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Why Attend a Genealogy Conference?

by HostGFSDarlaJo

GENTREK June 17, 2002


I will admit that in 19 years of research, I had not attended a single genealogy conference until the last 2 years. I have now attended 4 conferences. I sure wish I had made the time (and found the money) to start attending years ago. Tonight I would like to share with you some of the advantages of attending genealogy conferences.

The most obvious benefit is that you will LEARN about genealogy. Most conferences have at least one presentation on beginners genealogy to help you get the basics to research your family. Most conferences will also have some information on researching the basic vital records (births, deaths, marriage). Even longtime researchers sometimes learn a tidbit or two in a beginners session. <g>

Other topics covered at a conference will depend upon the guest speakers that have agreed to attend. Many speakers have a "specialty" or two that they like to talk about. The conference I attended this past weekend in Texas was a local workshop that covered 6 topics in one day, whereas the conference I attended earlier this year in Wisconsin was a national conference that offered hundreds of topics over several days.

One of your great genealogy resources is just waiting for you at all conferences.... OTHER genealogists! What better group of people to chat with? You can share research ideas. You can brainstorm about resources that have been useful. You can discuss your brick walls, great successes, and maybe even find a new cuzzie! You can never have too many genealogy friends to discuss the fine art of family history with.

If the conference requires that you travel, try to include some extra time for your personal research along the way. Perhaps a few extra miles will give you time to visit a cemetery or a courthouse. If the conference isn't in an area that you need to research, perhaps you could offer to do some lookups for someone else. I spent a couple of hours at a Wisconsin library looking up obituaries for a friend of mine. I found pictures of her family members that she didn't have. What a happy friend she was!

Even if the conference isn't in a location that you need to research, take your personal family genealogy with you. Many conferences have an "excursion" or two to research facilities. Just because a library is in a different county or state doesn't mean they won't have some data from your research locations. Your personal family tree might also be good to have if you DO find a new cuzzie!

::::hint:::: It is a helpful tool to create yourself a personal genealogy business card. Include your name and contact information. (email or snail mail address) List the surnames that you are researching, and don't forget the dates and locations so others will be able to find those possible connections and then find you. Hand these cards to everyone you talk to, and perhaps you will get lucky. 

Is it better to attend a local conference? or a larger state or national conference?

I have now attended 2 small \ local conferences, and 2 large national conferences. I must say that I enjoyed all of the trips, all of the topics, and I plan to attend as many as I can (both small and large) as my time and money allows. 

Small Conferences...

Smaller, local conferences are good because they are commonly only one or two days: usually over a weekend. The topics are offered consecutively. This means you can attend all of the sessions, and you won't miss anything good. 

Local workshops are usually inexpensive, but have limited resources available for you to purchase. 

Guest speakers at the smaller conferences will usually have more time to "mingle" with the crowd and answer questions. I have learned a lot from listening to other genealogists!

Lunch breaks during small conferences are often "on your own" and allow you time to visit the local restaurants. I encourage you to explore as much as you in the time allowed, as see the sights. The conference in Texas this past weekend allowed us time to have some wonderful BBQ at a local cafe. While it was only the speakers who took this lunchtime adventure, we did cover a "little bit" of genealogy while we ate. <g> 

Small conferences are usually done before dinnertime, so you once again should have a chance to explore. I have found that wandering off "the beaten path" can be very beneficial for meals and shopping. Don't be shy; ask a group of others to go exploring with you and you could find some life long friends in genealogy.

Large Conferences...

There are benefits to the larger conferences too, because you have so many topics that you can choose what you need to learn. Many sessions are held at the same time, in different rooms. There is no possible way to attend every session unless you have some clones, or find some buddies to share notes with. <g> 

Both national conferences that I have attended had a huge separate area for genealogy vendors to set up booths. These booths had representatives from the genealogy companies. There were some free catalogs, handouts, and advertising items to entice you to stop at their table. <g> Each vendor will generally have their merchandise available for you to purchase, sometimes even at a discount. Many times you will find free versions of software or free "old" editions of genealogy magazines available. 

Unfortunately most of the guest speakers at large conferences are giving more than one presentation, and they just don't have time to visit with the guests.

Large conferences usually have meal plans that you can purchase. Many of the lunches have a speaker scheduled, and it is a great time to chit-chat with both speakers and other attendees. 

Dinner is sometimes a planned event also, and will likely have a guest speaker. Again, mealtime is a great time to meet new friends and cuzzies. 

Preparing for a conference...

There are a few supplies that you might consider taking with you to a conference. 

I suggest that you take a book bag, or small travel case with a handle and wheels. Some conferences will provide you with a canvas book bag, but I have yet to be able to fit everything in that bag by the end of the conference. Those bags also get heavy and uncomfortable by the end of the day. I always end up leaving with handouts, books, magazines, notes to contact others, and of course notes from the sessions I have attended. It is much easier to put all your new treasures in a bag with wheels and save the pain in your shoulders and back. <g>

You should also take:

~ your personal genealogy business cards

~ paper & pencils

~ copies of your personal pedigree chart and \ tiny tafel to share with others

~ a tape recorder (some conferences sell copies of the presentations and thus will not allow individuals to record them) and extra cassettes

~ camera (digital or traditional) and extra film... wouldn't you hate to meet a new cuzzie and not get a picture!?

~ laptop computer if you have one, with a backup of your genealogy... you don't necessarily need to carry this around during sessions, but it could come in handy if you meet a cuzzie, or find time to do some research.

~ COMFY shoes and clothing (you don't have to be in dressy clothes to learn about genealogy)

~ Money (cash, credit card, checkbook)... Some vendors won't take cash (NARA was one), some don't accept out of state checks, and some don't have the ability to accept credit cards. Why do you need money??... For snacks, meals, sodas, things that you thought you packed but didn't <eg>, and for purchasing things in the vendor area that you find, and didn't even know you needed!

~ Highlighters in various colors... many conferences will have a printed agenda in book form that has a schedule of the sessions. Many of these books will also contain an outline of the speaker's presentations. Highlighters can be handy for marking the sessions you plan to attend, and for marking important parts of the handouts.

~ Postie notes! I love postie notes, and I suggest various colors to mark pages that you need to give more of your attention later.

Mind your manners at a conference...

If you MUST have your cell phone or pager turned on while attending a session, but it on a silent or vibrate setting. It is very rude to distract the entire room with a beep or ring that always makes everyone turn toward the sound.

If your cell phone or pager goes off during the session, leave the room to answer it. No one else in the room needs to hear about an emergency at your office or that your cat ran away.

Don't carry on private conversations while the speaker is talking. Not only is that distracting to the people around you, it is extremely rude to the speaker.

If you chew gum, keep it quiet! No bubbles, no smacking, and no popping allowed.

No sleeping and \ or snoring. If you are too tired to stay awake during a session then leave. You are not gaining a benefit by sleeping in a session, and it looks rude to the speaker. Take a break and go have a nap. <g>

Don't interrupt the speaker with questions unless they have specified that they want you to do that. Instead, make a note of any questions, and if the answer isn't given during the rest of the session you can ask at the end. Most speakers allow time for questions and answers following their presentation.

If you are ill, stay home. Sneezing, sniffling, and blowing your nose will be a distraction for the room. You will also not get the most from your investment if you are sick: get healthy and attend the next conference. No one cares to share your germs. <g>

Don't bring other guests with you that will not enjoy the sessions. Small children and uninterested significant others will be much happier with another activity for the day. You will also be able to focus on the conference instead of entertaining bored family members.

To find information about upcoming conferences, try:

Keyword: ROOTS > Genealogy Conferences (in the scroll box)