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I had a fun day today, visiting with about 800 other genealogists at the bi-annual New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) in Springfield. While some pre-conference activities were held yesterday, the conference officially started this morning with the Opening Session held at 10 AM.
Opening remarks by were made by conference co-chairs Pauline Cusson and Richard Clarke Roberts.
Their introductory comments were followed by D. Joshua Taylor, speaking on Family History in Primetime: Genealogy's Next Generation. I've heard Josh speak before and he always gives interesting presentations but I think he outdid himself this morning. Of course, the fact that he is appearing (again) on national television tomorrow night with about 80 million viewers seeing him in action helping Ashley Judd with her genealogy on Who Do You Think You Are? probably gave him a lot of self-confidence. Whatever the reason, he delivered a very interesting talk.
Josh spoke about the changing techniques and demographics of genealogists. He is employed at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston and he pointed out that the society is seeing a much younger and more diverse group of patrons than ever before. Many of today's visitors are in their twenties and a few are in their teens. One group he has worked with quite a bit have families that immigrated to America after 1900 with several immigrants arriving after 1990. For most of these younger visitors, their grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents do not appear in the 1930 U.S. census, long a standard tool for beginning genealogists.
Many of the beginning genealogists in this group have ancestry from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, China, Cambodia, and other countries that we typically have not documented in our genealogy libraries. One statistic he offered really floored me although I guess it is typical of today's families: 50% of the new genealogists in the group he worked with do not share a surname with their own fathers.
This changing "customer base" of new genealogists present new challenges to genealogy libraries and societies everywhere. He predicts these changes will continue and become bigger within a very few years.
If you ever have a chance to hear Josh Taylor speak on the topic of serving the new generation of genealogists, I suggest you make sure you attend.
Following Josh's presentation, about 800 genealogists headed to the four over-worked elevators to head for the seminars. I waited for a bit until the crowd thinned out.
Seminars and workshops started at 12:15 and continued all afternoon. Over the three days, there will be 83 lectures, 9 workshops (most of them fully booked in advance), and a number of luncheons. You can see the full list in the conference brochure at http://www.nergc.org/NERGC2011/program.html
This evening, a Society Fair and Social Hour was held with societies from all over New England in attendance to answer questions and provide information about each society's goals, services, and availability.
At 6:00 PM, the Exhibit Hall opened. I planned to be just outside the door at exactly 6 PM to be one of the first to enter. However, when I wandered by at about 5:55 PM, the place was so crowded I couldn't get near the door! I retreated to a quieter location on the floor below, participated in a radio interview with Thomas MacEntee for a while, then got back to the Exhibits Hall about 6:15. The crowd outside had thinned as they had all moved inside the Hall. The place was still crowded!
You can listen to Thomas MacEntee's interview of Elissa Scalise Powell, CG of the Board for Certification of Genealogists; Sharon Sergeant of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council; David Lambert of the New England Historic Genealogical Society; myself; and others at the NERGC conference. The broadcast was held live from the conference and has also been recorded so that you can listen to it at any time at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/geneabloggers/2011/04/07/special-new-england-regional-genealogical-conference-broadcast.
The conference center in Springfield is modern and is a good location in most ways. The only thing "strange" is that it filled two hotels that are across the street from each other. In some cases, it was a long walk between sessions, even including elevator rides to the sixth floor, with the help of a map given to each attendee. I got a lot of exercise today!
I must say that a conference start at 10 AM seems so much more civilized than an 8 AM start time I see at many other conferences. Since I am not a "morning person," I appreciate the 10 AM start. In turn, the festivities ran well into the evening so the conference still filled a complete day. However, tomorrow's presentations do start at 8:30 AM. (yawn!)
I'll be back at the conference tomorrow morning and hope to attend more sessions and spend some time in the Exhibits Hall. In the meantime, you may enjoy some of the pictures I took.
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