I had registered as a geneablogger and just prior to the conference, received an invitation for a pre-conference tour of the expo hall at the venue, the Salt Palace Convention Center. So, at 7.30 am on Thursday, Day 1, I joined about 50 other bloggers for the tour.
I invite you to visit these blogs and that of the official bloggers, including Australia’s Jill Ball at Geniaus, to read about their personal experiences of Rootstech. There are two international official bloggers this year, chosen for their online social influence in the genealogy community.
The tour was designed for bloggers to get a feel for the layout of the hall, the organisation of services, location of vendor booths (or stands as they are called in the UK) and the schedule of the product demo theatre, which was available to vendors throughout the conference to speak about their products. We were told that the conference has double the vendors it had last year, including the Australian Unlock the Past team, who are based in Adelaide. Story @ home are major partners and have a large area including a mini sound proof recording booth. Near the media station is a cyber cafe including a free soda station and a charging station for one’s electronic devices.
Each day starts with attendees meeting in a large hall, for the keynote speakers and today bloggers were given VIP seating near the front of the stage.
Keynote speakers and selected sessions were video streamed throughout the conference and I believe some will also be available to access following the conference.
The first keynote speaker of the event was fittingly, Mr Dennis Brimhall, President and CEO of FamilySearch who are hosting the event. He asked “What would our great grand children wished we would have done?” He believes that every life story deserves to be documented and proved. He movingly described the story, which his daughter had first researched and produced in a book titled: “My mission to fulfil“. She documented the family history of Dennis’s father who flew bombing missions in World War 2. We saw photographs of the squadron in the sky and his father’s actual plane immediately after it had been hit by anti-aircraft fire, on fire and minus a wing, which his family obtained quite by chance, many years later – a story which he also recounted. Stories are at the heart of our family history and FamilySearch is encouraging this at the conference along with the mission to encourage more beginners and younger people to genealogy. (I personally prefer the term “family history research” but the word “genealogy” is common here.) The conference has a beginner’s stream to cater for this.
Dennis announced that next year Rootstech intends to go global with conferences in a number of US states and 7 countries (not including Australia). It was also announced that registrations were at 6,700 adult attendees for the three days this year with an additional 2,000 youth expected on Saturday – many to complete requirements for the Scout genealogy merit badge.
Following Dennis’s keynote address the theme of story telling was enhanced by Syd Lieberman, a nationally acclaimed storyteller, author and teacher. He described storytelling as a scrapbook in my mind and reminded us about the details in our lives and how important it is to pass these on. Family stories capture love.
The third keynote speaker D. Joshua Taylor is the Business Development Manager – North America for Bright Solid, the company behind Find My Past. He is a passionate genealogist and has been since a very early age. He informed us he was never really inclined towards sports but was “really good at libraries and card catalogues and books.” He recounted his tale of two grandmas and their differing attitudes towards this hobby. He is passionate about getting younger people interested in their family history and advises that this needs to be done now, through entertainment, mobile technology and affordable adventures.
An additional aspect was an unconferencing schedule as part of the conference and although I did not attend any of these informal sessions, some topics of interest included “An hour with Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch” and sessions devoted to users of genealogy software programs amongst others.
There was a stream of speakers to listen to so I scheduled my day using the very cool phone app and had some time to check out the expo hall before the 11 am session.
I was invited to try my hand at indexing for FamilySearch, part of their worldwide records indexing project . This has always been on my “to do” list and I learned just how fun and easy it is. I half hoped that I may have created the one billionth entry, which FamilySearch is predicting will occur during Rootstech or shortly afterwards. After the success of the project last year to index the US 1940 census months ahead of schedule thanks to the power of crowdsourcing, efforts are now being put towards the US immigration and naturalisation records. There are collections from all over the world available and I knew that Queensland cemetery records was one of them, so I asked if I could do those. In a few short minutes I had completed “one batch” and I look forward to signing up and continue to “give back” in the near future.
Most sessions described on the website have a detailed syllabus attached. This is an excellent resource for non-attendees to also look at, as many contain links to further information.
I was keen to hear the first session, which was also being streamed live, and is now available. The Future of genealogy had five expert panelists including Australia’s Alan Phillips. They were asked to comment on the following: what they thought the biggest genealogy event was last year; describe a typical genealogist of today; what are the set back or limitations in the industry and community; popular research methods in the future; what role will the media play post “Who Do You think you are?” and what role will technology play? Some comments included concerns of funding cutbacks to archives and libraries and with the growing presence of records online, that people, especially young people, are expecting instant answers when it is not always that easy. The discussion was an interesting and thought provoking one.
At lunch time I hooked up with the President of the Idaho Genealogical Society. We had been corresponding in the past on a personal level as she is researching the Pidgeon name. She is unrelated to my husband’s family but was still keen to meet me and show me her extensive genealogy book, which she had brought with her to show me.
I took the opportunity to walk around the expo hall and talked to a number of vendors. One of the few locally based genealogy societies there was the Southern California Genealogy Society – a dynamic society by the sounds of it promoting their Jamboree conference in June. I was interested to learn that members have access to their substantial collection related to Cornwall, England. Their live webinars are also available free to anyone in the world to access.
After the break I attended a number of sessions including: FamilySearch: Facebook pages: Research helps. Pages specific to localities and ethnic groups (including Australa) have been set up on Facebook with FamilySearch facilitators to assist with research queries. They have an excellent starting point for researchers on the FamilySearch Wiki page.
In the session, Your Library in the cloud: a guide to using digital collections, Dave Obee encouraged his audience to look beyond the traditional genealogy sites and highlighted some key sites including the Wayback Machine and Open Library. I was pleased that Trove received a short mention (and slide). Dave’s take home message was that searching databases using a site’s search facility may not always reveal the full potential of results and that a Google site restricted search may often yield far greater numbers of potential results.
The final session for the day was Community Trees: a win-win project, which described a FamilySearch project. A Community Tree is a locality based, lineage linked, sourced, genealogy database. With some IT skilled volunteers and appropriate data, such a project is another way of highlighting a community’s local history.
Conference attendees were invited to the Leonardo, the contemporary Science technology and Art Museum of Utah, for the opening night, where we were able to access some of the exhibits. This was followed by another special event: Story and Song with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed in the Tabernacle. The evening’s highlight for me was Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which had been preceded with a short documentary featuring his daughter, about his immigration story and love for his adopted country.
Check out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir You Tube channel