Written by Kelly Sheehy, Content Specialist, Downtown Main Library 

Why pay for expensive subscriptions to genealogy websites when you can find many of the resources you need to trace your family history right here at the Library? 

Some families have lived in what is now known as the United States since time immemorial, others survived being brought here against their will, overcoming unimaginable violence and brutality. Some families came to the United States fleeing the violence, persecution, poverty, or natural disasters in their home countries, seeking refuge and a better life in America. No matter when your ancestors first set foot in this county, the Library’s Genealogy and Local History Department is here to help you rediscover your family’s unique history. 

Every year since 1993, the Library hosts the Family History Fair. It began in honor of former Department head Richard Able, who retired after 30 years of service to the Library. “While the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County had a genealogical collection dating back to the mid-19th Century, Mr. Able put a great deal of effort and passion into enhancing the existing collection,” said Christopher Smith, Genealogy and Local History Reference Librarian. “He began in the mid-1960s with the idea of making the Library a world-renowned destination for genealogical researchers, which we are today.”

This year’s Family History Fair is October 5 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. The Downtown Main Library invites speakers, workshop leaders, and genealogy experts to help demystify the process of researching your family tree—all for free! 

Family History Fair 2002

“The Family History Fair is an opportunity for like-minded people to network with one another, see new faces, and meet a few new people,” said Smith. “Our hope is they learn a number of things they didn’t know before arriving earlier in the day.” 

At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. featured speaker Sunny Jane Morton gives a talk drawing on her expertise as a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine, co-author of the new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records, Editor of Ohio Genealogy News, and blogger at Family Search, the world’s largest free genealogy website. 

Morton is especially known for her unique comparisons of the industry’s largest websites, expertise in tracing U.S. ancestors, and her inspiring presentations on how to reconstruct and tell meaningful stories from the past. 

Meanwhile, at 11 a.m. fair-goers can attend the presentation “Reconstruct Your Ancestor’s Neighborhood: 5 Powerful Sources for Local History”. Local records offer insights into the lives of relatives who lived in cities and towns. This presentation teaches attendees powerful and creative ways to use nationwide city directories, urban and suburban maps, local histories, newspapers, business records, and images to reconstruct your ancestors’ stories. 

2 p.m. begins a presentation titled “They Survived the Johnstown Flood?! How to Reconstruct Your Ancestor’s Amazing Stories”. A heroic rescue, a love story, and a 30-foot wall of water: that’s just part of what some people’s ancestors experienced in the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889. In this presentation, participants will learn how to reconstruct fascinating experiences from their family history by combining clues from your family’s knowledge, documents from genealogy websites, good historic research, and Googling to fill in the gaps, all while learning the riveting story of one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. 

Family History Fair 2014

Finally, take advantage of free one-on-one consultations provided by more than 20 experts with specializations ranging in ethnic genealogy to court records. “We are a group of professional Librarians who share a passion for what we do and give it our all to assist with those looking to get started on their family tree or interested in taking it to the next level,” said Smith.

They never know what they are going to uncover next. Each family’s story is different. “A recently deceased patron of many decades who was a friend and a good man came to discover through his research that he was a direct descendant of Anne Hutchinson of Massachusetts and founder of what would become Rhode Island,” Smith recalls. “She is a fascinating figure in American history for various reasons. She opposed Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts at the time and was banished for her actions and religious beliefs. It is a fascinating tale of family history and early American legendary figures and just one example of some of the cool things we uncover.”

Tours of the Library’s Genealogy and Local History Department are available at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. The tour includes two parts. The first is a physical walk-through of the Department to acquaint people with the materials, where they are located, and how to access them. The second part involves sharing the workings of our online databases that we offer and a few popular ancestry websites, and how to access them from any Branch Library or from home.

For more information, visit the Family History Fair events page or contact Christopher Smith at 

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