History of the Institute

The Genealogical Institute on Federal Records dates to 1950 when American University sponsored a three-week lecture series on genealogy, the brainchild of Meredith B. Colket, Jr., National Archives employee and secretary-treasurer of the American Society of Genealogists (ASG). It was known as the Institute on Methods of Genealogical Research until 1959 when “Methods” was dropped and it became the Institute on Genealogical Research. In 1960, the National Archives became a co-sponsor with American University. From 1960 until 1971, William E. Linder of NARS (forerunner of NARA) Research Room Branch and Dr. Jean Stephenson, a nationally known genealogist hired by American University, co-directed the institute.

In 1972, the National  Archives assumed responsibility for the program and its personnel operated it for ten years. During that time, “National” was added to its title. A special one-week session honoring the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976 attracted more than 200 participants. When federal budget woes curtailed NARS’ involvement in 1982, the Genealogical Coordinating Committee (GCC), comprising  ASG, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), and the National Genealogical Society (NGS), stepped in to sponsor the institute.  The institute’s Alumni Association became a co-sponsor in 1985.

Outgoing Director Lynn McMillion, right, with her Assistant, Marie Melchiori, 2002
Director Lynn McMillion, right, with her assistant, Marie Melchiori, 2002

In 1982, the GCC appointed Milton Rubincam as director; Robert Charles Anderson followed the next year. Lynn C. McMillion was appointed assistant director to Anderson in 1985 and they worked together until his retirement in 1987. Subsequently, McMillion was appointed director; she named Marie Melchiori as assistant director, a collaboration that lasted 15 years. McMillion and Melchiori solidified the organization by chartering a nonprofit corp oration, forming the GCC into the Board of Trustees, and securing 501 (c) (3) status. On the programmatic side, they sharpened the institute’s focus to federal records, included lectures on American Indian and African American research, and added evening sessions at the Library of Congress and the DAR Library. They also widely publicized the program, ensuring consistently full enrollment.

When McMillion and Melchiori stepped down in 2002, lecturer Claire Mire Bettag was named director. Patricia O’Brien Shawker became  assistant director, and, in 2007,  the director, a position she held until her death in early 2015. The institute was not held that year.

In February 2015, the Board of Trustees named Malissa Ruffner as director, and in November, voted to rename the institute to the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed) to readily communicate its purpose. Debra A. Hoffman was named assistant director. The institute resumed its traditional one-week July schedule in 2016.

More than 2,000 genealogists, librarians, and archivists, representing 45 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territory of Guam, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, have attended the institute. The faculty has included numerous distinguished genealogists. Three pivotal figures in the institute’s history have been named to the National Genealogy Hall of Fame, in part for their contributions to the institute: Meredith B. Colket, Jr., Jean Stephenson, and Milton Rubincam. Several scholarship programs support attendance.