Family History Conference

May 18-20

The Thirty-eighth Annual Lancaster Family History Conference presents:

New Arrivals in a New Land

A Tribute to Our 1717 Immigrant Families

Exactly three hundred years ago, in May 1717, three ships of Palatine emigrants went on a voyage across the Atlantic that would forever change their lives. Most settled among earlier immigrant relatives and like-minded Swiss-German Mennonites in what is now Lancaster County. Today, their descendants number in the millions.

We have a special week planned for you, as we focus on an earlier time, before Lancaster County had existed.

Tuesday, May 16 through Saturday, May 20, 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.

Thursday and Friday Seminars and Field Trips

On Thursday and Friday, small group and research seminars will meet at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. Priority will be given to the Saturday conference participants.

Lancaster County Archives, John F. Bennawit, Jr.

Thursday, May 18, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm
Friday, May 19, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm

Your ancestors 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.

$25 per person per day; tour limited to 13 people per day. Transportation provided from LMHS. 

Sixth Annual DNA Roundtable Discussion, Darvin L. Martin

Thursday, May 18, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Now in its sixth 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 April 20. Please provide an email address on the registration form.

Seminar Full

Hans Herr House and Lancaster Longhouse Tour, Becky Gochnauer

Thursday, May 18, 12:30 pm4:30 pm

Explore colonial history in vivid detail at the 1719 Hans Herr House. Here you will be led on a guided tour across the grounds where the Herrs settled along with a dozen other Mennonite families. You will tour the inside of the oldest preserved farmhouse in Lancaster County, which also served as the meeting place for worship by the earliest immigrant Mennonite community. As such, the Herr House is the oldest standing Mennonite meetinghouse in the western hemisphere.

In addition, the Herr House recently added a Native American Longhouse to its portfolio of attractions. The Longhouse serves to commemorate the culture and tradition of the first people to inhabit this land—those who were already here when the Europeans arrived. Tour the Longhouse and witness the stories of colonial interaction with the Native Americans.

$25 per person per day; tour limited to 13 people. Transportation provided from LMHS., Marjorie R. Bardeen, Heather S. Tennies & Kevin E. Shue

Friday, May 19, 9:30 am4:30 pm

This field trip provides an introduction to the family history, genealogy and local history resources found at Lancaster County’s Historical Society. Join Marjorie Bardeen, Director of Library Services, Heather Tennies, Director of Archival Services, and Kevin Shue, Genealogist, onsite at for a brief orientation of the research library and short tour of the archives, followed by time to conduct your own research until 4:00 PM with staff available for guidance.

$35 per person, includes boxed lunch; tour limited to 13 people. Transportation provided from LMHS. 

Learn German Script, James M. Beidler

Friday, May 19, 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.

$35 small group registration fee; limited to 15 people 

Special Project Research Assistance, Steven L. Ness

Friday, May 19, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm

The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society is a research center for Pennsylvania German, Mennonite, and Amish history, genealogy, and theology. It also holds a significant collection of genealogical and historical materials pertaining to southeastern Pennsylvania with a special focus on Lancaster County. Since many people—both inside and outside the Mennonite tradition—have strong Pennsylvania connections, the library and archives are utilized by a vast variety of researchers across the United States and Canada.

To attend this session, you must provide an email address and the surname you plan to research, either with your registration or in an email to Eileen Kinch ( by April 20. The Historical Society will optimize your research time by finding family Bibles, surname folders, and other resources in advance.

$25 small group registration fee; limited to 12 people

The DNA of 1717 Mennonite Immigrant Families, Darvin L. Martin

Friday, May 19, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

Since 2010, Martin has been exploring the DNA of Mennonite families and has used this data to reconstruct the ethnic origin of these families back into medieval Europe, and even earlier into Roman times, and before. This presentation will focus on the genetic background of the 1717 Mennonite immigrant families, including: Bachman, Barr/Bear/Baer, Bower, Baumgartner, Berry, Boehm, Bowman, Brackbill, Brandt, Brenneman, Brubacher, Buckwalter, Denlinger, Eby, Eshleman, Funk, Good, Graff, Harnish, Herr, Hershey, Hess, Hostetter, Haury, Hauser, Huber, Hunsicker, Kagey, Kauffman, Kendig, Kolb, Kreider, Kurtz, Landis, Longenecker, Lehman, Lichty/Light, Meili, Meyer, Miller, Musselman, Neff, Newcomer, Nisley, Reiff, Rutt/Ruth, Schantz, Schenk, Snavely, Snyder/Schneider, Steiner/Stoner, Stehman/Stoneman, Swarr, Weber/Weaver, Wenger, Witmer and Yoder/Yordy.

$25 group registration fee

Saturday Conference

The thirty-eighth annual Lancaster Family History Conference will convene at the Farm and Home Center, 1383 Arcadia Road, Lancaster, PA. Conference check-in begins in the foyer of the Farm and Home Center at 7:30 am. Conference facilities are handicap accessible.

Keynote Address – New Arrivals in a New Land, John L. Ruth

Saturday, May 20, 8:30 am – 9:15 am

The context 300 years ago seems remote from our own time, as our distant ancestors left their homeland as refugees to settle in a seemingly new land. What hazards and trials did they experience? Who did they encounter once they arrived here? How did they become established and prosper spiritually and financially? What is the lasting impact of their story on Lancaster County?

For over fifty years, John Ruth has focused on retelling the Mennonite story through writing and film. Now as we commemorate the 300th anniversary of some seventy families that settled on these very lands upon which we stand, John Ruth will narrate this story for us, drawing from his immense experience and historical knowledge.

Session 1: 9:30 am – 10:30 am

  1. The 1717 Migration—Roundtable Discussion, John L. Ruth

John Ruth will recall stories of the 1717 Mennonite migration to Lancaster County, particularly those articulated in his pivotal work “The Earth is the Lord’s – A Narrative History of Lancaster Mennonite Conference.” The format will allow questions and discussion throughout the seminar. Seating is limited to 24 people. You must register to attend, and registration will be closed after seating capacity is met.

  1. Family History Techniques for Non-Techies, James C. Landis

This session is designed for researchers who are new in the journey of discovering their roots. Genealogical concepts and methodology will be discussed in a conversation guided by a genealogist with nearly forty years of experience. Organization of your data, use of the Internet, and familiarity with sources are only a few of the topics featured. Attendees will be sure to receive numerous tips and suggestions on a wide range of topics to help them in their endeavors. This session aims to aid newcomers in focusing their efforts and help them increase the chances of success in their genealogical research.

  1. Essentials of Probate Research, Gerald H. Smith

Learn how to effectively search for relationships and genealogical data in probate records, the records that dispose of a deceased’s estate. While most commonly thought of as “wills,” there is much more to effective and thorough probate research. Session will cover strategies for searching testate (died with a will), intestate (died without a will) situations. Discussion includes pointers to/from probate records to other record sets.

  1. German Immigrant Waves: Contrasts and Sources, James M. Beidler

The 1700s Pennsylvania Germans were a different breed than the German Americans who emigrated in the 1800s. This presentation shows the differences in geography, economic class, religion, and aspirations of – as well as sources about – the two great waves of German immigration.

  1. Preserving Family Documents, Heather Tennies

Have you been entrusted with your family’s letters, deeds, and scrapbooks? Learn how to properly handle, store, and preserve your historic documents. There will be examples of archival storage enclosures and tips on organizing and accessing the items in your collection.

Session 2: 10:45 am – 11:45 am

  1. The 1717 Migration—Roundtable Discussion, John L. Ruth

This is a repeat of session #1. You are required to register in advance. Seating is limited to 24 people.

  1. What Did You Do During WWI, Great-Grandpa?, James C. Landis

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entrance into “The Great War,” considered to be the war to end all wars. Often overshadowed by WWII, research is only more confounded by a massive fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The blaze destroyed 80% of US Army personnel records for soldiers who served in both wars. This class will examine ways to reconstruct your ancestor’s service record using alternative sources in local, state, and national archives. Circumstances involving conscientious objectors are also included in the discussion.

  1. Using USGS Map Resources for Genealogy, Gerald H. Smith

The United States Geological Survey has been publishing maps for over 100 years. Learn how to access (for free) USGS map resources and informational materials. Maps can place your ancestors on the ground, provide information about the neighborhood, cemeteries, neighbors, and other information. This session will include essential map reading and interpretation skills and exercise.

  1. Digging Pennsylvania Roots from your Desktop, James M. Beidler

It is estimated that one in four Americans has Keystone State roots. Much of Pennsylvania research—from church records to land documents to courthouse filings—can be done remotely. Learn to get much of your genealogy done without setting foot in Pennsylvania.

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

  1. The 1717 Migration—Roundtable Discussion, John L. Ruth

This is a repeat of session #1. You are required to register in advance. Seating is limited to 24 people.

  1. Land Records of the 1717 Immigrant Families, Darvin L. Martin

By 1717, the Conestoga Valley was dotted with farm families from a vast variety of European ancestries including English, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch, French, German, and Swiss, as well as several substantial Native American villages. However, the influx of seventy Swiss-German families in 1717 dramatically changed the culture and ethnicity of our county, a legacy that has endured over 300 years. Martin will explore the immediate impact of this migration. Where did the 1717 immigrants settle, and who were their neighbors?

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

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 in index books. Find out what is new at the Lancaster County Archives, and learn how to navigate the collection of historical indexes for family historians now available on the website:

  1. Would I Lie To You? The Many Ways in Which Our Ancestors Lead Us Astray, Carol Sheaffer and Nancy Nelson

Discussion will focus on records that are incorrect or inaccurate and, therefore, can lead research in the wrong direction.

  1. “The Devil is in the Details”: Analyzing and Interpreting Historical Documents, Jonathan R. Stayer

Using a 1772 court deposition regarding the death of a slave caused by her mistress’s beating as an example, learn how to extract facts and meaning from historical documents. Building on that analysis, appropriate and accurate interpretations of documents will be discussed. What you read is only half the story!

Session 4: 2:45 pm – 3:45 pm

  1. Family History at the Moravian Church Archives, Thomas McCullough

Learn about a wide variety of resources for genealogists at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, such as church registers, catalogs, congregational diaries, and memoirs.

  1. The Swiss-German background of the 1717 Immigrant families, Anne Schmidt-Lange

After years of exhaustive 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 Mennonite families who arrived about 1717 in Pennsylvania. When they left for America, most of these immigrants lived in the Palatinate in Germany, 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. Due to major factual errors in one 1947 list of Swiss origins for these families (dates in Germany off by 60 years), descendants are searching for people in Switzerland who didn’t exist! Is your family history on the right track in Europe?

  1. Online Military Records, Carol Sheaffer and Nancy Nelson

This lecture will focus on the availability of military records on the internet, both free and by subscription. Specific examples of military records will be shared to demonstrate their use in family history research.

  1. Genealogical Resources at the Pennsylvania State Archives, Jonathan M. Stayer

Located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital city, the Pennsylvania State Archives holds a wealth of resources for those researching their family history. Learn about vital records, county records, state censuses, military rolls, land warrants and patents, maps, colonial ships’ lists, naturalization documents, occupational records, court records and many other helpful materials available at the Archives through an engaging presentation illustrated with original documents.


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.


Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites are located on Granite Run Drive, ¾ of a mile northwest of the Farm and Home Center. When booking, ask for the group rate for the Lancaster Family History Conference.

To Register

Registration opens Janaury 3. Questions?: call Eileen at (717) 393-9745 or email

Field trip registration deadline is April 25, 2017. 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.

Conference registration deadline is May 9, 2017. 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 $60 is fully tax-deductible. Learn more about membership here.

Join today!

Field Trips and Seminars

Lancaster County Archives
Each time slot limited to 13 people
Cost $25

Sixth Annual DNA Roundtable Discussion
Thursday, May 18, 10 am – 12 pm
Limited to 15 people

Hans Herr House and Lancaster Longhouse Tour
Thursday, May 18, 12:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Limited to 13 people
Cost $25
Friday, May 19, 9:30 am – 4:30 pm
Limited to 13 people
Cost $35

Special Project Research Assistance
Friday, May 19, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Limited to 12 people
Cost $25

Learn German Script
Friday, May 19, 9 am – 12 pm
Limited to 15 people
Cost $35

DNA of 1717 Immigrant Families
Friday, May 19, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Cost $25


Saturday, May 20, 8:30 am – 3:45 pm
Conference registration starts at 7:30 am and includes the keynote address with John L. Ruth, four sessions of Saturday workshops, and lunch. Conference registration deadline is May 9, 2017.