelphia. The story of Celia Nusbaum and her family can be found here and here, titled “The Mystery of the Philadelphia Lawyer.”

Over the last few years I had kept up with Tracy through occasional emails and through her page on the CaringBridge website, where she wrote about her medical treatments and about her courageous and determined fight against cancer. Although not raised Jewish, she had returned to Judaism and found much comfort in her faith and in her life with Rita and their pets. My heart goes out to Rita, Beckie, and Ginger, and to all of Tracy’s loved ones.

May her memory be for a blessing.

Manfred Katz 1929-2018

It is with a very heavy heart that I report that my third cousin, once removed Manfred “Fred” Katz passed away on June 28, 2018, at the age of 89. Some of you will recall the story that Fred generously shared with me about his boyhood in Jesberg, Germany, and how when he was only nine years old, he rescued a Torah scroll from the Jesberg synagogue in the aftermath of Kristallnacht in November, 1938. His family left Germany the following month, joining Fred’s older brothers and many cousins in Stillwater, Oklahoma. You can read Fred’s story here if you missed it.

Fred Katz, c. 1936
Courtesy of the family of Fred Katz

I was very privileged to have an opportunity to talk to Fred at length on the phone shortly before our trip to Germany in the spring of 2017. He not only shared his story—he gave me some advice on what to see and look for while in Germany. We also emailed several times before and after our trip. In fact, we emailed back and forth as recently as April, 2018, about a book that is being written in Germany about the Jews of Jesberg. I am so very sad to know that that was my last exchange with my cousin Fred.

Below is the obituary published on June 30, 2018, in the Wilmington, Delaware News Journal. It fills in the story of Fred’s life after he came to the United States as a young boy of nine in 1938. It is as remarkable as the story of his first nine years.

Arthur “Pete” (Seligman) Scott 1938-2017

I am very sad to report that my cousin Pete passed away on July 11, 2017. Regular readers of this blog may recognize Pete’s name—his full name was Arthur George Scott, but he was born Arthur George Seligman. Pete was my father’s second cousin, and I found him several years back when I was researching my Seligman(n) family line.

My cousin Pete and one of his many much-loved dogs

Connecting with Pete was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had while researching my family history. Pete was fascinated by history and was extremely knowledgeable about the history of his hometown, Santa Fe, and about our family’s contribution to the history of that city.  Because of Pete’s extensive background and incredible generosity, I was able to learn a great deal about our American Seligman history. And I was able to share with him my delight in learning about our German ancestors and relatives. He quickly became a friend as well as a cousin.

Pete was the great-grandson of Bernard Seligman, who, along with his brothers Sigmund and Adolf, traveled the Santa Fe Trail in the 1850s and helped to establish Santa Fe as an important trading post. Their store Seligman Brothers was on the main plaza in Santa Fe for close to eighty years.

Bernard Seligman

Pete’s grandfather was Arthur Seligman, the governor of New Mexico from 1931 until his death in office in 1933. I wrote extensively about Arthur Seligman on the blog, as well as about Pete’s father Otis Seligman; without Pete’s help, I would not have been able to learn and share as much as I did about the contributions the Seligmans made to American history.

Arthur Seligman (second from left) with Franklin Roosevelt and others

Pete and his dear friend Mike Lord along with several others also created and contributed to a historical website called Voces de Santa Fe. If you enter Arthur Scott or Pete Scott into the search box there, you can see some of the incredible work Pete did, researching and writing about not only his family’s history, but also the general history of Santa Fe and the region. I relied on Voces for many of my stories about the Seligmans and early Santa Fe.

Pete was very proud of his family history, as well he should have been. Pete inherited the pioneer spirit of his great-grandfather Bernard and the commitment to public service of both his great-grandfather and his grandfather and namesake Arthur Seligman. Rather than try and write a biography of Pete myself, I am including in this post the beautiful obituary written by Pete’s daughter, Terri. Thank you, Terri, for allowing me to share this.

A Life Well Lived, Loved, and Learned

Arthur George Scott (Seligman), also known as Pete and Art, aged 79, last residing in Bradenton, FL, died on July 11, 2017 at home, in his sleep due to many complications from a lifetime of Type I Diabetes.

He was born on January 27, 1938 to Doris Seligman (Gardiner) and Otis Seligman in Santa Fe, NM. He was given his stepfather’s last name of Scott in 1943 after his father passed away when Pete was just starting public school in Santa Fe.

While obtaining his BS in Civil Engineering from New Mexico State University, he married his first wife Marilyn Bicksler. After participating in ROTC and graduating from NM State University, he provided service to the US Army as a Lieutenant, giving education to many younger recruits during the late 1950’s Cold War. After providing his service to the United States, he grew his hair long and never cut it short again; he added a beard and mustache for good measure.

He acquired Type I Diabetes just out of the US Army, while beginning a lifetime career in the United States Geological Survey. Lucky to survive the diabetic coma that announced a new path in his life, Pete moved forward and never gave up.

He loved his career and work friends at USGS in Santa Fe, NM, surveying rivers and dealing with Diamondback Rattle Snakes in the desert. And at USGS in Reston, VA, he travelled and wrote hydrologic journal papers on rivers and lakes from the Clinch River Valley to Canada/US Great Lakes, and to Brazil educating on water resources. He called it “The best job in the world”. Part of that “best job” involved a lot of travel, which he relished and he learned from the people in every society, city, or country he visited.

Pete inspired all of his creativity, scientific knowledge and self-sufficiency to his children, Terri and Janice. They remember his paintings, remodeling of the house, and collecting NM historical artifacts. Terri and Janice closely followed in his footsteps of science and creativity.

Pete and Bonnie on their wedding day

In 1980, while living in Reston, VA he met and married his current, devoted, and loving wife, Bonnie Sharpless Scott. Their marriage was 37 years strong. They spent many exciting and tumultuous times, helping to raise two teenagers, travelling, working, playing, and loving. Bonnie, a professional hairdresser, always took care of trimming Pete’s hair and beard to ultimate perfection. Now, that’s true love. Their travels were magical from the Galapagos Islands seeing Darwin’s creatures, to Africa viewing Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro, and hanging in Jamaica getting dreadlocks, and onto Thailand appreciating the majesty of nature, then sailing in the Caribbean, as well as a Brazilian cruise up the Amazon River.

Pete leaves behind many people, including his two daughters, Terri and Janice; Janice and husband Matthew’s children, Alexander and Wesley; Terri and husband Jeffrey’s children, Joshua and Nicholas; his niece, Jhette Diamond; and most significantly, his wife, Bonnie. In addition, Pete leaves behind very favored pets, including dogs: Koda II, Sunny, and Tipper, plus birds: Bubba, Tico, and Cisco. And very importantly, he leaves behind a legacy and brilliant history with many extended family and friends.

Type I Diabetes was a major obstacle in Pete’s life, as well as his family’s lives. He kept all his limbs, but lost most of his eyesight, most of the use of his hands, and his legs were very painful and eventually lost function, at which point he had to accept a wheel chair, all due to Diabetic peripheral neuropathy. However, he never gave up hope and learning. His last days were spent with Bonnie making cigar box guitars, and learning to play slide guitar blues.

If you would like to help his family heal from the loss of Pete, please learn everything you can about Type I Diabetes and feel free to make a donation to the American Diabetes Association ( or your local chapter of The Lighthouse for the Blind. We only ask this, in Pete’s name and memory, so that young people who have no choice and acquire this disease can live better and longer lives than Pete was allowed.

I will miss Pete very much; although we had long ago finished our collaboration on the family history, we had stayed in touch. In March, 2016, while in Florida, Harvey and I traveled to Bradenton, Florida, and had a very enjoyable and interesting evening with Pete and his beloved wife Bonnie.  We met their dogs and parrots and shared stories about our lives and our history. I feel so very fortunate that we were able to spend that time together. Here is a photo I took when we were together.

Pete and Bonnie when we visited in March 2016

My heart goes out to Pete’s family—his wife Bonnie, his daughters Terri and Janice, and his grandchildren.  May his memory be a blessing for his family and for all of us who knew him.

Is there a Yelp for Genealogy Resources?

The always helpful and amazing Renee did it again.  I asked her for help finding Nathan and Gertrude Mintz and their daughter Susanne, and within hours she had located an obituary for Gertrude, naming her daughter Susan and granddaughters and great-grandchild.  A second obituary for Susan’s husband revealed another great-grandchild.  So now I have some living descendants to track down and contact.  I’ve already reached out to one, but have not yet heard back.  Perhaps we will be able to learn what happened to Harry, Zusi and Nathan after Hyman died and the family seems to have split apart or disappeared.

I would like to be able to find this kind of information myself.  I asked Renee how she had found these materials, and once again it was two resources to which I do not subscribe or have access: and PeopleFinders.  It’s all quite overwhelming.  There are so many different sources and websites. There are an amazing number of free resources:,,, JRI-Poland,,, Google, Facebook, the White Pages, for example. and Gesher Galicia are free, but if you want full access, you need to pay or make a contribution. All of these sites are tremendously helpful, especially for finding people before 1940, but to find people after that date requires access to other resources since the census reports and vital records dated after 1940 are not publicly available.  To find someone after 1940 or so requires access to obituaries, phone books, newspaper articles, marriage announcements, and other more modern databases.

There are also a very large number of paid sites.  Each time I’ve asked Renee how she found a source, usually a wedding announcement or an obituary, I’ve checked out that database or website and subscribed to a few.  For example, and are two sites to which I have subscribed but that have been almost useless to me.  I don’t know whether I am using them incorrectly or just unlucky, but I’ve found almost nothing of value on those sites.   So I’ve become a little reluctant to plop down my credit card for more sites without figuring out whether they are worth the investment.

Some of the sites are not that expensive—$25 a year; others are far more expensive.  For example,, the site Renee used this time, costs $125 a year.  They do offer a free 14-day trial, however, so I might at least try that.  There are also so many other sites—Intelius, PeopleFinders—the list goes on and on.  I am confused and overwhelmed.  Do I really need any of these? Do I need all of them?  Where do I draw the line?

Maybe somewhere there is a source that rates these sources for genealogy research value.  Maybe some of the genealogists who are reading this post can point me to that source or provide me with some guidance.  What are the best sources for locating obituaries, wedding announcements and other information relating to people living after 1940? Why have both and proven to be so useless to me?  Is worth the price?

Let me know what you think.  Thanks!

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