Warning: This article contains personal opinions.
A newsletter reader wrote to me a few days ago and asked some questions that I suspect other genealogists are wondering about. Here is an excerpt from her message:
“Every time I look at a genealogy website these days I see lists of events which are cancelled or postponed. Some societies have adjusted to this by offering webinars or remote sessions via Zoom. We are left wondering if we will ever meet in groups, or go to our local Family History Center again. Or is this the end of genealogy as we have known it?”
I wrote an answer to her but decided to also publish my answer in this newsletter in case others have similar questions:
—> Or is this the end of genealogy as we have known it?
I believe the opposite is true. I believe we are seeing the new opportunities being offered to many more genealogists, opportunities we never had before. Of course, these new opportunities require change, and some people are not comfortable with changes. They want everything to keep working exactly the same way as it has always worked before. However, anyone who can adjust to changes will benefit from many of the new methods.
In the past (up until about 3 months ago), attending conferences, presentations, workshops, and similar events usually meant you had to live within an area near the event or else you had to spend hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars to attend more distant events. (For instance, going to a 4-day national conference in a distant city may cost more than $1,000 US for airfare, hotels, restaurant meals, and admission to the event.) As a result, thousands of genealogists were unable to attend because of personal finance issues or simply because of the lack of time available.
I speak from experience. I have attended genealogy conferences all over the U.S. and Canada as well as some other conferences in New Zealand, Norway, Israel, England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. For instance, if your ancestors were mostly from Norway, attending a conference where the Norwegian genealogy experts are speaking in Oslo is very expensive! (I can show you my receipts!)
Next, even local events often have time constraints. They are not always held at a time when you can attend. The location also may not be convenient for you. Even local events sometimes require parking fees, admission fees to the event, and similar expenses. In my case, I enjoy not having to “dress up” instead of wearing my normal uniform: a t-shirt, blue jeans, and flip-flops.
The “Brave New World” we all are now facing solves many such problems. You can now easily attend online webinars where the speaker(s) may be anywhere in the world. You don’t even need to dress up!
For instance, about 10 days ago, I presented an online webinar hosted by MyHeritage. I was in my home in Orlando; the lady who ran the webinar and was the master of ceremonies was in her home in the Tel Aviv suburbs; and we had attendees from all over Europe, North America, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand (where it was around 2 AM local time!), Singapore, one from Jamaica, and I don’t know where else. I could never attract that kind of an audience if I gave only in-person presentations!
Next, for those who could not attend at that time of day or night, the entire presentation was recorded and is available as an online video file that anyone can watch at any time. It probably will remain available to everyone, for years.
Undoubtedly the biggest advantage of virtual conferences, presentations, and so-called “webinars” is economics: you no longer have to spend exorbitant sums of money to “attend” such conferences. The most prohibitive costs – for travel, hotels, and restaurants – disappear with online “virtual” conferences. Anyone with an internet connection can attend. For some online webinars there may be a modest charge. However, even that expense is trivial when compared to what we have paid in the past for airfares, hotel rooms, and meals. The result is that expert genealogy information is now available to thousands of people who could never afford the expense of attending a traditional physical event.
So is this a perfect solution? No, not at all. There will always be some disadvantages. However, I do believe online conferencing offers many advantages over the old-fashioned requirements of attending conferences in person. Best of all, more people can attend an online presentation and learn from the presenter(s). I hope online virtual conferences will become more and more popular in the future, even after the present pandemic fades away.
So what conference are you going to attend (virtually) next?