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Anne Mitchell of helps Patricia Bowsher, left, of Lima, Ohio, discover 1900 census information about her great-grandparents.

Genealogists find gems at seminar, downtown

Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Juliana Smith of shares tips for the popular website Saturday with hundreds of genealogists attending Fort Wayne Ancestry Day.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
More than 900 genealogists attended Ancestry Day on Saturday at Grand Wayne Center.

– Eat now, genealogically pinpoint that great-great-great-uncle later.

That was the inevitable mantra as nearly 1,000 attendees of Fort Wayne Ancestry Day poured into the Grand Wayne Center lobby for their two-hour lunch break about 11 a.m. Saturday.

Equipped with a yellow printout map of “Fort Wayne’s Downtown Eateries,” the familial enthusiasts – some traveling to the first-time conference from as far as Atlanta – combed through downtown blocks for the 40 listed restaurants.

Curt Sylvester, president of the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana, stood near the check-in table to answer questions or offer advice.

Flowing out of a nearby ballroom, a curious gaggle of senior citizens approached him.

Cindy’s Diner? Probably not the best option given your group’s size.

J.K. O’Donnell’s? A more relaxing choice if you want to prop your feet up and are craving a mean corned beef and cabbage.

Sylvester isn’t shy about Ancestry Day’s broader role in economic development – especially with almost 300 out-of-town guests arriving the night before, benefiting local hotels and the city’s weekend attractions.

“You got basically 1,000 people here, and they’re not going to skip lunch,” he said. “That’s 1,000 lunches served downtown.”

Sally Tinkel agreed the new convention serves a greater purpose. The 69-year-old retiree and Fort Wayne resident said the potential for downtown publicity is heightened because “people are from every place.”

And she added their varying tastes could be well served downtown, whether it was with the mammoth pie at 816 Pint and Slice, 816 S. Calhoun St., or the chili-dripping franks at Coney Island Hot Dogs, 131 W. Main St.

Oh, and then there were the ancestry seminars.

For Tinkel, the $20 registration fee was a cheap incentive to practice her newfound hobby.

She retired as a Homestead High School guidance counselor in 2006.

“I’m a genealogical nut,” Tinkel said. “Ever since I retired, it’s been a job.”

The daylong gathering started at 8 a.m. and continued through late afternoon with panels and guest speakers all focused on how to research family ties and roots.

Curt Witcher, manager of the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center, touted Ancestry Day as a merger of two top-notch institutions – the library’s renowned collection, which holds 2 million digital and 1 million physical records, and’s trove, which features more than 7 billion names in its database.

“This gives us the opportunity to not only tell the community about these resources but reach beyond the community to places like North Carolina and Maryland,” he said, noting the convention’s diverse guest list, with other attendees from Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

He also described Ancestry Day as a networking opportunity for record-searchers who may have “hit that brick wall.”

He’d be shocked if stumped tracers could not make headway on a family profile with the event’s onsite experts and mini computer labs, Witcher added.

Factor in the Allen County Public Library’s expansive cache – the “best in the world” – and Ancestry Day could solve some of the toughest questions about family history, he said.

Yet another difficult question awaited Jerry Bigham as he waited with his wife inside Champion’s Sports Bar, 1150 S. Harrison St., for lunch: How much longer?

Amid the Ancestry Day rush, one waitress estimated the restaurant’s wait to be about 45 minutes at noon.

Bigham, a 63-year-old retiree from Columbus, Ohio, drove in Friday night and said he was “very impressed” with the city’s offerings thus far.

But he added he didn’t require the yellow printout map for his lunch selection.

Said Bigham while guarding the nearby door to keep air conditioning from escaping: “Well, this place is just across the street.”