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'Discover Your Roots' at McCandless genealogy conference

| Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, 2:18 p.m.

Judy Russell, a professional genealogist living in New Jersey, remembers when she first became interested in learning her family history.

“I grew up in New Jersey. During a school field trip, we went to the spot where George Washington fought the Battle of Trenton. As a kid, I didn't really care. It didn't seem relevant to me,” she said.

“Then, I found out my great-great-great-great-grandfather was there as part of the Continental Army. All of the sudden, I had this relative who was present at this important event, and it changed everything.”

The same is true for many genealogy enthusiasts.

“When you find out your grandfather was in World War II, it's interesting. But then you find out about certain battles he fought and wounds he sustained, and it gives you a sense of rootedness that we lack in this technological, 21st Century age,” said Russell, who will be a speaker during North Hills Genealogists' 25th annual conference.

North Hills Genealogists, which also is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is a group of approximately 170 amateur and professional ancestry enthusiasts.

They hope to get more people interested in and educated about genealogy during the conference Oct. 30 and 31 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in McCandless.

This year's theme is “Discover Your Roots, Discover Yourself.”

“We're offering two tracks of workshops, one for novices and one for people who are a little more advanced in their research,” said event coordinator Amy Arner, 39, of O'Hara.

Attendees may go to the full two-day conference, including continental breakfast and buffet lunch on Oct. 31, for $105 or choose individual programs, which cost between $20 and $75 each. North Hills Genealogists members receive a discount.

Door prizes and giveaways will include genealogy books, software and website subscriptions.

The conference kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 30 with a three-hour workshop titled “When Worlds Collide: Resolving Conflicting Evidence,” led by Russell, who specializes in examining legal documents.

She will share methods, tips, and tricks for determining which information is true when Census records, birth certificates, death certificates and other documents contain incompatible information.

Michael Leclerc, a professional genealogist from Boston, will conduct a workshop Oct. 30 titled “Mechanics of Writing Your Family History.” It will teach attendees how to use common word-processing tools to ease the writing process and also will address the importance of citing sources.

On Oct. 31, Leclerc will lead a “Genealogy 101” workshop for beginners to help them locate and understand original records and online databases and then convert the information into a true family story they can share with others.

“Some people think genealogy is ‘They were born, got married and died.' But to make it more interesting, you can go and find materials to help you fill in the blanks to make it a story about what (each family member) was doing in life, where they were living and what they were about,” said Leclerc, 51.

Russell simultaneously will lead a “Genealogy 201” workshop focusing on commonly untapped sources of information, including tax records and wills. One segment will be devoted to finding information on married women, who once were considered second-class citizens and thus disappeared into the legal identities of their husbands.

The day will conclude with an opportunity to ask questions during a discussion moderated by Elissa Scalise Powell of Powell Genealogical Services in Marshall.

For those who want to converse regularly with local genealogy buffs, the North Hills Genealogists group meets at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month at the Northland Public Library, 300 Cumberland Road in McCandless.

“One of the goals of North Hills Genealogists is to provide learning opportunities during our monthly meetings which are short and informal,” Arner said. “But the conference allows you to immerse yourself in genealogy, discover new sources and put yourself in a mindset to do other things with your research.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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