Friday, August 24, 2018

Enter the Exhibit Hall

There's a lot of talking that can be done in a genealogical conference exhibit hall. If you thought that venue was merely for purchasing all your genealogical supplies, think again. Here at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Fort Wayne, this year's event boasts over eighty different exhibitors. Some are big, like Ancestry or MyHeritage, and some are small but fascinating, like The Tapestree by Elk Meadow Designs, which makes hand crafted copper family trees paired with miniaturized photo framed charms. Almost all are focused specifically on the passion of the conference attendees: genealogy.

It took a lot for me to get over my duty-bound sense of obligation to attend each and every session offered during the conference, but I think I am over that, now. I had a trial run last May at the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree. There, however, classes were interspersed with half-hour-long breaks, affording one a moment to make a quick dash into the exhibit hall for a specific purchase. Here at FGS, you're lucky to be spared a brief fifteen minute respite.

And so, in order to conduct any business of substance, I simply had to let go of my compulsion to be present and accounted for at each learning session scheduled for the day. Now that the exhibit hall was officially opened, yesterdayafter the morning DNA Big Reveal hosted by Judy Russell and Blaine Bettinger with four local media celebritiesI ended up parking myself at booth after booth until I had fully made the rounds.

I discussed indexing partnerships with representatives at the FamilySearch booth, learned about exciting product developments at the Family Tree Maker booth, asked some questions about the First Families of Ohio program at the OGS booth (no, I still haven't sent in that application), got to talk to Josh Taylor at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society booth, heaped compliments on one of my favorite conference speakers (Diahan Southard) at Your DNA Guide, and said hi to Janet Hovorka of Family Chartmasters. Somehow, I even managed to buy an economics book for my daughter (yes, she said she wanted it).

Wait! Economics?

Yes. As this year's keynote themes pointed out, the value of story in family history is a compelling force. Yet, how can we adequately tell our family's story without understanding the underlying culture and history which blend to make our ancestors who they were?  Thus, Maia's Books of Columbus, Ohioone of the FGS exhibitorsadded to the mix by selling books about a broad range of historical and cultural topics, as did the African American Genealogical Society of Fort Wayne.

Due to an unfortunate quirk in hotel reservations (no room within decent walking distance was available for the duration of the conference), today is my last day at FGS2018. Granted, I wish I could wring out every learning opportunity of the week by staying until the convention center doors were bolted shut for the night, but after one last dash to The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library, we'll be driving out of Fort Wayne at midday to return to family in Chicago.

And yet, we still can't just leave this place without taking one last look at the tokens of our family history in this citysomething we will certainly squeeze in to the agenda before the day is over.

Above: History is all around useven on the walls of the building across the street from the new, modern hotel where I'm staying in Fort Wayne. Detail from the side of the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana, built in 1928. Photograph courtesy Chris Stevens.

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