By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
If you've never attended a genealogical conference or event before, it may be because you've been intimidated by the prospect. After all, aren't genealogical conferences for professionals, or people who make genealogy their life's work? Actually, that's not accurate. There are genealogy conferences, expos, retreats, seminars, and workshops for every skill level and every interest level. Whether you're a beginner or an expert (or somewhere in between), you can find an event to suit your needs.
So what can you gain from attending a genealogical event? You can hone your research skills; you can try out new genealogy software programs; you can network with other family historians; you can learn about the latest and greatest innovations in the field of family history. Another bonus of attending conferences and events is that you often get free stuff. Once I got a free copy of Legacy Family Tree by attending the ICAPGen conference. Most events also provide a conference syllabus at no extra charge. These are packed with useful charts, outlines, and articles from the conference speakers. This way, instead of furiously scribbling down notes you can just absorb what the speakers are saying, because the information you need is already in the syllabus.
Many conferences are hosted by genealogical societies; others are hosted by archives or libraries. Some events have become very well-known in the genealogical world, and are attended by hundreds. The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, held every year in January and sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association, is one of these. Classes at the week-long institute cover all kinds of topics: source-citation and documentation; organization; American land and court records; U.S. military records; successfully finding immigrant ancestors' origins; illegitimacy in Europe; and Scottish research, just to name a few. The annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies is also a prominent genealogical event; it is held in a different American city every fall. The National Genealogical Society Conference, one of the most prestigious because of its backing organization, also moves around every year. NGSC workshops cover everything from Italian to Scandinavian ancestry, and there are also "consult-an-expert" sessions where you can collaborate with others and get research guidance on difficult projects. If you prefer something more low-key, however, you don't have to travel across the country to attend a high-profile conference. You can learn new things by attending your local genealogical society's conference, or by attending the conference of your nearest genealogical library or archive. Get online and find a genealogical event that will serve you.