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Genealogy Conferences – Taking It All In


[This is the fourth and final in a week-long series of posts on genealogy conferences entitled Genealogy Conferences – The Magic Recipe]

I love attending genealogy conferences and events. At times I think there should be a 12-step group for those of us who are downright obsessed with them.  If I had the resources, I would just travel the world attending as many as I could.

In my experience, genealogy has always been like a “secret club” with a “secret handshake.” When I met a fellow genealogist at a party, we’d sneak off to a corner and talk for hours.  So when a genealogy conference or event was available, I knew I’d be in good company and could let my introvert side out!

Especially with many people performing research online, there is more and more of a need for genealogy events and the need to pull people out of their homes and into public spaces to share thoughts and ideas about family history. But at the same time, given technological advances and the embracing of the webinar concept by the genealogy community, an online day-long genealogy conference is not unimaginable and not too far off, I gather.

What I Expect

Here are a few things that as an attendee I like to see at a genealogy event:

  • Good directions on the website and clear signage near the venue.
  • A greeter who can tell me where registration is, where the restrooms are, etc.
  • Event staff who are empowered to make decisions instead of saying, “wait, let me ask someone . . .”
  • Again, clear signs at the venue as to where class rooms are located. And signs outside each room as to what sessions are being held.
  • Lots of places to sit and tables to sit at in the halls and the exhibit area. Genealogists like to socialize and talk and more of us want to check our email etc. with our laptops or notebooks.
  • Wi-fi for attendees.  I’m not asking for free, but reasonable would be nice. And if it is or isn’t available please tell me on your website and the charge so if I want to make other arrangements I can.
  • A good concession stand with good food choices.
  • Each session should have a room monitor to handle room issues (and again, be empowered to make decisions) and to introduce the speaker.
  • Give me choices for the syllabus including download, CD and print.

What I Don’t Like to See

What aggravates, frustrates and just plain confounds me:

  • If there is a charge for parking please let me know in your registration materials and on your event’s website, not as I am pulling up to the venue.
  • Paper – again, give me choices.  There is still too much paper at conferences and events. This includes not only the syllabus but other information, flyers etc.
  • An ill-prepared concession stand.  They should know there will be 900 people attending an event and that the morning session ends at 12:00pm.  There is no reason to not be ready unless there was a break-down in communication.
  • Event staff that are unpleasant, rude, or not happy to see me.
  • Don’t make me wait – if a banquet is at 7:00pm you should be ready to have people sit by at least 6:30pm.
  • Class rooms with no monitor or staff.

New Models?

While it might be easy to use RootsTech as “the” new model, I’ll resist doing so since I already know that more and more events will be incorporating concepts like collaboration stations, unconferencing and more.

  • QR Codes. I’d love to see QR codes on attendee badges so I can scan them with my phone and get a person’s contact details. Also, QR codes posted outside each classroom so I can see what the sessions are and a brief overview of their content.
  • Food Trucks. I know this is next to impossible because most venues like convention centers require you to use their concession and food provider.  But what fun it would be if you could wander outside, find a variety of food types and then sit on a picnic bench and break bread (or a pita, or naan, or a tortilla) with another genealogist.
  • Study Hall. Just like high school. Sometimes I am running from session to session so much that it gets crazy.  I’d love an empty class room where I can sit and help someone with their genealogy. Perhaps even a “drop in clinic” where a speaker could just do Q&A and demo solutions on the screen.
  • Tables in the Classrooms.  I like to not just take notes on my netbook while I am attending a session but I also check in on social media to see what others are saying about the event. In the back of the room place two or three rows of long tables with accessible electric outlets so I can “do my thing.”
  • A Social Media/Tech Monitor. I remember when CNN did a live show every afternoon with an anchor in the studio and a “roving reporter” out on the floor of the CNN Center fielding questions. For some classes especially those dealing with social media and technology that are also in webinar format or streamed live, have someone out on the floor monitoring questions coming in from social media and field them to the instructor and live audience.
  • A Virtual Conference. One where I can check in online, roam an virtual exhibit hall and speak with vendors through my headset, one where I can attend webinars, one with a 90 minute lunch break so I can chat with other attendees.  For me this isn’t just a dream.  It is something that I know can be a reality because it already exists in other industries.  For 2011, this is one of my goals – to bring a virtual genealogy conference to the community.


For me, attending genealogy events is something I look forward to each month.  I love the variety, the people I get to meet, and just the entire atmosphere.

These events are our public face. Often it is how many people are introduced to the genealogy community.  As this series closes I want to thank not only everyone who posted at their own blog or who made comments here at these posts, but all the people who make genealogy events possible. Your work, your creativity and your willingness to openly discuss the good, the bad and the ugly about genealogy conferences helps make sure our first impression is a good one.

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

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

10 thoughts on “Genealogy Conferences – Taking It All In

  1. Can’t wait for your virtual genealogy conference! Thanks for all you do to inform and educate. I highly appreciate your time and efforts.
    Family Tree Gal, Carolyn

  2. I’ve got to second the motion regarding TABLES in the classrooms. I prefer taking notes on my netbook, but even if taking handwritten notes, I need an area where I can write, review my syllabus as I take notes, not to mention have a spot for my coffee or water. I think it’s outrageous to offer classes and expect us to juggle our note pads and conference materials on our laps.

  3. I totally agree with your comments about tables in the classrooms. Of the 10 major conferences (4-day-or-more) that I’ve attended, 6 were at universities, colleges or private boarding schools, and most of the lecture rooms were thus very well equipped. The same applied for some 2-day conferences. Another advantage of holding a conference at such a venue during students’ holidays is that delegates can stay in very affordable student bedrooms, and cafeteria-style meals are easy, affordable and a great opportunity to mix and mingle. (I am still writing my blog post about attending conferences. Watch for it to appear at Genealogy Leftovers soon… following on from my comments on being a speaker and a vendor.)

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