Friday, February 07, 2014

RootsTech: Day Two

I'm at RootsTech, a Family History and Technology Conference in Salt Lake City. Today, Friday, was the second day of the conference, and was sponsored by MyHeritage. Here are my notes:

Today's General Session's first keynote speaker was introduced by Shipley Munson, Marketing Director of FamilySearch International: The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell. She is an engaging and entertaining speaker; as fabulous a speaker as she is a blogger! Her keynote was titled "Just Three Generations," in which she explained that oral family history can be lost in three generations, if not handed down deliberately AND accurately. She related how one ancestor's brother died in the Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War, and how his story would have completely been lost, if another brother hadn't mentioned it while applying for a military pension for himself. She also shared how another story had deliberately been passed down over the generations regarding a Mayflower ancestor. However, although that story had been handed down deliberately, it hadn't been done so accurately. Using the Genealogical Proof Standard, Judy had refuted the story. Her final ancestral story was about her great-grandfather who seemed to have too many occupations: cowboy, ranch owner, farmer, traveling salesman, lawman, and circuit-riding preacher. Surely, there must be a mistake somewhere! Eventually, Judy was able to piece together the truth that her ancestor had indeed had each and every one of these occupations during his lifetime. She encouraged us to record our ancestors' stories, as well as our own.

The second keynote speaker was introduced by Ory Stone, Chief Marketing Officer at MyHeritage. First, he shared some statistics from his company from the past year:

  • Two million records were added to MyHeritage in the last year
  • They signed a partnership with FamilySearch
  • MyHeritage users are adding over one million family trees to the site every day
  • There is now an international selection of profiles
  • The first 500 people who showed up at the MyHeritage booth at the Expo Hall would receive a free six-month all-inclusive membership
He then introduced the "Indiana Jones of Genetics," Dr. Spencer Wells of the National Geographic Genographic Project. Dr. Wells explained how he became interested in population genetics as a young boy when he was curious about his name, Rush Spencer Wells, IV. By talking to his grandmother, he was able to see how the name had been passed down over the generations, and even before the first Rush Spencer Wells, the surnames Rush and Spencer were in his family tree. This later grew into a love of science and genetics. 

The overarching question behind the Genographic Project is, "How do we explain the incredible diversity in the human race?" This can further be broken down into two other questions: "Where did we come from?" (origin) and "How did we get here?" (journey). He said that the question of origin is actually a question about genealogists. Because of the interest in genealogy and DNA, the power of "citizen science" has come about, as people have become quite knowledgeable about DNA. While the first project was launched in 2005, with one million people tested from then to 2013, Geno 2.0 is the relaunched project, which is estimated to hit another million tested in this year alone. One of the features of the project will be the ability to share stories with other people in the database with the same ancestry.

Final points were that genetic testing has exploded recently because of consumer genomics, DNA becoming a part of the national consciousness, people in today's society are comfortable sharing their most private information, and the "word of mouth" threshold, also known as "viral" spread.


My first morning session was a lab called "Using Evernote for as Your Primary Tool for Capturing Notes and Ideas" by Andrew Smith. Labs were special sessions that you had to pre-register and pay for, mainly because they had limited seating at computer stations. I wasn't sure who this "Andrew Smith" guy was, until I walked in and recognized Drew Smith of the Genealogy Guys podcast! Even though I feel fairly familiar with Evernote and use it almost daily, I was glad to discover some new-to-me features. For instance, I learned that you can save audio recordings to Evernote, and not just text, images, or web clippings. I also learned about email reminders that you can set up (for To-Do lists you create on Evernote, for instance), as well as how to email things to Evernote. The hour flew by quite quickly, and it was very enjoyable.

Next came the lunch hour and I spent most of it in the Expo Hall, going from vendor to vendor to get my "passport" signed in order to turn it in for a drawing for an iPad. In the process, I ran into a number of Facebook and geneablogging friends, some of whom I had not previously met in "real life." (The same thing had occurred before the General Session took place earlier in the morning.) I picked up a large amount of "swag" (freebies) from vendors as well.

My first afternoon session was Dr. Blaine T. Bettinger's "Begging for Spit." He identified the challenges that can occur when we want others to take a DNA test, with a step-by-step approach to solving those problems successfully. I took lots of notes, because I am hoping to start testing family members soon. I know that I may get some questions and valid concerns which I would like to address accordingly.

I again skipped the middle session and went back to the Expo Hall to finish getting my "passport" filled out. One of the last things I did was watch a demo of at the BackBlaze demo theater. The interface reminded me a lot of Fold3's, which makes sense, as they are both owned by Ancestry.

The final session was "Technology for Deciphering Foreign Language Records" by Randy Whited. While again, much was not new to me (in fact, my next Tuesday's Tip, which I've already pre-written) will be focused on this topic), I did learn a couple of things. For instance, I did not realize that Microsoft Word gives you the ability to change languages, which is great for transcriptions! Also, BYU has a great (free) Script Tutorial here.

I had planned to attend the free "Pizza at the Library" event, but decided it would be too crowded. I instead went to dinner at my usual place, and then uploaded photos to Facebook (which you can view here, even if you don't have a Facebook account). I went to the Library later after the crowds thinned down, to (unsuccessfully) hunt for some cemetery records for a few ancestors in Michigan.

Syllabus materials are available for free for a limited time at Videos will soon be available as well, for the keynote addresses and some sessions. LiveStreaming is available every morning of RootsTech on the home page at 8:00 AM, Mountain Standard Time.

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