The weather was lovely and the tulips downtown were in full bloom for the couple of days I recently spent in Grand Rapids, Mich., at the annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. This was my first time attending this conference, and I was drawn, in part, by its location and the related and relatively rare chance to attend some sessions on Dutch genealogy.
I’d long wanted to attend the NGS conference, but the timing had never worked out. This year I managed to carve out a small window of time to go to a portion of this year’s event. Fortunately, in most cases NGS makes it possible to buy audio recordings of the sessions you are unable to attend.
I arrived at the hotel shortly before the Dutch genealogy meet-and-greet on Thursday evening and met some very interesting people pursuing fascinating Dutch ancestors. It was a good way to set the theme for the next day.
The next morning I attended a session on the Christian Reformed Church, a denomination with Dutch roots that is headquartered in Grand Rapids. The session included info about the local CRC archives at Calvin College, which I’ve visited a couple of times in previous years but could not get to on this trip, as they were closed during my time there. Later in the day I heard sessions on the 19th-century Dutch colonies established in Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and on Dutch immigrant women and their occupations. Each taught me something I hadn’t known before. After running out of Dutch sessions for the day, I squeezed in some skills sessions on analyzing old photographs and on applying the genealogical proof standard to DNA testing.
The next morning, after a session on continuing education, I stopped to buy audio recordings of Dutch genealogist Yvette Hoitink’s presentations that I’d been unable to attend, including Dutch Genealogy 101 and another one on emigration from the Netherlands in the 1800s. I also picked up one on Scandinavian research, making the conference useful to ancestor research on both sides of my family. Since returning home, I’ve already listened to both of Yvette’s presentations and benefited from the slides she generously placed online.
Between sessions, I made a couple of trips to the expo hall, stopping to talk with another genealogist from the Netherlands and with the folks from Boston University’s online genealogical research program, with whom I’m registered to begin a class on May 15. Both were productive visits.
The conference hotel was the Amway Grand Plaza and sessions were held at DeVos Place conference center next door. While I stayed in this very same hotel for a different conference in 2016, this was the first time I’d had a chance for brief but relaxed meandering along the walkway that runs adjacent to the hotel and conference center on one side and the Grand River on the other. I included a stroll over the bridge that spans the river and along other streets around downtown. A few trees were blossoming, while others had yet to regain their leaves, but the early spring weather made strolling inviting. Having visited most of the major Grand Rapids landmarks on previous visits, I used this trip to focus on the conference and the downtown area.
What I enjoyed about the NGS conference was the interested engagement and orderly, comfortable atmosphere. The sessions I attended each drew significant audiences, but the rooms were not uncomfortably packed to overflowing. The attendees were knowledgeable and genuinely interested in the sessions they attended, resulting in good questions most of the time. I crossed paths with several of my fellow attendees on more than one occasion, and I felt I came away having learned a significant amount. While I’ll probably be kept away by work demands next year, I hope they have a great conference in Missouri in 2019. Maybe I’ll make it to Salt Lake City in 2020.