The 2015
Austin Families Association
convention was held in
St Louis, Missouri


2015 Austin Families Association Convention Wrap Up

This year’s Austin Convention was held the weekend of October 2 – 4 in St. Louis, Missouri.  At the Drury Plaza Hotel in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, Austin cousins and friends once again gathered for what has become equal parts reunion, workshops and speakers, sharing research, and the opportunity to experience our host city.  As the “Gateway to the West”, St. Louis offered the opportunity to learn about the amazing adventure that was the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and to explore the area that became the gateway for the exploration of a continent.

Those arriving early enjoyed local attractions such as the Anheuser-Busch brewery, Camp River Dubois (the Illinois starting point for the Lewis and Clark Expedition), the National Archives and Personnel Records Center and Historic St. Charles, in addition to the Old Courthouse and other historic sites in downtown St. Louis.  The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL was another destination for some.  On Friday, we experienced a riverboat cruise on the mighty Mississippi River and enjoyed the amazing view from the top of the Gateway Arch.  On Friday evening attendees gathered in the lobby of the Drury Plaza to enjoy each other’s company over drinks and dinner.

Saturday morning began bright and early, sharing coffee, fellowship and computer time in the Lewis Room with its wonderful view of the Arch.  Time for anyone interested in working with AFAOA genealogists, or wanting to research online, was scheduled before and after the presentations on Saturday and Sunday, and after the Sunday afternoon business meeting. Following a warm welcome by President Jane Bruckner, Justin Watkins, historian and researcher, gave an informative talk on “Migration Routes Into and Through the Midwest”.  His love of history and genealogy was evident as he explained the location and growth of Colonial roads in the 1700s and the network of roads, trails and rivers traveled in the early 1800s westward expansion of the United States, and told of various groups and families that came through the St. Louis area on their way west

Next was Ann Carter Fleming, certified genealogist, author and past president of the National Genealogical Society.  Ann spoke on “Researching Your Family History in the Midwest”.  We all came away with new information on resources available for researching our own family histories.

On Saturday afternoon we first enjoyed a talk by AFAOA member Dave Neithamer, “Family History: Where Fact and Fiction Collide”.  Research sometimes shows oral history to be far from historical fact, yet the truth is often more interesting than the “facts” that have been passed down.  Dave shared with us his often-amusing journey seeking to sort out fact from fiction in his own Neithamer family history.  He was followed by Doug Shipley, who spoke on “Teaming Oral History with Documentary Research”, a fascinating talk about his own family research.  We could all relate to the challenges Dave and Doug faced in separating out fact from fiction in family tales, and both of these talks illustrated how important it is to verify oral histories through research.  DNA testing can be an important tool in this process.  Our last speaker of the day was Laura Smith, who spoke on “Using DNA to Explore Your Family Tree”.  She shared with us information on various DNA tests and their places in genealogical research.

On Sunday morning we resumed our time together, with Edith Smith sharing one of those interesting genealogical finds we all hope for…”A Serendipity Moment – Finding My Ancestors’ Land in Rhode Island”.  Then we heard from AFAOA Vice President John Clinard, who spoke to us about his Austin research, “Discovering an Early Austin Line from James City Co., VA”.

Our last talk of the morning was concerned with how to handle that genealogical information once it’s been gathered.  Joy Davis, John Clinard and Dave Neithamer gave us an “Introduction to Legacy”, demonstrating the program and answering questions. Joy explained that, since Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is no longer supported, the Software Committee has researched various genealogy programs to find the one most suitable for future use by AFAOA members and compilers.  They recommend Legacy because it is inexpensive, intuitive, full-featured, and it reads PAF files directly, without a GEDCOM transfer.

The annual AFAOA business meeting was held Sunday afternoon.  Following officer and committee reports, nominations for the site of next year’s reunion were accepted, discussed and narrowed down to two.  AFAOA members will now choose between Salt Lake City, Utah and Charlottesville, Virginia. Be sure to cast your vote for your favorite location! 

The business meeting concluded with a discussion led by Jim Carlin and Joy Davis, “AFAOA: The Future is Now”, about planning for the future and direction of our organization. 

The weekend’s activities concluded with socializing and a delicious dinner at Carmine’s Steak House.  After dinner everyone enjoyed Trails and Tales - a fun and interactive program about Westward Expansion presented by Carol Watkins, educator and professional storyteller, and her son, Justin Watkins, who was our first speaker on Saturday. 

The 2015 “convention” was full of fun, fellowship, sharing, and exploration!  I’d like to invite you to join us next year and find out what makes this such a special group.  Whether it’s in Salt Lake City or Charlottesville, I hope to see you in 2016!

Elizabeth Neithamer
AFAOA Vice-President

View additonal photos taken by attendees