Family History Conference

March 28-30, 2019

No Person Shall Gallop Horses in the Streets! Using Court Records to Tell Stories of Our Ancestors’ Lives

Legal records are one of the best resources for understanding the details of our ancestors’ lives. Pennsylvania is fortunate to have a considerable collection of records that date back into colonial times, some even as early as 300 years ago.  Judy Russell, our 2019 Keynote speaker, has forged her career by tying civil records to family histories, wrapping context and detail into the storylines that enhance our connection and appreciation of those who lived before us. And like never before, these records are increasingly available from the portal of our personal computers, tablets and smart phones—eliminating the need to travel to distant archives and handle fragile collections. We welcome you to join Judy to discover how records such as these can build our family histories to a whole new level of detail.

Seminars and Field Trips

Library and Archives

Tuesday, March 26, through Saturday, March 30, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

Make the most of your time in Lancaster by considering our library and archives at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. The use of the library and archives is free for registered conference participants. All field trips and seminars originate at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.

Lancaster County Archives Field Trip

Thursday, March 28, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm

Your ancestors may have lived an obscure life in Lancaster County. However, chances are good that they left behind a “fingerprint” at the local courthouse. Join archivist John Bennawit, Jr. as he explains this elaborate collection of historical government records and their interpretation for family historians. Researchers will have the option to conduct their own research until noon with staff available for guidance.

Working with German Script and Fraktur Font

Friday, March 29, 9:00 am to 12:00 pm

German genealogy specialist Jim Beidler will lead a skills workshop focused on the primary language of the 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 documents as well as the quirks of the printed Fraktur font.

$35 small group registration fee; limited to 15 people Field Trip

Thursday, March 28, 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm

This field trip provides an introduction to the family history, genealogy and local history resources found at Lancaster County’s Historical Society. Join Nathan Pease, Director of Library Services, Heather Tennies, Director of Archival Services, and/or Kevin Shue, Genealogist, onsite at for a brief orientation of the research library, followed by time to conduct your own research until 4:30 PM with staff available for guidance.

DNA Roundtable Discussion

Thursday, March 28, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

The Lancaster Family History Conference continues to offer a DNA roundtable, now in its eighth year, to discuss the various findings of personal DNA tests. Darvin Martin will collaborate with participants to show how their DNA fits into the larger family tree for all people. To attend this session, you must submit the results of your DNA test with your registration or in an e-mail to Eileen Kinch ( by February 27, 2019. Please provide an e-mail address on the registration form.

Introduction to the LMHS Library

Friday, March 29, 10:00 am to 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. Steven L. Ness, the librarian will introduce participants to these resources as well as the tools for locating surname files, family Bibles, archival records, and other resources that may be useful to the genealogist.

The New DNA Reality—Forging the Path Between Discovery and Privacy

Friday, March 29, 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm

Curious about DNA, but also concerned with privacy? Join Darvin Martin as he explains the types of DNA used to connect families together, and if any of that DNA can also be used by law enforcement, and if so, how. In two recent high profile cases, DNA from genealogical sites helped trace and confirm the identity of criminals from crimes committed years ago. How was this done? And can your DNA be used in this way without your permission? We’ll go over all the pertinent contemporary issues with DNA and privacy and peer into what is forthcoming in the future.

$25 small group registration fee; space limited;

Registration due March 20.

Livestreaming available for $25

Saturday Conference

Check-in opens at 7:30 a.m.

Keynote by “The Legal Genealogist” Judy Russell

‘No Person Shall . . . Gallop Horses in the Streets’: Using Court Records to Tell the Stories of Our Ancestors’ Lives”

8:30 a.m.

Early court records give color and meaning to the lives and times of our ancestors. County courts often functioned as both judiciary and legislature, and appeals courts published fact-filled opinions. While the records often establish relationships to help build a family tree, they also offer much richness and depth to help tell a family’s story.

About the Speaker

The Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell is a genealogist with a law degree. She writes, teaches and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical topics, ranging from using court records in family history to understanding DNA testing. A Colorado native with roots deep in the American south on her mother’s side and entirely in Germany on her father’s side, she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a political science minor from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a law degree from Rutgers School of Law-Newark. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, trade association writer, legal investigator, defense attorney, federal prosecutor, law editor and, for more than 20 years before her retirement in 2014, was an adjunct member of the faculty at Rutgers Law School.

She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, the National Genealogical Society and numerous state and regional genealogical societies. She has written for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (from which she received the 2017 Award of Excellence), the National Genealogical Society Magazine, the FGS Forum, BCG’s OnBoard, and Family Tree Magazine, among other publications.

On the faculty of the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute, and the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records, she is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, from which she holds credentials as a Certified Genealogist® and Certified Genealogical Lecturer℠. Her award-winning blog appears at The Legal Genealogist website (

Session 1: 9:30 to 10:30 AM

1. Roadblocks, Red Lights and Detours: Records Access for Genealogists, Judy Russell

This was supposed to be the age of the information superhighway. Instead, even as so many records are coming online, many more records are not, and perhaps may never be. As a community and as individuals, learn what we can do to protect records access.

3. FamilySearch and Family Tree, Sylvia Sonneborn

FamilySearch specializes in digitizing records, online indexing, researching, and capturing images to identify ancestors and preserve family history. This presentation will demonstrate the enhancements to FamilySearch and Family Tree in the past five years.

2. Navigating Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary War Militia Records, Aaron McWilliams

The Pennsylvania Revolutionary War militia records are some of the most popular records at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Few fully understand how to interpret them. This presentation will cover militia documents in the collection and their contents. It will also cover how to interpret and use them to expand on a veteran’s service during the war.

4. Learning to Listen: Oral History Interviewing How-to, Jean Kilheffer Hess

In this interactive session, practice asking great questions and—the hardest part—keeping quiet while the stories flow! We will discuss recording devices, gaining narrator consent, and other details to plan for success.

Session 2: 10:45 am to 11:45 am

5. Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How of American Divorce, Judy Russell

Our ancestors’ marriages lasted so much longer than our own, in part because it was difficult to divorce. But it still happened, and the records created in the process tell us much about our ancestors.

7. Lutheran and Reformed Churches: Similar Differences, Jim Landis

While these denominations shared a Germanic culture and Protestant theology, there were distinct differences. This class offers genealogists an in-depth look at these groups, examining how genealogical research and records can vary between the two churches.

6. Colonial Ship Lists and Naturalization Records, Jonathan Stayer

For the colonial and Revolutionary periods, the Pennsylvania State Archives holds records of Germanic immigrants arriving in the port of Philadelphia, naturalizations, and oaths taken by those swearing loyalty to the government. This session will describe the available sources and discuss their accessibility to researchers.

8. Losing the Family Farm, Martin Keen

Losing a family home or business can be a traumatic experience that has lasting effects on a family. Often the loss of a family home is later told in stories that may or may not be true. This session will investigate several losses of family farms during the 1800s and the records utilized to uncover how the farms were lost.

Lunch: 11:45 AM to 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 to 2:30 PM

9. An Update on the Mennonite and Amish Immigrants DNA Project, Darvin Martin

DNA provides a way to expand your family tree beyond the written records. Project manager Darvin Martin will delve into the background of the project, how to join and how to remain anonymous. He will also share some of the connections between families found through the project as well as the ethnic background of a variety of local surnames.

11. Count Me In! Using U.S. Census Records, Jim Landis

Census records are the most popular records used by genealogists, and this session will turn any researcher into an expert on the subject. The class offers an in-depth study on the U.S. Federal decennial census and beyond; how the records evolved and what was recorded.

10. Using, Gerald Smith

Learn how to effectively navigate and use This presentation explores the major record groupings in Ancestry; using database descriptions; finding the records you need; search strategies (including “wild cards”), hidden gems, and other tricks and techniques.

12. Red Tiles, Five Plates, & Feather Beds: Pennsylvania German Homes, Michael Showalter

Early Pennsylvania visitors commented about homes they observed while traveling through areas settled by Germanic people. Using a variety of sources, we’ll get a chance to explore elements of these early Pennsylvania German homes.

Session 4: 2:45 to 3:45 PM

13. The Scotch-Irish: Their Origins in the British Isles and Their Impact in South Central Pennsylvania, Richard Konkel

This session will examine the history of the Scotch-Irish and their settlement in Pennsylvania and beyond and their influence on the region. Their religion, language, culture, and food will also be discussed, as will resources for researching the Scotch-Irish in Pennsylvania, Ireland and Scotland.

15. Uncommon Courthouse Genealogy Records: Lancaster County Archives, John Bennawit

Court records add depth, context, and breathe life back into your ancestor’s story. Discover how obscure courthouse records can reveal more layers to an ancestor’s life. From entering dockets to trust books, there is a wealth of untapped ‘uncommon’ genealogy sources at the Lancaster County Archives.

14. Quarter Session Records, Gerald Smith

Quarter Session records are an under-used genealogical resource. Learn their history, matters concerning the court, and take a peek at the genealogical information they contain, including illegitimate children! This now obsolete court had a broad jurisdiction over criminal and administrative matters.

16. Preserving Family Documents: Roundtable Discussion, Heather Tennies

How can you preserve your family’s historic documents for future generations? Bring one item from your collection to discuss and learn how to properly handle, store, and preserve your family’s history. Limited to 20 participants. Pre-registration required by February 27, 2019.


The Thursday and Friday portions of the Lancaster Family History Conference are held at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 2215 MIllstream Road, Lancaster, PA 17602.

The Saturday portion of the Lancaster Family History Conference takes place at the Farm and Home Center, 1383 Arcadia Road, Lancaster, PA 17601.

To travel to the Farm and Home Center, take Route 30 West to Route 283 West, and then to Route 72 South, going under the Route 30 bypass. Turn left at Jones Honda Dealership onto Service Road. Go straight at stop sign to enter Farm and Home Center parking lot. See


Hilton Garden Inn is located at 101 Granite Run Drive, about a mile from the Farm and Home Center. When booking, use the group code LMHS19. The rate is good until February 26, 2019.

To Register

Complete the web form below. If you would like a print registration form, contact Eileen Kinch at 717-393-9745 or If you pay by check, the canceled check is your receipt. 

Field trip and seminar registration is due as marked. Cancellations will only be refunded if we can fill your seat. If we cannot fill your seat, we cannot issue a refund.

Conference registration deadline is March 20, 2019. If you need to cancel your registration before this date, we will issue a refund, minus a handling fee. No conference refunds will be issued after this date.

Questions?: contact Eileen Kinch at 717-393-9745 or