Sunday, February 21, 2010

Family History Day, Boston, 20 February 2010

A workshop day was held yesterday at the Westin Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, jointly sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society and There were six classes offered for the low cost of $30, including free parking in the hotel garage. I can tell you that a days parking in downtown Boston often costs more than $30, so this workshop was a Yankee bargain! I’ve been a member of NEHGS for over 12 years, and I’ve never seen a workshop offer like this before.

I spoke with several NEHGS staff members during the day. Judith Lucey from the manuscripts department shared with me that they were expecting a good turnout of 250 or 300 attendees, and they were pleasantly surprised that they had to cut off tickets at 700, and they had a waiting list of over 200 more people! There was a long line at registration, and I had chance to schmooze with people. There were newbies, people with less than three years researching under their belts, and experienced researchers like me. There was even a professional genealogist in line ahead of me.

NEHGS offered several services throughout the day. First, each participant had the chance to sign up for a fifteen minute one-on-one consultation with a genealogist. I used this time to work on a particularly sticky brick wall problem with an 18th century Salem ancestor. Of course, I came away from my consultation with more questions than answers, but also with several very good hints for other resources to check out in Salem. My newbie godfather didn’t sign up for a consultation, but I encouraged him to try to see if he could squeeze in an appointment. There were a few seatings left. He seemed a bit confused about what to ask, and where to start. I wasn’t there at his consultation. However, by good luck he spoke with a genealogist from Maine, and he still has her card. Much of what we know about his Gove and McKenney ancestry centers on Seacoast New Hampshire and Maine.

Second, brought professional large scale scanners so attendees could scan large photos and documents that don’t fit on home scanners. There was a fifteen minute time limit on scanning, and all scanned images were downloaded to free memory sticks. There were also many used books for sale from the NEHGS library, and a large selection of brand new book. NEHGS offered free day passes and a $20 discount for new memberships during the workshop day. I didn’t want to lug any large photos to the workshop, so I didn’t take advantage of this. Michael LeClerc of NEHGS told me that members can bring items to the library on Newbury Street at any time and use the NEHGS large scale scanners. This is a member benefit I didn’t know about, and I might use later this year!

I attended the workshop day with my godfather. He is a complete “newbie” to genealogy, and I was concerned that perhaps the workshops would be over his head. The first workshop we attended was an overview of, which was perfect for both old and new users. After a break we both attended “Best Strategies for Searching”, which was OK for both old and new Ancestry users. I learned some new tricks. My godfather had used Ancestry only once, and that was when we tried to find his great grandfather in the Census records. I had to search with him consecutively through Massachusetts, Vermont and then Connecticut in order to find the great grandfather, so I think he appreciated learning that this was not usual.

After lunch we saw an excellent presentation by Josh Taylor on “Discover NEHGS.” We both thought this was the best presentation of the day. Josh was upbeat, funny and extremely informative. He described the library and its holdings, as well as the various websites, their online data bases and card catalog, and the events such as free lectures and research trips. He gave us all a fun description of meeting the celebrity Sarah Jessica Parker, who was in the NEHGS library recently to tape the first episode of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” This episode will air on March 5th at 8PM, and both Josh and Jessica will be featured, as well as her visit to the NEHGS library and her visit to Salem, Massachusetts. I’m glad that Josh was recently promoted to head up education programs at NEHGS.

Our last workshop was on Family Tree Maker. Before the presentation, Ancestry did a ten minute preview of the “Who Do You Think You Are?” TV show, which was very, very good and got the audience motivated. We all cheered when we saw Josh Taylor on the screen. The workshop was the driest class of the day. Also, my godfather uses Reunion, and I’ve been using FTM for about 12 years. I did learn a few new tricks, but we had been “Ancestry’ed” out by that time and we called it a day before the end of the workshop. I wish there had been more workshop choices presented by NEGHS staff members.

The workshops we missed were “Finding Immigration Records”, and “Organize, Organize, Organize” by Rhonda McClure”. Rhonda’s class got a rave review from the woman sitting next to me in my after lunch session. Perhaps my godfather and I should have split up, and compared notes? It was impossible to take part in all the offerings. We also wished there had been smaller sessions offered. With about 350 people in each class, presenters limited questioning or said “See me after for questions.” I ended the day perusing the book tables, and bought a copy of Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs newest book “Strangers and Pilgrims” at a 15% discount. It was a very worthwhile day!

For the purpose of full disclosure, I was not offered passes for the Family History Day by NEHGS or Ancestry, but as a member of NEHGS I bought my ticket through the member website. Both my godfather and I enjoyed the day very much, and both of us were able to learn some new tricks and research techniques.

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Heather, what a wonderful report. I could visualize it all, esp. since I know all the NEHGS people. It really looks like you had a wonderful time. Let's hope they do it again, with the wonderful price (I believe we have Ancestry to thank). Thank you for the info. about the large scanners at NEHGS, I didn't know that.

  2. Thanks, Barb, my godmother was "Barbara Poole" for one of the sessions and she was starting to get very interested!