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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Certified genealogist Paula Stuart-Warren talks about “Researching Midwestern American Indians” during the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference on Saturday.

Embracing one’s history

Genealogy conference wraps up 3rd visit to city


Bill Tanner of Metropolis, Ill., knows he comes from a line of scoundrels, rebels and ne’er-do-wells – that is why he traveled to Fort Wayne to join more than 1,500 participants for the national Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference.

“It helps you identify yourself,” he said. “In our society, there aren’t many multigenerational homes where you have your grandparents and parents in the same home where we can learn that verbal history. I think that’s why there is such an interest in genealogy.”

The Federation of Genealogical Societies closed its annual conference Saturday with programs at Grand Wayne Center and workshops at the Allen County Public Library.

Conference co-chairwoman Paula Stuart-Warren opened the final day of the conference with a workshop on “Researching Midwestern American Indians,” which is the focus of most of her work as a professional genealogist. She said the first step for anyone tracing their ancestors is to start with themselves and interview older relatives.

“It’s not always online. We have thousands, and thousands, and thousands of boxes of papers in courthouses, archives and historical societies all around the country.”

Tanner, who attended Stuart-Warren’s workshop, said when he began his research three years ago, he was fortunate to to interview his grandmother and continued to find many of his ancestors were in the United States before colonization.

“(My ancestors) were pretty much under the radar,” he said. “They tried to stay in front of the developing United States because they didn’t care much for government. So when the colonies started to form, they moved across the Appalachians, and as Kentucky and Tennessee were formed they moved further west.

“It kind of explains why I am the way I am. I don’t care too much for government oversight. I like to be left alone and do my own thing.”

Like Tanner, others’ research sometimes pulls up a past that may be bleak or riddled with splits or social deviance, Stuart-Warren said. But it’s OK, she says, to embrace all of one’s history.

“Learning your heritage is so important because it helps to tell us who we are, where we come from, and it might help explain some things. No matter what happened in your family, you’re still here today,” she said.

Tanner said Stuart-Warren’s workshop helped him find some alternatives to his online research on his obscure American Indian relatives.

“She named some good places to start looking. For Native Americans, you can’t find a lot of it online, so I have to start digging through boxes,” Tanner said.

The library’s Genealogy Center extended its hours for researchers until midnight Wednesday to Friday last week.

“It’s been a fabulous event,” said Aaron Smith, the center’s assistant manager.

“The Genealogy Center has been crowded all week and we have all our personnel helping up there. I think they’re having a great time – I know we’re all having a great time.”

The Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference is one of the largest annual conferences held in the U.S. each year. This is the third time the conference has been in the Summit City.

Stuart-Warren says she estimates the conference registered nearly 1,500 to 1,600 participants since it started Wednesday.

“The number of people each year varies by economy and it varies on the place. A lot of people know that we’ve had conferences here before so they come back,” Stuart-Warren says.

“We have the genealogy department, the convention center, and two hotels all within a block and half. It’s perfect for this.”