As I’m sure many of you genealogy enthusiasts already know, two of the most prominent genealogical organizations, the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), hold annual national conferences, which are great gatherings and learning opportunities for genealogists of all levels of experience. These conferences spotlight genealogical lectures by nationally recognized speakers and regional experts as well as showcase an exhibition hall for organizations to provide access to genealogical materials and supplies while also engaging with the attendees.
Through the encouragement of the President General and Registrar General, we have made it a priority for NSDAR to have a presence at these conferences so we can both create awareness about the DAR and our resources as well as for staff genealogists to keep up to date on the latest in genealogical education, research and practices.
After attending the NGS Conference in Las Vegas earlier in the summer, I attended the FGS Conference, “Journey Through the Generations,” in Ft. Wayne, Ind., August 21-24. Attending with me from Headquarters was Stacie Newton, DAR Assistant Director for Supplementals.
NSDAR had a booth in the exhibition hall where we provided information about DAR membership and genealogical resources that the DAR provides. We answered questions and, as we find most popular, had laptops on site to look up information on attendees’ ancestors in our GRS database. Thanks to the wonderful support of the Indiana Daughters, especially those from the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter, the booth was well staffed throughout the conference. Treasurer General Martha Barnhart was a great conference liaison for us and did an excellent job scheduling the booth volunteers.
As I am sure is no surprise to you, visitors to the booth were warmly greeted by the DAR volunteers… and even treated to chocolate! Many booth visitors were unaware of the DAR’s online presence, in particular the outstanding GRS resource. Many were also surprised to learn how much of their genealogy has already been accepted by DAR. Seeing how much of their work had been done was a great motivator for many of them to ask to be added to the Prospective Member Database. At the booth we give away ribbons for attendees to wear throughout the conference that read either, “DAR Member” or “DAR Prospective Member.” We were very proud of how many of both of those ribbons were requested by attendees. Hopefully those who requested the Prospective Member ribbon will be coming back for their DAR Member ribbons at future conferences!
The awareness we hope to spread by the DAR booth is also greatly enhanced when we are also able to share our professional expertise and experience to attendees through conference presentations. Stacie was the presenter of a session on the DAR’s online resources. She gave an excellent overview of how the Genealogical Research System (GRS) came into being and how the different databases the GRS contains interact with one another. The Ancestor Database (successor of the Patriot Index), the Member Database and the Descendants Database are all linked together to provide researchers with seamless access to DAR’s online genealogical information. She also talked about the GRC Index and the resources available on the Resource Tab in the GRS. One internet savvy DAR member who was in attendance reported that even she learned new things at the session. In spite of Stacie’s session being at the end of the day on a Friday, her presentation was well attended, with probably 150 people or more in attendance, and she received a very enthusiastic round of applause at the end.
Additionally, the conferences are a great way for us as DAR Genealogy staff to stay up to date on industry trends and learn new techniques and methods. We try to take advantage of extended learning opportunities when we can in order to apply to our research and approval process of member applications and supplementals, as well as to help teach others through our Genealogical Education Program series. Thanks to the support from the Indiana Daughters at the booth, Stacie and I were able to attend some of the conference sessions.
The FGS Conference sessions focused on issues faced by many genealogical and membership societies: society organization; recruiting volunteers; managing projects; technology; community outreach; publishing, etc. The first day of sessions was geared toward genealogical research and I was able to attend two interesting lectures on DNA. The first was a basic tutorial of DNA, which was given by Robert D. McLaren. He gave an excellent overview of how DNA testing works… and doesn’t work! Though most of the information was not new to me, reinforcement is always good. Another DNA session I attended was given by Debbie Parker Wayne and focused on using autosomal DNA to guide one’s genealogical research. DNA alone cannot link one remote ancestor to his or her parent, but it can point us in the right direction. DNA is an important component of genealogical research in the 21st century. Attending these seminar helps to ensure that DAR continues to stay on top of the latest technology and how these might be used with the verification process. A number of staff members are actively involved in using DNA in their own personal research and we hope one day to begin to accept DNA evidence, within the context of other, traditional genealogical evidence. Stacie was able to attend a fascinating presentation given by Elizabeth Shown Mills titled, “Trousers, Beds, Tacks & Housekeeping Bills: Problem-solving with ‘Trivial Details’.” Ms. Mills’ talk discussed the importance of utilizing every piece of evidence given in probate records, no matter how seemingly trivial.
A bonus of having the conference in Ft. Wayne was that right next to the convention center is the The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library. This is one of the largest genealogical collections in the country. It was founded in 1921 and the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter donated its collection to help get the library started. As attendees to the conference, were able to conduct research at this renowned library, thanks to the staff keeping it open for us until midnight for several nights. I was happy to indulge!
For those of you interested in learning more about genealogy, these conferences are great opportunities to learn more and become involved in the genealogy community. It is also a great opportunity for you to help spread awareness of the DAR and our resources when you are talking to other attendees at genealogical events like these, whether or not NSDAR is able to be there with a booth or not (in some cases, I hear of chapters reserving their own booth space at events even!).
For those of you who are avid conference-goers, what types of things would you want to learn more about (or that you think the public might like to learn more about) from NSDAR-led sessions or at our booth? What catches your eye from other organizations who have booths at conferences? Let us know and we will continue to try to enhance our presence at genealogy conferences.
I look forward to seeing some of you at future conferences! Thanks for helping to be our DAR Ambassadors in your local genealogical communities!