MHA at National Genealogical Society 2011
MHA’s four day presence at NGS was the perfect antidote to any perception we might have had that our interests are a small niche, relevant only to a tiny percentage of Americans. Julie Williams Dixon’s showing of Melungeon Voices on the first night of the conference drew a sizeable audience, as did Terry Mullins’s lecture presentation on Melungeons, “Cultural Diversity Comes Home.” But the combined 150 or so attendance at these programs was dwarfed by the number of people who visited the MHA booth in the exhibit hall. Most of the hundred and twenty booths were hosted by vendors of books and online databases, or local and state genealogical societies. The MHA booth was consistently once of the most visited, and often was swarmed by visitors between the sessions for genealogists. Perhaps this was partly due to the fact that we had three authors and one filmmaker at the booth. Terry Mullins, Frank Sweet, Julie Williams Dixon, and I all spent hours responding to inquiries, as did S.J. Arthur, Elizabeth Williams, and Mary Lee Sweet. But all this activity was from the 1600 registered conferees who had paid to attend the event. On the final day, more than 600 more people arrived for free genealogy classes offered by ancestry.com, and they greatly increased the traffic in the exhibit hall. The influx of new people kept all of us busy answering nonstop questions; the most frequent being simply “What is a Melungeon?” Each of us heard story after story about mixed ancestry backgrounds, or family secrets and mysteries that hinted at such. We left feeling that the interest shown in the past for MHA’s work is only the tip of the iceberg and many thousands of Americans continue to discover that their own ancestry is more complicated than they had suspected.
One of the questions asked at the showing of Melungeon Voices was about the connection of the Melungeon story to the new book by Daniel Sharfstein, The Invisible Line. This provided an opening for MHA to announce the author’s participation as a featured speaker at 15th Union.