Thursday, March 30, 2017
A Season for Learning
I've heard it said that people simply are no longer interested in attending genealogy conferences. There are so many other learning opportunities which they can avail themselves of, they say, that there isn't much reason to take all the time and expense to travel to a distant conference venue.
True. But then, why plan on taking any vacation trips at all? After all, hotels, restaurant meals (not to mention expensive conference banquets), airfare or gasoline prices add up to some prohibitive sticker shock—no matter what the reason for your travels. But no one can argue against the benefits of a chance to get away for a while.
After the NGS conference in Fort Lauderdale last year—and all the comments about perceived attendance drops—in-person registration numbers are also doubtless on organizers' minds. There's something reinforcing about knowing that people just like me like to do the activity I'm about to participate in. Dwindling crowds can instigate a trend of more dwindling numbers, just on their own.
Yet, I still find value in attending conferences. Mostly, the reasons center around learning, of course—after all, what is the virtue of a conference, if not to have the collective resources to assemble a great lineup of experts? But attending a conference in person yields genealogists much more than the learning opportunities.
For those having more questions about a specific subject than can adequately be addressed from the audience at the end of a one-hour session, there is often the opportunity to catch a few moments to discuss details with a particular speaker. When I was planning our family's research trip to Ireland a few years ago, having the chance to sit down and chat with DNA Day keynoter Maurice Gleeson was an invaluable opportunity I'd never have had, if I had chosen to save the big bucks and merely watch the live streamed session from the comfort of home.
For those wanting to be on top of the latest offerings, a robust exhibit hall affords conference-goers one-stop shopping, whether for low-tech books or high-tech gadgets. Since my go-to conference of choice, the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree, happens to be held close to my brother's home, one year I was able to persuade him to stop in at the exhibit hall and take a DNA test right there on the spur of the moment. Tell me that isn't easier than waiting two weeks for the test kit order to arrive at my house, then taking the six hour drive to personally deliver the kit to my brother's home to insure he'd actually do the test correctly and return the kit to the lab.
But the highlight, for me, of breaking the couch-potato comfort-of-home habit is to get out and actually meet people in real life, rather than satisfy myself with videos of strangers. These are not strangers; these are people who are obsessed with the very pursuits that intrigue me—the discoveries of family history research—and are not going to slink away the moment I launch into rapturous ecstasies while explaining the blow-by-blow on my latest research coup. If we are going to be out and about with any people at all, wouldn't fellow genealogy enthusiasts be the best ones with whom to spend quality time?
Admittedly, my conference of choice—the SCGS Jamboree I mentioned yesterday—is on the far west side of a fairly wide continent. Maybe you like conferences, but aren't inclined to like them enough to travel that far.
Relax. There may be a genealogy conference that comes closer to you. Perhaps your chance for a season of learning could hinge on the annual offerings of the National Genealogical Society or the Federation of Genealogical Societies, both of which host conferences in different locations each year. This May, the NGS will hold their event in Raleigh, North Carolina. The FGS follows up with their August event in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Just as our Jamboree is organized by a California entity, your state genealogical society may also host its own conference, giving you yet another opportunity to learn from some excellent speakers in this field. One glance at ConferenceKeeper.org's calendar gives you an idea of meetings from several U.S. locations, as well as Canadian, Irish and even Australian societies.
Whether your locality's season for learning comes with the spring, or stretches into the summer or lingers into the fall, I hope you avail yourself of some invigorating in-person learning experiences at a conference near you.