Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Conference Circuit

There are dozens of genealogy conferences around the United States and others around the world every year. Years ago, when I went to my first genealogy conference, I immediately realized the value of coming to a conference. As I have noted a few time before, genealogy is mostly a solitary pursuit. If it weren't for blogging, comments by readers, and serving at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (the new name for the Mesa Regional Family History Center), I would hardly talk to anyone for weeks at a time. Now, I have web conferences many times a week with the FamilySearch Research Wiki Support Team and contact from friends and people from the Mesa FamilySearch Library that need help with research. But at the core of all this is the ability to interact with people from all over the country at expos and conferences.

Of course there is a monetary cost and time commitment in attending conferences. Some of the large national conferences are beyond my reach in that respect. But the local conferences are actually more manageable and beneficial. We get time to talk to people for more than a brief hello. At the last Family History Expo I attended, I had a quite a few longer discussions with other genealogists, both exhibitors and attendees. It is also a bonus to get to meet some of the bloggers. It is interesting when you form a mental image of someone based on a photo and then meet them in real life.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to work with Holly Hansen and her crew in the Family History Expos. First, they are outstandingly nice people and dedicated to the advancement of genealogy. Second, I get all the side benefits of attending the conferences. As I was noting above, attending a huge, busy conference like RootsTech or FGS is a great opportunity. But it is more like a kaleidoscope of experiences while the smaller more regional conferences provide some down-to-earth personally satisfying experiences.

Some people try to differentiate between the "commercial" aspects of a conference and those sponsored by "non-profit" organizations. Look at the list of vendors at the conferences put on by the non-profit societies and tell me the difference between that and a conference sponsored by a commercial enterprise. It is true, that larger conferences pull in some of the "big names" in genealogy. But I have seen outstanding presentations by local presenters who are entirely "unknown" to the larger genealogical community. For sure, you would like to hear the latest from FamilySearch or MyHeritage or who ever, but it depends on your own personal needs. Your motivation might come, like mine did, from hearing about doing research in Wales. 

The vendors that look at conferences like they do advertising, will only attend those conferences that give them the most bang for their advertising buck. But the people at the smaller conferences are there, in part, because of their dedication to genealogy and family history. Sure, they need to make some money to live or they wouldn't be selling their products. But the atmosphere is more personal and a lot more relaxed at the local and regional conferences. For example, I attended an outstanding conference of the African-American Genealogy Society of Phoenix. This was a smaller one day conference but it was well worth the time for those who attended. Judging the value of a conference by the number of people that attend fails to take into consideration the nature of genealogy. As I noted at the beginning, genealogy is a solitary pursuit. 

Whatever the outcome, I guess I will be traveling some during each year going out to conferences. I am looking forward to seeing my genealogy friends and meeting more of them at each conference. In July I will be at the Family History Expo in Sacramento, California on July 6th and 7th at the Crowne Plaza Sacramento Northeast, 5321 Date Avenue, Sacramento, California. The next month I will be in Springfield, Illinois at another Family History Expo on August 3rd and 4th at the Crowne Plaza Springfield, 3000 South Dirksen Parkway, Springfield, Illinois. If you live anywhere in the area of either of these, please make sure to come and look me up.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you 100%!
    My husband and I attended my first two genealogy conferences back-to-back last summer. (I do not recommend spending 2 successive weekends, as we did last year, because you truly need some time to assimilate one event before you go to the next.) We leaned a lot at the Family History Expo in July in the Kansas City area. And we also learned a lot at the smaller MoSGA (Missouri State Genealogical Association) conference here in Columbia on the following weekend.

    We've had some financial drains this year, so this year's MoSGA meeting will probably be our only conference. But I am eagerly looking forwards to it.

    Big names are worth while, but a casual conversation with someone you don't know may also be just the contact you need to jump-start your next search!