Monday, August 24, 2009

Getting the Most Out Of Genealogical Conferences

I am getting ready to attend two genealogy conferences in the next few weeks. Family History Expo will be held in Sandy, Utah on Friday and Saturday, August 28-29. For more information, please see their website at

I am honored to be a Blogger of Honor for this conference. As such, I will be reporting from the conference on this blog and the WorldVitalRecords Blog as well as various Twitter accounts including my own, GenaOrtega and my work accounts, WVRNewsletter and GenealogyWise.

I will also be attending the FGS Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, September 2-5, I am honored to be participating in a forum with George G. Morgan and Drew Smith, Open Forum: Blogging, Social Networking, and Podcasting on Wednesday, September 2nd from 5:00-6:00pm. It’s amazing to me that I was asked to be a part of this and I look forward to talking about genealogy and social networking.

Having said that, my opinion is that genealogy conferences are vital to the life long learning that a genealogist must spend time acquiring. Without this learning, you miss out on new resources, websites and techniques that can help you find your ancestors.

Now, I realize not everyone can attend a conference. I believe that there are still a great deal of online educational opportunities available, which I will address at a later date.

How do you make the most of the opportunities you do have to go to a conference? Here are some ideas:

Network, Network, Network
When I am at a conference I’m scanning participant’s name tags for ancestral surnames. I’m talking to other conference goers in between sessions, asking what presentations they went to and what they learned.

I even use this chance to speak to my genealogical heroes. I approach them and tell them how I love their book or ask a specific question about research that I think they may be able to provide some insight. No, I don’t sit there and grill them about my grandfather’s land grants. I ask a quick question like, “Why would a man in 1850’s North Carolina sell all his land to his kids.” Speakers are busy so you don’t want to tie up all of their time but there’s nothing wrong with asking a quick to the point question.

Exhibit Hall
Use your time at the conference to visit genealogy vendors and have them demonstrate their products, ask for help with their search engine, check out the books for sale and purchase resources that are hard to find. During conferences, exhibitors tend to place items on sale as a “conference special”. Use this time to get a discount on an item that you have been wanting.

Don’t Skip Sessions
It can be tempting to go use the hotel pool or see the local sites but don’t skip sessions. This is your opportunity to invest in your genealogical education-use it. Even when you think that you know everything about the subjects being presented. I have sat in on many “beginning” genealogy lectures, even lectures that I present to groups, and picked up additional ideas or websites. Everyone approaches a topic differently.

Read The Syllabus, All Of It
When you are waiting in between sessions, eating lunch or even relaxing in the hotel at the end of the day, read the handouts from all of the sessions. These handouts provide valuable insights including bibliographies and websites. Even in sessions that have nothing to do with the research you are doing, you may find an approach, a technique or a website that may be of help.

Follow Up
When you get home, make sure you follow up on those new websites you learned about. Check them out and share what you learned with others through your genealogical society newsletter, Twitter, Blogging, Facebook or just by telling your friends. Sharing information also helps you to remember it.

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