Why Should I Go To A National Conference?

By Carolyn L. Barkley


From time to time I write about the value of continuing education for genealogists, one of my passions. With the 2010 National Genealogical Society’s Conference in the States (in Salt Lake City) just a mere eleven weeks away -perhaps the three feet of snow outside my window will have partially melted by then – now is a good time to focus on how you can make the most out of attendance at a national conference.

Many individuals look at the cost of travel, hotels, food and registration and think that it can’t possibly be worth the expense. Granted, cost is very important, more-so in today’s economy, but perhaps equally important is the enormous value that can be gained by attending. After you check out the online video “What to Expect” on the NGS web site, here are some things to consider:

1.  Surround yourself with the brightest and best.

The 2010 NGS Conference offers over 190 lectures and workshops, many taught by individuals who are recognized as the best in the profession. While a state or local organization might be able to schedule an annual seminar taught by one of these individuals, a national conference brings many experts together with the single purpose of sharing their expertise with you.

2.  Increase your knowledge in specific subjects or methodologies.

The 2010 NGS Conference will feature international workshops for Eastern Europe, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Hispanic countries. In addition, on Tuesday (the day prior to the conference opening), “Ask-an-Expert Consultations” will provide the opportunity to talk with expert researchers in German, British, and Canadian research – all at no extra cost beyond your conference registration! The conference offers a valuable opportunity to learn, or refresh, your knowledge of best practices.

3.  Learn new skills

Give some thought to your research goals for the coming year. Are there areas of research that you have been postponing because you need more methodology skills or resource training? If so, review the conference program. Several tracks (multiple lectures across all days of the conference) are available that concentrate on methodology, research essentials, skill building, technology, records, international research, immigration, African American, writing, the West, and more. By focusing on the lectures in a specific track you will be able to structure your time to meet your goals.

In addition, beginner workshops will be provided (on Tuesday and Saturday) for a minimal fee and conference registration is not required to participate. For more advanced genealogists, the Board for Certification of Genealogists Educational Fund Workshop on Tuesday offers a full-day of expert instruction.

3.  Network with colleagues.

I usually share a room with a friend when I attend conferences. Because we are also usually doing some research, we are able to discuss our research problems in the evening and gain new ideas for the next day’s work. This same opportunity can occur in larger groups, over the dinner table. I often learn about new resources, web sites, techniques, etc. during these conversations.

4.  Find new people researching your line or working in your geographical area of interest.

Genealogists from across the country (and the world) attend national conferences. When you go to a luncheon, attend a lecture or a social event, pay attention to information people display either on their name tags, clothing (really!), tote bags, or some other manner, that indicates family lines that they are researching or the state or locality in which they live. You may meet someone willing to find a court house record, take a cemetery picture, or consult a local history collection for you – they might even be a relative!

5. Spend lots of time in the exhibit hall.

Many individuals try to take in as many lectures as possible. Exercise some moderation (your brain will need a rest) and schedule several visits to the exhibit hall. Exhibits provide an opportunity to meet and talk to lecturers, authors and publishers. You will also be able to attend demonstrations of new software, find books and other materials to add to your home library, buy a genealogy-themed shirt, join a genealogical society or organization, stock up on all the filing and organizing materials (get those piles off the floor!), and win a door prize. The Exhibit Hall is a great place to relax with friends, find dinner companions, learn about volunteering with FamilySearchIndexing, and more… Oh, did I mention books, books, and more books?

6. Enjoy visiting a new city.

One of the reasons I love to attend national conferences is that I can go to cities I might never have a reason to visit. Enjoy the area while you are at the conference. Take advantage of conference-sponsored tours that may be available and special research hours that may be available at local libraries and archives. This year, the Family History Library will be providing extended hours, staying open two hours later on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights during the conference. Visit the conference city’s visitor information site for information about restaurants, museums, libraries, and public transportation.

7. Economize

Share a hotel room (at the conference rate) with a friend. Perhaps someone in your local genealogical or historical society would enjoy attending with you.

Consider driving instead of flying if the conference city is not too distant. Given the hassles of flying, baggage restrictions and costs, etc., driving is a much more attractive alternative than in the past – and you won’t have to think about the weight of books on the return trip home. Even better, combine your conference attendance with a family quick get-away vacation. (In this case, for example, Salt Lake City is within a few hours’ drive of some of the most beautiful natural parks in the world.)

Approach your local society to see if they will fund your registration in return for a program presentation when you return.

Attendance at national conferences plays a valuable role in creating a well-educated, professional, and skillful genealogical researcher. Remember – conferences are expensive, but the return on your investment – priceless. See you in Salt Lake!

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