Monday, June 7, 2010

The Rock Star’s Guide to Genealogy Conferences

Why do we go to genealogy conferences? Obvious answers are for the sessions, the banquets and the vendor marketplace.  But while the masses are busily getting their genealogical fix, it’s easy to overlook the alternate ways to acquire information, meet people and have fun at such events. Here are the steps to take the bull by the horns and work the conference floor like a genealogy Rock Star.  Your early-bird registration will never be the same.

Sample the wares.
Get in to the exhibit hall and work the aisles. Vendors will have their latest and greatest products ready to show you. Touch them (if permitted), test them and use them like they were your own. If software or databases are involved, run some test searches using real research issues from your own ancestry. If great-grandma’s history is a giant brick wall, bring her info to the table and make her your test subject. At the very least you’ll get a true demo of the product, and you may even get some information that will help you grow your family tree. Rock stars don’t walk sheepishly by the booths. They ask questions and get the latest information before everyone else.

Talk to strangers.
Yes, this goes against everything your mother taught you (or everything you taught your kids). However, your experience at genealogy conferences is greatly improved when you talk to strangers. Why?

·        Everyone at the conference has a common interest in genealogy. Ask someone where he or she is from and you have an instant ice breaker. Pretty soon, you’re jotting down notes just sure you’re each other’s fifth cousin.

·        You could get lucky, genealogically speaking. Through elevator rides, random banquet seating, airport shuttle serendipity, you could find yourself talking to a Very Important Genealogist, a company CEO, a keynote speaker, or the exact person who can help you get the record you can’t seem to get from (insert the name of any state here). Think I’m kidding? I’ve met all of these people along the way, all because I opened my big mouth and made small talk.

·        As corny as it sounds, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet. Who couldn’t use more friends?

Leave your mark.
Celebrities give autographs. Genealogy Rock Stars give business cards. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a business. When you’re sampling the vendors’ wares and talking to strangers, you need to leave them with something to remember you by. At the very least, your cards should have your name and an email address or phone number. If you add a mailing address, you can use the cards for vendor drawings as well. Don’t stop there, though. Consider going the Rock-Star route: make some 2-sided cards and put your social media information, research interests or surnames on the back. You never know who you will meet at a genealogy conference. Don’t get caught without cards.

Face your fears.
When planning which sessions to attend, consider choosing the topics about which you know the least. Are you clueless about German genealogy? Go to that class. Does the thought of writing a blog boggle your mind? Attend the session that will help you untangle the confusion. When you tend to the weakest link, you’ll eventually build up a strong chain of genealogy education. Face your fears! It’s the genealogy Rock Star equivalent of bungee jumping.

Play hooky.
Presentations are great, but some of the best information is uncovered outside genealogy sessions. Use the steps listed above and get yourself situated to be part of the conversation. In more casual settings outside the classrooms, lecturers, publishers, vendors and various A-listers are more apt to share the real scoop in the genealogy world. Be flexible with your class schedule and give yourself permission to go with the flow. What happens if your favorite genealogy author or presenter is sitting next to you in the hotel lounge? Do you look at your watch, stick to your rigid schedule and make a beeline for the next session? Or do you seize the opportunity for some great one-on-one genealogy conversation? Rock stars know the answer. They don’t even ask the question.

Break curfew.
Great things happen at genealogy conferences including sessions and exhibits all day long. It takes a lot of people to make those things happen and their only free time is at night. If you hit the early hay, you’ll miss the chance to mingle with the backstage crew. I know you’re tired after a long day, but you owe it to your Rock-Star persona to suck it up and partake in the after-hours festivities. Whether it’s dinner at a restaurant or simply a group of people chatting in the hotel lounge, some of the best experiences, memories and friendships come from the after-hours magic.

Vendi, Vidi, Vici
Conferences are short, sweet and memorable. Give yourself permission to experience it all and then go out and do it. That’s how genealogy Rock Stars roll.
Are you going to Southern California Genealogical Society’s 2010 Jamboree this month? Come find me. I have a little something for the Rock Stars. J


  1. Great advice as always Amy. Have fun at Jamboree. I just wish I could be there with everyone.

  2. I'm with Tina: wish I was going to be there, too. I'll be there in spirit, though, especially for the "playing hooky" part. ;-)

  3. What a great guide Amy, I will be there and putting your advice to good use.

    Can't wait to Rock on...

  4. Great advice that I will keep in mind for FGS in August (my 1st national conference).

  5. I like this. Along with the added knowledge and larger network of friends, the energy a conference generates is powerful. It's hard to stay pumped and 100% focused by yourself. The other conference attendees are a great motivator.

  6. Linda, I'll be at FGS, too. See you there!

  7. Excellent advice, Amy, and I am going to try to follow it at FGS in August, especially the card part. Thanks!

  8. I agree with your comments about the benefits of attending genealogy conferences. Since 1986 I have only missed one Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry, and I am looking forward to the next one in 2012 in Adelaide, South Australia.

  9. The conference sounds like many of the sales conferences I had to go to over the last 20 years...motivating, yet educational, plus the opportunity to network with both vendors and people just like you, wanting to learn. Wish I could go.

  10. Great info, as always Amy! I really enjoy reading your entries. Someday I plan to make it to Southern California, although it won't be this year.

  11. Great info, as always Amy! I really enjoy reading your entries. Someday I plan to make it to Southern California, although it won't be this year.

  12. What a creative and entertaining post. Thanks.

  13. I haven't attended a conference yet, but I'll try to keep all of this in mind for when I do! Thanks for the pointers!


  14. I wish I had read this before I met you at Jamboree. I did have cards, and did meet people on the airport shuttle. I had meals with people who are no longer strangers and will employ more of your advice next year at Jamboree 2011. Thanks

  15. Oh man, I wish I'd seen this before I went to the SCGS Jamboree!

  16. Amy,
    I'll do my best to use as many of these tips as possible at the Expo in Kansas City next month. I already have the business cards!

  17. Amy, I'm gonna take your "rock star" advice for the 2010 Atlanta Expos. Look forward to seeing you there.

  18. I really love this post. I've given it a Special Mention in my 'Attending Genealogy Conferences' (the final part of the Geneabloggers discussion).