What did I come away with? Here are some of my highlights and favorite tips that I learned:
1.) I attended two lectures by Dr. Thomas W. Jones, who is a nationally-known genealogical researcher, educator, and author. He gave a thorough and informative keynote address at the start of the conference on Thursday on the subject of finding "unfindable" ancestors. I also attended his lecture on genealogical documentation, which, prior to this talk, I knew almost nothing about. The latter lecture left me quite overwhelmed and intimidated, which is rare for me when it comes to anything scholarly. I understand why thorough documentation is needed in genealogical research, but there just seem to be so many "rules" when it comes to genealogical citations that I feel like I would never get it right. Dr. Jones is VERY knowledgeable on the subject and seems to be a good teacher, but I left that talk longing for one of my mathematically-based homework sets from graduate school.
2.) I attended two of the German-track lectures by Dr. Michael D. Lacopo. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. Not only does he give some great tips, but he is witty and tells some great stories. Interestingly, he started out as a veterinarian, but has years of experience in genealogy and has become a professional expert. His path to genealogy proficiency has given me hope, because I also have a background in science but also have come to love genealogy.
3.) I learned about the importance of utilizing Gazetteers in European research. What is a gazetteer? A gazetteer is more or less a geographical directory. It is a publication that lists and describes villages, cities, and counties of a particular country or region. For German research, THE gazetteer to use is the Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire, which was published 1912-1913 and lists information for 210,000+ locations in pre-World War I Germany. This publication is available at most larger libraries AND on digitally on Ancestry.com as well. So now, I can look up some of my husband's ancestral villages (well, the ones I know the names of) and learn about what trades were in the town, how many churches and schools there were, population, transportation, and government infrastructure. SUCH a useful tool.
4.) Speaking of European research, several of the speakers very much emphasized doing exhaustive research on immigrant ancestors IN AMERICA, before tracking down records in Europe. This makes a lot of sense to me, so I'm going to focus a lot more of my research efforts on trying to gather American church records and documents for my and my husband's ancestors. That's not to say that I won't still order a Family History Library microfilm or two every now and then, but I know there is still so much more that I can find here first.
5.) And that sort of leads me to my next highlight: Many of the speakers advocated obtaining church records, as opposed to just civil records, whenever possible. Parish pastors and ministers often kept track of MORE family information than what is simply listed on county or town marriage records, for instance. Sometimes that little bit of extra information can help you break through a brick wall, especially when it comes to identifying parentage or what village your ancestor came from in the Old Country.
6.) I have been instructed NOT to be intimidated of church records hand-written in German script OR German-language newspapers printed in what is known as 'Fraktur' typeface. Several of the speakers advocated practicing handwriting in German script letters to become familiar with the how the letters are formed and what they look like. I actually feel like learning this is something that is way more attainable for me than the documentation stuff.
7.) Obtaining your ancestors' U.S. military records is NOT as difficult as you may think. I went to a great presentation by Michael L. Strauss about how to locate and obtain WWII records. Military personnel records for discharges before 1951 are considered public record and can be obtained by anyone through filling out a form. Unfortunately, a massive fire in 1973 destroyed 80% of the Army and 75% Air Force OMPFs (Office Military Personnel Files). The other branches' OMPFs were not affected. So, I plan on requesting the file of my grandmother, who served in the Coast Guard during WWII. My grandfather served in the Army during WWII, so there is a pretty good chance that his OMPF is gone. However, Mr. Strauss told us that the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis also keeps the 'Morning Reports' for each military branch on file, so those can help fill some gaps in where my grandfather was located and what he was doing at different points of his service. Morning Reports, however, can only be obtained by physically going to the facility in St. Louis. Road trip!
8.) Google Earth can be used to make 'family history videos' that you can email to family members or place on a webpage or blog. This mini-presentation in the exhibition hall was given by Lisa Louise Cooke. Basically, you can import videos, photos, documents - anything really - into Google Earth and plot them on a map AND you can even overlay historical maps onto the current-day Google satellite views. She showed us a video she made about some of her ancestors and it looked like a really cool way to tell a family's story and make it interesting even for people who are not genealogy-inclined. I can't wait to try this with my family's history.