Preparing For Your First Genealogy Conference

In February 2015, I attended my first genealogy conference—RootsTech and the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Salt Lake City, Utah. Living in Australia, I was somewhat nervous about flying to the US, to a state I had never set foot in before. On top of that, it was my first international trip without the parents. However, I was also really excited.

As I was traveling to the other side of the world, I started researching the conference early. I’m talking a whole year early. I wanted to know things like how the conference operates, registration costs, and what I should bring.

I have come up with a list of ideas that should help you prepare for your first genealogy conference. These have come straight from my head after reflecting on my first conference. While I may not have thought of everything, whether your first conference is RootsTech in February or another conference later in the year, I hope you will find a few helpful ideas here.

  • Research hotels and prices early

Conference dates are announced at least 12–18 months prior, if not sooner. If possible, start researching hotels and prices about a year beforehand. If it is an annual conference, have a look on the conference website for the previous year’s hotel information. This should also give you an indication of how soon to book the hotel, which is usually six months prior to the conference. Always double check if the hotel is doing special conference rates. The conference website should tell you which hotels they have partnered with.

  • Early bird registration

Keep a watch over conference announcements to discover when registration opens. Take advantage of early bird prices! In most cases, you can save $20–$50!

  • Research transportation

If you are flying in from interstate or overseas, ensure you have researched transportation to get to and from the hotel and airport, and between the conference venue and hotel. Some hotels run airport shuttles, or if you are feeling adventurous, check out what public transport options are available. It is quite rare these days to find a major airport without a train station.

  • Business cards

Business cards? What? I’m serious! Have some business cards made with your name, contact details, social media and/or blog links if applicable, and family surnames. I used VistaPrint for mine. Business cards are a fabulous way to stay connected after the conference. Sometimes you will receive a card and notice a surname that is in your family tree. Could there be a connection? It happened to me at RootsTech! Turns out we are more than likely seventh cousins one time removed!

  • What to expect at the conference

If the conference has any social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it), follow them! This is the perfect way to stay up to date with conference updates, before and during the conference. Another idea is to have a look on YouTube for any videos about previous conference experiences. These are a great help especially if it is your first time. For example, GeniAus and DearMyrtle have had Google Hangouts about RootsTech. I watched a few and I am so glad I did!

  • Hashtags

People normally live tweet from genealogy conferences, and if there is a hashtag for the conference, follow it on Twitter so you can access it on the go. This provides you with the opportunity to network and see who else is tweeting from the conference.

  • Comfortable attire

Firstly, shoes. I am very serious about this one. Yes, there is plenty of sitting down time at conferences. There is a lot of walking too! Are the sessions in different rooms? Is the venue small or big? Are there stalls or vendors to peruse? You do not want your feet hurting by 1 p.m. when you still have five hours left. Ensure you have comfortable shoes that you will be okay doing lots of walking in. Secondly, clothes. I know we all want to look nice, and we can. However, I would rather not get annoyed with a top making my skin itchy, or something being too tight. Dress for comfort too. You might not have time to whip off to your hotel to change. Think about the weather as well, inside and outside the venue. Keep a jacket/sweater with you at all times.

  • Bag

Another important aspect to think about is what you are going to carry around all your stuff in. Is your back okay to handle a backpack for the day? What about a small bag with wheels? Again, this is all about personal opinion and what YOU are comfortable with. You do not want your back to be aching halfway through the day from a heavy backpack or shoulder bag. Whatever your bag choice, be prepared to keep it with you all day.

  • Note taking

Think about what your method of note taking is going to be. Pen and paper? Tablet? Cell phone? Feather? You need to assess what is most comfortable, quick, and easy for YOU. Keep in mind that not all conference rooms have desks. A little tip—too much information on the PowerPoint slide to note down quickly? Snap a photo of it on your phone or tablet. Please note—only do this if it has been approved by the speaker.

  • Choosing sessions

Are there particular topics or speakers you definitely must see? Are there a number of classes on at the same time? Are any sessions being recorded? These are things to keep in mind when choosing classes to attend. Have a rough schedule planned. However, keep in mind that your schedule will more than likely change. Be up for deciding last minute to go to a different class, or choosing to go have a meal with someone. Your schedule will probably change, and that is perfectly okay.

I hope you have found something helpful on this list. One more piece of advice—do not be afraid to say hi! Genealogists are one of the friendliest groups of people I know. I have never met a genealogist who bites. Oh, most importantly, don’t forget to HAVE FUN!

Caitlin Gow

Caitlin Gow is the author of the blog Genealogically Speaking. Based in Australia, she has a Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice from Griffith University. She is an avid supporter of using social media for family history, and loves using her “detective skills” to solve mysteries.