Friday, September 02, 2011

Getting the Most out of Genealogical Conferences Redux

Back in the summer of 2009, I was getting ready to go to the FGS conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was fortunate to be asked to be on a social networking panel and was looking forward to the conference. Since then I have been to many conferences and always enjoy the opportunity to learn. 

 The following is a reworking of a  post from  this blog back in the summer of 2009 about going to conferences. For those looking forward to attending the FGS 2011 conference, these are just a few of my ideas about getting the most out of attending.

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.

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'm networking with other genealogists and learning from their experiences.

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 may ask a quick question but it's important to remember that speakers are busy so you don’t want to tie up all of their time as they prepare for presentations, 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. This is a great time to compare products and ask questions of staff members who know their product.

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  genealogy lectures, even lectures that I present to groups, and picked up additional ideas or websites. Everyone approaches a topic differently. I would also recommend attending lectures on topics that might stretch your current knowledge. 

FGS has provided those who pre-registered for the conference with the syllabus, available as a download. Use this time,  pre-conference,  to figure out which presentations are your must-sees.

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. I spend time, before during and after the conference reading the entire syllabus. It's a great way to review the presentations you heard and learn from the presentations you couldn't go to.

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, GenealogyWise or just by telling your friends. Sharing information also helps you to remember it.

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