Newsletter reader John Ralls has submitted the following report from the RootsTech conference. John also contributed a number of pictures. NOTE: You can click on any image to view a larger picture:
RootsTech proper began today, starting with a keynote, as it does every day.
First up, after an intro from Shipley Munson, was FamilySearch CEO Dennis Brimhall, who led off with a "top 10 reasons to come to RootsTech," then talked about some FamilySearch initiatives to reach out to people in less developed countries who don't have access to high-speed internet. These include a small booklet called "MyFamily" for families to write down (with a pen or pencil!) facts and memories about their immediate families. FamilySearch has distributed 1.7 million of these books in Asia and Africa. The other initiative in development is a text message (SMS to phone geeks) interface to the FamilySearch databases. This began after Brimhall observed that around 10% of people in less developed countries have access to a computer, but it seemed everyone has a cellphone. He expects development to take another year.
Brimhall was joined on stage by "Captain Jack Starling" to declare that "dead men tell no tales, but their obituaries do" and kick off Family Search's latest indexing initiative. FamilySearch has partnered with an unspecified number of databases to obtain "millions" of obituary images, but to make them really useful they need to be indexed. They're hoping for a response similar to the one they got for the 1940 Census last year, where they had a peak of over 250 thousand indexers; since that project completed the number of continuing indexers has been about 130 thousand.
Brimhall talked next about partnerships and the need to leverage as many resources as possible to bring online the 70 million records FamilySearch estimates currently exist and to do so in the next 3 decades instead of the next 3 centuries. He went on to catalog many of the current partnerships with companies, software developers, and societies.
Shipley Munson came back to introduce Josh Taylor of FindMyPast.com to introduce the new CEO of the newly-named D.C. Thompson Family History (perhaps better known by its former name, brightsolid), Analiese van den Belt.
After telling her own story of how she came to D.C. Thompsen, Van den Belt laid out what she sees as the future for the genealogy data provider community. She envisions it resting on three pillars, Partnerships, Volunteers, and Connections. She illustrated the first with Thompsen's own list of partnerships including the British Library, the Imperial War Musuem, Scotland's People, and the Allen County Public Library (for whom FindMyPast will be publishing the new PERSI). She mentioned that there would be a new API for developers to connect to Thompsen's various databases and new mobile apps without giving any details of either, and she expressed a desire to reproduce and catalog privately held records like a box of mementos that her mother had brought out when she asked about her own family history after taking the job with Thompsen. At the end of her presentation, Shipley Munson came back out, announced that today is van den Belt's birthday, and presented her with a bouquet.
The last presenter of the day was Ree Drummond who recounted her story of starting a blog which spawned a series of cookbooks, a TV show, and a series of children's books about Charlie, her basset hound.
With the end of the first keynote, the conference began in earnest with the opening of the exhibit hall and the first round of sessions.
This year's "cyber cafe" includes a free soda stand and comfortable seating.
I attended a session on GedcomX which was interesting mostly because Ryan Heaton promised that his team would make more effort to finish up the loose ends and to re-engage the public. He did note that GedcomX is used as the data transfer mechanism for all of FamilySearch's partners both large (Ancestry, MyHeritage, Thompsen) and small (RootsMagic, AncestralQuest, and some 30 others) "whether they know it or not".
I also attended the annual Genetic Genealogy panel discussion with (left to right in the photo) Dr. Spencer Wells of National Geographic's Genographic Project, Kenny Freestone of Ancestry.com, Dr. Tim Janzen M.D., Bennet Greenspan of Family Tree DNA, and moderator CeCe Moore, author of the "Your Genetic Genealogist" blog.
This was an entirely audience-directed Q&A, with most of the questions being about specific genetic genealogy problems. One more interesting exception was a request for each panelist to make near-term predictions about the future:
Dr. Wells led off by saying that early last year the genetics industry had tested its millionth customer after 10 years in business, and that the second-millionth person would be tested early this year, if he or she hadn't been already. That's pretty startling growth, and along with that growth he thinks the public at large has become a lot more knowledgeable about genetics. He sees both trends continuing along with progressively larger tests, meaning more base pairs. That enormous growth of data will allow rapid refinement of the science leading to more accurate and more meaningful genetic-genealogical conclusions.
Freestone largely echoed Dr. Wells's predictions. Dr. Janzen after acknowledging that he's well known for pushing chromosome phasing (determining which DNA segment comes from what ancestor) said that he expects it to become standard practice, either offered directly by the DNA vendors or from third parties like GedMatch if they fail to.
Greenspan also predicted more accurate and detailed tests. He announced that Family Tree DNA is working with Illumina, the sequencing equipment provider, to develop a test to sequence over 1 million base pairs on the Y chromosome in order to move the detection of MRCA reliably into genealogical time -- 2 to 4 hundred years.
Again, my thanks to John Ralls for his exhaustive report and great pictures!