Overview of AFFHO 2012 heraldry & genealogy congress

April 6th, 2012

Regular readers will know that I like to do a daily blog of genealogy events so that I capture things as I go and then do an overall summary at the end when I have had more time to think about how it all went. For my daily accounts of the 2012 AFFHO Congress in Adelaide see my Diary of an Australian GenealogistWelcome ReceptionDay 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Overall I have to say that I enjoyed the Congress and was pleased that I had gone to the additional expense of staying just across the road. It made it easier to get to sessions in the morning and also to pop back during the day when I had collected the congress satchel or bought books etc. The satchel had lots of interesting goodies from sponsors and other exhibitors as well as items from those who couldn’t be present. For example, I was glad to see that VAFHO‘s bookmark for next year’s VAFHO conference Under the Southern Cross: A Goldfield’s Experience 4-5 May 2013 made it in time. This Victorian conference is only held every 2-4 years so mark it in your diaries!

The venue was suitable although the main theatre was a bit chilly at times and some of the smaller rooms a bit stuffy if there were a lot of people at a session. The distance between the talks and the food and exhibitor areas meant that we got a nice walk at least six times a day! It was obviously not a cheap venue and I think that probably put restraints on other areas such as the welcome reception, lunches and the conference dinner. Food choices were not as broad as those I’ve seen at other Congresses and not giving exhibitors lunches or morning/afternoon teas is almost unheard of. I heard a few comments about the fillings in the sandwiches/rolls at lunch time being a bit too trendy for the general age group attending and I will admit some of the ingredients left me wondering what they were, but I still found them tasty!

Speaking of exhibitors, there weren’t as many as I was expecting and again the high cost of being an exhibitor probably discouraged some of the more usual types of exhibitors. The list of sponsors indicates the main exhibitors plus various government agencies including the usual suspects – State Records, State Library, National Archives of Australia and Public Trustee. FindMyPast as principal sponsor had a large exhibit area and were offering free searches and questions and answers as was FamilySearch, My Heritage and Ancestry. Gould Genealogy and Unlock the Past seemed to be busy every time I looked and it’s good to see that the book is not yet dead!

Having four concurrent sessions is always a pain as you have to pick one and miss the other three although all papers were supposed to be in the Congress proceedings available at the end (but Jenny Carter’s paper seems to have been left out). With four streams I had expected to see more defined streams eg beginners, IT, immigration or whatever but there seemed to be no real pattern so you often found yourself having to change rooms at the end of talks. Also in some sessions the talks were all basic or all advanced – for example for both my talks I really wanted to go to one of the other talks on at the same time but obviously couldn’t!

I talked a bit about the plenary sessions in my daily blogs (see above links) and I found that Stephen Young’s paper on Descendancy research had more methodology in it than he talked about during his plenary session which was more show and tell but I’m still not convinced it was a plenary talk. Conversely looking at my own papers again, I probably put more into the presentation than I did into the paper which had to be handed in six months ago. I haven’t had a chance to read too many of the other papers yet but I suspect that most speakers would have varied their presentations from their papers due to the long time in between.

Speaking of the conference papers, the weight and thickness of the volume could have been lessened by using a slightly smaller font (usually I’m saying the reverse but it does have quite a large font for such a big book with 590 pages). The papers are listed in the order in which they were done at the Congress which even now I can’t remember all that well. Authors are listed in the index but again I can’t remember all the speakers names let alone their talks.  There are biographical sketches before the index but they don’t tell you what papers the person presented. A simple way of making it easier for readers would have been to put the speakers surname first and then the name of their paper  and put the whole lot in alphabetical order by speaker surname in the contents. Or even easier and much cheaper, just put the papers in PDF format and put them all on a CD! Much lighter for anyone flying home on a plane too.

When ever I go to a genealogy event I try and get at least one new thing from each session I go to and as a result, I have a notebook brimming with new ideas, URLs and suggestions to improve my research techniques. I’ll probably have more after I finish reading the Congress papers. I suspect the hardest part of doing genealogy and family history these days is keeping up with all the new information and resources which is a far cry from having absolutely nothing when I started back in 1977.

But by far and away for me the most valuable part of attending Congress every three years is the networking – catching up with friends and colleagues from other States and Territories and meeting new people especially this time social media friends from Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus. There were a number of Geneabloggers there and we are all doing our blogs and Geniaus will be collating them into a single blog which will be handy as I’ve haven’t had a chance yet to catch up on what others have been writing.

The Canberra 2015 Congress team were there and I’ve already got it in my diary. I always loved living in Canberra and it will be great to go back for the Congress.

So overall I’m really glad I went to this Congress (and for more of my daily highlights see the individual Diary blogs above). It’s not easy organising these events and from my perspective it went very smoothly thanks to the congress organisers attention to detail and their volunteers all clearly identified and cheerfully willing to help. So well done Adelaide and roll on Canberra!


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