Family Tree

Thanks to a free HBO Freeview this weekend, I was able to watch Family Tree, the HBO television series by Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock. Finally. For months I’ve followed chatter about the show on Twitter. And now I know what all the fuss is about. The show is fantastic! Love the writing — although I use that word very loosely! Love the characters — everyone will find some resemblance to one’s own circle of family, friends, and acquaintances. Who doesn’t have a family member with some odd quirks? Who doesn’t have a friendship spanning a long time? Who hasn’t met someone who knows a little about a lot? Genealogists will immediately relate to the twists and turns of family history research — things are not always as they appear. Even with a magnifying glass. So cheers to the “Chadwick” family! I can identify!

FGS 2013

The Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference recently held in Fort Wayne, Ind., from August 21-24, 2013, did not disappoint this blogger. As with other genealogy programs, the professionalism and knowledge shared by all presenters was impressive. But now that the traveling is over, the unpacking almost done, and a sufficient period of time has elapsed for glazed eyes and tired feet to recover, I am reflecting back on conference week.

Based on no scientific analysis whatsoever, here is my list of favorites attended by this writer at FGS 2013. Please feel free to add your favorites to the list!

Favorite Workshop Out of My Comfort Zone: “German Gothic Handwriting-Anyone Can Read It” by F. Warren Bittner, MS, CG, on Thursday, August 22. Mr. Bittner made an imposing topic non-threatening. Definitely a topic I need to continue exploring given my personal ancestry.

Favorite Session That I Didn’t Plan to Attend, but Glad I Did: “Using the Indianapolis Recorder and the Freeman Newspapers, 1890-1930″ by Timothy N. Pinnick on Friday, August 23. I have printer’s ink running through my veins plus have a personal interest in historical newspapers. After genealogy, what is more fun than reading old newspapers?

Favorite Session That Made Me Go Hmmm: “Mennonite Research: The Forgotten Swiss Germans” by Michael D. Lacopo, DVM, on Saturday, August 24. Not only did Dr. Lacopo’s presentation make me miss my cat, Christopher, I realized that my father’s memories of attending a Mennonite church and possible ancestors from Alsace deserve some more attention.

Favorite Door Prize That I Failed to Win: A Salt Lake City trip package from Ancestor Seekers/Salt Lake Plaza Hotel valued at $1,163 won by a very lucky person at the Farewell Brunch on Sunday, August 25.

Favorite Paraphrased Conference Tweet That I Remember Reading, but Now Cannot Find and Unable to Give Proper Credit: “What is a genealogy conference? Like Comic Con except with dead people?” If anyone knows the identity of this tweeter, please let me know!

Favorite PowerPoint Presentation: “The Keepers and I: Tales of Accessing Historical Sources” by John Philip Colletta, PhD, at the Association of Professional Genealogists Luncheon on Friday, August 23. Dr. Colletta proved that storytelling is alive and well! If you weren’t there to experience it, his PowerPoint presentation was a lesson in imagination!

Favorite Local Hosts: The committees, staff, and volunteers from the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana and the Allen County Public Library (including The Genealogy Center in the library). A conference well done! Thank you!

Essential Packing for a Genealogy Conference

kitWhether arriving in Fort Wayne by plane, train, automobile, or bus, here are a few essential items for a genealogy conference that fit easily into a purse, bag, or backpack. Although admittedly low-tech, I’ve find these things vital for taking notes, performing research, and making connections.

Most likely, your desk drawers already have these items. Finding them is another story! But once collected, place them in a plastic storage bag or school supply bag and it’s just grab and go for any conference! And if you have to buy something, now is the perfect time because of back to school sales.

Here is my essential checklist: pencils with erasers; pencil sharpener; paper notebook; paper clips and binder clips; post-it notes; magnifying glass; highlighter(s); index cards (they do double duty as a straight edge to make reading easier and to write notes on, like source citations); business cards (the plastic storage bag or school supply bag makes a great place for business cards you collect, too); granola bars or other favorite snack (but don’t eat in the library!); conference schedule; printout of conference receipts; printout of ancestor names and dates of birth.

Of course, include a few high-tech items like a flash drive and iPad or laptop computer. With low-tech and high-tech items in hand you’re ready for FGS 2013!

So many choices, so little time

One benefit of attending a genealogy conference is the wide variety of available lectures and workshops offered in a few days. But how to select which sessions to attend? In no particular order, I present the following suggestions.

1. Don’t let the conference schedule intimidate you. If you’ve waded your way through census records and city directories, the conference schedule is a piece of cake. For instance, interested in the Genetics track on Thursday, August 23? Place your index finger on the shaded Genetics block and move your finger horizontally across the pages. There are your choices for the entire day with the time for each session in the table’s first row.

2. Mix it up. You don’t have to attend one track in one day unless you want to. With all due respect to the Genetics track, four lectures in one day covering Genetics is about three lectures too many. But that’s just me.

3. Pick a track, lecture, or presenter that interests you. Are you a PhD candidate in genetics? Is it time to learn how to read German Gothic handwriting so you don’t get a headache? Have you always wanted to hear a genealogist whose work you admire in print or on television? This genealogy conference has it all.

4.  Pay attention to notices about workshops and luncheons that are filling up fast. If something didn’t catch your eye the first time around, read the description again. Maybe all those folks registering for a workshop or luncheon are on to something.

5.  Think outside the box. One of the most fascinating lectures I attended was “Slave Research” presented by Marjorie Sholes at the 2007 FGS conference in Fort Wayne. To date, I haven’t uncovered slave ancestors in my family tree. But you never know. Plus, while wading through your research you may stumble across documents of value to someone else. You have to know what to look for though.

6.  Order a printed copy of the syllabus. Yes, there is an electronic version. Yes, you may kill another tree by ordering a paper syllabus. And yes, the printed copy is a hefty tome. But, personally, there’s just something about paper that I like. The paper version may also come in handy on a flight home: that irritating seat mate glances at the book’s title and shares his genealogy story with you. And a four-hour trip becomes a little more pleasant.

7.  Respect your time and the time of your fellow conference attendees. Show up on time for lectures, workshops, and luncheons. Turn off all electronic gadgets. Make time to browse the exhibit hall and visit with vendors.

A genealogy conference is overwhelming at times. Just take a deep breath and dive in!

Planning for flexible fun

The first genealogy conference I ever attended was the 2007 conference in Fort Wayne, Ind. At the time, my main plan was navigating my way through the program schedule, finding the sessions that suited my interests and abilities. A secondary plan was putting down on paper all the genealogy to-do’s stored in my head so I had someplace to start at The Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library. What I wasn’t counting on at that very first conference was planning for fun!

It’s true. They’re not all work. FGS conferences are fun! Admittedly, fun is not what I thought of when first seeing the program schedule. How do I read this thing? There are so many choices. How do I choose the right ones? (Hint: Browse through the schedule and then set it aside. Return to it a couple days later and it makes more sense!) And there are really no right ones. All the sessions are good!

In 2007, I discovered that some folks just attend genealogy conferences. Little to no research involved. And that’s okay. In fact, that was my intent in 2007 and, for me, it was a mistake. I had a few research options in mind, but hadn’t brought my relevant materials. One cannot attend a conference in Fort Wayne without visiting The Genealogy Center. Believe me, once you get there the urge to research kicks in and you start kicking yourself for not bringing some research materials. So at the very least bring a list of ancestor names and dates of birth, a paper notebook, pencil, eraser, and post-it notes. And if you’re traveling by plane, make sure to leave room in your suitcase for all the stuff you will copy and pick up from lectures and exhibits.

Without a doubt, genealogy conferences and research require planning. Getting time off of work. Making sure the cat sitter is available. Booking airline and hotel reservations. Organizing genealogy paperwork or downloading data onto the iPad. But planning, like genealogy brick walls, requires flexibility. Sometimes it’s the unexpected roads that have clues and answers. Just stay flexible and you’ll have a fun conference!

Click here to learn more about the FGS 2013 Conference or click the FGS 2013 Ambassador badge on the right side of my blog. Looking forward to having fun in Fort Wayne!

Discovering the living and the dead

At its core, genealogy is a solitary activity. We, as genealogists, like nothing better than paging through stacks of research materials. We love the musty smell of old, yellow pages. We embrace the quiet solitude of The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library, finding kindred souls intently hunched behind stacks of city directories. We envy from afar those perfectionists with checklists, labeled and color-coded file folders, and briefcases on wheels. Our idea of a good time is wandering through a cemetery, any cemetery.

But we don’t always get to share our victories. We may add a missing link to that computerized family tree, but what we really want to do is a happy dance while shouting “I found you!” And we know there is a better way to search for an elusive ancestor, but how and where? This is why genealogists should attend conferences: it is a way to learn new research skills, share victories, lament false leads and mistakes, and socialize with real, living folks who share your affinity with the gone but not forgotten.

So take a break from spending time with the dearly departed and join genealogy colleagues at the FGS 2013 Conference in Fort Wayne, Ind. Your computer, piles of paper, post-it notes, file folders, and highlighters will be there when you return home. So will your ancestors. But after the conference you may finally find them and have a renewed spirit, too!

Click here to learn more about the FGS 2013 Conference or click the FGS 2013 Ambassador badge on the right side of my blog. Looking forward to seeing you in Fort Wayne!

Slow but steady

beachI recently returned from a visit to Hawaii. To be more exact, a visit to Kailua, Kaneohe, and Waialua on the island of Oahu. While there, I thoroughly enjoyed swimming in “the pond” (aka the Pacific Ocean) at Lanikai Beach, one of my favorite places in the world. Even got a tan line! And there I also experienced a first: swimming with turtles. It seems one of my talents is stepping in it — that’s stepping in seaweed — so I probably invaded their space. But it was great! In fact, I now think of the turtle as my animal totem. Like them, I am slow, steady, and methodical. Unlike them, I had to step out of the pond and return home. Until next time, my turtle friends.

Disclaimer: No turtles were harmed in the making of this blog or photo!