Can We Get Real About Genealogy Conference Attendance Numbers?

open thread

[Disclaimer: While reading the post below remember that I am NOT wearing any hat related to genealogy conferences or genealogy societies . . . these are merely my observations in the genealogy industry as the owner of As many readers know, I want to make sure the genealogy community is having honest and valuable conversations about the issues that impact us as genealogists.]

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Have you ever attended a genealogy event such as a week-long conference or an all-day workshop and somehow the publicized attendance numbers just don’t jive with what you can see with your own eyes at the event? Have you been in an exhibit hall where there are supposedly X number of attendees and your impression is that the number is more like Y?

What are your thoughts on attendance at genealogy events in general? Do you think that conference and event planners prop up attendance figures, and if so, why? Should vendors at these events insist on a report as to number of registered attendees, number of walk-ins, etc. after the event?

Finally, do you think that in general genealogy events are seeing a decline in attendance in the past few years? Is it the economy? The popularity of genealogy webinars?

Post your responses in the comments or at a post on your own genealogy blog and place the link here in the comments.

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While I may be in a precarious position here since I volunteer as publicity person for several genealogy events and societies, as someone who tries to get our community to view current issues from all angles, I feel the need to speak up about the topic of attendance at these events.

Do You See What I See?

When I am at a genealogy conference or event, I use my observations and analytic skills to figure out what the “real” attendance is.  I can factor in a bigger exhibit hall over last year.  I do a head count when I am in each lecture.  If handouts are left on seats before a keynote address, I can count those that are left behind.

The fact is this and it has to be said: genealogy event attendance is down over past years.  Some events have seen a more drastic decline than others.  Yes there are  many factors such as geographical location, the economy and others, but come on . . . let’s admit what’s going on and have a serious discussion about attendance at genealogy events.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

As I often say, genealogists are smart cookies and we can smell bologna and cheese a mile away.  We are researchers at heart after all.  We do our homework.  We look, we observe, we analyze.

The planners of genealogy conferences are doing the genealogy community and industry a disservice by not being honest about attendance figures.  In my mind, it is much like “realtor geography.”  It means that a dump of a place in a high-crime area which borders a better neighborhood is marketed as being in that good neighborhood.  Think Beverly Heights instead of Beverly Hills.

I’d love to see an organization be up front and admit that it didn’t have the numbers expected and reveal the actual figures.  There is no shame in this.  It can be done without affixing blame. We – vendors, societies, genealogists – all need this info if we are to move our field forward and understand why some events are not successful.

We are only deceiving ourselves by not being honest about genealogy conference attendance.

What The Genealogy Industry Is Telling Me

The facts tell me that some vendors, even big ones like, are cutting their conference exhibit budgets and looking for new and different events at which to appear instead of the usual annual conferences.

In addition, more and more vendors are doing the math and when they add up what they see it doesn’t match what the conference organizers are telling them.  I’m seeing certain vendors pass on some events where they’ve always appeared and they are being more selective in terms of where they set up shop.

Perhaps the economy has had an impact, but it might be more than that.  Has the “portability” of genealogy attendance impacted “brick and mortar” events? I mean webinars that make it easy to participate in workshops and lectures from the comfort of one’s own home or office.  While a webinar will never replicate the in-person experience of seeing your favorite genealogy speaker, the concept has made genealogy education available to the masses and in a convenient format.

Or perhaps the genealogy conference concept needs updating. Are we “doing what we’ve always done” and seeing a diminishing return on the investment? Many of these events rely upon thousands of volunteer hours.  What if professional conference planners were used to improve efficiency? What if the volunteers could then return to running society projects and providing member services to help improve the society and maintain it as a vibrant part of the genealogy community?

Finally, what if genealogy events went more radical?  Have we been following what other industries are doing with their events? What about offering a Groupon deal on registration to bring in new folks to the event? What about using a ticket-per-seat option to guarantee a seat in the most popular lectures?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: if we want to find the answers, we need to admit there is a problem.


This is a great topic for this week’s Open Thread Thursday! And please, if you have a topic you’d like to see discussed among your genealogy blogging colleagues, please contact us and we’ll take it under consideration.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Meet the Presenters – A Free Taste of the FTU Fall Virtual Genealogy Conference


I will be one of several genealogy educations participating in the Fall Virtual Genealogy Conference at Family Tree University, September 14-16, 2012. FTU is offering the public a chance to meet the presenters of this online conference through a series of Facebook chats and Twitter tweet-ups. Check out the chart below for the Meet the Presenters schedule.

A Special Coupon!

Family Tree University was nice enough to create a special coupon code just for me so I could pass it along to friends who want to join me at the conference.  When registering enter FRIENDSOFTHOMAS to get a 20% discount!  This code is also good for any other Family Tree University course!

What’s a virtual genealogy conference?

Just like a conference you attend in-person but with more flexibility and just as many opportunities to network with other genealogy researchers. You’ll find pre-recorded webinars (a total of 15!), scheduled chats where you can ask the experts various questions, a message board and even a virtual gift bag filled with genealogy goodies!

The Fall Virtual Genealogy Conference is a great alternative for busy genealogists as well as those that can’t travel long distances to attend genealogy conferences.

See the information below and I hope I’ll “see” you online in September!

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Take part in pre-scheduled social media Q&A’s to get to know your experts

For a fraction of the cost it takes to travel to–and attend–a live event, Family Tree University’s Fall 2012 Virtual Conference provides attendees with an all-access pass to 15 half-hour video sessions presented by the same experts you’d pay an arm and a leg to see speak at a regular conference, all online, from the convenience of home. Enjoy all three days, Friday, Sept. 14, at 9 a.m. through Sunday, Sept. 16, at 11:59 p.m., from the comfort of your bed, desk chair, couch or coffee shop–wherever you have internet access.

Between message board discussions and live chats on topics such as “Researching Courthouse Records” and “Choosing a Cloud Genealogy Program”, you’ll have ample opportunity to engage with fellow genealogy enthusiasts as much as you want, as often as you want. You’ll also receive a “swag bag” of genealogy freebies from How long, you ask, will these great research materials be available to you?

Forever. That’s how long you will get to keep all the session videos and live chat transcripts. Download them to your desktop and use for future reference, whether that’s in in two months or two years! Find out how to register at

Learn more about the conference presenters and their sessions during our upcoming “Meet The Presenters” social media series. Simply log on to Facebook or Twitter at the prescribed times and follow Family Tree Magazine to watch and participate in live Q&A’s with our genealogy experts. Here is our current lineup:

Thomas MacEntee
Facebook Chat
Wed., 8/22 @ 2pm EDT/11am PDT
Lisa Louise Cooke
Facebook Chat
Mon., 8/27 @ 4pm EDT/1pm PDT
Lisa A. Alzo
Facebook Chat
Tues., 9/4 @ 3pm EDT/12pm PDT
Gena Philibert-Ortega
Tweet Up (#FTUVC)
Wed., 9/5 @ 4:30pm EDT/1:30pm PDT
Diana Crisman Smith
Facebook Chat
Tues., 9/11 @ 3pm EDT/12pm PDT
Rick Crume
Facebook Chat
Thurs., 9/13 @ 1pm EDT/10am PD

Read presenter bios and view the conference program. Click here to register.

Join Me at Family Tree University’s Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference

family tree magazine

I will be one of several instructors at the Family Tree University’s Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference, September 14-16, 2012. I hope you’ll join me and others for this fun and unique event in the genealogy community.

What Will You Find at a Virtual Genealogy Conference?

This will be my 3rd virtual conference for Family Tree University and not only are they just as much fun as attending a genealogy conference in-person, but you get to learn at your own pace over the three day period!

What will I be teaching at the virtual conference? Here’s a list of my pre-recorded sessions that you can view during the conference:

  • Power Up Your Web Searches: Feel like your Googling is going nowhere? Learn to pull those elusive ancestors out from the depths of genealogy websites with this class on how to sharpen your search skills.
  • Tricks for Using The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ free genealogy website offers a plethora of searchable family trees, historical records and resources—but how do you find what you’re looking for? This class will show you how to become a seasoned and savvy FamilySearch navigator.
In addition, you’ll be able to view 13 other sessions presented by Lisa Louise Cook, Denise Levenick, Diana Crisman Smith, Lisa Alzo, Gena-Philibert Ortega and other genealogy educators!

Chats, Networking and a Virtual Swag Bag!

Not only can you view the pre-recorded webinars at your own pace, but there are many ways to interact with other attendees as well.

For me, the best part of the virtual conference is participating in one of the live chats. It is like being able to “pick the brain” of an expert in a subject matter.  Here are some of the chat topics for the upcoming virtual conference:

  • Choosing a Cloud Genealogy Program
  • Best Genealogy Tablet Apps
  • Discussing Source Documentation
  • Researching Courthouse Records
  • Sunday Brunch Free-For-Fall
  • Share Your Stumpers: Ideas for Your Brick-Wall Problems

In addition there is a running message board all weekend long and event a virtual gift bag filled with goodies! Check out the program of classes and events here and then make sure you sign up soon before the Early Bird Registration ends!

Early Bird Registration Ends August 10, 2012!

The early bird registration period for the conference ends this Friday, August 10, at 11:59 p.m. Early bird registration costs $159.99, and is a savings of $50 over the regular registration fee.

To take advantage of the early bird pricing, click here and enter discount code FTUVCEARLY at checkout.

Disclosure: I am an author at Family Tree Magazine and I’ve conducted several webinars for Family Tree University. Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy-related vendors.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee