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Genealogy conference scheduled in McCandless

| Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, 9:55 a.m.

Researching a family lineage can be a rewarding experience. But it also can be challenging at times — even overwhelming.

For those seeking to discover their family roots in Pennsylvania, the task can be even more arduous.

“No documents or records after 1960 are available on websites like ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org because of Pennsylvania's privacy act laws,” said Deborah Abbott, a professional genealogist from Cleveland who leads about 30 seminars and conferences around the country each year.

To help steer novices and intermediate genealogists through the maze of researching their blood lines, the North Hills Genealogists are hosting their 2016 Fall Conference on Oct. 21-22 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in McCandless. The event is open to the public.

The conference will include workshops led by Abbott and J. Mark Lowe, a certified, full-time professional genealogist and instructor from Tennessee.

Topics, which are divided into a beginner track and an intermediate level, will cover the use of online resources; how to use “detective skills” to find answers when very little information is known; how to use online newspapers from 1750 to 1900 to find early settlers, and property records to track ancestors; and more.

A question-and-answer session will conclude the conference.

Cost for the full two-day event is $95 for North Hills Genealogists members or $105 for non-members.

Individual workshops range from $20 to $75.

A buffet lunch will be offered on Saturday, and door prizes will be awarded.

“We'll talk about going beyond finding a name and a date of birth and death. We'll learn how to take the time to mull and ponder, because that's when you find the really good stuff — the personal stories, the reasons why families lived where they lived or named their children the names they did,” said Lowe, 69.

Abbott will lead a Saturday morning session entitled Genealogy 101: What Do I Do Next, in which she stresses the importance of carefully analyzing documents, determining where to find them, and understanding how one record can lead to another.

She discovered her ancestors' names and stories by scouring slaveholders' wills and tax forms, on which slaves often were listed as property.

“I found family members listed in the inventory and appraisal portion of a Virginia slave owner's will. My great-great-grandmother was on the list, along with a physical description of her. As soon as I saw it, I started crying,” said Abbott, 64.

The conference is being hosted by North Hills Genealogists, a group of 170 genealogy professionals and hobbyists from the area.

The group meets every third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at Northland Public Library in McCandless to hear a speaker or hold a round-table discussion. The group schedules occasional field trips, such as a trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and also undertakes local projects, like publishing cemetery records.

In addition, the group donates between 12 and 20 new books, worth about $500, to Northland Public Library's genealogy collection each year, according to Amy Steele, executive director at the library.

“Northland partners with North Hills Genealogists a few times each year to welcome people to the library after normal operating hours. They have the library to themselves. We reopen our computer center so North Hills Genealogy volunteers can help about 25 attendees conduct online genealogy research from 6:30 to 11 p.m.,” said Steele, of McCandless.

“Every time we do this, someone makes a big discovery and lets out a big whoop, and we celebrate along with them.”

Both Abbott and Lowe say that online services like these are beneficial, but users must know how to verify the information they get so they don't end up chasing someone who really isn't a relative. It is another subject that will be discussed during the conference.

“Genealogy is all about finding the stories and personalities from the past that helped mold us into who we are today. What did our ancestors eat for dinner? What did they do for a living?,” said Lowe.

“You never know what you'll find until you start looking.”

Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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