17    May 20110 comments

Gen conferences: Information for all

Three genealogy conferences in two countries were on my schedule over the past 10 days.

Each conference provided food for thought, learning opportunities and practical information. Additionally, each event offered networking opportunities, and chances to meet others with the same interests.

On May 7, the Society of Genealogists (London, UK) held their Centenary Conference, a major event for this group founded in 1911. The world of family history and how we research hadn't changed much over the decades until rather recently.

In the bad old days, the only type of research available was to either crawl through archives and libraries - dusty, dark and difficult to retrieve information from - or pay someone to do it for you.

Today, in 2011, I consistently hear longtime researchers say that they've done more productive research in the past 10 years than since they began 20, 30, 40 or more years ago. I know I have.

What has made the difference?

It's simple: Technology.

Technology has made it possible to research, collaborate, share and communicate via the Internet, resources online, specialty websites and much more. The world has become much smaller and seems to shrink more each day.

According to one SOG presenter, Sharon Hintze, who directs the Family History Center in London, the availability of online resources means that we spend less time searching, find much more information, have better family stories and deeper personal identities. Technology helps make this happen.

Technology has also helped in preservation of archives and access to those materials. Physical archives may be impacted by natural disasters, with the loss forever of material. Today, digitization projects at institutions, libraries, archives, as well as personal family history, mean that these priceless materials can be preserved. And, along with technological preservation, comes better access.

In the old days, a small number of people would travel to a remote archive or library to research in person. It wasn't easy and it could be expensive to undertake that work. Today, an increasing amount of data is available to anyone around the world with an Internet connection.

Another popular conference session was presented by Alec Tritton who spoke on social networking, including blogs, ezines and social networking for family history.

Today's social networking figures are staggering . Two billion visits each day to YouTube; 600 million each day for FaceBook; and 100 million each day for Twitter. Industry statistics he quoted show that Google covers 48% of the world, with FaceBook some 40%.

Since 2006, there have been some 10 billion Twitter tweets. In fact, these tweets are now considered an important part of our culture.

Such a major major part that the Library of Congress (Washington, DC) will archive them, so you and future generations can access them. Your great-great-grandson will be able to access your tweets and understand more about your life and what was important to you.

While this will be the modern tech equivalent of keeping a pen-and-paper diary, it means perhaps that we should be thinking of what we are tweeting when we realize that those tweets will be forever!

Alec discussed the revolution in smartphone technology, and aso indicated that the use of this technology in 2020 wil be more than 5 billion users, or 10 times the size of the PC desktop computer; many people will never use a PC.

And, while technological changes today were important, there was also a good session on phonetics as it impacts researching names and finding information on various websites.

Beverley Charles Rowe went over the process of how name spellings may have been corrupted over history.

A person says his or her name. The person recording the name writes down what he or she hears and spells it accordingly. That spelling is transferred to other documents. A text is set up for printing and modern vounteers do the transcribing of old handwriting. Finally, a researcher copies the data to his or her own files.

Think about information recorded from early immigrants, who may have had thick accents from their native languages, and that data was recorded by someone from an entirely different cultural and linguistic frame of reference.

How do we retrieve information from databases? We require one that provides a good chance of finding records under various spellings. The presenter compared the various Soundex systems available over some very interesting searches.

His conclusion was that no Soundex system was perfect. If you are working in a database that offers a search using different systems, try all of them as results may be very different for each.

My own presentation focused on setting up a DNA project for a family, a community, a geographical area or other groupings. The IberianAshkenaz DNA Project attempts to confirm family stories of some Ashkenazi Eastern European Jews that they have Sephardic (Spanish/Portuguese) origins. It covered setting up a project, the goals, the criteria, understanding results, finding participants and much more.

No matter what genealogy conferences you attend, there will be fascinating topics, opportunities for learning practical information and communicating with fellow researchers and experts.

Watch for additional posts on the other conferences.

What genealogy/family history conferences have you attended? Let us know - via comments below - the high points of the event(s) you have attended.

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