FGS 2019 Day 2 began with me arriving late. I managed to sneak into one of the sessions (Using DNA to Unravel an Unknown Parentage from 1865 by Billie Stone Fogarty) and took a seat in the back. As I missed the beginning, I was a bit lost, but hung in there.

The next session was House and Land Histories for Genealogical Purposes by Shannon D. Combs-Bennett. I feel that I absorbed a lot more in this one (arriving on time helps) and really enjoyed Combs-Bennett as a speaker. I sat in on this one because, after researching  the homes of Giulio DiBagno and visiting the Hans Herr house, I had become quite interested in the stories of these ancestral homes. Combs-Bennett went over the importance of researching all owners of a home to discover the home’s lineage in order to discover more about our own ancestors, a concept I found fascinating and fun.

Up next was Maureen Taylor’s talk on Building An Online Following: Posts That Get Engagement. I had sat in on this one because I have been considering starting both a podcast and a surname lineage society for a couple of my more uncommon surnames. However, I realized quickly that I was out of my depth, considering that the majority of folks who attended were already part of societies or owned their own business while I was merely considering it and barely had a plan at that. I also realized, when someone asked how to use a hashtag, that most of the information was probably stuff that I already knew. No matter, I did learn a few things and left feeling more motivated to pursue my podcast and/or surname ventures.

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Day 2 – Waiting to go into a session

Lunch rolled around and I ate solo in the hotel dining room (the crab bisque and chicken club lunch special was delish!). It was already several hours in and I had not made good on my goal from yesterday to meet new people. As I was sitting on a chair in the lounge, I overheard 3 ladies sitting nearby together talking about one of the sessions I had also attended…so I marched myself right over and asked if I could join them. They were very gracious and allowed me into their conversation. All of the ladies were local, 2 of them (one a seasoned genealogist, the other a newbie) knew each other and had been questioning the 3rd, who was about my age, about herself when I had come in. I spent the rest of the lunch break with these lovely ladies and we talked shop.

The afternoon finished with a bang. I had been excited about attending my Twitter acquaintance Shannon Christmas’ talk on Get More from Your DNA with GEDMatch because, though I have GEDMatch and have played around with it a bit, I really didn’t know what I was doing and was certain I was missing out on some key tricks. Not only was the talk informative, Christmas was hilarious and so entertaining. It really finished the day off right and made me want to hop on GEDMatch as soon as I got home.

FGS2019 Day 3 began much as Day 2 did. I arrived late to Lara Diamond’s talk on Success in – and in Spite of- Endogamy…so late in fact that I heard only about 5 minutes of Diamond’s lecture before it went to questions. I was completely bummed about this, not only because I found the topic interesting and relevant to my tree (my dad’s side had a bit of endogamy far back), but I had already gathered from just a few minutes that Diamond was a fascinating speaker. Fortunately, there were a lot of questions (about 20 minutes worth, in fact) so I did get a bit of information despite my lateness. The main take aways: When you are from an endogamous population, you share more DNA with your matches than is expected so look for large shared segments in order to find the true close relatives. Segment sizes are the key.

I made a last minute decision to attend Jill Morelli’s talk on Treasures in Academic Libraries (it was between her lecture and the one on the Library of Congress) and am SO glad I did. Morelli was lovely, did her best to engage her audience, and radiated a kindness and a warmth that I really was drawn to. Also, she was an excellent speaker and I filled up 5 pages of notes with information. She walked us through how to plan a visit to an academic library, navigate an online catalog, and informed us on the differences between libraries, archives, and special collections and what you can find in each. I wanted to immediately scoot down to GMU and go perusing (after mapping out my day and contacting the archivist, of course).

Session #3 was Marian Smith’s talk titled A Matter of Utmost Importance to Myself: Letters from Immigrants to the Naturalization Service, 1906-1940. In her talk, Smith taught us how to search the National Archives for correspondence files, letters to the government concerning folks’ naturalization status, where to look and what to look for. She also spoke about the reasons why people may have written these letters, ranging from children asking if their parents had been naturalized to people writing letters out of spite in order to rat out those who may have lied on their naturalization application. I have 4 great grandparents who could have filled out letters like these and I can’t wait to go hunting to see if there are files out there for them.

During the lunch break, they had a ballroom set up for “lunch with friends,” where you were encouraged to sit together, eat lunch, and network. When I arrived, the crowd was pretty sparse and almost everyone sat at their own table. So much for networking. Fortunately, I was saved from another solo lunch by a couple who asked if they could sit with me. They were conference veterans and told me many fascinating stories about their lives and interests. I couldn’t have asked for better lunch companions! Also, the conference had arranged for mini presentations throughout by several groups such as My Heritage and Family Tree Maker, which actually ended up being quite informative.

After lunch I said my goodbyes to my lunch pals and headed over to the 2:30 p.m. session Beyond Vital Records: Additional Sources to Trace Eastern European Ancestry by Lara Diamond again (and this time I actually heard the whole thing!) Trying to trace my Eastern European and Balkan roots has been a particular challenge for me, particularly because with the many border changes in those areas, I don’t even know where I’m looking. A lot of the talk centered around finding Jewish ancestors, but Diamond stressed that often Jewish records listed non-Jewish members of the community so not to discount these sources.

My final session of the conference (I didn’t attend on Saturday) was Judy G. Russell (aka the Legal Genealogist)’s talk titled From the 18th to the 21st: Records of Prohibition. Russell went over her allotted time of an hour, but I really don’t think anyone minded. The first 40 minutes went over the history of Prohibition, something I already knew a lot about (I thought), but Russell provided the information in a fascinating timeline of events (including the order in which the states adopted prohibition and then repealed it) and I ended up learning quite a bit I hadn’t known. She also went over where to find records of the 4 key groups of Prohibition: Supporters, Opposers, Law Enforcement, and Criminals.

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I had signed up for the evening event: Swing Back to the ’30s With Your Ancestors (how could I not?) and am quite glad I did as it ended up being the best opportunity for meeting people so far…and was quite fun at that! My outfit ended up being admittedly more 40s than 30s (despite the title, they encouraged dress from the decade of your choice – I chose to emulate my grandmother’s 40s style) and my hair was more 60s (I couldn’t find an outlet to plug my hair curler), but no matter! The majority of people came in costume and looked fantastic (one woman showed up in faux silver lame with a corsage and a fur- swoon!). During the cocktail hour, I connected with a woman named Judy who shared my love of Downton Abbey and we were instant pals for the night, sitting together when folks started funneling into the dining room. Joining us at our table were two other couples and a single gentleman, all very friendly. There was a fantastic jazz band that brought us back in time, even playing my favorite, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” After dinner, several folks got up to dance and one of the gentlemen at my table asked me if I would like to. We whirled around that floor several times despite my two left feet and I enjoyed myself immensely! Judy and I attempted a Charleston (hers was better) and we ended the night sharing information, wishing each other well, and hoping we would all meet again at another conference. I hope we do!

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The band!