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Quarantine Advice: Enjoy a Genealogy Conference from Home

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega gives many good tips to prepare for participating in an online genealogy conference or presentation. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

It’s genealogy conference season – but this year is very different from previous years. No one is going anywhere. Travel is largely restricted right now and most likely that won’t change anytime soon. Concerns over health take precedence and that means that conferences, institutes, seminars, classes and other educational opportunities are going online. While those of us who love to travel might be disappointed, this is a huge benefit to those who normally are unable to travel due to health, caretaking responsibilities, work obligations, or financial issues.

Illustration: video telephony predicted to be in use by the year 2000, as envisioned in 1910 (artist’s conception)
Illustration: video telephony predicted to be in use by the year 2000, as envisioned in 1910 (artist’s conception). Credit: Villemard; Wikimedia Commons.

Maybe you’re reading about all these online genealogy events and you have decided to attend one. Great! But just like an in-person conference, there are a few things you should consider before you register. The following are some ideas based on the online events I’ve been participating in as a speaker and as a student.

Consider What You Need to Learn

Take some time to identify what you need to learn based on your research or your research goals, since there are so many wonderful educational opportunities right now, both free and fee-based. You can’t attend everything (well, I guess you could try), so prioritize what would benefit your research the most and then seek out those opportunities.

What types of opportunities exist? You might choose to attend:

  • Institutes (week-long, in-depth study of one topic sponsored by societies and educational groups)
  • Conferences (multi-day events, sponsored by a society, library, or archive)
  • Seminars (1-day event sponsored by a society, library, or archive)
  • Presentations (1-hour lecture sponsored by a society, educational group, library, or archive)
  • Classes (week or longer, sponsored by societies, educational groups, and libraries)

To learn more about virtual opportunities, see the Conference Keeper website.

Get Familiar with the Website

Have you decided on a particular event? Take some time before signing up or paying your registration for that conference, course, or other educational opportunity to learn more about what is being offered. Consider:

  • What is the cost? (free, tiered pricing, or one flat rate)
  • Who is speaking and on what topic/s?
  • What day/days does this event cover?
  • What topics do I need to know more about?
  • Am I available when live events are happening?
  • Are there any discounts? (members of the host society/organization might be able to register at a discount)
  • What are the benefits of attending? (virtual exhibit hall, discounts, membership to a society, prizes, etc.)
  • What do you get for your registration fee? (access to videos, Q+A’s, syllabus/handouts)
  • What will you need to attend? (free software download, ability to play mp4 files, a camera or a microphone for interaction – this is not necessary for most events)
  • What happens if you, the host, or the speaker lose internet access? (are lectures recorded, will it be rescheduled if the host or the speaker has a problem?)
  • What limitations do you have? (technology, internet connection, time)
  • How can I ask questions of the speaker? (chat rooms, Q+A session after event, accessibility via a discussion or email)

If you have questions, make sure to ask before the event. Also, if the event allows for a “practice session” to become familiar with the platform or to sign on early, take advantage of that – especially if you are new to that platform (GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc.). It can be extremely frustrating to attend a live event and have problems. Don’t expect that organizers will be able to help you during the live event since they will be busy. Signing in early and asking questions beforehand can be beneficial.

Schedule Time

The nice thing about online conferences is they may provide a hybrid experience, combining “live” events and pre-recorded lectures. Pre-recorded or archived lectures allow you the opportunity to enjoy them when you have time. However, keep in mind that you may actually not have enough time to watch everything that you originally planned to.

It’s easy to think that you’re not doing anything right now so you have plenty of time to watch pre-recorded lectures. But in some cases, you may find yourself busier or more distracted than normal. Many of us are in situations where we have more family members home during the day demanding our attention. It’s a good idea to schedule some time when you can focus on the lectures. You may have limited access to those recorded sessions, so make sure you know when they “expire.” Note that date on your calendar and then set a reminder for the week before that date. It’s human nature to think “I have plenty of time!” only to later realize you don’t.

Be Engaged

The benefit of going to an event like a conference is that you are there to specifically be at that event, your focus is on that event, and if you are away from home, your everyday life is left… at home.

However, with a virtual event, especially an event that takes place over days, you still have your home responsibilities, your everyday life chores, and people who may vie for your attention.

Aside from scheduling your time, I also recommend that you get ready to learn as you prepare to participate in the virtual event. That means:

  • Sign into the event 10 minutes before (or earlier) to make sure everything is working
  • Be prepared to take notes
  • Have the handout available to follow along
  • Concentrate on what’s being said

Do not:

  • Try to multi-task
  • Listen to the event where everyone else in your family is (better to be in a quiet room, if possible)
  • Assume you have plenty of time to watch sessions (especially if there is an end date for archived lectures)

This is your time. Use it to strengthen your genealogical education and goals.

Ready to Learn Online?

This is a unique time, and because of that there are some opportunities that we can benefit from. Whether you attend a genealogy society presentation virtually that would normally be too far to attend in person, participate in a conference or seminar virtually from across the nation, or take a class that you could never attend in person, now is the time to take advantage of opportunities that you might not have before.