Exhibitors can range from heavyweights like Ancestry.com to local historical societies to "Fun Stuff for Genealogists" or "The Gravestone Girls," two of the exhibitors at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) in 2009. Some exhibitors will be on hand to answer questions or will have handouts or other free genealogy resources.
While some may think a genealogy conference is something to do once you're an expert, genealogist, Naomi Luck, said attending a conference is often the first advice she gives to beginners. In a video about the annual nation-wide NGS conferences, Luck said the information gained at conference workshops is invaluable to a beginner, especially. "If you get a good start you're going to be much better off than to go off on your own and try to figure it out," she said.
How Much Will It Cost?
One of the reasons a conference may seem more suited to the "professionals" is the cost commitment. The NGS annual conference (as of this writing) is $245 for four days, plus travel, hotel and other expenses. The NERGC in 2009 was $135 for three days, plus workshops, special events and luncheons, which ran from $25 to $40 each.
One way to cut down on travel and hotel costs is to attend a nearby conference to which you can commute. The NGS holds their conference in a different location in the U. S. every year, and if you're lucky, the closest regional conference will also be relevant to your family search.
Most conferences also offer a variety of options to avoid paying the full registration cost. This could be early-bird registration, or paying only for certain workshops or conference days. Some will let you tour their exhibition hall at no charge; as many attendees can tell you, a tour of the exhibit hall alone can yield some finds.
How Do I Find a Genealogy Conference?
If part of your search is based on where you currently live, look for local historical societies to advertise a regional conference. The NGS promotes their annual conference on its website, [[http://www.ngsgenealogy.org|http://www.ngsgenealogy.org}}. Also look to your network of contacts: genealogy newsletters, forums, and blogs that you follow. Many conferences are advertised well in advance, usually several months to a year.
What Do I Do Once I Get There?
You'll probably have set your itinerary beforehand; that is, chosen the lectures and workshops you'll be taking. Besides whatever materials you need to take notes (pen, paper, laptop), you may also want to bring some business cards with your contact information and the surnames you are researching. While the first two resources of a genealogy conference – lectures and exhibits – are set up for you, you must do the legwork to reach out to the third – other genealogists.
Professional genealogist, Helen F.M. Leary, offers some advice in the NGS video. "Eavesdrop in the elevator. Make friends with the other genealogists," she said. "Offer to help them if they have North Carolina ancestors and they are in California; maybe you have someone in California and you can exchange work." While your first conference may not be a national one that involves California and North Carolina, even a new genealogy buddy two counties over can make your first conference a great experience.