NSW & ACT Conference Sessions Canberra Sep 2013

September 24th, 2013

This is part of a series of blogs following my attendance at the NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies annual conference – this year hosted by the Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra (HAGSOC) in Canberra. My report on the Family History Fair can be read here and the social activities and other news can be read in the various entries on my blog Diary of an Australian Genealogist.

This blog is all about the conference sessions over the two days. After the Welcome to Country it was straight into the John Vincent Crowe Memorial Address. This year presented by Dr David Headon with a really interesting presentation titled Magic to Stir Blood: the Canberra Grand Narrative We Should All Know. I lived in Canberra for a few years a decade or so ago so I’m reasonably familiar with its history but I had never considered all the philosophical ideas from leading thinkers of the day had played such a big part in how it was developed. A great opening to the conference.

After morning tea there was a trivia quiz on family history and everyone had their own entry form. It was a lighthearted bit of fun and I don’t think I was alone in finding some of the questions ‘hard’. Then it was back to the presenters with Chris Boyack from FamilySearch next. His talk was on the new FamilySearch and how you can construct family trees and connect with researchers. I have to say I like their new logo and the idea of using photo frames as part of the family tree.

Next was Cora Num on Research Tools for the Digital Age and as usual Cora did a brilliant talk. I always think I put too much into my talks but Cora seems to put even more. It’s amazing how much information she can share and how fast she talks. The good thing is that she does have an e-handout on her website so you just have to listen and not worry about notes. She also has a new book on this topic and of course, I just had to buy eRecords for Family History.

Then it was lunch time and there was lots of food, talk and people browsing the exhibitors area. I finally gave in to temptation and went back and bought the books I didn’t buy yesterday!

After lunch there were two streams and the tricky bit of deciding which one to go to when they were all interesting. I went to the Where Were They When? which was a great talk by Martin Woods, the map curator at the National Library of Australia. I hadn’t realised just how many maps they have now digitised plus he gave links to State library digitisation projects too. When using Trove we tend to just head for the digitised newspapers, but really we should be exploring some of those other categories too! I missed out on Barbara Hickson’s talk on Cobb & Co Reflections on a Bygone Era.

The next session was easier for me to choose as I had heard Kerri Ward talking about 20th century immigration records at the National Archives of Australia (NAA). In fact I used to work with Kerri when I worked at NAA in the collections access area before I moved on to the Prime Ministers project in late 2000. Gail Davis from State Records NSW gave a wide ranging talk on education records looking at pupil admission registers, teacher records and correspondence records. As usual Gail’s talk was well received and left people with lots of ideas to follow up.

Following afternoon tea there was the AGM of the NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies which I attended as a visitor. They kindly allowed me a few minutes to talk about National Family History Month 2014 and I briefly mentioned some of the changes and invited them all to participate next year. They have about 50 member societies so it would be fantastic if they all joined in and helped spread the word about NFHM.

The conference dinner was in the evening but I will talk about that in Diary of an Australian Genealogist as this blog is dedicated to all of the presentations.

Angela Phippen set the pace with a great talk on Royal Commissions and Legislative Council Select Committees (some of my favourite records) which can help to put context around your ancestors lives and if you are really lucky, they may even be mentioned by name. Then there was another family history trivia quiz and although the questions were supposed to be easier, I still didn’t too that well.

Next was a sneak peak at the Australian War Memorial‘s new website (due to be released in December 2013) presented by Robyn Van-Dyk. This looks fantastic and I can’t wait to have a little play with some of the new online collections as well as explore the website’s new features. Roll on December.

Rosemary Kopittke followed after morning tea with a presentation on making the most of searching in Findmypast.com.au and there were lots of useful tips to make sure you don’t miss anything. I’m always surprised by all the new collections and even the older ones that I’ve forgotten about or weren’t originally relevant to me. Last session of the conference was a Women in Records panel with Cora Num, Angela Phippen and Megan Gibson.

Cora did an amazing presentation on women in shipping records and she covered so much in her 15 minutes that I was almost out of breath too. As usual there is a e-handout on her website. Angela focused her 15 minutes on divorce records which was a good summary of what the divorce laws were at various times and what records you can find. I couldn’t quite hear Megan’s talk and she had no slides but she is the author of Family Tree Time so I think she was talking about making more time to do research ourselves.

Then there was the call to Illawarra Family History Group who are hosting next year’s conference (details not yet up). I’m not sure what I’m doing next year but I’ve put the dates in my diary just in case! The raffles were drawn and then it was all over for another year.

I’m covering the social aspects of the conference in Diary of an Australian Genealogist but from my perspective it was a great conference and I’ve got lots of tips to follow up and possibly blog about. The networking with new and old friends is also fantastic and the ability to see so many exhibitors at the one time is really good. I’d go to a conference every week if I could but they take a lot of organising and hard work so I would like to finish up by thanking the HAGSOC team and their supporters. Well done.

HAGSOC are also hosting the AFFHO 2015 Congress and that is a must attend event. Visit their website and put your name down for the news updates between now and then. I heard one of the committee say that they were expecting about twice the number of attendees for Congress as they did for the conference, so that will be mega and not to be missed!

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!