This year I was lucky enough to get to go to the National Genealogical Society (NGS) conference, in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the first time I’ve ever attended an NGS conference. I must say that despite that fact that I’ve been doing genealogical research for more than 40 years, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I have never attended NGS before now. I guess it’s better late than never; right? I’d like to dedicate this and the next few blog posts to sharing a few observations of this conference as a first-time observer.
My first observation is how big this conference is. NGS is a BIG event. This became immediately obvious at the welcome session on the first day. This session was held in a very large conference hall and was filled to the brim. Many people were milling around outside the conference hall hoping for someone to leave so they could get a seat. I asked one of the welcome hosts how many were in attendance and she couldn’t even estimate a number. This seems like a good sign. I knew that if this many people were here, this had to be a top-notch conference.
The second thing I noticed was how many first-timers were here. By first-timers I don’t mean someone new at doing research. I am referring to those who have never been to an NGS conference before. This became obvious when I attended the First Timer’s breakfast. There were a couple hundred folks at this breakfast. I felt much better about not being the only newbie at the conference. Mingling with some of these new attendees, I learned that these folks were from all over the country. I’m sure it wasn’t the slot machines or the roulette tables that were drawing all the newcomers to NGS. They all seemed very excited about being here and learning something new about doing genealogical research.
The third thing I noticed was that there is a difference between a genealogy conference and a family history conference. I know, for some of you reading this blog post, this might be quite obvious. But me, this was a definite "Aha!" moment. Remember, I’ve been doing research for over 40 years. During all that time, in my mind a genealogical conference was the same thing as a family history conference. It’s not. What’s the difference?
A family history conference offers classes on topics like preserving photographs, publishing family histories, conducting oral histories and a host of other classes that focus on some aspect of gathering “history” as well as genealogy. A genealogy conference is more tightly focused on classes about record types, research methodology, citing sources, and topics more applicable to gathering genealogical dates, names, and places. Family history conferences usually include most of the topics you’d find at a genealogy topics but a genealogy conference usually does not include many of the peripheral topics you find at a family history conference. I was a bit disappointed when I realized I couldn’t attend some of the family history classes I wanted but there was enough variety to give me plenty to choose from.
The final observation on my first day was that NGS will most likely seem completely overwhelming to someone who is just beginning to learn how to do genealogical research. To me, this doesn’t seem like a conference for someone who is just getting started. The list of tracks and classes assume that attendees have at the very least, a medium level of experience. Topics are quite advanced. It is immediately obvious that the presenters have spent many years doing what they are teaching. Every session I went to seemed to assume I had the basics down long ago. If you are just getting started with genealogical research, you might want to find a conference that provides a track for beginners.
All in all, my first NGS conference has been a good experience. The folks who put on NGS definitely know what they are doing. This is a first-rate conference. Presenters are top quality people who know their topics. I only wish that I didn’t wait 40 years before attending my first conference.