Q&A with the Virtual Genealogical Association’s Katherine Willson

Have you registered for the Virtual Genealogical Society Conference, or entered my registration give away? Have you joined VGA? If not, this Q & A with genealogist Katherine Willson, one of the VGA co-founders and organizers, will persuade you!

Q1:  Tell us how VGA was founded? What’s the backstory?

A1:  When I was the President of Michigan Genealogical Council (2017-2019), many of our member societies were talking about the struggle to bring in new members, especially young people. At some point, I realized that we needed to stop asking how to get new members to come to us – we have to go to them. And because so many people are turning to virtual options for socializing, networking, and education, I realized we needed a virtual option for a genealogical society.

Q2:  What were the initial goals for VGA? Was a virtual conference always part of the plan?

A2: The primary goal was to provide a virtual option for any family historian, regardless of experience, to meet up for socializing, networking, and learning. It needed to be available at their convenience, and it needed to be easily accessible. GoToWebinar was chosen as the live broadcast platform, and links to the recordings were placed on our website so those who missed the live broadcast could watch it at a time that was convenient for them.

The next goal was ensuring that genealogists around the world would be served (not just those in the U.S. or Canada), so programs were scheduled at three different times each month (Tuesdays at 8p eastern, Saturdays at 11a eastern, and Sundays at 1p eastern). A fourth time is being added for 2020 to accommodate our Australian and New Zealand members who may work during the day.

Having an annual virtual conference was always part of the initial plan, and the dates for the first conference were chosen long before VGA was launched to the public. This provided time to become well-acquainted with the GoToWebinar platform as well as tracking which programs were attracting the highest level of interest.

The next two goals are finding an alternate platform for those who don’t wish to use Facebook for general VGA socializing & networking, and creating a regular monthly newsletter for those who aren’t following the Facebook discussions.

“There are over 50 location-based VGA chapters around the world, and they’re geared towards helping our 1,700 members from 21 countries have a smaller network for local socializing and for promoting genealogical events and news relevant to their area.” -Katherine R. Willson

Q3:  How important do you feel genealogical societies (either virtual or location based) are in helping develop one’s skills?

A3:  They’re crucial. The benefits of location-based societies include being notified of upcoming local genealogical events and having access to local/regional record sets. The benefits of virtual societies include being able to discuss your research questions with those residing in the areas your ancestors live and having access to educational programs when you want them and from the comfort of your home.

Q4:  Why should someone attend the VGA Virtual Conference?

A4:  Travel to in-person conferences can be expensive if you are also purchasing airfare, lodging, and meals. A virtual conference can be attended from your home. In-person conferences can become crowded and you may not always be able to attend the session you wanted if the room has filled up before you arrive. Virtual conferences allow anyone to attend any presentation, while also catering to those who may avoid conference travel due to physical, visual, or auditory struggles. The VGA conference will have closed-captioning added to all of the sessions’ recordings, and attendees will have 6 months following the live event to watch the recordings & download the handouts.

“At some point, I realized that we needed to stop asking how to get new members to come to us – we have to go to them. And because so many people are turning to virtual options for socializing, networking, and education, I realized we needed a virtual option for a genealogical society.”

Katherine R. Willson

Q5:  VGA does have some location-based groups. What are some ways that people can get involved with VGA in their local areas?

A:5  There are over 50 location-based VGA chapters around the world, and they’re geared towards helping our 1700 members from 21 countries have a smaller network for local socializing and for promoting genealogical events and news relevant to their area. It’s great to see non-local VGA members join these groups because their ancestors lived in these areas – the locals are able to assist the non-locals with research advice because they know the record sets available. I love seeing chapter & SIG group photos at meet-ups during genealogical conferences!

Q6:  What else would you like prospective members or conference attendees to know about the organization or event?

A6: If you’re already a VGA member, the cost of the conference is only $59 USD. If you’re not a VGA member, annual membership is only $20 USD and we’d love to have you! The deadline for registration is October 18, and the Facebook group for attendees will be set up at that time so attendees can socialize and network for a couple of weeks prior to the start. We will also feature vendors and their sales in our Facebook group as we lead up to the conference, so don’t delay – register now!

Don’t forget to enter my VGA conference registration give away! The directions are included in my previous post linked here. Deadline is October 1, 2019 at midnight, CST.

Katherine R. Willson of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is an engaging & dynamic
genealogy lecturer at local, regional, and national conferences; an
educator teaching beginning, intermediate, and advanced genealogy
classes in Michigan since 2001; the author of The Genealogist’s Guide
to Grand Rapids, Michigan; and a professional researcher for private
clients. Katherine is
the creator of the “Genealogy on Facebook” list
of 14,500+ links to genealogy/history pages and groups on Facebook,
and currently serves in the following positions:

President & Founder, Virtual Genealogical Association
Past President, Michigan Genealogical Council
Board of Directors, Association of Professional Genealogists (APG)

Copyright © 2015-2019 Beth Wylie and Life in the Past Lane. All rights reserved.

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