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Global Family Reunion

Yesterday, June 6, the Global Family Reunion was held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY and I got to go! Because it was so close to where I live and the price was right, I figured I should take advantage of the opportunity. If you follow me on Twitter, you got to see a lot of comments and pictures!

Let me first tell you how the day went for me personally, then I’ll give you my overall impressions of the event.

First of all, it was quite easy to get to. I just took Metro-North into Grand Central (about an hour), then the 7 Subway over to 111th Street (about half an hour), then a five minute walk three blocks away. Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the neighborhood, I realized it was just an urban working-class area. I arrived about 10:45am and immediately made friends with new “cousins”/genealogists in line, one being from Chicago! It took past the scheduled 11am start time to actually start checking people in, and I’m still not sure why. We were directed to the “Cousin Check-in” area, which had two lines; apparently I was in the wrong one, and the other was very long, so I said to myself, “I’ll check in later!” (which I did).

Waiting to get in.  Author's colleciton.

Waiting to get in. Author’s collection.

First thing was first: I had to stop in on the Find My Past booth to meet #genchat founder, Jen Baldwin. Her red hair made her easy to spot, but I was not easy for her to know right away (since my Twitter avatar is a gingerbread man). Once I introduced myself, though, she gave me a big hug and said we just HAD to get in the

#genchat friends:  Jen Baldwin and me!  Author's collection.

#genchat friends: Jen Baldwin and me! Author’s collection.

obligatory selfie. After that, the Find My Past booth was sort of “home base” for me throughout the day.

The Main Stage schedule probably varied the most from what was

Cousin AJ.  Author's collection.

Cousin AJ. Author’s collection.

on the website, so AJ Jacobs was not first up, but close to it. He apologized for the delay, saying we could forgive him since he was family, and gave us a hearty welcome and a little speech as to the Global Family Reunion came about.

Not able to decide what to eat, and still not terribly hungry, I downed an old-fashioned New York pretzel and went to the Theater area so I could catch Henry Louis Gates. Alas! The 300-seat auditorium was completely full and I couldn’t get in. Not to be deterred, I put in my earbuds and accessed the live webcast of Mr. Gates as I sat in the sun (which fortunately finally came out). Basically, he spoke of his background and how he ended up being a genealogist. The most exciting part was announcing his plans to help get genealogy into the classroom in science (through DNA) and social studies, starting with the inner city first (as they stand to benefit the most from it). Keep your eyes peeled for more on this development!

I spent a little time wandering around before catching D. Joshua Taylor (one of the hosts of “Genealogy Roadshow”, among many other roles) talk about Genealogy & Hollywood in the Viscusi Gallery room. Josh sure has a way of presenting! Not only did he tell us some neat things about genealogy and entertainment (such as the fact that Walt Disney made sure all his characters had a family tree), but he also drove home the fact that we must verify our on-line findings.

I was able to catch most of Dr. Oz on my way out. He spoke of what

Dr. Oz.  Author's collection.

Dr. Oz. Author’s collection.

motivates us to change, particularly from the perspective of staying healthy so we can enjoy our families.

Finally hungry, I had the biggest Falafel sandwich ever (delicious and filling for the rest of the day) as I watched the goings-on in the kids’ area. Boy, they were having lots of fun! Kicking soccer balls, hula-hooping, origami folding and other games. As I tweeted, I didn’t see one whining, crying kid. They were having fun! Older children and teens sharpened their storytelling and writing skills in the Storytelling Tent, and if that wasn’t enough, families got to play miniature golf or explore the museum itself (which looked pretty interactive and cool).

Origami fun!  Author's collection.

Origami fun! Author’s collection.

Paul Williams had just enough time to sing “The Rainbow Connection” before he had to leave. It was cool to see him, as I remember him from “back in the day”! Later on, I even got to meet Daniel Horowitz, Chief Genealogy Officer from MyHeritage. He was happy to hear that I was a MyHeritage user and I was happy to hear that he was able to find some family graves nearby in Queens.

Tammy Hepps, founder of Treelines.  Author's collection.

Tammy Hepps, founder of Treelines. Author’s collection.

As a Treelines user, I absolutely had to catch Tammy Hepps in the StoryTelling Tent as she spoke about her “Margarine Outlaws”. She

had given this talk during RootsTech, and I wanted to see what new developments she may have uncovered! (Needless to say, she learned a whole lot about margarine!) I also got to say a quick hello to her.

It was finally time for the big event: Sister Sledge on the Main Stage! Everyone gathered around, the music started, and out three of them came, singing a song to warm us up! One more sister came on stage and the familiar notes

Sister Sledge sings!  Author's collection.

Sister Sledge sings! Author’s collection.

started: “We are family!” everyone sang. The music, the joy, the hands holding up “I Am A Cousin” signs! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many happy, celebrating people in one place at one time.

Just part of the crowd!  Author's collection.

Just part of the crowd! Author’s collection.

Finally, we “posed” (?) for the big family picture and we listened to AJ’s lovely wife Julie talk about the fundraising portion of the event: supporting Alzheimer’s research and care. AJ was also given several bits of recognition, including an honorary membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society and a double-helix guitar (which did not make it to the stage, but he promised he’d post a picture of!).

Afterwards, I went back to the Viscusi Gallery to hear Randy Whited speak on “The Future Is Now”. He spoke of everything from advances in technology to telling our own story. My favorite point was to make it obvious which part of the story comes from us versus which part comes from records (another score for well done genealogy).

Back to the Main Stage to see Marilu Henner speak on improving

Marilu Henner, memory extraordinaire!  Author's collection.

Marilu Henner, memory extraordinaire! Author’s collection.

our memory recall (important in light of the focus on Alzheimer’s).  One big tip I remember was using your primary sense to tap into memory: if a visual person, take pictures; if tactile, write it down, etc. What will I remember most from this talk? Her scolding the chatty security guards backstage for being too loud while she was talking! Ha, ha!

Well, it was closing in on 6pm and I had better start making my way home. I got another picture with Jen AND Josh Taylor, then had the

Me, Jen, and Josh Taylor.  Surrounded by genea-awesomeness!  Author's collection.

Me, Jen, and Josh Taylor. Surrounded by genea-awesomeness! Author’s collection.

honor of snapping the official Find My Past team photo! Said goodbye to Jen, until we “see” each other virtually again!

One screwy thing about getting back: there was no Manhattan-bound train from that subway station that weekend! It seemed we had to take the train to one stop up (where the Mets play), then take a Manhattan-bound train back. But this turned out to be a good opportunity, because I met some other genealogists (cousins!) who were headed back as well, and we got to talk about the day and our favorite online people (DearMYRTLE and Michael Lacopo were theirs). When it comes to genealogy, there are always friends to be made!

So that was the day. Here are my overall positive impressions:

  • fun, festival-like atmosphere
  • the genealogy tents (Find My Past/Mocavo, Family Search, and MyHeritage/Geni) were hopping with people who wanted to make discoveries, and they did!
  • good genealogy speakers, placed in the right rooms (for the most part), with topics designed to capture your interest if you’re new to genealogy and to encourage you if you’re not. It was sometimes hard to choose who to hear speak!
  • good non-genealogy speakers, with a great focus on strengthening family (we sure need that today, don’t we?)
  • good food, short lines
  • ample supply of port-a-potties; no lines, relatively clean, and wash-up stations too

What could have been better:

  • coffee. There was no coffee anywhere. We need coffee!
  • proper signage to direct folks to appropriate lines. When entering, there was a line for VIP’s and General Admission, but it was hard to tell which was which. Also, at Cousin Check-In, they needed signs for those who had sent in their family history info and who didn’t. It was kind of like being at the DMV.
  • more volunteers at the entrance gate and especially Cousin Check-In.
  • I wish I could have seen Henry Louis Gates; he was obviously the biggest draw there. If he didn’t have slides, I’d suggest he should have gone on the Main Stage.

Overall, a good time and worth the money. Next time, I want to bring some friends to spread the fun!

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