The Genealogy Center – Fort Wayne, IN

Over the past few years I’ve used Fort Wayne as a place to hibernate for a few weeks in the deep dark days of winter. This year was no exception – except it was. While I was there, the temps were in the 60s and it only snowed one day. If of course, it was the ONE DAY I’d planned to visit the Allen County Genealogy Center in downtown Fort Wayne. The forecast was only for “light flurries”, so I had nothing to worry about!

My visit was during RootsTech 2017 and the Genealogy Center was live-streaming the conference feed. This was a perfect chance for me to step outside of my bubble and network with other genealogists as well as visit the repository without a research task, just to get a feel for the place and the staff! Only it wasn’t. The internet and phones were down well into the day – so not only was live streaming a challenge, but all of the center’s technology was off-line as well. The kind staff made the best of it. A random guy with a personal hot-spot got us online for the live streams and I was able to get a tour of the holdings.

As for the ‘light flurries’ at lunch time – well, that became 1.5″ of messy icy snow by 5pm – a veritable blizzard for this Georgia gal.

In case you missed my last post, I thought I’d start a series of articles about repositories I’ve visited. You won’t find the history or a listing of stuff you’ll find on their own websites, but if I’ve done it right, you’ll get a feel for how to make the most of your visit and where you can get some good grub or stretch your legs after a long day of dusty manuscripts! If you want to skip around, click these links to go directly to that section:

Basics

Location: The Genealogy Center (GC) is in the main branch of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL), located in downtown Fort Wayne, IN. The area is nice, with plenty of dining options within walking distance and lodging options just a short drive away. Traffic is never so terrible that there’s a rush hour to “avoid”. I’ve not walked downtown in the evenings after dark, but have done so throughout the day at different times during the year and felt comfortable and safe. The facility is ADA compliant.

Parking: Plentiful but not free. Most surface lots within a block or two of the library are $2/hr with a $7-$8 max for the day. This was the same as the parking garage directly beneath the library, so I opted for that given the weather and for the of convenience of returning to my car for snacks or change layers, etc. The GC’s website has a great map of nearby parking lots and the city of Fort Wayne has a price list with street locations.

*pro tip – if you foresee more than 10 day-long visits per year, opt for the library membership and get free parking with validation.

Copy/print card: The ACPL is wifi-printing enabled, meaning you can print from any device connected to the library’s wifi. You can also print from any of the workstations within the research center. To release your print jobs, you will need a reloadable print card with an appropriate balance on it. There are several kiosks throughout the library to purchase your print card for a $1 fee plus the amount you add to the card to cover your print jobs. The kiosks do not accept coins. Cash bills only and no change is given, nor can you withdraw any balance from the card.

Temporary Computer access: Use of the GC’s research computer workstations (there are at least 20 of them!) will require a Guest Pass. It is valid for one day, but for the entirety of that day. Allow time at the start of your visit to stop by the GC info desk to get this pass, set up your print card, and of course ask for any specific research assistance you may need.

* pro tip – The GC’s research station computers time out pretty quickly, so if you have several windows open and step away to retrieve an item – you may very well lose your place (ask me how I know this!). Be mindful of the little pop-up window that tells you how much time is left and take necessary steps to extend the time before it automatically closes your window.

Workspace: There is plenty of space to spread out and library carts are plentiful so you can move from area to area with ease while keeping your valuables within reach. The GC is upstairs in the main public library. There is no special entry or restrictions for using the space, therefore it is not advisable for you to leave your personal belongings, even coats, unattended. If you leave notes and books out to take a quick break or retrieve an item – simply leave a note on top stating your intent to return and the staff will not assume you have gone for the day!

Outlets – Limited and not necessarily convenient to a workstation or table.

Wifi – Open wifi with no password required. Despite the high volume of patrons in the library, it was steady and reliable (once it came back on!) If you access your research subscription websites (ancestry, fold3, newspapers, etc) using your personal device via the GC wifi, you may notice restrictions or variations in what’s available. For example, the institution version of newspapers.com is limited compared to my basic version accessed from home. This was confusing at first  since I was on my personal laptop – we later realized it was due to the IP address of the library’s wifi.

Lockers/storage: None available. Parking in the garage alleviated some of the hassle of carrying stuff around – even on the coldest day, I could leave most of my outerwear in the car and lock my laptop in the trunk while I used the GC’s resources. There were no restrictions on what could be brought into the GC – just the hassle of not being able to leave it unattended.

Food/drinks – Not allowed in the GC in any form. There is a small stuffed-chair seating area immediately outside of the GC where I took short breaks to drink coffee enjoy a quick snack. And I found a café downstairs with tables and chairs where I enjoyed my brown bag lunch, but it was crowded and noisy and perhaps only for patrons of the in-library Dunkin Donuts coffee shop kiosk. The large floor-to-ceiling windows offered a great view of the “lunchtime flurries” as they accumulated on the sidewalk and blew sideways through the promenade. There were a few benches outside that may offer a nice option in better weather. For more local options and my favorite downtown eats – skip to the local section below.

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Research

With the few repositories I’ve visited in the past weeks since leaving Fort Wayne, I’ve noticed that each one is different and they each have their own tricks to maximizing your effort and research time. Please do comment if you know a “trick” for making the most of the Genealogy Center that I’ve missed!

Before you go:  Check out the GC website and spend a few minutes  in the “Who We Are” section. You’ll find a printable brochure and a few videos to get you oriented to the facility.

To browse or search the GC collections from home you’ll want to explore the “Databases” tab from the top menu. If you hover over this button then hover over the dropdown menu without clicking, you’ll see the image below.

GC webpage

If you click the “Free Databases” link, you’ll be taken to a page listing the free databases with a description and option to search each individually. To search the entire collection of “Free Databases” you’ll need to enter a keyword search in the appropriate search bar from the main page (shown above but hidden by the blue dropdown menu).

*pro tip: Keyword searches differ from surname searches. Try your surname, but also try combinations of location + occupation or + religions or + event.

To search the rest of the ACPL Genealogy Center holdings, you’ll use the second search bar. The results will be different and you should always search both. Elsewhere on the GC website this same search feature can be reached by clicking anywhere you see “Genealogy Center Catalog” or “Search our Catalog”.  Same search, different buttons in different places.

The results are easy to filter by a number of factors (including publication date) and you can easily print or send a text message with the index and call numbers, making for a quick way to compile your “shopping list” for while you are at the center. Clicking the title of the result will open an index summary. If the resulting publication is available in electronic version, there will be a link. There is enough information provided for you to search WorldCat or your local library for items in circulation.

Don’t hesitate to call the Genealogy Center during their open hours if you have trouble navigating the website or want to make sure you’ve done all you can from home.  They are very helpful and eager to assist you in getting the most out of your visit.

PERSI

The Periodical Search Index is a magnificent collection of over 2 million records that have been indexed over the past 30 years. It was created and is maintained by the ACPL Genealogy Center and that’s where you can put your hands on the physical records. However, searching PERSI from home without a Find My Past account, in such a manner that makes your trip to the GC efficient, really isn’t practical. But it is possible and I’ll save that for an article all of it’s own.

For now, if you are planning a visit to Fort Wayne, save your PERSI search for while you are there. It won’t take long and the time you “save” by doing it from home first is negligible and, quite frankly, frustrating!

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Local Eats and Stuff

I know, I know…this is a research trip. But you need to eat! And lets face it, genealogists are perhaps not always inclined to leave the research long enough to get outside, much less visit a gym, but I’m a wandering soul and must take advantage of the places I visit. I’ve listed a few of my favorite places below that are all within just a short walk of the ACPL Genealogy Center.

If you need a big diner-style breakfast to get you started, check out Cindy’s Diner. Go early and don’t expect to have any room to spread out. It’s all counter seating and there are only 15 of them. But it’s great food and service and good value. And…they have donuts!!

If you just need good coffee, try Fortezza Coffee, a sweet little coffee shop that opens early and serves bakery and lite bite items most of the day. Cozy arm chairs and library tables give you space to help you get organized for the day.

After a few good solid hours of research, you’ll need to get some food. There is the aforementioned snack bar/Dunkin Donuts downstairs in the main library. But give yourself an excuse to get outside! If it’s cold, bundle up for the short walk to The Dash-In. They are open all day and quite frankly if it weren’t just weird to do so, I could stop in here for coffee, lunch, happy hour and dinner. Okay. I could just stay here all day. Coffee early, grilled cheese and local draught at lunch, and flat bread and wine later in the day. There is not one thing wrong with that picture! Booths, tables and bar seating.

Because there is more to life than just research and food – if you need to stretch your legs a bit and step away from your brick wall, check out the gardens at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.  The $5 admission is well spent for an hour of walking through any of the several “climates”. The tropics on a snowy day are my favorite, but all of the gardens are beautiful and well-tended. A great way to shake things up and get out of your head for a bit.

And I wouldn’t be an advocate for your health if I didn’t include a mention for the local downtown branch of the YMCA. It’s just a few short blocks from the GC and offers a visitor pass if you aren’t a member. It even has an indoor pool!

Downtown Fort Wayne has many other great-looking and well-reviewed restaurants and lucky for you the Fort Wayne Visitor Center is right next door to the library, so pop in and see what’s happening around there while you are visiting. It’s okay to get out and live a little – after all, you want your descendants to remember you for something other than always being behind a computer screen, right?

Please leave your Fort Wayne tips (research or otherwise) in the comments! I’d love to know how you make the most of your visit to the Genealogy Center!

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