Unfortunately (or … fortunately, depending on who you talk to), we did not arrive in time to attend the Keynote session on Wednesday. I heard from more than one person that the keynote address came across as a whiny diatribe about how the Virginia Library and Archives is struggling with budget cuts (who isn’t?), and the speaker never even made an effort to entice researchers to come to the facility (didn’t mention even one special collection). Kinda glad I missed that. I thought the keynote address was supposed to get conference attendees motivated … not make them want to go jump off the nearest balcony. But that’s just me.
We were able to be there for the opening of the Exhibit Hall afterward though. That lasted for about 30 minutes. It was just too crowded for the three of us – because I was trying to explain what each vendor’s service did or how it was related to genealogy – and my mom and daughter couldn’t hear me well enough for it to be worth hanging around. We decided to come back later when it wasn’t the ONLY place for attendees to be.
At this point, I feel that I should mention that the wifi access in the Convention Center and in the Marriott was abysmal. I could never connect to the wifi in the Marriott because I wasn’t a guest (even though I was a conference attendee). But I couldn’t even get a cell signal within the confines of the apparently lead-lined walls of the Marriott. The Convention Center had only two areas where wifi was accessible – and neither of those were near rooms where I attended sessions, and the ability to get a cell signal in there wasn’t much better. Attention NGS: Next time you think it’s a good idea to have a contest that REQUIRES internet access (see Twitter contest notices) – you might want to make sure that your attendees CAN access the internet. There were so many times that I wanted to tweet something awesome from one of my sessions, but I couldn’t because I had no internet access. I ended up being frustrated the entire time I was there.
To give credit where credit is due, I have to say a few nice things about the NGS2014 app. Sure, there were some problems … but it’s technology, so I expect a glitch here and there. I think this might be the best execution of a conference app I’ve ever used. I was able to add friends, sync between my devices (Android phone and iPad), and keep track of my scheduled sessions. Making changes to my schedule was SUPER easy too. Take note, FGS.
Okay – now the good stuff.
When my mom and daughter (hereafter “the girls”) made the decision to attend the conference with me, I made the decision to select courses geared more toward beginners or all attendees rather than the intermediate or advanced sessions I would choose if I were attending alone. My intent was to be able to explain how certain topics related to our particular ancestors in order to make it a little more personal for them. Here’s how it went, in a nutshell:
|Paul Milner – Irish Emigration to North America: Before, During and After the Famine||Jeffrey Haines – North Carolina Research||J. Mark Lowe – Inheritance Laws & Estate Settlements in the Carolinas|
|Julie Miller – Becoming an American: Naturalization Records||John Colletta – Records of the Federal Courts, 1789-1911: Drama in Your Ancestors’ Lives||Michael Lacopo – Incorporating Social History into Your Research|
|David Rencher – Mining the Destination Data||Pam Sayre – Where Would You Go If You Had 5 Days in Washington DC?||Jim Ison – Carolinians Settle the South|
|Elizabeth Shown Mills – Problem Solving in the Problem-Riddled Carolina Backcountry|
|Judy Russell – DNA & the Golden Rule: The Law & Ethics of Genetic Genealogy|
Our first official session was Irish Emigration to North America: Before During and After the Famine. First, let me just say that this is the first time I’ve heard Paul Milner speak in person. Second, let me say that I could have listened to him all day long. Not that the topic wasn’t interesting, or that Paul was not an engaging speaker, but about halfway through the session, the three of us reached a consensus that if you closed your eyes and just listened, it was definitely Sean Connery teaching us genealogy. Seriously though – it was a great session, and I highly recommend it.I really wanted to get the girls in to hear some of the speakers who are my personal favorites – and you can see who I chose (and you probably understand why). The topics I chose were relevant to our own family tree.
I had never heard Julie Miller speak, but (as every American genealogist will attest) naturalization records were pertinent to our research. I had heard this information before, but I though it was important that the girls understand how the naturalization process works. Julie was an adequate speaker and seemed to know her topic quite well. She didn’t read from her slides, so that was a plus.
David Rencher delivered spectacularly … as usual. I thought it was important for the girls to know how easy it is to accidentally mistake same-name people for your ancestor while doing your research, and how to avoid it. My mom said she wouldn’t be adding or changing anything in our tree until she ran it by me first. Mission accomplished.
We took it easy on Day Two – I remembered how overwhelming my first conference was, and I didn’t want to drive them away now that I had them securely on my hook! My daughter actually stayed home, which okay I guess. I’ll just have to figure out another way to get her on board.
We started with Jeffrey Haines, who – literally – wrote the book on North Carolina research. He knows his stuff, and he wanted me to know it too (at least that’s how his speaking felt to me), which I enjoyed. He didn’t want me to just hear what he was saying … he wanted me to GET it. Because we just discovered that we have some ancestors from the Carolinas, I took a LOT of notes.
John Colletta is another speaker to whom I could just sit and listen all day long. Even if he’s talking about federal court records. I think my mom liked him too.
Pam Sayre talked about where to go and what to do with five days in Washington DC … which is important since my mom lives in Richmond and when I visit, we’re only a short drive to the Metro – and all those wonderful repositories!
We left early on Thursday because my brother and I were doing dinner with mom to celebrate Mother’s Day.
Friday was a full day, but with lots of excellent speakers! Another of my faves, Mark Lowe, started our day with more about the Carolinas. Mark never fails to deliver.
I have never heard Michael Lacopo in person, but follow his blog (Hoosier Daddy?) religiously. Hearing him speak was even better than reading his writing! After the session was over, my mom said to me “Now I understand WHY you do this. I would have interested long ago if I had known it was about the stories …” To which I bit my tongue and nodded along. Clearly, my family members don’t read my blog that often …
We learned more about the Carolinas from Jim Ison. I had never heard him speak either, but I thought he was just the right amount of serious and humorous, and he didn’t make me want to fall asleep, so that’s a plus.
After lunch, we listened to Elizabeth Shown Mills. I knew that if I didn’t do anything else, I needed to get my mom into one of ESM’s sessions, and she wasn’t disappointed. Knocked out two birds with one stone there – Carolina research and ESM. Bam!
Last, but SO not least, Judy Russell spoke about DNA and ethics. As usual, it was fascinating to me (and I had heard it before!), but more importantly it was interesting to mom. I wanted her to understand WHY I was doing all the DNA testing (since we had just done her cheek swab the night before). By the time Judy was done with her, she got it.
We made the decision to skip Saturday’s sessions and make the drive home so I wouldn’t have to drive at night. I will probably try to order a couple of the recorded sessions instead.
Overall, it was a successful conference. I have infected another family member with the genealogy bug, and I’m not even a little bit sorry.
Do we share ancestors? Email me: lostancestors AT gmail DOT com
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