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  • Writer's pictureGregory Winters

Meet Your Researchers: Shirley Rabinoff Duke

One of the nuggets gleaned from meeting and talking with Shirley was learning that we were both related - ver-r-y distantly - to Humphrey Bogart through marriage.

Olive Shirley Rabinoff Duke (shown here with her late husband, George Robert Duke) was named for her mother, Olive Rae Wayt Rabinoff, who was named for her mother, Olive Rachel Stalnaker Wayt.

"Grandpa [George Leslie Wayt] lived with us when I was a little girl," Shirley says. "I knew his family through his letters from home; knew them well enough that even though they were mother's aunts and uncles, they were my aunts and uncles, also."

Shirley tells us that her father and his family were Russian Jews who came to the United States in 1900, returned to Russia, then came back to stay in 1908. "They didn't talk much about Russia or family, so I guess the most significant thing I found in researching were his [her father's] immigration and naturalization papers in the Denver archives." Shirley explained that although the Archive would not release the original copies of the records, they made copies for her and her father.

There's an amusing story about Shirley and a number of members of her family going to the Pickens Cemetery in Randolph County, West Virginia. Shirley's grandfather, George, and her mother's little sister, Rosa Catherine "Rosie" Wayt are buried there. "They were helping me record many names and dates as we walked through the grounds," Shirley explains. "There was a large upright stone sitting on a very large base. My uncle Abe [Henry Abel Rollyson] was tired so he laid down on that stone and went to sleep. My husband called me to come look, and clown that he is made the remark that Uncle Abe looked so peaceful there." Shirley notes a more somber postscript that her uncle had passed away within a year after that.

Shirley has concentrated her work among just three surnames: Wayt, Rabinoff, and Duke. This is because she hasn't discovered much interest among the younger generations for their family history. Shirley's research has not been without rewards, however: "This was a fun time absorbing interests. I saw a lot of interesting places, met a lot of nice relatives, researched cemeteries, archives, libraries, etc., and met more wonderful people, so it was a pleasure for me. I learned a tremendous amount about all of the people involved."

Shirley explains that advancing years and the lifestyle that goes with it have forced her to scale back her genealogical activities. However, her knowledge and enthusiasm remain unaffected. She has always been available for questions and advice, and has forwarded a tremendous amount of research material to me for our website database. Her research has been invaluable and oft-cited for its content and accuracy. For example, her work was the key in solving a long-standing mystery in the Hollen family as to the whereabouts of one of their ancestors.

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