Plans for the National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference in May

The (U.S.) National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference is planned for May 20 to 23, 2020 in Salt Lake City. Obviously, with all the news and the impact of the CoronaVirus (also called COVID-19) and especially the frequent announcements of cancelations or postponements of other large conferences, conventions, and other meetings, the wisdom of holding a major conference at this time is in question.

Specific questions include:

Should the conference be canceled?

If it is held as an in-person event, how many people are willing to travel to the event in these times?

Will the convention center, nearby hotels and restaurants, and even the airlines be capable of handling a large conference during these times of many events being canceled? (Many of those organizations are presently operating with minimal staffing; in some cases, the needed facility may be closed.)

What are the financial penalties of canceling contracts that were signed one, two, or more years ago for the conference center, hotels, presenters, and more?

Should the conference be postponed until a later date? If so, could a suitable facility and the required support services be available on a few weeks’ or months’ notice?

Could the conference be converted to a “virtual conference” that anyone can attend from their home? Could it be converted on two months notice?

What does the future hold? Will the CoronaVirus issues subside in two months, or will the problems increase?

And the most obvious question of all is, “What does the National Genealogical Society do to properly protect the health and safety of everyone involved: attendees, presenters, employees, conference center personnel, and others?

As you might guess, there are no easy answers.

I had an opportunity earlier today to attend a planning session teleconference of several senior officials of the National Genealogical Society. It was a fascinating experience. In fact, all of the above questions were discussed at length. I decided to write a brief summation of the discussions to publish in this newsletter.

In short, everyone at NGS strongly prefers to hold an in-person conference that is bigger and better than any held before.

Yes, that is everyone’s preference. However, the CoronaVirus issues obviously are a huge impediment that may render the preferred solution impossible. Everyone may have to settle for a second-best solution that is much more practical.

I can assure you that the multiple issues involved are being closely monitored by the National Genealogical Society, and everyone involved is trying to find the best and safest solutions possible. The senior officials of NGS are spending a lot of time in teleconferences!

After listening to the conversations this morning, I will make two predictions:

1. Everyone at NGS is committed wants to hold a conference of some sort, even though it probably will not be the preferred solution of anyone. However, nobody is certain if a modified conference can be held on such short notice, especially with the unknown future of travel and large meetings in the face of the still-developing CoronaVirus issues.

2. These things do take time, even though time is limited in this case. In short, do not expect any announcements from NGS within the next few days. There is much work to do first.

On a personal note, I will say that it was very reassuring to listen to the planning and commitment of the people involved. Whatever the final announcement will be, this obviously will not be a “shoot-from-the-hip” solution.

10 Comments

Also, many of them are older women at particular risk with this COVID-19.

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As a member of the older set, I would like to remind folks that not everyone is fortunate enough to have in home internet appropriate to participate in a virtual conference.
Thanks again Dick for your dedication to genealogy.

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I have been waiting for this conference to come back on the East Coast and Salt Lake City in particular and have already paid for the whole thing. I’m in that age group and have no problem attending a large group and am hoping that at least the library will be open. Even if a few speakers are canceled, a smaller version would be better than none at all. If you are healthy, go ahead and attend, I for one do not want to stay home and do nothing. PLEASE keep it going……..

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    Coming from long distances may be a problem. I for one live in Canada, and it may be difficult to make connections and travel that route. It doesn’t appear that this problem will disappear overnight. Thank you for all your efforts. Keep us informed. Pam in Canada (Pam Moughton email word4wrd@shaw.ca

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    The library is closed.

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jmhealy1comcastnet March 17, 2020 at 9:42 am

As of Yesterday attendance at gatherings are to be 25 or less. Also the Canadian government closed their border. I for one would like to see this and others do a virtual conference. Not ideal for all possibly but better that nothing.

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Should be postponed. Too early. Expect 8 weeks or more, so that meant end of May for any chance of no outbreaks.

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Things have now gone from bad to worse with travel being restricted and now an earthquake in Salt Lake City – and their library is closed – I was hoping for maybe a postponement but that doesn’t seem very likely – so the conference should probably be canceled now and try again next year. A huge disappointment…..

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Many hotels are shutting down and cutting back in Salt Lake. Schools are shut down until at least May 1. The main genealogy library is closed. The conference should be canceled to give everyone time to back out of commitments. Salt Palace is also shut down as are all city and county facilities.

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Rebecca Pinkas – Attendees will be from every state of the Union. Even if COVID19 cases in Salt Lake are low, holding the conference may be inviting an increase of cases. The average age of participants, the proximity of attendees in the various sessions as well as the travel difficulties point to cancellation of the conference in my opinion.

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