Thursday, February 06, 2014

RootsTech: Day One

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

This morning's General Session and Keynote was opened by Opened by Shipley Munson, Marketing Director of FamilySearch International. He listed the following statistics for RootsTech 2014:

  • There are over 8,000 registered attendees
  • On Saturday, we will be joined by over 4,000 youth for Youth Day
  • Attendees have come from 49 states (none from South Dakota!) and 32 countries
  • Over 15,000 will be watching the live stream sessions online
  • There are over 137 exhibitors
  • Over 200 sessions are being offered from the top genealogists and innovators from around the world

He then introduced the CEO and President of FamilySearch International, Dennis Brimhall, who welcomed us to the fourth annual RootsTech. Next Monday, volunteers will begin working on RootsTech 2015, which will be held in conjunction with the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference here in Salt Lake City on February 12-14 (Innovator Day will be February 11th). Dennis also mentioned that there are currently 622 RootsTech Family History Fairs being held globally in tandem with the Salt Lake RootsTech. Last year, there were only 16 with an average of 200 people each. It is estimated, then, that over 150,000 people around the world will participate in a RootsTech experience this week.

Dennis then highlighted these areas of focus for FamilySearch:

  1. Stories -  FamilySearch has made it easier to share stories and photos on their website with the Memories Tab, where you can upload photos, stories, and documents. In the past year, 150,000 people uploaded 12 million sources; an average of 500 stories a day. For those who do not have access to computers, a paper approach to preserving family history has been created. "My Family" booklets (1.7 million of them) in 27 languages have been shipped out to locations world-wide in an effort to gather and preserve family stories. The end result is to have these be added online. Finally, a texting app for cell phones (not smartphones) is in development so that those who don't have either computers or smartphones can use their cell phones to build a family tree online.
  2. Records - Dennis' presentation was interrupted by a pirate, Captain Jack Starling, informed us that dead men tell no tales, but their obituaries do! Obits contain stories that are locked away. The next big FamilySearch Indexing project will focus on indexing this record group. FamilySearch has signed several agreements, with more pending, to get millions of obituaries online. Currently, there are one billion indexed records now on FamilySearch, thanks to the volunteer indexers, with 267 camera crews currently imaging 5.3 billion records in North and South America and Europe...BUT there are 10 billion waiting, at risk to damage and destruction. It will take 300 years to index what already has been imaged, so FamilySearch must change what they are doing.
  3. Partners - The way that change can happen so that the records can be imaged, indexed, and available within one generation (the goal) is to partner with other organizations and corporations. One example is in Guatemala, where the government is contributing 30 camera crews to image their records, while FamilySearch will be hosting and indexing these records online. FamilySearch has announced major partnering with Ancestry, findmypast, and MyHeritage in obtaining records. These partnerships will allow LDS members to have free access to these subscription websites in their homes, and the public will be allowed to access them for free at FamilySearch Centers. In addition, FamilySearch has over 30 certified partners, including software companies Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, and RootsMagic; societies such as the New England Historic and Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies; and app companies FamilyMap and Puzilla.

D. Joshua Taylor (Genealogy Road Show) introduced the first keynote speaker, Annalies van den Belt of findmypast. She talked a bit about her own family history, and then the vision of findmypast. One of the most important projects is digitizing the documents of the Imperial War Museum, which has collected documents, photos, and stories of thousands of individuals who served as soldiers or on the home front during World War I. The second speaker was Ree Drummond, who blogs at The Pioneer Woman and now has a cooking show. Her down-home speech was about the importance of writing down the everyday stories so that someday they may be enjoyed by future generations.


The first session I attended was Tom Jones's "Can a Complex Research Problem Be Solved Online?" I was fortunate to get a seat, since the room was packed. Tom brought us through the convoluted but fascinating story of a man who was married five times to four wives, used three fictitious names, has numerous children, and who was missing in many census and vital records.

At the lunch break, I peeked into the vendor hall, but it was too crowded for my liking, so I ended up heading outside the convention center for a quiet, relaxed lunch. I returned to attend "Treasures Within the Ivory Tower: Finding Family in Academic Archives" by Laura Prescott. This focused on the wealth of documents, photos, and even artifacts found within university and college archives and libraries, offline. Laura used their websites, as well as demonstrating using NUCMC and OCLC to locate where resources can be found for your ancestors, their siblings, or their neighbors. She reminded us that even if our ancestors didn't attend college, they may have worked for one and be listed in employee records, or they may have simply donated their own family collections to be preserved at a university archive.

The next session I wanted to attend, "DIY Publishing for the Family Historian: Tips, Tricks, and Tools" by Lisa Alzo, was cancelled because Lisa had been unable to arrive on time due to the bad weather impeding flights back east. The other session I had wanted to attend, "Google Hangouts 101a: The Panelists' View" by Pat Richley, required pre-registration; I didn't have a ticket because I had intended to attend Lisa's presentation. While there sixteen other great choices, I decided I was a bit tired and decided to take another break in which I planned out what I would look for at my next trip to the Family History Library.

The last session of the day was Elissa Scalise Powell's "Genealogy Online Courses Exposed!" Elissa gave an "under the hood" look at the major online courses available, from the Boston University certificate program to ProGen and everything in between. She first differentiated between what a beginner, intermediate, or advanced researcher will look for in a conference or what they want to learn. She then covered the cost; time commitment; credit, certificate or degree obtained (if applicable) from each course; and the showed the type of platform each course uses in communicating and uploading assignments. It was very thorough.

After dinner, I went back to the Salt Palace to see Vocal Point, an a cappella group who has performed on The Sing-Off. I especially enjoyed their "12 Days of Christmas." After, I went to the Family History Library for an hour and a half of research. I was able to obtain and copy Washington State death certificates on microfilm for my ancestor, Mary Lucy (WRIGHT) STRONG, and my children's ancestors, John Franklin MIDKIFF Sr., John Franklin MIDKIFF Jr., and Albert Francis CHAPLIN Sr.

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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