Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Conferences and Genealogy Shows What's the Difference?

Photograph from the conference of Guild of One Name Studies held in Birmingham, England 
1st - 3rd April 2016

Conference or Show what do you get for your money?
Are they the same?
Does it depend where in the world you are?

Last year I wrote about going to Rootstech / FGS 2015 in Salt Lake City, my first impressions and compared it with WDYTYA Live which had just moved to Birmingham.

This year I was only able to catch the livestream and videos at Rootstech. However I did attend my first Guild of One Name Studies Conference held the weekend before Who Do You Think You Are Live. Both were in Birmingham the first at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole and the latter at the National Exhibition Centre the same as last year.

I have not attended anything in Australia and I know there are other conferences in the US. Pauleen Cass wrote a post on this blog last April about conferencing and she has quite a few references in this post to help give a more balanced view.

I did enjoy my Guild conference and have every intention of going to next year's conference which is being held on the outskirts my home city of Southampton. I am hoping to make the most of it by incorporating a research trip to the local archives in Southampton and the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester.

I decided to go to Birmingham on the train and managed to get a direct train both ways with a table seat for most of the journey. Both trains were crowded as it was the Easter holidays. Before I arrived at the hotel I could tell we were going to have an interesting and possibly noisy weekend see this tweet from Janet Few.

Chris Braund pointed me in the right direction and after registering, up to my room with the luggage, then back for a much needed drink before the first talk about DNA. 
Our first meal was followed by the quiz which I soon learnt was quite a challenge.

Unlike the likes of Rootstech the conference had 2 full days. The first part of the first morning was the AGM and the business side of things being swiftly dealt with we arrived early for the morning break. 

Next up was an interesting presentation about life on the canals. This guest was surprised when he actually sold out of the books he had brought with him. 

The session after lunch can be a real challenge and there was a lot of information to take on board. If you have anyone who lived and worked in British India the wealth of information available is incredible. Families in British India Society (FIBIS) has a lot on their website. They also had a big presence at WDYTYA Live this year and the celebrity I saw on the Saturday had gone to India to find out more about her family.

Anita Rani talking about her experience on WDYTYA at the Live show on Saturday 9th April 2016

The next speaker was from Twile but I will not expand further here as I plan to do a post on my own blog later this week.

Our final session for the day had to be changed at extremely short notice Paul Howes Chairman of the Guild did an admirable job and we heard some interesting stories from him and several other members.

Unlike Rootstech the Guild has a Reception and Dinner on the Saturday night a chance to chat and get to know other attendees a bit better.

A short church service first thing on Sunday was followed by 2 presentations. The first looked at presentation of your study using that member's own study. The second was looking at key sources outside the UK for finding your surname across the world.
Lots of information here and "food for thought" as to how to get the information and then how to put it into a useful format.

The session after lunch on Sunday was another change looking at how we might find living people. As one namers we often find the best information comes from members of families especially if you need individuals for DNA studies. Finding clues in the records and knowing where to look is crucial. The techniques shown were those I had used in doing my own family research and have reaped dividends in terms of family photographs.

The final session of the conference looked at example sources for emigration and immigration. This rounded off an interesting weekend. 

I had three days before the WDYTYA Live show and I will write about these on my own blog if you are interested.

For the first 2 days of WDYTYA Live I offered to help out on the GUILD stand. Here are some photographs that I took.

This was just across the aisle from the replica Spitfire that was on display at the Forces War Records stand

Ancestry, Family Search, Find My Past, My Heritage and The Genealogist all had their own stands. There were relatively few commercial vendors and several non-genealogical charities had their own stands. Much of the Society of Genealogists area was taken by Family History Societies although many local societies did not attend. A full list of exhibitors can be found here.
There was much more in the way of workshop sessions that could be attended and the interest in, and availability of, DNA testing appears to be growing.
Family Tree DNA sponsored a raft of free lectures in their theatre.

Having everything in one large hall with sections partitioned off for sessions can be a disadvantage but with well set up sound systems and microphones the only problems seem to be when technology failed.

As regards costs the ticket prices for Who Do You Think You Are Live can be found here. The website of The Guild of One Name Studies can be found here if you want to know more about who they are and the benefits of becoming a member. Rootstech has a different pricing structure to WDYTYA Live and details can be found on the FAQ page. Pricing for this year's FGS Conference is not yet online you can find their website here. The FGS Conference has more in common with WDYTYA Live than Rootstech in regards to the topics for the presentations. This is not surprising given that The Society of Genealogists and The Federation of Family History Societies are similar organizations to FGS in the US.

Comparisons between events in different countries are difficult as the audience and how they interact can be affected by the numbers that attend for just a single day. In the US conference attendees are more likely to stay overnight in the area rather than travel on the day. Up until this year I travelled on the day, this was cheaper than finding overnight accomodation, this makes for a long day which means that a single day is all that most would feel up to attending.
Whether more would be willing to stay if evening activities were included it is difficult to know. It can be a problem organising events and then not getting sufficient uptake for them to take place. Having cancelled a day of the WDYTYA Live event in Glasgow the organisers are unlikely to want to take on any additional evening entertainment.

If you have attended other genealogical conferences or shows elsewhere in the world I would be interested in your comments.
If genealogists don't tell the organisers what we like or don't like or how we think they could improve the experience for us then we risk falling attendances. 
Many societies are seeing falling membership numbers. 
What do those researching want from them and what can we as members contribute? 
Why do you belong to a society? 
Have you allowed your membership to lapse? 
If so, why did this happen?

Why are some societies not attending national events?


  1. Thanks, that was interesting and I hadn't thought much about the differences!

  2. Thanks for the honourable mention. I think the main reason societies are missing from WDYTYAL is the cost - not just of the stand itself but of accommodation and travel for those who set up the stand - there aren't always enough local volunteers to help and the display material has to get from A to B

  3. Very insightful, I attended conference of Guild of One Name Studies earlier this month, someone from the crowd did discuss the differences, but I couldn't really understand at that point. But I am glad you mentioned and explained it with good examples. I think I can extract some of the knowledge you shared and credit you at Coadb.com

  4. I allowed my membership of The Guild of One-Name Studies to lapse. I find the Surname Society of which I was also a member (http://surname-society.org/ is a better fit for my purse and purposes.

    1. Jill for someone living in Australia I can understand that you cannot take full advantage of the Guild resources. Many members of the Guild are also members of The Surname Society which has been set up with much lower running costs.

  5. I allowed my membership of The Guild of One-Name Studies to lapse. I find the Surname Society of which I was also a member (http://surname-society.org/ is a better fit for my purse and purposes.


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