Geni Podcast: Genealogy Conferences

Posted March 17, 2011 by Geni | No Comment

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Featuring: Thomas MacEntee

Show Notes:

What is involved in a Genealogy Conference?

  • A genealogy conference is usually a day or several day of lectures and presentations sponsored by either a national or local genealogical society or a for-profit genealogy vendor. Some examples include the annual conferences of the National Genealogical Society (, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (, and the Southern California Genealogical Society ( for genealogical societies. Family History Expos ( is a good example of a for-profit genealogy conference provider.To attend, you should register before showing up at the event, especially since there are incentives for “early bird” registration. At the venue, you first go to the registration area, sign in and pick up a conference schedule, a syllabus and other materials such as luncheon and banquet tickets purchased ahead of time. In addition, you’ll receive a name tag to wear so conference organizers recognize you as a paid attendee and so it is easy to meet other conference attendees.

What can one expect from the speakers, panels, and booths?


  • At genealogy conferences, education is the key focus. A good conference should have solid content with at least a few regionally or nationally-known speakers. Topics might focus on the geographic area where a conference is being held such as New England genealogy; a specific time-period such as the American Civil War; or even specific ethnic groups such as African-American genealogy.Larger conferences tend to cover many different topics, often organized in “tracks.” Using FGS 2011 ( coming up September 7-10, 2011 in Springfield, Illinois as an example, there are tracks on Immigration, Military Ancestors, Vital Records, Strategies and Techniques and even one on Midwest genealogy.Almost every genealogy conference will have an exhibit hall where you can meet with genealogy vendors and service providers and view their products. Take time between sessions and at the start and end of the day to talk to the vendors; ask them questions about their offerings. An exhibit hall is also where you can purchase books, CDs, software and even fun items such as genealogy games, toys and apparels. In addition, many genealogy societies will set up a booth selling not only memberships but their own publications.

    Even at the smallest genealogy conference, you’ll find some form of an exhibit hall, even if it consists of vendor displays on tables.



What are some of the biggest and most influential conferences? Here are some of the larger conferences in the genealogy industry:

  • National ConferencesNGS 2011 Family History Conference
    Sponsor: National Genealogical Society
    Location: Charleston, South Carolina
    Dates: 10-14 May 2011

    31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy
    Sponsor: International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies with local host Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington
    Location: Washington, D.C.
    Dates: 14-19 August 2011

    FGS 2011 Annual Conference
    Sponsor: Federation of Genealogical Societies with local host Illinois State Genealogical Society
    Location: Springfield, Illinois
    Dates: 7-10 September 2011

    RootsTech 2012
    Sponsor: FamilySearch
    Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
    Dates: 2-4 February 2011


    Regional and Local Conferences
    Putting the Pieces Together 2011
    Sponsor: Fairfax Genealogical Society
    Location: Fairfax, Virginia
    Dates: 25-26 March 2011

  • Ohio Genealogical Society Conference
    Sponsor: Ohio Genealogical Society
    Location: Columbus, Ohio
    Dates: 31 March – 2 April 2011

    New England Regional Genealogical Conference

    Sponsor: NERGC
    Location: Springfield, Massachusetts
    Dates: 6-10 April 2011

    Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2011
    Sponsor: Ontario Genealogical Society
    Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
    Dates: 13-15 May 2011

    Southern California Genealogical Society 42nd Annual Jamboree
    Sponsor: Southern California Genealogical Society
    Location: Burbank, California
    Dates: 10-12 June 2011

  • For-Profit Genealogy Conferences Family History Expos
    Locations and Dates: Loveland, Colorado – 24-25 June 2011; Overland Park, Kansas – 29-30 July 2011; San Mateo, California – 7-8 October 2011; Atlanta, Georgia – 11-12 October 2011


What kind of person should go to a genealogy conference? Novice, Intermediate, Pro?

  • There are conferences for each and every level of genealogy experience from those who just started to consider tracing their roots to those who are professional genealogists. Some of the larger conferences will have a designation of “beginner,” “intermediate,” or “expert” for each of the educational sessions. Conferences for beginners and hobby genealogists are extremely popular and reasonably priced. Others for experts and professional genealogists are very intense in terms of content and commitment (read as “homework”), tend to be more costly but well worth it considering they are part of the professional development for the genealogy field.

What are some of the latest trends in the conferences?

  • We are living in a post-RootsTech world. For those of you who are unfamiliar with RootsTech, it was a unique genealogy and technology event held this past February in Salt Lake City, Utah and was attended by over 3,000 genealogy and technology enthusiasts.If you look at FGS/ISGS 2011, for example, we are seeing a “greening” of conference practices not only in what goes on at the conference and what is provided to attendees (syllabus on a USB flash drive instead of printed or on CD, ride sharing programs, etc.), but also a push to use social media as a means of advertising rather than more traditional methods such as mailing conference brochures that are expensive to produce and ship. Most conference planners (and attendees) would rather see that money put into either maintaining a reasonable conference registration price or adding more value to the conference experience via more technology, more sessions, etc.One trend that we’re seeing and which might not be a positive is having a majority of the session delivered by the vendors in the exhibit hall of the conference. Look for some balance in the list of educational offerings when selecting a genealogy conference. There should be a few regionally or national known speakers, several others speakers who are professional genealogists specializing in specific areas, and then several vendors discussing not just their services or products but truly teaching genealogy concepts. When a conference sessions are too “vendor heavy,” it is easy for attendees to come away feeling short-changed, as if they paid money for an infomercial.

    Also, the genealogy blogging world has had a big impact on conference content as well. Not only do most conferences now have a social media policy in place, but many have a technology track featuring live demonstrations of web applications as well as hands-on classes covering everything from genealogy database software to Facebook and Twitter.

    In the future I think more genealogy conferences will be looking at RootsTech as a model using concepts such as collaboration areas, a media hub, unconferencing, live streaming of select content, etc.



How can I locate upcoming genealogy-related conferences?

How to register for a conference?


  • Most conferences allow you to register online weeks or even months prior to the event. There is usually an “early bird” price break for those who register before a specified date; sometimes this can save you up to 30% on the conference fee!The online registration process will require you to provide basic contact information and to pay online with a credit card or using Paypal. Some conferences may also ask you to “pick” your conference sessions; often this is only so the conference planners can get an idea as to what sessions will be popular and which ones will require larger rooms.Also, for conferences like FGS 2011 with luncheons and social events, you’ll be able to select and pay for those events ahead of time.

    Other conferences will have you complete a form either online or by hand and mail it in with a check or credit card information. Either way, you should receive some confirmation as to your registration either via email or in the mail before the event. If you don’t, contact the conference organizers to ensure that you are registered. There is nothing more frustrating than showing up at a conference and not having your name on the list!

    And don’t forget you can always show up as a “walk in.” In fact, many times walk-ins can help make or break a conference for the organizers. Simply show up and if there is space available, pay the registration fee and look forward to a great day or days of genealogy education and socializing!


More About Thomas MacEntee

  • Webinars: Thomas will be presenting a FREE webinar via Legacy Family Tree webinars entitled Backing Up Your Genealogy Data on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 1pm Central time. Click here to register.
  • GeneaBloggers Radio: Every Friday evening from 9-11pm Central time, Thomas MacEntee hosts an Internet radio show – GeneaBloggers Radio ( Via your computer, you can listen to interviews with interesting genealogist and companies involved in the genealogy industry. GeneaBloggers Radio also covers the most recent episode of the television show Who Do You Think You Are? and listeners can call in and give their opinions on the show or anything else going on in the genealogy world.This Friday, March 18, 2011, GeneaBloggers Radio will feature a special St. Patrick’s Day episode entitled Celebrating Your Irish Roots. Special guests will include Brian Mitchell of the Derry Genealogy Centre calling in all the way from Dublin, Ireland! Also Sharon Sergeant, Mary Ellen Grogan, Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman, Deborah Large Fox, and the genealogy blogger Smallest Leaf will be offering their ideas and encouragement for those with Irish heritage who want to research their roots! 

  • Projects: When he isn’t busy running his business High-Definition Genealogy, Thomas is involved with many volunteer projects in the genealogy community including:
    • GeneaBloggers: An online community of over 1,800 genealogy and family history bloggers (
    • Federation of Genealogical Societies: Founded in 1976 and representing hundreds of genealogical societies, Thomas serves as the National Publicity Chair for the 2011 National Conference in Springfield, Illinois coming up in September 2011 ( In addition, Thomas serves as the main publicity and marketing point for FGS.
    • Illinois State Genealogical Society: Founded in 1968, ISGS works to not only encourage an interest in genealogy and family history within Illinois, but also provides key research resources for anyone with Prairie State ancestors. Thomas is webmaster and manages ISGS’s new website ( and also manages all ISGS publicity efforts.
    • Genealogical Speakers Guild: A resource for anyone who currently lectures about genealogy or is planning to do so ( Thomas is part of the Virtual Presentations committee and is working to develop standards and best practices for genealogy webinars.
    • FamilySearch: Thomas is currently involved with the FamilySearch Wiki ( as well as a new site FamilyTech ( which features articles on various technologies and how genealogists can use those technologies.