After 50 Years, SCGS Jamboree Embarks on a Major Shift Change
This past weekend, I was honored to be a speaker at the 50th annual Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in Burbank, California. I have been attending Jamboree since 2009 and since then have always looked forward to meeting up with genealogy friends and colleagues.
I arrived on Friday, May 31st and by Saturday I could sense something was different about this year’s event:
- There didn’t seem to be as many attendees as last year. Attendance was definitely down from the max of 1750 a few years ago.
- The Exhibition Hall seemed empty compared to past year as well. One factor was the number of vendors was fewer and there was more room to wander around. This was a big PLUS for someone like me who is claustrophobic and I remember some years when you could barely turn around without knocking into another vendor’s display. In addition, there were just not as many attendees in the Exhibition Hall, despite a decent 30-minute break in between sessions and a generous 90-minute lunch break.
- And there was an early clue as to the status of SCGS Jamboree 2020 if you looked closely at the yellow evaluation form . . . it said “What would you like to see for SCGS Jamboree 2021 . . . “
The Official Notice from Southern California Genealogical Society about Jamboree’s Future
In a blog post dated Monday 3 June 2019 at its blog entitled The Future of the Southern California Jamboree, the leadership of SCGS offers several reasons why there will NOT be a Jamboree event in 2020:
Genealogists are constantly evolving with technology. Today many enjoy educational opportunities through online webinars and virtual conferences. As a result, traditional in-person conferences, like Jamboree, are impacted as they compete for resources, speakers and genealogy dollars. The time has come for SCGS and Jamboree to take a leap forward and reinvent. The new Jamboree is under construction and plans to return in June 2021.
Why Re-Evaluating Any Genealogy Society Conference is a GREAT IDEA
How many times have you attended a genealogy conference only to realize that not much has changed from last year’s event? Or why a national genealogy society seems to hold its annual conferences only in a short list of three cities? Or why there isn’t anything innovative in terms of content AND educational format?
For many societies, it is the same group of volunteers producing the annual conference each year. Either there are no new volunteers bringing fresh ideas OR these new minds are often told “well, we’ve always done it this way.” And I bet that volunteer doesn’t stay around long.
I applaud the leadership of SCGS for realizing that the 50th anniversary of SCGS Jamboree is the ideal time to step back, take a breather, and re-evaluate the concept.
Possible Variations for SCGS Jamboree Going Forward and Genealogy Market Issues to be Considered
Here are my random thoughts on the future of SCGS Jamboree, all genealogy education events, and how genealogy market changes have impacted genealogical education:
- While having a separate DNA day (Thursday) at SCGS Jamboree is a great concept, I wonder how many people attend ONLY that day and don’t attend the rest of Jamboree? In addition, the Exhibition Hall doesn’t open until 12 noon on Friday. If I were a DNA only attendee or a DNA vendor I’d be pretty frustrated with the inability to connect in the Exhibition Hall.
- SCGS Jamboree’s main demographic – those age 55 and above (Baby Boomers) – are aging to the point where travel is difficult or not an option.
- At the same time, thanks to vendors such as Legacy Family Tree Webinars and the multitude of genealogy societies providing free online education, this same demographic now feels comfortable with participating in online webinars, boot camps and conferences.
- Genealogy events that take place every two years – such as NERGC and Midwestern Roots – have been extremely successful. With such a format, a society doesn’t constantly run in “conference mode” and risk burning out its volunteers.
- Pricing across the board – for speakers, for registrants, and for vendors – needs to be raised. I’m sorry to have to state reality, but compared to other industries (and even “hobby” industries such as quilting and scrap booking), speakers just aren’t paid enough for the content and learning experience they provide. Often, travel allowances are insufficient or the speaker just breaks even. No speaker should ever LOSE money in order to deliver a service as valuable as genealogy education. This means the registration fees and exhibitor fees need to be raised. And with that the expectations of the attendees will be raised (as to content, format and experience) and vendors should feel confident that there are sufficient breaks between classes and there will be lots of attendees in the exhibit hall.
- In addition, what about having an online only conference during the alternate years? I don’t mean a one-day virtual streaming event, but one that uses a professional platform offering multiple educational tracks, a virtual exhibition hall where you can sit at home and use your webcam to talk to a vendor, and more. The genealogy industry has reached a point where a true virtual conference should become a reality.
Final thoughts . . .
With an increased focus on DNA genealogy, there is even more of a need for traditional genealogy education covering methodology, records sets, and social history. Education is a key component to any genealogy success. We just need to work on fine tuning some of our current offerings. And I commend the leadership of the Southern California Genealogical Society on its bold move.
©2019, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.