What European Genealogy Industry Leaders Are Expecting at RootsTech’s Expansion in London

Contributed By Trent Toone, Deseret News

  • 7 March 2019

Fred Graham looks at Genealogy WallCharts displays during RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 28, 2019.  Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • RootsTech London will offer unique family history opportunities to attendees with European ancestry.

“We are so excited to take RootsTech to London and to spread the enthusiasm and passion that RootsTech ignites in our friends across the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.” —Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH

When David Nicholson and Hannah Morden-Nicholson first learned that RootsTech was coming to London, the husband-wife cofounders of LivingDNA.com, based just outside of England’s capital city, were more than thrilled.

“It just made sense,” Hannah said. “This is the next step for RootsTech. Let’s unite the U.S. and the U.K. and the European offering. We were like, great, bring it on.”

The Nicholsons’ reaction is typical of most in the global genealogy/family history industry.

Another collective cheer went up at the ninth annual RootsTech family history conference last week when FamilySearch International announced that registration had opened for RootsTech London.

The first international version of RootsTech is scheduled to take place October 24–26 at the ExCel London.

“We are so excited to take RootsTech to London and to spread the enthusiasm and passion that RootsTech ignites in our friends across the United Kingdom and throughout Europe,” Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, said in a news release. “People all over the world are experiencing a growing desire to learn more about their heritage, and this event will provide many people with the tools, learnings, and motivation to discover more about their families and themselves.”

In a FamilySearch video interview last January, event director Jen Allen echoed Rockwood’s thoughts.

“RootsTech is lucky. We’ve seen a lot of success. We’ve seen a lot of people come into our doors and experience something that helps them connect with others, feel that sense of belonging, as we know,” Allen said in the video. “We’re excited to now bring that to another part of the world and hopefully let those people share that same experience.”

RootsTech has considered expansion for some time and scouted various locations before selecting London, Allen said.

“In the end we decided London was the best,” Allen said in the video. “All roads lead to London. It’s easy to get to for a lot of people all over the world. It will be able to get people from even the Middle East, Africa, and all of Europe to join us. We also expect a lot of people from America to come over as well.”

The conference will look much like the one in Salt Lake City, with a large number of informative classes and presentations by experts, an exhibition hall featuring the latest family history technology products, entertainment, and keynote speakers.

One of the event’s featured speakers will be Nick Barratt, an author and broadcaster most recognized for his work with BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? television series.

Barratt said he was “absolutely thrilled” to hear the news.

“RootsTech has a strong brand among U.K. genealogists, coupled with its presence in Salt Lake City as the ‘home’ of genealogy,” Barratt wrote in an email to the Deseret News. “To have it come to London is very exciting.”

Else Churchill, a genealogist at the Society of Genealogists in London, is planning to attend the event.

“We’re over the moon and will be heavily involved,” she said in a tweet message to the Deseret News. “We’ll have a stand, of course, and experts at the event, but obviously keen to show off the wonderful Society of Genealogist Library—the biggest and the best genealogy society library in the U.K.”

Alison Kung, a product manager for 23andMe.com, said outside the United States, the United Kingdom is its largest market.

“We were honestly very excited to hear that RootsTech will be hosting an international event in London,” Kung said. “We are looking forward to meeting our U.K. customers in person just because there has been an increased interest and awareness of genetic testing around the world. This is an opportunity to reach more people beyond the U.S. who are interested in learning about their ancestry and how their genetics can influence their health wellness.”

Tamsin Todd, the CEO of FindMyPast.com, not only liked London as a central “hub” but also as a place people can visit their ancestral homeland.

“For those of us who do British and Irish genealogy, it’s going to be an amazing opportunity,” Todd said. “This gives them a chance both to go to RootsTech but potentially to also take some time and go explore Scotland, Wales, whatever country they are from.”

Ben Bennett, the managing director of family history for FindMypast.com, said “it was about time” for RootsTech to come to Europe.

“If you look at the U.K. in many, many ways, family history became big there first and then it was for people in the United States who wanted to figure out where they came from. The hobby sort of migrated here,” Bennett said. “It’s always been important in the U.K. They keep records about everything. So there’s a significant amount of interest … and I think it just brings together so much of what’s been needed, this desire to connect, and for people to do what happens here, to learn from each other, to share and benefit from each other.”

While there’s been nothing like RootsTech in London, one aspect that might be unexpected for some London attendees is the cost. A typical conference in London might cost around $10, Nicholson said.

An early-bird three-day pass costs 89 euros or about $100, similar to the Salt Lake City price. A single day pass is 49 euros or about $55, according to FamilySearch.org.

“I think they’ll initially be like, ‘I have to pay to go to a conference? What’s this about?’ I think that’s going to be a challenge,” Nicholson said. “But I think once they get there and see the value, then that will be great. But it’s going to be like, ‘Well, why would I do that?’ … They will bring in a great crowd. I think it will be interesting the first few years to get the following. That’s like anything new in a different country. You have to be like, this is who we are and this is what we’re doing, and it takes time to build.”

Bennett doesn’t think RootsTech will have any problems attracting a crowd.

“FamilySearch has done a good job with where they’ve decided to locate it at the ExCel Center. It’s in the heart of London, very easy to get to. I think that’s going to be positive,” Bennett said. “I actually think the bigger challenge is going to be what happens when they get the response that I think they’re going to get, and they start to say, ‘OK, how do we accommodate a larger crowd and a larger audience?’”

Barratt agreed.

“I think it will go down well,” Barratt said. “I think the emphasis on teaching and learning is welcome, as well as the latest advice and support for the rise of genetic genealogy and DNA testing.”

Other challenges might include nearby attractions, like the British Library and National Archives a few train stops away, or London’s expensive taste, Bennett said.

“There will be so many things to do, and really, for people to go deeper than just coming to the show,” Bennett said, “but to take advantage of so many things around and see history.”

Beyond London, where else should RootsTech consider expanding?

Barratt suggested Australia and India.

“Sydney, if only because Who Do You Think You Are? is entering its 11th season, so there’s a strong interest in genealogy,” Barratt said. “However, an exciting ‘wild card’ would be India, given the rising economy and focus on family connection.”

Vendors for England-based company LivingDNA.com and attendees move around the exhibit hall as RootsTech opens at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, February 27, 2018. Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.

Pat Petersen trims a laminated genealogy chart at Genealogy WallCharts at RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 28, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Valerie Luoma looks at historical books that are no longer in print for family history research during RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 28, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.