Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Federation of Genealogical Societies 2019 Conference: Daily Recap

With an invitation to "Come home to our Washington, DC," I couldn't pass up attending this year's Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) annual conference - not when it was just across the Potomac.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019:

The festivities kicked off promptly at 8:00 am with FGS President Faye Stallings offering a series of thank yous to the many contributors who planned and implemented the event. Juliana Szucs bestowed commendations and awards recognizing societies and individuals who have made meritorious contributions to the genealogy community.

Stallings returned to the podium to make what she billed as an exciting announcement.

The boards for both the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) approved a measure for the two non-profit organizations to merge.

A press release emphasized that, "this merger will serve the genealogy community by improving support of both individual members and societies in the pursuit of genealogical excellence."

The merger will be completed by October 1, 2020, and the organizations' annual conferences will be unified beginning in 2021.

Loretto "Lou" Szucs, who played a formative role in the creation of FGS, joined Stallings at the podium. Acknowledging her initial surprise upon learning of the plan, she recognized that it was the joining of two strong families and celebrated the merger of her baby with NGS calling it a "good marriage."

The morning's keynote speaker was D. Joshua Taylor, FGS' immediate past president and current president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B), who spoke about Coming Home: Finding Our Place in America's Tapestry.

After Taylor's remarks, a parade of costumed reenactors made their way to the stage to offer glimpses into garb from generations past - colonial through early 20th century. Bringing up the parade's end was the Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell who was outfitted as Uncle Sam. The cast of historic characters led the audience from the plenary to the opening of the exhibit hall.

Dozens of family history-serving vendors are stationed at booths, including Ancestry, FamilySearch, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, and Family Tree Maker.

I attended three sessions after browsing the exhibit hall:

  • Cluster, Huddle or Flock: Strategies for Research Problems with Anne Gillespie Mitchell, a Product Manager at Ancestry. 

  • I am Poor, Obscure, Plain, and Little. Researching the Invisible Ancestors with Dr. Michael D. Lacopo, author of the Hoosier Daddy? blog that details his "genealogical beginnings."
  • Our Ancestors' Experiences of the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Financial Crises with Katherine R. Wilson, president of the Virtual Genealogical Society and Michigan Genealogical Council as well as a director for the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Thursday, August 22, 2019:

I was up late last night finishing a family history film (the eighth in a nine part series!), so my alarm came as an abrupt wake-up call. But I was out the door and into an Uber by 7:00 am, and back at the conference in time for another full day of learning, including the following five sessions:
  • Proving a Negative, Genealogically Speaking with Dr. Thomas W. Jones, an esteemed figure in the genealogy community. I've seen him speak a handful of times, and always walk away with pages of notes outlining action items for my research and a few aha moments, too. I highly recommend seeing him present, if you have the opportunity. 
  • Indirect Evidence: Finding What Was Not Written with Rebecca Whitman Koford, a Certified Genealogist and Certified Genealogical Lecturer. She was a fantastic speaker who made her material both relatable and funny.
  • Genealogy Standards, Second Edition - Overview of the Changes with Dr. Thomas W. Jones, Rick Sayre, and Karen Stanbary. The session provided an overview of the new and modified standards related to DNA. Earlier this year, the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) released an updated second edition of Genealogy Standards.
  • From Ulster to Virginia and the Carolinas with David E. Rencher, Director of the Family History Library and Chief Genealogical Officer for FamilySearch. It's a strong likelihood that my Kirk family came to the United States from Ireland sometime before April 1773. Although not Ulster Scots, there were likely many shared experiences between the emigration journey that affected their lives. This session offered some great ideas on how to try and trace the Kirks from Virginia in 1773 back to Pennsylvania (given the possibility that Philadelphia was their port of entry or New Castle, Delaware).

  • Ask the Wife! A DNA Research Strategy with Diahan Southard, a genetic genealogist with nearly two decades experience in the field. The session was a breezy walk through three types of DNA that support research of our female ancestors.

I also spent more time in the exhibit hall, checking out presentations by Ancestry (how did I not know that they had released a mobile app specifically for their AncestryDNA product?!), and Family Tree Maker (dare I admit that I haven't been using a desktop product to download and back-up my family tree - I'm in the market for a provider and peace of mind).

Crista Cowan walking folks through AncestryDNA matching tools and ThruLines

Cousin Russ demos Family Tree Maker software

Friday, August 23, 2019

I was able to fit three sessions in this morning before I had to leave FGS to catch a flight. But they were great sessions by genealogy's very best.

  • GPS + FAN + DNA: The Problem-Solver's Great Trifecta with Elizabeth Shown Mills, an esteemed figure in the genealogy community who authored Evidence Explained and coined the term FAN club for the Friends/Family, Associates and Neighbors of our ancestors who often hold much-needed clues.

The author pictured with Elizabeth Shown Mills
  • Identifying Women: The Ultimate Brick Wall with Barbara Vines Little who is an expert in Virginia genealogy. This past spring, I attended her all-day Virginia genealogy track with three sessions at the Fairfax Genealogy Society's conference. With my Kirk ancestry now stumbling into Berkeley County, (West) Virginia during the 1770's, I'm keen on learning everything I can about the records of the era and area.

  • Third Party Tools the Pros Use with Angie Bush, who works with Ancestry ProGenealogists and specializes in genetic genealogy. I was interested in seeing what tools would best position me to surface evidence needed for my research question: was my 5th great-grandfather Thomas Kirk (1778-1846) brother to his neighbor Mary (Kirk) Geiger (1774-1832)? I plan to spend time with a couple tools at DNAGedcom like the GWorks client that can help automate the process of finding shared common ancestors among DNA matches at sites like Ancestry. Additionally, I'll be taking a look at the What Are the Odds tool at DNA Painter to help suss out the probability for potential family relationships.


  1. What is a transactional genealogist? Someone who makes a living from genealogy?

    1. No, I believe Josh meant genealogists who are solely focused on what people and societies can do for them to advance their tree. His emphasis was on building and supporting the broader community which means asking “What can I do for you/others?”

  2. Love Cousin Russ! - I miss him! he's been such the Mentor over these years. I stuck with FTM since my PAF days. Cousin Russ is always there and ready for everything FTM wise. I stay with FTM just because of Cousin Russ! Glad you got to see him! Great RoundUp! Still mad I wasn't there to see you. I'll be home in Sept. I think DC is in 2020 June for me. Thanks for taking us through all of FGS's conference! Maybe I'll try it out next time!

    1. I do like that Family Tree Maker syncs with Ancestry, which is my go-to site.

      See you soon, True!

  3. I've enjoyed following your daily tweets. This recap was great. You had me wondering if I was missing something when you mentioned the Ancestry app - I thought it was a new one (and actually checked the app store). I've had it on my mobile device for quite some time.

    1. Thanks, Cathy. Happy to share the FGS experience!

      I don't know how I missed the Ancestry DNA app. I'm going to have to play with this. How do you like it?