06 August 2014

IAJGS2014: Heard in the Hallways

I am a relative newbie at IAJGS conferences - 2014 was only the third one I have attended - but, it's clear that a great deal of the conference value takes place in the hallways between  (or sometimes instead of) sessions. A few observations.

Methods in the Madness

The contrast between International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conferences and other non-Jewish national genealogy conferences is interesting. Understandably after years of record deprivation, Jewish genealogists are obsessed with finding new records. Sometimes this is almost to the exclusion of discussions about what one might do with them once one has them. Times are changing. There is just not enough talk about methodology. 

My impression after my attendance at the National Genealogical Society conference in Las Vegas in 2013 and RootsTech in 2011 was that presentations and interest in methodology give those conferences a completely different feel.

Now, there was definitely excitement at IAJGS. For Jim Tanner of Genealogy's Star blog, who has attended and taught at several national genealogy conferences, the IAJGS was an eye-opening experience. He told me that not only were our presenters highly qualified, but also attendees seemed to have an admirable fervor for their pastime.

To me, however, the excitement still seems oriented toward new record groups, and not enough to problem solving and evidence analysis. I noticed that the printed conference Daily Planner (which I never once looked at during the conference because I was using the conference app on my iPad) identified "program focus codes" for each presentation. This told people whether a presentation was deemed beginning, intermediate or advanced and whether it was focused on archives, databases, technology, Holocaust, Sephardic research, etc., and methodology. Unfortunately, these codes did not appear on the app. So, if one wanted to select sessions with a particular theme, it was not easily accomplish.

Several like-minded genealogists would like to see more emphasis on methodology at IAJGS conferences. I agree. I think the best way to achieve such a goal is for more presenters to provide interesting talks on the joys (and results) of methodologically sound research. My presentation, "Beyond the Manifest: Methods for Confirming One's Ancestral Origins," was well-attended last year in Boston and this year in Salt Lake City. After my talk, I was very pleased that many people approached me during the next several days to tell me how excited they were about what I had presented. 

If you agree that the IAJGS conference would benefit from additional presentations geared to evidence analysis and methodology, let's make sure to provide bunches of presentation proposals for IAJGS 2015 (Israel) and 2016 (Seattle). Research success is the most eloquent speaker.

Ukraine Special Interest Group

Make no mistake, I do get excited when there are new records for my eastern European geographical research areas, too. Ukraine SIG has about 12,000 lines of data translated and in the pipeline for sharing within JewishGen databases. That's promised this fall on JewishGen.org.

In addition, the SIG has an incredible backlog of records needing translating/indexing to make them accessible for researchers. These include Kiev Gubernia records that are on Family History Library microfilm and record collections from Khmelnitskyy, Zhitomyr and Kiev Archives that have been acquired by the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. These are exciting times [full disclosure, I am a Ukraine SIG board member]. If your community is listed among those with records, take the lead to volunteer or donate and help move these record acquisition projects forward.


Conference organizers chose to make the ever-popular Family Finder available early (weeks before the conference), but only online. This bothered some conference attendees. Perhaps the answer would be to make the Family Finder accessible via the conference app? The app, available for the last two conferences, has been a clear winner. Including access to the Family Finder would be sublime. 

The biggest problem I encountered during the conference was poor Internet access. I could not access the Internet for email, blogging or the conference app on any of my electronic devises upstairs in my hotel room. I could use the Internet on the first and second floor conference venues. The upstairs situation was unacceptable.

One for the Books

What's a conference without booksellers?! There were no book sellers as exhibitors. Avotaynu, was represented by the Mokotoffs and Sallyann Sack at the conference, but they were not selling books. I did not speak to them about that, but I assume that transporting inventory to Salt Lake City from the east coast was deemed uneconomical - although I do recall at least two or three booksellers at the Los Angeles IAJGS conference in 2011, including Avotaynu.

IAJGS: Stretching and Building Muscle

IAJGS under Marlis Humphreys' leadership is thinking big - and I like that. They have been taking a cue from other high-profile genealogy organization partnerships by reaching out to people in other organizations who have skills that may benefit IAJGS in both the long- and short-term. Shipley Munson of FamilySearch, for example, has marketing genius. His team at FamilySearch has, in a very short time, turned the Rootstech Conference into a juggernaut that has eclipsed the NGS conference and the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in terms of attendance. In fact, FGS is combining their annual conference with RootsTech in early 2015.

Whether Munson sets his sights on the IAJGS conference or on providing services to member societies, or both, is yet to be seen. Regardless, I think we are in for some exciting times. Moribund societies may be challenged to think differently about defining their audience and developing instruments and methods for sharing and communicating genealogically relevant  information. As a new JGS chair, I am sitting at attention hoping to catch as many words of wisdom as possible.

IAJGS2014 - Success!

I'm not sure why attendance was a bit down this year at the conference. Surely the quality and variety of presentations was excellent. Overall, the conference was quite well done. 

I cannot even imagine the two+ years of obsession that was required to make this event a success. My congratulations to all for providing a wonderful experience in Salt Lake City last week. "Hiccups" aside, I would not have missed it. 

Don't forget to review individual presentations on you app. Most speakers do value your opinions (I know I do).


  1. My internet experience was quite the opposite of yours. Upstairs it worked fine but downstairs it was a disaster. Aside from that, the constant need to log in over and over was unacceptable for today's world.

    I am all with you on the need for methodology presentations. Some of those age well and I hope conference organizers will not say "this was at the last two conferences, so we don't need it again."

    I am pleased to say the "meet my family" presentations seem to have disappeared entirely. Good riddance.

    I think more attention should be paid to the speaking ability of the European guests brought by the SIGs. Nuff said.

    1. [Yes, those Brits need to learn ho to speak! ;-) ]
      Actually, I have had similar feelings at past conferences. I heard a couple of non-native English speakers this time. They were OK and, I think, got their points across. Don't know how the conference would vet speaking skills unless someone already knows them an has heard them speak formally.

    2. I thinbk part of the proposal process should be three references who have heard them. Doesn't mean they all have to be checked, but it gives an option for the unknowns.
      I heard a couple of soft monotone foreigners this year and walked out.

  2. How do the speakers find out what the app reviews were?

    1. Last year several weeks after the conference I received an email with results of 5 or 6 reviews.


Comments on posts are always welcome but will be approved before posting. I actually prefer to just let people comment without going through this rigmarole, but I've recently had to delete some posts that I had not vetted before publication. So, please don't be offended. I love to hear from you!