Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Life and Near-Death in Fort Wayne

As summers go, this year's seems to have moved faster than ever. The days of a family vacation are long past. My oldest traveled to Alabama for his national college track meet, and my youngest and husband drove to Colorado to fish. Me? Busy being mom. I finally decided to take a mini-vacation (Mom-cation?) of my own and visit the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I left on Sunday morning, expecting to take a leisurely drive to Fort Wayne. The trip would be 3-4 hours from my exurban Chicago home. There is no direct interstate route to Fort Wayne, so it was an old school, back roads roadtrip.

Travelling east on the 80/90 Tollway, my first stop of interest was South Bend. I don't particularly care for Notre Dame as a sports team (we say 'Notre Dumb' - sue me), but I decided I'd drive through the campus. It was really like I never left Chicagoland with the constant construction. Really. But I did manage to get this shot of the Golden Dome.

Next stop...Elkhart. There was a driveable garden quilt display that sounded interesting, especially as my mom is a quilter. Me = techy. Mom = crafty. In Elkhart, which has a lovely downtown, I stopped at the Wellfield Botanic Gardens. It was a beautiful spot tucked away from the main town and filled with flowers and statuary. It was a perfect stop to shoot some pictures and stretch my legs.

I located one piece of quilt artwork. Then I also located this:

uh oh...

Time to go! The thunderheads were really building quickly. My weather app showed some pretty serious activity brewing to the south (I was headed southeast) so I jumped back in the car, located the next Indiana state highway, and hit the road. 

I traveled about 20 minutes and the sky, though not dark, just opened up. Now I am a Midwestern girl. I've seen tornadoes and had them damage my neighborhood. I've been in blizzards, hailstorms, 110 degree heat. But driving along, alone, with the wipers on extra-high and being pelted by rain was not the plan I had in mind for a vacay.

As I white-knuckled it, I came upon some emergency lights ahead. Slowing down, I saw in front of me a tanker truck, a freshly cracked tree, and a power line in the road. In a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, I don't know which came first, but it was most definitely storm-related. I used my inherited GPS skills (thanks Dad!) and maneuvered my way out of the town, still with the rain pelting and still with the wind roaring. The next road sign told me it was only 28 miles to Fort Wayne. It would not have helped to stop along the road, so I kept driving and thinking about my trip's purpose: genealogy. It gave me something to contemplate, and it also made me realize that I cannot die out here in the middle of Indiana because I have all of my research in my computer in the back of my car and I've never gotten around to publishing or creating any tangible product as a legacy and I need to find more information and I need to print it all out.


Nearing Fort Wayne and Interstate 69, the rain had not let up. At all. By the time I entered the highway, other drivers were already merging to the shoulder and waiting out the storm. When a State Highway vehicle drove slowly in the left lane with HIS blinkers on, I decided to exit and wait. After about 10 minutes, I drove the last tension-releasing bit of the journey and made it to my hotel. You know when your radar shows really blood-red in the center of a storm? That's what I drive right through.


I learned upon check-in that my free whirlpool upgrade was granted and that was exactly what I needed!


Then I had a small dinner as the storm cleared. The planner that I am wanted to drive by the library to get my bearings and learn where to park before it opened Monday morning. You'd think these were concert tickets I was waiting for! I also had a collateral family buried in Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne and I wanted to visit their graves. Fortunately those two parts of the evening came off without a hitch :)  Driving around Fort Wayne was pretty easy and Lindenwood is beautiful - rolling hills filled with huge old trees.

Monday morning, I checked out of the hotel and requested my receipt because it wasn't under my door. For whatever reason, I was never actually connected to a room. The manager was terribly apologetic (I didn't much care what happened, I just wanted my receipt!) and didn't charge me for the room! Monday was already 1,000 times better than Sunday.

I drove downtown and decided to park in the library's underground lot ($1 an hour) rather than determine where and for how long I could park on the street or in a municipal lot. Walking into the lobby was amazing. The ACPL is really a beautiful building.

Before my trip, I perused the online catalog so I wouldn't waste a lot of time. I decided to make a list of possible obituaries to find in their microfilm reels first, and then see what else I might find. I did not plan on any specific research problem or family - this trip was more about experiencing the facility.

my Michigan people are in that drawer!

For any of you who have spent any time reeling microfilm, the reading room was a little bit of research heaven. There were about 40 carrels and 10 computer setups, plus a printer. I used the computers and while the saving is a little tedious, it worked well and I copied my items onto my own flashdrive. Research-wise, I didn't have nearly the luck I was hoping for, so in the interest of time, I moved along to the books.

Books. And books. And books. All about genealogy. Happy sigh.

this is only half of the United States...not kidding

The books were organized by geography and family. I wandered the rows of the various locations my families had lived. They were generally organized from east coast to west coast and then by state, county, city, and small places. I hung around New York for a while, and then I wanted to go to Michigan. And I couldn't find it. I asked for help was led to the other side of the genealogy center, to the fancy automatic bookcases.

They let anyone push those buttons!

my Michigan people are in between those cases!

Next stop, family genealogies. This was slightly easier to negotiate because, you know, the alphabet and all. But the shelving route was also a little circuitous. I did manage to find quite a few very informative books. You may have noticed I didn't mention copying. Because I didn't. I simply used a scanning app on my phone. I did have my Flip-Pal but did not use it. There were also Star Wars-like copy machines, but I didn't use those either. In this modern era, I saved everything I needed by phone or flashdrive. Amazing. And I really don't need any more genealogy paper 'decorating' my workspace. #amiright

After seven hours in the library (yes I took a quick lunch break in the downstairs cafe), I headed home.

It was a wonderful, if slightly harrowing, trip.

My ACPL tips:
  1. Go!
  2. They love technology - bring your own and save time
  3. Spend your time in the book stacks - much of the microfilm collection can be found in online databases
I will definitely be going back. After I check the weather.

library selfie

© 2014 Sally Knudsen


  1. Sally, I can identify. While we generally take the route out of Chicago that eventually heads down I-65 from I-80 toward Lafayette (original immigrant settling place for our family), we have taken a state road from there to Fort Wayne when we want a double header for our genealogy visits. On one trip, we saw the most horrifying sky in our rear view mirror, and crazy rain hit. Who knows what we were driving away from, but we didn't want to stick around to find out! Glad you made it through it all, and not only got to your destination, but had a successful trip.

    1. Thanks Jacqi. It wasn't so much the storm, as the being alone driving in the storm! My husband's family is from Rensselaer, so not too far.

  2. Nothing like being focused on the end-goal, Sally!! Whew! Nothing like that happens here in Vancouver BC - just ordinary rain, with an occasional bigger stormy kind of rain at times. Nothing that can't be driven through with ease by even a new driver.
    Love the photos of the Library - Not sure if I'll ever get there, but like you, I hadn't realized it would have such huge holdings. What an amazing set of resources to dig through.

    1. Thanks Celia. It was wonderful. I knew it would be big, but it certainly exceeded my imagination! Maybe on a nice sunny weekend, I'll head back!

  3. @Celia at one time the ACPL had the second largest genealogy collection in the United States and that's before they moved into what looks like new digs. At the time the largest one was part of the Mormon Church's collection in SLC

  4. I think it still is #2! Thanks for reading :)

  5. Sally, there are people who think genealogy is boring but your story shows it can be an intense adventure. Glad you came through all in one piece and able to continue with your research.