A family history or genealogy conference can be a life-changing experience. Have you considered attending one?
Everyone at the event will be interested in and passionate about family history and in finding more information about his or her ancestors. Each event provides an educational and networking opportunity to connect with researchers and experts, learn new information or skills and ask questions.
Some beginning researchers feel they don't know enough to attend such an event, but I think everyone will benefit. Researchers of all skill levels will become inspired, meet interesting people, learn new skills and methods, receive expert help, and hear breaking news about technologies and new resources.
Beginner sessions are always scheduled; experienced researchers make efforts to help newcomers. Most importantly, remember that even professional genealogists were once absolute beginners - learning never stops and there are no silly questions!
Through the years, I've attended conferences in several countries. I've always learned something new, met others researching my geographic area, and seen new resources and innovation. Many people I met years ago are good friends today.
Family historians and genealogists are friendly; people often ask me why. We never know if the next person we meet might just hold the key to our personal mystery of history. We share information, help with strategies, offer advice and we hope that, as we help newcomers, they in turn will help others.
You might sit next to someone researching your families, villages or towns. Researchers who focus on specific areas or topics may form special interest groups to share information, collaborate to develop resources to help others. These groups may hold meetings or meals with speakers and are a great way to meet the experts.
- What pieces of your family puzzle do you want to investigate?
- What sessions target your quest?
- When are those sessions scheduled?
- Who are the expert speakers?
- Look at the conference site for all details.
- View and printout the program, marking topics of interest.
Do check for more general topics, such as geography or changing borders, reading different alphabets, organizational skills for a project or how to break through sticky research problems may also be of interest.
Are there books or software you'd like to see before buying? Will a vendor have it so you can buy or order a copy? Will a resource room offer maps, databases and reference books?
Each event attracts experts, including international archivists from countries your ancestors may have lived. There may be opportunities to meet with the experts in one-on-one sessions, and volunteer document translation assistance may be available.
Some large conferences offer as many as six sessions in each time slot. The hardest part is choosing which to attend. Many events record speakers and make them available for purchase, so you can purchase the ones you had to miss..
Here are some tips:
- The event may provide a tote bag (either free or for purchase) to carry the syllabus and other materials. Consider bringing a small wheeled bag to avoid back and shoulder strain. Large events may have a syllabus with hundreds of pages including speaker information, session abstracts and handouts. Some offer it in a loose-leaf format, and you can remove the pages necessary for each day without carrying the big book around. More conferences are offering a choice of printed syllabus or CD, and some may provide both.
- Many attendees bring laptops to take session notes, to stay in touch via email or to access research materials. At a major conference last summer, several people were using mini-laptops while I was still dragging around a large heavy one. I decided to get a mini-laptop weighing only a little more than 2 pounds, and I have happily used it at several events this year.
Common items include:
- Genealogy business cards (contact details, family names and locations), card organizer to store received cards!
- A notebook, pens/pencils, colored highlighters.
- Printout of your family tree (and on a flash drive or two).
- Copies of documents and photographs. Do not bring originals as they might get lost.
- A digital tape recorder, a small digital camera, rechargeable batteries and the recharger.
- A laptop and flash drives downloaded with your genealogy data.
A summer event means air-conditioned session rooms may be cold. Bring a sweater, or wear a long-sleeved shirt. There's a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes or sneakers.
Vendor rooms offer books, materials, software, diverse goods and services - some offer special prices, trial software or give-aways. Don't forget to bring money for a special buy, for meals and snacks.
- Look for popular technology and computer workshops to brush up on a rusty skill or learn a new technique. Some may be for beginners or advanced users. A computer room may offer free access to paid-subscription databases and email access.
- Are famous experts attending? |Prepare questions to ask, bring photographs to analyze, bring copies of foreign-language documents for translation.
- Some multi-day events offer two registration prices (full and daily rates, as well as early registration discounts). There may be added fee items like meals or workshops.
- Accommodations are another aspect. If you can, stay at the event site, so you won't miss anything by traveling. Conferences negotiate special rates that may be good for a few days before and after the conference, so you can utilize local resources.
- If you live in the area where the conference will be, you can commute from home. If more distant locations are involved, think about carpooling or the train instead of flying.
- Sharing hotel rooms cuts expenses and provides an enjoyable experience. Do you have relatives or friends living near near the site with whom you can stay?
- Food costs are high in a hotel. However, if you reserve a small refrigerator for the room (reserve with the hotel in advance), you can make sandwiches or eat breakfast for less. A nearby shopping center may also have a food court.
If it is too late to plan for this year's conference, start thinking about next year now.
Be inspired by fascinating people, make lifelong friends who share your passion and interest in family history, hear recognized experts. Regardless of whether it is a weekend or a week, the total experience cannot be measured in days - it may provide a lifetime experience or one that is life-changing.
There are many conferences set for the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries. Some are international, others are national in scope or focused on a a local regional area or ethnicity.
Have you attended a genealogy conference? What did you learn? Please share your comments and experiences. I look forward to reading your views.
For a better idea of what a conference may offer, check out the websites and online programs of these upcoming conferences:
National Genealogical Society Conference 2009, May 13-16, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree 2009, June 26-28, Burbank, California. One of the best regional conferences.
International Genealogy Festival, University of Strathclyde (Scotland), July 21-24.
29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 2-7, Phildelphia, Pennsylvania. The only Jewish genealogy conference.