A few years ago, I attended the Federation of Genealogical Society’s national conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. I had never been to a national conference before and wasn’t sure what to expect. I kept looking around and thinking, is this it? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the conference, met some fantastic people, and learned a lot, but it wasn’t the kind of education I really needed. Although a growing number of lectures at national conferences are geared toward advanced topics and/or professional genealogists, most have the beginning or intermediate genealogist in mind. And since the lectures are short (generally 45 minutes in length with a ten or fifteen minute Q&A, although not always), the speakers don’t necessarily have time to give more than an overview of the subject being covered. A really good overview, but not generally the kind of in-depth discussion I was hoping for.
At IGHR, I’ve found that in-depth learning experience. The people here are absolutely amazing, from the institute’s staff to the course coordinators and teachers to the students. In between classes, everyone is in conversation, and most of it centers around genealogical issues. For those who are new to the institute (like me), some of that discussion revolves around getting to know researchers on a personal level, or meeting researchers in person with whom one has only ever corresponded before.
And the classes! Wow. I’m taking Course 3: Research in the South, Part 1 co-ordinated by J. Mark Lowe. So far we’ve covered migration patterns, geography and geology, land use, and various records of interest to Southern researchers at the Federal level as well as for the states of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Today we’ll cover the same for Georgia, as well as discussing colonial and territorial records and records concerning slaves and slaveholders. The rest of the week we’ll cover other Southern research topics, but I have no doubt those classes will be just as fascinating as the ones we’ve already done.
I was talking to Elissa Scalise Powell and Jerry Smith last night and trying to describe how I felt about the two formal educational experiences, comparing national conferences to IGHR, and Jerry said, “It’s like college for genealogists.” I wholeheartedly agree. This institute, and others like it, I imagine, provide a whole different level of education aimed at a very different group of students. Although there are a variety of researchers here, from the rank amateur to the long-time professional, most are academic genealogists with a deep knowledge of the records and research process, or a desire to know more about those things.
It would be a stretch to say that I feel like I’m at home here (for one, there’s no way to feel at home when you’re staying in a dorm room with a bad mattress and an overhead neighbor who’s an early riser). I will say that for the first time I feel like I’m part of the group. It’s so nice to have conversations with people who stay on top of issues concerning genealogists, like record availability and loss, supporting histories, or whatever it is that’s hit our collective fancy.
Which brings me to my original point: IGHR is a whole different level of serious. It’s so different, I’ve decided to call it seriosity, the nearly single-minded meld of serious curiosity. I may even have a t-shirt made for it with a catchy slogan, like Got Osity?
Hey, it might catch on. You never know.