With the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference gearing up to roll into Fort Wayne Aug. 21-24 with hundreds of years of knowledge and many dedicated researchers, I began to wonder about my family.
At 24 years old, I've taken strong interest in my family's history. It's always been bewildering to say the least.
With passed-down stories from my grandparents to my parents, half of the time I thought I was listening to an old wives' tale. These stories were just too exciting and intriguing for me to believe.
Of course, I had to investigate for myself. Luckily, it's no secret that Fort Wayne has numerous resources for people to begin their genealogical journey.
When I began my journey a measly four weeks ago, I had no idea what I was doing. The entire time I thought I would run into a dead end, leaving myself with a missed deadline and nothing to write.
Fortunately, thanks to the help of Dawne Slater-Putt, reference librarian at the Genealogy Center at the downtown Allen County Public Library, I was in good hands.
For a person just beginning geological research, Slater-Putt has a few tips:
•Start with living relatives.
•Do your homework.
•Don't just rely on online materials.
•Talk with other genealogists.
After following all of Slater-Putt's suggestions, I started my journey. After quizzing my parents about our family history, I had my steppingstones.
Maiden names? Check. Birthdays? Check. Hometowns? Check.
The biggest leap for me was stepping away from the computer. I do have to say, cracking open that first of many 100-year-old books at the library was tough. There's no Control F shortcut for finding something in books.
Then I hit the gold mine, or Gold-sborough-mine. It was an entire six-volume book collection on my family name.
Next, I began talking to other genealogists. That's when I met Debra Mieszala, a co-chair of the program committee for the conference and a genealogist specializing in adoption and 21st-century research.
Mieszala said she doesn't exactly remember how it happened — maybe it was her love of helping others or her incurable desire to address a challenge — but Mieszala became an expert on adoption information gathering.
My grandfather was adopted in the 1930s. When I began researching my dad's side of the family, I thought I was destined to go down a information-less path of roadblocks and detours. But thanks to tips, tricks and friendly advice from Mieszala, I was able to find out my grandfather's family name — Geliger.
You can now call me Jaclyn Geliger. Well, that doesn't have quite the ring, so I'll stick with my original, overly long last name.
That was all I needed to feel as if I had made my family's history understandable, and enough to proudly report back to my parents I finally found out where my mom's side of the family emigrated from and that I also had learned the original family name on my father's side.
As Mieszala liked to put it, I now have three last names to research. Whew! I thought two were challenging enough.
For passionate people like Paula Stuart-Warren, co-chair for the conference, it's the challenge, the desire to understand a family's history and the love of research that makes professional or recreational genealogists spend years with their noses stuck in books.
While I had my nose in a book, I looked up to find William Lindsey of Little Rock, Ark., wandering around the towering shelves of books.
He began researching in the mid-1970s.
“It occurred to me that, if anyone was going to record my family history, I'm the person that probably should do it,” he said.
Lindsey told me he traveled 10 hours to visit the Genealogy Center at the Allen County library.
“I've always wanted to come here. This is my first time in Fort Wayne,” he said. “The collection is just wonderful. I found an indexed obituary from a Methodist newspaper from a female member of my family who had died in 1850. Often, there aren't documents that tell you what happened in the lives of women, so this was a great find,” he said.
From ethnicity sessions on Native American surnames to specific workshops on finding military records, the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference will have everything for beginners or well-seasoned genealogists.