Genealogy and historical research buffs, from the local to the international level, will descend on the Allen County Public Library later this month for “Reconnecting Lost Links,” the International Black Genealogy Summit.
The conference, Oct. 29-31, will feature speakers and workshops for the novice genealogist to the seasoned researcher at the library, which is the second-largest genealogy research center in North America. The first day is free, and the final two days cost $100 for both or $75 for one.
“We have a well-known and very rich collection from local history records, plantation records, slave manifests, county histories, middle passage records and more amazing collections of materials,” said Curt Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center in the library. “You won't find access to as many databases anywhere as you'll find at the library. Along with that, our staff has broad expertise. It's a winning combination.”
The conference will allow patrons to use the library's resources and learn in workshops about genetics, church historiography, identifying slave owners, personal research journeys, local history, using nontraditional resources, and the Power to End Stroke program in partnership with the American Heart Association.
Hana Stith, co-founder and curator of the African/African American Museum in Fort Wayne, and lecturer, historian and author Dorothy Spruill Redford, will deliver keynote speeches.
Witcher expects about 420 people over the weekend and many more in the days before and after for further research.
He said the library has held four national genealogy summits since 1991, but none close to the size of this one.
Ruby Cain, a member of the summit's local host committee and a chairperson in the Fort Wayne chapter of The Links Incorporated, will draw on her experience to present a forum to conference attendees. Her interest was piqued while conducting basic family research before a family reunion 15 years ago. She came to Fort Wayne after hearing about the library's comprehensive collection. She became fascinated, especially when learning about her great-grandfather born in 1846, and decided to move to the city.
“I never intended it to be a lifelong passion,” Cain said. “Before you know it, you learn something and then you want to know more. You learn about yourself, your ancestors. What did they do? How did they get their names? Who did they marry? Where did your name come from?”
She's found around 3,000 names in her family tree. She's used computer software and census records and branched out from there. She's even discovered information about ancestors who were slaves in the 1800s, before they were tallied as people but as property.
Cain's methods and discoveries are among many things attendees will learn at the conference. She encourages even the most experienced researchers to attend because new strategies often arise.
“You are a part of history, and your descendents may one day be able to gain access to information about your life if you've taken time to write it down, record it and preserve it,” she said. “It connects us to family, friends and community, and one day we may be in the history books.”