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Historians, genealogists make for history-packed weekend in Lansing


Lansing will be crawling with historians and genealogists at two separate conferences next week, as they brush up on their skills in areas as varied as historical reenactment and researching family history.

The Archives of Michigan, the Library of Michigan and the Michigan Genealogical Council have pulled together a day-long program for beginners and advanced genealogists. Genealogy web sites trail only porn sites as the most visited according to Time magazine.

One trend driving the skyrocketing industry is the growth of lowcost DNA analysis such as 23andMe and online resources such as www.ancestry.com and www.newspapers.com, which offer subscription services to research family histories. Recent use of DNA databases to solve cold cases such as the Golden State Killer have drawn attention to the reliability of DNA testing in identifying biological relatives.

It’s unlikely that these high-profile cases will deter users, since a recent Science journal said, “Within three years the DNA of nearly every American of Northern European descent — the primary users of the site — will be identifiable through cousins in GEDmatch’s database."

Right now users are routinely identifying lost or unknown relatives as close as brothers, sisters and first cousins. Locally, a descendant of a slave was able to locate cousins who were the descendants of the slave owners. Both sides have connected to share their history.

A highlight of the conference will be workshops by John Phillip Colletta, who has lectured on genealogy for more than 30 years. Colletta, who worked with both the Library of Congress and the National Archives, will conduct sessions on using federal records to fill out family history, how to use the County Courthouse as the “trunk in the attic” and using your head while researching.

Jessica Trotter from Capital Area District Libraries will discuss why everything is not on line and why some research may require a road trip.

Across town at the Lansing Community College West Campus, the Michigan History Alliance is holding an all-day “History Skills Boot Camp,” so public historians from local history groups can hone their skills in areas such as historic preservation, living history reenactments, marketing, recording oral histories and archiving collections.

Bob Myers of the Historical Society of Michigan will present a keynote luncheon speech titled “Mythbusters: History Lies That Don’t Die.” He offered one example of a house allegedly being a stop on the Underground Railroad, even though the house was built in 1920.

Lansing resident and Preservation Lansing officer Cassandra Nelson will present a session on researching and telling your house’s story. The session includes how to uncover who built your house and when, architectural styles and previous residents of your home. Each participant can attend four separate breakout sessions.

In another Michigan history development Mark Harvey, Director of the State Archives, is directing the launch of a Michigan-style “Story Corps,” which will allow residents to record their own histories at the Michigan History Center’s new “whisper room.” A whisper room is a specially outfitted sound room similar to a radio broadcast room.

The recordings will typically involve two guests and be facilitated and recorded by Archive Staff and volunteers. Story Corps is a private non-profit organization founded in 2003. Its first recordings were done in Grand Central Station in New York City. The program debuted on NPR in 2005.

Harvey said recruitment and a training session will begin soon. Those interested in serving as a facilitator should email harveyM@michigan.org. No previous experience is needed, but background checks will be performed.

The cost of the “whisper room” is being covered by grants totaling $50,000, including one from the Abrams Foundation, Harvey said.

He said recordings will be no longer than 40 minutes and will be transcribed and will be available on line at the State Archives. A number of recordings will be sent to the Library of Congress for archiving.

“It is our goal to make oral histories more accessible and not as intimidating,” Harvey said. “However, the recordings are not free form and require preparation and strategy before going into the studio.”

Harvey said there will be a special effort to include groups not typically heard, including voices of African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ and Native Americans.

“Democratizing history gives everyone a voice and it also provides a certain drama by creating poignant moments.” Harvey said.

UPDATE: The History Skills Bootcamp event has been cancelled.

Michigan Genealogical Council Fall Family

History Event 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 3 Early registration fee $50, goes up to $60 midnight Oct. 28 Michigan Library and Historical Center 702 W. Kalamazoo St., Lansing www.michigan.gov/libraryofmichigan (517) 335-1477

History Skills Bootcamp

Check-in at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3 Members $99, Non-members $139 Registration ends Oct. 29 LCC West Campus (800) 692-1828 www.hsmichigan.org


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