Saturday, June 22, 2019

Being Shortsighted About 2020?

According to the steering committee for my favorite genealogical conference, there will be no 2020. Just scratch that one off the family history events calendar.

That bombshell arrived in my email inbox only days after I left the hotel hosting the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree on June second, the last day of their 50th Birthday Bash.

Barely two weeks later—from June 15 through June 17—and 375 miles to the north, the apparently successful International German Genealogy Conference opened its doors in northern California to over one thousand eager attendees from all over the United States plus a number of other countries. I couldn't help but wonder how many people might have attended the 50th iteration of Jamboree in southern California, had it not been for the magnetic pull of the biennial event held this month, coincidentally, in the very same state.

We won't be able to tell whether Jamboree attendance will bounce back next year, though, because the SCGS leadership has decided—as they positively worded it—"to take a leap forward and reinvent."

While that may sound like a noble resolution—and I commend SCGS for continuing to be the cutting-edge organization they are known to be—this has not been the first time conference organizers have gotten hints that life-as-we-know-it in the genealogical conference world may never be the same again. Agreed, as SCGS put it, "many enjoy" such alternate training outlets as online webinars, but there still is a very necessary place for gathering together to share what we are doing. You know, "Connect. Belong." Perhaps we've forgotten that lesson. Too soon.

Next year, the competition of a bright-shiny once-every-two-years-but-never-in-the-same-place-twice alternate will have vanished, only to return (thankfully, somewhere else) at the precise time Jamboree will be fired up again. Meanwhile, some regulars may have decided to look for another learning stop along the way each May or June, or substitute another event for their used-to-be regular highlight following Memorial Day weekend.

Since I've returned home, I'm already having people ask me about "that conference" I attended this month. Members of our local genealogical society are interested in being first-time attendees next year; after all, now three of their board members have been attending Jamboree each year, and always bring back a good report. It all sounds like such a great event, and they were thinking it might be for them. This would be a great time to start planning for next year's trip...except now it isn't happening.

The alternate, for those of us who believe in continued learning—especially in the networking-rich environment of face-to-face encounters—all happens, by the way, to center on those other parts of the country which involve half a day's flight, at the very least. California-centered learning for the home chickens is a very attractive choice for the wing-weary among us. Let someone else put in the bucks for those frequent flier miles for a change—that, at least, is the way I feel about it after realizing that most major genealogical conferences are held far, far from my home turf.

So I mourn the decision by the board of a wonderful regional genealogical society. True, they are asking for input from members and (I presume) attendees, but that is mainly to survey people about what they'd like to see for an event in 2021. Not 2020. That moment has already been lost, at least in the world of event planning.

What does an organization do in the face of such financial and attendance pressures? Is it just that we've all been aced out by the talking heads conjured up on our laptops? Or have there been incremental changes—bit by bit, reflected over many more than just one year's statistics—that need to be heeded, as well? Perhaps our learning styles—and our go-to-meeting desires—have morphed over the years, while that meeting style has not changed, essentially, in the last decade (if not longer).

Unless we all are willing to come together and talk about it, we may find our last, best moment to snatch such in-person events from the brink of oblivion may vanish. If SCGS is to reinvent Jamboree, it likely won't completely be reinvented without the input of many others—others willing to share what would make an in-person conference sparkle for them, once again.


  1. I wasn't surprised by the announcement as in 2018, one of the volunteers said they didn't know if there would be any more Jamborees after #50 because of volunteer burnout. Sad, as I first went to Jamboree back in the 1980s.

    1. That's an interesting point, Linda. Sad. But true: volunteers can only do so much, and that is a tremendous undertaking to tackle, year after year. And considering how hard it is, in local societies, to find new volunteers for our projects, I imagine that same dynamic is multiplied in a society of that size. Wish there was a way for their members from outside the LA area to volunteer remotely to help with future events.


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