Friday, 20 February 2015

Be Prepared to Wing It!

I think this is my number one tip for attending conferences: be prepared to wing it! Because, inevitably, something always happens to keep you on your toes.
Yup, there are many reasons for which you may be forced to alter your carefully constructed conference schedule:
  • The rooms for your top session choices may fill up before you arrive;
  • You may oversleep, your alarm might not go off, you might not receive your wake up call;
  • You may get lost or stuck in traffic, especially in a new city;
  • A speaker may have cause to cancel their appearance -- ie, flight delayed, death in the family, illness, death of self (god forbid! although it did happen at the 2014 OGS conference I attended), etc;
  • There may be a problem with the building, a particular room, facilities or the tech required for the presentation;
  • A natural disaster might rear it's ugly head (the Zombie Apocalypse may erupt);
  • The conference organizers may reschedule or cancel things for reasons they don't make public.

There are other factors which you shouldn't discount either: 

a) You will be tired, mentally and physically. And this will become a bigger burden the further along you get. Even if you do not have to travel far, a conference is a lot of activity. All of your senses are engaged more than usual. You are expending more energy or at least expending it in a different manner than usual. For multiple days in a row. Meeting new people and networking in general takes effort for most people; moreso, if you cope with disorders such as depression or anxiety or both.*

b) You just may not have the physical stamina to walk all the way to the other end of that building one more time in order to attend that particular lecture. Especially after multiple full days of conference-going. Especially if there is a huge crowd in attendance. Especially if you cope with any type of chronic disease or are fighting off an acute illness. This will likely be somewhat dependent upon the particular venue and how the event is laid out within it by the organizers -- and you won't know this until you arrive. Even if maps are provided beforehand.

c) Yup, you heard me right -- you may catch a virus. Think about it. Hundreds of people from all over the world in close contact. Not all of them as hygienic as you. Maybe also unaware they are incubating communicable evil. Lots of new germs for your body to discover and pick a fight with - making you tired or otherwise feeling unlike yourself. I'll throw food-poisoning into this category too. Maybe it turns out your tummy is not as enthusiastic about the new cuisine as your eyeballs, eh?

d) Time of Day - some people can't function early in the morning or stay awake after lunch, let alone comprehend new material. This may be unexpectedly exacerbated by exhaustion, excitement, anxiety, illness. You may find yourself unable to concentrate, especially if it's a difficult subject. Additionally, don't forget about any time change that might affect you -- jet lag can be a PITA in the best of circumstances.

e)  Your mood will likely be affected by all of the above as well. Mood affects ability and willingness to listen and learn. If you're crabby after waiting in line somewhere, missing your bus, fighting crowds, dealing with an ornery vendor... Or if you're overwhelmed by a previous presentation or particular speaker (or a celebrity sighting!!!)... Or you're anxious about something... you may not feel like sitting cooped up in a classroom for an hour. And, to be fair, it's probably best in this circumstance to give up your seat to someone more ready to be present.

f) Speaker / Presentation Style - I once chose to see a couple of sessions by the same speaker only to be underwhelmed by his presentation style at the first class. I'm not interested in listening to someone recite their syllabus handout verbatim nor someone who clearly knows a lot about their topic but just can't seem to clearly articulate a theme so that their speech is effective as a learning tool. I'm not going to sit through additional torture just because I chose it in advance!
I'll throw accents into the mix here. For some reason, I'm not great at understanding accents without some serious concentration up front.
Similarly, technical issues can arise that make streamed-in presentations intolerable. I certainly wouldn't return for a second bout of torture.
Alternatively, a speaker you see early in the day or conference may be so good, so informative that you want to see them again. He or she may mention a presentation they will be giving in the future at the conference that didn't sound as good in the description but for which you gain a new appreciation after seeing what the first talk was all about.

g) Although I can't imagine this, I have read frequently that attendees of cons like RootsTech intentionally skip sessions! They skip sessions in order to attend the marketplace, presumably to network as well as browse. So here is where I tell you to keep in mind that you may feel compelled to create extra time for Expo Hall shopping, socializing, networking.**

h) Presentations by vendors in the marketplace must also affect attendee decisions to forego scheduled classes. For this upcoming RT/FGS con, I know Maureen Taylor, Lisa Alzo and The Chart Chick are presenting a brief series of classes at their booth. There are also special things going on at the FindMyPast booth. So, now, after all of my original lecture scheduling I must go through and figure in the mini-classes presented in the marketplace! AHH!!!

i) Special events like society meetings, organization or group gatherings and company focus groups may be scheduled by their organizers during conference hours. These may be your only chance to connect with like-minded people you see only rarely in person or have only ever communicated with online.

j) Access to special facilities may impact your conference decisions, too. A research room offering complementary access to helpful commercial websites and/or individualized help is a popular phenomenon at conferences here in my neck of the woods. Additionally, there may be repositories specific to the conference's destination that demand some of your attention. You will have to judge how your time will be most wisely spent.

I'm sure there are many more factors which may affect the way you choose to spend your conference time. Some you may be able to prepare for ahead of time - others not so much. So, make like Mr. Elastic*** and stay flexible!

Yes, The Asterisks Mean Something

* Remember, depression and anxiety are not faults nor weaknesses of character - they are just factors to take into account! Acknowledging your limitations takes strength.

** I began writing this piece before attending my first RootsTech (2015). Stay tuned for more on this Expo Hall / skipping sessions subject!

*** Mr. Elastic is my name for Mr. Fantastic from The Fantastic Four. Drives hubby crazy when I refer to the dude this way but I think my name for him is more appropriate. Because he is stretchy. That's his super power. So, duh.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Salt Lake City, Here I Come!

I can't believe I will be leaving for Salt Lake City TOMORROW!!! This trip has come up so fast! I have so many "preparation" blog posts that I have not yet had time to polish and publish.... But, otherwise, I think I am mostly ready!

I'm packed except for a few last minute things. All my electronics are charged. (What the hell did we do before we had to cart all this crap around with us??) I've got my insurance stuff and my itinerary printed. I've called all my cards to inform them of my travels. Exchanged for some American dollars at the bank (I don't even want to talk about that... stupid exchange rate). I've got syllabus information printed out and apps downloaded. Blah blah blah. I'm good to go!

Oh, there is always MORE preparation that could be done for researching at the FHL. I don't know that I will ever be on the ball enough to be entirely prepared for researching somewhere new. From past experiences, it seems I just have to get there and feel what a new repository is like before my brain settles down enough to navigate what I need to accomplish. I also figure I have a lot of boring travel time tomorrow to do some preparing... So we'll see how that goes.*

I plan to do a lot of tweeting throughout my trip which starts early EST tomorrow morning. If you would like to follow my adventures you can do so here**:

You can either make an account and follow me or just visit this page periodically.

My goal is to post SOMETHING on the blog every day of the conference for people who can't attend in real time. I tend to want to be more loquacious and descriptive and wordy in my posts (in case you haven't noticed! ha!) so this it's sometimes hard for me to get it all out in one shot but I'm going to give it a damn honest effort. Just for YOU! Don't you feel special??? Who are you again....? lol

Yes, The Asterisks Mean Something

* It won't, I'm sure, but at least I acknowledge it. LOL

** Not sure why exactly anyone would purposefully follow my exploits (except for Hubby who is legally obligated to) but, hey, there are crazies out there! LOL

Deciding What Sessions to Attend at a Conference

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Prior to beginning my short series about my preliminary conference session choices (see Wed - Thurs - Fri - Sat), I read Linda Stufflebean's blog post with HER preliminary list of session choices. I just had to mention that is was Linda who got me itching to make my own list -- though I don't generally need much inspiration to make a list. I am, after all, the List Queen! (PS. What an awesome surname... Stufflebean!!!)

Having made those initial choices, I have let them ruminate for a few days.

Next, I need to pare down my list and consider other factors which might affect those decisions. I certainly can't be in 6+ places at once (even if I were a bigger Dr. Who fan)!

It's obviously easier to rule out lectures you're not as interested in when you can immediately see their competition (which ones are taking place at the same time); however, as for RootsTech/FGS, a schedule may not be released until close to the event date. That is to say, a list of sessions and brief descriptions may be published well in advance but without a timeline to guide your choice-making. This doesn't mean you can't make progress in the meantime, though! In fact, you might be all the more prepared by the delay.

Here are the 15 steps I try to take in order to create a personalized conference schedule:

1. Read through the session descriptions and mark all the ones you're interested in. Make a special note of the sessions in which you are most interested and any you Must See. If you are like me, you will do this multiple times.

2. Read all speaker biography blurbs. Make note of any speakers you have seen previously; mark any want to see. Are there any experts you particularly would like to ask specific questions? I actually have a list which I update periodically of all the speakers I've seen lecture. Additionally, I keep a series of duotangs containing the notes I make during each webinar* I attend, each page headed with the session title, speaker name and date. I do need to make a list of these session titles and speakers for quick reference in situations such as this. It would help ensure certain sessions are not just titled differently while actually a re-do of something I've previously seen. Yeah, that happens.

3. Once you get your hands on the schedule, it's a good idea to read through the session descriptions again - even if you have already done so. Sometimes due to space restrictions, the wording is more succinct, more to-the-point (and therefore revealing) on a schedule. Mark all sessions of interest. Make a special mark next to those in which you are most interested or any you know are on your Must-Not-Miss list.

4. Note all of your marked session possibilities in each time slot. How do they compare to each other according to priority? If there is nothing presented at the same time as one of your classes of interest or Must See lectures, you're golden! Decision made! If any are occurring at the same time as others of interest, you have work to do.

5. Write a blog post (or a private document) about all the sessions you have an interest in attending and make a note about why. How will it help you increase your knowledge or skill? Might it provide you with a new perspective? Is it simply a speaker you really want to see? If you are hesitant about a particular session, note that too. If you can't think of anything to write, that's probably a clue that it's not as important for you to attend that session. It is a good idea to sift through the sessions by time slot as you write so you can better interpret how your items of interest compare to each other versus those of disinterest. You might think writing it all out won't help but it does, or at least it did for me - it serves as an aid to clarification -- your own, for yourself, and that of others who are trying to make their own choices if you choose to publish.

6. Further to #5, write out or consider your priorities and goals for attending this conference and its sessions in general. How do these relate to your overall professional and/or educational goals? In other words, you are trying to determine which sessions will best help you accomplish your goals. For example, deciding whether or not seeing Mr.Xpert speak about a topic you're having trouble with is probably a better use of your time than watching Mrs.Xpert lecture about a subject in which you are interested but will not need to focus on for a while yet.

7. Determine whether or not any of the speakers are giving the same or similar presentations elsewhere. Remember, you can either attend in person if the location is near you or you are available to travel but sometimes you can also attend virtually, via a webinar. Ask on social media, make use of Google, review speaker websites and their scheduled events lists, check society webpages and sites like If any sessions being presented at this conference are being presented elsewhere, knock them off your list. But keep in mind, even if they could be taken off your list, this may be your one or even only chance to see a particular individual present in living colour.

8. Note any indicated skill or learning levels for each class. This may be indicated by track or series; otherwise, individually. Usually, I see the traditional labels: Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced. For example, there is a Getting Started track at RootsTech this year. If you are like me, you are more advanced in some subjects while just starting out in others so it's not always a one-track decision. Be aware that lectures labelled appropriate for all skill levels will likely be broader in scope and less advanced. Make sure the skill levels of the sessions in which you are interested are commensurate to your experience and knowledge. Sometimes a challenge is a good thing, sometimes it's not. Are you looking for instruction or a new perspective?

9. Similar to #8, note any prerequisites mentioned. If having an understanding of basic computer/internet skills or general genetic genealogy or a particular type of record research is suggested, take that advice to heart. Don't go to a session you are not prepared to understand. You will get frustrated, overwhelmed and will feel like you have wasted your valuable conference time.

10. If any of the session descriptions include specific websites or technologies, look them up. You may discover, armed with a little additional information, that the service is not something you are really going to utilize or that the technology is not something you will understand from just a lecture. (I personally learn much better by taking an hour to fiddle around with something on my own as opposed to being verbally told how to do it). Note: If a session is "sponsored by" a certain company or group it does not necessarily mean the session will be about that company's service or product.

11. By the same token (as #10), pay attention to the wording of each description. It is worth mentioning that each speaker submits their own write-up advertising their own lecture and that it's the description's job to win your interest and attendance (thereby, ticket sales, etc). Sometimes titles can be misleading. Sometimes descriptions will initially give the impression a session is about one topic while a second read-through will indicate a hidden agenda. For example, a talk about cemetery or headstone research tips and tricks could take on a different light when you realize it is being given by the person in charge of a grave-finder website. I have been to a couple webinars like this where the promised tips and tricks turned out to be an overview of how to use a particular website instead of general skills. While this sort of advertising/agenda is not necessarily a bad thing, it might not be the best use of your time during this particular conference.

12. Read the syllabus materials. Make note of any questions you already have or that arise from your reading.
A) Whether you read the material online or in paper form, in advance of the event or only after you've arrived, make sure you read at as far ahead as possible. And don't just read the pages related to your sessions of interest; read them all. Read them all because, having more information at hand, you may find other session options you are more interested in. Read them all so that you know what else is going on at the conference, what is of interest to others and current within the community, what your peers will be talking about.
B) Evaluate the syllabus materials of your sessions of interest. Has everything already been said in the syllabus? Is it just an outline? Just a list of links or further resources? Good speakers leave things to say for the presentation. Are there new concepts, subjects or views presented in the syllabus about which you'd like to know more?

13. Make yourself aware of any sessions that may be streamed live online, recorded and later made available online or recorded and available for purchase. A popular tip I've read about attending conferences like RootsTech, FGS and the SoCal Jamboree is to purchase recordings of sessions (made by a particular company found in the marketplace) in the event of a scheduling conflict or to free up time to spend in the marketplace. To date, I've never been to a conference where this has been an option but it makes good sense to me to utilize the service when available (though I'm not fond of the idea of spending even more money on one conference and would, personally, probably do this only sparingly). The ability to view any of some lectures of interest at a later time or date may well mean that you can spend that valuable conference time at an alternate session -- make the most of the experience, get the most bang for your buck!

14. With all of this in mind, create your top three session list for each time slot. Rank those top three sessions from most important to least. Clearly mark Must-Not-Miss lectures. It is important to note options for each time slot in case a particular room fills up before you arrive, a speaker falls ill or technical difficulties prevent the presentation.

15. Be aware that, even with all of this preparation, this "perfect schedule" you've carefully crafted will likely change. Be flexible!

Yes, The Asterisks Mean Something

*Webinar = a lecture presented online, in real time.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Laptop Security While Researching

As I fumble, stumble and grumble through my preparations to visit Utah NEXT WEEK (OMG!!) for the combined RootsTech and FGS conference taking place in the Zombie Hunter’s mecca (also known as Salt Lake City, home of the Family History Library) my thirst intensifies and the anxiety builds.

This will be my first international trip travelling solo, my first airplane ride in over ten years (though I have always loved flying). It will be my first time in Salt Lake City; simultaneously my first RootsTech and my first FGS conference -- my first experience of a major, international genealogy conference in person. MY VERY FIRST TIME AT THE FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY!!!!
I won’t really know anyone -- oh, there may well be a few participants with whom I've briefly crossed paths at past local conferences or online but no one I know well enough to call more than a friendly acquaintance. No one I will know with 100% certainty that I can count on to come and fetch me from the side of the road when the cab I take from the airport to my hotel dumps me and steals my luggage.** On the contrary, I’m sure I will instantly spot the many Genea-Celebrities*** in attendance, immediately SQUEE with delight and grab for my Cloak of Invisibility upon which, as a shy and bashful creature, I have relied since birth. I can't even comprehend the fact that some of the (OMG!) traditionally famous people in attendance (like Donny Osmond!!) may elect to briefly wander the convention floor! In fact, I think it's best if I make a point of not thinking about that.

It’s all so mind-boggling. That likely sounds very strange to most of you reading... but the closer it gets, the more excited AND scared I feel. This trip is a big deal for me, both professionally and personally. I've got a lot of goals, both large and small. Both personal and professional. I love genealogy; I love what I do, I love learning. But carving out a place within a new (to me) professional community and networking in general... intimidating.

So, I must try to avoid becoming overwhelmed. That's step Numero Uno!
Okay, Self, are you listening?? Focus on one small part at a time!! Step by step!

Soooooo.... One small part I recently tackled was laptop security.

I will definitely be travelling with my laptop and digital camera -- if not to the conference itself, certainly to the FHL. Both are Must-Have research tools in my Digging Kit.

It’s interesting -- the different mentality I’m noticing between researching in Canadian versus American repositories. Here at home, I frequently bring expensive equipment with me to research, nonchalantly leaving it on a nearby table within sight but without much thought to it’s safety beyond that. Never had a bad experience. (Knock on wood that luck holds out!) However, almost every article I've read in preparation for this trip and researching in The States notes the importance of locking down one’s devices PRONTO. Is such theft among like-minded researchers really so common just across a border?? I know every visitor to the FHL is not a serious genealogist, but still...

Whatever the reality may be, I am now sufficiently paranoid.

Thankfully, when I purchased my laptop in the not-too-distant past, I also purchased a cable locking device to secure it. Unfortunately, when I went to figure out how to use it, the blasted thing didn't work. I assumed I bought “the wrong size” and this was the error I recently endeavoured to rectify.

In case you are wondering how a cable lock works… Most laptops nowadays (so I’ve learned) are built with a small slot on one side. Usually, this slot is noted by a tiny (you guessed it!) lock icon. This is where you insert the business end of your cable lock -- which you purchase, separately, wherever you shop for your computer peripherals. You will have a choice of forgetting or losing -- I mean, a choice between a combination or key-based device. The opposite end of the anti-cut cable gets secured to a table leg or something else not easily moved without a big scene (unless you’re The Hulk and puny humans just get in the way). TA-DA! Security.
For more info:
You may have noticed a key word in that paragraph -- “most”. Yup, most laptops have that slot. Most, not all. And, of course, not mine.

 Mine’s an ultra book****. All I know is that it’s super slim, very light-weight (around 3lbs) even with the extra battery I've added for longevity of use. It was vital to me that it be light-weight for carting around with me when researching. I nearly died the day I took my old, six-pounder to the LAC! I assume, therefore, that I've chosen a device created too slender for the inclusion of this lock slot.


So what does one do to secure a laptop that does not have a USS or K-slot, you ask? That was my immediate question, too. Surely there must be solution! A different type of lock? Something that hooks into a different slot? Well, I have found that there are two options which can be loosely considered solutions. And I had to dig through the bowels of the internet to find them, at that!

(If your spidy-senses are tingling in a negative direction, you win a cookie)!

1) Purchase an adapter kit that essentially enables you to glue (yes, GLUE!) a doohicky onto the laptop so that a regular cable lock can be secured. ---  Really. I wonder how difficult it will be to break that knob off and run away?? Not too mention what havoc the glue will wreak upon that same device even if it weren't an eyesore.

2) Purchase a stand that you screw or BOLT to a table in order to strap the laptop down. Really. Now, that’s a portable option.

Follow THIS link for photos and a little more info about these two fabulous solutions.

I just realized that this post is a great big advertisement for some devious evil-doer to come collect a lovely prize…

Well... balls.

Why do they even MAKE these things without that damn slot??

I guess I’m attaching it to my leg with velcro…

Yes, The Asterisks Mean Something


** I've actually booked a shuttle from the airport to my hotel via Express Shuttle. At $8.00 one way, it is the best deal I could find that didn't involve the train or bus which I will definitely be too sore to navigate after an entire day of travel. (Thanks Fibromyalgia!)

*** Genea-Celeb: Those individuals who are well-known publicly in the genea-universe. Professionals. Bloggers. Lecturers. Affiliated with the Big Companies. A combination thereof. People whose accomplishments, careers, skills, creativity, work ethic, talent and courage I ogle enviously from afar and against which I tend to measure my own genea-self (such as it currently is --or is not, as the case may be! lol). To me, genea-celebs are the Hollywood-esque starlets of the genealogy community. They are awe-inspiring, admirable yet intimidating mentors and I aim to emulate so many of them.

**** Ultra Book... whatever that means! I mean, I know it’s supa-fly just because it’s mine but… yeah. I may know SOME tech stuff but I leave the fan-boying about computer system deets to Hubby.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Tombstone Tuesday: Roy Clement Stanton

The tombstone of my biological* maternal grandfather, Roy Clement Stanton:

Photograph taken 16 May 2010 by LDC.

5 JUNE 1919
26 MARCH 1993

This stone can be found standing in St. Michael's Cemetery which lies at 166 Kedey Street on the outskirts of the small village of Fitzroy Harbour within the greater city limits of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.

I would say Roy rests in the Stanton family plot but, frankly, there are so many Stantons in this cemetery that the whole shebang could (almost) be considered the family cemetery.** Case in point, this stone stands in a line with three other Stanton stones towards the front and center of the cemetery while his father's sits in a far corner with still others. And there are at least two other stones specific to this surname AND my particular tree that I can recall off the top of my (admittedly rotten) noggin.

Photograph taken 16 May 2010 by LDC.
Photograph taken 16 May 2010 by LDC

Suffice to say Roy's will be the first of many, many, MANY headstones I will feature from this Catholic cemetery. 

Yes, The Asterisks Mean Something

* I'm mindful to point out that Roy was my biological grandfather because I never met him in person and, for all non-genetic intents and purposes, I have always considered another man my "Papa". Nevertheless, without Roy I would not exist and he is therefore automatically deserving of a certain deference. 

** In fact, I have already found such an overwhelming number of connections to my tree that I'm quite interested to, one day, prove whether or not I am related to everyone buried in this cemetery.