Wednesday, March 9, 2011

South Davis Fair in the Aftermath of RootsTech

Will RootsTech overshadow other conferences? Like the St. George Family History Expo, attendance at the South Davis Family History Fair is way down in the wake of RootsTech, a new national genealogy conference. Two years ago 1,700 people attended the fair. Up against NGS in Salt Lake last year, attendance dropped to 1,100. This year, less than 800 people pre-registered and walk-ins were unlikely to exceed 200.

The South Davis fair will almost certainly survive. It is a non-profit, all volunteer enterprise sponsored by several stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The same cannot be said of Utah conferences produced by the for-profit Family History Expos company. They are suffering from a double whammy. Just days before last year’s St. George Expo, they lost their server in a fire suppression accident. The server contained a mailing list of interested attendees that had taken years to build. Hard on the heels of the loss came back-to-back national conferences in nearby Salt Lake City, Utah: the 2010 National Genealogical Society Conference and the 2011 RootsTech Conference. Attendance of subsequent conferences has decreased greatly. As a personal venture of Holly Hansen, financial losses are devastating.

Different conferences have different personalities and fill different needs.

RootsTech had glitz and expensive production values. The rock music each morning before and after the general session set the energy level for the day. By contrast, the South Davis Family History Fair prelude was conservative Mormon hymns followed by a lay minister’s welcome and invocation.

NGS and FGS conferences are four day marathons with a  deczon tracks and 200 classes taught by paid industry experts. The locations move each year among cities with genealogically significance: long histories or major genealogical holdings. With travel costs, four days lodging, four vacation days,  and two-hundred dollar registration fees, the conference mainly attracts professionals, vendors, presenters, die-hards, and locals.

By contrast, conferences by Family History Expos are inexpensive, overnight events within the budget of beginning genealogists. Industry luminary, Dick Eastman, pointed out their unique value proposition in “Wrap-Up: Family History Expo 2008 in St. George, Utah.” Registration costs are kept low by cutting expenses in every way possible. Smaller cities are used to cut venue costs and provide attendees with cheap, overnight lodging. Attendees receive a plastic bag instead of an embroidered cloth carrying bag. Presenters are not compensated for either travel or speaking and provide their own projectors.

Industry pundits are already wondering about the effect RootsTech may have on the national genealogical conferences of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society. (See “NGS and FGS: Rethink your policies in light of RootsTech.”)

In my opinion, the future of RootsTech itself is not beyond question. (I don’t know anything you don’t. These are just my own speculations.) Did sponsors see enough value for their investment? In particular, I wonder how much FamilySearch subsidized the conference and what the value proposition is for them.

Stay tuned…


The NGS 2011 Family History Conference will be held in Charleston, South Carolina, 11-14 May 2011. The FGS 2011 Conference will be held in Springfield, Illinois, 7-10 September 2011.


  1. Nice article, helpful to those of us "not in the loop" (as are most of your postings). One minor correction though, in your third paragraph the dates aged us all a bit. The NGS in SLC was 2010 not 2009, and Roots Tech was 2011, not 2010. I know time is flying, but hot that fast. :)

  2. Hey Ancestry Insider! How about a shout out for the Orem Multi-Stake Family History Fair (where you spoke last year). It will be on Saturday March 19th at 450 South 100 West in Orem starting at 9:00. All are invited. Joseph Monsen will be the keynote speaker this year and the best thing is we have some great FREE classes planned and some YUMMY refreshments!!

  3. I think there will always be a place for the smaller conferences and seminars - I do think that they will need to be better focused, make use of technology as far as handouts on flash drives, include a webinar component, and have enough variety to include beginners, intermediates and advanced folks.

    I have attended the SLIG, and some statewide conferences (Oregon Genealogy Fest, Minnesota Genealogy weekends, etc.) and it would be nice to really reach out to newbies and have lots more hands on aspects.

    With each group competing for the same dollars - it might make sense to work on some regional conferences and work together not do the same conference, really publicize themselves by way of libraries and schools, etc., and work off of the WDYTYA aspect to generate enthusiasm.

  4. Dear Ken,

    220... 222... Whatever it takes...

    (Thanks for the catch.)

    -- The Insider

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful and resounding post, Insider. Interestingly enough, I started to write my latest blog post before I became aware of your post, so I felt it was very timely, indeed!


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