Why I Won’t Be Speaking at FGS 2013


Rejection is never easy, but I’m posting about not being selected to speak at the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ Annual conference in August 2013 in a proactive way since I know I’ll eventually be bombarded with questions from members of the genealogy community in person and on social media channels.

Am I disappointed?  Sure.  Am I devastated? Not in the least.  I could go and sulk or act out publicly and go on a rant, but I’ve taken time to put this into perspective since I was informed of my rejection last night. Earlier in the week I was informed that none of the sponsored lectures I had submitted for clients were accepted.  So I had a sense that many, if not all, of my personal topics might be rejected as well.

I’m Not Entitled To Speak Anywhere. Period.

Some might say that since I am a genealogy speaker of some notoriety, and that I am a board member for FGS, and that Ft. Wayne, Indiana is right in my back yard, that I should “get to” speak at the FGS 2013 conference. Oh how I abhor those two words which are so overused in today’s society.

When I was growing up, it was made very clear to me that I was entitled to nothing in life. Not because of who I was or who my family was. Much of what I encountered in life would be according to my efforts and abilities in combination with luck and providence.  That’s just the way it is and I still believe that.

I consider it an honor when I am selected to speak at an event, whether it is a one hour lecture in front of five people at a genealogy society or at a large conference in front of 1,000 people. I am blessed by the fact that I have presented close to 100 lectures and webinars in 2012 and will probably do the same in 2013 and years to come.

The program committee at FGS 2013 has to make decisions based on the topics and speakers they think are best for their event in order to not only attract the most attendees, but to provide quality genealogy and genealogy society management education.  I look forward to seeing the final list of selections and I know that many of my colleagues will be presenting some great lectures.  I look forward to attending as many of them as I can.  Yes, I’ll be going to FGS 2013.

What I Had Hoped to Present

In case you’re wondering what I submitted to the FGS 2013 program committee, here is the list of topics:

  • 21st Century Marketing for Genealogy Societies
  • Genealogical Uses for QR Codes
  • Introduction to Webinars
  • Staying Safe Using Social Media
  • Tech Initiatives for Genealogy Societies
  • The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program
    is Right For You
  • The Homestead Act and Genealogy
  • What Every Genealogist Should Know About Copyright
  • Your Society’s Presence on Facebook

In addition, I submitted these sponsored lectures:

  • Collecting the Fabric of a Life
  • Metadata for Digital Images
  • Pinning Your Family History

The ironic part is that all of the sponsored lectures and several of my personal lectures were accepted at the upcoming Ohio Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 25-27, 2013.

The Genealogy Conference System Has Its Flaws

This is not sour grapes on my part.  Anyone who has had discussions with me about the genealogy industry and genealogy conferences knows that I’ve been critical of certain aspects of these industry events. Most are run by volunteers and non-profit organizations which have served us well in years past, but as the genealogy business grows, a need for more professional methods and practices may be needed.

  • There is a need for a better notification system.  I was informed by a colleague on Sunday evening that she had been selected to speak at FGS 2013 and asked which lectures I was presenting. I figured that not all the notices had been sent which was confirmed via my email to the Program Chair. Either a system of sending notifications a few at a time was used (which doesn’t make sense given today’s technology) or someone just didn’t want to inform me of my rejection.  Either way, there needs to be a better mousetrap.  Given the amount of work that speakers put into making proposals, there needs to be an efficient way of notifying those who submit lectures and each submitter, including those rejected, should receive a notice at the same time.
  • Genealogy conference program committees are unpredictable. Some would even say “out of touch,” but I’m not sure I would go that far. I’ve attended national conferences where many felt a particular person had no business lecturing, but was able to do so because of some little letters after his or her name.  I also don’t understand why qualified African-American genealogists are blatantly overlooked each year as speakers on the national level. I’d love to see each and every conference, large and small, publish its guidelines as to the selection process including who is on the program committee. Transparency would go a long way in building confidence in the process and ensuring the best possible education for the genealogy community.

I’m Okay With This. Really.

I was honored to receive a personal phone call from a FGS Board member last evening apologizing for my not being selected.  I said there was no need for an apology and that I realize that I can’t get every speaking opportunity.

I always turn rejection into rebound.  This is what my ancestors did and this is what I’ll continue to do. It is part of survival and a key part of my success.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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 GeneaBloggers.com. 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.

* * *

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 Ancestry.com, 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!

* * *

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 ShopFamilyTree.com. 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 http://www.familytreeuniversity.com/virtual-conference.

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.