To conference or not to conference

GLOBE wwg MINE_edited-7In the aftermath of #Congress_2018 and as Caloundra Family History Research gears up for the 2019 Queensland Conference, Waves in Time, it seemed appropriate to re-post a story I wrote for the Worldwide Genealogists a few years back in 2015. I’d be interested in your views.

To conference or not to conference?

That is indeed the question!

Over the last few months (of  2015) I have been heavily tied up with family history conferences.

DSC_2893 cropFirst it was RootsTech-FGS in Salt Lake City in February and before I knew it the triennial Australasian Congress of Genealogy and Heraldry (the equivalent of the USA’s FGS conference) had arrived.

At RootsTech-FGS I was just there to learn, hit the family history library, maybe do a blog post or two, have fun, and meet up with genimates. Congress 2015 was a little more pressured with responsibilities as one of the three official bloggers (Jill Ball aka GeniAus, and Shauna Hicks) and also because I was presenting two papers. You can meet the speakers and learn about their topics by looking at this summary by TravelGenee, Fran.

We’ve had post-Congress blog reports from many genimates (you can see a list here – thanks GeniAus) as well as a Congress review hangout by GeniAus this week with its “kiss, kick, kiss” approach.

More recently others have been hanging out at WHYTYA Live! in Birmingham.

PROs and CONs

All of which has made me think in general about the pros and cons of attending genealogy conferences and how we make the choice.

This decision differs in some ways from work-related conferences where we have to convince managers and purse-holders that our attendance will benefit us, but also the organisation, and that we will add value in some way by either presenting or reporting back to colleagues. Even if we pay for it ourselves, it becomes a tax deduction (usually).

So here’s my “five bob’s worth” (Aussie-speak for opinion) on decision-making considerations for a family history conference, whether a local, national or international one.

FINANCIAL

money imagePut simply, dollars will be the first consideration for most people. Is there even enough money in kitty to consider it at all?

The funds may be available, but what are the competing priorities or possibilities for the individual or the family? What other travel opportunities are in the mix? (See the later section, touring).

What will the person gain from attendance? How will it improve their family history research, their skills and knowledge? Will the genea-obsessive be joined by other family members?

KNOWLEDGE: SHARING & LEARNING

No matter how long we’ve been researching, whether we’re internet-driven or like to do on-site visits to libraries, archives and cemeteries etc, we will always have something we can learn from others.

Each of us develops special skills and interests, largely driven by the need-to-know basis of figuring out information relating to our ancestors. Depending on how wily they are at hiding from us, we will utilise, but also develop, brick wall strategies.

Others have suggested that it’s good to attend sessions which aren’t applicable to your own family. This doesn’t work for me simply because I don’t get many chances to attend such events as I live a long way from the hub of such activity. When I am spending significant amounts of family money on a conference I want to get maximum bang for my buck, and focus on presentations which will increase my knowledge and understanding of topics. This is why DNA talks were high on my list at RootsTech.

I also look for depth of content from speakers with a wide knowledge of their topic as well as a passion for it. Yes I’ll learn from every talk I attend, but I also want to be stretched.

Probably my key criterion to assess a presentation is whether the speaker has inspired me as well as imparting knowledge. For these speakers I will have notes which include “think about….”and maybe some mind-maps on how it might come together.

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RootsTech 2015.

In the 21st mind-set of entertainment we expect the speakers to be skilled presenters but the reality is that they may not be professional speakers, just fellow family history obsessives who want to share their passion for a topic.  We also need to cut them a little slack.

Of course all this is difficult to assess in advance, so when making your decision you can only analyse what’s been submitted in the abstracts. If there’s more than one talk per session that really interests you (as there so often is) then you should be able to get knowledge value and the option to be flexible.

There’s other opportunities for learning in the many displays by sponsors and exhibitors. What a great way to learn about new products, check them out on-site and get the advice of other researchers.

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The Expo Hall at RootsTech is quite simply mind-boggling.

SOCIALISING or NETWORKING

While this sounds a little frivolous it can play a huge role in your take-home vibe from a conference.

This is your opportunity to talk about family history for days on end without putting people to sleep or sending them running for the hills.

 Congress 2015 bloggers
Geneabloggers at Congress 2015, Canberra.
Thanks to GeniAus and Mr GeniAus for the photo.

Do you know lots of other genimates from blogging or social media? This is your chance to meet them face-to-face over coffee/lunch or an informal dinner outing. One of the benefits of blogger beads (initiated by Geneablogger guru, Thomas MacEntee and shared at Congress 2015 by GeniAus and in 2018 by GeniAus and Lone Tester) is that you can readily identify fellow bloggers and have an immediate bond.

Are you a newbie who feels they “know no one”? Conferences can be a great way to meet new people with a common interest, perhaps even new cousins. Where there’s an opportunity for research interests to be listed do take advantage of them. GeniAus did a great job with the Genimates at #Congress_2018 facebook page which made the newcomers feel welcome and the ribbons she provided made them readily identifiable. Thanks Jill!

TOURING

 bridge and opera house
Sydney Opera House and Bridge and a large cruise ship
– our immigrant ancestors would be astonished.

Perhaps not the most critical aspect of the decision-making, or is it? The venue of the conference may be a temptation in itself. I’m sure it formed a part of my decision to attend RootsTech/FGS as it meant I could visit the genealogy holy grail, the Family History Library.

Congress 2015 was held in the Australian capital, Canberra, which was certainly a temptation with the National Library, Archives, Australia War Memorial, old and new Parliament house and other wonderful research and touring opportunities. Congress  2015 social events were held at the AWM and Parliament House – what a privilege!

And for those who’ve always wanted to visit Australia, perhaps Congress 2018 is something to put on the bucket list? It’s being held in Sydney, perhaps our most well-known city with its spectacular harbour, Opera House and Bridge. Appropriately the Congress theme is “Bridging the Past and the Future”. Judging on the reactions of the overseas visitors to Sydney, it was a popular choice for Congress 2018.

Informal Survey – HAVE YOUR SAY

During a final-day Congress 2015 panel session led by GeniAus, Josh Taylor mentioned that perhaps the term “society” is out of date for younger potential genealogists. Do you agree? Are you a member of a family history/genealogy/local history society?

Also I wonder if the word “genealogy” continues to fully reflect how we refer to what we do. What is your preferred term when you tell people about your hobby obsession? Is it genealogy or family history?

What other things do you consider when you make a choice about attending a family history conference?

Have you been to conferences locally or nationally? Were they of benefit? Have you changed your views over the years?

It would be great to hear your views and comments! Congress 2021 is still under debate, and who knows, your comments might help inform the future.

Congress 2018 learning

The #Congress_2018 schedule was packed with lots of interesting topics from which to learn. Although I took traditional notebooks, I found I was mainly typing my summaries into Notes on the iPad and if web sites were being used, I “played” along with the speaker. This helps me to reinforce what they’re teaching.

What were some of my take-aways?

  • GeniAus kicked off the first session of Congress with her “Beaut Blogs” topic
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    Social media gurus Jill Ball and Caitlin Gow.

    showing features that her readers had suggested were critically important.

    • My question: what is my brand? Is it simply Cassmob or ???
    • I loved her use of the word “automagically”…blogging can seem like that.
    • You can see the blogs Jill mentioned on the GeniAus Pinterest board here.
  • Congress sponsors, the National Archives of Australia, featured a particular Dutch immigrant’s story from their records. This fascinated me as I grew up with many immigrants from the Netherlands.
  • I particularly enjoyed Fiona Brooker’s Across the Ditch It highlighted the importance of checking our ancestors’ collateral lines, and their FANs, and “hatching, matching and despatching” each person to ensure we’ve pinned them down. It also showed that our ancestors were often very mobile, including to and from New Zealand.
  • The Ancestry sponsor talk was lively and engaging, tempting us with the upcoming plans.
    • Did you know that their ethnicities are based on the info in the online family trees? A good reason to make sure yours is online and accurate.20180310_101343
  • Judy G Russell, aka The Legal Genealogist, was Saturday’s keynote speaker and, as always, what a treat as she clearly showed that oral history is lost in three generations – Mr Cassmob and I were “eliminated” with the very first question. Take-away quotes that spoke to me were:
    • if we are to serve as the story tellers and family historians then we need to make sure we’re handing down the stories deliberately and accurately
    • Love, laughter and commitment to being the bridges between the past and the present. We have the passion!
  • I was also privileged to introduce Judy’s talk on Copyrights and Copywrongs…such a vital consideration for all genealogists.
    • I was impressed that there were few instances of people snapping slides – something that is prevalent at Roots Tech.
  • cof

    Cassmob (centre) rocking the Irish bling before the Uncovering the Irish talk, with Heather Garnsey and Greg Ross.

    Angela Phippen talked about the Letters of Rachel Henning and how the content had been edited. Fascinating since it’s a book I’ve had on my shelves for decades. Always go back to the original document wherever possible..you never know what you’ll find.

  • All Paul Milner’s and Paul Blake’s talks were dense with information and I have a number of things to follow up including purchasing Marriage Law for Genealogists by Rebecca Probert.
  • Thom Reed, from sponsors Family Search, engaged us all in a ton of fun on Sunday morning – not easy after the Congress dinner the previous night. When I logged into the Family Search App I could see only two other people. Before my eyes, the list grew and grew, but nary a one was a cousin.
  • Kerry Farmer’s Mapping DNA Chromosomes was another highlight. It helped me to see that I’d been following the right path with my DNA understanding.
  • My geminate Shelley Crawford dazzled us all with her magic mapping tool for Visualizing our DNA matches. Even better she’s given us all a step-by-step guide to doing it ourselves. Thanks Shelley!
  • cof

    Cassmob with Drs Reid, McIntyre and Rushen.

    As always I enjoyed listening to the extremely knowledgeable trio, Drs Reid, Rushen and McIntyre, on Assisted Emigration 1788-1914. There is so much to learn and understand.

    • The trio recommended Robin Haines’ books on migration which I also have on my bookshelves. They are excellent.
    • Don’t forget that Anchor Books have a variety of books on specific migrations.
  • The future of technology in mapping our families’ lives was brought home by both Ruth Graham and Lisa Louise Cooke.
    • Lisa advocated using the historical maps which can be added to Google Earth Pro – all I need to do is convince my IT guru that I’m “allowed” to use Chrome.

Lisa’s final presentation was exuberant and enthusiastic, successfully rounding off Congress and our days of learning.

Thank you to all the speakers who contributed their time and knowledge so we could all progress our family history.

Genea-conference excitement

The last two weeks have been packed with genea-adventures. Firstly it was the Footsteps in Time conference at the Gold Coast which was extremely well organised by the Gold Coast Family History Society and History Queensland. Thanks also to all the sponsors who helped make it a successful event.

If you ever needed proof that conferences can add to your genealogy research offline, this was further confirmation. I don’t intend to single out any one speaker for fear of getting myself in strife – suffice to say I enjoyed them all and I always get a new tip, or a thought to pursue. I was fortunate enough to present on one of my hobby horses “Beyond the Internet” and if you missed it, you can get my handout list of suggested topics here. While my examples were focused on my own research discoveries, each and every one of us can find some discoveries among the records – they will just be different to some extent for every researcher.

I must also apologise to the poor speaker about Trove on Friday morning – I was trying to make a discreet exit when I tripped and landed flat out in the aisle….oops, and a very sincere thank you to the gentleman who rushed to my aid. My self-inflicted drama explains Martyn Killion’s cryptic remark re Congress 2018 that I may be able to stay on my feet….he wasn’t alluding to me indulging too much in alcohol.

The conference was followed by a delightful few days at home with my good friend and geminate from Darwin, and showing her some of the local sights.

Before we knew it, the weekend had rolled around again and it was off to Nambour to listen to the visiting experts Fintan Mullan and Gillian Hunt of the Ulster Historical Foundation. Both Fintan and Gillian were enormously knowledgeable. The venue was packed with people travelling from as far afield as Melbourne (omitting the speakers). Once again it was a fabulous learning opportunity. You don’t realise how unaccustomed you are to intense and constant thinking until you need to absorb a vast array of information in one day. Heaven knows how the newbies felt. Again it was meeting up with a cousin and genimates that was the icing on the cake. Congratulations to Genealogy Sunshine Coast for a great opportunity for learning.

Congress 2018 image

Then a few days ago we had the anticipatory excitement of the launch of the Congress 2018 program and registration. It’s already generating lots of enthusiasm so don’t procrastinate – get in there and book rego and accommodation asap. Yes, the dollars add up, despite the best efforts of the convenors, but that’s Sydney for you and luckily you can split your registration costs over two payments. As speakers register, they are being linked to the presentations in the program. Some of my genimates’ topics are already linked as are my two: Uncovering your Irish roots, a beginner’s guide and  Parallel lives, Irish kin Down Under and Abroad.

Helping to build the excitement and connect attendees at the Congress, Jill aka GeniAus, has launched a new Facebook group page called Genimates at #Congress_2018. Why not join us and get the buzz and good tips about what’s happening or advice about Congress generally? I also publish a weekly newsletter with some snapshots being talked about by Congress participants (unfortunately limited by the number of people I can add).

Today’s Facebook news came with the announcement of another innovation for genealogy bloggers called Geneabloggers Tribe (great name btw!) Great to see genimates GeniAus and Caitlin Gow will be the Aussie team members!

In between all this conference excitement I’ve finally got around to putting time into my Callaghans from Courtown…a blog post or two coming up.

And…my long-awaited Living DNA results have arrived this past week. Whew! No wonder it’s been busy here.