I returned from Raleigh, North Carolina on Sunday evening after a very busy and fun 4 days at the National Genealogy Conference. Since this was my first time attending a genealogy conference of this size, I thought I would share my experience in the hopes that if you have not attended a conference yet you can jump the learning curve.
First I would recommend you spend some time in advance looking at the syllabus. I received my syllabus in CD format when I arrived and so I did not have an opportunity to familiarize myself with the contents before the lectures began. Although some people did bring their laptops I chose not to carry it with me nor does mind have a very long battery life. So I was unable to preview the syllabus for the first days classes and maybe had I done that I would of chose better. I had about a 50% success rate that first day. Meaning half the classes were relevant and interesting and half were not. The syllabus would have helped. This first conference also allowed me the opportunity to get familiar with some of the speakers. I definitely have a couple of favourites now and in future conferences I will seek out their lectures. And unfortunately there were a few speakers who will not see me again. Reading from a text book is not what I call a captivating lecture. Don't let that scare you ,being informed about the speakers and their topics will help you in choosing wisely. Unfortunately, you cannot video or audio tape these speakers. You are welcome to take notes and the syllabus is a great tool. My advice is to print off the syllabus ahead of time take that with you and then use that to add further details to these notes. Some chose to have all the syllabus for all the lectures for the entire 4 days come to them in a book form. More expensive and you have to carry this very large book around with you all week. However I have to admit it makes a great source of reference.
Dress for Comfort
Dress comfortably and bring a light jacket or sweater. Even though it was mid 80 degree weather in Raleigh and very humid, the conference centre was quite cool probably to keep everyone awake and stimulated. Some lecture rooms were freezing. So bring a sweater.Seek out the nearest Starbuck's because about 3pm when you hit the wall and you still have one more lecture to go you will need shot of caffeine. Carry a bottle of water with you. It was a long walk to the refreshment area and I'm sure a tad expensive and often there was limited time between lectures to get there and back and get a decent seat in some of the more popular lectures.
Location, Location, Location
The location of your conference plays a major role in your success. This year's conference was in North Carolina and needless to say alot of the lectures were geared around the southern states which limited my choice of lectures to attend. I have no ancestors from the states. So in retrospect it may have been to my advantage to attend the Ontario Genealogy conference being held in Oakville later this month. If a conference is coming to a city near you then make that your first conference. This keeps the expense down. If you have to fly and stay in a hotel room on top of the cost of the conference itself, your meals and any other goodies you may happen to purchase at the exhibitors hall, you may find your conference totalling close to $1000. You can bring this cost down if you plan well. This is a good opportunity to thank my cousin Donna who allowed us to stay at her lovely home in Raleigh for the duration of our trip. Thanks Donna. Next year the conference will be held in Salt Lake City Utah. Once again this location does not pertain to my ancestors but this conference will be adjacent to the Family History Centre which will provide us will an incredible resource for family history research. The dates are April 28th-May 1st, 2010. Mark it on your calendar.
The exhibitors hall played a much larger roll in my week then I anticipated. I expected find family history magazines. I expected to find the major players like Ancestry.com and Family Search. I did not expect numerous companies with large amounts of reference books and Cd's. Next time, I would do a little research in advance about which books where high on my priority list and make a few notes to bring with me and focus on finding them. I showed great restraint in not purchasing a suitcase full of books. Many of these exhibitors offer websites so if you can't carry it home, you can go to there website and order it. But of course, you tack on the shipping costs. My suggestion, go with a wish list and a budget and stick to it. It is so easy to get caught up in the frenzy. I also discovered you may have to attend the exhibitors hall several times in order to take it all in. Often times it was crowded and I couldn't get access to the booth so I passed it by or there seemed to be a couple of aisles that captured all my attention and I know a few aisles I didn't get back to. Purchase early. Exhibitors come with limited product and you could be disappointed if you wait until the end of the conference to make your purchases.
At the end of the day, have fun. If you are an armchair genealogist like myself then you know we enjoy the adventure of seeking out our ancestors. If you have been in your armchair for far too long then it is time to add a new adventure to your genealogy experiences and attend a conference. It is a great opportunity to learn, it really will push your research forward and open new doors for you and your family history. You will come away with some new resources, some new ways to look at your brick walls, maybe find some back doors. You will most likely meet some new people and in general just become more familiar with the genealogy world beyond your laptop and lazyboy.