Genealogy conferences are for everyone, including beginners. I have been to fifteen two-day conferences and ten major conferences of four days or more (six in Australia, two in New Zealand, one in Britain and one conference on a cruise) - and I have lost count of the one-day seminars. I have vivid memories of my first big conference in 1986. I was very shy, but people were friendly and helpful and I was soon having the time of my life! Now I always make a point of speaking to anyone standing alone and looking a bit lost, because I remember how that felt.
Why do I love conferences?
- I learn so much from the lectures, the questions afterwards, the trade displays, and my conversations with all and sundry
- I make new friends, and I catch up with friends whom I rarely see. No matter how often I am in contact with someone via email or social networking sites, speaking with them in person is so much better.
- Most of my favourite conferences are interstate, so they give me an excuse to travel and do local sightseeing or research.
- There is always a chance of meeting a 'lost cousin'. I did!
As well as being educational, conferences are about meeting people and having fun. Be sure to read Amy Coffin's Rock Star's Guide to Genealogy Conferences. Another 'must-read' is Sue Maxwell's Prepare Before Attending a Genealogy Conference, which has many excellent tips.
What makes a conference more appealing or more enjoyable?
- Being able to book for the whole event or just one day.
- Lectures for all levels (beginner to advanced), and (for multi-day events) a range of topics - including social history. I want to learn about sources and techniques, but I am also interested in historical context and the everyday life of my ancestors.
- Lectures whose content matches the title and description in the programme.
- A programme that identifies (at the time of booking and on the day) which talks are aimed at beginners.
- Pin-on name tags in large bold type. (My eyes are not getting any younger.)
- A brochure (on paper) with lecture details (time, room number, speaker, title, topic summary, 'beginner' if applicable) and a map of the venue.
- Signs that clearly point to and identify lecture rooms, exhibit hall etc.
- Lunch/tea breaks that are long enough to allow people to eat, chat and explore the exhibits without feeling rushed.
- Exhibits halls and tea-break areas that are not cramped.
- Healthy options for lunch/tea (salad, fruit, sandwiches on multigrain or wholemeal bread, jugs of water).
- As a member of the audience and as a speaker, I appreciate it when computer users are asked to sit towards the back of the room as a courtesy to those who find them distracting.
- A large corkboard (with plenty of pins) to leave notes for other attendees.
- Pre-conference advice about parking and public transport.
- Lecture rooms where I can put my notebook on something other than my lap (a desk, or a small swing-out table attached to the chair).
- A conference banquet that is optional and not too expensive.
- A feedback form in the conference satchel. (We need to praise what was good, give constructive criticism, and be honest in our assessment of speakers.)
- A 'delegate's surname interests' form to be submitted at the time of registration, so that all data can be combined into one alphabetical list and displayed at the conference.
- The option to purchase a copy of individual lectures (by download) or the entire conference proceedings (with a choice of book, CD or USB flash drive). (I have a Web page that lists titles of many published conference papers. If the books are out of print and your local Society does not have them, borrow them via interlibrary loan.)
- Affordable registration, and affordable accommodation on site or nearby.
In other situations a friend and I sometimes share a two-bedroom apartment and save money by preparing our own breakfast and dinner. For one-day or two-day events away from my home town, I can often keep accommodation costs down by booking through Booking.com or Wotif or staying in a cabin in a caravan park.
Which conferences particularly interest me?
- Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry (4 days) - held every third year. (P.S., Apr 2015: I have been to ten of the last eleven Congresses. The next two will be in Sydney in 2018 and Brisbane in 2021.)
- 'Lost In..' conference (2 days) - held by the Society of Australian Genealogists in either Sydney or a country centre, usually the first weekend in November. Themes have included 'Lost in London', 'Lost in a Woman's World', 'Lost in Black Sheep' and 'Lost in the Internet'.
- NSW & ACT State Conference (2 days) - held every year, usually in September.
- Victorian State Conference (2 days) - held every third year.
Sources of information vary from country to country, but examples include the Unlock The Past Web site, the AUS-GEN-EVENTS Rootsweb mailing list (or its overseas counterparts), Geneabloggers calendar, and (for the UK) GENEVA. I also use a Google Alert, and I 'search blog posts' for 'conference' in the Genealogy Blog Finder.
What does the future hold?
I think 'live streaming' sessions by remote/overseas speakers will become more common (especially if that reduces conference costs and registration fees). And I sincerely hope that Australian conferences will introduce lectures and networking opportunities for genealogy bloggers!
Other people's thoughts on attending genealogy conferences?
- Amy & Sue (see the links above).
- Thomas: Genealogy Conferences.
- Patricia: Genealogical Conference - Taking it all in.
- Helen: Attending Genealogy Conferences.
- Joan: Confessions of a Genea-Conference Groupie.
- Missy: My Take on Genealogy Conferences.
- Lynn: How to Persuade Me to Attend More Genealogy Conferences and 2011 Genealogy Conferences - Who Deserves Your Money?
- Marian: Totally Random Thoughts on Attending Conferences.
- Randy: Attending Genealogy Conferences: My View.
- Elyse: Conferences and Seminars, Oh My!.
- Valerie: Genealogy Conferences - My View.