In just a few hours, I’ll be southbound to Mason, Ohio for the 2016 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference. Last night, as I tried to remember I need to bring to both attend and present at this thing, I started thinking back to the tight connection between OGS conferences and the course my genealogical and professional life has taken to this point.
The 2009 conference at Sawmill Creek was the first genealogical event I ever attended. Fortunately, I had registered well in advance. One month before the conference, I was laid off from my job of 15 years. Fortunately, it was close enough I could commute. It was the first of several genealogy getaways, where I could put real life behind me and immerse myself in the experience. I knew no one going into this conference. While waiting for a session about Civil War records to begin, I was chatting with the couple next to me. He was originally from the Cleveland area, and suggested that after the conference, I attend a meeting of the East Cuyahoga Genealogical Society, adding that they had an excellent speaker scheduled that night.
“Who?” I asked.
“Me!” he replied.
That’s how I met Brent Morgan, and that’s how I became involved in the local genealogy scene. I haven’t looked back since. Things moved fast between the 2009 and 2010 conferences. I was working again, and I had also immersed myself in genealogical research to the point I began exploring it as a career. My focus at this conference was picking the brains of all the speakers and advanced genealogists I could find. I met so many people at the 2010 conference, I can’t list them all. It was the springboard to the current terrific network of people I am proud to call friends and associates.
The 2011 Conference was in my town, Cleveland, Ohio. Unfortunately I couldn’t take time off work to attend. I did stop by a couple of times, and manned a table in the exhibit hall for a few hours. Oddly, despite the fact I wasn’t attending, this conference opened up a new professional avenue for me. I ran into Sunny Morton, who asked if I’d like to be introduced to her editor. Of course, I would. Mind you, I was only a couple of years removed from a job search, so I knew all about the elevator speech and selling myself, yada, yada. And I totally blew it. Afterward, I sent a follow-up email trying for damage-control. In the end, this encounter resulted in my first paid writing gig. I went from “Wow, did I blow that,” to “What? I have to write two articles at the same time…and there are deadlines?!” in the span of a month. So even the conference I didn’t actually attend helped push me forward.
Jump ahead to the 2014 Conference at Kalahari. My department at work was being outsourced and my boss retiring. They still needed someone to manage the work, and I applied for the job, even though I wasn’t sure whether this was the time to boldly jump into the frigid waters of self-employment. A quick look at the books indicated we were broke and getting broker. Amid all this unrest, I was preparing to speak for the first time at the state conference. One presentation was brand new, and the other two I had only done once. I’m not sure I had done three presentations in one month, let alone three presentations in one weekend. I was a little nervous…Okay, I was way nervous.
Two days before I was set to leave for the conference, I got a call from work: “We’d like you to come in for an interview [on the very day I was leaving for the conference].” So I did. Remember that bit about me knowing all about the right things to do during and after interviews? I did it all wrong. I couldn’t focus on both being interviewed and the presentations, so I picked the presentations and winged the interview. I did the interview, got in the car, and headed to Sandusky.
Oddly, the presentations didn’t go quite as well as I would have liked, but while I got the call at the conference, the evening before my Saturday presentation: “We’d like you to come back for a second interview.” Somehow, I had managed to survive both my first speaking experience at that level while also managing to land a new day job.
And here I am now, getting ready to head to the 2016 conference, one day after getting the good news that two of my presentations were selected for the 2016 Genealogical Society of New Jersey conference in June. I don’t what it is about all the good things that seem to happen around conference time, but I’m going to make sure that I keep going year after year. You should, too. I won’t give you the laundry list of benefits that a genealogist of any level enjoys at a conference. Suffice it to say that there is such a list. You never know where that next conference will lead you!