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:
* Create a Facebook profile and "like" the pages for African-American, local and national genealogy organizations.
* Join local and national black genealogy groups and national genealogy societies. Get on each group's email list or ask to be sent information about conferences.
* Check Afrigeneas.com's calendar regularly.
* Bookmark the National Genealogical Society's page dedicated to events and conferences.
* Try "Upcoming events" on Christine's Genealogy Website.
* Explore the Events & Activities category on Cyndi's List, a roundup of sites.
* Also keep in mind About.com's About Genealogy Events Calendar.
When you're choosing a conference, go to the organization's list of classes on its website and look for African-American or slave-research workshops. If there are none, look for research-oriented or Internet/tech workshops, which are general-interest and will advance your work.
Once you're registered, do your homework on the leaders of the seminars you've chosen to attend. Read each leader's biography on the conference-registration website. Use Google.com to search for blogs, websites, YouTube research videos and books the leaders have written. Connect with them by following them on Twitter and "liking" their Facebook pages and/or subscribing to their updates.
After the workshop has ended, introduce yourself to the seminar leader. You'll usually find a contact email address in the handout materials — use it to ask your research questions.
Conferences are also an effective way to network with other genealogists. Introduce yourself to other researchers during luncheons and banquets and trade information.
While you're at the conference, you'll find plenty to buy: books, computer software, CDs, DVDs, clothing, ethnic collectibles and more. Remember to pick up applications and membership forms in the exhibit area from conference sponsors and genealogy organizations.
After the convention, fill out evaluation forms and request slave and African-American-related workshops. If no evaluation forms are distributed, email the conference organizers through the registration site and express your (constructive) opinion of the convention. Suggest speakers and workshop topics.
And think ahead to next year's conference. Consider conducting a workshop yourself and presenting your research to, for example, the Federation of Genealogical Societies or the National Genealogical Society. Go to the organization's website and look for a call for papers or proposals to submit your presentation idea.
Karin D. Berry is a newspaper journalist and freelance writer who has been researching her family history since 1988. Her articles, book reviews and op-ed articles have been published in Essence, Black Enterprise, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Macon Telegraph, the Baltimore Sun, the Evening Sun, Emerge and the Philadelphia Daily News.