We have been to Lille, for the Twenty-first National Congress of Genealogy, an event of presentations and exhibits held every two years. The theme of this congress is "Our Ancestors and Their Work" and we will be reporting on the presentations we attended. The event originally was planned to be held in nearby Roubaix, where are found the National Archives of the World of Work, Archives nationales du monde du travail, a depository of corporate and other work-related archives. Unfortunately, it seems that the town of Roubaix was not able to cope with a large influx of genealogists, and the conference had to be moved. It being held over a national holiday, no archives were open to visit, not even those at Roubaix.
The economic pinch was felt. The exhibitors included a few representatives of makers of genealogy software, but not many. FamilySearch had a huge stand but could not afford to put any of the posters, signs, brochures or screens into French, so it got little attention. Lille is in the department of Nord, and the Departmental Archives had a very nice stand, as did those of the neighbouring department, Pas-de-Calais.
As the patron of the congress is the Fédération française de généalogie, the bulk of the stands were taken by the various associations and cercles généalogiques from all round the country. Even among these, however, many on the programme list did not actually show. Numbers of conference attendees seemed, to us, well below those of the 2009 conference, in Paris.
Genealogy is a luxury hobby for most people, one of the first expenses to be dropped in hard times. That was most evident this year. Even so, all was not doom and gloom; cheering up all he met, the cheese guy was there again:
Yet, there is another possible reason for the low attendance. In the past, people could take the opportunity at the conference to ask at each stand for a bit of research help. As we have described previously, the members of the various genealogy circles and associations have spent years compiling alphabetised extracts of the names on the baptisms, births, marriages, deaths and burials for the towns in their departments. At the conference, each stand has its books of these extracts for sale, and they now also have their computers to do searches for people.
Times have changed. Half of the departmental archives and dozens of municipal archives have images of the originals online. The genealogy circles themselves have put their extracts online via Geneabank and Bigenet. Their clientèle have little need for them.
This being something that will not go away even when the money starts to flow again, the key to a successful congress in the future is clearly going to be the quality and quantity of the talks, workshops and presentations. These have improved greatly over the offerings of the last conference (which were a mixture of exciting and great with the unqualifiedly soporific). There were nearly forty presentations, all with some sort of reference to the theme of work, and nearly all given by known and respected experts. The workshops, especially those on paleography, are always hot tickets, and they were more of them this year. We attended the one on how to create a genealogy blog. Never too late to learn.
©2011 Anne Morddel