Friday, May 6, 2011

Attending Genealogy Conferences - My View

In Genealogical Conferences - The Magic Recipe, Thomas MacEntee encourages genea-bloggers to write posts this week about genealogy conference and seminar issues.  The topic for Thursday is supposed to be:

"Taking It All In – and finally on Friday, May 6, 2011, we’ll hear from the attendees of genealogy conferences.  How do you decide which ones to attend? How far in advance do you start making plans? What do you look for when you take in a conference? Again, not only can you post about what you’d love to see at a genealogy conference, but let us know your frustrations and what needs to change."

Finally - a topic that I can answer directly!  However, I started attending major conferences in 2007 (SCGS in 2007-2010, FGS in 2009, NGS in 2010, TMG Cruise in 2008), so my experience is limited.

1)  How do you decide which ones to attend?  If I had unlimited money and time, I would attend all of them.  But remembering that my daughters and grandchildren deserve an inheritance, I decided that we would try to go to either NGS or FGS each year, go to the SCGS Jamboree every year, and go on a genealogy cruise once in awhile.  Then RootsTech raised its head in 2011... so it's probably on the "every year" list, especially if it stays in Salt Lake City. 

One of the determining factors for conference attendance is the genealogy research and family history near the conference location.  For instance, this year FGS is in Springfield, Illinois and NGS is in Charleston, south Carolina.  I've wanted to research in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin for many years, and have no southern ancestry at all, so FGS was the choice for 2011. 

2)  How far in advance do you start making plans?  I usually decide whether to go to NGS or FGS in January of each year.  I try to send my registration information before the early bird deadline (I haven't sent in the FGS registration yet).  We're still trying to work out the travel plans and calendar for the FGS trip in September. 

3)  What do you look for when you take in a conference?  First and foremost is the speakers and topics of interest.  I can usually find one presentation of interest in every time slot.  I like to attend talks by speakers that I've not heard before, but enjoy talks by many of the experts.  I tend more toward presentations about new resources, solving difficult research problems and applying the Genealogical Proof Standard. 

Second of all is the geneablogging community in attendance.  I really enjoy the company of my colleagues - it's like a family reunion at every conference, since we all read each other's work.  I feel like other geneabloggers are my brothers and sisters, and we seem to instantly bond even if we've never met in person before.  This is the really fun part of conferences for me.  Sharing food, stories and laughs is special.

We usually do not attend the special lunches and dinners for two reasons:  first, they interfere with geneablogger meetings, and second, my wife has severe food allergy problems and mass produced meals are dangerous.  I do miss hearing the presentations by notable genealogists, however. 

4)  What would you love to see at a genealogy conference?  I would like to see more opportunities to interact with expert genealogists on difficult research problems.  I know that some local and regional conferences do this in an "Ancestors Roadshow" format, and I think that would be useful to me and many others.

5)  What are your frustrations and what needs to change?  My frustrations include the exorbitant hotel charges, in-hotel restaurant prices, parking fees, and internet access limitations and fees. 

One thing I would like to change is the audio tape system for many of the presentations.  I dislike audio CDs and podcasts because I get no visual stimulation from them and I do not recall what I hear well, plus they are fairly expensive (JAMB Tapes, Inc. charges $12 for one lecture CD).  My preference for audio presentations is to be able to download them from a website. I much prefer visual presentations similar to what FamilySearch is doing with their Research Courses - you can see and hear the speakers and watch the presentation.  Next best would be the audio synced (no speaker video) with the presentation visuals like in the online webinars.  I know that there are production costs for these types of products, and I am not sure of the market for them, but the webinar market is one indicator I think.  A conference and agreeable speakers could sell them on Lulu or a similar site in a profit-sharing mode for a reasonable price. 

I appreciate what RootsTech 2011 did, and what SCGS Jamboree is going to do in June, in providing several presentations in live streaming video with the presentation archived for persons that could not attend the conference.  SCGS will provide the live presentations for free, but the archived presentations are behind their subscription wall.  I think that this may be a pretty good subscription benefit for regional and national genealogical societies.


Michelle Goodrum said...

I'm glad you mention that Jamboree will be doing live streaming video for some talks with the presentation archived for persons that could not attend the conference. I can't go this year and it's killing me so at least I will have the opportunity to take in portions of the conference after the fact.

Jennifer Holik said...

I have not attended too many conferences and the ones I have were local (Chicago area). I am going to FGS in September and planned that last fall so I could put away my pennies. I do agree the hotel and food prices are outrageous. I actually decided to cancel my reservation at the FGS Hilton and am staying a few miles away at the Ramada. Cheaper even having to pay for daily parking at the Hilton plus continental breakfast.

I did sign up for a couple lunches because I need the info and to network.

Would love to meet you in person with the other Geneabloggers who attend.

Judy Webster said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this interesting topic. I've mentioned your post on my Genealogy Leftovers blog in 'Attending Genealogy Conferences', where I talked about why I love genealogy conferences, how organisers can entice me to attend, how I save money, cheaper accommodation, etc.