New Bonus Webinar - Smartphone-ography for Genealogists
Register for Webinar Wednesday - Your Whiteboard in the Cloud: Trello for Genealogists by Lisa Alzo

The journey to webinar #500, plus free access this weekend

500It's hard to believe, but this Friday FamilyTreeWebinars.com will air webinar number 500. That's 500 ways to find your ancestors taught by the genealogy industry's finest researchers and educators. Since 2010 we've laughed together, we've been inspired together, and we've solved brick walls together. Here's a look back at some of the highlights of our history together.

How it all started

It all began in June 2010. I was attending a "brick and mortar" genealogy conference in Burbank, California. The Southern California Genealogical Jamboree has always been one of the biggest and most successful conferences in the country. This one was no different. But my attendance at this conference would change the future of education in the genealogy industry.

While meandering the hallways in between classes, I noticed a large bucket near the registration table with a raffle sign above it. For $5 I could purchase a raffle ticket. The prize - a one year subscription to GoToWebinar.com's webinar services valued at $6,000. You read that right - a 1,000 seat license for a GoToWebinar membership cost $6,000 a year. I've been involved in producing genealogy education via CDs, books, in-person classes, and as a guest on DearMYRTLE's radio show. Yet for a long time I wanted to bring the classroom experience to an online audience. I was heavily involved in what I believe was the first-ever online genealogy conference with Karen Clifford's company, GRAonline.com in the early 2000s. It was a lot of work, and was very successful, but the technology just wasn't around yet to provide a high quality interactive online experience between teacher and student. So when I peeked into the raffle bucket and saw that only a small handful of tickets had been purchased, I knew I had a chance to win. I bought eight tickets, wrote my name on each one, paid the $40, and waited for the drawing at the end of the day.

For the first time in my life, I heard my name called as the winner of anything. I had won a year of GoToWebinar.com!

Webinar #1

On September 1, 2010 we announced that we would hold our first-ever live webinar. The topic would be "Mapping Software for Genealogists." We issued the announcement two weeks early so we could try to get enough people interesting in joining. Two days later the virtual seats were filled to capacity. My plan for the first webinar was to quickly demonstrate how to use different mapping software, and thirty minutes later, we'd be done. After that, if enough people showed up, maybe we'd do another webinar in another month or so.

I remember being more nervous than I thought possible, yet it happened without any problem. Immediately afterwards, I remember going to Wendy's for lunch with Dave (Legacy's co-founder and President), and thinking that everyone was looking at me. I had just spoken to 1,000 people in 28 countries - I was a star! The fame that I felt while eating my burger, I later recognized as feelings of "we're on to something really big here."

Wow did I ever underestimate how the genealogy public would react to this new medium of online education. We began holding webinars twice a month, then once a week, and now we've been known to have up to eight in one week. And they continue to fill to capacity nearly every time.

It was a learning process...

...for everyone. The term "webinar" was new to everyone, myself included. Together, we overcame many obstacles - how to connect to a live episode, how to adjust our audio volume, what to do when a thunderstorm came through and would knock out power, how to adjust our bandwidth settings, and even how to pronounce 'webinar.' While we never had any real technical disasters, a couple of moments do stand out to me.

First, was the famous sneeze. I think it happened during one of Thomas MacEntee's live webinars on New York research. He was moving right along when all of a sudden he heard a loud noise. It startled him and the entire virtual audience. What just happened? To listeners, it sounded like a loud bang. Was it thunder? Was it Geoff yelling at Thomas for something he had just said? Turns out, just as my sneeze was coming, I hit the unmute button on my microphone and sneezed right into everyone's speakers, including Thomas'. Embarrassed and apologetic, it was actually kind of funny. I polled the audience to see if I should leave the sneeze in the recording or edit it out. The vote was unanimous, and you can still listen to the sneeze in the webinar library.

A different kind of exciting moment happened a while later. It was during one of Judy Wight's webinars on Ireland genealogy. She was going along just fine, when all of a sudden, the entire webinar crashed. Never experiencing this before, I got to work trying to figure out what's going on. Three or four minutes later, it just reappeared, and the online audience started to return. Afterwards, we learned that about a minute before everything crashed, the new Pope was announced. Apparently, this viral announcement took down servers around the world, including GoToWebinar's.

Since then, we've had the occasional glitch, but for the most part, the technology has come through for us. Now before you think that the webinars just take care of themselves, I'm here to testify that there is a lot more that has to happen behind the scenes to host a successful webinar. I won't bore you with the details, but I have a three page checklist for every single webinar. If any item is overlooked, something will go wrong, or won't be as perfect as I like.

Favorite moments and successes

Of the nearly 500 webinars in the library, it's difficult to choose my favorites, but a couple have stood out. One was the Genealogy Idol Competition. Presented live at RootsTech in 2012, we had four contestants - 2 online and 2 in-person - who competed for the online audiences' votes. After auditions, four were chosen - Elyse Doerflinger, Elizabeth Clark, Michael Hait, and Marian Pierre-Louis. They each taught about one technology tip, one genealogy methodology tip, and one serendipity moment. In the end, Marian took the top prize. I didn't know it then, but Marian would join our FamilyTreeWebinars team as guest host and producer a couple of years later.

Every once in a while, during a live webinar, a viewer will write in saying that they just solved their 30-year brick wall. They tried out a new site or a new strategy that the speaker just mentioned, and solved their problem on the air. Those are some of my favorite moments!

The most rewarding aspect of hosting the webinar series is when I receive the email from the home-bound widow or the from patient in the hospital or from the person on a fixed income who tell me that there is no other way for them to get to a genealogy conference or society meeting, and if it weren't for our webinar series, they'd still be stuck with their brick wall. I hear from viewers who tell me that Webinar Wednesday is the highlight of their week. They cancel all activities and even reschedule doctor appointments so they can be with us each Wednesday.

The most humbling comment I've ever received was in response to my Genealogy Serendipity - Listening For Our Ancestors webinar. After the most difficult, emotionally draining sixty minutes I've ever been a part of, one viewer wrote, "What an incredibly moving hour. I will never be the same." It was during that webinar that I not only connected to my ancestors, but I connected to our audience in such a way that I will always consider our audience part of my family.

Biggest challenges

The popularity of the webinar series has grown so much that now one of the most difficult challenges is how to narrow down the hundreds and hundreds of speaking proposals into a schedule that will fit into one year. We've begun to overcome this by offering pre-recorded bonus webinars for subscribers. In fact, in addition to the recordings of each year's live webinars, we now have more than 130 such classes including an entire series on DNA and a new one on Ireland.

Probably the most difficult personal experience I've had with the series came after we announced the 2015 live series. It was brought to my attention that there was little diversity of the ethnicities of the speakers and topics I selected for that year. Lots of public discussion took place where it was suggested that I was guilty of racism. Obviously this hurt me very personally. Yet it helped me grow. In this very difficult time as I considered how to address this, I turned to my religious beliefs and sought the help from my Maker. After much prayer and pondering, I felt like I was led to a solution, where, with Angela Walton-Raji's help, we introduced the Freedom Series, where we were reminded that 2015 was the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and thus freedom for all persons. I feel that its effects were felt worldwide, and that the experience helped to bring together a divided community. How thankful I was, and still am, to have been a part of this experience.

Speakers

Another part of my growing family, and the biggest key to the success we've had with our webinar series, is the caliber of the 141 different speakers that have participated with us. Speakers, who grew up with transparencies and overheads, who are finally comfortable with PowerPoints and projectors, were now being asked to speak with a headset into a monitor with virtually no instant feedback from a live audience. They have all done so well to adjust to the new technologies. And honestly, there's not a single one that I would not gladly recommend to anyone. We all have our favorites, but a couple of my favorite voices to listen to are those of Mary Hill and Angela Walton-Raji. In spite of the technology, distance, bandwidth, and anything else involved with a live webinar, listening to their voices, you can actually "hear" them smiling. The audio that comes out of their mouths comes out smiling. It's really quite incredible.

One of the best decisions we've made was to partner with an organization whose speakers have each met a level of proven research proficiency - the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Last year we agreed to work together where FamilyTreeWebinars.com would host their monthly live webinars and in return, BCG would let us host their recordings. It continues to be a very positive relationship for both of us and for the viewing audience.

Number One

At the end of every webinar, our viewers are provided with a survey where we ask them to rate the webinar on a scale of one to five, and we ask them for any comments. There are always a few "best webinar ever!" comments, and every once in a while, there are dozens of them. But only one has been watched more than any other. It's a great topic for everyone - Sources and Citations Made Simple, Standard, and Powerful. Here's the top five.

Speaking of number 1, our webinar series was awarded the Best Genealogy Education or Learning Experience as part of About.com's 2013 Genealogy Reader's Choice Awards.

Free weekend on us

In addition to the big celebration during Friday's live webinar, we're unlocking the membership key of the Webinar Library for the first time ever. Beginning Friday and continuing through Sunday evening, the entire library - all 500 classes - will be open and free to the public. Just visit www.FamilyTreeWebinars.com and browse or search for any topic or presenter and enjoy! Then, tell us about what you learned. And if you LOVE what you are learning, consider joining us for a month or for a year to enjoy the memberships even longer.

After-party

There's another reason I can't wait for episode #500. Well, I can't wait for it to be over because immediately following the live webinar is the After-Webinar Party, where, finally, after all of these years, I will get to use Legacy's Merge tool to combine my Nathan Brown with the Nathan Brown I have been researching and, with Marian Pierre-Louis' help and my recent DNA test, have proven them to be one and the same. Join me then for one of the most thrilling moments of my personal genealogy research ever!

Merge

Well, here's to the first 500 webinars and here's to the next 500. While I doubt anyone needs every single class in the library, my continued goal is to have quality genealogy education wherever and whenever you are, and hopefully we can bring you something that will help you climb your tree even higher. 

Remember - life is short, do genealogy first! 

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The availability of Legacy webinars are what convinced me to use Legacy as my genealogical program 6 years ago, and I haven't looked back since. Obviously I don't listen to ALL the webinars-- after all, German genealogy isn't of much use to me -- but so many of them are SO useful that I keep a list of the ones I missed and of the ones I want to relisten to over & over. The annual subscription to Legacy Webinars is a drop in the bucket compared to the end results of learning and pleasure. You are to be congratulated for reaching the 500 mark, and for having such a brilliant idea in the first place.

I have been watching Legacy Family Tee Webinars from almost the beginning and subscribe several times. Thank you Geoff for doing this for all of us. Congratulations on #500 and on connecting Nathan Brown!

I've already told a few people who know a few more who know a few more... Expect the site may go under this weekend!! I'm on an extremely limited income [retired w. no pension/assets], but I saved up the shekels to pay for a year, after trying it month by month. It is absolutely worth it!! Keep on keeping on, Geoff. Education is a life-long endeavour, and we're not done yet.
Cheers from rainy Vancouver BC

Congratulations, Geoff!

Working with you has been a real pleasure and I appreciate the growth that we have all gone through together, because your tenacity, your sincerity and commitment have made Legacy Family Tree Webinars one of the staples in the online community.

Your site is a destination, and I am honored to be a part of the Legacy Family Tree community.

**Angela Walton-Raji**

How grateful I am for the wonderful way Geoff and the Legacy team are making possible the sharing of genealogy and family history research knowledge! When I think of all the classes I taught while working at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and all the genealogy conferences and traveling required over the years, it is a 21st century miracle that all these classes can be presented over the Internet and thus the knowledge gained by Geoff's 140+ presenters can be preserved! Successful genealogy research is a field as broad as the whole world! People with ancestors from Jordan, Israel and Turkey in the Middle East, from South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Australia, from Poland, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Germany, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Namibia and South Africa, from U.S. states such as Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oregon have asked me to help them solve personal brick walls. We are a diverse and wonderful people! Now Legacy Family Tree Webinars makes it possible that all the research questions from all the cultures of the world can find the experts and the information that can open doors. Life has taught me that no one of us knows all the answers, but together the solutions can be found!

I've gotten up to my 10th generations on 4 sides of my family, but would like to go further 😊

Late last year I bit the bullet and took out a 12 month webinar subscription. For me this was an extremely difficult decision to make because, the week before, I had been given my (what I call) 'use by date' - my prostate cancer has decided to race instead of stroll spread instead of staying put! I had also made the decision to do as much as I could in any remaining time to get through a couple of brick walls, start with DNA research, start teaching genealogy classes twice a week and started a Diploma Genealogy course at the University of Tasmania! And I haven't regretted doing any of this one bit and try top watch at least one live webinar a week (despite them starting here in Melbourne, Australia at 4am now!!!) and one or more recorded webinars a week as well. And, like Geoff, this was topped off 2 weeks ago when my name came through as the winner of a door prize. Fantastic! And through all this, I will continue to ask Geoff if Version 9 will be released 'on Monday' because, one day soon, it will be! My remaining time is limited but, as I discovered last week, I can still access the webinars if I am in hospital - I just have to convince the nurses that waking up at 3:30 am to tune in to a webinar is not me going crazy, it is just doing something I love to do and I will continue to try and learn (and pass this on to my students each week) for as long as I can and as long as the webinars continue. Thank you to Geoff, Legacy and BCG - no matter what happens, genealogy research will never finish!

Today is my birthday! Tomorrow is my gift to myself - watch Webinar 500! I will have a houseful of FAMILY (the reason we do our Genealogy) at dinner. None of them are My "Brown's" (my maiden name) but I am so excited to watch your progress with your Brown's, Geoff. I have just ventured into DNA and it has already brought very exciting results on my husband's side of the family, linking him to people he may never have found otherwise. I am so busy with his contacts I haven't made time for my own yet, but I will!
Congrats on Webinar 500!
From Sunny Prince George, BC

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)