What You Missed Last Week at the FGS Conference in Pittsburgh

A major genealogy conference was held last week at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from August 30 through September 2, 2017. It was the site of the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, co-sponsored by the local host, the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society. The conference center saw hundreds of genealogists wandering the halls, attending presentations, checking out the latest offerings in the exhibits hall, attending sponsored lunches, and simply having a good time.


This turned out to be an excellent venue for the conference. It is super modern and has all the audio-visual equipment one expects of a modern conference center. The only significant drawback that I noticed is that things were spread out in this huge facility. It was a long walk from the presentation rooms to the exhibits hall and back again. A few attendees with mobility issues had a difficult time with the walking. As for myself, I thought it was enjoyable exercise.

I was fortunate enough to attend this conference and must say that I had a good time. Judging by the smiles I saw, I believe most everyone else had similar experiences.

One presenter from Houston was unable to attend because of Hurricane Harvey. After all, both Houston airports reportedly had lots of water on the runway, so they were closed for obvious safety concerns. A substitute speaker was able to fill in at the mast minute, however. Likewise, one vendor, Family Tree DNA, is also based in Houston and was unable to attend for the same reason. Luckily, the booth material had already been shipped to Pittsburgh before the hurricane arrived and several of the company’s customers were able to step in and carry on business. I suspect that most of the booth visitors never realized they were talking to a Family Tree DNA customer, not to an employee of the firm.

NOTE: Family Tree DNA reports that all the DNA samples and other material are safe and sound in the company’s 8th-floor headquarters in a Houston high-rise building. The problem is that employees could not make it to the office due to flood waters so the company remained closed most of the week.

I never heard the final attendance figures but the total attendance at the conference seemed to be significantly less than in previous years. Some of the drop can be attributed to Hurricane Harvey, especially those who were traveling from Houston and perhaps a few whose travel plans entailed airplane changes in Houston. However, I doubt if the hurricane alone was solely responsible for the lower attendance. Attendance at any large conference is always dependent upon many different factors. I can only guess at the factors involved in this year’s conference.

I could report on the 100+ presentations and workshops, but that report is already available elsewhere online. See https://www.fgsconference.org/program/2017-schedule/ for the schedule and for full bios of the speakers.

Likewise, I could include pictures of some of the presenters in mid-presentation, but taking photographs during presentations is frowned upon. Besides, the presentation rooms of conference centers all look more-or-less alike! You can learn more about the speakers in their bios at: https://www.fgsconference.org/program/speakers/.

I did take lots of pictures of the exhibits hall, however. That seemed to be where most of the action could be found. The number of vendors exhibiting seemed to be a bit less than previous years, but several new (to me) vendors helped make up the difference.

If you were unable to attend the conference, or if perhaps you were there but were not able to attend all the sessions you wanted to, all is not lost. Most of the presentations were recorded by Fleetwood Onsite and are available for purchase. You may choose to receive your recording online, on a CD (does anyone still use CDs?), or on a USB flash drive. Go to http://www.fleetwoodonsite.com/fgs to see what is available and to order.

Of course, the after-hours activities were enjoyable. A “Gateway Clipper Dinner Cruise” was sponsored by the conference organizers on Wednesday evening and many conference attendees enjoyed cruising up and down Pittsburgh’s three big rivers. In addition, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in town during the conference playing the Cincinnati Reds on Friday and Saturday. FGS partnered with the Pirates to offer discounted tickets to conference attendees.

In addition, MyHeritage took a large contingent of customers and guests to the Friday night ball game. We were quite the crowd in the grandstands, all of us with our identical baseball caps labeled “MyHeritage” and each of us with a custom-made baseball shirt with out last name and favorite number on the back of each shirt. (My shirt displayed the number zero!) A good time was had by all.

Despite the fact that the Pittsburg Pirates lost that game, the ball park still put on an amazing fireworks display immediately following the game. You can view a bit of my video of the fireworks at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/tRiIBIXKkLZknNUE3

Here are a few photographs that I took of the exhibits hall and a few of the activities held during the week. Click on any image to view a larger version.

The photo above shows the exhibits hall before it opened.

Bowling for DNA? Exactly! In the MyHeritage booth, anyone who could get a strike in beanbag bowling received a free DNA kit!

Beanbag in flight

Jim Beidler describes his about-to-be-released book, “The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide”

Pierre Cloutier of Progeny Genealogy shows off some of the beautiful charts he offers as plug-ins for Family Tree Maker

Software MacKiev had a large display booth at the conference, answering questions from users of Family Tree Maker.

Ancestry had a large and multi-sided booth at the conference. I never was able to get a photo that shows the entire booth!

Living DNA is a relative newcomer that is growing rapidly and becoming a serious vendor in DNA studies.


Jeanette Piecznski had the best costume of the conference. This one was a typical example of what Victorian women wore.

Printed books certainly have not yet been completely replaced by ebooks!

The booth of the Midwest Genealogy Center

If your ancestors lived in one or more of the public land states, the Bureau of Land Management has excellent resources available at no charge. I am always surprised at how many genealogists are unaware of this service!

TSOLife is a revolutionary online platform that allows users to record a digital legacy to leave behind for future generations.

Need a map? Michiana History Publications can help!

Next year’s FGS conference will be held August 22 through 25 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. See you there?


I wonder if the lower attendance is attributable, at least in part, to the explosion over recent years of conferences, institutes, regional meetings, courses, webinars, and other educational opportunities for genealogists.
Claire Bettag


Good coverage of the conference, very good presentations. Worth getting up for 8 am sessions and staying for the 5 pm sessions. Area around the convention center has greatly improved with the number of restaurants since NGS was there. FGS and Western PA Genealogical Assn worked hard and did a great job.


I greatly enjoyed the conference, and the folks I met, but I could never make any of the 5 pm sessions. I wonder how the exhibitors felt, though. I didn’t ever pop into the exhibit hall between sessions because of the distance.


I went to the conference for Friday only. It worked for me though since I live in Atlanta, but have family in Pittsburgh. I spent every free minute in the exibit hall and took in 4 great classes, the distance between the two was different but workable. Got lots of exercise and then sat for an hour! I’ve been at this for a while orver a decade and always learn or hear something new or of interest. Also, Uber is great for navigating a city that is as busy as most and my driver got me back and forth in record time! Great presenters and exibitors!


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