Virginia Genealogical Society – Spring Conference, 22 April 2014

I was a first-time attendee this past Saturday at the Virginia Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference. So, I thought I’d record a few thoughts.

First, a caveat. The conference took place in the greater Richmond area. I’m a local, so there are parts of the conference that I did not attend. For example, VGS set up a research time at the Library of Virginia with a archivist on Friday afternoon. I’m a frequent visitor to the Library, so I didn’t participate.

VGS did a great job. They were organized and all directions were clear. Volunteers were well-trained and helpful. The venue was praised by several of those at my table.

Saturday was dedicated to 4 sessions with Shannon Combs Bennett who spoke on “DNA and Social Media Search Strategies.” They sessions were “Genetic Genealogy for the Beginner,” “Creating a Research Plan for DNA Testing,” “Organize Your DNA Data,” and “Crowdsourcing Your Genealogy to Break Down Brick Walls.” Shannon is a scientist and genealogist, so her command of the DNA material was obvious. She is a well-rehearsed and well-edited speaker with a winsome and approachable style that creates a wonderfully easy and engaged audience. What a great choice to lead this conference!

It was difficult to measure the attendee experience with genetic genealogy. Most had already tested. Many administered more that one test. Questions from the audience ranged from the basic to the highly complex.

If I had a criticism, it would be very minor. Shannon is a scientist. My experience is that most experts have trouble drilling complex ideas down to easily understandable concepts for the layman. This is always a challenge for science and math-types because there is a line where simplicity overcomes accuracy. Scientists are trained to be bulls-eye accurate. Shannon was able to, in most cases, and especially during Q&A to overcome the expert-layman barrier.

Any historian-type (genealogists included) walking in cold would have to be prepared to activate the dusty parts of their brain, that haven’t been accessed since high school biology class. A great place to start are the short video series on the University of Utah‘s site on “Introduction to Molecular Biology.”

After the lunch break, VGS honored Peter Broadbent. A former director of the the National Genealogical Society, former Presidents of VGS, and Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. This was absolutely deserved. His tireless, effective and widespread work on behalf of the genealogical community in Virginia is laudable. While his accomplishments are many, the most recent was a successful Virginia state budget lobbying campaign for the restoration of funds on behalf of the Library of Virginia.

Finally, these events are always great for meeting new folks, learning with them and from them, hearing their stories, encouraging their work, and enjoying your common passion together. My new friends are a highlight.

Join VGS. Visit their webpage. Fall Conference brochure.

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