Thousands Find Synergy at RootsTech Conference

  • 11 February 2011

Article Highlights

  • Thousands from around the world attended the new RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City in person and online.
  • The conference brought together family history enthusiasts and technology creators to collaborate.

“Other genealogy conferences cover things like education and genealogy societies, but this is the only one doing technology.”

—Thomas MacEntee, founder of High-Definition Genealogy of Chicago

Some 3,000 genealogy and technology enthusiasts from all over the world—with potentially tens of thousands more participating online—participated in the first annual RootsTech Family History Conference, held in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

The three-day, first-of-its-kind conference, created and sponsored by FamilySearch, was designed to bring together those who are involved with family history work and those who create the technology they use. That collaboration was meant to help identify and solve problems that geneaologists face.

“Innovation Comes with Synergy” was one of the themes of the day.

“It’s very unusual to have a technology and genealogy conference,” said Thomas MacEntee, founder of High-Definition Genealogy of Chicago. “Other genealogy conferences cover things like education and genealogy societies, but this is the only one doing technology.”

Technology is no longer just about increasing productivity, said keynote speaker Shane Robison, executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer of Hewlett Packard. Today it’s about communication, collaboration, information access, and creation.

With two billion people online, contributing more and more information, access to that information and ways to make use of it presents both challenges and opportunities. “Information is quite possibly the most important natural resource,” Mr. Robison said.

Finding ways to meet those challenges and take advantage of the opportunities was one of the purposes of organizing RootsTech, according to Jay Verkler, chief executive officer of FamilySearch.

“FamilySearch is committed to working with others to provide the records and resources that help people discover their family history,” said Brother Verkler. “We believe that one of the best ways to achieve that goal is to encourage new technologies that can make it even easier for people to find their ancestors.”

Mr. MacEntee said the family history market is becoming too large for hardware and software developers to ignore. “Genealogy is a $1.2 billion a year industry in the United States,” he said. “When something new comes out, like the iPad last summer, already we are thinking, ‘How are we going to use this in genealogy?’”

The opportunity to learn new ways to access family history information through the latest technologies is what brought many of the conference attendees to Salt Lake.

“I want to find the best ways to access manuscripts and find stories and histories of my family, not just the names and dates,” said Pam Duce, who traveled from Idaho for the conference. “It’s a matter of showing respect and love for them by finding out about them.”

Conference participants could choose from more than 40 classes on various genealogical and technological interests. Vendors featured the latest products, tools, and services available. Other areas at the conference featured collaboration stations that allowed participants to share ideas, a family history mini-lab, and high-tech product demos. There was even a RootsTech “playground” where participants could unwind by playing games.

Many of FamilySearch’s approximately 80,000 family history consultants around the world participated online during digital sessions of the conference.

“The conference is a great experiment,” said the author of The Ancestry Insider, a popular family history blog. “I really love the idea of getting together the producers of technology and programs and the users of those programs and letting them have more direct communication.”