NGS Reflections: Part I - Before the Conference Began
I traveled to Raleigh on the Saturday before the conference. I'm a member of North Carolina Genealogical Society, the local host society, and had volunteered to help at the conference. My work began on Monday morning with the stuffing of the conference tote bags. I think the original plan was to have us constantly circling the table filling new bags, but most of us realized that the only efficient way to do it was to form assembly lines so that is what we did. The biggest problem we encountered is that some of the stuff was late in arriving so we'd have to pause, go back and put the newly arrived materials in the totes, and then resume the process with the new item from time to time. We had finished this process by about 2 p.m. even with a lunch break at Sam and Wally's across the street. While we were at Sam and Wally's, we talked the owner into opening at 7 a.m. beginning on Wednesday rather than his usual 7:30 a.m., and we also talked him into being open on Saturday if business was good the rest of the week. When we checked with him later in the week, we discovered that he was very pleased with his business that week. NGS was his best event ever! Several of us went out of the way to give him business because of his willingness to work with us to give conference attendees some breakfast options that were not available otherwise. His lunch prices were very reasonable. I had a slice of pizza and a soft drink for $4 one day.
On Tuesday, I arrived around 9 a.m. to help with registration set-up. We had registrar training around 10:30 a.m. although we had all received our instructions ahead of time. I was scheduled to work registration from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. so I went to lunch a bit early. When I got back, I went over to sit with some of my NCGS friends at a table we'd placed near registration for those of us who weren't working at the time but were nearby to help if needed. Most of them needed to "do lunch." They were going to bring back something for Helen Leary and left her with me for an hour or so. Before they left, one of my friends who knew some of the challenges of one of my lines suggested that I pick Helen's brains on the problem. I didn't do it immediately but I eventually found myself telling her about the problem. She asked a few questions. She helped me come up with a few ideas for further research based on what I told her. She began telling about some of her research. She mentioned something which reminded me of another line that I had not tried to work on since I was a newbie genealogist. I decided to tell her about that line and the challenges faced by an orphan who gave us few clues about his origin other than the traditions that certain children were named after his parents and a birth location mentioned on a syllabus. It turns out that she had researched that particular surname before and was able to make some suggestions on more specific counties in which I should begin to look when I get a chance to get back to that line. She told me that there were poor cousins who lived nearby the rich ones. I will have to say that this hour of "picking Helen's brain" was probably one of my favorite hours of the conference week. I thanked my friends for leaving me with Helen that hour. After they returned with her sandwich, all of us continued to talk until I had to go work registration. We even talked about her study of the Hemings-Jefferson question. I am so glad that I had re-read her article last month in preparation for a presentation I'd done for a society.
Even before the conference began, I was already having some of those serendipitous moments that always seem to happen at a national conference that help break through a brick wall or confirm some of your research.