Thursday, June 2, 2016
Hopes For Another Conference
Despite that overarching sense of anticipation, the one difficulty with attending conferences is seeing whether events match up with expectations. There is always a certain bar of achievement to which attendees hold event organizers. The one, perhaps unspoken, hope is: please don't let us down.
When it comes to the Southern California Genealogical Society's annual Jamboree, one rarely encounters any aspect that could contribute to that letdown. It seems the regional society is a well-oiled organizational machine, up to any challenge yet pulling off their assignment seamlessly every year.
Yet, beside the external level of hopes, there is an inner struggle for conference-goers, as well. Each one of us carries, besides those expectations, a combination of skills and abilities that we bring to the conference. Some are pure, unadulterated beginners, seeing family history with fresh eyes. Some are enthusiastic pursuers of the truth of their family history—still on the trail after so many years, ever hopeful of uncovering deeper ancestral secrets. Some, perhaps, are jaded after years of unfortunate experiences with "experts" who, in the midst of setting things right, sucked the very joy out of the process.
And then, there's me. And I'm stuck in a place that, as a veteran conference-goer, seems uncomfortably familiar to me at a time when I wish I didn't feel this way.
Something that has plagued me as an attendee—having nothing to do with genealogy, specifically, but everything to do with the process of learning via conference setting—is that there seems to be a learning curve that arcs at about the level where I am now. Well beyond beginner, far enough into intermediate studies to qualify as securely in the middle of the big middle, I start to feel like all the stuff I've yet to hear has, indeed, been things I've already heard. Granted, I can go out on a limb and specialize in an area in which I'm currently unfamiliar (and I'll be doing that with the eastern European focus at this year's Jamboree), but there is only so much room for such a scatter-shot approach.
There comes a time when you have to dig deeper.
I'm not exactly sure how to handle such malaise as this. It's not something the genealogy world has claimed a corner on. I've felt the same way at education conventions, too—when I've absorbed all the information there is to glean at an event, and strangely felt like I was at the same point at the last time I attended.
Granted, the Jamboree folks have come up with excellent options for those clamoring for more: their Friday morning, three hour long in-depth sessions focusing on one specific topic. I kick myself for not having found Blaine Bettinger's "Third Party Tools for Autosomal DNA" workshop details soon enough to register for the special session. This is the type of focused learning for the weary conference goer in such a slump as I'm in. I had heard this type of offering was in the works, but never found information about it online in a timely manner.
Of course, I've already found another option for the always-learning enthusiast: the weeklong workshops offered at genealogical institutes. While the one I attended was the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy last January, there are others occurring throughout the year in various locations around the United States.
But that was then, and this is now. Since I'm here, of those hopes I have for this week's conference, I include the hope to learn something new—something that advances my research skills, introduces me to new techniques or resources, and helps to hone or refocus my genealogical questions.
Those, however, are the external hopes. The inner desires are less straightforward, but are likely the very qualities which either make or break an organization's flagship event. For many people, the number one desire in that category will be: did I have fun while I was there? For others—myself included—it will be: did I connect with others? Did I broaden my horizons by introduction or continued relationship with others who share my research interests?
It didn't take more than a few steps across the hotel lobby to check in yesterday, when I had already heard my name. It turned out to be someone I had met at Jamboree a couple years ago, a fellow blogger who has written a book drawn from her family's history. Since I had arrived fairly early—not everyone comes for the first day of the conference proceedings—it would have made sense to have gone through the entire hotel registration without seeing a single familiar face in the process. But this one chance encounter made all the difference.
It reminded me that, for me, the one draw to live events is the connection with other people. While some come to conferences for other reasons—at face value, one would hope that includes the learning experience—a genealogy conference is, at its core, a social event. We can never lose sight of that interpersonal connection if we hope to continue seeing this type of learning venue thrive in the future.