Attending Genealogy Conferences in the Post-COVID-19 Era

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega gives tips for attending an in-person genealogy conference based on her own recent experience. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

I recently attended the annual National Genealogical Society (NGS) conference, held this year in Sacramento, California. While not the first, it was one of the first in-person genealogy conference since 2020. There’s no doubt that many attendees were eager to see friends, hear their favorite presenters in-person, and in general, just get out of the house. The experience had me thinking about how conferences might look for the foreseeable future, which will in some ways be very different than the genealogy conferences in the past. The following four items are important to consider as you decide on the next genealogy conferences you want to attend.

1) Rules to Attend. As you contemplate which conferences to attend, make sure to study the conference website. On it you’ll learn of any health guidelines that must be followed for in-person attendance. Conference requirements may be different than the recommendations for that particular state or county. Avoid disappointment by making sure you have read these guidelines and if you have questions, contact the conference organizers before making any travel arrangements.

2) Hybrid Options. Let’s face it, we are all used to webinars and learning from the comfort of our homes. These options have opened up events to family historians who may not have been able to attend events in the past due to work, family, and financial obligations. That’s a great thing for a diverse community. What that means for conference goers is that now you may have the option of watching live-streams or recorded presentations from home in addition to attending the in-person event. There are pros and cons to each option, so you will need to take a look at the presentations, hours, and any limitations to the option you are most interested in. Make sure to clarify with yourself why you want to attend (virtually or in-person) and what you hope to learn as you make decisions about your participation.

3) Technology Is King. I have to admit I LOVE syllabi material. I like it printed, but a flash drive is also a great option. I read each page and make notes. But that option is slowly fading away. NGS offered an app, and that’s where the syllabi could be found. The app provided opportunities for attendees to network with each other, see the latest conference schedule, and access materials. What this means is that if you’re like me, you’ll want to either print out handouts before attending and bring a notebook, or remember the password to your mobile device app store. NGS isn’t the first to use a conference app, but it definitely appears that’s where conferences are headed.

4) The Exhibit Hall Is Different. Conference exhibit halls pre-COVID were places that became crowded and noisy in between sessions and at lunch. You could sit down with vendors and learn more about their products and services. You might have even heard additional presentations outside of the published conference schedule. However, today things are expensive (travel, for example) and vendors have other ways to reach their audience (so many online options), so exhibit halls will likely evolve and transform as well. With that being said, check out the exhibit hall for the in-person conference you are attending; however, if the vendor you really wanted to talk to isn’t there, call their customer service, email, or contact them via social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

One last tip I’ll share: when conferences started offering online options, one of the laments I heard over and over again from attendees is that they paid for or saved presentations to watch and never got around to it. Believe me, if you don’t watch that presentation in six months, chances are you never will. If you are not physically attending a conference, make an appointment with yourself during the days of the conference to watch those videos. Life gets in the way, and watching it tomorrow is less likely to happen as time speeds by. Don’t lose access to that must-have presentation (or not get what you paid for) because time seemingly flew by.

Going to a Conference?

Conferences in the post-COVID-19 world are different and that’s ok. Life evolves and what worked years ago doesn’t necessarily work today. The key is to know exactly what is being offered and how you can get the most for your time and money. Do yourself a favor and study the conference website, follow the conference or hosting organization on social media, and ask questions if you need to. Doing those things will help you make the most of your conference experience.

Note on the header image: “Genealogy” logo designed and copyrighted by Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

One thought on “Attending Genealogy Conferences in the Post-COVID-19 Era

  1. I also attended the NGS conference. I wish I could have met you! This was my first genealogy conference in person.

    1. Rules to Attend – I understood the safety of wearing a mask, but I will be very, very happy to attend a conference without one!

    2. Hybrid Options – I often never get around to watching online conferences I have paid for except when it is live. I need to work on scheduling that but it is hard.

    3. Technology Is King – I loved the conference app. I attended a meet up and looked up and connected with people but didn’t get much followup to meet in person. Some people didn’t utilize the app. I printed some of the syllabi to take notes beforehand. I missed having a nice printed conference brochure or packet for a keepsake.

    4. The Expo Hall Is Different – I would have loved to have gone to a conference pre-COVID. The vendors were interesting, but it wasn’t a terribly happening place. I did get some swag, mainly pens and badge stickers.

    I really enjoyed being able to see and meet speakers I have known for 2 years in person. The sessions were great. I was a delegate and learned quite a bit. The added expenses of the lunches, wine tasting, 50s party, and banquet meant I could only afford one so I did the wine tasting. No one I know attended the conference and even though everyone was friendly and welcoming, it was a rather isolating experience. I listened to quite a few people talking to their genealogy buddies during breaks about their ancestors and it would have been nice to have had a partner there. I still think I’ll try to attend NGS in Richmond in 2023.

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