No SCGS Jamboree in 2020? Here’s Why . . .

Genealogy author and editor Thomas MacEntee notes the recent announcement concerning SCGS Jamboree and offers his thoughts on how we can improve educational offerings in the genealogy industry.

After 50 Years, SCGS Jamboree Embarks on a Major Shift Change

Genealogy author and editor Thomas MacEntee notes the recent announcement concerning SCGS Jamboree and offers his thoughts on how we can improve educational offerings in the genealogy industry.

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.

About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.

5 Comments on "No SCGS Jamboree in 2020? Here’s Why . . ."

  1. I agree with you, Thomas. Your talk was fortuitously relevant to the past couple weeks’ news and I was so glad you were there! Many other talks are the same talks you can hear at or other webinar websites. If you attend all the breakfasts, suppers, and extra classes in addition to airfare/hotel/conference fees you could pay all your genealogy subscriptions for a couple of years! The one thing you miss if you DON’T attend a live conference is the ability to network and take selfies with genealogy STARS who wear flashy shoes! LOL (And a Shout Out to the Family History Fanatic!)

    • Thanks Joan! And while I saw Thomas at several points throughout the conference down the hallway, I don’t think I ever got the change to say hi.

  2. I love your thoughts, Thomas, as always. I think I had some very fresh ideas but breaking into the speaking clique is hard. Just not enough time and not enough money. You are right about not paying enough! I am getting out of the private client gig (except for a select few), but that was my bread and butter. Webinars are increasing for all the reasons you give. I am going to continue to do webinars and gigs that are closer to home to support my genealogical community. No new clients, at least for a while. Thank you for continuing to analyze the speaker situation and help us to think about managing change.

  3. Georga Foster | 5 June 2019 at 7:32 pm |

    I totally agree Thomas. Societies are having pretty much the same demise. A few weeks ago we had a workshop,the first large event in 10 years. We hired a great speaker, had it at a great venue, pricing was very good compared to other events within 200 miles and were expecting a crowd of 50 or more and ended up with 18. Things are changing. One vendor we had said her work which is a traveling library ( Books, maps, software, ect.), has dropped off over 60%. We want to teach the science, but there’s so much information out there most think they don’t have to attend conferences or workshops and DNA will give them all the answers. Our society too is aging fast. The average age now is 75 for our members. We are looking at a hard decision if we don’t pull out of the slump. Thanks Thomas for bringing us some great advice.

  4. Diane Gould Hall | 6 June 2019 at 11:13 am |

    I wholeheartedly concur with all that you’ve said here Thomas. I said as much in my conference evaluation. I don’t want to see conferences go the way of dial up, but we have to be forward thinking. Here’s hoping all of us can work together toward that goal. Hope to see you at another venue soon. 🙂

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