Skip to main content

Chester County Press

Chester County Historical Society to host genealogy lecture series

04/03/2018 03:02PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

For those curious souls who have ever looked into the mirror, seen the faint clues of their ancestry and wished to know more about the origins of who they are, there will be a three-part lecture series coming this May in West Chester that is sure to inspire them to know more.

For three consecutive Saturdays in May, Chester County residents will be encouraged to open the door to the rich history of their ancestors, as well as dig into the archives of the county's history. The Chester County Historical Society and the Chester County Archives will host “Coming to America,” a series of informative genealogical lectures on May 5, 12 and 19, that will focus on records, research strategies, and historical context of immigration and naturalization, with special focus on German, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Irish ancestors.

On May 5, “Exploring Naturalization and Immigration Records” will take place on May 5; “German Immigrants, Pennsylvania Germans, and their Records” will be held on May 12; and on May 19, “Irish Records and Research Strategies” will round out the lecture series.

The lecture series is being held in collaboration with “Many Nations Chester County,” the Chester County Historical Society's exhibit that is celebrating the diversity of the county's residents – as measured by its connections to six continents and 60 languages. The exhibit began in early February and will extend to Dec. 31.

The three-part series will not connect each attendee's personal genealogical origins, the way that popular TV programs like “Finding Your Roots” and “Who Do You Think You Are?” do. Rather, the intention of the series will be to provide those who attend with the helpful tools they need to make their searches more fruitful and fact-finding.

“For us, genealogy is a way to introduce people to history,” said Kim Bucklaw of the Chester County Archives. “If we can make that connection between textbook history to museum exhibits and an individual's own history and family's genealogy, it allows the Archives and the Historical Society to become a part of those opportunities. Getting people excited about their own history opens doors for people to then learn more about the history of their communities and their country.”

“Exploring Immigration and Naturalization Records” will navigate those in attendance through immigration and naturalization laws and processes that are helpful to know when finding family records. The lecture will discuss passenger lists and how they changed over the years, and visit websites that can help discover the routes ancestors took on their way to the United States.

The lecture will feature speaker Sydney Cruice Dixon, a professional genealogist, teacher, and president of the Greater Philadelphia Area Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. Dixon promotes genealogical education programs in the Philadelphia region and is a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Genealogical Advisory Group. She has researched extensively in the U.S. National Archives, and is well-versed in the complexities of immigration and naturalization as they pertain to family history.

“German Immigrants” will focus on the great influx of Germans who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1800s. The lecture, taught by author Jim Beidler, will discuss the differences in geography, economic class, religion, and aspirations of the two great waves of German immigrants, review the “basics” of German genealogy and demonstrate the peculiarities of searching for records relating to America’s first large ethnic minority population.

Beidler is the author of “The Family Tree German Genealogy Book, Trace Your German Roots Online,” as well as the writer of “Roots & Branches,” an award-winning newspaper column on genealogy that is the only syndicated feature on that topic in Pennsylvania. He is also a columnist for German Life magazine and is editor of Der Kurier, the quarterly journal of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society.

“Irish Records and Research Strategies,” taught by Chester County genealogist Frank Southcott, will take its direction from the surge of Irish records that have been made available in recent years by the Irish government and the Catholic Church. Those in attendance will learn about the latest record collections, and be introduced to the research methods necessary to expand a family's Irish family tree in the United States. As a special feature of Southcott's lecture, he will conduct a case study of one Chester County resident, whose ancestry connects to County Donegal.

Southcott is President of the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History, which conducts the annual British Institute in Salt Lake City, and has researched extensively in Ireland and England. He is a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Genealogical Advisory Group and has been instrumental in developing and expanding genealogical education programs in the greater Philadelphia area.

“The Irish were the biggest group that naturalized in Chester County, but Germans comprise a large picket of immigrants that settled in the county,” Bucklaw said. “In creating the lecture series, we made a list of potential topics and looked at these groups' representation in the county, and what the demands would be to learn more about these respective groups.

“We conducted a genealogy program a few years ago that focused on African-American genealogy, but we also wanted to cover other groups who are in demand. We have found that we have a lot of people who are now researching Irish and German immigration, so we chose our topics based on that interest.”

All three lectures will be held at the Chester County Historical Society, 225 N. High St., West Chester, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Tickets for each program are $20 for CCHS members, $30 for non-members, and $10 for students with valid student ID. Participants can register by calling 610-692-4800 or emailing [email protected]

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]

Chester County Archives: The open door to your genealogy

Created in 1982, the Chester County Archives was established to preserve and make available the historic records of Chester County. The archives currently holds over 2,940 volumes and 1,823 cubic feet of original public records of enduring historic and cultural value. Serving over 3,000 researchers a year, the archives is a primary destination for genealogists, property researchers, local historians and academics researching all facets of Chester County history.
In 1985, the archives expanded to include micrographics and records management sections, but there are still handwritten and typewritten letters dating back to the last century that detail the pursuits of many to find their ancestry. Although the popularity of online sources like and may have mainstreamed the genealogical search for individuals and families, finding one's roots can also be found with a visit to the Chester County Archives.

“Genealogy has always been in style, so this isn't just a fad,” said Kim Bucklaw of the Chester County Archives. “Many of the researchers who visit the Archives are genealogists who look for the records we have. We have collections of prominent genealogists dating back to the last century, when people were conducting research through writing letters.

“There is a lot of information on the internet these days, and I think that's the first place that people go to, but it's our job to inform people that it's not all on the internet, and they need to complement their searches with visits to their local libraries and archives and historical societies. There is so much information that will probably never be digitized. We're there to help people, so we want to inspire people to come visit us.”

To research and request records, guides and indexes, visit the Chester County Archives at 601 Westtown Rd #080 (the Government Services Building), West Chester, Pa. 19382, call 610-344-6760, or visit