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Studying genealogy is like being a detective of your own family

The conference set a record for attendance, so it will be back in Arlington again next year. - Kirk Boxleitner
The conference set a record for attendance, so it will be back in Arlington again next year.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — More than 300 would-be family detectives set a record attending the Washington State Genealogy Conference.

It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out why the group wants to hold it here again next year.

"It's fascinating to learn how everything my ancestors chose to do had some sort of historic impact, on down to the fact that I even exist," said Cyndi Ingle, the Puyallup-based creator of Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites. "It's like a detective story, in that it's a very addictive puzzle, but it's also a way for me to honor my ancestors, by doing the research on them."

Enough people from Arlington and beyond shared Ingle's curiosity that the Washington State Genealogy Conference had its biggest event ever Aug. 15-16.

Karen Stroschein, who served on the planning committee of this year's state conference, reported that 317 attendees circulated through the Byrnes Performing Arts Center and the adjoining Arlington High School through its two days of group lectures and classroom instruction, with 211 taking part just in the Friday night banquet.

"That's more attendees than any other state conference," Stroschein said. "After announcing that next year's conference would return to Arlington, a third of our attendees pre-registered and put down a deposit, which is unprecedented."

Jim Johnson serves as director of the Heritage Quest Research Library in Sumner, and had attended the state conference in Oregon earlier in the month, but Arlington impressed him just from the number of books he was able to sell to eager researchers.

"I've traveled all over the Pacific Northwest and never seen anything like this," Johnson said.

The conference benefitted from donations of door prizes from dozens of local businesses, as well as giveaways of $28,000 in online classes from organizations such as Ancestry.com. Stroschein nonetheless cited the weekend's experts as the biggest draw, from Mary Kathryn Kozy reporting the latest in DNA testing and Steven W. Morrison explaining how to use family records, to Donna Potter Phillips providing efficient research methodologies and Margie Beldin offering lessons on software.

Perhaps two of the most touted names were Ingle and New England native D. Joshua Taylor, president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

"When you can bring together local and national experts on genealogy, as this conference has done, it draws recognition from folks who might have seen something about family histories on TV," Taylor said.

"It appeals to the everyday person who has an interest in the deeper questions of genealogy," Ingle said.

Taylor has remained engaged in genealogy because he sees it as a never-ending mystery, in which every answer leads to more questions, whereas Ingle sees the value of being able to place one's ancestry in a historic context.

"Everyone has a story, and everyone has parents, so the further back you go, the more that genealogy becomes the story of everyone who's lived on Earth," Taylor said. "The stories that you uncover are incredible."

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