The 2007 NGS Conference in the States and Family History Fair wrapped up yesterday, May 19. I managed to survive all four days of this major event, although I think I'll be sleeping for the next three days to compensate for the sleep deprivation encountered.
The conference took place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center and at the adjacent Richmond Marriott Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. This year's conference was sponsored by the U.S. National Genealogical Society with much assistance from the Virginia Genealogical Society, the Fairfax Genealogical Society, and the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia (GRIVA). Roughly 2,000 people attended this four-day event.
More than 180 seminars, luncheons, dinners, and other events were squeezed into four days (five days if you count "Librarians' Day," which was held the day before the official opening of the conference). Genealogy beginners and experts alike had plenty of topics to choose from. You can find a list of all the events at http://www.eshow2000.com/ngs/2007/conf_program.cfm.
The conference was very well organized, and the entire four-day event seemed to operate well. I only found two significant negatives:
- Many of the seminars were held in the conference hotel while others were in the convention center across the street. It was quite confusing at times, especially on the first day when most attendees were not yet oriented to the two buildings. Quite a few people were wandering the halls in the wrong place, looking for a particular seminar. When I went looking for the Opening Session on Wednesday morning, I wandered into a different conference being held simultaneously in another wing of the huge convention center. In fact, the session I wanted to attend was being held across the street in the hotel.
- The conference location was state-of-the art in all ways. However, the surrounding neighborhood did not have many restaurants, a necessity when 2,000-plus genealogists gather together. The one restaurant in the hotel was soon overwhelmed, and service was abysmal at times. Several of us soon learned to take long walks to distant restaurants. For those of us physically able and willing to do so, we were rewarded with several excellent restaurants when we walked a mile or so.
Nothing is ever perfect, and even these complaints are minor in an event of this size.
One item that I found delightful is that the conference syllabus was available on CD-ROM, at least for some of the attendees. For the first time in years, I brought the syllabus home with me instead of leaving a heavy printed syllabus behind in the hotel room trashcan. I will keep this year's syllabus and probably will refer to it from time to time, unlike the printed versions of past years. I was told that attendees who registered well in advance received thick, printed syllabus books while late registrants, walk-ins, and exhibitors received the same material on CD-ROM disks. I was an exhibitor and was delighted to receive mine on CD-ROM. I also spoke with a number of attendees who swapped with other attendees so that they ended up with their preference of paper copies or CD.
Hey, NGS organizers: can I obtain future conference syllabi on CD-ROM, even if I register early? It will be cheaper for the conference sponsors and much more useful for me.
Many awards were presented at the Friday evening conference banquet. I don't have a list of all of them, but I can report that Curt Witcher received the Filby Prize.
The annual Filby Prize is awarded to a librarian who has made significant contributions to the field of genealogy and local history. The nominee must have at least five years experience in a public or special library. The award is named for the late P. William Filby, Director of the Maryland Historical Society and author of many outstanding genealogical reference books. More details about the prize can be found at an article in this newsletter at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/02/filby_prize_cal.html.
Curt B. Witcher is the Department Manager for the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a past president of the National Genealogical Society and a past president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. He also has memberships in a number of historical and genealogical organizations and is the founding president of the Indiana Genealogical Society. He is an adjunct professor in Indiana University's Continuing Education Program and is coeditor of the 1987 through 2000 editions of the Periodical Source Index, published by the Allen County Public Library Foundation. Curt is also a leader in providing genealogy library in digital format to library patrons, both in libraries' facilities as well as to remote patrons around the world.
I also have had the pleasure of knowing Curt Witcher for years and can tell you that this year's award was well deserved. Curt is one of the giants of our time.
My favorite area at any genealogy conference is the Exhibitors' Hall, and this year was no exception. I sponsored a booth promoting this newsletter and was delighted that many present subscribers stopped by to say "Hello." Footnote, the sponsors of this newsletter, also sent representatives who frequently joined me in the booth.
Wireless "Wi-Fi" Internet access was available to all conference attendees in the Exhibitors' Hall, thanks to this newsletter. I brought along some networking equipment and offered everyone the opportunity to check e-mail and surf the web from their own computers. The free Wi-Fi access seemed to work well and was popular: at one time I checked the status report in the Wi-Fi router and found 26 simultaneous users were connected and using the network. In fact, the Wi-Fi service ran slowly for a while because of the heavy load. However, everyone seemed to get their e-mail.
I was especially pleased to see several attendees using handheld computers to check e-mail. Indeed, the age of "connected anywhere and everywhere" seems to have arrived. You can take the handheld computer out of your pocket and check your e-mail quickly and easily, even when cruising a conference.
Unlike past NGS conferences, I found almost no new products on display. A few vendors have added books or CD-ROM disks or databases to web sites, but almost all products and services on display were incremental improvements to previous years' offerings.
The huge news, however, was the announcement of partnerships. Most of the announcements focused on partnerships signed by various vendors with FamilySearch, the genealogy arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Exhibitors' Hall was abuzz as several vendors were talking about the wide exposure their products will soon receive.
Footnote, sponsors of this newsletter, announced that the complete Revolutionary War Era Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files will soon appear on the company's site. Even better, these records will be available free of charge to patrons who are at any of the FamilySearch centers around the world, as well as at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The same records will also be available to in-home users for very modest fees.
NOTE: SELECTED records from the Revolutionary War Pension Files have been available for some time at various libraries via HeritageQuest Online. However, these records are no longer available to individuals who are not affiliated with a participating library. To access these records on HeritageQuest Online, you must use the facilities of a subscribing library. In addition, the records available to date have been limited to "selected records," not the complete collection.
In contrast, Footnote is placing the complete collection online for the first time, and this collection will be available in-home with no library affiliation required. The complete collection includes many applications that are 100 pages or more, documents previously not available online.
Footnote has several other databases online now and is also promising much more data in the next few months for modest fees. The company is presently adding two million documents per month to the site and plans to increase that number in the future. Even better, the company recently dropped its prices. In fact, Footnote is becoming the bargain-priced provider of historical documents. Click here for more information about Footnote's many online databases.
Since Footnote sponsors this newsletter, I am obviously biased to the company's services. However, even if Footnote was not a sponsor, I think I would still be very enthused about this company's announced plans. With its ambitious plans and low prices, Footnote is becoming a major online resource for genealogists, historians, and many others.
Quintin Publications announced a partnership with WorldVitalRecords.com to provide access to thousands of genealogical and historical databases. Quintin Publications has long been a small, specialty publisher of genealogical and historical books. The late Bob Quintin started the company by republishing out-of-print French-Canadian genealogical books, then expanded into other ethnic groups and eventually into all sorts of historical materials. His catalog eventually included more than 10,000 titles. Sadly, Bob Quintin lost his battle with cancer in September 2005.
I knew Bob for years and purchased a number of books from him, both on paper and on CD-ROM disks. I was delighted to see that Bob's son Phil and Phil's wife Carol are now running the business, along with Bob's widow. Now Quintin Publications is about to place more than two and a half million pages of historical and genealogical material online through a new partnership with both FamilySearch and WorldVitalRecords.com. The material will be available free of charge to patrons who are at any of the FamilySearch centers around the world as well as at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The same records will also be available to in-home users on WorldVitalRecords.com for modest fees.
The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., World Vital Records, Inc., and FamilySearch announced at the conference a partnership whereby the historic collection of Ellis Island passenger arrival records will now also be freely available to visitors of the www.worldvitalrecords.com and www.familysearch.com websites. These records have been available online for some time but will now receive wider distribution.
WorldVitalRecords.com's genealogical records and resources will also be freely available to anyone who visits the www.worldvitalrecords.com and www.familysearch.com websites, thanks to an agreement between FamilySearch (TM) and WorldVitalRecords.com.
I heard reports that several more holders of genealogical materials, large and small, are in negotiations with FamilySearch to make their collections available online. I suspect there will be many more announcements in coming months.
The FamilySearch folks obviously were smiling at all the news circulating about their many new partnerships. FamilySearch had a huge booth at the conference, exhibiting some of the many services available.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a demonstration of what is being called "New Search." That name may change, but the functionality is assured. "New Search" is a beta version of a search interface and document viewer being developed by the Church for use on www.FamilySearch.org. This new user interface is difficult to describe in words; all I can say is that it is really slick. It should make records easier to find, and images of original documents will be easy to view. In fact, the document viewer is excellent. It looks a lot like the one used at Footnote.com although it was developed independently. In any case, it is an excellent viewer; it's easy to use, and it renders excellent reproductions of images.
I doubt if the New Search interface will be available to users in the next few months. However, the fact that it was being demonstrated at the conference indicates that it is a "real" product and eventually will be available to everyone once any remaining bugs have been removed.
In other news, ProQuest CSA and LexisNexis announced during the NGS conference that the two companies are working together to add genealogical data from the LexisNexis U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection to HeritageQuest Online. Information to be added will include the Private Relief Actions and Memorials and Petitions from the LexisNexis Serial Set collection.
The Generations Network, owners of Ancestry.com and several other web sites, gave private viewings of the new Ancestry Press service. This personal publishing service allows you to combine historical records, images, and other information from your family tree in professionally designed pages. You can then print them out and create a custom book for your family. A professional book binding service will also be available.
Ancestry Press allows the user to easily write family history books, complete with excellent source citations of various documents. For instance, when writing about the life of great-grandpa, you can easily insert images of the U.S. census records that list him. You might be able to include his World War I draft registration document or other documents created during his life. Source citations are automatically generated although you can modify them or add to them, if you wish. You can use pre-defined templates or create your own book format from scratch. You can make family history books now, and Ancestry Press is also developing family calendars, posters, photo albums, and more. You can choose to print books, share them online, or keep them private, as you wish. You can also upload your own pictures, write additional text, change page layouts, and much more. The user interface on this product is one of the best that I have seen in genealogy.
I will be writing more about Ancestry Press as it nears the end of beta. You can look at Ancestry Press now at http://www.ancestrypress.com.
All in all, I'd say the 2007 NGS Conference in the States and Family History Fair was a success. Pictures are available at http://blog.eogn.com/photos/ngs_2007/. Attendees were smiling, and many of the vendors reported record sales. To the conference organizers, I have one thing to say: "Thank you for a great conference."