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.

Having fun at Congress 2018

Sydney harbour bridge

After all the anticipation and excitement, #Congress_2018 has come and gone in a flash. There was certainly a buzz around Sydney’s International Convention Centre as a record number of genealogists came together to learn, meet new genimates, and have fun.

Amidst the whirl it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate just what you’ve learned until you take time out for reflection. This post will be about the social scene and then I’ll get a bit “meaty and dependable” to quote my geminate GeniAus.

Brenda Wheeler and Jill Ball and bears

Jill Ball aka GeniAus and Brenda Wheeler and the bears at SAG.

We started Congress unofficially on Thursday at the Society of Australian Genealogists where we registered and joined the group of mates already busy chatting and comparing notes. Everyone just about had to be thrown out when “time” was called at 5pm. A gentle stroll to Circular Quay presented us with a view of the gi-mungous Ovation of the Seas. Our ferry ride round to Pyrmont reminded us of the Congress theme “Bridging the Past and the Future” and also gave me an opportunity to take a photo of the replica Endeavour sailing ship that is actually 100 tons bigger than the Florentia on which I believe my ancestor, Mary O’Brien emigrated.

Friday was registration day and the first day of Congress lectures. I was kept busy handing out the “First Time Attendees” ribbons (kindly donated by GeniAus) to the newbies at Congress as well my “Kiva Genealogists for Families”, Queenslander and “Blogging Down Under” ribbons. Mr Cassmob waylaid anyone who showed an interest in Genies for Families and provided them with a flyer about this group activity initiated by Queensland genealogist Judy Webster and Lilian provided others. Fran aka the Travel Genee shared some ribbons she’d liberated at Roots Tech as well as promotional ribbons for the Waves in Time Conference on the Sunshine Coast in May 2019 . All that ribbon activity left some people mystified, and others with a severe dose of ribbon envy.

Waves in Time

Will you be coming to our Queensland conference in 2019?

Friday lunch was an informal gathering of random genies in the Harbourside Food Court. Dinner was a birthday celebration with our friend and fellow genimate from Darwin and we enjoyed having a few days to chat instead of an hour or so every six months. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend a couple of other activities, including the Newbies Welcome.

Congress dinner

My genimates Sharn, Maureen, Jill, Chez and Fran were among the “stayers” at the end of the Congress dinner.

Saturday lunch was time out for me after my first presentation, Uncovering your Irish ancestors, and questions after the session. Saturday night was, of course, the Congress dinner at Rydges. We successfully negotiated the Light Rail so were pleased with ourselves. Our dinner table included some genimates, “old” and new and there was no shortage of chatter. Sadly, our construction abilities, and commitment, were lacking despite the efforts of a small team on the table. Once again, “time” had to be called before our group left the hotel.

Darling Harbour

Sydney turned on magnificent weather for Congress, and “cried” on the Tuesday as we all said our farewells.

By Sunday, the energy levels were fading a bit for those of us who aren’t natural extroverts (nothing at all to do with the previous night’s wine intake!). At lunch time I was pleased to have been able to coordinate the meeting of my O’Brien cousin with her Fisher (paternal line) cousin.  Nora has been invaluable in helping me with oral history and photos so it was great to have a chance for a catch-up and connect her to another line.

Queenslanders

Queenslander genealogists – thanks Sharn for the photo.

Monday was photo shoots for various groups and I was sorry to miss the Bloggers photo as I had been chairing the previous session. I managed to get into at least one of the Queensland group.

Bloggers group

Some of the Down Under Geneabloggers – thanks Lilian for the photo.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it was all over. The organisers thanked, friends farewelled, and the group dispersed – until another time. A huge thanks to Martyn, Heather, Danielle, Mel and all the volunteers for their hard work in making this Congress a success: it takes huge commitment to pull off a success like #Congress_2018.

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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.
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    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!
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    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.

Congress 2018: Coming ready or not

Congress stuffIt’s finally here – the event Down Under Genies have been excitedly anticipating – the AFFHO Congress 2018. And it’s going to be huge with 600 attendees – the largest ever held. I guess that reflects the pulling power of Sydney and the growth of our obsession hobby.

This will be my 5th Congress (Brisbane ’94, Melbourne ’03, Darwin ’06, Canberra ’15) and I’m looking forward to seeing my many genimates whom I’ve come to know in the online world and in person. There’s often years between catch-ups but it always feels like old mates meeting again.

Around half of the attendees will be newbies to Congress so we “old-timers” will need to make them welcome, introduce them to mates, and generally help them to enjoy Congress as much as we do. GeniAus has done a fantastic job keeping everyone in the loop with the Facebook group, Genimates @ #Congress_2018. It’s also been helpful for those who are unfamiliar with Sydney.

GeniAus and Alona from Lone Tester blog are providing blogger beads for the Geneabloggers Tribe members. I will have “Blogging Down Under” ribbons as well as “Kiva Genealogists for Families” for those who are members of those groups. I aim to be at the reception desk at the International Convention Centre at opening time to hand out ribbons and chat to people.

Our overseas visitors have been flying in over the past days, and some have been visiting our Aussie wildlife, to the envy of their American mates.

shamrockcutoutfoil_smLike other speakers I have long since submitted handouts (available from 7th March) and my slide presentation. I have my speaking notes prepared as well, so now I’m in full Irish mode: my two talks are Uncovering Your Irish Roots and Parallel Lives: Irish Kin Down Under and Abroad. I am super-excited that I’ll have two sessions to learn from my genea-heroes Richard Reid, Perry McIntyre and Liz Rushen! Other Irish researchers will have the chance to hear Paul Milner on the wonderful Griffith Valuations, but I’ll be hanging out with my genimate Shelley Crawford who’s talking about Visualising DNA Matches. I’m sure DNA is going to be a hot topic at Congress given how keen people are about testing.

I’ve got my Congress kit ready: Whitelines notebook (thanks Shelley for the tip), Genealogists for Families flyers, Opal card, USB memory stick, blogger beads, conference ribbons to share, pencils, multi-coloured pens, my own notes, contact cards, and my promotional bag for the Waves in Time Conference to be held on the Sunshine Coast 24-26 May 2019.

I suppose it’s time to sort out my clothes for the trip and hope the weather doesn’t play havoc with my wardrobe planning.

Look forward to seeing you there! And if you can’t make it, remember there’ll be lots of chatter on Twitter using #Congress_2018.