My experience at the Pennsylvania Family History Day

Yesterday in Exton, Pennsylvania, the Genealogical Society of Pennyslvania and Ancestry.com presented the Pennsylvania Family History Day. I mentioned this event last week in my post “Tips for a short genealogy road trip.” I was honored to be a part of this event, both as a lecturer and as a vendor. I presented the class “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?,” one of my personal favorites.

My day started early, at 4:30am. I was out the door and on the road by 5:30am. It was still dark but there was no traffic until I reached Pennsylvania. I arrived at the conference hotel by 7:30am.

As I approached the hotel, the first person I saw, loading up her car in the parking lot, was Lisa Alzo, the popular genealogy author and lecturer. A fellow instructor at the now-defunct GenClass and at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, I have known Lisa for years through online interaction. This was the first time that we have met in person.

At my vendor table, I set up several of my books for sale, including the Genealogy at a Glance: African American Research (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2011), and all three volumes of the Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867 (self-published, 2010-2011). I also printed out the Table of Contents and the Pennsylvania pages of the Online State Resources for Genealogy e-book (self-published, 2011). The final touch was a small sign that asked, “What’s Your Brickwall?” This sign actually brought the most visitors to my table, as attendees asked for advice with their research problems.

Lunch was great. I sat with Lisa Alzo and my friend Shamele Jordon as we listened to DearMYRTLE’s speech about “Genealogy Jam.” At several points throughout her talk, Ol’ Myrt was driven to tears while reminiscing about older family members, including her parents and grandparents. The entire audience was moved.

Unfortunately, because of my vendor table, I was unable to attend any of the other lectures. I would have loved to hear, for example, Lisa Alzo’s presentation on “Immigrant Cluster Communities,” or Shamele Jordon’s presentation on “Visualizing the Past: Maps and Genealogy,” or Curt Witcher’s presentation “Mining the Mother Lode: Using Periodical Literature for Genealogical Research.” Lou Szucs and Juliana Smith presented a track of four lectures focused on locating information on Ancestry.com, while John T. Humphrey and others presented a track of four lectures on researching in Pennsylvania. But from everything I heard from attendees, all of these presentations were fantastic.

After the conference ended, I had dinner in the hotel restaurant with Donn Devine, CG, CGL, and Curt Witcher, MLA, FUGA.

Curt Witcher, Michael Hait, Donn Devine

Mr. Devine is the Archivist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, a long-standing member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, a Trustee of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists from 1992 through 2006, a member of the Board of the National Genealogical Society from 1994 through 2002 and current chairman of the NGS Standards Committee. He wrote the chapter on evidence analysis in the Elizabeth Shown Mills-edited Professional Genealogy (the object of the ProGen Study Groups). He also currently serves as the General Counsel for the BCG.

Mr. Witcher is the manager of the Allen County Public Library’s renowned Genealogy Center, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is on the Board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and is a member of the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association. He was coeditor of the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) from 1987 through 2000.

Needless to say, it was an absolutely wonderful meal. We didn’t of course limit our conversation to genealogy, but discussed a number of other topics as well.

Once dinner was finished, I started the long drive home. It was dark again. I arrived home a little after 10pm. It was a long day, but one that I will long treasure.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. What a great day indeed Michael! I absolutely adore Lisa Alzo – we are pinata party BFF’s from Jamboree and Curt Witcher – who I think is the Svengali of genealogy – I have been stalking (in a totally non-restraining order kind of way) for some time now. I know the name Don Devine very well but have never met him in person. I also did not know that he is a Catholic archivist. Hmmm, wonder if I can talk him into a guest post on THE CATHOLIC GENE?????

    Thanks for sharing your great day!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Jane Bensinger on November 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    It was a real pleasure meeting you and attending your session yesterday, Michael! Your presentation was well-done, instructional, professional, entertaining, accessible to all levels of genealogists and reinforcing for those of us working to become professional. I also greatly enjoyed Curt Witcher’s opening remarks, Lisa Alzo’s presentation on “Immigrant Cluster Communities” and DearMyrt’s lunchtime treat, “Genealogy Jam” as well. With the bulk of my personal genealogy research in Pennsylvania, I always find John Humphrey’s presentations enlightening. Throw in the ancestry.com presentations, and you end up with a big slice of genealogy heaven!

    Certainly as a current Pro-Gen student, I am sorry I missed meeting Mr. Devine – we’ve already studied two of his chapters thus far. What an honor that would’ve been.

    I just love that about genealogy conferences – you never know who will be in attendance. And you always leave inspired!

    Reply

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