NOTE: I took dozens of photos at this year's RootsTech Conference, so many that I cannot squeeze all of them into this article. I will show a few of them here, but my complete photo album may be seen at a dedicated address: http://blog.eogn.com/photos/rootstech13/. When you go to that address, you will see an online photo album with thumbnail-sized images. Click on any image or scroll through the album pages to see larger photos.There is only one word to describe this year's RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City: Whew!
The RootsTech Conference is now the largest genealogy conference in North America. Actually, it earned that title last year but then grew by more than 50% this year. I know it was big because I am exhausted. My feet hurt, my back hurts, I haven't had much sleep, and I am tired. In other words, it was a great conference!
Sponsored by Family Search, the RootsTech Conference was held for three days at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. More than 6,700 people from 49 U.S. States (why was no one there from Delaware?) and 17 countries were in the Salt Palace Convention Center for the opening day of the RootsTech Conference on March 21. I never heard the final attendance numbers, but I saw a long line of people on the opening day waiting to purchase tickets at the door. Obviously, the final number was higher than 6,700.
That number does not include the nearly 2,000 teen-agers who attended a special "genealogy for youth" session on Saturday. Boy Scout merit badges for genealogy were awarded to many at this session. If you add in the teen-agers, the total attendance at RootsTech 2013 had to be nearly 9,000 individuals.
As if that isn't enough, another 10,000 people viewed classes and events via live streaming online video, and another 4,000 participated by remote satellite broadcast at Family History centers in 17 locations in seven countries, including the United States, according to FamilySearch.
That totals about 23,000 people, give or take a few, who attended or at least watched some part of RootsTech2003. Who says the popularity of genealogy is slipping?
"Now, hang onto your hat. You ain't seen nuthin' yet."
Buoyed by this year's success, FamilySearch announced on the opening day a plan to export RootsTech to 16 locations around the U.S. and in several countries later this year. The intent is to hold local "technology within genealogy" sessions at each of the 16 locations, all of them to be conducted in the local language. Probably none of them will attract the crowds seen last week in Salt Lake City, but each session is expected to attract hundreds of local attendees, possibly even a few thousand.
As if that wasn't enough, FamilySearch also announced plans for next year: not only will a big conference be held again in Salt Lake City (mark your calendar for February 6 through 8, 2014), but that conference will also be exported next year to 600 locations worldwide. Yes, that's 600 locations, meaning there will be an average of more than 10 RootsTech conferences EACH WEEK.
Total expected attendance in 2014 will be about 120,000 live attendees at these worldwide locations. When was the last time you heard genealogy conference organizers discuss attendance figures of 120,000 attendees?
I think that is a huge goal. However, I also suspect FamilySearch is capable of meeting it.
I have attended all of the past RootsTech conferences and, up until this week, I had planned to attend all future RootsTech conferences. I am now puzzling over how I can attend 600 conferences next year in locations all over the world. I guess I will have to modify my plans.
All three of the keynote sessions were broadcast with live video on the Internet. The videos were also saved and are being released on http://www.rootstech.org. If you were unable to attend or to view the live event, you can watch the recorded versions online at your leisure at http://www.rootstech.org. The videos from the Thursday and Friday morning events are available now. I suspect you will want to view them. As I write these words, Saturday's keynote speeches are listed as "Coming Soon." I believe the Saturday video will appear on http://www.rootstech.org/ within a day or two.
Here is a day-by-day synopsis of the keynote speeches:
Thursday, March 21, sponsored by FindMyPast.com
RootsTech2013 opened on a snowy day. We only saw snowflakes in the air with no accumulation in Salt Lake City. However, the nearby suburbs received several inches of new snow.
The opening session was held in a huge room. I estimate there were about 3,000 chairs in the room, and they were all filled. Shipley Munson, head of Marketing at FamilySearch, served as master of ceremonies/moderator/ringmaster at all three early-morning sessions with various keynote speakers. He started by announcing the attendances figures as of that time.
The first speaker was Dennis Brimhall, President and CEO of Family Search International. He gave an interesting talk about the history of FamilySearch and then described future plans, including the plan for 600 or so RootsTech conferences next year.
Dennis also stressed that names, dates, and places are the bricks of family history, as most of us already know. He then stated that technology is the mortar that ties all these bricks together. Once the technical support is in place, family historians then can add the stories and pictures.
Dennis was adamant that FamilySearch cannot do this alone. Instead, FamilySearch needs partners and encourages others, including volunteers, non-profits, and commercial companies, to join in. A perfect example is the recent transcription of the 1940 U.S. census, the largest census released to date and the biggest "crowd sourcing" effort ever held by genealogists. The effort was completed in an unexpected short time, thanks to the efforts of 200,000 volunteers around the world plus Herculean efforts of several commercial companies. Dennis also discussed new indexing projects presently underway.
Dennis then told a moving story about his father's World War 2 experiences, as documented by Dennis' daughter. I cannot repeat all of it here, so I suggest you watch the video of Dennis Brimhall's speech at http://www.RootsTech.org instead.
Another project discussed was the effort to record the lives of every person. One fact he stressed is that 40% of people alive today in the world will leave no records behind. In reality, every person deserves to be remembered, and his or her life should be recorded.
Dennis also invited every attendee to record his or her own life and the lives of those close to them so that future descendants can better understand what our lives were like. What if your great-grandparents had a video camera? Wouldn't you hope that the great-grandparents had preserved the video tapes? In turn, you should take advantage of today's technology. Will YOUR great-grandchildren feel the same about your videos? "What will our great-grandchildren wish we had done?"
The next speaker was Syd Lieberman, a well-known teacher, author, and story teller. Syd is the recipient of many awards for his story telling efforts. You can learn more about his background at Syd’s web site at http://www.sydlieberman.com/. He gave a great talk about his own childhood, his remembrances, and then compared those experiences to today's opportunities.
The final keynote speaker on Thursday was D. Joshua Taylor, lead genealogist at FindMyPast.com and president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Josh always delivers great presentations, and this keynote speech was no exception. I suggest you watch the video at http://www.RootsTech.org.
As the keynote session ended, I had the pleasure to watch 3,000+ genealogists rush to the RootsTech Expo Hall. It was dedicated time for the vendors; no other events took place for more than an hour. The crowd was so great that I remained behind in the keynote area for a while in order to avoid the throng.
Friday, March 22, sponsored by Ancestry.com
The snow continued.
Opening remarks again were given by Shipley Munson, head of Marketing at FamilySearch. He introduced Jyl Johnson Pattee, founder of Mom It Forward (at http://momitforward.com/), and Girls’ Night Out (at http://momitforward.com/gno), Twitter parties where women and brands such as Tide, Johnson and Johnson, BabyCenter, General Mills and more connect weekly, 140 characters at a time. She is also the co-organizer of the evo Conference, which focuses on social media (see http://evoconference.com/). In addition, she was named as one of Parents Magazine's top ten power moms.
Jyl’s talk Capture the WOW! was about how to capture (and preserve) memorable moments in your own life or the lives of your closest relatives. Audio, photography, video, and writing are all available to each of us. One statement she made struck me as something we should all realize: "The things we do today will become history tomorrow." In other words, don't procrastinate because you won't have the experience fresh in your memory later. Record NOW while the experiences are fresh in your mind.
Jyl emphasized that it is now easy to archive your life history. We have multiple places to do that: blogs, books, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, journals, Pinterest, scrapbooks, Twitter, YouTube, and much more. She used an example of her family sharing Jyl's grandmother's favorite recipe (banana cookies) that all her grandchildren remember well. Jyl and her cousins are now passing on the recipe and the story behind it to their children and grandchildren. The result is the preservation of a major item in grandma's life, something that will now be remembered for many years.
The final presentation of the Friday keynote was given by Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of Ancestry.com. He talked extensively about family history beginners, emphasizing that "Collaboration is the key!"
He also provided a lot of statistics about the growth of Ancestry.com. The company now has more 45 million trees uploaded, resulting in more than 4 billion people in the databases. The company has 174 million photos and scanned documents uploaded, along with 14 million written stories about deceased individuals. Two billion records have been attached to individuals’ records within their family trees. Ancstry.com and the company's subsidiaries now have 2.7 million subscribers supported by 1,200 employees around the world.
Tim asked, "Does someone else have a document in a shoebox at home that will solve your family history mystery?" If so, Ancestry.com and its subsidiaries may hold the answer.
Tim also announced a new version 4.1 of the iPhone/iPad app which will be available within the next few days. It will contain several new features. He also noted that more than a third of all new registrations on Ancestry.com come from mobile apps, and that percentage is increasing. I find that to be an interesting number.
Ancestry DNA now has more than 120,000 customer DNA samples, and that number is growing rapidly. The company has provided more than 4 million 4th cousin DNA matches to date. One major announcement was also made: as of Friday, Ancestry DNA now costs $99 for subscribers and non-subscribers alike.
Looking at the future, over the next five years, Ancestry will spend more than $100 million to digitize and index new content! A new collaboration between Ancestry.com and FamilySearch includes imaging and indexing of U.S. probate records (140 million records), a national database of wills, letters of administration, and other probate records from 1800 to 1930.
Closing out the session, Shipley Munson returned to the stage to announce the programming challenge winners. Details are available at: http://rootstech.org/challenges/overview.
Saturday, March 23, sponsored by MyHeritage.com
The third, and final, keynote session started again with Shipley Munson serving as host. He first introduced David Pogue, Personal Technology Columnist for the New York Times. You can read more about David at his personal web page at http://www.davidpogue.com/.
I have been reading David's column for years but had never met him or listened to his talks. I was blown away!
You have to watch this video! I cannot begin to describe it. He provided serious messages, he made dozens of jokes, and he provided videos of the latest trends in technologies. He then sat at a grand piano, playing and singing technology parodies of several famous songs. When was the last time you saw all that at a genealogy conference? Then again, when did you attend a genealogy conference where a speaker received a standing ovation? This crowd of perhaps 3,000 people stood up and cheered. Appropriately enough, as a techie, when the crowd stood, clapped, and cheered, David Pogue pulled an iPhone out of his pocket and recorded a video of the crowd cheering his efforts.
Pogue fired off jokes like a machine gun. There is no way I could write them fast enough to record all of the jokes. However, here are a few that stuck in my mind:
A new college student, obviously raised in a technology environment and probably familiar with Wikipedia.org, enters the college library for the first time and sees the first printed encyclopedia he has ever seen. He asks, "Dude, someone printed out the whole thing?"The next presentation was made by Ori Soen, Chief Marketing Officer of MyHeritage.com. He flew all the way from Israel to make the presentation. I don't envy any speaker who has to follow David Pogue, but Ori gave a great presentation as well. He didn't use humor, but he did provide the story of MyHeritage.com's phenomenal growth:
Another Pogue-ism: "It is dangerous to leap a chasm in two bounds."
I also enjoyed his reference to a "hellphone."
Formed in a garage in 2005, MyHeritage.com now has 150 employees in Israel, Los Angeles, Provo, and Europe. The company has 75 million users worldwide who use the company's services in 40 languages. MyHeritage.com is adding one million new profiles per day. The company also has a very strong international focus with many records from Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and even the Orient, as well as from western Europe, the British Isles, Scandinavia, and North America. If your ancestors came from any of these countries, you need to investigate MyHeritage.com.
Ori then introduced James Tanner, a well-known blogger from Arizona and a long-time user of MyHeritage.com. James talked at length about "genealogy elves" at MyHeritage.com, describing some of the company's services as "pure magic." He also talked about SmartMatching at some length. MyHeritage.com's SmartMatching technology finds potential records of your ancestors in traditional genealogy records as well as in local newspapers and elsewhere. It is probably the most sophisticated matching service available in the genealogy world. The record matching reportedly works with 97% accuracy, rarely providing inaccurate matches.
Disclaimer: MyHeritage.com is the sponsor of this newsletter, so someone might claim that I am biased. Perhaps I am, but I think I would write the same words even if the company was not a sponsor of this newsletter. I will also add that I have been reading James Tanner's writings for some time, and I find his words to be descriptive and reliable. I agree with James’ descriptions. For proof, watch the video of the keynote talk at http://www.RootsTech.org and then try MyHeritage.com for yourself.The final keynote session ended at this point, and thousands of genealogists headed to the Expo Hall and then later to the many presentations.
Again, I strongly invite you to watch the videos at RootsTech.org as the videos will provide images and audio that I cannot supply. Other videos available at http://www.RootsTech.org include a session entitled "The Future of Genealogy," where I was a panel member. We all offered suggestions as to the issues that face genealogists today as well as possible future solutions. I invite you to watch me, Thomas MacEntee, and others in the video. A number of other videos are available as well.
For more information about the presentations, the keynote speeches, and much more, look at http://www.RootsTech.org. I also invite you to look at my online photo album at http://blog.eogn.com/photos/rootstech13/ (scroll down and click on “Enter Gallery”). Most of the photos show the vendors and activities in the Expo Hall. Over the next several days, I hope to write more articles about the newer vendors and services I found at the conference, as well as audio podcasts and video "vidcasts" that I recorded with several "movers and shakers" in the genealogy community.