07 June 2019
Last weekend was the 50th Anniversary of the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank, California. I was lucky enough to attend the four-day extravaganza which featured lectures on everything from DNA to using the Canadian censuses. Pre-eminent speakers such as Judy Russell, Josh Taylor and Blaine Bettinger were there to share their expertise with attendees, and there was a large exhibit hall staffed by knowledgeable representatives from companies such as Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com.
Large conferences such as this have long been the best way for genealogists to leave the isolation of their own offices and have chances to interact with the movers and shakers in the genealogy world. Sadly, this seems to be changing; many of the conferences, including Genealogy Jamboree, now live-stream many of their lectures in addition to providing audio recordings of others. While this is a great way for a stay-at-home genealogist to get some of the benefits of the conferences, it’s really not the same as actually being there in person.
After having attended several large conferences and live-streamed others, I think that there is no substitute for being there in real time. Admittedly, attending a conference in California (or Washington, D.C. or Boston or elsewhere) is much more expensive than watching lectures at home, in front of your computer, but nothing can compare the thrill of meeting one of your favorite lecturers in the hotel elevator and getting a chance to chat with him or her in person. Looking at products in person and being able to ask a real-live person a question before you buy is worth the trip. Last weekend I was able to solve a longtime glitch that I’d been having with my account on Ancestry, for example. Numerous telephone calls and live chats online had ended with no results, but a few minutes working with a rep in person solved my issues. Watching a webinar or lecture online can be a great experience, but getting to see the speaker up close and personal and having her stop by after the lecture for a few minutes of chat about the databases she’d just described is even better. Paula Stuart Warren did just that last weekend, and my friend and I both agreed it was one of the highlights of this, or any other, conference.
And then, there are less easy to classify benefits of a conference – the energy and revitalization that meeting and talking to other like-minded folks who are also attending the conference produces. One of my favorite parts of last weekend’s conference was being able to talk to so many folks before and after lectures; genealogists are such nice folks, and all of us love to talk to each other, and seeing literally hundreds of them all together is a great way to get re-enthused about your own research. We all spend so much time alone in front of our computers that it’s easy to forget that there are other flesh and blood people out there who share our passion; attending a conference can help us connect with some of them in real time, not just via email.
Unfortunately, it seems that fewer genealogists share my enthusiasm for the up close and personal aspect of conferences, since it appeared to me that attendance was down at the Jamboree this year. Sadly, the organizers have just announced that Jamboree will be taking a hiatus next year to retool. Most likely, that retooling will include more digitized lectures and fewer in person opportunities. I’ll be sorry to see that happen; while there are still conferences available in person, I intend to attend as many as I can because it’s really those of us who attend who drive what happens with these conferences and seminars. If enough of us stay home, there won’t be any more live conferences. It’s as simple as that.
Fortunately, those of us in Larimer County have a wonderful opportunity coming up in September to enjoy a taste of up close and personal at our Conference for a Cause featuring Judy Russell. It’s close and relatively inexpensive, and I guarantee that once you get a taste of a live conference, you’ll want to attend more of them. So, I’ll hope to be seeing you in September.
Director at Large/Researcher