Getting the Most From Genealogy Conferences

By attending, you can benefit your family-ancestry research in many ways.

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A terrific way to ramp up your family research is to attend a genealogy conference. You'll discover what's new in genealogy -- the latest research methods and new databases -- and visit exhibits that sell the latest in computer software and books. And it's the ideal place to meet other black researchers.

Such gatherings -- which typically include detailed, comprehensive workshops, speakers, luncheons and banquets -- may also provide valuable perks for attendees, such as history tours and free or reduced-price access to libraries and historical societies.

The National Black Genealogy Summit, for example, held most recently in Fort Wayne, Ind., in October, included a tour and extended research hours at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. For the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society's conference in Little Rock, Ark., in September, the Arkansas History Commission and the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies extended their research hours. The Mid-Atlantic Family History Conference, held in Cherry Hill, N.J., in October, included a tour of the Cherry Hill Family History Center.

Meanwhile, the National Genealogical Society conference, scheduled for May 2012, will include an evening at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and extended research hours at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Although thousands of African Americans are researching their families, we are still a minority at national genealogy conferences, whose demographic is usually white, middle-aged and/or elderly researchers. Consequently, there have been few topic-specific workshops for black researchers, and the few that were offered were aimed at research beginners. Out-of-town genealogy conferences can be pricey, especially since not only are you paying for registration, but you may also have to pay for travel and a hotel room.

But don't let this keep you from going; just be strategic about where you spend your conference dollars. Every year, more genealogy organizations are adding black speakers and workshops, so spend your money with them. Additionally, a conference's host town may appeal to you if you're researching in the state in which it's held. The expense of the trip may be worth it if the conference offers free and/or extended research hours at local or state libraries, archives and museums.

Conferences aren't pitched to the general public, so you must seek out sources of conference dates and locations. Going online is best. Check websites often, and keep an eye out for early-registration, hotel and airfare discounts. Meet the deadlines -- you can save plenty.

Here are other ways to find out about upcoming conferences:

  * Join Twitter and follow #LCAfricana, which tweets a link to African American Gen Daily, a genealogy-news website that posts dates and information about black genealogy conferences.

* Create a Facebook profile and "like" the pages for African-American, local and national genealogy organizations.

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