Family History Conference

April 19-21, 2018


The Thirty-ninth Annual Lancaster Family History Conference presents:

Extra! Extra! Research All About It!

How Newspapers Enhance Family History

Imagine an intensely localized document created within the circumstances in which your ancestor lived. What was going on in the local community? What were your ancestors reading? What information did they have access to, shaping their own worldviews? Perhaps you’ll even find your ancestor listed, in a specific issue within a specific context, bringing the connection to life. Historic newspapers provide a valuable sense of the way our local communities functioned a century or more ago. Now more than ever, historic newspapers are becoming digitized and easily accessible to everyone everywhere.

Join us for a special week of family history activities focused around the theme of historic newspapers.

Tuesday, April 17 through Saturday, April 21, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm

Make the most of your time in Lancaster by visiting the library and archives at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society (2215 Millstream Road, along Lincoln Highway East). LMHS is one of Pennsylvania’s best genealogical libraries with over 3,000 published genealogies, 2,500 cemetery transcriptions, local court and tax records, access to, a unique family card file with genealogical data on hundreds of thousands of families, and an obituary database with more than 190,000 names. The use of the library and archives is free for registered conference participants.

Seminars and Field Trips

Thursday, April 19, and Friday, April 20

On Thursday and Friday, small group and research seminars will meet at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society (2215 Millstream Road, Lancaster). Priority will be given to the Saturday conference participants. Field trip transportation will be provided from the Society.

Lancaster County Archives, John F. Bennawit Jr.

Thursday, April 19, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm

Your ancestor may have lived an obscure life in Lancaster County. However, chances are good that they left behind some “fingerprint” or record at the local courthouse.  The courthouse was a destination for filing naturalizations, deeds, marriages, divorces, and wills.  Join archivist John Bennawit, Jr. as he explains this elaborate collection of historical government records and their interpretation for family historians. Courthouse records are a unique resource because many are not available online.  They may also be a valuable link to other records.  Learn tips and techniques to unravel the intricate layers of courthouse records and discover fascinating details about your Lancaster County ancestors.  Perhaps that one elusive document is here for your discovery.  Following the presentation, researchers are invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of the archives.  Researchers will have the option to conduct their own research until noon with archives staff available for guidance.

Field Trip full

DNA Roundtable Discussion, Darvin L. Martin

Thursday April 19, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Now in its seventh year, the Lancaster Family History Conference continues the tradition of offering a DNA roundtable to discuss the various findings from personal DNA tests.  Darvin Martin will collaborate with participants to show how their DNA results fit into the larger family tree for all people.  Discover the new information that can be gleaned from your test results and the next steps you can take to expand testing and enrich your family history. Conference participants who have laboratory results from a genealogical DNA test are invited to ask questions and dig deeper into their data with a small group of peers.

To attend this session, you must submit the results of your DNA test with your registration or in an email to Eileen Kinch ( by March 27.  Please provide an email address on the registration form.

$25 small group registration fee; limited to 15 people

The Underground Railroad of Lancaster County, Randolph Harris

Thursday, April 19, 1:00 pm – 5:30 pm

The Underground Railroad was the first racially inclusive and religiously-inspired civil rights movement in the United States.  Explore local Underground Railroad sites and stories with Randolph Harris.   Sites include Wrightsville in York County, the Columbia Riverfront Park in Lancaster County where once was located the famous bridge over the Susquehanna River, as well as Thaddeus Stevens’ home in Lancaster City. Also in the city, visitors will learn the Underground Railroad connections of Saint James Episcopal Church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Fulton Opera House (the location of the Old Lancaster County Jail). This bus tour includes some walking. Sign up for this field trip by March 27.

Field Trip Full

Learn German Script, James M. Beidler

Friday, April 20, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Have you ever been frustrated when you cannot read the primary source documents of your ancestors because you lack the skills to follow their handwriting?  The language barrier can be successfully crossed using a dictionary, but few have the skills to unlock the interpretation of foreign handwriting.  Here, noted genealogist James Beidler will lead a skills workshop focused on the primary language of our local colonists—German.  The workshop will cover basic vocabulary and formats to enable the participants to read tombstones, church records and simple documents of German-speaking people. Included is deciphering handwritten cursive script from a variety of sources as well as detailing the quirks of the printed Fraktur font. Register for this workshop by March 27.

$35 small group registration fee; limited to 15 people

Special Project Research Assistance, Steven L. Ness

Friday, April 20, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm

The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society library holds a significant collection of genealogical and historical materials pertaining to southeastern Pennsylvania, with a special focus on the Mennonites of Lancaster County. The librarian will optimize your research time by searching for surname files, family Bibles, archival and other resources in advance. To participate, you must provide an email address and the surname or person you plan to research with your registration or in an email to Eileen Kinch ( by March 27.

$25 small group registration fee; limited to 12 people

Yes, the Amish Still Use Newspapers–The role of The Budget and Die Botschaft in Amish communities, Milo G. Miller

Friday April 20, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

The Budget is the longest serving and largest distributed newspaper serving the Amish and Mennonite communities throughout the Americas. The national edition is the respected and revered collection of “Letters” written by over 950 Amish and Mennonite scribes. In this discussion, Milo Miller will explore the history, importance and impact of The Budget on the Plain communities and will discuss the future of niche publications and the Amish. Register for this workshop by March 27.

$25 small group registration fee; space limited

Saturday Conference

The 39th Lancaster Family History Conference will convene at the Farm and Home Center, 1383 Arcadia Road, Lancaster. Check-in begins in the foyer of the Farm and Home Center at 7:30 am. Facilities are handicap accessible.

Keynote Address—Extra! Extra! Research All About It: How Newspapers Enhance Family History, James M. Beidler

Saturday April 21, 8:30 am – 9:15 am

James M. Beidler is the author of the newly published Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide as well as the writer of the “Roots & Branches” newspaper column and blog that he has produced weekly for 20 years. He also edits Der Kurier, the quarterly journal of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society, and is a columnist for German Life magazine. Beidler’s also the author of two other commercially published books and is an instructor for the online Family Tree University.

Session 1: 9:30 am —10:30 am

1. Looking into DNA? Which test is the right one for You? Darvin L. Martin

DNA testing has been extensively marketed over the last few years, but with several options available, how can you be sure you are purchasing the best test to meet your needs and expectations?  Your intention and reasons for testing will determine which test to order and whether you, or somebody else in your family, should be the test taker.

2. Military Records at the PA State Archives, Aaron McWilliams

This overview of military records at the Pennsylvania State Archives will cover the primary records and indexes available to researchers interested in the military service of Pennsylvanians from the French and Indian War to Vietnam.

3. Colonial Church Records, Gerald H. Smith

This presentation discusses churches in colonial America; locales and roles of state churches; church books and denominational practices; pastor’s records; church records; denomination-specific practices; use of church record abstracts; the interplay of history, theology, and practicality; locating church records; important resources for Pennsylvania.

4. Introduction to Pennsylvania Dutch, Butch Reigart

Interested in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect of German used by Old Order Amish and Mennonite communities? Reigart will provide a short introduction to the dialect.

Session 2: 10:45 am —11:45 am

5. Letterpress to Digital: Using Historical Newspapers, James M. Beidler

Everyone’s talking about the huge increase in accessibility of newspapers to family researchers due to digitization. But that’s not the only reason that newspapers are the hottest record group for family historians: More precise cataloging of old newspapers allows researchers to find a greater number of old newspapers in their original print form and microfilm and today’s “born digital” newspaper content are also factors. Learn the perils, pitfalls and frequent rewards of researching local and regional newspapers of general circulation for tidbits about your ancestors.

6. Exploring the Treasures of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Jonathan Stayer

Join a long-time member of the Pennsylvania State Archives staff on an entertaining stroll through the varied holdings of the Archives. See a colonial indentured servant’s court deposition, Al Capone’s prison record, motion picture censorship board files, and more.

7. Land Plats Solve Genealogy Problems, Gerald Smith

Land plats (drawings of land parcels, often made from patents, deeds, and other land records) are important tools in solving genealogical problems. The presentation shows, through real research problems, how land plats solve genealogical problems. Discussion will provide a brief overview of metes & bounds and description (used in Pennsylvania); examples of land plats; finding and using existing land plats; the role and records of the early surveyor; the impact of technology on written land descriptions; and the importance of connected tract maps (especially warrantee maps – first private owners). While this is not a workshop in constructing your own plats, the motivational material shows how taking this perspective in your land research may knock down your brick wall. The discussion will include references to resources for doing your own plats, both with pencil and paper and computer.

8. Some Early Swiss Records of Our Mennonite Ancestors, Anne Schmidt-Lange

After years of research in Germany and Switzerland in state archives, local town halls and historical societies, and on location at the farms where they lived, researcher Anne Schmidt-Lange shares photos, insights, and new information on documented origins of some Mennonite families who arrived about 1717 in Pennsylvania. When they left for America most of these immigrants lived in the Palatinate in Germany, many in the Kraichgau area east of Heidelberg and Karlsruhe. Their families had come there from Switzerland, often because Anabaptists/Mennonites were required by government order to leave their Swiss homes.

Lunch: 11:45 am—1:30 pm

A buffet lunch will allow you to browse the vendor displays and socialize with other genealogists while you eat.

Session 3: 1:30 pm —2:30 pm

9. Zeitung Sightings, German Language Newspapers Worldwide, James M. Beidler

Newspapers and other periodicals are likely to contain information about your German-speaking ancestors. Learn about this under-utilized record group, now coming into its own with the digitization of many historical newspapers in the language.

10. Room Enough for Them All, Michael Showalter

During the colonial era, Lancaster County was one of the most religiously diverse places in all of the Americas. This mix of cultures and customs found a home through Penn’s invitation to the dissident religious minorities of Europe, while at the same time he intended new settlers to live among Native Americans in peace. Looking at tax records, church histories, travel accounts, local histories, and family traditions, this presentation will examine some information about the early residents of the county.

11. No Good Deed Goes Unrecorded, James Landis

  A comprehensive understanding of these important legal documents is essential in genealogy. This session seeks to enhance your knowledge of deeds by examining their form and structure, detailing their use and purpose, and discussing critical terms and legalities. (The session does include a brief instruction on how to plot a property description, although this process must be deemphasized because of the constraint of time.) Valid land titles were of great concern to our ancestors, and topics will focus on what was involved in a proper transfer of property ownership. This session is a must for anyone working with deeds and land research.

12. Real Life Paternity Case Solved using 23andMe, Sharon McKee

This session focuses on one woman’s journey to discover her paternal family and verify her father’s identity, unknown for fifty years. Discover the methods used over a 12-month investigation as she searched to establish the truth and satisfy the profound need to be recognized and acknowledged by a family lost to time.

13. The Underground Railroad in Lancaster County, Leroy Hopkins Jr., Ph.D. & Randolph Harris, Part 1

Historians Leroy T. Hopkins, Jr., Ph. D. and Randolph Harris, both of Lancaster, will present a double session on the heritage of African-Americans, with a special focus on people, places and events in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Dr. Hopkins will provide an historical overview and will provide deep insight through an examination and analysis of the region’s Black history through the lens of his own family’s experience and his decades of research, lectures and writing. Harris will share an illustrated presentation on his area of interest and expertise: US Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) and the origins of the Underground Railroad movement in the border counties of southeast Pennsylvania, from the western edges of Franklin County and eastward to Philadelphia.

Session 4: 2:45 pm —3:45 pm

14. Amish and Mennonites: Connections, Distinctions, Clarifications, Steven M. Nolt

References to ancestors who were Amish, Mennonite, or Amish Mennonite can be confusing, even for those who think they understand who Mennonites and Amish are today. This session will examine the historical connections and distinctions between Mennonites and Amish in Europe and North America. We will also look at the use the labels Mennonite and Amish in the names of churches, cemeteries, and church conferences across time, and why some uses might not match our current notions of these terms. Finally, we’ll look at the some of the diversity and commonality among Mennonite and Amish groups in the twenty-first century.

15. Mysterious, Melancholy and Macabre Stories from Lancaster County Newspapers, Michael Showalter

Join local craftsman Michael Miller as he returns from the 1780s to share some of the true and unusual stories found in the newspaper of his time. There’s a ghost, a murder, and lots of creepy surprises spread around the county in the days before the Revolutionary War.

16. Courthouse Genealogy: Searching the Lancaster County Archives, John F. Bennawit Jr.

Dusty courthouse indexes kept over a century ago may be the only link to finding your elusive ancestor. Unfortunately, courthouse clerks were notoriously poor spellers, and they often recorded names phonetically within index books. Lancaster County Archives records are literally the “business records of a government” and were originally kept for short-term record keeping purposes. Deeds, death, birth, marriage, naturalization, and civil records were filed for a function of government, but were never intended for genealogists to scour over a century later. Today these records may be the only clues to uncovering the life of a hidden ancestor. My German immigrant ancestor’s surname was recorded in courthouse indexes with half a dozen different spellings and court documents were filed nearly 50 years after his death! You may have searched the Lancaster County Archives before but perhaps that ancestor remains hidden in the margins of a courthouse index. Search again!

This informal session will give you the tools necessary for searching historical government records. It will teach you search techniques to navigate the variety of online Courthouse indexes and show you what is new in the archives. The Lancaster County Archives has recently imaged its main collection of historical indexes and made them searchable on their website:

17. The Underground Railroad in Lancaster County, Leroy Hopkins Jr., Ph.D. and Randolph Harris, Part 2

Historians Leroy T. Hopkins, Jr., Ph. D. and Randolph Harris, both of Lancaster, will present a double session on the heritage of African-Americans, with a special focus on people, places and events in southeastern Pennsylvania.


Lancaster is served by Harrisburg International Airport, Middletown; Lancaster Airport, Lititz; Amtrak Passenger Rail Service, Lancaster; and bus service through Bieber Trailways and the Red Rose Transit Authority.

To travel to Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society by car, follow Route 30 East to Lancaster. The expressway will end and then merge onto Lincoln Highway East. Go through three traffic lights. The Historical Society on Millstream Road will be on your right after the third light.

To travel to the Farm and Home Center at 1383 Arcadia Road, Lancaster, PA 17601, from the east: Head north on Route 283 after the split with Route 30, and take the first exit south (Route 72, Manheim Pike). After crossing under Route 30, turn left onto Steelway Road. From Steelway, turn left onto Arcadia Road. The Farm and Home Center is at the end of Arcadia Road. From the west (either from Route 283 or Route 30): Take exit at Route 72 (Manheim Pike) south and follow same directions.


Fairfield Inn and Suites is located at 150 Granite Run Drive, about a mile from the Farm and Home Center. When booking, ask for the group rate for the Lancaster Family History Conference.

To Register

Questions?: call Eileen at (717) 393-9745 or email

Field trip registration deadline is March 27, 2018. If you need to cancel your reservation, we will issue a refund, minus a $10 handling fee, but only if we can fill your seat. If we cannot fill your seat, we cannot issue a refund.

Early registration is due March 27, 2018. Conference registration deadline is April 10, 2018. No conference refunds will be issued after this date. Refunds have a $10 handling fee.

LMHS Membership

The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society is one of Pennsylvania’s best genealogical libraries. Members receive discounts on the Family History Conference, a free subscription to Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage magazine, free access to online LMHS resources, and reduced rates for field trips and events throughout the year. Visit to learn more.

Make Me a Member

Select the membership level you want below. Memberships expire at the end of the calendar year. Any portion of your payment over $62 is fully tax-deductible. Learn more about membership here.

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Field Trips and Seminars

Lancaster County Archives
Thursday, April 19, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm
Field Trip Full

Seventh Annual DNA Roundtable Discussion
Thursday, April 19, 10 am – 12 pm
Limited to 15 people
Cost $25

The Underground Railroad of Lancaster County
Thursday, April 19, 1:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Limited seating

Learn German Script
Friday, April 20, 9 am – 12 pm
Limited to 15 people
Cost $35

Special Project Research Assistance
Friday, April 20, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Cost $25

Yes, the Amish Still Use NewspapersThe role of The Budget and Die Botschaft in Amish communities
Friday, April 20, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Cost $25


Saturday, April 21, 8:30 am – 3:45 pm
Conference registration starts at 7:30 am and includes the keynote address with James M. Beidler, four sessions of Saturday workshops, and lunch. Early Registration ends March 27, 2018. Conference registration deadline is April 10, 2018.

Registration is now closed