Sep 9, 2011

FGS Mid-Conference Report

This is my second major genealogy conference, after RootsTech. It's got a different feel to it, but still a great experience. I'm actually meeting people at this conference, for two reasons. The first day of sessions didn't interest me much. They were geared towards people who are officers or otherwise very active in a genealogical society. I am a member of a couple, but don't participate often, since I don't live very close to their events. So instead, I volunteered at the conference, and met several other volunteers. Also, last night, I went to the bloggers' get together, and met some of the bloggers I follow, in real life. Now they know my secret identity, which truthfully isn't a big secret, I just choose to blog pseudonymously.

The day before, I took advantage of a conference discount, and toured the Abraham Lincoln Museum. It's pretty new, and it showed. Besides lots of artifacts related to Lincoln's life and the Civil War, it had multimedia presentations, which reminded me of the so-called "4D" movies at Sea World or Disney Land. They had a documentary video projected onto three large screens, while smaller screens in front of them came down from the ceiling at certain points to create a 3D effect, highlighting different documents or photos. The main screens were also pulled up at times, to reveal silhouettes of log cabins, trees, etc. in the background. Besides surround sound, when there was a storm during the movie, fans or air compressors blew "wind" in the theater, and lights flickered to simulate lightning, for added effect. It's definitely enough to hold the attention of children, or people who aren't history nerds like me. Overall, the museum was very interesting. The only strange thing is the presence of a Subway restaurant, within the museum. On the tour map, between the listing of exhibits, one of the sections of the building is labeled SUBWAY®. Kind of tacky if you ask me, but I guess the museum needs to raise funds somehow. Later today, I'm going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the associated Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (not to be confused with Springfield's public library, called the Lincoln Library).

That night, FGS held an "Old Fashioned Prairie Social." It was just dessert, so I ate beforehand, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Although ice cream, cake, and candy don't make for a very nutritious dinner, I probably had two meals' worth of calories. Abe and Mary (Todd) Lincoln impersonators were in attendance, and many people dressed up in old-fashioned costumes. There were also some fun activities planned; I was on a winning Genea-Jeopardy team.

You've got to love any conference where the Archivist of the United States (AOTUS)–essentially the top librarian in the federal government–is treated like a rock star. Several people went up to have their picture taken with him before his keynote address. If I had any interest in being a high-ranking political appointee, that's the job I'd want. An ambassadorship may sound like a good gig, because I love to travel, but that would involve wearing a tux far too often.

I went to four sessions yesterday, all very good. First was a session on common surnames, since I have Davis, Martin, and Harris among my ancestors. That's nothing compared to well-known professional genealogist, Thomas Jones, who presented a case-study of finding the parents of one of his ancestors named Charles Jones. There were dozens listed in the counties where he lived, and his wife was Jane (Jones) Jones! It took more than ten years to sort them all out. I don't know if I have that kind of patience. None of his strategies were really new to me, but the depth and breadth of his research was impressive. I haven't come anywhere close to exhausting the possible avenues of research on my ancestors with common surnames.

The second session was on immigrant cluster communities, by Lisa Alzo. She's a specialist in Eastern Europe research, so I've read several of her articles before, for ways to research my Polish ancestors. Her talk involved the town where she grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which had a large Slovak population. It easily resonated with me, because Minnesota has several towns, or neighborhoods within cities, that still have palpable ethnic influence, which I've blogged about before. The main thing I got from her talk, is that I really need to join some of the ethnic genealogical societies affiliated with the Minnesota Genealogical Society. She also gave some ideas for creating virtual cluster communities, to collaborate with others researching the same village or ethnicity. I think I might try something like that.

The next session was also on immigrants–how to find their origin in US records, by David Ouimette. He's an Irish research consultant at the Family History Library, and people often come in wanting to dive straight into the Irish records, when usually they haven't done the necessary research on this side of the pond yet. He gave a ton of examples how many different records can be used to find the origin of our immigrant ancestors. It gave me some ideas I can use for some of my ancestors; all I know is the country where they were born. And again, he also stressed the value of joining an ethnic genealogical society. These two sessions really hammered that point home. I need to stop procrastinating and just join some of them.

The last session I attended was another by Thomas Jones. It was filled to capacity; I almost didn't get a seat. He titled it "Going Beyond the Bare Bones" and literally talked about fleshing out stories about our ancestors that go further than just listing names, dates, and places. I haven't yet written much of my genealogy, but I'm approaching the point where I'm about ready to write some family history to share with relatives. I've already started to mentally outline what I know about specific ancestors I have enough to write on. With some, I have plenty of details, from numerous records and oral history from older relatives who remember them, or at least stories about them. Some of the best examples he shared came from letters. They can help get to know their personality. I need to reach out to more of my distant relatives, and newly found ones, to find any letters that may have been passed down.

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