Thursday, September 4, 2014

So I'm from Texas... (Smallest Leaf's take on FGS 2014)

The electric Texas flag at the Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio

It's true. I am from Texas, though you might not have known that from reading my blogs. My genealogical search focuses on the states and countries from which my ancestors hailed (I have Pennsylvania Irish, Massachusetts Irish and New York City Eastern European roots). Since I don't write much about where I live, you may not have been aware that Smallest Leaf actually makes her home in Texas.

But Texas was the focus recently of a great genealogical discovery of mine: my very first national genealogy conference! Yes, that's right. I've been researching my family for decades, blogging for over seven years, but had never attended a national genealogy conference until last week. Needless to say, I was very thankful that FGS (the Federation of Genealogical Societies) decided to boot scoot to San Antonio for their annual conference.

Gone To Texas! they called it, and I was happy to make my way across the countryside of this big state to join them. It was a tremendous experience for me.

Now, I've done much reading in the field of genealogy, watched lots of webinars, connected for years with many other genealogists (bloggers and not), but the experience of attending this conference was even better than I expected. The act of dedicating several straight days to genealogy lectures and learning, to connecting with other like-minded folks tracing their roots, and to perusing an exhibit hall dedicated completely to genealogy was an experience that I still need a good amount of time to process. I learned a lot and have lots of new ideas to help me with my continued research.

The conference, hosted at San Antonio's Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center just a few blocks from the legendary Alamo, involved lots of river-crossing.

The convention center straddles the San Antonio River and a portion of its famous riverwalk, so back and forth I went along with many of the nation's genealogists as we hiked to and from lectures, luncheons, the exhibit hall and other places of interest.

I had a difficult time choosing from all of the excellent presentations. I cannot possibly give you a full recap of all that I soaked up from the many speakers I heard at FGS 2014, but I'll share with you some of the "bits of wisdom" I jotted down during the conference.

Some of these I tweeted during the event (and have extended here since there is no 140 character limit!). Some I just pulled out of my notes to share with you for the first time. Unfortunately, I didn't note "quotes" from the speaker of every presentation I attended (though I now wish I had!), so these tidbits don't represent every speaker I was privileged to hear last week.

Whether or not you attended FGS 2014, I hope you find some inspiration in these "sound bites" from the conference, which I've grouped below into three themes.

Words of Wisdom from FGS 2014

On genealogical research

"Build a profile of what's in the shadows. Look deeper at what's outside the flash. Often the places we are looking for are dimly lit. They are in the shadows. They are outside the flash." - J. Mark Lowe

Take time going through manuscripts for stories of ancestors and friends. Don't get what J. Mark Lowe calls "clickitis". "Squirrel!! (That's almost every genealogist I know.)" - J. Mark Lowe

"The best clues to birth family and origins are at the earliest proven place of residence, even if a 'burned county'." - Elizabeth Shown Mills

"A synonym for citation is description...Don't just look up a citation model and copy it, try to understand the source." - Thomas W. Jones

"Documentation is a conversation. Conversation is a description. I think you can have a conversation with your readers that is effective." - Thomas W. Jones

"Scientists don't just state conclusions. They document every step of the research process." (So must genealogists.) Elizabeth Shown Mills

"You have to try to disprove your theories as well as you try to prove them." Elizabeth Shown Mills

"Genealogists never run out of opportunity." Elizabeth Shown Mills (explaining her bullseye genealogy approach)

A few genealogy a-ha's

"Types of maps to seek: any kind of map you can think of, any kind of map you can get your hands on." - Paul Milner

"Boundaries changed, like when the river changed course." Paul Milner

"Photos don't go down from direct descendant to direct descendant. They trickle down the tree and trickle up the tree. The provenance of the photographs represent relationships within the family." - Maureen Taylor

"Have a plan for who will inherit your photos. Decide now, not later, or else all your photos will end up in one of my presentations and I won't know who they are." - Maureen Taylor

Why become a Certified Genealogist? If not, "we're sitting in our bunny slippers at 2 am doing research asking, 'Am I doing this right?!'" - Judy Russell

On the importance of story

"We [genealogists] understand that the story is more than six words. It's more than half a paragraph. We understand that the story is longer than that." - J. Mark Lowe

"Preserve it now! Tell your family these stories now. Even if it's an oral story, pass it down. Share it with your family. Tweet it if you have to!" - Juliana Szucs Smith

"What are you going to leave behind? An inscription? A memorial of some kind? We all have a story to tell." Paul Milner

"You've got names, filled out the family group sheet. But who do you love? The ones whose stories you know. How are you going to tell those stories? How are you going to pass those stories along?" Paul Milner

Button, button, who's got the button?

Smallest Leaf's handcrafted FGS 2014 buttons (it was a family affair!)
alongside my first set of GeneaBlogger beads (courtesy of Thomas MacEntee)

Prior to the conference, I designed and created (with the help of several of my family members) a set of buttons for FGS 2014. It was lots of fun passing them out at the conference to online friends whom I finally had the chance to meet in person, and to fellow genealogists I met for the first time at FGS. I've been told that my buttons were a hit. If you attended, I hope you got one and that I had a chance to visit with you there! If not, I'm hoping that FGS members enjoyed their time in Texas and will come back again to the Friendship State very soon. Ya'll come back now, ya hear!

Tower of the Americas as viewed from the Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio


    1. Lisa, what an awesome post! I am SO sorry I did not get to meet you in person (and get one or more of your buttons - saw them on others and really wanted them!). I was only there on Saturday - bummer that FGS fell during the first week of classes at my university! My first national conference too! Now that I know you live in Texas, I hope to see you at future Texas State Genealogical Society conferences!

    2. Thanks for your comment, Amanda! So sorry we missed each other. It was a great conference. I wish you could have attended more than one day. In fact, I missed Librarian's Day and would like to do that at the next chance I get. Let's keep in touch and hopefully meet at another event sometime soon!

    3. I'd like to think my family originates from Croatian Texas. ;)

      I hope to be back up and running again soon. After humming and hawing, I have decided to move to the same platform you use. Still not sure how I am going to manage finding time to write but I'll do my best!

      Glad to still see you online. I enjoy reading your posts.

    4. Thanks for your comment, Ivan! Nice to see you online, too! Getting around to writing... our lifelong struggle, I'm afraid. Life certainly gets in the way. I look forward to reading more from you soon.

      1. It took a while but I finally got the new page up and running! It's still a work in progress but if I waited for perfection it never would have happened.

      2. Great news, Ivan! Glad to see that you are back!

    5. It was fun seeing you in San Antonio. I have nominated you for the Only Lovely Blog award.

    6. Thanks so very much for the honor, Fran. It was great to meet you at FGS. Hope to see you again very soon!


    For more from Lisa, visit

    Related Posts with Thumbnails