Building A Heritage Conference in Mason, Ohio

Ohio Genealogical Society Conference 2019


The 2019 Ohio Genealogical Society occurred at the Great Wolf Lodge and Convention Center in Mason, Ohio. Billed as the premier genealogy conference for the Mid-West, the event did not disappoint with its theme “Building a Heritage.”

I had a blast attending the Ohio Genealogical Society in Mason, Ohio. From start to finish, the organizers successfully managed a well-run event. The only major negative, if you will call it that, involved many classes attracting more participants that the fire codes allowed! What a great problem to have.

A Nice Location for the OGS Conference

Maso, Ohio is just northeast of Cincinnati but only 1.5 hours away from Columbus. Since I had family in Columbus, I flew into that airport, spent a day at the Ohio Archives and the Downtown Columbus Metropolitan Library (which as a terrific genealogy collection) and then headed west.

The drive was a cinch. Much better than what I’m used to in Houston, hallelujah. Upon arrival at the Great Wolf Lodge, I noticed a number of restaurants and fast food offerings within easy access via a car.

Entrance to Great Wolf Lodge
The check-in area greats you with a giant wolf!

The Great Wolf Lodge

I guess I hadn’t realized the conference was at a major tourist attraction. I’m so used to a typical hotel and conference center. When I drove up to the check-in for this event, I was in for a surprise.

The Lodge had an indoor waterslide park. If only I had brought my swimsuit! However, I planned on working in all of my free time on the latest book, Downsizing With Family History in Mind and compiling my local genealogy society’s newsletter.

During check-in, I LOVED the lodge offering the choice of a wrist band for room access over a traditional key card. Since I would misplace my phone, my name badge, my sweater, and more during this conference, I was glad to have the room key attached to my arm and waterproof so I could take showers as needed.

The rooms and conference center were easily accessible, for the most part. I wish I had called ahead to the facility and requested a room closer to the conference center elevators. This was my first trip after my surgery where I didn’t have my wheelchair or my cane. I also didn’t have my husband to lug around our heavy teaching backpack. I would have liked to have walked less in the lodge. However, I surprisingly managed well and suffered limited pain (not more than I’m used to at this point).

OGS Conference Map
OGS Conference Map. The Sequoia Rooms 3 – 6 could combine for a keynote and separate for classes. The book store was in the west concourse.

The Conference Set-Up

I love how the conference rooms were contained in one location. Several rooms were along one hallway while the others had access as you went around the inner block of rooms. During the keynotes, the room dividers could be pushed aside and one massive room utilized. The large room was quickly partitioned off into several smaller rooms but attendees needed to be patient for the quick change. We quickly learned to be patient after day one. No worries.

Unfortunately, the rooms were not as sound proof as other conferences I have attended. There were times when I listened to some of my favorite speakers, such as Janet Havorka, only to hear portions from the room next door. When I was having a rocking good time during my City Directories class, the audience reaction bled over into my neighbor’s room but I can’t help that.

OGS Conference - Screen problem
The location of the screens in some rooms made you crane your next a little too much.

The only other negative was the placement of the drop-down projection screens. In the room where Janet and Elisse Scalise Powell taught, I had to crane my next to see the screen which felt like it descended ¼ of the way down from an 18-foot ceiling. Mind you my ability to measure distance is off, but the point still holds. In some rooms, the screens were too high for comfort if you wanted to see the presenter as well.

OGS Contributor list
Notice the number of local genealogy societies listed!

The number of local genealogical societies that ringed the passageways between classes impressed me greatly. The buy-in of local societies demonstrates that a conference has a good thing going.

The vendor hall was small and in a closed off room. This allowed the vendors to lock up their wares. During the busy times, the room was packed but I tended to visit with my genealogy business friends during the off-peak hours. I enjoyed chatting with Angie Rodesky who has taken the helm of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. I had wondered what she has been up to.

Finally, a large “Book Store” took up the foyer area outside a number of conference rooms but didn’t block the major flow of traffic. I liked that use of space. The book nook invited several authors to have book signings which I think should be considered at nearly all conferences. I think it should be more than invitation only, but this is a positive step!

Attending Classes at the OGS Conference

I attended several classes. One by Elisse focused on finding female ancestors. I thought her presentation was well organized but I had trouble viewing her slides. Part of it was the height of the screen and the other part was her background and text was too close in color that I had trouble reading them. I told Elisse of my difficulty. I might be the only one. I remember my mother had trouble reading picture books to my children when the book had black text on dark colored spots of the book. I think I might need to take a trip to the eye doctor. Who knew that I would learn about my health while attending a conference?

Janet Hovorka at the OGS Conference
Where to Start When It’s All “Done” – Janet Hovorka

I attended one by Janet Hovorka about what to do when your tree is full, another by Randy Seaver about FamilyTree DNA, and one by Annette Burke Lytle about writing family stories. Each of these classes had useful information that I might write in future posts about how I implemented the tips.

Cousin Russ and Devon Noel Lee at the OGS Conference
Chatting with Cousin Russ, right after his helpful class on FamilyTree Maker.
(Notice I’m hauling around the heavy backpack!)

As a side note, I enjoyed visiting with my colleague Ari Wilkins before the writing class. We have attended several conferences and have rarely had such a chance. Attending workshops with friends and colleagues makes learning so much more interesting.

Ari Wilkins and Devon Noel Lee at the OGS Conference

There was only one class that I didn’t particularly enjoy. For one thing, the presenter read nearly every word of their presentation from a script. For another, her class had a lot of theory for a class I thought would be about the application. In other words, she did a lot of telling and had very little showing. I guess I should be natively from Missouri (the Show-Me State).

Overall, I thought the variety of topics and the selection of speakers served the attendees well. If you live near Ohio, make plans NOW to attend the 2020 conference 29 April-2 May 2020 at the Kalahari Resorts and Convention Center in Sandusky, Ohio. It should not disappoint.

Teaching at the OGS Conference

The conference planners selected two of my favorite workshops. (Okay, most of my lectures are favorites, but I digress). The first is about finding stories in City Directories. The second is about magnifying clues in Census records so you don’t miss the stories these records are trying to tell you.

Ten minutes before the City Directory class, no seat remained available. The fire codes prevented us from having additional chairs in the room. Since we were at capacity, I started the workshop five minutes early. No point waiting when the room was packed.

As a teacher, I LOVE engagement. I can’t stick to a script and each class changes slightly based on audience participation. I love to work in details folks tell me before a class, where applicable. I love when folks share a quick (I do mean quick) tip or story that fits the principles discussed. I especially love when I see light bulbs going off and there were many that session.

Thank you to everyone who attended this workshop. If you enjoyed it as much I as I did leading it, please be sure to tell conference planners you want me back. It’s not enough to tell me, “I wish I hadn’t given up my seat. I went to a different session and heard how much fun y’all were having. Please come again.”

Devon Noel Lee teaches at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference.
Thanks to my buddy Dan Earl, I have this photo of me in action.

My US Census record class has a different feel. I inspired the class members to dig deeper into the census records. In contrast to the city directory ‘party’, this class is still fun but more sedate. One possible reason was a huge hurdle restricted my style of presenting.

While teaching, I move around, going so far to walk the aisles to get closer audience members. Unfortunately, in the Census record class, I was tethered because I was being recorded for folks to purchase post-conference.

I had to stand behind a lectern because I couldn’t manage two handheld microphones and a slide advancement clicker. I can manage two things, not three. Additionally, the podium what felt like it was 10 feet from the audience. That distance decreases my connection to the audience in such an intimate venue. Finally, this particular lecture is a “show me” class. You need to see the slides to know what I’m talking about. Thus, I felt that I had to describe the slides for those who might purchase the audio recording and that further hindered my energy. I couldn’t give every ounce to the folks sitting right in front of me.

I’m not sure I want to be audio recorded in the future. I’m open to the possibility of video recordings and livestreams. I will just have to bring a lapel mic so that I can free up one of my hands!

Despite the obstacles, I saw so many light bulbs go off in the audience’s mind. I enjoyed the comments that I could hear. When it was time for Q&A, the fun began and I gave up standing behind the podium. I was only on the room mic, even though it cut off the audio recording. The best part was getting the audience to sign a line of “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog!” Oh yeah. We can have some fun even with some hurdles.

Photo Highlights from the OGS Conference

  • Row 1 Left – I had to tease folks about my name badge ribbon. I’m from Texas but orange is a VERY BAD color for a Texas Aggie. 😉 
  • Row 1 Middle – I briefly saw my friend and Ohio expert Peggy Lauritzen while passing in the hallway.
  • Row 1 Right – The Conference planners gave me sugar as a speaker. It’s a power drill!!! How cute.
  • Row 2 Left – I enjoyed going to dinner with colleagues including Janet Hovorka and her new social media marketing manager.
  • Row 2 Middle – I spent a lunch hour with my buddy Dan Earl. We talked shop, religion, and more.
  • Row 2 Right – Amie Bowser Tennant and her co-chair deserve high praise for a well-run conference. (Side note: She’s so stunning but her daughters ‘disagree’. What do you think?)

Hoping To Attend in 2020

In short, I enjoyed the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference. I’m submitting proposals as we speak to the selection committee. Hopefully, my class ratings reflected the audience positive reaction and thus the planners will happily invite me back. I’m not sure if I should submit the City Directory class again for those who wanted to attend this year to have a second chance next year. What do you think?

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

12 thoughts on “Building A Heritage Conference in Mason, Ohio

  1. Oh wow this conference looks exceptional! I’ve yet to be able to attend a conference, but cannot wait until I have the opportunity. Glad you’re healing well from your surgery.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I’ve attended several library conferences, but I haven’t made it to a genealogy conference yet. I’m usually unable to attend RootsTech and other big conferences, unfortunately. This conference is much closer to home and I’m looking forward to registering for it next year! It sounds like it would be worth it!

  3. Thank you for such a great review of this conference. Wish I could’ve made it. I hope I can make it to one of your presentations sometime. It sounds like you can really pack them in, and do a great job! I will check out your link for the virtual conferences.

  4. I enjoyed reading your comments as a speaker and as an attendee. I am unable to attend conferences, so I love that thru technology some conferences now stream live.

  5. Devon, Thank you so much for your awesome review of the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference. I loved your honest (and sometimes funny!) opinions and suggestions. That was great! Thanks for being a part of our 2019 annual conference. Hope to see you again next year!

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