My Take on Genealogy Conferences

The GeneaBloggers community is abuzz about conferences this week. It’s only within the past year and a half or so that I’ve been able to attend national and local conferences, but here are my observations:

I’ve been thrilled with the quality of the information presented at every conference I’ve attended so far. Our community members have so much to offer each other and I have had a very hard time picking which sessions to go to more often than not because there are usually several offered at the same time that I’d like to attend.

I am willing to travel far and wide if there is more to do beyond just attend the conference in the location where it is being held. I’ve not attended NGS yet because it hasn’t been held in a location where I either had friends or family to visit or where I could do research. I attended FGS last year in part because I could visit my sister in Knoxville at the same time. RootsTech has the draw of being in Salt Lake City where the Family History Library is located. I would love to go to FGS this upcoming September in Springfield, Ill., because I have family history there and could do research at the same time. Alas, the timing won’t work with my schedule this year.

At local Family History Conferences held by the LDS church, the use of social media hardly gets a mention. At FGS/APG last year, the organizers regrettably asked attendees to refrain from blogging, tweeting or even having laptops open during many of the presentations. RootsTech got it right. They had a hashtag that attendees could use to Tweet about the conference and openly embraced the use of social media. I hope other events soon follow suit.

As with any type of conference, the part I value most is meeting and hanging out with other attendees. I often joke that I would come to a conference without any sessions if I had still the chance to meet and talk with so many diverse and talented people. I make a point of scheduling meetings and meet-ups at nearly every break and meal during conferences. Those opportunities are not to be missed.

I would love to have the opportunity to attend portions of FGS and NGS remotely, since I can’t make either one this year. I’d even pay for the privilege, especially if sessions were archived and offered after the fact. RootsTech webcasted many of its sessions and those who couldn’t be there in person flocked to their computers so they could take part too. This made the social media interactions that much richer and I think encouraged many more attendees to make an effort to attend next year.

For those who struggle with what to do with all of the material you accumulate during a conference, you might want to check out a series of posts I did after surveying folks on what they do with everything after they get home.

Follow Friday: Luxegen

I had the pleasure of meeting Joan Miller at RootsTech last month, but I’ve been following her on Twitter and on her blog for a long time.  I encourage you to do the same.

Shortly after RootsTech, Joan posted about SEO (search engine optimization) for genealogy. This was one of the most helpful blog posts I have ever read. I immediately put into practice some of her tips on my own web site and in my APG directory listing. It’s paying off. I’m already seeing an uptick in hits to my business web site and this has netted me sales and new clients. Thanks, Joan!

Changing with the Times

I’m going to wax philosophical after all of the talk since RootsTech about a genealogy technology revolution. I recently got to thinking how genealogy isn’t the only realm in which big changes are happening (and I’m not just talking about the Middle East either).

The most recent copy of American Libraries from the American Library Association includes an article titled “Is ALA Ripe for Rebellion?” (January/February 2011, page 84). The Special Libraries Association recently went through an “alignment” process that included an attempt to change the name of the association.

In both of the above instances, the associations are struggling to keep up with the times and the needs of their members. Technology is playing a big role in the challenges they are facing and the solutions available to them. I think genealogy is experiencing a similar shift and the RootsTech conference brought the issue front and center.

When change is on the horizon, it can be frightening and it’s natural to want to batten down the hatches and try to weather the storm, but change also can be a good thing. Consider this quote from Thomas Jefferson included in the above American Libraries article:

“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical… It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” (p. 85)

Indeed, when a thunderstom rolls through, it usually clears the air and leaves the ground ripe for new things to grow. Many in genealogy may view the recent talk since Rootstech as a disruptive thunderstorm, but the changes brewing will lead to many new possibilities and opportunities.

Sorta Wordless Wednesday: Face Time

I created this short movie using the Movie from Faces function in Picasa, which I learned how to do at RootsTech in Geoffrey Rasmussen’s session on “Digital Images for Genealogists”:

"Face" Movie created using Picasa -- links to YouTube video.

As Geoffrey pointed out in his session, the photos in the video overlap using the eyes in each photo as the focal point.

This didn’t work perfectly. I was annoyed when I loaded Picasa onto my computer and it wouldn’t let me upload photos just from one folder — I had to let it search either my entire computer or a large subset.

Also, a couple of the photos that I uploaded to Picasa weren’t recognized as faces (even after retouching to try and make them clearer) and so weren’t included in the movie. It was still fun to try out this technique though. I think it’s a neat way to show the progression of time in a person’s life. I could have added captions to the photos and recorded audio to go with the movie as well.

Here’s how to create your own version:

  1. Install Picasa on your computer.
  2. Upload the photos you want included in the movie.
  3. Select the photos and then select Create–>Movie–>Movie from Faces in Selection
  4. You can preview the movie, edit the photos and reorder them. Once you have it to your liking, click Finish Movie and then you can export it or upload it to YouTube.

Follow Friday: Relatively Curious About Genealogy

One of the presentations that I attended at RootsTech was led by Tami Glatz of the Relatively Curious About Genealogy blog. Her presentation was called “Cool Tools to Enhance Your Online Research.” One of the tools she covered was her very own — her Internet Genealogy toolbar. I just downloaded it myself, but it looks very promising in terms of the links and resources it contains. I encourage all of you to check out her blog and the toolbar, if you haven’t already. The toolbar can be downloaded from a link at the very top of her blog. Enjoy!

RootsTech Redux

I’ve been spending the evening cleaning up my previous posts about RootsTech, which I wrote on-scene using an iPad with limited skill/ability to do things like link links and include images. Here’s the full list, in case you’d like to revisit the posts or you are seeing them for the first time:

RootsTech, Day 1: Toto, we’re not at FGS anymore.

RootsTech, Day 2.0: “Genealogy is about the experience and not proper citation format. People don’t keep doing things that make them miserable.”

RootsTech, Day 2.1: Digital Images for Genealogists

RootsTech, Day 2.2: Digitization of Irish Records

RootsTech, Day 2.3: Still more from Day 2!

RootsTech, Day 3.0: Notes from the founder of Internet Archive

RootsTech, Day 3.1: Photography Brings Ancestors to Life

RootsTech, Day 3.2: Virtual Presentations How-To

Random RootsTech Photos: exactly as advertised

I had such an excellent time at this conference. I love the chance to get to know the bloggers with whom I correspond online and I learned a lot at the various sessions. The chance to use the legendary Family History Library was fabulous.

This event had the vibe of the larger library association conferences I’ve been known to frequent. Rock music was used to introduce the keynote speakers. It also had its very own touches that really made it standout. There were recording booths in the vendor hall that bloggers could use to record video interviews. Microsoft set up a gaming area with Kinect video games, pool tables and more. All three keynote sessions were broadcast live on the Internet along with several breakout sessions. It was rather unreal.

Tweeting and blogging was encouraged and even expected — live tweets were featured on the conference homepage. Developers hung out with genealogists and brainstormed. Bending the rules and creative thinking were the norm.

It’s amazing that this event came together after only seven months. And 3,000 people came. 3,000! Some from as far away as Ireland and Australia.

I’m so excited that they’ve already picked the dates for next year: February 2-4, 2012. You can bet I’ll be there!