Today’s Report from the RootsTech and FGS Conferences

Today was day #2 of the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference and day #1 of RootsTech. Both are being held in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. Combining two conferences into one is a daring experiment and, so far, it appears to be working well.

Today’s Keynote Session kicked off at 8:30 AM and included one of the most fascinating stories I have ever heard. More on that in a moment. When the Keynote Session ended, the Exhibits Hall opened for the first time and the mob surged in. “Mob” is the only word I can think of to describe the crowd.

This mob was not unruly or anything, but a sea of humanity filed out of the Keynote Session and walked a few steps to the Exhibits Hall. This is a huge convention center with large hallways but not wide enough to accommodate perhaps 10,000 people simultaneously. I tried to walk out at the end of the Keynote Session and encountered a wall of people moving slowly. It was similar to a traffic slowdown on an Interstate highway. I turned around, found a chair, pulled out my iPad, and worked on my email for perhaps ten minutes. By that time the traffic jam had almost disappeared. I then put the iPad away and walked to the Exhibits Hall at a normal walking pace.

When first entering the Exhibits Hall, two things instantly became obvious: (1.) it is huge and (2.) it is very, very crowded. It is the largest Exhibits Hall I have ever seen at a genealogy conference with 170 vendors and the hall was very crowded almost all day. I have been snapping pictures and hope to post many of them tomorrow.

Back to the Keynote Session.

Today’s session was sponsored by MyHeritage (also the sponsor of this newsletter). Steve Rockwood, Vice-President of International at FamilySearch, first welcomed attendees to the fifth annual RootsTech conference. He was obviously pleased with the huge crowd and he should be. He called this year’s event “the world’s largest family history conference.”

Kenyatta D. Berry, D. Joshua Taylor, and Mary Tedesco, the hosts of the popular “Genealogy Roadshow” program on PBS, appeared next and talked about the Preserve the Pension Records project sponsored by the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Those 180,000 pension files are amongst some of the heaviest used documents at the National Archives and Records Administration. However, they have never been digitized or even microfilmed. The records exist only on paper, stored in Washington, D.C. Access is difficult and expensive for those who live in other parts of the country. The new preservation project will make those records available free of charge worldwide. More than 50% of the goal has now been raised. You can read more about this worthy project at http://www.preservethepensions.org.

Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International, spoke next. He talked about the huge numbers of attendees from outside the U.S. and then asked all non-U.S. residents to please stand up. A lot of people rose from their chairs! I didn’t get the countries of everyone but I do know people are in attendance from the British Isles, many European countries, Israel, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and I saw a number of Oriental people although I did not learn where they all came from.

NOTE: I do speak a very little bit of Mandarin Chinese and I did hear some Mandarin being spoken in the hallways during the day. I also heard other Oriental languages that I could not recognize.

Dennis also reported the people from 49 U.S. states had registered. Hey, West Virginia, where were you?

Dennis Brimhall also reported that, as of Wednesday evening, 21,927 people had registered and obviously there will be more walk-in registrations over the next few days. In addition, more than 200,000 people will view videos of many of this week’s sessions at “Mini RootsTech” sessions being held worldwide. He also showed pictures of last year’s “Mini RootsTech” event in Nigeria as an example of the work being done outside of Salt Lake City.

Dennis also talked about the Volunteer Indexing Initiative project that has indexed more than 100 million names in the past year alone. The work was performed by 319,000 volunteers, adding 1.3 million names every day. Yes, well over one million names being indexed PER DAY so that you, me, and millions of other genealogists can easily find the information we seek.

One new feature of FamilySearch’s software for searching for people is the new Record Hints that suggest original records that probably are relevant to the names entered by users. For instance, if you are looking for an ancestor in a town in Wisconsin around 1870, the Record Hints will suggest you look at the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census records for that town as well as any city directors that may be available. Clicking on a link takes the user to the page and even the line in that record source that contains the ancestor’s name. The Record Hints has been measured at about 98% accuracy, a phenomenal number in my opinion.

Other items mentioned during Dennis’ presentation include (I was taking notes furiously and am not certain I captured everything):

  • Partnerships with MyHeritage, Ancestry.com, Family.me, FindMyPast, and others
  • Recently added images of 80 million Mexican church and civil records, in partnership with Ancestry. ALL of these records will be indexed, decades earlier than would have been done alone by either Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.
  • FindMyPast has partnered with FamilySearch to cooperatively index and publish records worldwide.
  • MyHeritage has added many cooperative records with FamilySearch plus made the company’s Library Edition available in local FamilySearch centers around the world.
  • New partnerships have been reached with the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Family.me, Global Family Reunion, and others.
  • A gallery of apps that work with FamilySearch database is growing rapidly. Check https://familysearch.org/apps/ for the current list.

Family Discoveries” is a phrase heard over and over at this year’s conferences. It refers to seasoned genealogists and to newcomers alike, showing the thrill that occurs when finding new information about earlier generations of the family. A video was shown of MyHeritage’s recent experience setting up public kiosks in New York City. It was fun watching the faces of obvious newcomers to genealogy as they discovered new information available online.

Mike Mallin, Chief Product Officer at MyHeritage, spoke next. He referred to a famous saying by Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Today’s technology allows for near-magic experiences from each person’s discoveries. He gave an example of two MyHeritage customers who were third cousins and found each other’s data on MyHeritage. Each was able to contribute information about earlier generations that the other did not know. Similar experiences have been enjoyed by millions using not only MyHeritage but also many of the other companies in this partnership of organizations.

The final presenter also was the one who riveted the entire audience.

Tan Le is the founder & CEO of EMOTIV, a bioinformatics company advancing understanding of the human brain using electroencephalography (EEG). She is a technology innovator, entrepreneur, business executive and sought-after speaker. Emotiv Insight, the company’s latest product, was recently awarded a coveted Edison Awards for Lifestyle and Social Impact 2014.

Tan Le is the recipient of numerous awards including the Australia’s Global Innovation Award in 2014, National Geographic Emerging Explorer 2013, Advance Global Australian Award for ICT in 2012, AutoVision Innovations Award, Monash University Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011. She has been featured in the Who’s Who in Australia list since 1999, Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology in 2010 and Forbes’ 50 Names You Need to Know in 2011. She has also been an Ambassador for the Status of Women since 2001. Named Young Australian of the Year in 1998, Ms Le’s story was featured National Museum of Australia. She has been honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader since 2009.

Whew! That is a long list of accomplishments by itself. However, Tan Le’s talk about her family’s experiences was even more interesting.

Her earliest memories are when she was four years old and was floating in a small, open, former tugboat disguised as a fishing boat in the open ocean. She was with her family and more than 100 other people crammed into a small fishing boat/tugboat with no beds, no chairs, little sanitation, little food and no place below decks to escape the sun or the storms. She, her family, and the 100+ others were trying to escape from Viet Nam as the government there collapsed.

Obviously this was a harrowing experience. However, the audience grew quiet when Tan Le mentioned that her mother carried a small bottle of poison to protect herself, her elderly mother, and her daughters from possible capture by the pirates. Death was a preferable alternative to what had happened to other refugees.

Numerous problems arose. The boat’s engine failed but was restarted 6 hours later. They eventually found an oil rig on the high seas. One man on the boat collapsed and died from joy upon seeing the oil rig.

The oil rig crew took all the occupants on board and eventually managed to provide transportation for all of them to Australia. Tan Le had one memory of an Australian man on the oil rig giving her an apple. She remembered how sweet it tasted. Keep in mind that the four-year-old had little to eat for several days before that.

At this point, you could have heard a pin drop anywhere amongst the several thousand people in the audience.

Tan Le then told a great story about her grandfather’s life in Saigon and his life being destroyed by history. She also told of her efforts at creating a memorial to her grandfather as well as to her mother who led the family through unbelievable difficulties and then raised her daughters in Australia, starting when they did not speak the local language and could only find unskilled jobs at the very bottom of the economic ladder. Her mother learned English and made sure her daughters received the best possible eduction. The mother eventually started her own business. and succeeded. Tan Le made one statement that will stick in my mind for years: “Yes history may crush us, but we endured.” “I EVENTUALLY REALIZED IT IS OK TO BE AN OUTSIDER.”

At the end of her talk, Tan Le received a standing ovation. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

I cannot possibly describe this talk properly. You HAVE to watch the video when it appears soon on www.RootsTech.org. You won’t forget it any time soon.

Tomorrow’s Keynote Session will be sponsored by Findmypast. Keynote Speakers will include: D. Joshua Taylor, Director of Family History at Findmypast; Laura W. Bush, Former First Lady and her daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, NBC Today Show Correspondent.

You can watch it live as it is streamed on www.RootsTech.org at 8:30 AM Mountain time.

6 Comments

It’s a great conference BUT the organizers should have put more effort into coordinating their program streams. Their schedules are in different formats, the timing of sessions isn’t complimentary and they are at different ends of the building. We had to copy and paste the topics into a spreadsheet to try and make sense of it all. Otherwise it is a super conference.

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    I’ll bet there will be more coordination the next time around between competing needs of workshops and attendees. These kinds of events–especially the huge ones–are complicated beyond belief. That you still find it to be “a super conference” despite the difficulties is a great testament to its success. Hopefully you’ll feel the same way when it’s over and you’re fairly exhausted!

    Great reports, Dick!

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Thank you Dick. Your reports are the next best thing to being there. I can only imagine 10K people in one place. And all interested in genealogy – it boggles my mind.

The head of our local Family History Center is attending, so for the first time ever, the Chapala, JAL, Mexico Genealogy Forum is represented at RootsTech. Woo whoo!

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I’d be there if I could representing WV!! Not possible at present.

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I listened to Tan Le’s presentation. The saga of escape and deprivation are stark. How many of us could have endured?
OTOH I sensed an underlying animus toward men; maybe that’s a result of Tan Le’s culture. I did not find it as appropriate in this setting. Sometimes an activist pushes the envelope to an extreme degree.
The delivery was clear but high flown in my view and maybe even a bit ego driven.
One cannot gainsay her obvious success. I could say more but that suffices.

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Do you know where I can find where and when mini-rootstech conferences will be held this year?

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