I spent much of last week at the annual conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. This conference serves as an annual reunion of top Jewish genealogists and newcomers alike. The conference is held in a different city around the world every year. This year’s event was held in Orlando, Florida on July 23 through 28. Count them: that’s 6 days of conference!
The conference was held at the Walt Disney World Swan resort, a top-notch venue for a conference. Than again, it is a Disney property so you expect it to be good! I don’t think anyone was disappointed.
The conference included 369 events, including 225 lectures and panels, 33 films, 42 BOF/SIG (Birds of a Feather/Special Interest Group) meetings, 19 computer workshops, an excellent computer lab, and more than a dozen breakfasts and luncheons.
60+ sessions were live streamed over the Internet and also will be available on demand (for a fee) until 1 November 2017. If you were unable to attend in person, you can learn more about watching many of the presentations by going to http://live.iajgs.org.
I am not a Jewish genealogist and am certainly not ranked anywhere, not at the top or bottom. However, I have attended and spoken at several past IAJGS conferences in various cities and have always enjoyed the conferences immensely. These are high-energy conferences! Sessions usually start at 7am (yawn!) most days and go until 6:15pm. Nine separate presentations are made at most any time with topics that not only include Jewish genealogy research, but also DNA, all sorts of computer topics, resources for beginners, privacy concerns for genealogists, and even preserving your family’s legacy with a video.
The presenters included some of the best-known experts in the word. The example that pops to mind is the presentation of Using the Knowles Collection as presented by W. Todd Knowles. Who else is better qualified to deliver that talk?
In addition, many SIGs (Special Interest Groups) and BOFs (Birds of a Feather) groups held meetings and a few made presentations to the general audience. I didn’t get a list of all these groups but some that I remember included the Austrian-Czech SIG, Danzi-Gdansk SIG, Macintosh Users BOF, YDNA Project Administrators’ BOF, Geni.com BOF, Telsiai/Siaulai District Research Groups of LitvakSIG, United Kingdom SIG, Professional Genealogists BOF, Sub-Carpathia SIG, and many others.
The guest speaker at the Thursday evening banquet was Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. Dr. Gates is a well-known teacher, historian, filmmaker and public intellectual who currently serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. In addition to producing and hosting several previous series on PBS devoted to the history and genealogy of prominent American figures, since 2012 Gates has been host for three seasons of the series Finding Your Roots on PBS.
In a departure from most other conferences, Dr. Gates spoke BEFORE dinner. (I was starved by the time the food arrived!) However, his talk was entertaining and filled with humor. He focused first on his own experiences growing up in a Black American family that kept the stories of slave ancestors and later ancestors alive in the minds of all family members. He then talked about the various television programs he has participated in and shared a number of (often humorous) stories about the creation and the taping of Finding Your Roots.
It was a good talk. I definitely will go to listen to Dr. Gates again if I ever find that he is speaking someplace near me.
Of course, a conference of this size needs financial support from sponsors. This year’s sponsors included:
MyHeritage / Geni
Jewish Genealogy Portal
Harris Rosen Foundation
The vendors’ area at the conference was small but remained busy most of the week. Vendors included most of the major names in the Jewish genealogy marketplace, including: MyHeritage, GENI, Avotaynu Online, Beit Hatfutsot, FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, JewishGen, Family Tree Maker, Sherlock Cohn, RootsMagic, JScreen, Life Story Preservers, and IAJGS 2016 Warsaw.
If you were unable to attend, you can still see a bit of information about the happenings at the 2017 IAJGS conference at: http://iajgs2017.org/. Then again, ask anyone who attended. I bet they all will report they were tired, but happy, by the end of the conference!
Next year’s IAJGS conference will be held in Warsaw, Poland on 6-10 August 2018. It will be co-hosted by the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews and by the Warsaw Jewish Historical Institute. You might want to mark your calendar and start making plans to attend now!
I am including a few snapshots I took. Most of them are of the vendors’ hall as I am reluctant to take pictures of anyone when they are in the middle of making a presentation.