RootsTech Conference Aims to Connect Past, Present, and Future

Contributed By By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 20 February 2014

 Elder Dennis C. Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and an Area Seventy of the Church, speaks February 6 at the keynote session of RootsTech 2014.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • About 12,000 people attended the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City February 6–8, making it the largest gathering of its kind in North America.
  • Free access to FamilySearch partner websites will allow members online access to historical records and research tools of commercial companies at no cost.
  • Elder Brimhall asked for members to help index the millions of obituaries that will soon be published online.

From 49 states and 32 countries, family history enthusiasts converged in Salt Lake City February 6–8 for RootsTech 2014, hosted by FamilySearch International, the Church-operated family history service.

Now in its fourth year, RootsTech has become the largest gathering of its kind in North America, with some 8,000 adult and 4,000 youth attendees this year, said Shipley Munson, director of public outreach for FamilySearch.

But that is only a portion of its reach.

“We have 15,000 more who will be joining us online through Internet streaming,” said Elder Dennis C. Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO and an Area Seventy for the Church, during the opening keynote session February 6.

“But remember last year I said we would try to get RootsTech in 600 locations worldwide this year? We actually got it up to 622 worldwide locations at genealogical societies and other local family history fairs.” Elder Brimhall said a pilot effort last year put RootsTech in 16 locations with an average of 200 attendees at each. “Now do the math: if you take the number of locations plus what we have here, we expect this year to have a little over 150,000 people who will benefit from what’s taking place right here.”

That would make RootsTech by far the largest genealogical gathering of its kind in the world, Brother Munson said during a dinner for invited guests the night before RootsTech opened.

Many of the remote family history fairs will take place in coming weeks using recorded RootsTech content. The content will be available to local priesthood leaders to offer as local training or at community fairs. Those who have not yet signed up for download capability may do so by clicking here.

The conference offered more than 200 classes, events, and activities and an immense exhibit hall appealing to family history enthusiasts of various ages and skill levels. In addition to Elder Brimhall, keynote speakers included Ree Drummond, the “Pioneeer Woman” blogger and TV cooking show host; Stephanie Nielsen, whose blog recounts her survival and recovery from serious injuries in an airplane crash with her husband; and Todd Hansen, host of the Story Trek television show on BYU-TV that consists of random door-to-door interviews of average people revealing their stories.

The Saturday conference sessions included a Family Discovery Day track designed expressly for Latter-day Saints and included addresses from three General Authorities. One, featuring Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was directed toward the 4,000 youth who attended. The other two addresses were given by Elders Allan F. Packer and Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy.

Annelies van den Belt, CEO of DC Thompson Family History (formerly brighsolid) speaks at a keynote session of RootsTech 2014 on February 6. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Priesthood leaders and other Church members desiring to review the LDS sessions may access them at lds.org/rootstech.

In addition, keynote and other sessions of RootsTech 2014 can be viewed at the conference website, rootstech.org.

Information and announcements about a number of innovations in family history research were given in connection with the conference:

Photos and stories. This addition to the FamilySearch.org website was announced last year. To date, some 150,000 people have uploaded more than 2 million photos and stories to the site, and 12 million documents have been attached to ancestral entries, Elder Brimhall said at the keynote session.

Elder Dennis C. Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and an Area Seventy of the Church, speaks with pirate “Jack Starling” during his address at a keynote session of RootsTech 2014 on February 6. The pirate helped introduce a new volunteer indexing initiative of newspaper obituaries: “Dead men tell no tales—but their obituaries do!” Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

These days, a registered visitor to the website’s Family Tree is apt to find numerous photos or stories of one or more of his ancestors he has never seen, photos or stories that have been uploaded by one or more of his relatives who also use FamilySearch.

Elder Brimhall said he has found he can interest his own children in family history by emailing them a link to an ancestral photo on FamilySearch’s Family Tree.

“And then they begin to explore,” he explained.

Jokingly, he said, “I’ve learned the kids of today are emotionally, psychologically, physiologically incapable of not clicking on a link!”

Free access to FamilySearch partner websites. This was publicized February 4 and reported in the February 9 Church News. In short, FamilySearch has teamed with commercial family history companies such as Ancestry.com, Archives.com, findmypast, and MyHeritage to put the world’s historical records online in one generation.

What this means for Church members is that later this year, at a time to be announced, they will have free access via their home computers to the online collections and research tools of these commercial companies at no cost. In addition, patrons of the Church’s family history centers and libraries will have free access to the commercial websites.

Shipley Munson, marketing manager for FamilySearch International, gives a greeting at a keynote session for the RootsTech 2014 conference on February 6. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

“Starting in mid-2014, members will begin receiving individual invitations by email to create free personal accounts on any and all of these sites,” wrote Thom Reid, FamilySearch manager of partner marketing, in an online blog. “Those who have existing paid subscriptions with any of these companies will be given the option to convert their accounts to a free version when they receive their email invitation. Additional communications concerning broader access to these sites for all LDS members will be made as needed.”

Indexing by volunteers to make obituaries searchable online. A costumed actor portraying a pirate named Jack Starling was introduced at the opening keynote session and the dinner the night before.

“Dead men tell no tales—but their obituaries do!” the pirate exclaimed.

“You mean to tell me that obituaries contain stories about people who have passed on?” Elder Brimall asked.

“Aye, but they be shackled in the old printed page here, locked away like pirate treasure,” the pirate replied.

Ree Drummond, popular “Pioneer Woman” blogger, addresses a keynote session of RootsTech 2014. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Elder Brimhall explained to the audience, “We are excited to announce that we have signed several agreements and several more pending to publish literally hundreds of millions of searchable obituaries online. Now, what we’re going to need to make them so that you can really search them is thousands of people to help us get that indexing done.”

The FamilySearch goal for this year is to index 100 million names from obituaries.

The indexing opportunity is live now on FamilySearch.org, Elder Brimhall said. Those interested in helping to create the database may sign up to be a volunteer indexer at FamilySearch.org/indexing. A training video, indexing guide, and project indexing instructions are available there.

“Folks need to know that navigatin’ them obituaries be tricky business, so be sure to read them instructions before ye sets your indexin’ sails,” the pirate character cautioned the RootsTech audience.

See the related links for reports of General Authority addresses given at the Family Discovery Day.