An untold number of people traveled through the Cumberland Valley over the course of almost 300 years of recorded history.
Forming a natural channel from the Susquehanna River in the east to the Potomac River in the southwest, the valley was a pathway for immigrants moving through the Appalachian Mountains into the interior of what became the United States.
“Sometimes they stayed here. … Sometimes they went on,” said Deborah Sweaney, a local historian and genealogist. “But even if they went on, they left something behind … a trace of themselves.”
Carlisle will be the host site of a national conference designed to explore the ways people can find these traces in their quest to discover their family history.
Over 100 genealogists, historians and researchers from across the U.S. are registered to participate in the Cumberland Pathways Conference scheduled Oct. 20 to 22.
Registration ends at midnight Friday. People can register at www.cumberlandpathways.org. The fee is $125 for full access to three days of presentations and panel discussions on genealogy and family history topics. The website includes a full schedule of conference events.
“Our history is one thing that draws people here,” said Sweaney, conference coordinator and a member of the Cumberland County Historical Society.
She said every year over 2,000 people visit the Carlisle-based society looking for information on their ancestors. “We are already this mecca for those searching for their family history,” she said. “The conference brings all of this together in one weekend. It will appeal to all sorts of people.”
Beginners in genealogy can obtain advice on how to get a good start, Sweaney said. She said experienced researchers stuck on finding a clue can get insight from experts while professional genealogists can network.
The conference begins Oct. 20 with a reception at the Historical Society from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The reception will include the unveiling of the photo exhibit “Faces of Cumberland Valley” along with a special museum exhibit “Trends & Thread: Women, Family, and Society in 19th Century Samplers.”
Saturday morning will include a welcome by state Rep. Steve Bloom (R-199) and an opening address by Michele Ridge, the former first lady of Pennsylvania. Sweaney will present “The Genealogy Treasure Trove in Central Pennsylvania.”
There will be presentations Oct. 21 in the morning and afternoon on how to use archival and military records to find information on ancestors. Panel discussions that day will include “Genealogy Treasures in Archival Resources” and “The Importance of Oral History” in the pursuit of tracing a family history.
The conference is an opportunity for Cumberland County to showcase the resources available at the Historical Society, the county archives, the Dickinson College archives, the state archives in Harrisburg and the military records at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.
“One reason why this is important is we have so many repositories in such close proximity to one another,” said Jason Illari, society executive director “We have this incredible concentration of primary source documentation that not only allows people to family history research, but general history research.”
Also on Oct. 21, focus areas on family history, military genealogy and genealogy for children will be staffed by experts who will answer questions and offer guidance. Each area will have on display books, samples of records and artifacts. Dickinson College archives staff will be available Saturday afternoon for consultations.
Saturday night will feature a tour, social hour and dinner at the Army Heritage and Education Center followed by a keynote address at 7 p.m. by CeCe Moore, a professional genetic genealogist best known for her appearances as the DNA expert on the PBS television series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.”
“She is one of the country’s leading genetic genealogists,” Sweaney said. “She will be giving a lecture on how to use your DNA to discover and resolve family mysteries.”
The conference concludes on Oct. 22 with an afternoon presentation and panel discussion on “Tracing Your Family in Church Records.”
The Cumberland Pathways Conference has been organized in partnership with the Army Heritage Center Foundation, Dickinson College, the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Cumberland County Historical Society is organizing two series of conferences to run in alternating years. One series, called Carlisle Journeys, focuses on the history and heritage of the Carlisle Indian School while the other series, Cumberland Pathways, focuses on genealogy and family history, Illari said.