|Genealogists collaborating and socializing at the SCGS 2014 Jamboree|
Some genealogists like to stay in their homes, only using the computer, never looking another person in the eye, never sharing their family history. Maybe because of the fact that I started my genealogy research in the 1970s (long before online genealogy was available), I don’t see that as a healthy way to do research. I love discussing local history with the experts in a small town historical society, or perusing the shelves in libraries, and meeting up with archivists in the state vital records offices. Since ephemera and special collections, which are sometimes never cataloged or listed in finding aids, can solve so many brick wall problems, I find that getting out and digging through the files, and walking the cemetery paths to be essential.
It is in the face to face conversations, often unplanned, that breakthroughs and clues appear. This can be with the staff at repositories, speakers at classes, workshop attendees at lunch, or at the cocktail hour. How can you understand your ancestor’s life if you don’t step into the churches they attended, have a pint at their neighborhood pubs, walk the lanes where they walked? How can you break down your brick walls if you don’t learn new techniques at classes, ask questions of the experts at workshops, or listen to the professionals at conferences?
Sure, some of this is available online with webinars, live streamed video from conferences, and via Dear Myrtle’s hangouts on air. But traveling to a class or conference also involves sharing meals with other genealogists, chance meet ups in elevators and corridors, planned get togethers with colleagues and interaction with vendors in the expo halls. How do you do this while sitting in your office at home?
There are chances to expand your genealogy education near your home, even if you live in the Great North Woods of New England, or in the most rural corners of the United States. Your local libraries and historical societies offer hour long local history and family history hours, often with coffee and cookies for some socializing afterwards. There are genealogy clubs and genealogy societies in every state that offer lectures, classes and one day workshops. Check your local newspapers and bulletin boards. Most areas have free Family History days sponsored by a local LDS church, and you don’t have to be a member to attend these.
At the next level are regional conferences and weekend workshops. Try attending one for just one day to ease into the experience. Don’t forget to chat up the people sitting near you, or to join in with other attendees for a bag lunch or meal out in a local restaurant. Ask questions, pose problems, and offer advice. These can be great ways to meet new genealogy friends you can meet up with later for more classes or genealogy jaunts.
At this level you might find you need to travel to attend a conference for more than one day, or at a distance. This involves at least one night in a hotel, meals and travel expenses (at least gas money). This is where your commitment to your research will shine. Perhaps you can stay with friends or family for the overnights, or save up to cover the additional expenses.
Above this you might consider a multiday, long distance genealogy conference. It might involve plane travel, lots of meals out, and higher conference fees. It also involves taking more time off from work, and time away from family and home. The benefit of longer conferences is the chance to really dig into a subject like DNA or genealogy writing or some other theme, as well as the chance to really schmooze with the experts.
There are several ways I have found to help plan these expenses:
1. Volunteer, perhaps part or all of your conference fee will be covered
2. Give a talk or workshop, and this might cover your fee, or you might even receive a stipend.
3. Find out about scholarships to cover workshop fees, or writing contests ahead of time.
4. Combine the travel with a family vacation. This is why people take genea-cruises!
5. Use your airline frequent flier miles (also hotel points)
6. Combine the conference with a research trip if it is near where your ancestors lived
7. Share expenses with a roommate, bring meals and snacks, drive or take the train instead of flying if it is less expensive.
8. Try before you buy. If you have been thinking of a subscription to a genealogy website, or thinking of upgrading your data base program, vendors will let you play on their computers or offer discounts and free months at these larger conferences. Societies will be there to discuss the benefits of membership (free access to online sites?). Take time to chat up the vendors. Very large conferences will have free computer labs.
Consider saving up for at least one big national conference. Do your research ahead of time to find out what classes and workshops will be offered, and find out who will be speaking. Use social networking and the blogs to read about the experiences other attendees had at these conferences in previous years, and to find out what activities and education will be offered at the one you would like to attend. Large conferences offer many tracks of classes, with choices for beginners, intermediate and professional genealogists.
To make the most of your choice, many of these conferences and multiday workshops are located in Salt Lake City or near other large archives and genealogy libraries. Plan an additional day or afternoon to take advantage of a little research time nearby the conference. You might even find a conference planned for a city near where your ancestors lived.
Once you have made your choice, do your research. Visit the conference website or download the conference app. Plan out which classes or workshops you would like to attend, and which favorite speaker or author you would like to meet. Are there additional fees or days needed for some of the activities? Which classes are at your genealogy “ability level”? Plan time to visit the expo hall, and don’t forget to attend round table discussions or panel discussions. Will there be “meet ups” for people with similar research interests? Will some of your genealogy friends be in attendance, too? Are there activities for your family members, or something nearby to keep them busy and entertained?
Don’t forget to bring business cards. You don’t have to be a professional to have cards, and you can make them at home on your computer. Consider listing your research interests or surnames on the card along with your contact information. You can pass them out at lunch or when you meet a new friend, and don’t forget to collect them in return (write down similar research interests on the back of the card). Ahead of time, prepare a one minute elevator speech about your research interests. Bring along a list of questions you’d like answered by the experts. If you are having trouble with software or some other genealogy product be sure to schedule time with the vendors to get your problems resolved.
Wear sneakers! You will get tired, so be prepared for the long days. Bring a backpack to carry all the freebies and a few snacks (although you may receive a new bag as a welcome gift).
Don’t forget to have fun, too. Join in at the parties and social hours.
You might find you want to do another conference next year, too!
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Copyright (c) 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo