Saturday, June 15, 2013

Conference Planning 101!

The best conference for me is one where I can combine the conference experience with my own family research. That is why the 2012 NGS Conference and the 2013 OGS Conference, both held in Cincinnati, Ohio, were at the top of my To Do List. My ancestors were from that area and those two conferences  saved me money, time, and effort. 

The FGS Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, can also be the best of both worlds for genealogists, even if your ancestors weren't from Indiana. Think Crossroads of America. It is an opportunity to combine research and education. The Allen County Public Library has one of the largest genealogy collections available with an amazing staff to help you with your research. Combine that with the educational opportunities of an FGS Conference and, trust me, you can not go wrong. 

So how do you balance all this research, educational opportunities, networking, socializing, and exhibit hall shopping? The answer: It is never too early to plan your itinerary. Just remember to keep it flexible, subject to change, and please include rest periods. Having attended many conferences, I know that no matter how much you plan ahead, the actual conference will affect your schedule and you may need to make changes for various reasons. However, you can still create a basic day by day plan before you leave home.

The first thing you need to do is take a good look at your research goals and compare them to the lectures offered in the FGS Conference booklet. For me, this conference is going to be a little different because in addition to my ongoing lineage society research, I have two new things in my life*(see below). International  research and a new cellphone!!

I received an Ancestry International membership for Christmas and now I have a whole new list of brick walls - immigration, Germany, indentures. the old country - I could go on and on. So the number one item on my itinerary is a lecture on Friday, F-332, Passenger Arrivals, Colonial Times to Mid -20th century. First of all, the speaker, John Philip Colletta, is excellent; he is on my top ten list. I know from past experience that I will come away from this session with lots of information and new ideas to help with my new brick walls.

On Thursday, there is a European track and an Ethnic Origin track. Right now I am considering sessions on hometowns, Swiss research, and online resources.On Friday there are German and Migration/Immigration tracks that have my attention. The immigration track offers sessions on Midwest ethnic origins, cluster communities, and the Great Lakes Region. On the German track F-320 looks especially good since it explores ways to backtrack your ancestors voyage across the ocean. F-348 focuses on that illusive area known only as Germany on so many U.S. records

(Also, on Friday, another of my favorite speakers, J. Mark Lowe, is giving a lecture on the distillation process. This has no international value! The real reason I am interested in this session is because rumor has it that my family brought the bourbon recipe to Kentucky. So I will be taking a lot of notes!)

This past week I built another bridge to the 21st Century and bought an i-Phone 5. Verizon made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Being a widow who knows how to live well on a fixed income, I was determined to keep my cellphone cost in the area of $50 -$70. Apparently Verizon finally got the memo. The reason I made the move is because I have come to realize that technology has invaded my world of genealogy to the point where is it difficult to exist without it. So with my new phone I am looking for tech sessions that are going to teach me how to do neat genealogy stuff with my new mobile device. So far I have only found one session - F-338, Evernote for Every Genealogist. Cyndi Ingle Howells (Cyndi's List) is the speaker. The words in the brief description of the lecture "sync with every mobile device you own" got my attention. That would be my new phone. Hopefully the Exhibit Hall will provide more information about things I can do with my new toy. A lot of the exhibitors hold mini-sessions. I will check on this as we get closer to the conference.

Of course my main focus at this conference will be anything that can help me achieve my goal of membership in Ohio lineage societies. My dad's family goes back to  some of the first settlers to float down the Ohio River and settle in Clermont County. On Friday I found T-205 about the Inland Rivers Library at the Public Library of Cincinnati. I will have to check the syllabus to see if this session would be of value to me. 

Many of my Ohio ancestors lived in Kentucky before crossing the river so I will have to attend T-218, Beginning Kentucky Research at the Genealogy Center (ACPL). There is also a session on research at The Genealogy Center. Even though I have done research at  the ACPL and I know it is a very user friendly library, I may attend this session to see what's new. The library has a fantastic website and I would recommend that you use it to plan your research before the conference. There is an Orientation Video in the genealogy section of the website. Keep in mind that the library will be crowded and it is also open til midnight on Friday night.

Since I am a board member of a local genealogy society, I will be attending the Wednesday sessions that focus on organizational issues. The fact that there is so much genealogy information online today has hit some societies causing membership to fall. There are several good lectures on volunteers, websites, publications, projects, and a two hour hands-on long range planning workshop for officers.

Looking at my itinerary, it reminds me of my college days - running back and forth from class to the library to my dorm room. And, that brings me to the last part of my itinerary - rest. You really need to take time out and that does not mean sitting down to eat dinner or lunch. It means planning your days sensibly, going back to your room or finding a place to sit down and rest for the better part of an hour. As I look at my schedule, Friday appears to be a long, busy day, so I am planning an early dinner on Thursday, a trip to the exhibit hall which is open til 7:30 and then total rest and relaxation! Yes, I have seen people fall asleep in lecture rooms on the last days of a conference.

There is a lot involved in attending a conference of this size. Just finding your comfort zone can be overwhelming and it is normal to feel a little nervous if it is your first conference. That will pass quickly as you get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the event. 

I have given you a little insight into how I am approaching this conference. Your experience could be completely different. However there is one problem we all face. Eight sessions - all scheduled at the same time and you need to pick just one! Use your syllabus. See which sessions have notes that will provide most of the information you are looking for. You can skip those. If you still have a problem, check to see if one of the sessions will be taped.

*(Earlier, I mentioned that I have 2 new things in my life. While I was writing this post I got another one. Little William Gary joined the family tree on June 12, bringing my number of grandchildren to an even dozen.)


  1. Sandy, thank you for your informative post about attending a genealogical conference with research at a nearby repository. I couldn't agree more with your suggestion to pace yourself and plan breaks and early evenings to rest. Congrats on your new smart phone - you're braver than I am! And congrats on grandchild #12. See you at FGS!

  2. Well, the phone has been a challenge; much more that grandchild #12. But I am doing well with both now. See you at FGS.

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