Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Conference of the Fairfax Genealogical Society

For work and family reasons I have started to fall behind on various blogging prompts and planned articles; in addition, this weekend I attended the Spring Conference of the Fairfax Genealogical Society, held at the Fairfax Marriott at Fair Oaks Mall. I’ll tackle a report on that event first and hope to catch up on other posts later this week. (Madness Monday will probably be Wacko Wednesday, for instance.)

This year for the first time, Fairfax Genealogical Society sponsored a Friday evening session of the Conference, and selected a fabulous presentation to inaugurate the new feature: Google Earth for Genealogists by Pam and Rick Sayre. The conference room for this event was packed on a rainy Friday night, and attendees were bowled over by a spectacular presentation involving dual screens. Rick handled the PowerPoint screen describing the processes involved in various aspects of Google Earth that can be used for genealogy, while Pam did a live demonstration on Google Earth. It was fascinating to see how Google Earth has added certain features called “layers” (pictures, boundaries, etc.), while the individual user can add items (“overlays”) such as maps. If you ever have a chance to see this presentation at a genealogy conference, you must definitely go see what Google Earth has to offer by way of genealogy-related applications.

The Conference schedule indicated that on Saturday the vendor displays would be open for business at 8:00, an hour before the day’s presentations were to begin. This is the first genealogy conference I have ever attended and I live nearby, so I did not worry about getting there at 8:00 on the dot. I arrived at about 8:15, and attendees were already swarming the vendor tables. However, ample time was left open during the day in between presentations to examine the displays and wares. I headed for the first one to hit my eye, Heritage Books. Here again, as a newbie, I was not prepared. That is to say, my resistance was low. I bought. Lots. Of. Books. Next time, I hope to have a little more self-control. Make that a lot more self-control.

I chose to take a counterclockwise route around the displays, so that it was later in the day when I found the vendor table with items specifically for one of my high-priority areas, South Carolina. This was the table for Bruce Pruitt Books, which includes a number of materials and compilations by Dr. Pruitt as well as some by Brent Holcombe covering the Carolinas and Tennessee (if you do serious research in these areas, these guys are true celebrities). Dr. Pruitt was there himself, and was very courteous and helpful in finding the materials I needed and giving me advice on where to find other kinds of information relevant to my research. There were several other tables with books for sale, but a large proportion of the area-specific books covered Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Conference presentations on Saturday were divided into four tracks, with four presentations in each: Basic Research Techniques with Chuck Mason, Finding Germans in Germany with John Humphrey, Land Records at the National Archives with Claire Bettag, and Electronic Organization with Carole Magnuson, Liz Kerstens and Pam Sayre. I split my day, attending the Land Records at NARA lectures in the morning and the Electronic Organization lectures in the afternoon.

Each attendee was given 40 tickets to drop into bags around the vendor area to compete for a number of very nice door prizes (I did not win any). One of the prizes for which I dumped in a lot of tickets was three hours of lookups at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, which was sponsored by Dear Myrtle, who was one of our celebrity attendees.

The conference was very well organized, and the balance of time devoted to presentations relative to “down time” was just about perfect. This is an event that I will definitely put on my calendar every year.

(If I go this crazy at a local conference, I’m not sure anyone should let me near a national conference.)

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