I attended the 7th Annual North Florida Genealogy Conference yesterday, which just happens to be the first genealogy conference that I've ever attended. The venue, one of our local Mormon churches and Family History Library, was a mere fifteen minute ride from my house, and despite my dogs waking me at 4 am this morning, I managed to have a wonderful day.

Upon walking in, I received my program, as well as a cloth gift bag full of goodies. There were all sorts of print outs about the local genealogical societies (all of which sponsored the event in some way or another), coupon codes for different genealogical websites and products, but the best find was a cd to start up a MyHeritage.com Family Tree. Each attendee received about ten raffle tickets to use, as we wished, at the raffle table. I, also, picked up some swag from the sole vendor at the convention. I can't wait to wear my new genealogy charm on a necklace and dive into the 12 Generation Pedigree chart.

After registration and settling in a bit, we were ushered into the chapel for the welcome, introduction to presenters, and keynote address. The keynote was delivered by James Tanner, who works at the Brigham Young University Family History Library and FamilySearch.org. He spoke on the recent announcements and news coming out of the most recent RootsTech conference. I think I have half a page of notes just from what he talked about in those opening twenty minutes or so.

Here are some quick links to a few websites and apps that he mentioned:

  • MyHeritage.com - their users are surpassing that of Ancestry by the millions now and their DNA program is worth a look

  • BillionGraves.com - works in concert with FindAGrave.com to take you directly to where the headstone or burial place is located using GPS; app is available on iPhone and Google

  • FindMyPast.com - becoming the home for many record collections, including that of Roman Catholic dioceses across the U.S. that have never been available online before

  • We're Related App - found on Ancestry, it's similar to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon where it matches you to possible relatives; app is available on iPhone and Google

  • QromaTag - uses an iPhone app to catalog pictures from genealogists all over the world

I have quite a few more written down, but I need to go back and look at each individually. James ran through a ton of information in a really short amount of time. What he also did was get me excited about RootsTech and eventually attending other genealogy conferences. RootsTech just sounds amazing. It's too bad that it takes place out in Salt Lake City.

Following the keynote address, my first "class," Finding Your Revolutionary War Patriot Ancestor, took place in the same room. I ended up sitting next to this nice lady during the keynote and chatting with her at the end. It turns out that Lynn is a member of the Orange Park chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which is the chapter that I checked out about five or so years ago when I first got back to Jacksonville from Sicily. I had started working with one of the DAR registrars back then and found that I had a clear line to Ezra Stevens of Danbury, but given budgetary limitations at the time, I couldn't follow through with the documentation. Lynn introduced me to the current registrar and a few local DAR members that she knew, and they took down my information again.

In addition to that, the class, itself, was led by Debbie Duay, who is the Chairman of the Volunteer Genealogists Committee for the Florida State Society of the DAR. She went through a few different ways on how to find patriots, and I learned that anyone, no matter if they actually served in the militia or Continental Army or Navy, who took the Oath of Allegiance is considered a patriot in the eyes of the DAR. Currently, I have a round about count of six or seven patriots, I could have many more if I take into consideration the Oath of Allegiance, as well as civil service. The best thing, about this class though, was that Debbie offered to research patriots for anyone in the room, as long as we provided her with the starting points before she left at noon. I had previously filled out the family tree page provided by the DAR, and I remember much of it being empty. This time, I filled nearly every blank. Progress! Now the waiting game until she contacts me.

Out of all the classes for the second session, I knew I had to attend Social Media As a Genealogy Research Tool. I'm not ashamed, but I immediately took a gander to see if there was anyone, remotely, around my age when I arrived. I'm glad to say that I saw quite a few younger genealogists in the crowd, including Miles Meyer, the instructor of this particular class. I use my fair share of social media, but I knew that I could probably learn a thing or two, and I was correct.

I'm surprised and, albeit, a little disappointed that I have not thought to use Pinterest to curate some of my genealogy findings; creating boards for certain surnames, places, blogs, DNA, etc. The same thing goes for Facebook and Google Plus. I'm a member of a few genealogy groups and pages, but Miles gave some great ideas on how to use Facebook to find more family members and to garner knowledge.

We enjoyed about an hour break for lunch before heading off to afternoon classes. I had to choose something carefully during the session after lunch, as halfway through I had a meeting with a local genealogist to see if they could find anything about breaking down my brick walls on my Dad's paternal side. Unfortunately, even though I provided tree information and the fact that my family appears on the 1900 census, the woman who took my "brick wall help desk appointment" did not supply me with any new information. I'm appreciative of her time, but having provided most of the documents within my own family tree on Ancestry, I'm disappointed that she could find nothing concrete behind that. This doesn't mean that I'll stop trying, but I may need to focus on other familial lines for awhile.

After this, and the fact that I didn't want to walk into a session that was almost over, I took up residence in the common area to read through some of the literature in my bag and get a caffeine kick. Having been up since 4 am, I was dragging pretty hard by this point. Lo and behold, my new friend, Lynn, from the Orange Park DAR and another friend of hers, Margaret, had the same idea. I sat and chatted with them throughout the second afternoon session. There was one that I wanted to attend, but I was so tired at this point that I knew I was becoming fidgety and didn't want to distract the other attendees near me. The break did me good. Myself and Margaret parted ways with Lynn as we went to our last session of the day all about Irish genealogy before heading off our separate ways for home.

An evaluation card was passed around during our "afternoon break" and I suggested some ideas for the conference committee to consider. My one criticism is that with the tight schedule of sessions, there's no real time for attendees to interact. I got lucky with Lynn and Margaret due to Lynn's DAR membership and all of us just taking that unexpected break. I, also, suggested some more interactive kind of sessions. The way the conference is, right now, is more lecture based. I can see that for large events like RootsTech, but while this event is still in its smaller stages (they estimated 280 in attendance today), those type of sessions may do some good.

All in all, I enjoyed the day and am so glad to have met Lynn and Margaret. I have so much information to absorb and start augmenting into my genealogy practice. The days of solely using Ancestry are over.