This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Laura Kuchmay

Laura Kuchmay


By Laura Kuchmay,
Adult Services Librarian
Middletown Free Library of the Delaware County Libraries

Thanks to a generous LSTA Professional Development grant, I was able to attend the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina at the beginning of May 2017. For the last seven years I have worked with many patrons of the Middletown Free Library, as well as librarians and patrons across Delaware County, on discovering their family history. Genealogy is a passion of mine that I love to teach! When I heard of this conference I knew that attending would allow me to gain new knowledge to share with others and expand the services I provide for my library community.

The NGS 2017 Family History Conference took place in beautiful downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. For four days family history researchers were pleasantly challenged to choose from more than 175 lectures aimed at helping librarians like myself, professional genealogists, educators, etc. to advance our research by offering new techniques and resources. The conference was designed for family researchers at all levels! They created tracks of lectures topics to sharpen one’s skills in diverse areas. They included Research Planning, Methodology, Historical Context, Technology, Problem Solving, Military, Records and Repositories, International Records, Working with Records, Maps and Locations, Religion, and DNA. Since the conference took place in North Carolina the geographical focus centered on North Carolina and neighboring states, along with migration into and out of the region. I discovered the deep historical connections between North Carolina and Pennsylvania with their early Scot-Irish, German, and Quaker settlers.  Lectures on topical resources and research techniques examined African American, Native American, German, Scots-Irish migration, military and religious records.

When I first arrived at the NGS Family History Conference I was slightly overwhelmed by the number of lectures to choose from because they all sounded extremely interesting and useful for my family history researchers back at the Middletown Free Library. Thankfully there was a NGS Conference App that helped me navigate and keep track of the lectures I wanted to attend. The app also allowed you to download each syllabus and power point presentation from each lecture. This was especially helpful when I could not attend a particular lecture because it was at the same time as another.

There was a large exhibit hall filled with exhibitors representing all the major genealogy companies (,, MyHeritage, AmericanAncestors,, as well as the Daughters of the American Revolution, ProQuest,  genealogical societies from all across the United States, and so many more. Ancestry and Family Search hosted small in-booth lectures during the hours set aside for lunch each day. These presentations were helpful in learning how to navigate and make the most of all that the two leading family history research websites/databases have to offer. In particular they had lectures on DNA, Maps and Other Non-Searchable Resources on Ancestry, Find a Grave, Military Records, etc. These two websites, in particular the Ancestry Library Edition, are the two that I use most with my patrons. They also offered one-on-one instructions and Q&As.

In total I was able to attend over twenty different lectures by speakers from all over the country. Here are a few of my favorites:

Underused Resources & Record Types for Genealogists by Mary M. Tedesco (of Genealogy Roadshow fame)

Scots-Irish Research Methodology and Case Study by David E. Rencher

StoryMaps: Using Web Maps to Tell Family Stories by Charlie L. Wells

Three Guides, Four Countries: A Daughter of Holocaust Survivors Travels and Their Ancestral Villages by Deborah Long

Putting Food on the Table and a Roof Overhead: How Your Ancestors Earned a Living by Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Discovering Your Immigrant’s Origins: Exhausting Every Resource by Rich Venezia

“She came from Nowhere . . .”-A Case Study approach to a difficult Genealogical Problem by Michael D. Lacopo

Key Player, Participant, or Partisan Follower: Discovering an Ancestor’s Political Leanings by D. Joshua Taylor

She Did What, When? Where? With Who? Putting Your Ancestor in Historic Context by Sara Gredler

All the presenters provided in depth syllabuses and research guides, tips and techniques, links to resources, links their personal genealogy websites, and some even provided pdfs of their PowerPoint presentations. It was apparent throughout the entire conference that genealogists and genealogy enthusiasts have a passion for helping others discover their family history. There is an understanding that the more people who are inspired to research their family history, build trees, run their DNA, and make their trees and DNA results public the larger the genealogy community will grow and the quicker researchers will gain access to their ancestors.

This Fall I plan to host new in-depth genealogy workshops at the Middletown Free Library using the knowledge, tips, and techniques that I learned at the NGS Family History Conference. I want to provide workshops on how to research a particular ethnic group, how to use maps in family history research, how to use Google Maps to create Family Maps/Story Maps, and a workshop on how to ask your family the right questions to get them to tell their stories and the stories of your family.

My favorite quote from the keynote address at the conference was “Tell me a historic fact and I’ll remember it for a day. Tell me a story and I’ll remember forever!” I want to inspire my library patrons to collect their stories, identify the facts, and share their family’s story. The National Genealogical Society 2017 Family History Conference was one of the best conferences I have ever been to and I strongly recommend that any librarian who teaches genealogy at their library attend in the future.

Here are a list of great online resources I came across at the conference:

Belfast Newsletter
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland www.proni/ 
Griffith’s Valuation of Tenements:
Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (The Newberry Library):
National Historical Geographic Information System:
Access Genealogy:
Library of Congress Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers: