Mar 15, 2015

Posted | 5 Comments

AFFHO Congress Thoughts – The First Congress 1977

Official Blogger badgeWith the AFFHO (Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations) Congress 2015 just over a week away now, many people are excited at attending this geneaevent which only happens every three years. Over the last few months, the three official Congress bloggers, Jill Ball, Pauleen Cass and myself (Shauna Hicks) have been interviewing Congress speakers for tips on attending Congress. You can see those interviews by clicking on the links to each of us and scrolling back through our posts. Jill is going to be collating blog posts in the lead up, during and post Congress so lots of reading coming up. See Jill’s plan here.

This ties in with something that I have been doing. As part of cataloguing my library on LibraryThing, I have relooked at all of my AFFHO Congress papers. If I could not get to a Congress, I always made sure I purchased a copy of the proceedings so that I could still read the papers. It is far better and more exciting if you can attend, but that is not always possible.

Front cover 1977 AFFHO Congress proceedingsThe very first Congress was held in Melbourne in April 1977 (Easter) but it was not until November 1980 that the papers were printed and sold. I started researching my own family history in March 1977 and I can’t remember if I had known about the Congress or not. But at the time, I was married and working and it would probably have been too difficult to get away. Besides, in those early days my genealogy addiction was only in its infancy.

Looking at the speakers I recognise many of the names and have had the pleasure of hearing them speak over the years since then. Some of them went on to be Australasian genealegends including Marjorie Morgan, Kingsley Ireland, Keith Holden, Neil Gunson, Brian Croker, Keith Johnson, Mal Sainty and Verna Mossong to name just a few. Professor Geoffrey Blainey spoke at that first Congress and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the State Library of Victoria‘s Family History Feast in 2010.

So what did they talk about in this pre computer era? Surprisingly not that different from the 2015 talks coming up but how to go about it has changed dramaticially. How to start research, how to organise your records, where are original records especially immigration, the importance of preserving records, researching overseas and quite a few articles on heraldry which seems to have had more relevance back then, or more people were interested in it.

Are the papers still relevant? Yes and no. There is some great basic information contained in all of the papers but how you might access it today is quite different. For example, the paper on the Australian Archives (now National Archives of Australia) looks at 13 categories of records held by them at that time. I know that since then they have obtained custody of all the WW1 and WW2 soldiers’ dossiers so the paper is no longer totally accurate. However, there are records in the paper that surprised me and I would not have thought to look for them in the online catalogue.

Sadly some speakers did not submit their papers for publication which means we can’t go back and see what the research situation was for those topics. Given that it took three years to publish, you would have thought they could have put pen to paper back then. Obviously successive Congress organisers have learnt from earlier events, and now all speakers must supply a copy of their written paper for publication. In 2015 the primary method of distribution will be USB but a paper copy will be available for those who want to purchase one.

I look fondly at my set of paper Congress proceedings from 1977 to 2012  and wonder how the USB is going to look sitting on the shelf next to them. The proceedings are all shapes and sizes from A4, A5, one or two volumes and even a 3 ring binder for Brisbane in 1994. I quite often refer to the paper copies when writing a blog, a new talk or I want to check something. Will I remember to look at the USB too?

Finally I am wondering how many people who went to the 1977 Congress will be at the 2015 Congress? There is no list of registrants in the proceedings which would have been fascinating to see. I do hope the organisers ask the question and if I can have a little side bet, I am hoping to catch up with Keith Johnson and Mal Sainty, two speakers from that first conference who I have known for decades. They are also prize sponsors for National Family History Month 2015 with a subscription to their latest geneaventure the Biographical Database of Australia.

Writing this blog has awakened all kinds of memories from successive Congresses, and even though I never made it to the first one, rereading the copies of the papers has given me an inkling of what it must have been like at that very first Congress. So Jill’s idea to capture our 2015 memories via blog post is an excellent idea because at least we will be able to Google those blog posts, if we forget to use, or lose, the Congress USB!

See you in Canberra real soon for another excellent AFFHO Congress.



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  1. Thanks for providing some of we Congress newbies with a history lesson. It’s interesting to see how the event has developed. I wonder how many attendees there were in those early years and if 21st cnetury access to online learning has had an effect on Congress attendance.

  2. Seonaid Lewis says:

    Am excited and nervous by equal measures. Last Congress, I was relatively new to my job as a family history subject specialist and only attended – I’m about to have my 5th work anniversary soon and am privileged to be attending as a speaker.

    I learned heaps last Congress and expect to learn heaps at this once too.

    Looking forward to catching up with some genea-buddies like Shauna and Jill ???? and meeting some I only know from online.

    Can’t wait!

    Cheers Seonaid (@genebrarian)

  3. Shauna Hicks says:

    Will be good to catch up again Seonaid, it’s been a while. Thanks Jill for raising the whole history of Congress, it’s now got me thinking if AFFHO has ever tried to document it’s history and that of Congress. Perhaps a question to ask at the AGM if I can squeeze it in while talking about National Family History Month.

  4. a great idea Shauna and so interesting to learn about. I too have the 1994 folder but bought 2003’s on CD. Easier to pack and carry but somehow I still prefer a hardcopy so I’m getting both in Canberra.

  5. Shauna, I am looking forward to my first conference. Being a bit of a conference addict I am sure I will enjoy myself. It is always surprising what I learn. Even attending beginner sessions reaps benefits. Hope we can catch up in your busy schedule. Fran

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