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Look into your roots

Getting started on family tree

Tap resources at home for clues to take to Genealogy Center

– The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, of course, is alluring to tourists in Fort Wayne.

There are the Fort Wayne Komets and TinCaps and Mad Ants, plus events at Embassy Theatre and the several festivals throughout the year that draw visitors into town.

But one of the great city attractions remains on the second floor of the Allen County Public Library, where the Genealogy Center is housed.

With more than a million physical items, of which are more than 430,000 books and periodicals and 600,000 pieces of microfilm, the department is rated as the second best in the country, ranking only behind the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, says the local center’s director.

Curt Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center, says the extensive collection attracts between 90,000 and 100,000 visitors annually, 70 percent of whom reside outside the county.

Tracing one’s heritage, Witcher says, can become addictive. The more information one finds, the more one wants to find. With so much data at the ready, the trick is knowing where to begin.

“One of the best things that people can do – one of the first steps to take – is to kind of think about what they have around the home, by way of a family Bible that might have a marriage certificate, or the family record pages filled out; a living parent or grandparent, or an aunt or a great aunt,” Witcher says.

“Home sources can’t be overvalued, having a little bit of information to start with. If someone comes in with absolutely nothing, we sit down at a computer and we work with them.”

Here’s a quick guide for the genealogy beginner:

Where is it? The genealogy department is on the east side of the second floor of the Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza.

When is it open? 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, beginning Sept. 1.

Do I need a library card? No. The service is free to the public. There is no age limit.

Whom do I contact first? “The first thing that I always would recommend is stopping at the first service desk they see in the department,” Witcher says. “There’s a big sign over the top of it that simply says, ‘Ask Here,’ and we really mean that.”

How to begin. Tell a genealogy staff member that you’re just getting started, and they will assist you. Witcher encourages beginners to have background information on some of their family members, such as their parents and grandparents. Talk to your parents and grandparents, and take notes on their histories, as far back as they can remember.

Get organized. It’s recommended that you don’t come in with notes scribbled on several slips of paper.

“We talk a little bit about free programs so they can get online, and they can plug in their name and their parents’ names and start organizing things generationally,” Witcher says. “That really helps them see their family picture in a generational context, but it also helps us understand their family, too, so that we can help make better recommendations. We try to get them recording some information on ancestor charts, and then we start recommending and working with them on parts of the collection on either online databases that we have or in book form.”