Chinese Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

Top 10 things I learned at SLIG (the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy) 2020

I attended my very first SLIG conference January 12-17, 2020. It definitely won’t be my last. It blew my mind.

What is SLIG?

Top 10 things I learned at SLIG 2020
Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, Salt Lake City, UT, Jan 2020. Credit: Linda Yip 2020. All rights reserved.

Before I list off my Top 10, first let me tell you a bit about SLIG. People described it as being like going back to school. It really was. Hosted by the Utah Genealogical Association,

SLIG offers high-intermediate to advanced education and includes courses on methodology, standards, regional or ethnic group research, and research tools like DNA. All courses assume a working knowledge at an intermediate level or above. Course descriptions, outlines, and prerequisites will help determine if the course is taught at the right level for you.

There were 16 courses at SLIG this month. Eight of them were USA-focused, seven more looked interesting enough to consider, and one was a slam-dunk, can’t miss, must-see: Course 8: Chinese Ancestry: Research Methods and Sources, sponsored by FamilySearch.

A course on Chinese genealogy? Take my money!!!

No. 10 – SLIG is fabulously well organized

If you’ve never contemplated organizing a multi-day convention, let me tell you it’s a daunting prospect. Every possible need of guests and instructors must be anticipated, met, managed and/or mitigated. It’s more complicated than a wedding, and we know how long those take to organize.

This was SLIG’s 25th anniversary, there were about 450 people involved, and from my perspective, it was as smooth as buttah. Each day was planned with courses during the day and options for the evening. There was a shuttle running continuously from the hotel to The Library (see below) and back. There were networking events and a grand finale gala. There was a genealogy book store, and booths with reps from all the societies: the Utah Genealogical Association, the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the Association of Professional Genealogists.

A shout out to Peg Ivanyo and her team for orchestrating the two weeks that are the SLIG marathon: SLIG, then SLIG Academy. (I didn’t attend Academy, so I’ll stick to talking about SLIG in this post.) Well done, everyone.

No. 9 – SLIG uses tech

I was impressed with SLIG’s use of technology and social media.

Before I even began packing, I knew what to bring, thanks to SLIG’s private Facebook group for attendees. Administered by J. Paul Hawthorne, Peg Ivanyo and Nicole Dyer, this group asked and answered questions such as: What’s the weather like? What should I wear? What should I bring? What restaurants are nearby? How late is The Library open? How do I keep from catching SLIG CRUD? (More on that below.) For a first timer to SLIG, and one not from the States, this group was invaluable in getting ready for the conference.

We also had our own private Facebook group for our class – a great way to share photos and tips as the course proceeded, and a stellar way to stay in touch after the conference ended.

SLIG used to share updated course materials. No more worries about mass emailing – everything was on Sync. I waited to get home to download everything – 850+Mb worth of materials. Imagine if I’d had to carry all that in printed form?

I should have realized SLIG would be fairly tech-savvy back in November. Conference attendees booked everything on the SLIG website: courses, options and meals. There was enough information on every course I felt comfortable (and excited) knowing what I was signing up for, who would be presenting, and what to expect. Questions about booking details were handled in the Facebook group. That is great event planning.

No. 8 – there’s never enough time in Salt Lake City

I think I’d been at the conference about two days when I realized I wasn’t giving myself enough time to attend the conference AND take advantage of all that the city had to offer. There was a time when I could go to school all day and then research & socialize to midnight every night, but those days are GONE. Like everything else in my life, I had to be strategic with my time. Network over lunch with new friends OR get outside for fresh air and exercise? Join the group going on a tour OR hit the library for focused research? Stay up late OR go to bed at a reasonable hour?

When should I tackle the homework?!?!?

In the end, I’m happy with the choices I made. Getting to bed by 10:00 pm every night meant I was sharp for class every day, and hitting the gym probably kept me healthier than I’d otherwise have been. My one regret was missing most of the Wednesday Social event because I fell asleep – I mean, passed out cold – right after class and nearly slept through it. In more ways than one, SLIG really is like going back to school.

I never did get to go shopping. At Canada Customs, I declared a paltry $75 – the lowest amount I’ve ever declared for a week-long visit to the States in my whole life.

No. 7 – SLIG CRUD is real

Put ~450 people together in a conference for a week in January and you’ve got the ideal conditions to catch something. I never did figure out if “CRUD” was an acronym or simply a highly descriptive term for the cough/cold/flu but the CRUD stalked the conference like a true viral predator. The organizers handed out hand sanitizer in our welcome packages and provided masks for CRUD victims. Despite staying at the hotel, I managed to avoid catching the CRUD by:

  • the usual things: frequent hand washing, never touching my face, and (sadly) avoiding even hugs
  • daily exercise and lots of rest
  • NeilMed Sinus Rinse (I swear this is my secret weapon in wintertime)

No. 6 – Salt Lake City in January is really not very cold

Sorry, my friends. It may feel like winter to you, but SLC in January ranged from -6 to +7 deg C. We who live in the Canadian Prairies call that a nice day. While I was enjoying the milder temperatures, Saskatoon had the coldest week this winter: -38.9 deg C. If you want to add windchill, Saskatoon was -49.6 deg C (that’s -57.2 F).

Meanwhile, I spotted some folk in SLC walking around in shorts. Please. 

Here are some shots from my week.

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No. 5 – The Family History Library is worth a week’s visit all on its own

Top 10 things I learned at SLIG 2020
Visiting the Family History Library. Salt Lake City, UT. January 2020. Credit: Linda Yip 2020. All rights reserved.

The Family History Library, aka the “FHL,” or simply “The Library,” (like Sherlock Holmes’s “The Woman”) is the world’s largest genealogical library. During our week with Chinese Ancestry, we got a personal tour from expert Tony King, who taught us how to navigate the Index to Family Names by stroke # (in Chinese).

Top 10 things I learned at SLIG
The index to Family names, book 1. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT. January 2020. Credit: Linda Yip, 2020. All rights reserved.

This being my first visit to the FHL, I spent my time getting familiar with what was available for Canada, China, the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia. I am not normally a jealous person, but it was hard not to be jealous of the resources at the fingertips of the residents of Salt Lake City. In addition, the Library is staffed with helpful and knowledgeable people who can read the confused look on any first-timer’s face instantly. Resources AND friendly, knowledgeable asssistance. Win/win.

No. 4 – Genealogy buffs are pretty lovely people

OK, I knew this before, but it is worth repeating: the people you meet in genealogy are simply fantastic: smart, generous with their time and knowledge, enthusiastic and engaged. There wasn’t one person at the conference, in my class or outside it, instructors or students (and sometime both), who wasn’t warm and approachable.

No. 3 – You don’t have to know a lot about Chinese genealogy to take this course

I was surprised by the range of skills in our class of 10. We had the gamut from professionals in genealogy to absolute newbies. We had fluent Chinese speakers and non-Chinese speakers. Credit goes to Kelly Summers, whose course design clearly took nothing for granted.

We had an amazing group in Course 8 – we may have met as strangers but we left as friends. Missing from the photo are instructors Anthony King, Eric Leach, Stefani Evans, Marisa Louie Lee, and Melvin P. Thatcher.

Top 10 things I learned at SLIG 2020

The class of Course 8: Chinese Ancestry hams it up for Chinese New Year. From left to right: Alice, Greg, Kim, Linda, Melinda, Ying Chin, Melissa, Tung Ha, Karina, Linda, Jerry, and Kelly. SLIG, Hilton Center, Salt Lake City, UT. January 2020.

No. 2 – More Chinese genealogy tools

The Chinese Ancestry tools I learned in this course were unbelievable. I so wish I could have taken this course about 10 years ago, but the next best time is now. For someone who doesn’t read or speak Chinese, we learned:

  • How to read Chinese grave markers
  • How to interpret Chinese calendars
  • How to read a jiapu (Chinese family tree), and how to distinguish the various styles of jiapu
  • How to plan a trip to your ancestral village
  • How to locate a Chinese genealogy online
  • The key words to interpreting a Chinese family tree
  • What records are available for Chinese Ancestry and where they are in the USA, Canada, Australia and the former Kingdom of Hawaii
  • The best apps to hurdle the Chinese language barrier
  • How to build a resources list
  • and about 100 more things besides.

There are pivotal times in life when you learn something that will change the way you think about things ever after. This course was challenging, brain-busting, and fatiguing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll be talking a lot about what I learned in the coming months. Probably years.

No. 1 – More SLIG courses!

Now that I’m a SLIG alum, I’m looking forward to my next course. You can too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that SLIG is only for the advanced, or only for professionals, or even only for Americans (although quite a few attendees fit all three of those categories). The thing is, we’re all newbies if we step outside our areas of expertise. And SLIG is doing something fantastic for Fall – virtual SLIG. If you can’t get to Salt Lake City, you can still enjoy some world class learning from the comfort of your own home. For real. Even Chinese Ancestry. (And if you’re really lucky, you’ll have Kelly Summers, AG and President of the Utah Genealogical Association as your Course Coordinator.)

Top 10 things I learned at SLIG 2020
SLIG Virtual, Fall 2020 – Courses available virtually this Fall. From the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy


I learned about SLIG from Marisa Louie Lee, who reached out to me to talk about Chinese resources in Canada. Thank you, Marisa. If it hadn’t been for you, I might never have decided to attend, and that would have been a big mistake.

Salt Lake City is just two hours from Calgary. I’ll definitely be back.

11 thoughts on “Top 10 things I learned at SLIG (the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy) 2020

  1. Great Article Linda! I swear when I seen that Chinese index book before I read it was a Index book while scrolling my first thoughts were she found her jiapu at the library! Can’t wait to hear everything so you better FB text me of course when you have time.

    1. Hey Bobby,

      Thanks! I was definitely thinking of you as I was writing this piece. Unfortunately, my family jiapu was not in this collection – that would have been a very lucky find indeed – but I have hopes that the village jiapu might be available at some time in the future. A lot of organizations are making determined efforts to digitize jiapu: Family Search is the big player in this space, but My China Roots is also making moves in this market. We learned in the course that some major upgrades will be coming for Chinese genealogy with Family Search – it’s an exciting time.

      That having been said, I am lucky in that I already have at least three copies of my own family tree: the work done by Hoy & Grace Yip and extended by me and my cousins (Doug, Robert, Jim, and Alfie, among others) for the Yip family from roughly today to Yip Sang’s parents; the Yip family tree as printed in the Yip Sang Biography (and known to us Yips as “The Green Book”); and the Yip family jiapu I acquired while visiting Sze Yup in October. The last two go back 30+ generations.

      Compared to many who aren’t able to trace their family back past their grandparents, we are very, very fortunate.


  2. Linda,

    Thanks for keeping your promise and sharing the things you learned. In fact, I literally just returned from a Chinese Genealogy conference in Las Vegas a few minutes ago, and we heard from Tony King and Mel Thatcher there too. They are both outstanding!!! Based on my discussion with Mel, I’m going to spend more time looking for gazetteers to find more family history nuggets. Good luck!

    1. Having had the privilege of learning from both Mel and Tony, I know exactly what you’re saying. Their depth of knowledge is truly unique. Unparalleled. I felt quite grateful and humble to be learning from them (and the rest of the assembly). I too will be looking at gazetteers with a fresh eye.

  3. I really enjoyed this post, really informative about Chinese surnames. Could be a candidate for a surname study…..registered with the Guild of One-Name studies. Off to now read your other posts!

    1. I would love that. My husband’s family are the subject of a One Name Study: they are the Maw family of Lancashire, England. Sadly, this’d never fly for Chinese names. China is a huge country with relatively few surnames. I forget how many 葉 (that’s my name, meaning “leaf”, and spelled in English as any of Yé, Yip, Ip, Yap, or Yep) there are, but 16M rings a bell. Phew!

  4. Thank you Linda, what a wonderful blog I really enjoyed learning about your trip to Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, Salt Lake City, UT, Jan 2020.

    As Always I am learning from your knowledge all the time. All the best kind regards Trish [ your Yé, Yip, Ip, Yap, or Yep cousin? in Australia)

    p.s. What does 16M rings a bell mean?

    1. Hi Trish! As ever, thank you for stopping by. Sorry to be cryptic. I truly didn’t mean to be.
      I thought I saw somewhere in my studies last week the number of people with the name “葉” and all its English transliterated variations to be 16 million.

  5. Very helpful post and the most detailed description of SLIG that I have seen. SLIG Virtual looks good, too — and offers fewer chances to get CRUD 🙂


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