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Experts Offer Tips on Family Tree Research This Weekend

The Bucks County Visitors Center hosts the seventh annual Ancestry Fair on Saturday in Bensalem.

The speed and availability of the Internet has been a complete boondoggle for amateur genealogists everywhere looking for information on their family's history. Municipalities continue to make public records searchable on the web, providing an invaluable resource for family tree detectives.

However, if you are just starting out on the exciting journey of researching your ancestors, you still can't beat a good, old-fashioned conversation.

"The first thing you want to do is ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles," said Karen Higgins, a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. "You would be surprised what they know. My great grandmother's vase, with all of her personal documents, had gone missing sometime between 1891 and 1900. I found out at my grandmother's funeral that it had been sitting in her house for 30 years."

Higgins will be one of several genealogical experts making presentations at the seventh annual Bucks County Ancestry Fair at the Bucks County Visitors Center in Bensalem this Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. For the first time, both the expo and educational sessions will be completely open and free to the public.

The information available on the Internet has become the primary driver of the recent popularity surge the genealogy hobby has experienced, Higgins says. People not only want to know where they came from, but they also want to learn where and how their ancestors lived.

"Of course, a lot of people also want to know if they are related to anybody famous," said Higgins.

The online resources for folks living in Bucks County continue to grow as Bucks County Register of Wills Donald Petrille adds more archives to the online database. He will present his office's latest efforts to digitize records at the fair.

"We have documents dating back to 1683 that are searchable in our database," said Petrille. "We've made a lot of improvements to our system."

Petrille also suggests making some personal contacts before the start of a family tree project, especially with someone who has some experience with a task that can sometimes lead to frustrating dead ends. 

If researchers need to see physical records or want to find information not available on the website, they can contact the Bucks County Register of Wills at (215) 348-6265 for assistance. Documents and microfilm are kept in a storage facility in Warrington and can be accessed if the office is given some notice.

Other presenters during Saturday's Ancestry Fair include:
  • Gerald Vallette, Doylestown FamilySearch: Exploring the New FamilySearch Website
  • Shamele Jordon, genealogical researcher, lecturer, writer and podcaster: Tips and Techniques for Using Technology in Genealogical Research
  • Karen Morrow, Sue Kellerman & Cheri Banks: The Library of Congress Chronicling America: The Penn State Newspaper Project
  • Carol Sheaffer, member of the Association of Professional Genealogists: Would I Lie To You…How Our Ancestors Sometimes Lead Us Astray

There will be an hour lunch break, and ancestry-related vendors will be on display in the Visitors Center main gallery.

If you go:

The Seventh Annual Bucks County Ancestry Fair will be held at the Bucks County Visitors Center, 3207 Street Road, Bensalem, on Saturday, Sept. 28 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, call (215) 639-0300.

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