OldNews USA Wins Innovator Showdown at RootsTech 2017

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 15 February 2017

RootsTech emcee Jason Hewlett awards first prize in the RootsTech Innovator Showdown to Bill Nelson for his OldNews USA app designed to help users quickly discover pieces of their family history in old U.S. newspapers.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • The OldNews USA mobile app browses newspapers to help find family history information.
  • The app allows you to enter a name, date range, and location to find information.
  • OldNews USA uses data from more than 11 million newspaper pages.

OldNews USA, a mobile app that allows you to use a smartphone to browse newspapers for family history information, has taken the top honors in the Innovator Showdown at RootsTech 2017, the world’s largest family history technology conference.

Bill Nelson, designer of the program, won in a field of five finalists, who presented their ideas to five judges in front of an audience of some 14,000 live and online viewers February 10 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

The designer from Auburn, Massachusetts, received $95,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.

“Newspaper research is fast and efficient,” he told the judges and the audience. “You can find information from newspapers that may not be available anywhere else.”

But, he said, newspaper research with a browser is difficult, slow, and tedious, especially for the novice who may not be acquainted with efficient search strategies.

With OldNews USA, the user enters a name, date range, and location. The program automatically suggests newspapers most likely to contain articles about the person one is searching.

“You don’t have to be an expert in geography to get started,” he said.

“When you view a newspaper page, you can review each highlighted word by tapping on a screen. It tells you when you’ve reviewed them all. You don’t need a big screen for newspaper research.

“Once you find an article, you save it as a clipping or a PDF. The app even creates a full source citation for you embedded in the clipping.”

The app uses the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” collection of more than 11 million newspaper pages from 1789 to 1922 as its database.

Second place in the competition ($44,000 cash and in-kind prizes) went to the Qroma tag mobile app for embedding stories into pictures, tagging them by voice commands, and making the data accessible on various platforms.

Taking third place ($26,000 cash and in-kind prizes) was Double Match Triangulator, an app to help sort DNA matches into groups of relatives.

The People’s Choice award, determined by having audience members present for the showdown text their preferences, went to Kindex, an app designed to help users create searchable, shareable archives of family letters and other documents using tags to help users easily locate information.

The five finalists in the showdown, selected earlier in the week from more than 40 applicants in the United States and Europe, each took three minutes to make a pitch to the judges and the audience, then answered questions posed by some of the judges.

The five judges for the showdown were Alan Doan, CEO of Missouri Star Quilt Co.; John Richards, founder and CEO of Startup Ignition; Kenyatta Berry, host of the Genealogy Road Show; Thomas MacEntee, founder of High-Definition Genealogy; and Dalton J. Wright, partner in Kickstart Seed Fund.