[APG Public List] National Genealogical Meetings

Carolyn Earle Billingsley cebillingsley at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 5 00:39:13 MDT 2009

*I've spent many years of my life attending and presenting at history 
conferences. There are always three or four presenters in an hour and 15 
minutes session. They read an abbreviated version of their longer 
research paper, which may or may not become a longer journal article in 
the future.

There is usually a panel chair who has read the papers in advance and 
makes points, compares, and critiques the ideas presented after the 
presenters give their talks.

I've never seen but one history conference where visuals were presented, 
except one I did and often the ones at the Arkansas Historical 
Association annual conference.

Most of the give and take is because the presenter can only present a 
small portion of his or her work due to the 20-minute time constraints, 
so the audience perceives the gap of all the information that was not 
included in the talk--and there are never any kind of handouts. But, 
yes, the Q&A sections do often bring up arguments and disagreements and 
challenges. Usually civil, but not always.

Moreover the give and take, or the Q&A can only last 5-10 minutes 
because of the way the sessions are structured. Not enough time to 
really delve deeply into something.

But these presenters are NOT paid; are not reimbursed for any expenses; 
and in fact, their conference entry fees are not even paid.

And they are not often vetted to any great degree. People submit papers 
and often try to get their own panels of interrelated topics together on 
their own, and if the conference head decides it sounds useful, s/he 
accepts it.

Genealogy has developed a style of conference or lecture presentations 
that is much more interesting and informative. Let's don't emulate other 
professional disciplines' styles, for goodness sakes! We have developed 
a style of presentation that meets the highest quality as far as time 
allotted, visuals, and handouts. Great lecturers are not a dime a dozen, 
so conferences are our opportunity to hear the really great ones and 
sometimes even hear those not of the very highest quality yet with 
something to teach us.

Genealogical lecturers can only present what people want and will pay to 
hear. And they're not going to do it for free, because they have plenty 
of work to do in the genealogical world (or the "real world") and have 
no need to pad their vita by giving free lectures (except for the pro 
bono lectures we often give to help some small society).

As for audience participation, I am always willing to talk to anybody 
who wants to question or remark on my lecture . . . preferably after the 
lecture is over. Can you imagine the kinds of questions we would get 
from less experienced genealogists who only want to take about their own 
grandpa? Been there; done that.

Yes, we could have a conference that was devoted to high quality 
research and standards for the advanced genealogist. But, how many do 
you think would come? That's why we have Samford's IGHR (to name but one 
venue) for those who want to learn about topics in depth with higher 

Furthermore, we now have a university program that has an Associates 
Degree, a BA, and an MA in Genealogical Studies. Those who want material 
that is really challenging and in depth and is on the level of college 
classes have that option.

In other words, there is a place, a conference, a school for anybody in 
genealogy at any and all levels. National conferences perforce try to 
offer appealing topics for the widest audiences at all levels.

There are plenty of options for any genealogist at any level to get what 
they need (or want). The national conferences are designed to appeal and 
help genealogists at all levels--and they do just that.

Some of the best experiences I've had involved Round Tables at a 
conference--where people could sit at a particular table with a 
particular "expert" and the ensuing discussion was just that--a 
discussion, give and take, and not a lecture. There are multiple tables 
with a variety of topics.

We did that at the Texas State Genealogical Society annual conference 
and I thought it was a great success. Perhaps national conferences might 
fit in this type of multiple round-table discussion technique; just ten 
people at a table discussing and dissecting one topic under the 
leadership of someone with the knowledge to lead the discussion. Nothing 
formal--just give and take, with input from all and someone to keep it 
all under control and on topic.

Also, someone suggested more lectures on problem-solving. I wonder if I 
gave a lecture entirely composed of why I had a problem knowing if three 
German Wittenberg brothers were really brothers and the sons of both 
parents and how I solved the problem with DNA and in-depth genealogical 
research over one hundred years after the birth of these sons?

It seems to me that such a specific problem-solving lecture would have 
few participants. You probably wouldn't come unless you were interested 
in the specific problem solved, would you? Can national conferences 
afford to present topics with only ten people in the audience?

Just a few of my ideas on the topic. Regards, Carolyn
Suzanne Johnston wrote:
> Although many of the instructional lectures use problem-solving within 
> the presentation, it would certainly be interesting to have a track at 
> national conferences that is totally devoted to interesting and unusual 
> case studies and/or the use of unusual resources to solve a particular 
> problem.
> Another way that genealogy conferences differ from other professional 
> conferences is in audience participation. At many professional 
> conferences (I can cite some history conferences and at Audiology and 
> Speech conferences) a lecture is presented followed by audience 
> questions. But not just polite questions designed to better understand 
> what the speaker has said. These questions cover the research techniques 
> used and the conclusions drawn by the speaker and require the speaker to 
> defend all of his/her techniques and conclusions. The questioner often 
> suggests other conclusions that could or should have been considered and 
> the speaker must answer to both the questioner and the audience. The 
> debates I have heard were usually civil, but occasionally became quite 
> heated. The listeners often learned more about the topic by this 
> give-and-take after the lecture. Unfortunately, this type of rigorous 
> questioning rarely occurs at genealogy conferences, at least the ones I 
> have attended.
> The majority of lectures given at our conferences don't need this type 
> of questioning because of the nature of the presentations. But the 
> lectures using case studies or problem-solving techniques could benefit 
> from audience questioning, critiques, etc. Again, the track suggested in 
> the first paragraph above might encourage this type of interaction. IMO!
> Suzie Johnston
> jfonkert at aol.com wrote:
>> I've only been to a handful of national conferences, but I've perused 
>> the program of several others over the past 4-5 years.  From what I 
>> see on the programs, it would appear to me the conferences are of a 
>> quite different nature than academic or professional conferences it 
>> other fields.  The national genealogy conference programs do seem 
>> geared toward reporting research or new developments.  Rather, the 
>> programs seem to have the same core cluster of topics year after year 
>> (not a terrible thing, necessarily, as the conferences move around to 
>> different regional audiences).  The programs are heavy on 
>> instructional topics (record types, methodology, technology -- again 
>> not inappropriate), but do not seem geared toward talks that report 
>> research or developments.  Personally, I would like to see more 
>> research-based talks that demonstrate problem-solving techniques.  I 
>> can read about census records or passenger records on my own, but I'd 
>> like to hear about how people solve interesting problems.

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