22 April 2014

12 Months of Extraordinary… or Why Genealogy Conferences are Awesome

With J. Mark Lowe and
Terri O'Connell, NGS 2013
©Jen Baldwin, 2013-2014

Almost exactly twelve months ago today I was getting ready to depart for Las Vegas, NV and the 2013 Family History Conference hosted by the National Genealogical Society (NGS). 

It was my first major genealogy conference, and there was no point in trying to hide my excitement. I was thrilled to be attending, I was thrilled to be part of a team of Official Bloggers along with with Terri O’Connell and Jennifer Alford of the In-Depth Genealogist. I was thrilled to be meeting so many people that I had come to respect from their online presence. I was simply thrilled.

During the event, I did whatever I could to ensure that I got to the people I wanted to get to. As someone trying desperately to break into the genealogy profession, I knew that I needed to network – big time. I needed to cover every inch of that conference center, and I was ready for it. Business cards: check. Social media ready: check. Blog post drafts: check. Interviews with the big guns scheduled: check. I had it all together… I thought.

Great friendships were born! We were
"the fun table!" NGS2013
©Jen Baldwin, 2013-2014
 When the day finally came and I arrived in Las Vegas, I was standing in baggage claim at the airport and saw a familiar face walk by. It took me a minute to realize it was one of the “big gun” speakers I had hoped to meet… and I just stood there as he disappeared into the crowd. “Plenty of time for that,” I thought. I had all my lists, schedules and had allowed my Type A traits to run amok in preparation; I couldn’t be any more confident that I had it all together. The one thing I forgot to plan for ultimately became one of the most important: spontaneity.

Over the course of the week, I did manage to let myself relax… not too much, but enough. I had one interview in particular I was very anxious for. I had weeks to prep for it, I knew that far ahead that it was going to happen. But I was still unprepared for a scheduled 30 minute session to run into two hours of great conversation and unmasked laughter; I laughed so much during that interview, I was crying. And those two hours are impressed into my memory, they are moments I treasure that grew into an ongoing friendship.

The business networking was incredibly successful for me. I swallowed the advice of J. Mark Lowe, CG, when he talked of really capitalizing on your specialty - your niche - and making sure you know it inside and out. Then shout to the world that you know it inside and out. (Ok, not exactly Mark’s words, but that was the general message, and hey, it works! And yes, Mark was absolutely on that list of genealogy rock stars.)

With Josh Taylor, NGS 2013
©Jen Baldwin, 2013-2014
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, D. Joshua Taylor, Warren Bittner, CG, and many, many more people that have continued to play a role in my life. I made some great friends who I continue to share a special bond with today, like Barry Kline, Julie Jones and Mary Jane Bennett. Some of these were planned, some were random meetings; like sitting down for dinner the first night with Julie and Mary simply because we were all waiting for a table at the same time. That’s another moment imprinted into my brain; sharing a great meal – albeit rushed – and great stories over dinner on day 1, and having these two dear ladies become a part of my life, become friends.

Barry, Mary Jane and Julie: laughter and
friendship in Las Vegas
©Jen Baldwin, 2013-2014
And that is one of the joys of conferences. Pretty much everyone you pass in the hall has a mutual interest, a starting point for conversation. You can jump into conversation with just about anybody and connect in some way. You learn together, you make memories together, and you plan the next conference together.
I've had twelve months of great moments, opportunity, and incredible challenges, and many are a direct result of my attendance at NGS2013. I wouldn't trade the last 12 months for anything.

Since then I've had the pleasure to represent Findmypast at the New York Family History Conference in Syracuse (Nov 2013), and RootsTech 2014. I also spoke at RootsTech, and will be happily presenting again at FGS in August. I'll be there at NGS and Jamboree, and even get to squeeze in a trip to the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference the first weekend of May; and although I'm "working," I'm really not. I love every minute of it.

So won’t you join me? Come be a part of it all, whether you choose NGS in Richmond, FGS in San Antonio, Jamboree in California or some other event close to you, you are cordially invited to be a part of this amazing family.

Here’s a few links if you are on the fence: