The annual "Conference in the States" ended last night. This four-day event was co-sponsored by the National Genealogical Society and the North Carolina Genealogical Society. It was held at the Raleigh Convention Center, a state-of-the-art facility that served as a nearly perfect venue for the event. I never heard the final attendance figures but am guessing it was approximately 1,500 people.
This was my 21st NGS conference in the past 22 years (I missed the 1995 conference due to a family conflict), and I believe this year's event was one of the better ones. My hat is off to the organizers.
This year's conference was similar to most past NGS conferences: more than 100 top-notch presentations were given by many of today's foremost genealogy lecturers, along with numerous workshops, sponsored luncheons with speakers, a Friday night banquet, various tours, and more. You can find a list of all the events in the online conference brochure at http://members.ngsgenealogy.org/Conferences/Program.cfm.
You can view Michael Murphy's photos of the exhibits hall at http://blog.eogn.com/photos/ngs2009/.
I had a chance to speak at the Association of Professional Genealogists' Luncheon on Friday. My topic was "The Organized Genealogist," a title that created amusement amongst my family members when I first announced the topic selection. They know that I am not organized. However, I have learned a few techniques over the years to minimize the time required to find online information, and I did share those on Friday. I had fun with the topic, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. I'd like to thank the Association of Professional Genealogists for the opportunity to speak.
My favorite area is always the exhibit hall, and this year was no exception. It was a first-class exhibit hall with wide aisles and a snack bar and plenty of places to sit. Even in a down economy, many of the exhibitors reported brisk sales. One vendor near me reported they had their best sales ever of any conference they have attended.
The economy has taken its toll on genealogy vendors, however, as several of the "long-time regulars" did not show up this year. The more noticeable absences included Everton Publishers, Gateway Books, and others. Times are tough right now, and the genealogy business is not exempt.
I normally depend on the NGS annual conference as a source of information about new products and services. I must say that I was disappointed at this year's announcements: there weren't all that many. Perhaps this is another sign of the declining economy. To be sure, Ancestral Atlas was showing off their new GEDCOM import capability that was announced a couple of weeks earlier. Genline has some dynamite additions to their Swedish records web site that I want to write about in a week or two. There were other announcements as well, but not as many as those of past years.
My personal disappointment involved the wi-fi equipment that I brought along. A few days ago, I announced in this newsletter that I would be providing free wi-fi connectivity in the exhibit hall. I brought my equipment that picks up high-speed wireless signals from the nearest Verizon cell phone tower and then redistributes the signals via short-range wi-fi. It has worked well at past conferences.
Sadly, there was a problem this year that I could not solve. The exhibit hall was in the basement. The Raleigh Convention Center is built on the side of a hill. Depending upon which side of the building you use as a reference point, the exhibit hall is either one story or two stories underground. The Verizon signal was very weak in this hall, and connection speeds crawled.
The wi-fi system worked on the first day of the conference although the connection speed was slow. At one point I checked and found eleven people were connected simultaneously and were accessing the Internet. The second day of the conference was worse: the connection would work (slowly) for a while and then crawled to a halt. On the third and fourth days I couldn't even make a connection. Luckily, free wi-fi access worked well in the convention center's lobby, two stories above the subterranean exhibit hall. I saw many people in the lobby using laptops, presumably checking e-mail and surfing the web.
Many people with cell phones reported similar problems: Sprint, AT&T, and Nextel phones were dead in the basement exhibit hall with no available signals. My Apple iPhone uses AT&T and, as a result, was useless most of the time. I found that I could jump on the escalators and go up one or two stories where signals were much stronger. Verizon users did a bit better; their signals were weak in the hall but were usable.
I cannot blame the conference organizers or the Raleigh Convention Center for the lack of signals for cell phones or data. These are simple laws of physics: radio waves do not penetrate into basements very well.
The convention center's seminar rooms and the luncheon rooms seemed to be first-rate. The acoustics were good, and the temperatures seemed to be pleasant. I don't know why, but many convention centers seem to crank the air conditioning to maximum cold all the time. Luckily, the Raleigh Convention Center does not follow this practice. The rooms I visited were always pleasant.
All in all, I'd give this year's conference high praise in both subject matter and the facility selected. I enjoyed myself and think that most other attendees did the same.
I have written before about the expenses of attending national genealogy conferences. Paying for admission plus airfare plus hotel rooms plus restaurant meals can easily add up to $1,000 or more per person for a four-day event. Of course, the conference organizers have no control over airfares. They do have control over many other expenses, however.
This year's "Conference in the States" was a mix: the total expenses were high although not as expensive as some past years in other cities. To be sure, a ticket to the conference cost $245, certainly not cheap. NGS members received a $35 discount: $210. Early-bird discounts were also available for those who purchased tickets well in advance.
Admittance to the exhibit hall was free of charge to anyone. I talked with two couples who live in the Raleigh area who came to the conference and visited the exhibit hall without registering. Both couples expressed dismay at the high cost of tickets. They missed a great conference due to financial considerations. I suspect that many other locals stayed away for the same reason.
Most of us from out of town stayed in hotels, and the prices were not as bad as those of some past national conventions. Most conference attendees stayed at the adjoining Marriott Hotel or the nearby Sheraton. These two hotels within walking distance were not cheap: the Raleigh Marriott City Center charged $124 plus tax per night for a single or double room while the Sheraton Raleigh was $120 plus tax per night. Unlike some previous national conferences, both hotels offered free parking for automobiles. Sadly, both charged extra for high-speed Internet access. I am not certain of the Internet charges for these hotels, but $10 to $12 is rather typical. Free wi-fi access was available in the convention center's lobby, however.
Of course, attendees were not required to stay at any of the conference hotels. I met folks who stayed at the Raleigh Clarion State Capital (an eight-block walk away) and paid a more reasonable $79 plus tax per night. Others stayed at a Days Inn that was a bit further away.
I stayed in a lovely Wyndham Hotel near the Raleigh airport for $79 a night plus taxes, including free parking and free high-speed Internet connectivity. I rather preferred the quiet Wyndham, far from the hustle and bustle of the downtown hotels. Of course, being several miles away meant that I also had to rent a car and drive into the city daily to attend the conference. However, it also meant a short ride to the airport (ten minutes away) on Sunday morning to catch the 6:10 AM flight.
The suburban Wyndham appeared to be as nice as any of the downtown hotels that I saw. Compared to the rates at the Sheraton and the Marriott, I was able to pay for the suburban hotel room plus a rental car plus $7 a day in parking fees at the convention center's garage and still had money left over. Of course, having a rental car also provided a lot more flexibility: I was able to travel to restaurants, shopping, and more, which I did several times. The suburban restaurants also were generally cheaper than their downtown competitors.
By staying at a suburban hotel, I saved roughly $200 during the five-night stay plus had greater flexibility and a wider choice of restaurants. I was not dependent on shuttle buses and taxis.
At future genealogy conferences, I expect to check all my options. If the prices at the conference hotels seem to be excessive, I will again book a room at a cheaper suburban hotel and will again obtain a rental car. I don't like to pay exorbitant prices.
As a result of the great conference and my choice of a thrifty hotel, I enjoyed this year's "Conference in the States." Raleigh was a great choice of venue as it is a city that provides many options.
The 2010 NGS Family History Conference, "Follow Your Ancestral Trails," will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 29 April–1 May 2010. Those who have attended many NGS conferences in the past will notice that the dates are a bit earlier than normal. The end of April is a great time to be in Salt Lake City as hotel rooms tend to be a bit cheaper in the "off season." Details are not yet available, but I suspect they will appear in future months at http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
See you there?