Monday, April 13, 2015

Shhh! A Secret list of Reasons to Attend Your Local Genealogy Conference

This week I’ll be taking a few days off to attend the NewEngland Regional Genealogy Consortium’s conference (NERGC 2015)  in Providence, Rhode Island.  I’m ashamed to tell you that for many years I did not attend this conference.  I had many pre-conceived notions about genealogy conferences, and so I ignored attending.  Let me show my list of “excuses”, and why they were all wrong.

1.  Too expensive -  Boy ,was I wrong about this one!  Every year there is a FREE all day conference held in New Hampshire for genealogy sponsored by the LDS church in Concord.  There is also one in Massachusetts, and probably one near YOU.  No excuse.  Then I found out that there were many workshops, classes, lectures held nearly every week for FREE nearby, click on this link to see what is going on for FREE in New England this month.  You can’t use the “expensive excuse” anymore.  (By the way, at NERGC 2015, the exhibit hall is FREE every day, with many presentations going on in the exhibit hall.  The “Special Interest Groups” and “Society Hour” on Thursday, April 16th are FREE to the public.  See you there!)

2.  Conferences are only for the professional genealogists -  Many years ago the NERGC conference was held in Manchester, New Hampshire right down the street from me.  I went to the “Society Hour” to sit at a booth promoting the New Hampshire Mayflower Society.  When all the conference attendees started to troop into the exhibit hall, I was amazed to meet all kinds of people.  Some admitted they were there out of curiosity and hadn’t even started their family research yet.  Some were newbies who had only recently started their family tree.  There was a young mother there with her 11 year old son because he wanted to learn more about genealogy.   I was very wrong to think that only professionals attended genealogy conferences.  Two years later I registered to attend the NERGC 2011 conference in Springfield, Massachusetts and I fit right in.  There is something for beginners, intermediate and advanced researchers, from part time to professional genealogists.

3.  All the conferences are too far away -  Conferences are held all over the country and all over the world, even on cruise ships!  There will be one near you, even if you have to wait until next year. Some conferences are annual events, and some, like NERGC are held every two years.  Some rotate around a region, like NERGC which switches to a different New England state every rotation.  Smaller one day conferences are held at genealogy societies, libraries and museums, probably one is near you.  Use social media to find out if you can carpool, or check with your local genealogy society to find a room-mate to share a hotel room.  

4.  Whoops!  I forgot to register ahead of time!  Is it this weekend? -  No worries, most conferences accept walk-ins and almost all have day passes if you can only make it for one day. 

5.  I can do everything online-  You might think that is true, but even if most of the sessions are videotaped you are missing the exhibit halls, the workshops, the chance to schmooze with famous genealogists and speakers, sitting at lunch with people who share your passion for genealogy, bumping into your favorite geneablogger in the elevator, exciting discussions in the hallway on the way out of a session (where you learn the “real stuff” the speaker forgot to mention), collecting business cards, freebies and giveaways from vendors, after hours coffee or adult beverages with your geneabuddies, special interest groups,  book signings, etc. etc.  Plus it is much, much more fun to be there in person! 

6.  I’m disabled – Here’s a secret not many people know-  I have a walking disability, too.  Sometimes I can find a big conference daunting, but there are tricks to attending without encountering problems.  First of all, nearly every conference has a special volunteer or staff member to help you with any assistance you might need including providing sign language interpreters, finding a power chair, ordering special meals, mapping places to potty your service dog, etc.  If you can’t find the contact information for this assistance, just contact the conference staff and ask questions.  Often, just pairing up with a buddy for the day or weekend is helpful.  Maybe you just need an arm to help you up and down, or someone to carry your bag? Be prepared and buddy up with a friend or bring a family member.  Maybe they will become your genealogy buddy for other excursions in the future if they get hooked, too!  Don’t worry about being the only one with special needs at a genealogy conference.  Since many family history enthusiasts are of “a certain age”, there are lots of walkers, wheelchairs and power chairs at most genealogy conferences.   I’ll admit I’ve taken a break in the middle of the day, too.  Don’t feel you have to attend everything from 8am to 10pm.  Pace yourself.  Take a break for a nap or a relaxing swim in the hotel pool.  Walk outside and take a coffee break. 

7.  I don’t have vacation time -  Many conferences are held on weekends.  Nearly every conference also has a reduced fee for a one-day pass if you can’t attend the entire two/three/four days so you can go for just a Saturday or a Sunday.  DVDs or YouTube might carry the sessions you miss on the other days to help you catch up on the entire event.  Ask ahead of time since not all conferences allow walk-in registrations.

8.  I have vacation time, but I don’t want to spend it inside a conference room for two days–   Some conferences organize tours to attractions for attendees and their family members, so everyone can have fun.   Try one day in the lecture halls, and spend the other day seeing the city or the nearby sites.
9.  My spouse/family member/ significant other doesn’t want to go to the conference -  How about a genealogy vacation that combines the fun of a tour or a cruise with short workshops and lectures?  Genealogy cruises offer something for the whole family, and then during days at sea, or other off times, the genealogists meet up for short sessions.   Attending a conference in another city can be a compromise, where perhaps one adult and the kids go to the beach or theme parks when the other goes to the lecture hall.    Being willing to share together time with a little bit of research or conference time can make the whole trip work out!  And your family member doesn’t have to step inside the lecture hall at all.

10.  I feel funny going alone -  Going alone can be fine!  You can use social media (Facebook is a great example) to find out who else is going, and look for them once you arrive.  Plan a few meetups with your Facebook friends. Look for a room mate to share a hotel room on Facebook or through your local genealogy club.  If you chat up the people sitting near you in the lecture hall, you’ll make friends to meetup with for lunch.  Everyone has a name tag, so use it to introduce yourself.  Look for people from your own town or state (it’s usually under the name on the name tag), and ask them about their own research.  If you know genealogists, we love to talk about our own families, so you now have the perfect ice breaker for making new friends at a conference.  Look for special interest groups (SIGs) where you can sit down and chat with people about certain themes or topics in genealogy.  I guarantee you will have a good time even if you go alone.

NERGC 2015

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Copyright © 2015, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Can't find the link to NE conferences?

  2. Love this list Heather. While I personally have attended many, I have hear most of these reasons from others. - Alona (aka

  3. This is great advice. When I went (alone) to my first big genealogy conference in 1986, I was very shy - but people were so welcoming, and I had a ball. Family historians who would like to see Australia should consider planning a trip to coincide with the next Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry in Sydney in 2018 ( There is always lots of good content, especially for those with British research. To get an idea of what to expect, read blog posts by genealogists at this year's Congress.

  4. Heather, I'm so glad you decided to brave the conference world and fly out to Jamboree in Los Angeles last year! I enjoyed getting to meet you.

    One other idea for connecting with friends at conferences: often, a conference will have a specific event hashtag--like #scgs2015 for this year's Jamboree. That way, you can find others you might know at the conference: just search for tweets with that specific hashtag.

    1. Great point, Jacqu! I just returned home from the NERGC conference where the hashtag was #NERGC or #NERGC2015. Check out the tweets to see all the fun we were having in Providence, Rhode Island.

  5. Heather,

    I want to let you know that your excellent blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  6. Now that NERGC 2015 is "in the books" I can agree with every aspect of this blog. I want to emphasize one item. "DearMYRTLE" aka Pat Richley-Erickson flew in from Salt Lake City to attend and brought along her AmbushCam for brief, 2-minute aisle interviews with a variety of people. But, if she couldn't arrange for a motorized cart, I can't imagine she would have risked the trip. She contacted the NERGC committee and made it happen. I think it was Pauline Cussone who made some calls and had one at her disposal for the duration of the conference. The other neat thing is that I finally got my "Blogger Beads".....Thanks, Heather!