Ribbons.
Conference ribbons.
Genealogical conference ribbons.
I have collected a lot of conference ribbons.

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When I attended my first genealogical conference in 2012, it seemed that collecting ribbons and affixing them onto my conference badge was an essential part of the event experience. I roamed the vendor hall and picked up every ribbon with which I had some connection.

I was new both to genealogical conferences and ribbon collecting, and it seemed a lot like the first day of junior high school. What could be worse than being the only guy at the conference without a knee-length ribbon beard?

Fortunately, I realized by lunchtime on that first day that the ribbons were a lot less about “having the most” and a lot more about connecting with others who share common genealogical interests and experiences.

And for me, that ability to connect with fellow genealogists, whether or not we have in common research interests, is the most valuable benefit of conference attendance. The basis of connection often is a similar geographical research emphasis or sometimes a shared experience with a study group. Other times connections are made with others who participate with genealogical societies or family associations in which I am also a member.

To meet others with whom I share a passion for family history is my primary motivation for attending genealogical conferences. While there is always a financial cost associated with conference attendance, the connections made, for me, have been worth the investment.

But connections are only one benefit of the conference experience. National events, such as the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference, offer multiple presentations from which to choose, each an opportunity to explore new resources, repositories or methodologies. Experienced lecturers expose attendees to strategies or records previously not considered, or perhaps spark and interest in taking another look or reconsidering a source.

The upcoming 2015 FGS Conference in Salt Lake City on February 11-14 will be the perfect mid-winter event to refresh my genealogical research and writing energies, just in time to snap me out of any lingering winter genealogy hibernation. Networking with friends and colleagues, attending lectures and learning about new vendor offerings all will reinvigorate the search for my heritage, recorded in the stories of my ancestors.

Genealogical conferences are as colorful as the varied ribbons often attached to badges. Like the ribbons, these events represent the multitude of experiences and interests of conference attendees. From across the country, individuals of diverse backgrounds assemble to connect with other genealogists, explore for new treasures, and refresh themselves for their journey ahead.

Since my first genealogical conference, I have stopped affixing ribbons to my badge. I still collect them at every event, but now I save the ribbons and someday hope to fashion them into a sort of quilt, representing the many wonderful experiences I have had through the years at genealogical conferences.