In Retrospect—RootsTech London 2019

Three weeks ago family historians and genealogist gathered to experience the inaugural RootsTech London. Since that time I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the experience held at the ExCeL Centre located near the London City Airport.

Conferences aren’t new to the U.K. Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE ran for 10 years. Family Tree Live and The Genealogy Show drew crowds of researchers this year, so what could RootsTech London contribute? I wasn’t sure when it was announced, but I am happy to report that the conference was well received. 

I attended the first RootsTech in Salt Lake City in 2011. It filled part of the Salt Palace Convention Center and its focus was on technology as it relates to genealogy. London was reminiscent of the size within the Salt Lake City venue, but that was about it. Technology sometimes brings with it a gray feeling. The nuts and bolts. The algorithms. Engineers had sessions targeted at them while genealogists were introduced to PDF files. I straddled the gap and attended a few sessions on each track. Language was a barrier for most in attendance. Engineers didn’t get genealogists; and genealogists were wary of engineers. We’ve come a long way. While the first RootsTech reminds me of a blind date where you have no idea what to expect, RootsTech has matured the relationship between technology and genealogy. I don’t want to take the relationship analogy too far, but it is as if RootsTech has married these fields and London was like the renewing of vows.

RootsTech provides a four-pillar model for its offering: keynote speakers, educational sessions, the exhibition hall, and evening entertainment. RootTech London was scaled down, but as an international introduction it was barely noticeable. It was a reasonable commute from the city center for some and the venue was perfect for the conference with hotels nearby.

Comic Con was also in town and the ExCeL Centre had strict policies as they managed the two worlds. Depending on the hotel reservation or tube stop, some had to walk outside in the unpredictable weather for a short time. It did not appear to place a damper on anyone. I personally found it a convenient walk to the venue after I enjoyed the hotel’s buffet breakfast reservation. It was a lifesaver since the restaurants within the ExCeL were restricted for RootsTech attendees. 

The 11 a.m. keynote sessions, carried over to RootsTech London, are my favorite sessions where I can relax and listen to individuals from diverse backgrounds talk about a common subject—family history. I hope that the time change for the keynotes introduced at RootsTech SLC is a permanent part of the conference schedule. Whether the earlier time slot is used to catch an early morning session or to sleep in, it works for everyone. The later keynote times also accommodate those that commute to the venue.

This year’s keynotes were given by Dan Snow, KaDeena Cox, and Donny Osmond. Nick Barratt served as MC each day. The keynotes are still available for viewing at I had the opportunity to participate in interviews, but I enjoyed the Meet and Greets offered to all conference attendees for each of the keynotes even more.

I found it interesting that when Donny Osmond was announced as a keynote speaker, some were asking, who?, why?, yet, after his keynote, Donny did not have time to greet everyone that wanted a photo, an autograph, or ask a question or two. The line was overwhelming long. I spoke with a number of those waiting.

The last person in line was a volunteer. He had to report to his post in 30 minutes. He hoped to meet Donny on behalf of his mother. She is a big fan even from her youth and could not be in attendance. The story goes that Donny and his family so influence this young man’s mother as a teen that she became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When his future mother met his future father, she introduced her love interest to the Latter-day Saint missionaries and his future father was baptized, too. Soon after his parents were married, but his mother did not cease to be a Donny fan. This young man credits Donny and the Osmond family for his very existence. He was disappointed that he would miss the opportunity to meet Donny due to the overwhelming response from other fans. Observing Donny’s interaction with other attendees, I have no doubt Donny would want to meet this young man as well. I have recommended that RootsTech consider using the Lineberty app in the future for the Meet and Greets to avoid long lines and disappointments. It is an app that allows a person to obtain a reservation, receive updates on wait times, and be notified when the time of reservation is near. This will allow attendees to visit other areas in the exhibition hall without losing their place in line.

The educational sessions were found in the auditorium and on the third floor, which was easily accessible by escalator or lift. The schedule had so much to offer. I enjoyed a few sessions focused on DNA; it is the area within genealogy that is rapidly evolving and expanding its interests. It’s a challenge for anyone to keep abreast of all the new angles, applications, and legal issues. The DNA panel brought insight to all of these areas, but limited time meant limited discussion. A couple of those sessions are available for view at no cost on the RootsTech website. There is also a premium virtual pass that offers 20 recorded sessions, three related to DNA, at a nominal fee. 

The exhibition hall was very well organized with incredible offerings including the DNA Basics Learning Centre, the Demo Theatre and the Discovery Zone. There were a number of opportunities for attendees to receive guidance in answering their own research questions.

All of the major genealogy companies were represented, including Findmypast, Ancestry, FamilySearch, and MyHeritage. Direct-to-consumer DNA companies were also represented, including 23 & Me, Ancestry, FamilyTree DNA, Living DNA, and MyHeritage. The Family History Federation, the Society of Genealogists, and American Ancestors were available with their offerings as well as 14 additional societies that could provide information about their organizations and answer any questions. The ability to ask questions in a room of collective genealogical wisdom is one of the greatest benefits of attending a conference like RootsTech.

Exclusively for RootsTech London, the Military of Defense (MOD) offered “service record searches, ordering, retrievals and interpretation, general Records and Medals advice, applications for and issue of Veterans badges and record digitization demonstrations.” This was a popular place as attendee learned that record retrievals that typically take a 3-month turn-around time were promised to be delivered within three hours. One delighted attendee told me that they received a file within two hours!

RootsTech London evening entertainment consisted of an early 1-hour Friday night performance from Tre Amici. After a long day of interviews and sessions, Tre Amici’s music had the ability to allow me and attendees to sit back and relax. Later evenings could be spent with different organizations getting together at establishments near the venue.

Probably the greatest benefit of attending a conference in person is the opportunity to meet up with old friends and make new ones. Every day at 3 p.m. near the Media Hub those who participate in #AncestryHour on Twitter, which originates from the U.K. Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. GMT, would gather for a Meet and Greet. It was wonderful to meet so many online friends. The crowd grew from Thursday to Saturday as word spread and schedules aligned. It’s a good reason to hope that RootsTech London returns to the U.K. sometime in the near future. Many have expressed interest in making this an annual conference, but there is no official word. I’ll keep you posted. 

Although Relative Race was a sponsor of the conference, its host, Dan J. Debenham, came in the unofficial capacity as an attendee. Nevertheless, you would not know it was an unofficial gig. Not only did he present two 15-minute introductions to the show in the Demo Theatre, he also gave away coveted Relative Race t-shirts and wrist bands to many in attendance. I cannot even count the number of selfies he took with other attendees. Dan was gracious to sit down with me in an interview and discuss the show. If you follow me on Twitter you have already heard some of the tidbits I learned about the show from this interview. There is more to come. Dan even came up with a new idea for the show during our discussion. I’d love to see this idea implemented. The current season is airing now and can be viewed on demand at Most of the shows past seasons are also available.

During RootsTech London Dan met with Ancestry to discuss the possibility of taping one episode of a future season of Relative Race in the U.K. I’ve been encouraging the show to go global and it’s exciting to see that there is this possibility moving forward since viewers watch from around the world. It was great to hear all the latest about this engaging and entertaining show. 

RootsTech London was an excellent introduction to the RootsTech brand. There were more opportunities for just about everything genealogy than any one person could access in the limited time. It left many wanting more to come in the near future. 

I would like to extend a round of applause to Jen Allen and her team for the excellent planning and execution that resulted in this great conference. I would also like to thank each of the sponsors. They help make the magic happen!

If you have not downloaded the RootsTech app, you may still do so and have access to many of the informative handouts provided by presenters. It is available for iOS and Android. Even though RootsTech London has more to offer, it’s on to RootsTech to be held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City February 26-29, 2020. RootsTech Pass Giveaways are going on now! There are more giveaways to come, including mine, so I invite you to subscribe to this blog! 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am designated as an official ambassador of the RootsTech Conference and RootsTech London. As such, I am provided complimentary admission and other services to accomplish my duties. Nevertheless, I have been with RootsTech since its inception and with its predecessor for many years as a paid participant. As always, my coverage and opinions are my own and are not affected by my current status. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

© 2019 Lynn Broderick, a.k.a., the Single Leaf. All Rights Reserved.

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