Belated Wrap-up: UGA Summer Family History Conference 2011

Several weeks ago, I had the good fortune to take a short vacation from work and drive the 12 hours to Salt Lake City to indulge in an entire weekend of excellent genealogical education provided by the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). Their summer family history conference was offered on Friday, August 19th – Saturday, August 20th at the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) campus near Sandy (outskirts of SLC, really), Utah, and featured 144 classes. Scheduling allowed you to choose five on Friday and four on Saturday – nine classes – for only $20! I absolutely got my money’s worth, and I have every intention of attending the next one they hold! I actually went to SLC a couple days early so that I could do research at the Family History Library before the conference, which prompted this post on how to visit the FHL the right way the first time. Take a look if you’re planning a trip soon!

I had posted earlier about the classes I intended to take, but I ended up making last minute changes, so I’ll list them again along with my reactions and thoughts from each session.

Friday, August 19th

I arrived at the SLCC campus at about 9am on Friday morning with plenty of time to find a good parking spot, get my bearings, get registered and find my first class. Consisting of several buildings, I found the campus confusing at first, but the UGA was absolutely prepared with all their materials – they had lists of each time slot with the sessions underneath and the building and room of course, but they also had maps to help us find our way to these rooms and classes. Very helpful and always wonderfully polite and ready to assist, even when they were swamped with people trying to figure out this or that.

Having 16 classes to choose from for EACH time slot did not make it easy for me to choose my classes in the first place, but thankfully, I had spent a lot of time with the class synopses the weeks prior and I had already circled those I registered for and any back-ups in case that class was not offered for some reason.

From 9:30-10:30, I attended Karen Clifford’s ‘Perfect Research Skills and Gaining Confidence’. Her class covered a range of things, from citations and finding aids and resources to localities to particular clues to help you separate families. Something that really stuck with me was the need to find a ‘key identifier’ for each individual you’re researching. This is especially important if you have a common name or surname; being able to separate Bob Smith the dentist from Bob Smith the architect is a good example of a key identifier (the job), but it can be many other things – race, religion, politics, a family member with a unique name, etc. She also stressed the importance of geo-political orientation. Understanding the politics and history that would affect our ancestors as well as the records created is perhaps even MORE important than knowing how to research the PEOPLE of that era. They did not live in vacuums. Her mention of the SLCC’s genealogy certificate program also had a lasting effect on me – I’m currently enrolled in my first semester with them.* :)

From 10:45-11:45am, I attended ‘Resources for Mid-South States: Probates and Wills’, offered by C. Lynn Anderson. This was an excellent offering of websites and online resources to check, but they were repeated in the syllabus, so even though I had registered for two more sessions on these resources, I thought I might do better looking at the links at home and attending other classes while I could. I managed to buy a ticket for the lunch that was supposed to be pre-ordered (those UGA people take good care of their conference attendees!), and then turned to looking over my syllabus for new classes. I also took the opportunity to go buy the paper syllabus because I realized it was wonderful for taking notes on; also, the CD syllabus wasn’t ready yet.

From 1:15-2:15, I attended Devin Ashby’s ‘Wikis, Blogs, and Social Media: A Fast Answer to Family History’, which covered Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and other such things. I mostly went for the wiki aspect – I have been considering using a wiki to organize my own research – but it was a fun session, even if I know a lot about the subject already. I was able to actually offer some insight and advice to a few questions asked from my own experience, and it was fun to be part of that discussion.

From 2:30-3:30, I went to an excellent and intriguing presentation by Lisa Alzo (I admit, I’m a bit of a fan of hers, and I was excited to get to see a presentation by her in person) called ‘Murder, Mayhem and Small Town Tragedy’. Not only did I learn what kind of titles tend to draw people in (it was a good crowd), a tidbit I’ll keep for future blog post titles,  but the presentation was a fascinating look at a wide range of sources used to reconstruct specific events in the story of a cop who snapped and went on a revenge spree through this small town many decades ago. Lisa is turning this into a book, and I am sure it’s one I’ll pick up when it comes out.* I was also able to talk to her about some specific structuring questions when writing a story about several generations that I mentioned in this post, which was very helpful.

My last class of the day (3:45-4:45) was with Leland Meitzler about ‘Using Tax Records to Establish Relationships’. I was intrigued from the very title – how in the heck could a list of taxes and names be helpful? But the examples that Leland provided having me wanting to use tax records RIGHT NOW! :) Truly, it was impressive what you can get out of them – not just lists of property, but also property that might hint at what jobs they had. Also, if they owned real estate (land records, anyone?), and watching when they entered or dropped off the tax rolls can help indicate age. They are also much more frequently done than census records, helping to pin down dates someone moved in or out of an area. If the taxes were paid by someone’s estate, it can help pin down a time of death. There’s a crazy long list of what tax records can help you with, and I am grateful I attended this excellent session. I learned a lot.

Saturday, August 20th

Saturday’s 9:30-10:30 session took me a bit to figure out. I had intended to attend ‘Digital Photo Restoration’, but after wandering about and sitting in an empty room for a while with a few others, we realized the class must have been cancelled (we found out later it was a family emergency, and I hope everything turned out alright). So, instead, I wandered down to look in one of the hands-on computer labs to get a demo of one of the products being sold by a vendor at the conference called ‘Heritage Collector’. By the end of the session, I was sold on it and went right over to buy a copy. Why? Well, it’s versatile software, but what I really like about it was how simple it was. It organizes photos, inserts captions, bubbles, and you can even attach audio files to said pictures, then put it all on CD. It can also make scrapbook pages, etc. I will likely do a more in-depth review later*.

My next three sessions from 10:45-3:30 in all with a break for lunch, were spent in the company of Tristan Tolman, who covered the ICAPGen sessions on Evidence Analysis 1 & 2 (each a full session) and then another class on ‘Writing Quality Research Reports’. I had seen Tristan in previous recordings of ICAPGen classes, but hadn’t recognized her name on the syllabus. It took me a bit to puzzle out why she was familiar, but my aging brain did finally take pity on me. Her classes were wonderful, and I highly recommend them in person so you can ask personalized questions, but if you can’t, they’re available here. In short, ICAPgen developed these classes to help their applicants have a higher quality of evidence analysis and reporting, but they are excellent for any genealogist committed to their craft, not simply one aspiring to become certified. The Evidence Analysis presentations talked in detail about differences between evidence, facts, sources and proofs, the types of sources, the types of evidence, the standards of proof (including GPS), ways to resolve conflicting evidence and provided wonderful examples of potential conflicts in information a genealogist might come across and need to resolve. I think these three sessions were the most valuable to me out of the whole conference (and everything was pretty great!), and it has caused me to revise my definition of ‘going pro’, which I will cover in a later entry.


Oh yeah, I came home with this. A lot of it. I bought ProGen and individual books on research in Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio, and many others besides. I also bought a y-DNA test for my dad to take (awaiting the results now!) and several software packages of various kinds. I spent far too much money, but I keep telling myself it’s all necessary for my growth as a genealogist, right?! Crazy as it is, I think my favorite purchase was just a T-shirt from the Genetree booth that says ‘I seek dead people’.* I bought it on day one and wore it on day two, and though I got LOTS of weird looks in the hotel, I got nothing but compliments at the conference. :)

*Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with nor employed by nor seeking compensation from any of the companies or products mentioned. I tried them, I liked them, and I’m passing it on, but I am in no way being paid to endorse any of these!

© 2011, copyright Genealady & JustFolks

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