RootsTech Attendees Report Learning Life Lessons from Family History

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Ryan Morgenegg

  • 23 February 2016

Zipporah Miles looks through a water feature at RootsTech in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, February 6, 2016.  Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

In only a few years, RootsTech has grown to be one of the biggest family history conferences around the world and brings thousands of people together—in the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City and visitors who watch online—to learn about the latest improvements and tools in the industry.

Numerous classes over the span of four days bring together beginners and experts of all ages to learn more about researching, creating, storing, and doing family history work. For some, attending RootsTech has become a tradition.

“Seeing beyond themselves”

“I love learning new things,” said Cheryl Freebairn, an attendee this year from the Orchard 7th Ward, Bountiful Utah Orchard Stake. “I love the excitement and learning that goes on here. It is neat being with people from all over, who all have this common love for family history work. You can feel the love for each other and our ancestors.”

Although she has been doing genealogy since she was a young girl, Sister Freebairn loves coming to RootsTech to learn about the new programs and ways to organize files. This year marks her third year attending the conference, and joining her were three of her siblings.

Ashley Pfahler talks to Linda Charles about Ancestry.com during RootsTech on Thursday, February 4, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

“Our mother was very into family history,” she said. “And from a young age I would ask stories and was always writing them down and recording them.” Although considered by others to be an “expert” in the field, Sister Freebairn said there is always more to learn.

“It is motivating to come,” she said. “The challenge is making sure I go home and do something with what I have learned.”

As a mother of 11 children and grandmother to 33, Sister Freebairn said her family members all know she loves family history work. For the past seven years she and her husband have given their grandchildren stories as gifts.

For her, family history is more than names on a sheet of paper; it has been a teaching tool to help her—drawing from her father’s words—“be the best no matter the situation.” She hopes her love of family history work teaches her grandchildren to do the same.

“It is important to know who they are and for them to see beyond themselves and their parents,” she said. “Life can be hard, and it is good to see that we’ve made it, their grandparents have made it, and they can too.”

Sharon Lane explores the Family Chartmasters booth—one of many booths in the exhibit hall—during RootsTech in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 4, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

“The thrill of the chase’”

Jan Gow, a gray-haired genealogist from Auckland, New Zealand, attended RootsTech this year for the third time. “I love the thrill of the chase,” she said. “Genealogy is like figuring out a puzzle, and it’s thrilling to put those pieces together.”

Mrs. Gow’s journey into family history started in 1981 when she won a free trip to the United States. Her friend suggested she stop in Salt Lake. “I had just put together a summary of my husband’s father’s genealogy on my typewriter, and I thought, why not?”

After four days in Salt Lake she was hooked. “All the skills I had developed up to that point in my life, my love for debate and research had prepared me for that moment.”

She went back to New Zealand and joined the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. Within six months she was named treasurer. She later served as president for three years.

Ian Pollock plays “Twisted Family History” during the Family Discovery Day of RootsTech on Saturday, February 6, 2016.
Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

“In 1992 a friend of mine called and said, ‘Jan, I want to go to Salt Lake City, and I want to go on a tour, and I want you to be the tour leader.’” So Mrs. Gow put together a tour and brought some friends to Salt Lake City in March of 1992. “This year we are doing our 25th tour,” she said. “Most tours spend a week or 10 days, but we do a three-week tour in Salt Lake. We want people to have a family history experience.”

Speaking about one of her most inspiring family history moments, Mrs. Gow said, “I recently met with a woman who was trying to find out more about her birth father. All she had was his name. I was able to find him and in the process discovered that he had eventually married her birth mother. This woman was in her 70s and had never known that her parents had been married. She was over the moon with the information.”

On a personal level, Mrs. Gow loves to talk about her relation to William the Conqueror and a famous English naturalist. “My favorite connection is Charles Darwin,” she said. “Many people know about him and his life. He and my fourth great-grandmother were cousins.”

Being heavily involved with genealogy for over 30 years, Mrs. Gow has a theory about why it attracts senior members of society. “We have challenges while we do genealogy, and we can overcome those challenges,” she said. “It gives us a feeling of success and achievement. That’s important to someone in their 60s, 70s, or 80s.”

Stephen Morrell scans family slides at the E-Z Photo Scan booth available during RootsTech on Saturday, February 6, 2016.
Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Diana Gillmore hands out genealogy charts during RootsTech on February 6, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.