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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Genealogy Center manager Curt Witcher chats Thursday with amateur historians Kris Richey, left, Kie Ann Kirk, and Lou Ann Winterrowd, right, about their personal projects.

Genealogical societies to discover downtown

1,500 expected at ACPL-hosted national convention

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Genealogy Center manager Curt Witcher and the Allen County Public Library will host the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ conference.

– More than 1,500 people are expected to descend on the city, many of them looking for lost or unknown family members through the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center archives.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies will conduct its annual conference, “Journey Through Generations,” Wednesday through Saturday in downtown Fort Wayne.

The city’s conference is one of the largest in the country held each year.

The event is sponsored by the library and the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana.

The excitement is palpable among genealogy buffs, library staff and members of the genealogical society.

More than 1,320 people from around the country had already registered for the conference and paid in full by Thursday, said Curt Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center.

That figure doesn’t include the 65 speakers and more than 200 vendors that will send the numbers “north of 1,500,” Witcher said.

To local retailers’ delight, those people will be spending money in Fort Wayne and Allen County.

The attendees are expected to spend about $1.3 million, John Felts, marketing and communications specialist for Visit Fort Wayne, said.

This will be the third time the FGS conference has been held in Fort Wayne.

It was previously held in 1991 and 2007.

The 2007 event had 1,200 registered attendees who spent about $750,000 as they stayed, dined and visited local attractions in Allen County.

The emotional involvement of attendees is wonderful to see, Witcher said.

“Sometimes someone will discover a missing piece of family history or locate a birth parent or child, and it becomes emotional,” Witcher said.

The library’s Genealogy Center is the second-largest facility in the world open to the public, Witcher said.

The center is housed on the second floor of the downtown library.

It houses more than 420,000 bound volumes, including more than 61,000 published family histories and more than 660,000 microfilm and similar items.

Most of the sessions will be at Grand Wayne Center, but the library is hosting tours and special sessions as well as consultations.

Genealogy experts will answer questions and help with research, Witcher said.

“Interestingly, even though more and more research is done online and the online groups are growing, people still like to come together and discuss their projects,” Witcher said.

Sometimes it’s a matter of doing so much research and getting so much information that it becomes a challenge to narrow it down, he said.

“At this conference we will have experts on hand that will help do that,” Witcher said.

The library will host pre-conference classes and consultations for librarians who specialize in genealogy research, Witcher said.

Nearly 150 librarians had registered for the conference by Thursday, Witcher said.

Other services include preservation and scanning and online resources.

Friday’s “Evening at the Library” event will feature Civil War-period ballroom dancing, a dessert buffet, a presentation on the War of 1812 and the awarding of a commemorative War of 1812 quilt. Tickets are $10.

The library will also stay open Friday night until midnight. Research librarians and Genealogical Society volunteers will assistvisitors with extended research, he said.

Workshops offered at the event include understanding German gothic handwriting, how to conduct African-American research and the 17 million stories of Ellis Island.

Visitors can view the latest in genealogical software, books and gadgets from vendors in the exhibit hall, including Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

Although online registration has ended, registrations will be taken at the door, Witcher said.

The conference caters to newcomers as well as genealogy experts.

“There is something for everyone,” Witcher said, “And both groups have a great time.”

vsade@jg.net

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