The Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, shares its many resources so people can discover their family history.
“The neat thing about family history is that everyone has a story, and we can help anyone begin to find theirs,” said Curt B. Witcher, manager of The Genealogy Center. “Most everyone loves learning about their past, from finding pictures of themselves, parents and grandparents in old yearbooks and online albums to finding several generations of relatives on census records — and everything in between. Our expert team increases the enjoyment quotient. A Genealogy Center tour stop or destination could be the highlight of many tour groups. At the risk of immodesty, we have yet to have a disappointed group.”
The center specializes in being as flexible as possible. If tour operators add a space or two on their onboarding surveys to participants, Witcher suggests adding a box for surname of interest and one for geographic area of interest. Once shared, the center can have materials specifically for individuals immediately available upon their arrival. “We can offer specific presentations of any length, from 20 minutes to 90 minutes, on nearly any family history topic,” Witcher said. For example, the staff can explain how to successfully search Ancestry.com, explore other unique online resources, search for a particular ethnic group and/or county (German, Irish, African American, English and the like), and successfully interview living relatives. If there is a family history related interest or topic, the center is pleased to craft and present a program about it.
“We really enjoy helping individuals discover their families’ stories, and we are really good at doing that,” Witcher said. “We love creating ‘ah-ha’ moments and specialize in creating a lot of them. Everyone has a story, and sparking interest in one’s own story can be an amazing experience to which many will gravitate. It can become one of life’s better addictions. We can be very flexible in meeting just about any group’s needs. Our city, our building and our Genealogy Center are completely accessible.”
Finding personal pieces of history
Most everyone enjoys exploring resources that contain their family name(s) as well as looking at pictures and images from cities and towns where they grew up, Witcher said. A favorite experience is finding a piece of their families’ history. Many also like having an opportunity to try out the center’s many databases.
The center licenses all the major genealogical databases for its customers’ use when they are on-site in Fort Wayne. “We pay so they don’t have to,” Witcher said. “So many discoveries can be made by exploring the tens of billions of surnames and place names in these onsite databases. Finally, we have an extremely large physical collection — more than 1.1 million items, books, microtext and periodicals.”
Witcher said the center offers a trifecta of engaging opportunities: an amazing, experienced staff, many virtual offerings and the large physical collection.
The Genealogy Center is flexible and can work with small groups to an entire motorcoach.
The length of time a group spends at the center is determined by what that group would like to accomplish. Two to three hours can go by very quickly, particularly if the center provides an orientation tour, work one-on-one (or few-on-one) with participants and then give them some time to explore in its vast resources for their specific families.
“In the past, tour operators have paired us with other two- to three-hour/half day experiences quite successfully,” Witcher said. “Indeed, we pair nicely with a number of venues, from the Hoppy Gnome microbrewery and History Center to the Cathedral Museum and the Botanical Gardens.”
A few tour operators bring 30 to 45 guests for a multi-day research experience in The Genealogy Center. Other tour operators specialize in day trips or overnight trips exclusively for enjoying the center’s resources.
Witcher and his experienced team hope after a visit to The Genealogy Center that groups take away an excitement for discovering their families’ stories and that such discovery can be enjoyable and fulfilling. “In addition, we hope they takeaway knowledge of the amazing attractions throughout the entire downtown Fort Wayne area—great local restaurants and shops,” he said. “And we certainly hope they takeaway how affordable this Indiana town is for visiting, finding ancestors, and playing.”
Lincoln Center to open
The Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library is part of the Special Collections division. Another part of Special Collections that has wide and enduring appeal is the Lincoln Collection, an incomparable collection of artifacts documenting Abraham Lincoln’s life and times. In late spring/early summer of 2021 the division will open the Rolland Center for Lincoln Research, also at the Main Library downtown. This new Lincoln Center will provide visitors with interactive ways to experience documents and images from Lincoln. Self-paced as well as guided tours will be available. Visitors will be able to experience some amazing artifacts and hear firsthand from experts, Witcher said.