Wednesday, February 05, 2014

RootsTech: Innovator Day

I'm at RootsTech, a Family History and Technology Conference in Salt Lake City. Today, Wednesday, was Innovator Day, and extra pre-conference day, dedicated to innovators and developers of technology that relates to genealogy. It was sponsored by FamilySearch. Here are my notes:

My roommates, Donna Potter Phillips and Cecily Cone Kelly, and I hit the Family History Library a little after 8:00 AM. I spent the next almost-two hours locating some deeds on microfilm for my YORK and SWEERS families. Then we went around the corner to the Salt Palace to register for RootsTech and today's Innovator Summit.

I had chosen the following sessions to attend:

The General Session, with a Keynote and a boxed lunch, was opened by Andrew Fox of findmypast, who announced a new single platform; a multitude of new records from around the world, including South Asia; integration of the FamilySearch tree with findmypast; and a new multimedia app, coming out in a few weeks, in which audio recordings and photos can be stored and shared. This announcement was followed by the keynote address by Chris Dancy of BMC. He has been dubbed "The Most Quantified Human," as he utilizes analytics to measure almost everything about himself. His presentation was humorous and quirky, and its main gist is that death has a new meaning in today's digital age. People remain immortalized online, particularly in social media. Where the Egyptians had a Book of the Dead for the living to learn spells to keep them living on in the afterlife, today's society has Facebook, Twitter, and plethora of apps and websites to interact with the dead and to keep themselves "alive" in the afterlife. One simple example is how dead people can continue to be tagged on Facebook. The examples became more complex, in which he told about going to Las Vegas and seeing a show with a hologram of Michael Jackson, wearing clothes he had never worn in real life, singing a song he had never sung before. Chris reminded us that when we die, we will continue to live on digitally in ways we never imagined. Our descendants will discover many things about us, most of which we already manipulate. It was rather a mind-boggling thought.

By the way, the hall was pretty full, and we got the last few seats before they opened the overflow room for the General Session. I was fortunate to sit right next to Paul Nauta, Senior Manager of Marketing at FamilySearch. It was nice to finally meet him, and I was honored that he remembered that I was a blogger!

The first regular session I attended was "A New Tool for Recording, Analyzing, and Displaing Genetic Relationships from Y-DNA, mtDNA, and Autosomal-DNA" by Capers McDonald of Johns Hopkins University. He presented a new numbering system, versus the traditional ahnentafel numbering system, based on each of the DNA tests for ease of use and understanding of the results of those tests. More can be viewed at the website, I thought this was a fascinating idea and hope that the developers of genealogical software include these numbering systems in the future for research reports.

The second session was "GOV - The Genealogical Gazetteer" by Timo Kracke. GOV does not stand for "government," but is an German acronym for The Genealogical Gazetteer. Timo spoke about the difficulty of naming particular places in genealogical software due to the fact that a location may have more than one name, simultaneously; or may have had different names over the course of history. Add to the complication that the location may be in several jurisdictions (government or ecclesiastical), whose borders and/or names also changed or may be duplicated elsewhere. Finally, there is the difficulty of using GPS to define a place; the questions that arise are: What specific coordinate designates the place? Is it the church? Which church? The town hall? Supposed it moved? Timo explained that the purpose of GOV is to use place identification that will overcome all these challenges. It is a collaborative project, wiki-style, in which he encourages others to participate. To view the website, go to

By now, I was getting a bit tired, but I went to my next choice, "Building Data Models for the Research Process" by Dr. Luther Tychonievich of the University of Virginia. That was a good choice, because he was an animated speaker, so even though much of what he spoke about stretched my brain until it hurt, I did stay awake! The description of his class, as stated in the syllabus, was: "Storing data representing individual research steps instead of researcher beliefs reduces collaboration disagreements and import and export problems and simultaneously supports all levels of researcher maturity. I provide both a theoretic overview and a proof-of-concept implementation of such a data model." It was a lot to absorb and try to think about!

Finally, I set off for "Empirical Evidence of the Popularity of Family History Using Digital Traces," by Dr. Arnon Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University. Setting out to find evidence of the statement that is oft-bandied about regarding genealogy being the fastest-growing hobby on the Internet, he discovered and analyzed evidence from Twitter that shows it is actually decreasing in popularity. However, when combined with data mined from other media, including printed books, genealogy increased as a whole significantly beginning in 1976, when Roots was published. It has only slightly decreased, as a whole, since 2002.

I left the final session a few minutes early, as I had a ProGen meetup at the Marriott lounge. There were only half a dozen of us, but we got our photo taken. We all had other dinner plans, so we parted ways after about a half an hour. It was very nice meeting them all and especially a couple members with whom I've been long-time friends on Facebook.

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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