I just spent three pleasant days at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) in Manchester, New Hampshire. I must say that this year's event was well organized, and most everything worked as planned. I never heard the final attendance count but am guessing it must have been close to 800 genealogists. The venue was great, just about the perfect size for an event of this type. Everyone I talked with seemed to enjoy the conference.
I could go on and write about the conference in detail, but you can already find lots of information in previous articles that I wrote at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/04/this-week-at-nergc.html and at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/02/new-england-regional-genealogical-conference.html as well as more information on NERGC's web site at http://nergc.org/2009/. Everything there talks about the "upcoming event," but I can report that most everything happened as planned.
I will share a few of my own observations about the conference, however.
First of all, I will point out that I have previously written complaining articles about the ever-growing expenses of attending many other national and regional conferences. (See http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/09/highway-robbery.html for my earlier article.) It seems to me that conference planners often ignore the fact that genealogy is a hobby or personal interest and that the majority of would-be attendees are working folks with strict budgets or retirees on fixed incomes, often with even tighter budgets. Holding a conference in a big-city convention center that caters to business conferences often places genealogy events beyond the financial reach of many who would like to attend.
I will suggest that the 2009 NERGC conference is an example of "how to do it right."
This year's NERGC conference was held in Manchester, New Hampshire, a small city with small-city prices. The cost of hotels, the convention center, and restaurant meals was much less than similar facilities in Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, or other big cities. Manchester has excellent airport service and is also easily reached by multiple super highways.
Being in the northeastern corner of the United States was inconvenient for a few who wished to travel from other parts of the country. However, this is the New England Conference, so the majority of would-be attendees live in or close to New England. This year's conference location was within a 3- or 4-hour drive for everyone in New England, except perhaps for those in northern Maine, an area with a low population anyway. In short, Manchester served as an excellent gathering place for the majority of genealogists who wished to attend.
The conference hotel was not cheap at $125 a night, but I have paid quite a bit more at genealogy conferences held in other cities. A nearby Hilton was available at roughly the same price, but there are perhaps a dozen or more discount hotels within 5 miles that were viable alternatives for anyone with an automobile. One conference attendee told me that he was paying $65 a night for a very nice hotel room about three miles away.
Parking at the hotel and convention center was $8.00 a day for guests of the hotel although I think it was higher for non-hotel guests. I would have preferred free parking, but $8.00 a day is still much cheaper than the $40 a day I had to pay for parking at another genealogy conference last year and the $10 to $25 a day I have paid at many other places. I once paid $55 to park for eight hours near a one-day genealogy conference in New York City, but of course, New York City is unlike any other place on earth. In any case, $8.00 a day seems modest.
When I checked in at the conference, I was delighted to find that the conference syllabus was given to me as a CD-ROM disk. This is one syllabus that I kept and took home with me! Why can't all the other conferences do the same?
High-speed Internet connectivity via Wi-Fi wireless networking was free in the conference hotel's rooms as well as in the hotel lobby, and it worked well. Unlike many other hotels, the Radisson in Manchester does not gouge its guests by making them pay extra fees for Internet access. I saw lots of conference attendees seated in a "conversation area" just off the hotel lobby, all with their laptops in use and presumably checking their e-mail messages.
Most Radisson and Radisson SAS hotels in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and Radisson Edwardian hotels in the United Kingdom offer free broadband access in guest rooms. The Manchester Radisson's business center was also available free of charge. I used the business center's printer to print a hard copy of a 30-page document I had written and was amazed to find that even my print-outs were free of charge. I am now a bigger fan of Radisson hotels than ever. Thanks to the free Internet access and other “perks,” I am now more likely to book a hotel room at a Radisson hotel on future trips to other cities.
While I was in the business center, I saw two other conference attendees printing out pages from the conference syllabus CD-ROM. That struck me as the perfect solution to the “syllabus on disk versus syllabus on paper” question: those who wanted it on paper were able to quickly and easily print out any and all the pages they wanted.
The convention center was connected directly to the conference hotel; attendees did not need to venture outside in the weather. As it happens, the weather wasn't a problem; it was gorgeous. Most of the presentations, luncheons, and banquets were held in the hotel's conference rooms, all within a short walk of the hotel's elevators. The exhibit hall and a few other events were held in the convention center, a two-minute (indoor) walk away.
The $135 conference registration fee also was not cheap but, again, was not as expensive as some past genealogy events. This conference attracted both well-known national presenters and many local, lesser-known experts. Of course, the local presenters often are great experts in their topic(s) of specialization.
Unlike most other conferences in recent years, I did not sponsor a newsletter booth in the exhibit hall at this year's NERGC event, nor did I make any presentations. I was there simply as an attendee, and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely. I even had time to attend a number of presentations!
I did get a chance to talk with many other attendees and can report that every person I asked said that they were enjoying the conference. The only complaint anyone mentioned was regarding the printed schedule of events that seemed to spread the information over many pages. Trying to identify the events being held and the names of the speakers, and then finding the room numbers where they were being held required a lot of page flipping!
Nothing is ever perfect, but this year's New England Regional Genealogical Conference came close. My hat is off to all those who labored so hard to make this year's event a success.
Roots Television was also at this year's NERGC conference and videotaped a number of interviews. If you were not able to attend this year's event, you will still be able to see some of the presenters in videos within the next few weeks at http://www.RootsTelevision.com.
The next New England Regional Genealogical Conference will be held in 2011, two years from now, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Details will be released as that date approaches. I suspect that information will first appear at http://www.nergc.org but don't look for anything new there for some months yet. The NERGC organizers are likely to take some well-deserved time off first!