Why should you attend a genealogy conference?
- Wonderful Educational Opportunities
Presentations and lectures from some of the world's best genealogists offer you the chance to learn new techniques and methodologies no matter what your experience level. Topics can range from the simple How to Find Your Ancestors, to the more advanced Land Platting, or the esoteric, Mitochondrial DNA in Genealogy Research. Most lectures offer a period for Q&A and presenters welcome questions from the audience. Don't be afraid to ask for more details as long as you stay on topic. This is a wonderful opportunity to get answers from a genealogy expert!
- Lecture Notes and Tape Recordings
Most conferences include a syllabus for all registered attendees. This syllabus contains the lecture notes and handouts for every session. These handouts often contain bibliographies and Web sites for further research of the topic, and are a wonderful resource for lectures you are unable to attend. The national and larger regional genealogy conferences will also usually offer tape recordings of the various presentations for purchase, so that you can listen to or review a lecture in the comfort of your own home.
- The Best Genealogy Products and Services
Most regional and national conferences have an exhibit hall packed with the latest genealogy books, software, products, and services. This is your chance to actually look at and even try out products which you would normally have to order through the mail or online. Many vendors offer special show discounts to people attending the conference, others offer free samples, and for those of you who are not impulse buyers, there will be a plentitude of literature for you to take home.
- Hands-on Computer Labs
A necessary addition to the genealogy conference agenda in recent years, genealogy computer labs are available at many conferences and offer demonstrations of major genealogy software programs and Web sites. This gives you the opportunity to "try before you buy" if you are in the market for a new program, learn new tips and tricks for making the best use of your current genealogy program, or learn a little more about the wealth of information available on various Internet genealogy sites. Vendors in the exhibition hall are also very eager to answer questions, provide demonstrations, and even provide one-on-one training.
- Genealogy Books Galore
While I mentioned the wealth of genealogy products and services available at conferences in #1, the book dealers deserve a special mention. Genealogy books are an invaluable resource and are hard for many of us to find and obtain. Genealogy conferences will have shelves and shelves of books available for purchase, affording you the opportunity to browse through a book to determine if it will really be helpful to your research before you buy. You will also usually find book dealers who specialize in hard-to-find or out-of-print books, and family history societies who offer a variety of family and local history books.
- Networking Opportunities
Nowhere else in the world will you find such a large group of people with your love of genealogy as at a genealogy conference. Read people's nametags to find people with surnames you are researching or people from an area in which you have roots. Make up business cards with your name and contact information and your list of primary surnames. This makes it easy to exchange information with other researchers. Use every opportunity to strike up conversations with fellow genealogists - in the elevator, while standing in line, on the shuttle bus from the hotel, etc. You never know when you might find someone with a common research interest and/or ancestor!
- Luncheons and Banquets
One of the most refreshing aspects of a genealogy conference is that everyone in attendance understands and shares your passion for the hobby. You can talk about your ancestors and compare research notes, without anyone asking you why you are interested in a bunch of dead people! The speakers at such events are usually very entertaining and informative and their presentations are often a topic of conversation throughout the conference. Genealogy luncheons and banquets are my favorite place to make new friends :-)
- Genealogical & Family History Societies
Joining a genealogical society or two is a great way to keep up with connections or friends that you have made even after you return home. Many of the larger societies will have booths in the exhibit hall where you can speak to members and pick up brochures and registration information. Some conferences go even one step further, such as the "Family History Fair" at the annual National Genealogical Society Conference.
- Research Opportunities
Conferences are strategically located near major research libraries or other genealogical repositories, whether at the local or regional level. Many of them will remain open for extended hours for the duration of the conference and may even offer a special session on the use of the facility for conference participants. Just because the conference is located in an area where you are not researching, don't discount these excellent facilities. Many libraries maintain extensive collections which are outside the interests of local researchers. Take the time before you leave home to familiarize yourself with the information that the library contains, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
- Wonderful New Friends
I am sure that I am probably biased in this regard, but genealogists are some of the nicest, friendliest people in the world. I have attended conferences where I did not know a soul and have always managed to make new friends. Conferences are always alive with conversation in elevators, before and after lectures, on the hotel shuttle buses, and at luncheons and other planned events. Genealogists don't seem to hesitate at introducing themselves or swapping research stories and tips. The new friendships which blossom at these conferences are probably their greatest asset.