RootsTech is a family history, genealogy, storytelling, technology conference hosted by FamilySearch International each of the past nine years at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. It has become the premiere event in the industry and a big family reunion. It attracts people from all, or almost all, 50 United States and dozens of countries. In honor of this year’s #RootsTech10Years celebration, I created a page listing a compendium of RootsTech content. It’s always convenient to have material available all in one place.
There is still time to register for onsite attendance and/or register for the virtual pass which will provide delayed recorded sessions for the coming year! In addition, there is always live-streaming of keynote and other sessions of the conference. Unfortunately, I have confirmed that the entertainment portion of the conference, Ryan Hamilton on Friday night, will not be live-streamed or recorded for later viewing.
RootsTech has helped people make many family connections and find relatives around them right at this event. In the process it has supported an environment in which many people have formed lasting friendships and helped propel the genealogy community into the global sphere. This year’s theme is “The Story of You” and complements my essay, The Story of the Single Leaf. Won’t you join us for this epic event?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I am designated as an official ambassador to the RootsTech Conference and, 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.”
Steve Rockwood opened Thursday’s session of RootsTech with a few of his family stories. One story he told was when he was a young boy who, although he need heart surgery, didn’t want anyone “messing with [his] heart.” The doctor didn’t gain Steve’s trust by his medical degrees and training. He gained his trust by wearing cool and funny ties. Although the doctor’s expertise was essential to young Steve’s care, it was the ties that won Steve’s confidence. And subsequently, Steve’s doctor did not try to turn him into a heart doctor.
The same is true with family history. A family member may need the outcomes of family history: love, peace, joy, happiness, belonging, etc., but may not need to become a genealogist. Steve encouraged conference attendees to consider someone in their family who would benefit from sharing a family story. He suggested that a different approach may be necessary and encouraged everyone to make it fun, in small doses, to build trust and relationship.
Rockwood introduced his neighbor, Kathy Tarullo, a stay-at-home mom who recently graduated with a bachelor of general studies degree with an emphasis in family history and genealogy. Rockwood and his wife Jill were invited to Kathy’s graduation party where she served refreshments associated with her ancestors decoratively arranged with a story behind each one. Kathy also mentioned another project she is working on where she is taking an ancestor’s story and turning it into a children’s book written in poetic form. These are some of the ideas shared to inspire attendees to consider ways of making family history part of everyday life.
RootsTech began to trend #4 on @Twitter during the opening session of RootsTech Photo credit: Wendy Smedley
Next up was the host of BYUtv’s American RideStan Ellsworth. He surprised the crowd by entering the hall on his classic Harley-Davidson. I’ve been to RootsTech, even before it was known by its new name, and I have NEVER seen anything like it! Ellsworth shared his passion for the American story that is our collective story. Nevertheless, “every American family has its own unique heritage, traditions, its own roots ’cause all of us came from somewhere before we came here,” Ellsworth said. He continued, “every American family has its own story to tell … These people want their stories remembered; they want their stories to be celebrated. You can begin your own journey. You can start your own exploration. You can find your heroes. You can find your heritage. You can find your roots. So kick a leg over and begin to discover your family’s own unique American ride.”
After his impassioned speech, Ellsworth was delighted to introduce Paula Williams Madison, a successful businesswoman who retired in 2011 to pursue the story of her maternal grandfather Samuel Lowe. Madison thanked FamilySearch for helping her find her Chinese family. She credits FamilySearch and the individuals who index for solving this mystery in her family. If you are a volunteer and ever wondered if what you do makes a difference, Paula Williams Madison wants you to know that you do.
Before RootsTech I listened to her memoir, Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem. I chose the audio book so that I could listen to Madison’s story in her own voice. It made a difference to me. I encourage you to watch her keynote address, read or listen to her book, and watch the documentary. It is an amazing family journey.
Regrettably, Paula Williams Madison’s uncle, the youngest son of Samuel Lowe, passed away in China the Sunday before RootsTech. As her American family members returned to China to gather and attend the funeral, Paula determined that she would give her keynote address at RootsTech. It’s the way her uncle would have wanted it. After briefly meeting with the media, Paula began the long journey to China arriving with 4 hours to spare before her uncle’s funeral. My personal condolences to Paula Williams Madison and her extended family in Harlem, Jamaica, and China at the loss of such a wonderful patriarch. I am so grateful that Paula found her family and reconnected with them during the last few years.
Next, Bruce Feiler took center stage. He began his remarks by saying that he felt like RootsTech is the “Super Bowl of storytelling.” [This may be true but just an FYI, “Super Bowl” is a registered trademark of the NFL.] He told stories of his adventures in his keynote address:
Feiler says that the “secret sauce” of a happy family is that they TALK, they talk a lot, about what it means to be a family. He recommends 3 things that families can do to be happier:
Write a family mission statement.
Do storytelling games in your family.
Tell your family history; use pictures.
Feiler said that the single most effective idea for a happy family is to tell your family’s story. It is the same for biological and/or adopted families. It is the family narrative that is critical for the resilience of its individuals. He recommends that a person grounds their story in the oldest stories ever told, find a way to make it part of everyday, and don’t keep the story to one’s self, but share it! He mentioned that his New York Times article, The Stories That Bind Us, was the most emailed article for an entire month and, out of the 850,000,000 articles saved to the Pocket app, it was the second most saved article on the entire planet for the entire year. It’s worth the read.
He also encourages seniors to tell their story. He is working on another book and made a request that attendees write to him and tell him their experiences of how they accomplished this in their own families.
Feiler was diagnosed with cancer a number of years ago. On the one year anniversary of that fateful day, he asked his doctor what advice the doctor would give Feiler’s daughters if they came to him. The doctor replied, “I would tell them what I learned. I would tell them that everybody dies, but not everybody lives. I want you to live.” As a family historian I would add, “and set aside time to record it.”
Bruce Feiler closed his keynote address with great counsel for all of us: “Every now and then find a friend, take a walk, and share a story.” I witnessed a lot of this as I went about my day at RootsTech.
RootsTech is a massive conference with many opportunities throughout each day, including the event organized to index the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau. These records were created when the bureau was established in 1865 by Congress to help former black slaves and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. Although RootsTech is an unique experience to each person, it is almost universally a very long, engaging, and exhausting day for all!
Friday marked the final day of the 46th annual Conference on Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University. Many of the vendors were gone, the book scanning moved back to its West Valley facility, and family history consultants were invited for a day of free training. There was no keynote speaker, just the choice of five classes throughout the day from the 8 different tracks offered. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed that all of us were a bit exhausted!
One of the goals at FamilySearch is to provide training to family history consultants who serve in their local areas, including the many family history centers throughout the world. Although there are many resources online, the opportunity to ask questions was a bonus to conference participants. There was standing room only for the first session titled Family Tree Primer for Consultants. I happened by a wonderful question and answer segment on the policies for submission in From Tree to Temple. Consultants were also instructed in ways to encourage individuals to record their history in the My Family booklet. The final session of the day for consultants was one of the most popular sessions last year as well, Facebook for Family History Consultants.
The youngest family history consultant present was 13 year old Ruby Baird. Her grandmother, Marsha Hartmon, describes Ruby as an old soul in a very young body. Ruby was named for her great grandmothers, one from each side of the family. Ruby researches her ancestral lines, prepares names for the temple, and gifts the ordinance cards to family members so that they can complete the temple work; she also helps others pursue their ancestors.
There were about 750 participants at this year’s conference and an additional 50 youth. Among them were many great family stories to share. New this year, the FamilySearch computer lab was well used during the course of the conference. Many personal photographs were scanned for the benefit of participants. About 100 books were donated to be scanned; these books will be placed on-line at books.familysearch.org in about a month.
Although the sessions were not recorded, the address from Elder Paul E. Koelliker, Family the Fabric of Eternity, and the presentation material from David E. Rencher, The Role of FamilySearch in a Worldwide Community, are on-line for review. The syllabus will continue to be available at a cost of $20 for the CD and $35 for the printed edition. This syllabus contains 588 pages of helpful material, including links and bibliographies to further your research. You may order by calling 1 (877) 221-6716.
It is impossible to acknowledge all of the wonderful people I met during the course of this conference, but I put together a slide presentation of some of the highlights from this year’s event. I hope that you will enjoy it! I would also like to acknowledge the conference planning committee, including Stephen Young, FamilySearch project manager; Kathy Warburton, FamilySearch project coordinator; Michael Provard, FamilySearch conference logistical coordinator; and Kelly Summers, Church History and Doctrine, BYU. I would like to thank John Best, assistant program administrator, BYU Conferences and Workshops, and his staff, especially Jon Collier, event planner, for an excellent conference. In addition I would like to thank all of the instructors for their presentations and the participants for their many contributions!
The BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy invites you to set aside July 28-July 31, 2015 for the 47th annual conference to be held next year on the BYU Provo campus!
RootsTech 2014 offered participants an expanded view of all that is available to the family history and genealogy community. There were wow moments for many of those who came from 49 states and 32 countries! If anyone else knows someone from South Dakota, the lone holdout state, we’ve been asked to bring them along next year.
Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
The Innovator Summit was held on Wednesday, February 5th. “RootsTech 2014: Reaching New Heights …” discusses the opening session. The day of the summit, I found myself tweeting, “[s]o many choices, so many friends, so little time!” The result of the larger conference and venue was that I attended a few sessions, not many, saw some friends, not all, and focused on capturing fleeting moments rather than reflective, hence the delay in sharing my experiences at RootsTech.
Find #MyToday at mytoday.co.
In one session, Cydni Tetro, who is employed as a Disney Imagineer, shared her vision of an app that would allow an individual to gather posts and tweets from multiple social media accounts into story form for preservation on the FamilySearch site. It is called #MyToday and it is in early beta. Cydni invited everyone to access mytoday.co and, using their Facebook account, create a story and provide feedback. Unfortunately, the story created will not be preserved but it will visually allow the creator an idea of the finished product.
In the evening the RootsTech 2014 FamilySearch Blogger and Media Dinner was held at the Salt Palace.
FamilySearch Industry Leaders Town Hall
For the first time bloggers were invited to participate virtually. Announcements were made, including an introduction to The Year of the Obituary and FamilySearch’s Captain Jack Starling. The goal is to create an index of 100,000,000 obituaries because “dead men tell no tales, but their obituaries do.” FamilySearch is partnering with many organizations and volunteers to make this happen. The project will begin with obituaries from the United States and expand to other nations. Although an obituary is only as good as its source, obituaries provide vital and biographical information important to genealogical research. Sometimes they even include a story or two.
By the way, there was a town meeting held with some of the top executives from FamilySearch International. It was a great opportunity to ask questions. All were invited.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
“Please welcome to the stage … Shipley Munson!”
Shipley Munson welcomed RootsTech attendees to this year’s conference. He introduced Dennis C. Brimhall, the CEO of FamilySearch International. Brimhall had four important points:
The power of stories
FamilySearch.org enhancements, including an attempt to create a texting app so that those who do not have access to computers and smart phones can participate via this technology
The role and importance of records, including the importance of indexing
The importance of partnerships to accelerate online record access. At the current pace, it will take an estimated 11 generations before the records at FamilySearch will be digitally preserved. With partnerships, it is estimated we can reduce this to one!
After Brimhall’s remarks Josh Taylor introduced his boss Annelies van den Belt, CEO of DC Thomson Family History. She introduced herself by sharing part of her own family history and her vision for the partnership entered into by the leading genealogy companies. Finally, Ree Drummond, The Pioneeer Woman, shared her introduction to family history and her blogging journey. She encouraged others to start blogging or writing their stories using the medium of their choice. The Expo Hall opened shortly thereafter with vendors prepared to greet attendees. This year RootsTech provided free Expo passes to those who wanted to walk the hall. With presenters taking the stage at the BackBlaze theatre, the Expo Hall was a continual education hot spot. I must admit that I only caught a quick glimpse of all that was going on. I needed another day to devote to investigating everything available!
(From L to R) Dr. Spencer Wells, Kenny Freestone, Dr. Tim Janzen, MD, and Bennett Greenspan
I enjoyed two sessions on DNA. CeCe Moore presented her strategies for “Using Genetic Genealogy to Discover the Ancestry of Adoptees (and Scale Recent Genealogical Brick Walls).” As an expert genetic genealogist, she moderated the session that allowed attendees to ask questions to the experts representing the leading DNA companies. One of the benefits of physically attending RootsTech is the opportunity for an attendee to receive an answer to his or her specific question from top experts in the field.
Vocal Point at RootsTech 2014 Opening Social
In the evening, attendees were treated to light refreshments and a concert by Vocal Point, who opened with “Footloose.” Vocal Point performed songs for all generations and shared a few anecdotes related to their own experience with family history.
RootsTech 2014 had so much to offer whether attending in person or virtually, so I have a musing question: how long do you think it would take to apply all that one could learn from RootsTech 2014?
Team colors. Team uniforms. Teamwork. This is what we witnessed during Wild Card Weekend. Thanks to all the players and coaches! Winning is a time for celebration; losing is never easy.
It’s the NFL Divisional Playoffs this weekend and I’m interested in names, particularly family names, also known as surnames, the ones the guys wear on the back of their jerseys. Surnames can provide additional facts and clues about your family and their story.
Ancestry.com has a great database available to search for information about a surname’s meaning and origin. The database information is from the Dictionary of American Family Names. Additional demographic information is provided for the United States, England and Wales, and Scotland. There are charts and links that provide information on immigration, average life expectancy, occupations, and civil war records.
The work is done, the classes have concluded, and participants have gone forward. The 45th Annual BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy has become part of history.
One of the benefits of attending a conference is visiting with friends and meeting new people. We learn from one another. We share our knowledge. We share our experience. We share our stories. We associate with those who understand our unique passion. We have many of our questions answered.
At this conference youth were learning and discussing family history. Young adults were attending and presenting. Our ever faithful seniors were presenting and learning as well. As we know, or have come to learn, family history involves the entire family!
How to Involve Youth: A Panel Discussion Left to Right: Matthew Hovorka, Tristan Ostler, Kylee Haunga, Brenden Alton, Mckayla Faddis and Devin Ashby (moderator)
On Friday, participants had the opportunity to attend five more presentations throughout the day. There was no keynote address. Classes started at 8:30am and the room scheduled for the Facebook for Family History Consultants presentation was filled to overflowing at least 10 minutes before it started!
Jean Wilcox Hibben gave her presentation about Turning Genealogy into Family History: Creating Stories from Stats. She demonstrated that one does not need to inherit the family scrapbook to turn vital statistics into the stories of our ancestors.
There was at least one birthday among us. As it was said, this was an example of “the power of social media.” (If the person who had the birthday is reading this, I hope it was a happy one! I estimated that you would probably receive about 100+ “friend” requests :-)
The Facebook for Family History Consultants Crowd
One of the last classes of the day was a Mac Users presentation. There was so much interest that Jimmy Zimmerman, who has been PC free for 5 years, decided to entertain a Mac Genealogy After-Party to answer additional questions and show additional features :-)
For those who may be interested, the conference syllabus is still available for purchase. It contains 586 pages of information suited to the new and seasoned genealogist. The CD syllabus is $15 + $2.50 shipping. The printed syllabus is also available for $30 + $10 shipping. Call 801-422-4853 or visit the conference website for more information.
Robert Dickey demonstrates the equipment used to digitize records. If you are interested in “a mission that fits your lifestyle” call 1-855-346-4774 or visit familysearch.org/mission.
I would like to take a moment to thank all who helped organize this conference including Stephen Young, FamilySearch Project Manager; Suzanne Russo Adams, FamilySearch Content Strategy Manager; Margo McKinstry, British Reference Consultant at the Family History Library; George Ryskamp, Professor of History at BYU; John Best, Assistant Program Administrator of BYU’s Department of Conferences and Workshops; and Tessa Lund, event planner in the Department of Conferences and Workshops.
Additionally, I would like to thank the vendors, the support staff of BYU Conferences and Workshops, and all of the presenters and participants. You made it a great conference!
As I have been reporting since RootsTech 2013, FamilySearch Indexing has been approaching the billionth indexed record. It really takes team effort to reach such a goal. Previously it took decades; this time it took less than 7 years :-) When it came to the 1940 US Census Community Project, organizations joined forces to complete the project. A few weeks into April 2012, 4.9 million records were indexed in one day and on July 2, 2012 indexers produced over 10 million records indexed and arbitrated in a 24-hour period. Now that was a WOW moment!
Today, someone will be named the indexer of the billionth record. Another could be named as the one who indexed the most records. And another could be named for the most accurate indexing. The list could go on, but it took every single record to count to a billion and therefore every single record and the indexer who contributed it counts! It’s part of being a team, whether on a project, with friends, in a family, with a business, or in the community, greater outcomes materialize with team effort and support :-) So today, THANK YOU to each and every volunteer who made it happen! You have provided indexes that will assist genealogists and family historians in finding the records that will piece history together! And, THANK YOU to FamilySearch International and the Indexing team for supplying and supporting these efforts. Volunteers could not do it without you! You provide so much :-)
This past week familysearch.org received a makeover. As individuals evaluated the new features and layout, I personally noticed that the links to the pages for indexing remained the same. For those who may have hesitated and would like to join in indexing the next billion, here is how you can become a part of this great team.
As I mentioned, indexing is a team effort and if a collection is a priority to an organization it will be completed at a much faster rate. If your society has interest in records that will specifically benefit your members, why not adopt that project. You can even hold indexing meetings or parties. There are many ways to come together to index the records that benefit ourselves and the community.
One of the great announcements made at RootsTech 2013 was that FamilySearch Indexing is fast approaching a billion indexed records thanks to people like us. What once took decades has now taken a little over six years so that those interested can find an actual image of a record of an ancestor with a click of a mouse or a tap on a screen :-) Indexing makes research easy and convenient.
While at RootsTech 2013 I noticed at the indexing booth that the counter never stopped. About a dozen computers were made available so that those attending the conference could stop by and index a batch. Others around the world continued to index as well :-) As of this past Thursday, FamilySearch Indexing had reached 990,000,000 and counting. I hope this pace remains constant as indexers continue the quest. Ten million records doesn’t seem like that much since indexers already broke records last July 2nd and topped the goal of indexing 5 million by completing over 7 million in a 24 hour period with over 3 million records arbitrated for the 1940 US Census Community Project.
Now two additional projects are center stage: the US Immigration and Naturalization Project and the Italian Ancestors Project, but as an indexer, neither project is required. The indexer chooses which record set he or she would like to work with, such as a project listed as a high priority and/or one in the indexer’s area of interest. Projects are also labeled as beginner, intermediate, or advanced to assist the indexer in choosing an appropriate level of difficulty. On the screen that allows you to choose your project, in the left-hand corner, an indexer may choose how many batches he or she would like to download. The advantage to more than one batch is that when a record is handwritten the indexer can become accustomed to the recorders style and it is easier to read. This is true for all handwritten records, but especially for those written in a language foreign to the indexer. Currently many of the passenger lists are typed on the original records so data entry is easy.
If you would like to give indexing a try, you will need a familysearch.org account. There are two types of accounts: one for the general public and one for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Don’t be concerned about the LDS church account if you are not a member. The account log in for LDS members allows them to access church related directories, calendars, and other church information.)
Once you have an account, you may download the indexing software. This software can be used with Windows, Mac, or Linux :-)
Once installed, choose a project, download a batch, read the instructions for the project, and then begin. Instructions for each field are always to the right of the data input. Help is available by phone or chat. Give indexing a try, and if you find a specific batch that is incompatible with you, just send it back and try another one. Soon you will be indexing like a pro!
What if indexing is not for you? There are other ways you can contribute to the genealogical community at familysearch.org. You can contribute by writing research articles for the wiki and/or tech tips in your area of expertise, make a tax-deductible donation, and/or evaluate upcoming features. It’s up to you! I’ve heard FamilySearch express gratitude many times for those who volunteer. All of us benefit from the record sets indexed and made available at no cost to us. If you use familysearch.org, thank an indexer! At RootsTech, FamilySearch Indexing found a fun way to give back to the volunteers as well. Anyone who indexed a batch at the conference received a photo on the mock dock of Ellis Island in honor of the US Immigration and Naturalization Project. Remember immigration and naturalization records can be the key to unlocking the mystery of an ancestor’s homeland. Why not give indexing a try? You may be the one to index the billionth record!