CITRUS PARK — If you've ever researched your family's history, there's a good chance you got some help or guidance from Ceta Rodgers Armitage.
Mrs. Armitage was a fifth-generation Floridian and had been fascinated by her own family's history all her life. She traveled all over the South uncovering and verifying evidence of her family's heritage, eventually discovering that she was descended from King Philip I of France.
But the process of genealogical research was just as fascinating to her as her own family's history. She spent Saturdays at the John F. Germany Library in downtown Tampa, volunteering her time for people who came in with questions about how to discover their own families' past. A room in the genealogy department of the library is now named for Mrs. Armitage.
She also chaired the Tampa Chapter of the American Genealogical Society and wrote a column about genealogy for the Tampa Tribune for 10 years.
Perhaps her most extensive project was a survey, carried out with a team of four or five people, of every cemetery in Tampa.
"They go out for three or four hours, three days week," said her son, Jim Armitage.
The result of that project was a mammoth, multivolume reference book listing the names and dates on every headstone in every cemetery in Tampa. Libraries from all over the country now own copies.
Mrs. Armitage passed away Dec. 24. She had been in failing heath for many months and died of natural causes. She was 89.
She began her genealogical pursuits at a time when she had to write letters or actually travel to courthouses and churches to uncover information. She was close to being a senior citizen when computers changed the way people did their research, but she took classes and learned new ways of doing things so she could continue to guide other aspiring genealogists.
Her own research was always meticulous. Before she would repeat family lore, she demanded hard evidence.
"She had to have documentation of everything," her son said. "If she didn't have documentation, it was just what's now called an urban legend. She wanted the facts."
She had grown up in Citrus Park and lived there most of her life. Her grandfather owned 10 acres of groves where the Westfield Citrus Park mall now stands, and her father was a railroad engineer who drove the first diesel locomotive into Florida.
She attended Citrus Park Elementary School, Jefferson Junior High School and Hillsborough High School, and then went to business college and learned secretarial skills.
It was on one of her first jobs after college that she met Robert Colin Armitage, a widower with an 11-year-old son. They married and lived in Tampa for more than 10 years, then moved back to the house in Citrus Park where Mrs. Armitage had grown up. They eventually had four children. Her husband passed away in 1991.
Mrs. Armitage's passion for family wasn't just academic curiosity about the past. She carried on a career and several very time-consuming avocations, but devoted herself to her children. She also cherished the memory of her brother, who had died very suddenly in 1970, when he was only in his 40s.
"She never stopped grieving for him," Jim Armitage said. "She talked about him every single day."
After her youngest child started school, Mrs. Armitage went back to work, and built a 40-year career with several area trucking companies.
Outside of genealogical circles, Mrs. Armitage was probably best known as a musician. For 23 years, she was the pianist and organist at the First Baptist Church of Citrus Park.
She was also a gifted and avid artist. Her drawings and oil paintings still hang in her home and in the homes of countless friends and family members.
"My mother was amazing," said her daughter, Jan Armitage Neblett. "She was talented and very intelligent. There was nothing she couldn't do."
Besides Neblett and her son Jim, Mrs. Armitage is survived by her sons Robert McGill Armitage and Bruce Armitage, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]