Sunday, May 8, 2011


This week a fellow Blogger (actually I would call him the King of Blogs) Thomas McEntee asked the blogging world to answer the following questions concerning genealogy conferences:

"...from the attendees of genealogy conferences:  How do you decide which ones to attend? How far in advance do you start making plans? What do you look for when you take in a conference? Again, not only can you post about what you’d love to see at a genealogy conference, but let us know your frustrations and what needs to change."

RootsTech 2011
I have been attending conferences for a long time. I find them to be a great means of networking with fellow genealogists (hobbyists and professionals) and a fabulous way of learning. My first conference was in Utah held by the Utah Genealogical Association in April of 2004. What a wonderful experience. I immediately became addicted. I met wonderful people, learned vast amounts of information, improved my research methods and came away with knowledge that I had found my path. Since then I have attended every conference I can afford, which is getting harder as the costs of hotels and airfares rise.

I have attended the National Genealogical Society's annual conference, the Federation of Genealogical Society's annual conference, and the annual conference held by the Southern California Genealogical Society. I try to hit those three every year. This year I also added the RootsTech conference and it will definitely become a must do every year.

I also try to attend the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (held in Salt Lake City, Utah) and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University in Alabama. (Held in January and February respectively.) These are not the typical variety of classes offered by the conferences but instead a more concentrated week long focus of study on one subject such as American Research or Advanced Methodology. 

How do I decide which ones to attend? Well, obviously, I try not to have to make a choice. I really like to attend all of them. Each one provides its own special je ne sais quoi, flair, attributes, flavor and opportunities to learn from some of the best genealogy teachers in the world. Something one should take advantage of any time they can. 

Instead of having to cancel going to one of my beloved conferences I instead have gotten a little more creative in saving money. I combine research trips with conferences instead of having to travel to the same area twice (for example I will leave the NGS conference and continue on to Louisiana to do research this coming week.) Or I will room with someone; sharing the cost of hotel room and maybe rental car. 

How far in advance do I start making my plans? At least a year in advance for my calender. I don't want to find I have booked an anniversary trip or a class I am teaching on top of a conference. But often I don't actually register for the conference until the last minute (the last minute of early bird registration that is) because I want to be sure I can really afford it and often I have to be sure of roommates attendance. (Whether or not I have a roommate often determines which hotel I stay at; cheaper hotel if no roommate.) 

Louise St. Denis at vendor area RootsTech
I am an information/knowledge junkie, so what I look for in a conference is NEW information. I recognize that there are always new genealogists joining us and classes that I took two years ago still need to be offered for those who didn't attend. However, I am very glad that the conferences I attend seem to always find new information to convey...not just the same old stuff re-vamped in a new title. (Although I do happen upon some of those every now and again.) 

I love the energy conferences (and the institutes) have. Attending one can really get you fired up. You go home jazzed about genealogy again...just like when you first started. Sometimes a class will provide you with the piece to the puzzle you needed to break through that brick wall. Sometimes, like with RootsTech, a conference can put you into information overload...but in a good way. I'm still working on applying all that I learned there. And the shopping....oh my.

My only frustrations come from cost. I would love to attend as many luncheons and banquets as I can, once a day would be fabulous. The speakers are always so entertaining and/or enlightening. But with the high cost of the hotels, gas, airfare and the cost of the conferences themselves...something had to I have chosen class time over food. I know...for those of you who know me, this is huge. But sometimes the cost of one dinner is the same as one night in my hotel. Guess which way my money is going to go. 

I would also like to see it be a little easier for outstanding speakers (like Lisa Louise Cook, Thomas McEntee, and other newcomers) to break into the national circuit. Let's face it...the majority of us who do genealogy are getting a little long in the tooth. Having younger, hip, tech savvy speakers at the conferences will likely attract younger genealogists. They are out there. They just don't want to sit and listen to some old geezer talk about land records all day. They will eventually understand the worth of the information the old geezer has...but we got to get them involved first. Some of these "new" outstanding speakers may not have CG or AG after their names...but do devalue them because of it. Let them speak. You might learn something. (And they may decide that having that CG or AG is a worth while thing.)

Since we're talking about speakers...sometimes it is very hard to pick between two or three great speakers. I think Jamboree has the right idea in that it is going to offer some of the classes to be viewed after the fact from an archive. I would love to see more of this. 

Oh, and one more thought...

I would also like to see a lot more coffee.

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