We've all heard of the big conferences and how wonderful they are for genealogists, but what about your local genealogical society conferences? If you haven't attended one yet, you might be surprised at what they have to offer.
1. Small vs. large
I love large events. I attend a particular fandom convention that is going on 6000+ attendees a year! But the sights, shows, and panels can get overwhelming. Getting through almost 10 rooms designated as the "Artist's Alley" and "Dealer's Den" is like navigating a maze. Sometimes there is too much going on and I just can't do everything I want to do, or decide which panel out of the twenty available all at the same time I would rather attend.
A smaller event might be more comfortable for you for a number of reasons. First, if you don't like large crowds, it could be less daunting.
Second, you're less likely to run into the "Five sessions that I want to attend all being held at the same time" dilemma.
But what if there are two sessions you would like to attend that are scheduled for the same time slot? If you choose one, odds are you have a better chance of getting some one-on-one discussion time with the person who led the other one, since you have less people to contend with. So maybe you can get any handouts or educational material from the session you did not have the opportunity to attend, or ask for any particular tips they shared in their presentation. Presenters are more accessible in a smaller conference setting.
The syllabus might also be more detailed than you expect and cover the topics within a session you don't attend, if you're stuck choosing between two at the same time.
2. Locally-focused sessions
The Nebraska State Genealogical Society's annual conference was last weekend and naturally the main focus of the conference was Nebraska genealogy. If you live elsewhere in the United States, but have ancestors from a particular area, "going home" to that state for their local genealogical society's conference may be more valuable to your research interests than larger conferences with broad appeal.
Topics will mostly likely focus on how to use certain local resources, as well as larger Federal resources pertinent to the state or geographical area. So if you need to pick and choose which conferences to attend, take a closer look at those local to where your ancestors lived. You might find it's both a better value and more focused content.
3. But the broad appeal is there too...
I am a New Englander who just happens to live in Nebraska. I have no North American ancestry outside of the New England states, North Carolina, Virginia, or Nova Scotia.
However, the Nebraska State Genealogical Society conference was still valuable to me because they offered broader topics on researching genealogy in general, learning how to find records for certain ethnicities, and using DNA as a research tool.
4. Additional benefits
Lunch was included both days of the Nebraska State Genealogical Society Conference. There were vendors, but not so many that it was overwhelming. The opportunity to win door prizes and raffles was also an unexpected and fun surprise.
I also met probable cousins with shared New England ancestry because the whole reason to attend a conference is to not just learn, but network. In fact, it was easier to meet those people, because I already knew from the syllabus who had New England connections and it was easy to track those people down just to introduce myself to them.
So even without having Nebraska roots, I learned a lot, met great people, and had a fantastic time.
And if, like me, you don't live near home/where your ancestors settled in America, then visiting a conference back in that locality could also turn into a research trip.
Reading blogs, watching webinars and livestreams of larger conferences, and more is great.
But there is something invigorating about being in a room full of people who are there with a shared interest and purpose. Even if you are hearing a speaker present something you thought you knew enough about, a new perspective can often get the wheels turning in your mind and help you see things in a new light.
Now that I'm home and full of fresh ideas from my local genealogy conference, I'm ready to delve back into the syllabus and the notes I took from the conference, and put some new ideas into practice.
Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan