It's Sunday morning, and I am in a hotel room in St. George, Utah. I attended Family History Expo 2008 for the past two days. It was a good conference. I know it must have been good because I am exhausted.
For details of what was planned, read my earlier article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/01/family-history.html or check the conference's web site at http://www.myancestorsfound.com/events/upcoming.php?event_id=1. I can now report that the Expo went off just about as planned. More than 1,000 people attended this two-day event in a small city (population of about 76,000 people). St. George is in the extreme southwest corner of Utah, some 300 miles south of Salt Lake City and with a much warmer climate. While the city is in Utah, it is only about 120 miles from Las Vegas, and its climate is much more like that of Las Vegas than that of Salt Lake City. St. George is a great location for a mid-winter genealogy conference with its mild weather.
I am always surprised at the number of attendees at the annual Family History Expo. I wouldn't expect to see that many in a small city. The area does have a high percentage of LDS members, which obviously helps. Ease of access from Las Vegas via Interstate 15 also helps. Even so, I met people from Virginia, Texas, California, Idaho, and elsewhere, many of whom reported that they traveled to St. George for the sole purpose of attending the Expo.
The exhibit hall included vendors from England, Hawaii, and several east coast states. You can see a list of all the exhibitors at http://www.myancestorsfound.com/events/upcoming.php?event_id=1#exhibitors.
The Expo kicked off Friday morning with Beau Sharbrough, Vice President of Footnote.com, giving the keynote presentation. The talk was in a huge room that was filled. I suspect those in the rear of the room needed binoculars to see the speaker! However, the public address system worked well, and everyone probably heard every word of Beau's address. The talk seemed to be well received. While the primary theme of the speech was serious, Beau always manages to inject a lot of humor into any of his talks. I heard a lot of laughter in that room.
For me, the conference then became a blur of presentations, vendors, and people. I stayed very busy in the exhibit hall, where I had a booth for this newsletter. Lots of newsletter subscribers stopped by to chat, which is always a delight. I also met lots of "future subscribers" and told them about the good stuff in this newsletter, convincing them to give it a look.
I brought along a wireless "Wi-Fi" network router as well as EDGE wireless hardware so that all Expo attendees could use their own laptops, iPhones and handheld PDAs to check e-mail or even surf the web a bit while at the Expo. After all, one shouldn't be isolated from the rest of the world simply because of attending a genealogy event. The Wi-Fi network apparently worked well. I noticed that it was in use frequently.
This newsletter's booth also featured three laptops: one running Windows, one Macintosh, and one Linux system, just to prove that this newsletter can be accessed by anyone, regardless of operating system used. All three used the same Wi-Fi network while demonstrating features of the newsletter's web site at www.eogn.com.
The newsletter's booth was adjacent to that of Footnote.com and directly across the aisle from the booth of Legacy Family Tree. That proved to be a prime location with lots of "traffic" from interested genealogists.
I am not sure how many presentations and seminars were made, other than it was a large number. You can see the entire list at http://www.myancestorsfound.com/events/speaker_bio.php?eventID=1. I can report that there was a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced topics. The emphasis seemed to be on beginner and intermediate topics, a good choice in my opinion.
The Friday evening banquet featured Jean Wilcox Hibben with a musical look at events that shaped America and the newly arrived immigrants.
The Expo ended late Saturday afternoon with door prizes. I mean a LOT of door prizes. The announcers seemed to announce name after name of door prize winners for nearly an hour! The announcements were made in the back of the exhibit hall. This was the first event I recall in which the exhibitors did not start tearing down their booths early! With a thousand or so potential customers milling around the hall, almost all of the exhibitors kept their booths open and in business until after 5:00 PM. I saw one bookseller still making sales after 6:00 PM!
I am fascinated by one thing about the annual conference in St. George. I travel to quite a few genealogy conferences, and I hear many reports of the various events shrinking in size year after year. Not all of them are getting smaller, but many genealogy events are doing so. Yet the annual Expo in St. George gets bigger and bigger each year. It does so in a rather small city, unlike some of the "national conferences." It also draws a very enthusiastic crowd, probably more enthusiastic than other conferences I attend in the U.S. In fact, that is why I travel more than 2,500 miles (each way) to attend this conference: it is a lot of fun!
Why is the St. George Family History Expo successful year after year while some other conferences are struggling? I do not have all the answers, but I will offer a few observations:
- First, the Family History Expo is held in the same location year after year. I believe this is a major advantage over events that annually move from city to city. A small group of organizers can handle the large tasks simply because of familiarity. They know what worked or did not work in past years. Most of the workers were involved the previous year and have the experience to immediately dive into the new event each time it is held. A small, experienced crew can be much more efficient than a larger group of "interns" learning as they go each year. The conference center is always a known factor; even most of the exhibitors know exactly what needs to be done as many of them have "done it before."
- Price: While the price of admission to the Family History Expo 2008 was higher than some previous years, the $65.00 fee was a lot more attractive than the $150 to $200 charged by some national events. If you want a lot of people to show up, make sure you don't price the event out of reach of the average working (or retired) American!
- The presentations included beginner, intermediate, and advanced sessions, but the emphasis was on genealogy novices. That philosophy obviously worked well as the novices came by the hundreds.
- Speakers were not compensated, nor were they reimbursed for travel expenses. That obviously allows for lower expenses and lower admission fees, resulting in more attendees. Many of the speakers were also exhibitors and had years of experience in their areas of specialty. The result was a corps of experts offering presentations about topics with which they were intimately familiar.
Would these same ideas work at all genealogy conferences? Probably not. However, I will suggest that there are some lessons here to be learned by all genealogy conference organizers.
Holly Hansen and her crew at My Ancestors Found hold several Expos in Utah each year. The St. George event is the largest and most successful of these genealogy expos, but Holly reports that the others in Bountiful and Logan are also growing nicely each year and they are now expanding to Mesa, Arizona. The business plan she uses obviously works well.
I expect to be at the Family History Expo 2009 in St. George, Utah. If you want to attend a nice conference in a mild climate in February, circle February 27 and 28, 2009 on your calendar. This year's Expo was a lot of fun, and I bet next year's event will be as well.
Keep an eye on http://www.myancestorsfound.com/ for new details as they are added.