I have yet to attend a national conference. I would love to but with young children and a busy schedule it just hasn't worked out for me. Instead I have focused on participating in one regional society and attending one large regional conference (the New England Regional Genealogical Conference - NERGC) which happens every two years.
As RootsTech was approaching this year, I was watching all the excitement of the lucky attendees. In a moment of clarity (when I was able to put aside the envy) I realized that there are many wonderful opportunities closer to home that I haven't taken advantage of. I decided that I would remedy that by attending local seminars and talks. There are a lot of great opportunities right in my own back yard.
This past Wednesday I took my first step toward seeking local genealogical opportunities. I attended the African American History & Genealogy Day put on by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston. What was even better was that this event was free. NEHGS held an open research day for all attendees and provided three top quality lectures. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend two.
The first was a talk by David Allen Lambert. I admit to having a special affinity for David because many of his research interests overlap mine such as cemetery research and African Americans. Having done a lot of research on these topics I wasn't sure how much I would get out of his talk. Silly me. David is a master with an endless well of information on his core knowledge areas. And like me he combines his multiple interests into one talk, so not only did I learn about African American genealogy but he also included some cemetery research as well. If you ever get to the point of thinking you know enough on a topic go to a talk by someone who has been researching longer than you. You will be humbled and inspired.
The second talk was by Alex Goldfeld the author of North End: A Brief History of Boston's Oldest Neighborhood. While the North End is today known as an ethnic Italian neighborhood, in colonial times it was home to the earliest African American community. Alex is a historian rather than a genealogist but he gave a superb presentation on a very early time frame that I am not expert in. He opened my eyes to many sources for 17th and 18th century research.
Many people, especially professionals, go to conferences for the networking rather than simply the learning. Ironically, I learned more at this one day seminar than I have at some conferences. I'm so glad that I forced myself to take advantage of a local opportunity.
Don't worry if you can't make it to far away conferences. There may be some terrific learning experiences right in your back yard. Be on the lookout for state and regional genealogical societies. Many societies provide talks once a month and can be a good source of learning. But don't limit your thinking to genealogy societies. Local historical societies and libraries frequently put on excellent history and genealogy programs.
Don't wait until next year or the next big conference. Hop onto a search engine and find local seminars and talks in your area that can broaden your knowledge. I'm so glad I took that step.