Conferences are not at all unique to genealogy, they are a fact of life for almost every sort of interest, avocation or profession in the world, from dog groomers to head of state. A quick Google search for "genealogy conference 2011" brings up a long list of conferences, I quickly counted at least 20 but there are probably more with a lot of local or regional conferences that are not well publicized on the Internet. You could probably attend one conference a week almost all year, if you had the money, the time and the stamina to do so. Just one example, the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, a resource for Czech, Slovak, Moravian, Bohemian, Rusyn, and German-Bohemian Genealogy will be held October 26-29, 2011 See CGSI’s 13th Genealogical/Cultural Conference, Sheraton Westport Chalet Hotel, St. Louis, Missouri.
This points up a significant fact, no matter what your interest in genealogy, there is likely a society, group, or other organization that is holding a conference about your interest somewhere in the world. OK so you are from Chad, one of the poorest countries of the world. Would you expect to have a genealogical conference? Maybe not, but if you follow the link, you will find a page in WeRelate.org and if you search online, you will find the African American Genealogical Society with a conference.
It took me many, many years of doing genealogy to attend my first conference. But now, I regret not having become more involved earlier in my genealogical life. There were a lot of mistakes and problems I faced trying to "go it alone" as you might say. This brings up some significant reasons for attending genealogical conferences, even if you are not a blogger, a writer, or have some kind of genealogical society responsibility.
1. You cannot possibly learn all you need to know about genealogy by yourself.
Genealogy is a huge and complex subject and it takes a considerable time to learn even the basics about research, recording information, preserving your data, and many other subjects. You can learn a lot from reading books and online sources, but there is no substitute for attending a class with a real live teacher and genealogical conferences are simply concentrated class sessions. Despite all the "Do genealogy in a day" ads on TV, really researching your family can take considerable time and effort. Conferences provide an encapsulated ready-to-digest format for learning.
2. You need social reinforcement to solve the challenges of genealogy.
Few genealogists get any support or encouragement from members of their own family. In some cases they face active opposition. It is important to realize that your personal challenges in doing genealogical research are not unique. Attend a conference gives you the opportunity to interact with a cross-section of fellow genealogists. You cannot discount the importance of the social aspect of conferences.
3. No matter how knowledgeable you are, rank beginner or expert, you need perspective.
Conferences give you perspective. You see the variety of interests and topics and the different approaches to those topics and subjects and that gives you a perspective that cannot be obtained in any other way. You may attend a class and think it was a waste of time, but in every case, there is something about the presentation that makes you think of some new way to approach your own research objectives. Sometimes, even now, I get the most out of the "Beginners" classes.
4. Genealogical technology is rapidly changing and unless you are a dedicated blog reader or tech reader, you can learn about new developments.
Even though the 2011 BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference was decidedly not technology oriented, there were a number of significant new developments covered. For example, the Daniel Lynch class on Google+. In every conference, either through the presenters or the vendors, you can look through a window into the newest technological developments. If your conference is really limited in scope, you might still see what other genealogists are doing with the technology and talk to them. I noticed that there were almost uniformly Apple MacBook Pro computers in evidence at the BYU Conference, by presenters as well as attendees. This is significant, I am sure that some of the PC only developers cannot fail to notice this also and begin to change over to releasing Mac software.
5. Attending a conference at a remote location gives you the opportunity to travel with a purpose.
Many people's lives revolve around their annual or more frequent, vacations. I don't mind a vacation now and then, but when I have time off, I want to make that time productive, usually in genealogy related activities. Attending a local or regional conference in an area of genealogical research interest serves a variety of purposes. It gives you an excuse to visit an area important to your family and at the same time gives you the opportunity to talk with people who are likely knowledgeable about the area you are visiting. Since I deal with Church records frequently, the BYU Conference gave me an opportunity to learn more.
I could go on with reasons for attending a conference but I would probably become repetitious. My next conferences will likely be the Mesa Family History Expo and RootsTech 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah. See you there.