Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Conferences Still Count

Exactly two weeks ago today, my husband and I drove back down our own driveway after two back-to-back trips. It was wonderful to be home.

We had flown, first, to Texas, to visit family in Dallas, and reunite with high school friends in Houston. After a brief stop at home, on the second trip, we drove to Burbank to attend the 2013 Jamboree, hosted by the Southern California Genealogical Society.

You know the routine following trips like that. After unpacking luggage, washing the inevitable piles of laundry, and reconnecting with obligations left on the home front, I still had one matter to attend to: re-gathering all the thoughts prompted by the lively conference in Burbank.

I still need to do that. In those two weeks that just flew by, life happened. Yet if I don’t recapture those ideas sparked by Jamboree 2013 now, I’ll forever lose the benefit of my investment.

So, this week, I want to use this platform here to share with you some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head ever since we drove back home two weeks ago.

First, I want to say to you: if you have not had the opportunity to attend a genealogy conference—be it national, regional, or even a local event—please avail yourself of the opportunity. While I’ve attended many conferences throughout my work life (and, I might add, in my homeschooling life, too), I hadn’t previously taken the chance to attend a genealogy-focused event. I was not disappointed with my first foray into this arena.

There are several reasons attendance at a live event can be beneficial. Those reasons fall into three categories addressing the spectrum of researchers’ needs:
  • Informing the inquirer
  • Equipping the effort
  • Connecting with like-minded others

Informing the Inquirer

No matter how long you have been working away at this research thing, there is always something new you can learn. I won’t tell you how long I’ve been “doing genealogy”—but considering I’ve already told you I was born wanting to research, suffice it to say it’s been a long time.

I still have a lot to learn.

Some conferences assemble world-class speakers to serve as attendees’ resources for the few days of their event. What a fantastic opportunity!

Granted, some conference classes are dialed down to the beginner level, while others seem to be ramped up over the heads of the average researcher, directed at the professional. Carefully choosing your own niche and planning ahead of time to pursue classes tailored to your own learning goals will help garner the best overall learning experience.

What I value most about learning opportunities such as these is that hearing others’ presentations sparks ideas in my own mind. It becomes a connect-the-dots experience for me: if the speaker applied a technique to his or her own research, then perhaps I can modify it to resolve my own research challenge.

Better yet, if I’m unsure of such an application, in a live event such as a conference, I can take the opportunity to ask questions. In some settings, you can ask those questions right in class. Other times, questions and comments can be exchanged immediately after the learning session. And in an ongoing event such as a conference, there are always those opportunities to brooch the subject in between sessions, too—or at the evening banquet, or even in a chance meeting in the hallway or on the elevator.

Can’t do that quite so easily in a webinar.

Equipping the Effort

Many conference venues also include an exhibit hall: a place to congregate vendors addressing the needs of a specific audience such as ours.

This is the golden opportunity to do some comparison shopping. Like your genealogy program, but hear the upgrade isn’t what customers were hoping for? Ask the rep at the company’s booth. Want to check out two programs, side by side? It’s an easy matter of walking from one booth to another in the same—admittedly large—room.

It’s also the place for putting real names and faces to those impersonal corporate logos, and getting to know some of the people that make your favorite genealogy-related company the kind of service that it is. At SCGS2013, I enjoyed hearing “Ancestry Anne” Mitchell teach a session, and got to chat with author Lisa Alzo (who is soon coming out with another book). None other than Bennett Greenspan, himself, assisted me in getting my brother’s Y-DNA test completed at Family Tree DNA. And a real, live person—rather than a computer bot online—helped me resolve a minor glitch in my GenealogyBank subscription.

For those who still believe in a lifelong love affair with books—those real ones with pages you can turn while curled up in a cozy, overstuffed chair—the exhibit hall was chock full of books for sale—a bibliophile’s haven.

Connecting the Like-Minded

For me, this is the real reason for going to conferences. Genealogical research can be such a solitary effort. Face it: cranking microfilm readers—or their virtual-reality equivalents—is not the stuff of wild weekend parties. Reading the minutiae of dusty volumes—in archives stocked with booby-trapped echo chambers, complete with automatically-shushing librarians—is not the kind of outing for which your friends are clamoring to tag along.

No matter how much you love choking on the dust of centuries-old pages, there comes a time when you really need to return to the land of the living and debrief. A therapeutic talk with a small group of equally-possessed fanatics may be just the thing you’ve been needing.

Conferences are ready-made filtering systems. They are geared to sift through the general public and delivering to you—the attendee—like-minded folk with the precise combination of subject matter knowledge and personal devotion guaranteed to avoid the “my eyes glaze over” reaction your uninitiated friends and relatives send you on a regular basis.

In other words, it’s so easy to find people who click. Who relate (well, on an intellectual basis—though don’t discount the flesh-and-blood variety). Who can join in the conversation.

Come on in, the networking’s fine!

Catching the Latest

While it’s too late to join in the Jamboree out west here, there’s always next year. The Burbank Marriott is slated to host the event again on June 6 through 8, 2014.

But why wait that long? In just a few short weeks, the Federation of Genealogical Societies will host its own national conference at the Grand Wayne Convention Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The coincidental proximity to the Allen County Public Library and its coveted genealogical collection is not to be overlooked.

If the FGS' August 21 through 24 dates don’t fit nicely in your Daytimer, there are a host of other regional meetings that should satisfy your learning and networking purposes just fine. If you’re not sure what’s going on in the genealogical speaking circuit, just check out the listings at Conference Keeper to keep informed.


  1. Sounds like you were very pleasantly overloaded with "good stuff" during your conference! I hope something you (over)heard will help break down a brick wall or two!!

    1. Thank you, Iggy! Once I get my head around this steep learning curve for genetic genealogy applications, I'll hopefully uncover some encouraging finds! Still digesting all the material gleaned from the conference...

  2. Sounds like a worth while learning experience and I am certain you will make some more advances in your research after learning all the new "stuff" :)

    1. Far Side, it was so energizing being at that event. The learning was great--of course, I still need to process it all--but it was even better getting to make so many connections with others. We all learn from each other!

  3. Conferences always recharge my batteries and pump me up to really get in there and dig and try new things. You are right though, I so enjoy the opportunity to connect with living, breathing individuals with the same passion.

    I look forward to hearing more from you about your experience there. I would have loved to have gone.

    1. Michelle, I know you've been to some really great genealogy gatherings. You would have loved this one, but it is different from others, from what I hear. would have been great to get to meet!

  4. I love your paragraph on "Connecting the Like-Minded"! That's a strong pull towards a conference, for me -- "a small group of equally-possessed fanatics." Nothing is as enlivening as sharing work passions. I'd love to get to FGS2013 and have registered. My daughter, who lives in Fort Wayne, is expecting a baby girl on August 20th. Close call. Maybe I can work this out. Are you going to be at Fort Wayne, Jacqi?

    1. Oh, Mariann, I remember you mentioning that about your daughter. Congratulations on the joy of such anticipation!

      As for me, my heart has been in Fort Wayne for quite some time (remember, my husband's roots were there), but with our own family's health challenge right now, it is too soon for me to tell. If I can, I will--and would love to meet you there!

      As is often said, "if it is meant to be," it will happen.


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