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Genealogy Down Under – My Recent Speaking Tour of Australia

If you noticed a “gap” in posts here at GeneaBloggers last month, there’s a good reason: I was on a 19-day genealogy speaking tour of Australia! I teamed up with the great folks at Unlock The Past and joined them on the 4th Unlock the Past Cruise (with almost 250 other genealogists from around the world). And to bookend the cruise, I had speaking engagements in several Australian cities before and after the cruise!

The Trip: Not for the Timid

I left Chicago’s O’Hare airport at about 2:30 pm aboard Cathay Pacific traveling to Hong Kong. Yes, that seems the long way around – actually over the north polar ice cap – but it was a cheap ticket. The flight was 14.5 hours long and I was able to catch up on Downtown Abbey as well as a few movies!

After landing in Hong Kong, a short layover of an hour and I was ready for a 9 hour flight to Sydney where I landed about 10:30 am. The trip totaled almost 12,500 miles and added to the return flight meant almost 25,000 miles of flying. That was just the “get there and back” part. Within Australia I probably flew close to 10,000 more miles due to the seven city speaking tour!

Here’s what I learned about long distance travel: wear compression socks, don’t get a seat near the bassinet (yes, they have them on some planes), bring good earplugs, hydrate constantly, pack a change of underwear as well as basic toiletries like deodorant and toothpaste in your carry-on, and don’t overdo the free alcohol.

The Unlock the Past Speaking Tour

As soon as I arrived in Australia, Alan Phillips of Gould Genealogy/Unlock the Past and his family took great care of me. He had arranged all the speaking tour stops, the accommodations and every other detail.

Chris Paton of The British GENES blog and I embarked on a seven-city tour of Australia which included Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, Sydney and Perth. Each event was organized by Unlock the Past and the basic format meant two talks by me, two by Chris and some great demos of MyHeritage and the Flip-Pal mobile scanner by Rosemary Kopittke of Unlock the Past. Several vendors including genealogy societies were there as well and prizes were drawn. Each event attracted anywhere from 60 to almost 200 attendees and while it was “work” it was great to talk with the Aussie genealogy crowd!

Why You MUST Take a Genealogy Cruise

The 4th Unlock the Past Cruise was part of my trip with departure on Tuesday 4 February and return on Thursday 13 February 2014. During the cruise, I presented over 15 different lectures covering mostly technology and genealogy. I was in good company with Chris Paton, Rosemary Koptitke, Helen Smith, Kerry Farmer, Shauna Hicks, Kirsty Gray and more!  I believe there were over 50 different lectures during the cruise and many other activities organized for the group of almost 250 genealogists as well.

This was my third genealogy cruise and I’m still in love with the concept: it is like a genealogy conference at sea. You attend lectures and activities, usually when the ship is sailing not while in port, and you can still do all the excursions and on-shore activities. For me, the networking was the best part! Each night I had dinner with a fun group of genealogists as shown below. We discussed lots of stuff including how the genealogy communities differ between Australia and the United States.

Insights on the Australian Genealogy Community

I love it when learning is a two-way street: Not only was I in Australia as a genealogy educator, but I also wanted to be a “sponge” and soak up all there was to know about how Australians approach their genealogy research and the genealogy industry in Australia.

It certainly was an enlightening trip, and as I expected, here in the States we have more in common with the Aussies than we have differences. Some things I noted:

  • Australians are just as passionate as anyone about genealogy and family history.
  • There is a strong focus on convict ancestors and trying to find your connections to those who arrived in Australia starting with the First Fleet in 1788. One of my dinner companions had traced her heritage back to four “pre 1800” ancestors and another person I met had 17 convict ancestors in her tree!
  • It is tough being a genealogy speaker in Australia if you hope to make a living. Many societies and other organizations do not, as a rule, pay speakers for their lectures. So you have to cross-sell your publications and services whenever possible!
  • There are not many genealogy societies in Australia. Each of the states have one or more general society and then there are other smaller groups.
  • Family Historian seems to be the predominant genealogy database software program, with’s Family Tree Maker a close second. In my conversations with genealogists, I learned that many knew about Legacy Family Tree via their webinars but had not yet tried the software.
  • I received an invite to partake in a barbecue with members of the Western Australia Genealogical Society (WAGS) after the last speaking engagement in Perth. This was a great way to learn more about how societies operate in Australia and I discovered that they face the same challenges in terms of growth, membership, and educational offerings, as other genealogy societies here in the States.

Australia: I Can’t Wait to Go Back!

I wish I had more time on this trip to Australia, but I’m so happy I can cross it off my bucket list. On my next trip, I want to do more sightseeing, more touristy stuff, spend more time with the locals, and also add New Zealand to the mix!

Sunrise over Hobart on the Voyager of the Seas
Sunrise over Hobart on the Voyager of the Seas

I want to thank not only Alan Phillips and his wife Anthea (or “Mom” as I called her since she helped take good care of me!), but also Alona Tester, Helen Smith and Rosemary Kopittke who were all part of the Unlock the Past team!

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee