The presenters were a strong group: D. Joshua Taylor, Ceil Wendt Jensen, Greg Nelson, Sonia Hoeke-Nishimoto, Mark Olsen, and Tadeusz Pilat. The first two have been on TV genealogy shows and are therefore well known. Ceil has been a part of so many Polish Genealogical media/conferences/organizations that her credibility as a UPGS presenter is top-notch. Sonia and Greg are both members of FamilySearch.org and you can often find Sonia in FHL, plus she does Polish genealogy research for her own family tree. Greg Nelson is also the replacement Kahlile Mehr at FamilySearch and so his presence was welcome (as Kahlile’s presence was missed). Mark Olson was from MyHeritage and Tadeusz Pilat a presenter from Warsaw Poland and a ProGenealogists.com professional.
The conference had 11 presentations over 4 days, leaving some time for research and to attend optional FHL classes. The evenings had special events, including a banquet and a Wesoły Lud Folk Dance Ensemble performance for attendees. There appeared to be about 70+ attendees but there was just a single tract (unfortunately no choice in presentations, but they were all in one place — no getting lost). The presentations were split between Genealogy and Technology as the 2014 Conference proceedings cover shows. The Conference proceedings was good quality and included the presentation abstracts plus extra material and sponsor materials. This was well thought out and organized, and the Schedule thoughtfully included the hours for when FHL was open. My only suggestion for the Proceedings was to mention the Conference Room for the Presentations, which in this case was the same room for all presentations. It was not a problem as the organizers were present to hand-out materials and answer questions and once you knew the conference room it was the same for all presentations — so only a small error of omission.
Josh Taylor did 3 presentations. Two were on Technology. The problem with Technology presentations is that you need to know your audience and deliver to their level but in UPGS people have computer/technology experience of varying levels. This jester has had an entire career in Technology and I know at least two others present also made their careers with computers/technology and one man from Texas had technology focus and his own website that he maintained and developed. Today it is hard to find a genealogist that has not embraced technology. None-the-less the crowd ranged from rank beginners to very advanced and Josh targeted the very beginners. This was a bad decision by UPGS organizers because there was only one tract, I had nowhere else to go, except to the FHL.
If you had multiple tracts and the attendee could choose another presentation then it would be ok. In fairness, the technology presentations should also be evenly split across: beginner, medium and advanced experience attendees. But all of Josh’s presentations were at the lowest level and the material even then was not very substantive. After his presentation, I asked the UPGS/UPGSA director why don’t you have the presenters put their PowerPoints online so we do not have to write down links (URLs) or so that we can cut/paste forms into usable documents. Astonishingly, he said, “Because these are the presenter’s property. Their work-in-trade.” I did not have the heart to tell him that too many of the presentations were worthless if these were examples of that person’s professional body of work. I did not want to argue that most large conferences do EXACTLY as I requested/suggested we at UPGS do. Almost every presenter said if you email me, I will send you my presentation. If that is so then why not upload the presentation online at the UPGS or UPGSA website?
This attitude on this UPGSA organizer’s part of rebuffing suggestions is precisely why UPGS is only 70+ people and one tract of presentations and some of those presentations were sub-par. In truth the conference has not changed since I last attended in 2008. No growth and the quality of the banquet was less and it seemed less Genealogical Society support than in 2008 and before.
“Advancing Your Polish Research“, by Sonia Hoeke-Nishimoto
“Maps & Gazetteers for Genealogy“, by Sonia Hoeke-Nishimoto
“Immigration Agents“, by Ceil Jensen
“The Peasant & the Palace: Research Manor Records“, by Ceil Jensen
“This is Women’s Work — Midwifery”, by Ceil Jensen
“Creating Your Personal Family History Website“, by Josh Taylor
“New Tools & Ideas in Research“, by Josh Taylor
“Keynote: Family History in Pop Culture“, by Josh Taylor
“MyHeritage.com”, by Mark Olsen
“Notary Records In Poland”, by Tadeusz Pilat
“Searching the 3 Partitions at FHL; LDS Filming Projects in Poland”, by Greg Nelson
Can you see the flaws? Too few presentations. There needs to be at least two tracts so people have some choice. Further more, attendees should rate the presentations 1 … 11 (the # of presentations) so that organizers can see what the attendees like (or do NOT like). Also, 8 of the 11 presentations were by just three people. Nowhere near enough presenters. We need more diversity. You cannot tell me this was done to keep quality high, because as I said some of the 11 presentations were sub-par. No quality in limited presenters. Indeed, it causes presenters to “recycle” their efforts and the short durations 75 minutes probably meant that they cut some material from these recycled presentations leaving the attendee with an “unsatisfied” feeling from these content-lite (or content-free) send-ups. Perhaps if we had two tracts we could go to 90 minute presentations. These presentations could not be put up on the Internet??? Please organizers, you need to attend some more conferences and see how things are done BETTER and get some fresh ideas and perhaps decentralize the control of what is done/presented.
Don’t get this jester wrong. Ceil Jensen hit another three home runs. Sonia’s work was informative and appealing high quality. Josh Taylor did a very good job with the banquet Keynote presentation. Tadeusz’s presentation was one I was looking forward to — to find new avenues of research in Poland beyond church records. It was well done and his English was good enough to present a high-quality send-up. I liked Greg Nelson’s sharing of what was happening in FamilySearch for Polish Genealogists. Mark Olsen won me over about MyHeritage.com. You knew it was going to be a bit commercial, but he was convincing of the special technology that they have in their matching. He even made the commercial part disappear by offering EVERY attendee a free trial ! When this jester, needled Mark with a question about how many Polish genealogists MyHeritage had, he gleefully answered by showing us,within the tool itself, a map of how many accounts by country and the country Poland was over 1 Million members (on par with Germany)! Obviously some genealogists in the USA would need to be added on top but an accurate demographic of US genealogists by ethnicity, does not exist . I like the idea of the UPGS including a presenter from Europe at each UPGS. Obviously, a Polish researcher would be preferred but one with Eastern/Central European expertise would also be welcome. This “cross-Atlantic”, cross pollination of information exchange is a valuable goal. It seems we have done many times already. So kudos, for keeping this idea going and for the selection of Tadeusz Pilat,
So it was really just the Technology presentations that I felt were not valuable and the organizer’s entrenchment over simple suggestions that they could make for free and improve this conference. This only happens every other year, so you would think incorporating change and improvements would be easy and also be welcomed, given that much time to put on the next UPGS. Here is one more suggestion for the UPGS organizers. Perhaps the UPGSA needs to appoint a person whose sole focus is putting on the UPGS conference and training this person on how it is done now, what the costs drivers are and what the revenues are and asking the UPGSA members to provide suggestions for what they want to see in a new conference. Also I think the other regional Polish Genealogy Societies also need input into what would improve UPGS. I personally would welcome paying $25-$30 more (i.e. raise conference fee) for registration to get a 2nd tract of presenters. In my over 15 years of genealogy, I have NEVER once seen a call for papers or presentations. I have seen them for ROOTS Tech conference and I have seen them for the IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy. I have even seen the call for papers from FEEFHS.
I think the USPGSA and all regional Polish genealogy societies need to email ALL of their members and request papers/abstracts for presentations for each and every conference. I am a member of several societies and never seen it except for the conferences I have attended: ROOTS Tech & IAJGS Conference. It seems like the presentations are all done by people well connected to conference organizers. More diversity / more opportunity. OH UPGS organizers get some more presentations specific to Polish Genealogy. I was really disappointed by the presenters who said they have no Polish Genealogy experience … REALY at UPGS ??? What are you thinking? I did enjoy meeting old friends and long time Polish Genealogists again and doing some catch-up, perhaps we need some way of doing that.
This conference fails to teach new Polish Genealogists on Polish Genealogy topics. I think that limits the UPGS from growing. We also need to make it so genealogy vendors come and sell at the conference and they help defray the costs by charging for vendor tables. The UPGSA should produce an online PDF document, “How To Present At The UPGS Conference” so that other people know how to submit proposals, what they will face when they get to Salt Lake City and how to hook up their laptops to the projector. Make it a comfortable and welcome process for new presenters and for people to provide suggestions.
Each Polish Genealogical Society needs to sponsor one presenter at the UPGS (if their paper is chosen). That way we can see material from all over the USA from recognized genealogists and the costs of presenters is born by each society to share the expense of putting on UPGS while sharing control/input amongst them all. I missed seeing Matthew Bielawa, Jonathan Shea, Lisa Alzo. How long has it been since NY or Toledo had a presenter at UPGS? Perhaps other Polish Fraternal Groups could also help support this conference via ads or sponsorship of national speakers. Finally, show us Polish Genealogy bloggers some love: Give us quality pics of the speakers to use in blogs and access to any/all speakers for quick interviews. Why not make an UPGS organizer available for question & answer interviews to bloggers? Why not list bloggers and Polish genealogy websites in the Conference Proceedings?
Let’s grow this thing! Oh by the way, this jester’s suggestions are in BOLD-RED UPGSA, just in case you want some feedback.
If you agree or disagree let this jester know. Just email me.