A couple weeks ago I was at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society when a reporter came in to gather information on an article about the Genealogy Conference that will be held this month. He interviewed me and used some of my comments in his article which was published in the Lancaster newspaper on Monday. Here it is.
Romaine Stauffer is a perfect representative of the type of person you might meet at the upcoming 35th annual Lancaster Family History Conference, sponsored by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. “I’ve been studying family history for most of my life,” says Stauffer, 66, who was born in Ephrata but grew up in Lancaster. Glancing around the lower level archives of the society — where she is happy to volunteer every Tuesday — Stauffer muses that “I remember coming in here with a baby!” When Stauffer began her research in the 1970s and 1980s, family genealogy was something to be undertaken with the help of books, paper records and microfiche. Those elements still play a role, but the Family History Conference, April 24-26, with keynote events to be held Saturday, April 26, will showcase past and present methods of finding ancestors, including DNA-based research and Internet sites such as Ancestry.com.
Saturday keynote sessions, anchored by main speaker Maureen Taylor, nationally known as “The Photo Detective,” will take place at the Lancaster Host Resort and Conference Center, 2300 Lincoln Highway East, just up the road from the historical society, 2215 Millstream Road (See information in Related Stories on registration fee for the keynote events, deadline, topics and conference speakers).
Last year’s event drew participants from 34 states, says Peggy Erb, library assistant who also serves as an organizer of the convention. The Mennonite Historical Society itself is a repository of some 3,000 published genealogies, 2,500 cemetery transcriptions, county court and tax records and has access to Ancestry.com, which has access to databases all over the United States and beyond.
The society has manifests that list who came over on what ship and when, Erb says. “Their roots were back here at one point, or in Chester County, she says, because many immigrants came here through the Philadelphia port, Baltimore “and, of course, a lot came through Ellis Island.”
The Mennonite faith traces its origins to Switzerland and Germany. Stauffer’s own origins here date to 18th-century bishop Christian Burkholder — Burkholder is Stauffer’s maiden name — who served the faith in Grofftown [Groffdale]. Christian Burkholder was one of six children; the kids crossed to these shores in the 1700s with their widowed mother.
“It was not a luxury cruise!” says Stauffer with admiration.
Such is the stuff of the Family History Conference. And though the event is associated with the Mennonite denomination, “we are not exclusive to Mennonites,” says Erb.
She marvels at how far the conference has come in recent history.
“The first two years I was here, there was no DNA,” Erb says of biological connections to ancestry. On the surface, it would seem that DNA would be science fiction, something beyond the realm of traditional family research. Yet, as Erb notes, events such as the Family History Conference can help reveal clues to ancestral health issues, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. She herself has written a family-centered history, “Jacob Ober and His Descendants.”
The 2014 conference will not only feature DNA connections — courtesy of Darvin L. Martin, a specialist on the subject — but also seminars on how to take advantage of Internet sites.
Taylor’s role in the keynote portion of the conference will serve as a centerpiece. An expert on photography, Taylor will be on hand to deliver a series of sessions on how even the most obscure family photograph can help unlock the past.
Stauffer gives fair warning when it comes to genealogy.
“It’s like a disease,” she says with a laugh.
“Once you get started, you never get done!”
Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014 6:00 am