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Getting to the roots of family history

| Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Take a look back to find answers about your ancestors. “Building Bridges To The Past” runs Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Take a look back to find answers about your ancestors. “Building Bridges To The Past” runs Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Since 1974, the nonprofit Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society has provided resources and connections to aid family history research.

There's a ton of history in Western Pennsylvania's 26 counties, says WPGS president-elect and event coordinator Rebecca Kichta Miller.

WPGS is the local host for the 2017 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Conference, which is presenting three major conferences this year.

“Building Bridges to the Past” runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh.

Online registration has closed, but walk-up registration on event days is available, says Miller.

The event schedule is filled with workshops and sessions delivered by regional and national experts, she says.

“The goal of this series is to educate people and give them resources to research family history and to get people together that share the same interests.”

Sessions at the four-day conference will include a vast array of offerings from family history experts and genealogical organizations.

The keynote session on Aug. 31 (8-9:30 a.m.) — “Take the Unexpected Bridge” — is presented by Rick Sebak.

Sebak is a Pittsburgh director and producer known for his nostalgia-style documentaries created for PBS and WQED.

Attendees can get hands-on experience on specific genealogical topics such as caring for keepsakes, storytelling, transcribing/analyzing, DNA and research planning.

Among the sessions on genealogy research scheduled are African American, Finding Records, Land and Taxes, Immigrant/Ethnic, Ancestry, Military, Religion, Occupations and more.

“The Internet has made some people researching their past lazy,” Miller says. “They don't want to go to the library or courthouse.”

Miller of Slovak-Irish descent has been researching her family's past since 1971 and notes that Western Pennsylvania's most dominant ancestry is Scottish-Irish.

“The big thing everybody is after these days is DNA,” Miller says.

Sessions are geared to all skill levels, and all family historians and genealogists are welcome, says Miller.

Combining food and genealogy, nine themed luncheons, all held at the convention center, offer socialization with those sharing an interest in genealogy and each lunch features a guest speaker.

One featured luncheon speaker is writer and international lecturer Lisa A. Alzo.

Specializing in Eastern European genealogy and nonfiction writing, Alzo will present “Passion and Profession: Ten Lessons I've Learned as a Genealogist” on Saturday.

Lunches are $32 each and require advance purchase.

Attendees can cruise Pittsburgh's three rivers Wednesday evening onboard the Gateway Clipper Fleet during a buffet dinner cruise sponsored by the WPGS. Tickets are $45 per person and a cash bar will be available.

Miller says genealogy will always be critical.

“You can't plan your future unless you know your past,” she says.

Go to for a complete listing of conference events.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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