Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Meredith Is Not Going to RootsTech

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I went to RootsTechs 1, 2, and 3.  I won't be going again.  The bigger it gets, the less interesting and useful it gets.  The keynotes are usually entertaining, but are rarely learning experiences.

The classes are always aimed either at the lowest common denominator (beginner genealogists; therefore I don't learn anything) or at the highest common denominator (app developers; therefore I don't learn anything).  The people staffing the exhibitor booths are there to help people who are rank beginners, not to listen to the experienced, advanced user give feedback about how to improve their sites.  That is, they should have their developers there in the booths to listen and interact, not just the salespeople.

Somehow, the genealogy part of "roots" has gotten lost; "RootsTech" has become about documenting family history of living people—today's families—not the past's.  My interest is in building the best stories I can about my deceased ancestors. There are no "roots" in RootsTech anymore.  To be truthful in advertising, it ought to be called "LivingFamilyDocumentingTech" or some such, not "Roots" Tech.

Meredith A. Lane

Dear Meredith,

First, apologies for editing your letter (for length). I’ve picked the main points that I wish to address. You raise some valid concerns, not all of which with I agree.

I agree that RootsTech keynotes are more entertaining than instructing. Other than Judy Russell’s recent, fabulous presentation, there haven’t been any about hard-core genealogy. Most have been very interesting, feel-good, “I have a story to tell and so do you” presentations. I believe FamilySearch is trying to draw the non-genealogists who are most likely to catch the bug if they attend.

An original goal of RootsTech was to get “Roots”—genealogists—together with “Tech”—the technical people able to improve their products. I agree that that is not always happening in the exhibit booths. If I’m not mistaken, has done some behind the scenes. FamilySearch tries to have a product manager present at their booth. “Product manager” is the magic words. They decide what improvements go into Go to the FamilySearch welcome desk and ask when a product manager will be present. FamilySearch also tries to make at least one presentation at the Innovators Summit, giving techies some ideas as to how they might make their products better serve the needs of experienced genealogists. For smaller vendors like RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, etc., the owner is often both product manager and programmer and is in his/her booth most of the time.

I agree that much of RootsTech is for beginners and for gathering photos and stories. I haven’t counted, but I can believe that you are right in the sense that the number of classes for beginners is increasing. I believe that is partly because FamilySearch is trying to catch the interest of those non-genealogists they attracted with the non-genealogist keynotes. But it is also partly because RootsTech is growing so large, there are just plain more classes of all types.

Where we differ is that I believe RootsTech is increasingly useful to intermediate and advanced genealogists. Look at the number of nationally acclaimed and equally qualified regional lecturers here this year: Tom Jones, Judy Russell, Josh Taylor, Thomas MacEntee, David Rencher, Pam Sayre, Rick Sayre, Audrey Collins, John Grenham, Kip Sperry, Warren Bittner, David Ouimette, Korey Meyerink, Peggy Lauritzen, Loretta Evans, Sunny Morton, and more I’ve overlooked or don’t know.

Many thousands attend RootsTech each year.My greatest concern is the sheer size of the thing. Will Saturday be a madhouse? Will we be able to move from classroom to classroom in a timely fashion? Will everyone be able to get into the classes they desire (which, to be fair, is a problem at most conferences)? Will vendors in the exhibit hall be able to talk to everyone who wants to talk with them? Will lines in the restrooms be awful during class breaks? Will lines at the food vendors be terrible during the lunch break?

One thing is for certain. RootsTech 2016 will be charged with energy! And you don’t have to be present to participate. Read on…

---The Ancestry Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Is there a way for genealogy fans to see, watch the talks on TV or our computers, kindles, or cell phones? I would pay to watch and download handouts on these talks. Even sometime after the convention is over.

Advice welcome,
Ellen Thorne Morris

Dear Ellen,

There is, indeed. Select sessions will be broadcast live. These typically start with the morning’s keynote at 8:30 AM MST, 7:30 PST, and then continue throughout the day. In past years the broadcast has been on the home page, The schedule is scheduled to be announced this week.

The broadcasted sessions and more (totaling about 30 last year) will also be made available for viewing after the conference. It seems like last year it took a couple of weeks before they were posted. Handouts were not available. Last year’s videos were available on the RootsTech website for several months.

There is no cost for either of these options.

Throughout the year, FamilySearch family history centers throughout the world will organize local events utilizing a mixture of local presenters and RootsTech videos. I’ll post a URL where you can search for one near you. Handouts are available to program organizers who, hopefully, make copies for attendees.

For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Family Discovery Day broadcast schedule has already been published. I’m not certain what the URL will be, but it might be

---The Ancestry Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Less than two weeks to go and still NO syllabus which is what I often use to decide what classes to attend.

And, it would have been nice if we could mark the map for the vendors we would like to visit. On the phone, the map is so small, it is impossible to read the vendor booth numbers without blowing it up and losing all geographic perspective.


Dear Margie,

I understand the expo hall map is a known problem that is being worked on. I’ll ask about the syllabus.

---The Ancestry Insider


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  2. I listened online to a portion of one RootsTech keynote address several years ago, in which the speaker stated that a year ago, he couldn't even spell "genealogy." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It all sounded like marketing to me. If I want a quality learning experience, I will attend a week-long institute. I haven't listened to any RootsTech content since then, and I certainly would not travel there to attend.

  3. If you are going, would you complain loudly about the demise of Family Tree Maker? I would be eager to speak up for all of those folks who are upset about FTM going away, if I were attending; but alas, I am not.

  4. I am told they think the syllabi will be available Wednesday.

  5. Thanks! I wrote to them on Jan 21st but they've never answered my email. I have attended every RT conference since the beginning; this will be my last year.

  6. My daughter and I have traveled to each of the RootsTech conferences and watched as they became more crowded and of less interest, so we are not attending anymore. We liked the exhibits and no issues. Because the meeting rooms were so jammed, and frankly so many of the attendees rather rude fighting for seats, we opted the past two times for computer sessions by paying extra just to get a seat - enjoyed yours. We would not mind paying extra for a reserved seat to some sessions. Since the biggest draw was the FHL, we opted for visits in the future when not as crowded. However, we continue to recommend to new genealogists and those in our genealogy clubs

  7. I knew I would overlook speakers if I started naming names. I know and admire Lisa Louise Cooke very much. I didn't notice her in the speaker list.Sorry, Lisa.

    --- The Ancestry Insider

  8. Frankly for a tech outfit I think their web site stinks. Too hard to know where to go and I don't feel that their class instructors agree with the class schedule. I think this is a case where the "Inmates are Running the Asylum"


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