Monday, February 8, 2016

From #RootsTech to @pamadison

Paula Williams Madison speaks to regular and social media writers at RootsTech 2016.Paula,

I wanted to drop you this private note (although, all things considered, it may not be so private).

Thank you for speaking with me in the media center at RootsTech last week. You shared the special closeness you felt, even when young, with a grandfather whom you had never met and for whom you knew little about. I wanted to say, “Yes! We genealogists get it! We hear them too!”

Thank you for sharing your documentary with us at the media dinner. You told us afterwards that your coworkers would readily say that you were a woman who does not cry. That gave greater impact to two scenes. When you traveled to Jamaica and found your grandfather’s shop, and stood in the room where he would have held your mother before they were separated forever, you began to cry. I did too. I wanted to jump up and say, “Yes! We genealogists get it! We feel sacred spaces too!”

When you moved heaven and earth to track down your Grandpa Lowe, and stood before his final resting place, you sobbed. I wanted to put my arms around you and whisper quietly, “yes, we understand. We have been here too.”

And I wanted to say, “Welcome, my sister. You didn’t find yourself just one family; you found yourself two.”


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Watch the Final Day of #RootsTech and Family Discovery Day

clip_image002 Dear friends,

I just wanted to remind you of the final day of live streaming from RootsTech. Streaming begins at 8:30 am MST (10:30 EST, 7:30 PST).

Today is also Family Discovery Day for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Live streaming begins at 1:00 pm MST (3:00 EST, 12:00 PST).

Look for further RootsTech reports next week, starting Tuesday. Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 5, 2016

#RootsTech is a Gathering of Heart Specialists

RootsTech is a gathering of heart specialists“RootsTech is a gathering of heart specialists,” said Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch.

Steve was one of the opening day’s keynote speakers at RootsTech 2016. He began by asking each of us to think of a family story. He told us what we just did was family history. He then gave us 60 seconds to share the story with the person sitting next to us.

RootsTech attendees sharing stories with each otherHe then asked us to think about what we felt as we told our story. When we share stories we feel love, joy, peace—sometimes even sadness, “I believe you can be inspiring to your family members,” he told us. “Your family needs what you have.”
Steve told us that FamilySearch’s vision is to continuously improve these five experiences:

FamilySearch Five Focus Experiences

  1. Discovery. There have recently been a 482% increase in teens discovering their family history.
  2. Family Tree. Family Tree now has over 1 billion persons.
  3. Searchable records.
  4. Memories. There are now over 10 million memories in
  5. Contextual help. This needs to address the needs of the younger generations in the ways that work best for them. That is probably through their peers.

RootsTech attendees dawned surgeon's masks showing they are heart specialists.Steve advised us to reach out to people’s hearts. When he was an eight year old boy he had to have heart surgery. “You are, in a way, heart specialists.” We are the heart doctors in our families. Just as Steve’s doctor didn’t need to turn him into a heart doctor in order to fix his heart, we don’t need to turn our family members into genealogists in order to touch their hearts.

Start small. Steve told us to think about the story we thought of at the beginning of his presentation. He then asked us to think about a family member who needs to hear that story. “Go talk to them today.” Do it in person. Or call. Or Skype. But try to tell the story in less than a minute.

Then ask them to share a story.


Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, addresses RootsTech opening session.RootsTech 2016 By the Numbers

  • 25,000 - people registered
  • 50 – states represented by attendees (RootsTech finally got all 50!)
  • 40 - countries
  • 4,000 – teenage attendees registered
  • 3,000 – registered 8 to 12 year olds
  • 360+ - exhibiters
  • 125,000 - expected live streaming audience
  • 1,500 - Family Discovery Days last year rebroadcasting some sessions from RootsTech
  • 250,000 – attendees to the Family Discovery Days

#RootsTech in #Hog Heaven


I suppose hog aficionados knew exactly what they were hearing the moment the growl roared from the back of the cavernous convention hall. A large Harley came rumbling down the aisle and up onto the stage. A rather large, scruffy looking biker dismounted and took the mic.

“Every American family has its own unique heritage.”

Every American Ride aficionado knew exactly who they were listening to: Stan Ellsworth, the biker turned history teacher, host of a BYUtv television show.

“Maybe your family’s like mine and came over in the 1600s,” he said. Or maybe your family came in the 1700s and gave their blood to create this nation. Or maybe your family came from China and helped build the west. He went on to mention a dozen other immigration scenarios.

And some are still coming, seeking freedom, he said. “It’s the hope of every human heart. And it’s the birthright of every American.”

Our families have had their own story to tell. “Stories of sacrifice, dedication, and perseverance.” And they want them told. They want them remembered. “You can find your heroes. You can find your own heritage. You can find your roots,” he said. “So kick a leg over and begin to discover your families own, unique, American ride.”

#RootsTech: Finding Samuel Lowe

Paula Williams Madison addresses RootsTech 2016.“One of the reasons I am here is to let you [genealogists] know, from one person’s experience, how you have changed my life,” said Paula Williams Madison during the opening keynote session at RootsTech 2016. Paula is a retired executive from NBCUniversal and parent company, General Electric. She was named one of the “75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise magazine in 2005.

When she says that what we do has changed her life, she is not exaggerating.

Not long after her retirement in 2011, Paula began to wonder about her Chinese ancestry. “Chinese family?!?” This obviously African American woman doesn’t look Chinese!

Paula had promised her mother, Nell Vera Lowe, to seek out her Chinese family. Nell’s parents, a Hakka Chinese shopkeeper in Jamaica named Samuel Lowe, and a black Jamaican woman named Albertha Campbell, had become estranged when Nell was only three.

To try and learn more about her grandfather and the Hakka people, Paula traveled to a Hakka reunion in Toronto in the spring of 2012. A genealogist there suggested she consult She went to the site, typed in all she knew about her grandfather, and up popped Samuel Lowe on a passenger list. There he was.

A search that she expected to take quite some time, started to move very quickly. In August of that same year, she was on her way to China to meet newly discovered aunts and uncles who had had no idea that Nell had even existed. Perhaps to steel her for disappointment, her husband asked her, “What do you expect to happen when they meet you?” She didn’t know what to say.

“You know you’re black,” he told her.

“I knew that I was a Lowe and they would want me as much as I wanted them.”

And so it was. Color didn’t matter. Nationality didn’t matter. Distance didn’t matter. She was family, and that was all that mattered.

“It never would have been possible, except for you,” she said, motioning to us in the audience. “You got the ball rolling and in less than six weeks I was no longer floating. When that happened, my mother was claimed.”

Paula Williams Madison introduces us to her mother, Nell.
Paula introduces us to her mother.


Paula has written a book and produced a documentary about her experience. For more information, visit Watch Paula’s keynote address on YouTube.

Live streaming of RootsTech sessions continues today at 8:30 am, MST. For more information, see “RootsTech Posts Syllabi, Streaming Schedule.”

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Help at Home Right Now! #RootsTech Freedmen’s Bureau Index-A-Thon

The Freedmen's Bureau Index-A-Thon

At half-past the hour (7:30 pm MST), about 10 minutes from now, you are invited to participate in the Freemen’s Bureau Project Index-A-Thon. The goal is to do 900 batches in 90 minutes.

While this is happening live at RootsTech (in the computer labs), you can help out wherever you are at!

Visit and the project website at

#InnovatorSummit at #RootsTech - Business Sense for Family History Entrepreneurs

Ken Krogue was a keynote at the 2016 Innovator Summit in Salt Lake City.Ken Krogue was a keynote at the 2016 Innovator Summit in Salt Lake City. Ken is the president and founder of insidesales. He previously worked at Franklin Covey, and Infobases, where he worked with Paul and Dan, the founders of Ken shared some business sense for entrepreneurs. A couple of points rang especially true from my history.

Ken advised that entrepreneurs “go sell something.” That is to say, get out there and get revenues coming in. Don’t wait for a product to be perfect. Start selling it as soon as it gives value to consumers.

Raise money only when you don’t need it. In my experience, investors demand, and usually get, significant ownership in a company in exchange for money. This occurs because companies don’t seek money until they are desperate. If you ask for money only when you don’t need it, investors have to settle for less or you can walk away.

Ken made a point that is tough for a weekend blogger to utilize. Orin Hatch, a senator from Utah, once shared the 2,500 rule. Orin had figured out that for each letter he gets from a constituent, there are 2,500 others who feel the exact same way. The takeaway for entrepreneurs: every comment on your blog or social media outlet is important. Respond to each one. And do so quickly. The average company response time to a web-based lead is 39 hours! People don’t come to the web to wait that long. If you don’t respond quickly enough, they are going to go somewhere else. If you can respond within five minutes or less, you’ll be able to reach 92% of those people.

After sharing many other points of advice, he shared a couple of genealogy experiences. He had been working on his Krogue line for about two years and had hit a brick wall in Denmark in the 1700s. (See the arrow on the left in the pedigree, below.) He decided to work on one of the wife’s line instead and worked his way back to a Sode family (the arrow on the right). An exchange student from Denmark was staying in his neighborhood and her name was Sode. So he talked to her and she said that her grandmother was a big researcher in genealogy. She called her grandmother and her grandmother said, “Yes, we are related. In fact, I have 210 pages of family history and genealogy of your line!” And to think that this young lady was just two blocks away.

Ken Krogue pedigree brick wall and Sode ancestor

“How does that happen?” Ken asked. “Well, those are the kinds of adventures that happen when you get involved in family history.”

#InnovatorSummit at #RootsTech – Inside-out and Upside-down

Steve Rockwood of FamilySearch looks at problems inside-out and upside-down.As a prelude to #RootsTech, the 2016 Innovator Summit began yesterday in Salt Lake City. The opening keynotes were given by Steven Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, and Ken Krogue, cofounder of

Steve Rookwood said that innovators make a living by looking at different ways to approach things. FamilySearch was looking at things differently when they came up with the “crazy” idea of a shared, public family tree. Looking at things differently is something Steve’s done in his career. He likes to solve problems by looking at them “inside-out and upside-down.” (Hence the joke his staff played on him by projecting his first slide upside-down.) In 1990 he and partner, Jim Ball, created Alpine Axis in Golden, Colorado. They had the idea of creating call center technology for a center that wasn’t a center at all. They developed technology that allowed workers to work out of their homes. Calls coming into an 800 number would be routed out to the employees in their own homes.

Now as the new CEO of FamilySearch, it is a skill he is bringing to his work. Prior to becoming CEO, he served as a vice president over international concerns and as part of his responsibilities lived outside the United States. He comes to his new position as, in a way, an outsider looking in. Steve identified five areas FamilySearch is focusing on: discovery, family tree, searchable records, memories, and contextual help.

Everyone has positive feelings about family history. If someone becomes engaged, they develop skills. With those skills, they produce results. What would our industry be like if we could extend engagement to teenagers and millennials? What if we learned how to bring others into our circle, providing them the feelings, skills, and results that we experience?

What would our industry be like if we could integrate family history into our everyday lives, like we do in subtle ways with math?

Let’s grow the family history space. Let’s bring family history out, to weave it into the fabric of everyday life.

Tune In Now to #RootsTech Online


Just a reminder. RootsTech is being broadcast live,starting today at 8:30 am, MST (10:30 EST, 7:30 PST).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#BYU Family History Technology Workshop

Amy Harris gave her wish list to developers and researchers at the BYU Family History Technology Workshop.Before #RootsTech, before #InnovatorSummit, there was the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop. Now in its 16th year, the one day workshop brings together developers and researchers tackling some of genealogy’s most thorny challenges.

Amy Harris, an associate professor of history at BYU and an accredited genealogist, provided the workshop’s keynote yesterday. Amy currently serves as the director of the Family History Program at BYU. She spoke to the topic “A Genealogist's Technological Wish List: Teaching, Filtering, and Mapping.”

“We are engaged in similar work,” Amy said of genealogists and technologists. “We are solving puzzles or mysteries.” Amy went through her wish list of things she wished technology would do to improve the work of historians and genealogists.

Amy wishes applications could be more instructional, teaching users to be better. It doesn’t have to be FamilySearch that makes the FamilySearch website more usable. It could be a popup app that explained in which situations a record collection might be useful. Developers wouldn’t need to develop the instructional resources. It could point users to existing resources. Apps could help with situation-specific research problems, walking users through the process of figuring out which records should be used at each step of the process.

She wished there were instructional OCR technology. She wished there was help for citation standards. She wished there was technology helping users evaluate record hints in Ancestry or FamilySearch trees. She wished tree software better assisted users work through the challenges of naming schemes that didn’t carry the same surname from one generation to the next.

Amy wishes programs helped users understand and use changing jurisdictions. It would be great to have an app that showed all the different jurisdictions for a place, overlaying the boundaries on a map and allowing for boundaries that changed over time. Just a few examples of different jurisdictions in England are civil registration districts, poor law unions, Church of England parishes and dioceses, and Quaker monthly meeting boundaries.

In short, Amy wishes there were apps that were informed by advanced research methodology and helped users utilize them.

For Technology: Some Problems, Some Solutions

Welcome to the 2016 BYU Family History Technology WorkshopAfter the opening keynote yesterday, speakers at the BYU 2016 Family History Technology Workshop gave rapid-fire, five-minute presentations for the remainder of the morning, first on genealogy problems needing technology solutions and then on some new genealogy technology solutions for genealogists.

Some Problems

Dallan Quass talked about judging tree quality. There are a lot of bad online trees. When you look at an online tree, how do you tell how good it is? Dallan feels it should be possible to apply computer technology to identify tree quality. Machine learning could examine the number of sources, including their type and variety, the number of warnings, the specificity of dates, the number of people in the file (too many signal the work of name gatherers), and how many of them are early people.

Mark Clement said there was a need for technology to help handle duplicates in Family Tree. New users find duplicates very confusing and disheartening when they see that message: “Merging is a complex process…” Mark said, “I think that this is a prime place where computer technology could assist.”

James Tanner complained about the lack of data transfer technology. There are hundreds of places where genealogical data files exist. If I put my data on MyHeritage, what do I do if I want to move it to another tree? Or how do I exchange a copy with another person? There needs to be standards for data exchange and GEDCOM is broken!

Heath Nielson spoke to several problems extracting data from Historical Documents. One of the biggest problems is image quality. There should be metrics produced as soon as a camera operator takes a picture. This could immediately alert them to the need to retake an image. Another issue is duplicate images. FamilySearch has done some work to see if it could be identified automatically. Another problem is identifying a zone of interest in a document, such as an obituary on a newspaper page. Image enhancement is an issue. Handwriting recognition of historical documents still presents a challenge.

Scott Woodfield addressed the 2016 BYU Family History Technology Workshop.Scott Woodfield spoke to the topic: “I Have No Control over My Own Information.” His mother was disheartened recently when someone changed her father’s name in Family Tree. Sometime in the past pencil and paper were replaced by PAF. Then PAF was replaced with Family Tree. This was characterized as a good thing, but users have the perception that “bad” people are out there changing their information. This triggers the fight or flee response. Users either enter into toggle wars, or they give up using Family Tree. Users believe they are the best job and that they have loss of control of their information. Some possible solutions are to give a personal view, to use branching version control, or enable better communication between users.

Some Technologies

About a dozen presenters talked about their new technologies and products. Most were applications that captured multimedia (video, audio, or photos), shared it (with flexible privacy), and preserved it. A couple unlocked memories and informed the recipient at some future time. Studio by Legacy Republic includes a scanner for photo albums.

Wesley Eames showed AncestorCloud, a website that allows users to post a need for some research, along with how much they are willing to pay. Researchers can then accept jobs of interest. They are still working the kinks out; about 1% of requests end in dispute.

James Tanner showed The Family History Guide – This site teaches users how to use the FamilySearch website. It features a structured, sequenced way of approaching the subject of genealogy. Learning resources are scattered all over the web and all over The Family History Guide breaks learning down into measurable resources. It also includes lesson plans for teaching family history.

Joshua Mathias showed Grandma's Pie, a website that shows your ancestors’ nationalities as a pie chart.

The Ancestry Insider's ancestor nationality pie chart

Kevin King showed a concept under development, Wheel of Family Fortune. As the user guesses letters, more information comes up to teach players about their ancestors. Kevin hopes games will get younger people interested in genealogy.


Justin Rasband and Tom Sederberg showed One Page Genealogy, which tries to solve the problem of packing together a family tree chart and still making it look good. You can download the chart as a PDF for printing. Click on a person to change the size of the person’s box, or that of their generation, or the whole chart. By using boxes of different sizes, you can best utilize the space.

Still to come: presentations by FamilySearch employees. Be warned, however. I may not be able to write them up until after Innovator Summit and RootsTech. Innovator Summit started today and RootsTech is close on its heals.