When You Can't Make the Conference

A version of this article first appeared in the January/February 2002 issue of Ancestry Magazine

By Mark Howells

Genealogy conferences are one of the best means of developing your skills as a family historian. International experts provide educational lectures on a variety of genealogical topics at these conventions. Vendors of a plethora of products populated a bazaar of genealogical delights. The interaction with fellow enthusiasts is both invigorating and educational.

There are three major national conferences in the United States each year and a host of excellent specialty, regional, state, and local conferences all over the country as well. I make an effort to attend at least one national conference every year. That's about all my work schedule will allow me to frequent. The problem with not being able to attend all the major conferences is that I know I'm missing out on excellent educational opportunities. If your travel budget is limited like mine, you might despair of every getting a benefit out of the conferences you are unable to attend. There is, however, a simple and relatively cheap solution to the dilemma of missed conferences.

The Next Best Thing To Being There

One of the best kept secrets in genealogy education is the old and familiar technology of audio tape. The three major genealogical conferences (sponsored by the National Genealogical Society - www.ngsgenealogy.org , the Federation of Genealogical Societies - www.fgs.org , and GenTech - www.gentech.org ) have their presentations and luncheon lectures professionally recorded. A company by the name of Repeat Performances - www.audiotapes.com - attends these conferences and, with the agreement of the speakers, tape records their presentations for resale. Some of the specialty and regional genealogy conferences are also taped in this manner. The folks at Repeat Performance are well-known to regular conference-goers in the genealogical community. They are invariably there ensuring that the audio wizardry required to record multiple session in diverse locations within a venue is in place. Besides recording the sessions, they are often seen assisting with the public address system in conference rooms and are always a ready source of information regarding the conference schedule of speakers.

These tapes represent a win-win situation for everyone involved with the conference. Conference attendees who miss a session or have to choose between lectures with conflicting presentation times can purchase the tapes of the sessions which they missed - usually within an hour after the session completed. The Repeat Performance team brings high speed audio tape reproduction equipment to the conference which allows them to crank out copies of taped lectures at an amazing rate. The speakers who consent to having their presentations recorded receive a small royalty from the sale of each tape. The host of the conference has an audio record of the proceedings while Repeat Performance makes a small profit off the sale of each tape as well. As useful as these audio tapes are for those involved in presenting or participating in a conference, they are even more valuable to those of us who can not attend.

Previews and Ordering

Prior to a conference which I will not be attending, I like to review the course offerings provided ahead of time at the sponsoring organization's web site. I identify those lectures which interest me and are most germane to my personal research. Then, a few weeks after the conference has concluded, I visit Repeat Performances' web site at www.audiotapes.com . Once there, I look to see if the presentations of interest are available for ordering yet. Remember that some speakers do not grant permission for the recording of their presentations and all conference speaking schedules are subject to last minute changes and substitutions. But you will usually find most of the topics that interest you were, in fact, recorded. Some short 5-minute audio clips of selected presentations are available for listening over the Internet using the free RealAudio player (available at www.real.com ). This can give you a good preview of the speaker and the presentation before you purchase the tape. I order the tapes by phone, fax, or mail and I soon have the tapes I want arriving by postal mail in a week or two.

Closed Track With Professional Driver

The convenience of the taped lectures are several fold. I like to listen to them while I'm commuting in my car. The only drawback to listening in my car is that I have to pull off to the side of the road to take a note or two from the tape. Missed something that the speaker just said? It is simple to rewind and play it again in order to fully understand what they're saying. One of the great things about the tapes is that they also record the questions from the audience at the conference. Usually I find these questions to be excellent ones. Often they are questions I was wondering myself. Forget a point the speaker made about something some weeks later? The audio tapes can be listened to again whenever the need arises.

Based on your own schedule and at your own speed, you can benefit from some of the best educational material available in genealogy. As a hobby, we are lucky to have this option available to us. Single lecture tapes cost US$8.50 and there are discounts for multiple tape orders above a certain number of tapes. These prices are slightly less expensive than other professionally taped lectures I am familiar with from conferences in other walks of life.

Looking For A Handout?

There is another valuable piece of conference material that you can obtain without attending the conference itself. The syllabus materials provided to all conference attendees are often available for sale after the conference has concluded. Check with the sponsoring organization's web site to see if they offer these large tomes of information. These consist of the paper handouts that the speakers provided to the conference organizers prior to the conference. They tend to be a fairly good sized book in length with anywhere from two to a dozen pages for each presentation.

Prices range from US$10 to $30 for the entire syllabus of a single conference. Occasionally, the conference sponsors will give discounts for purchases of multi-year sets of their syllabi. I find that the bibliographies alone are worth the purchase price. The combination of the audio tapes of the presentation plus the use of the post-conference syllabus, when used in tandem, is the next best thing to being at the conference itself. Of course, I don't follow along in the syllabus while I'm driving. I use the syllabus in conjunction with a small tape player I have in my office for the full effect.

When You Can't Be There In Person

With the limited opportunities for travel which some of us face, we often can't attend genealogy conferences unless they happen to be hosted nearby. To overcome this disadvantage, you can use post-conference audio tapes and syllabi to still get great benefits from the conferences which you are unable to attend. Listening to the audio tapes while driving, exercising, or just relaxing can provide a wealth of genealogical knowledge transfer direct from the expert to your ears. The very valuable post-conference syllabi can round out your understanding of the speaker's presentation by providing you with the printed information the speaker wished to impart. What a great way to increase your genealogical expertise without leaving home.

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When You Can't Make the Conference
Created & maintained by Mark Howells.
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Updated March 24, 2002

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