Friday, February 25, 2011

Hanging Out at the Exhibit Hall at the St. George Family History Expo

I am now sitting inside the exhibit hall at the St. George Family History Expo. It’s a little dead right now since most people are in a lecture. There’s a lot of wonderful lectures, but I also like hanging out in the exhibit hall.

After my lecture in Henderson last night, I hopped in the car and drove an hour and a half to stay with my old college roommate. We stayed up until 1 a.m. (which is 4 a.m. in Massachusetts) talking and catching up – and now I am feeling the consequences of it! I wish I could find a little corner and curl up to take a nap right now!

This morning, I drove the rest of the way to St. George and gave my first lecture at the conference “Beyond Names and Dates: Uncovering Your Ancestors’ Stories.” In this lecture, I read a section of my book at the end. This section tells the story of Edmond and Eliza Harris. I don’t want to steal my own thunder, but the basic premise is that Eliza and her two small children set sail in 1855 from Australia to California. On October 4, their ship crashed into a reef – with disastrous consequences. Although my ancestors didn’t leave behind any descriptions of the event (or anything at all actually), others described the wreck in detail. It really is a tragic, heartbreaking story.

I have read this story lots of times as part of a lecture. Yet, as pathetic as this may be, I still get emotional when I read it. It’s actually kind of embarrassing. It reminds me though of how deep the personal connection we feel to ancestors can be when we do the research to “get to know them” – when they cease to be just names and dates to us and become actual people.

But, back to the conference! Why do I like hanging out in the exhibit hall so much? I enjoy wandering around all the booths and seeing everything they have to offer. There’s someone here with a “black sheep” display. He is an expert on researching criminal ancestors. He sells a book, a T-shirt, and even stuffed black sheep that he collects from around the world. I enjoyed talking to a woman from the Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) here in St. George and had a nice conversation with a woman from the UGA (Utah Genealogy Association) that it turns out is the sister-in-law of my husband’s uncle – whose house I will be sleeping at tomorrow night. What a small world! FamilySearch has a large booth here as do several genealogy software programs, where people can answer your questions and help you learn to use the product more effectively.

The point here is that, of course, the main reason most people go to genealogy conferences is to attend the lectures. But, don’t forget that another one of the best reasons to attend a conference is to wander around the exhibit hall – see the newest genealogy developments and talk to people who share your interest. Often, exhibit halls are open to the public. So even if you don’t register for the conference, you might consider stopping by to visit the exhibit hall!

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