Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ancestry.com Bloggers Day Banquet

Little America banquet room Saturday night Ancestry.com hosted a banquet for the Bloggers Day attendees, a half-dozen representative users, the FGS board, Salt Lake Institute attendees, and other guests. The banquet was held in a fancy room at the Salt Lake City Little America Hotel. I believe that is where the out-of-town bloggers stayed. Last year Randy Seaver mentioned how easy it was to catch the TRAX light rail train to travel from the Little America to the Family History Library. The ride is within the free-fare zone, which makes it especially convenient.

I don’t know what was more scrumptious, the food, the company, or the speaker.

First the food

I have a simple palate, but even I loved this fancy food. The salad was mixed field greens, devoid of iceberg, grated carrots for contrasting color and taste, with fresh tomatoes and little pats of pesto baby mozzarella adorning one edge. Sandra Hargreaves Luebking described the balsamic vinaigrette. Yes! I’m name dropping! I ate dinner with a famed co-editor of The Source and various genealogy periodicals. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The rolls were to die for. Wendy Bebout Elliott thought they were even more light than her own. Who would have thought that the immediate past president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies  (FGS) would be a baker? Oops. I’m doing it again. Back to the menu:

The entry was a delicious chicken oscar (not to be confused with Lisa Provolone’s boyfriend), garnished by asparagus (How does Little America shoot the asparagus through the middle of the chicken like that?) and accompanied with two artfully interconnected shrimp and a wild rice/lentil blend. The plate was completed by green beans and carrots, which must have been slathered in butter, judging by how delicious Lou described it. That’s Loretto “Lou” Dennis Szucs. Yes! I ate dinner with both editors of The Source!

Dessert was a cheese cake (sabayon maybe?) topped with strawberries, with a tuft of whip cream discretely off to one side and topped with chocolate garnish. Mmmmm! I failed to notice if Jan Meisels Allen liked hers. You know Jan, director of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), an umbrella organization for 75 national and local Jewish genealogical societies from around the world. Oh yes, and in Jan’s “spare time” she represents IAJGS on the Records Preservation and Access Committee.

The company

Well, that completes the food. Now I’ll talk about the scrumptious company at my table. Let’s see, did I mention Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, Wendy Bebout Elliott, Loretto Dennis Szucs, and Jan Meisels Allen? I did? Well, continuing on around the table, next to Jan was Cherel Henderson, director of the East Tennessee Historical Society, co-host for this year’s FGS Annual Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Finishing off our table, next to Cherel was Kory Meyerink, noted genealogist and adjunct professor of history and religion at Brigham Young University. Besides my table, each table in the room was similarly garnished with decorated genealogists. Thank you, Ancestry.com, for allowing little ol’ me to attend.

The Speaker

Josh Taylor, NEHGS director of education Our speaker was D. Joshua Taylor, director of education and programs for the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). Only 24 years old, “Josh” is the recipient of the Rubincam Youth Award from the National Genealogical Society, the 2003 and 2004 Distinguished Service Awards from the Utah Genealogical Association, and an Award of Merit (2009) from the Federation of Genealogical Societies. He has authored articles in UGA Crossroads, FGS Forum, Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, and New England Ancestors, and was a columnist for Digital Genealogist. A frequent speaker at genealogical societies, libraries, and other organizations, his previous speaking engagements include GENTECH, the Federation of Genealogical Societies Annual Conferences, the National Genealogical Society Annual Conference, and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

Taylor spoke on “The Changing Face of Genealogy,” the challenge of “engaging the next generation of genealogists.” Indeed, he said, “our existence and our relevance depends on [it].” We have to make our skills accessible to these new genealogists. The way in which they wish to interact with genealogy is different. Taylor shared two experiences illustrating this.

Tories, Timid, or True Blue - a new educational website from the Old North Church The first was the creation of the website, Tories, Timid, or True Blue?, an educational website for the Old North Church Foundation. (John Adams described the 1775 Continental Congress as, “one-third Tories, one-third timid, and one-third true blue.”) Taylor worked with “arch nemesis Whitney,” a young, dreadlocked graduate student member of MIT HyperStudio for Digital Humanities. Delivering a standard NEHGS-compliant register narrative of ancestor, Mather Byles, to her, Whitney declared it “boring.” As the oldster (at 24?) and youngster circled, they discovered common ground: the excitement of discovery. With Whitney’s guidance, they developed a design that lets “students fully assume the role of historians,” review for themselves original and derivative sources of primary and secondary information, confront inconsistencies, make their own conclusions, and record their interpretations.

The second experience with the new generation was a joint genealogy program with students from Boston University. Taylor found this new generation of genealogists—confused with simple pedigree charts until relabeled “Your Mother’s Name is”—to be extensively more diverse than previous generations. The group included students from China, India, Pakistan—places for which Ancestry.com gave no records. It included 25 students whose families had immigrated after 1900, the most recent in 2000. Necessity directed them to living relatives. All of you know where that led!

Drawn to the first session by free pizza, in subsequent sessions cell phones totally disappeared except for excited announcements of discoveries called in to parents and grandparents. By the last session, the initially disparate group of students had commonality. The ancestors discovered were different; the magic of sharing the experiences was what bonded them together. “To see these young people interact,” said Taylor, “is what I think is the face of this new generation of genealogists.”

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