October is Family History Month and I am celebrating with a few genealogy-related road trips and workshops. So, ideally you’ll hear a bit more from me as the month goes on. But to start the recap…

Last year was the first time in years that I hadn’t been able to attend Western Michigan Genealogical Society’s Got Ancestors?! Workshop and I really missed it. I wasn’t going to pass up this year’s event. Workshops like this are reinvigorating, great for networking, and always useful in your research—even if you don’t  immediately hit the mother lode when you run home and try out the new site someone told you about.

So, I spent the start of the weekend in the Grand Rapids area for the two day event. This year’s featured speaker was Curt B. Witcher, Senior Manager for Special Collections at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, whom I have met a number of times but I’d never heard him present.  I was delighted by Friday night’s session—a funny and practical presentation on strategies for successful internet research. Curt offered six great resources that researchers sometimes overlook—and I was thrilled to note that his list matched our top resources for our Free Genealogical Resources Online class at work.

Saturday’s first session on using ancestral origins reminded us to research the movements of ethnic groups for clues to your ancestors’ movements and circumstances. I came away with plans to find more information on Southern Migration. What caused my ancestors or their owners to move from North Carolina to Arkansas? Or Mississippi to Arkansas? For some reason I never thought of it quite that way despite definitely having done it with other lines.

Curt’s second session of the day was “Boot Camp and Roll Call” and it occurred to me pretty quickly that I hadn’t actually done any sessions on military records before. So, this was pretty informative to someone who has largely stumbled through or lucked into resources on her military relatives. He offered a number of great leads and reminded me that I haven’t done enough to track the military careers of some of my “uncles.” I’ve followed my direct line ancestors but I may find more leads by tracking their siblings and other close relatives.

The first afternoon session dealt with the non-Federal Population Schedule portions of the Census and left me very curious about what I find in the agriculture and business schedules relating to a number of my ancestors. In my notes there are a list of surnames beside each he described. I’ve used the Slave and Mortality schedules before but I hadn’t really thought about how you can fill in the color in your family history with data in the social, agriculture, and business schedules.

The using library’s and archival collections presentation didn’t hold me the way it should have but that’s largely because it’s a topic I talk about as a librarian all the time—though his comments about librarians and catalogers all but hiding material they didn’t know what to do with in vertical files was dead on. But I was definitely paying attention when he switched over to The Genealogy Center’s collections. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve gone, there is always something more to learn in that collection. It’s fabulous—this is not a library that is sitting back—they’re on the forefront digitizing, trying to broaden access and staying relevant. High on my post-workshop to do list was the idea that I want to strategize a little differently for my next trip to Fort Wayne based on some of Curt’s tips.

It was great to see everyone! I hope everyone came away with ideas and renewed energy. And for any genealogist in the area that didn’t come, give this annual workshop a try in the future. WMGS is well-organized, they get great speakers and have a fabulously helpful member-base.

Thanks all!

Jess

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