Well everyone, I can finally announce the release of a project I’ve been working on for much of this Pandemic – The BloodRoot Podcast. Even though live since August – it has now been shared… More
It’s almost here – RootsTech 2020! The Genealogist’s version of Christmas! As this year marks the 10th anniversary, it should be the biggest conference yet! In the flurry of packing, writing, and planning, I wanted to take some time to cover my favorite features of this amazing conference – and why you should attend, either in-person or virtually.
Cutting edge tools, tips, and instruction: From the ginormous expo hall with the latest and the greatest genealogy tech tools to the most recent advances in DNA science and available resources, this conference should be on your yearly genealogy check-list – and here’s why. If you stay at home or travel to attend in person, your week (and the coming weeks) will be chock full of discovery and learning.
Here’s my formula for success with both attending options:
At Home 1: Watch the FREE live-streaming classes! There are about 21 sessions scheduled which can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home, without spending a dime. But as a binge-watching society, I know those 21 sessions will NOT be nearly enough. The great news: You can purchase a Virtual Pass which will bring you another 30 sessions to watch from home! That’s right, the virtual pass brings your total viewing number to over 50! Seriously, with 300 sessions in person, 50 is a great chunk.
At home 2: Download the syllabus material! You can do this as well, for FREE – for most of the classes! Not just the 50+ mentioned above – ALL 300+ sessions! Please take advantage of this option – the speakers spend a lot of time and effort making these materials thorough and useful – not to mention that each speaker can be a future reference for you when needing more education. Downloading is available through the RootsTech App.
At home 3: Take a virtual tour of the Expo Hall! The entire list of exhibitors can be found on the RootsTech website, and at your leisure, you can click on each one and explore their websites. Some may even have RootsTech special pricing, so be sure to explore and play with these latest genealogy tech toys and tools.
At home bonus: As most of you know, I am honored to have been selected as a speaker once again this year – which I will cover in more detail below. However, several folks have asked me about one particular session that resonates with many of us today: Tackling Difficult Chapters of Our Family History. I am doubly honored to announce that this session has been picked up for the livestream schedule! On Thursday, February 27th @ 3:00pm Mountain Time (5:00pm EST), you can tune in to watch my presentation in its entirety. If you miss it that day, the recording will be available shortly thereafter on the RootsTech.org website.
In Person 1: Happy Birthday, RootsTech! This year is going to be a huge blow out! Over 300+, and expanded session space and exhibit session opportunities, so you’ll want to be there if at all possible! As a speaker, I will be giving three presentations over the course of the conference:
My Session Schedule:
- A Digital Citizenship Primer for Genealogists: Wednesday, Feb. 26th @ 3:00pm
- Tackling Difficult Chapters of Our Family History: Thursday, Feb. 27th @ 3:00pm
- The Hoarder’s Guide to Family History Preservation: Saturday, Feb. 29th @ 1:30pm
Speaker Meet-Up Schedule: In lieu of questions during my sessions, I am going to try and snag a space in the speaker meet-up area for more in-depth conversations. As these tables are first come, first served, please pay close attention to my Twitter or Instagram feed to see when I’ve snagged a table for confab! If you don’t use either – you can see these feeds right here on this website – right sidebar.
In Person 2: Be sure to take care of YOU! Pace yourself – this is the big one! At 10 years old, this year’s event looks to be the biggest yet. According to the Salt Palace tour video that was put out by the conference organizers, the event is sprawling even more – including food and session rooms all the way down to the far end of the Palace – which is reminiscent of the first year, then only down the north side of the Palace. Also, be sure to watch the Road to RootsTech video series – this includes wonderful tips – which for this year, is VERY important! There is construction happening at the south end entrance to the Salt Palace – resulting in CLOSURE. From what we have seen so far, even the sidewalk around that entrance is closed. Another important point – this construction alters the bathroom plan. Go watch the latest video for updates.
In Person 3: Bags and Swag! Your badges have been mailed to most of you. For those of you who need them printed or re-printed, there will be several stations available to provide this service. And did I mention how cool the bags are going to be this year? Pink and black backpacks! Woot!
In Person 4: Do not forget to prioritize the Exhibit Hall! NEW THIS YEAR: Gone is the Unconferencing Session space, and in its place, a more expanded area for vendors to host instructional sessions. Yes, the Demo stage will still be there, but these expanded areas should be able to accommodate more attendees and provide more in-depth information compared to the brief Demo sessions. Look for spaces in the vendor areas as well as the EXPO HALL CLASSROOM, in the front, next to Trace’s Coaches’ Corner. In other words, build time into your schedule to fully explore this genealogy/tech wonderland. It is unlike any genealogy conference out there and should be enjoyed to the fullest!
In Person 5: The Family History Library! OK, so if you live in SLC, you’re excused from this one. If you are visiting from out of town, you MUST take a little time to research those ancestors! This place is unparalleled – And they have graciously added late night hours to enhance your RootsTech/SLC experience! Just make sure you come prepared with a reasonable research plan, or you will quickly get overwhelmed by the resource buffet on each floor. Another tip: If the Discovery Center in the Expo Hall gets too crowded, head over to the permanent version on the first floor of the library!
In Person 6: Stretch those introvert tendencies and talk to other attendees! These are your people – gathered together at the great watering hole of ancestral information. Even the vendors are there to learn more about you, the users! In fact, that was the original mission of RootsTech 2011 – getting the developers and users in one place to learn from each other. So, in 2020, let’s remember that original dream and make the genealogy landscape a better place because we made the effort to connect with those of like minds and pursuits.
Post Script: For additional survival tips, please see the official Survival Guide posted by the conference organizers, as well as many other ambassadors out there!
See you soon!
One of my most recent teapot purchases came with an amazing surprise.
A note was folded up and placed inside this 18th century porcelain beauty….a note that detailed its genealogy of ownership. Sadly, the ownership chain had been broken for a few decades as the last generational owner passed away. But the delight in finding anything about the original owner of such a teapot was beyond my wildest dreams.
As you can see from the note, it has a long history, of immigration, lineage, weddings, and familial intermarriage to the cousin level. And in one case, the “double cousin” level. It also mentions TWO teapots, but this is the only one discovered.
After reading all of the begats, I looked at the front of the teapot, and sure enough, there was a label that had been added at some point, to celebrate the marriage of Arthur and Elizabeth Todd McFarland in 1758.
Due to the wear of the writing, I’m not sure how close to the event this was added. Since it was a wedding gift, perhaps it was added in 1758? After seeing other examples of added glaze decoration, this just doesn’t feel right for a 1758 label. I could be wrong, and perhaps it was just a sloppy job? Either way, the half worn appliqué is a lovely addition tying the teapot to its place in history.
After completing my obligatory happy dance at such a discovery, I got serious about matters and inquired further with the seller concerning the provenance. After all, I was afraid this person was parting with a family heirloom. On the contrary, while it had belonged to his mother’s estate, she had purchased it years ago at a Church rummage sale next door to a nursing home in Florida. A bit of a relief, but still sad, nonetheless.
Once this little gem had made it home to my collection, I began going over the family connections. As a historian, the surname “Todd” was setting my wheels to turning. It couldn’t be, surely…not the same family as the other Todd clan we’ve all heard of.
So I started doing some research into this line. My first stop at Findagrave.com had me linking pretty quickly to the generation of Mary Todd Lincoln’s Great Grandfather….cue hyperventilating. Then I calmed down and started looking for corroboration.
According to a sweet little book entitled, Todd Family, Copied from Kittochtinny Magazine, 1905, also From the mss papers of Mrs. Emily Todd Helm by Nina M. Visscher, 1939, the lineage in the letter is spot on.
Some of the information was reported within a few generations of Elizabeth by Emilie (Emily) Todd Helm – Mary Todd Lincoln’s half sister – who became the Todd family historian. To spare you the gory genealogy details, this teapot belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-great great aunt, Elizabeth Todd Parker McFarland. Huzzah!
Remember the great grandfather I mentioned earlier? David Todd, son of Robert, “the immigrant”, was a child of Robert’s first marriage to “unknown” Smith. Poor girl, we’ve lost her given name over the years. Robert next married Isabella Hamilton and started having a lot more offspring. Elizabeth Todd (David’s half sister) was one of the next in line in order of birth. David’s descendant line stretches to Mary Todd Lincoln through his son Levi, to son Robert, and then to Mary Todd Lincoln. OK, you can uncross your eyes now…in linear fashion, this is what it looks like:
Robert Todd > David Todd (Elizabeth Todd McFarland’s half brother) > Levi Todd > Robert Todd > Mary Todd (Lincoln).
So, enough about Mary Todd Lincoln…here’s a bit more information about the happy couple who owned this teapot. It appears that Elizabeth was married previously to a William Parker. They had three children, and then he died around 1757. The very next year, Elizabeth marries Arthur McFarland in 1758. She wasn’t moving on too soon – this was common for widows to marry again as soon as possible – first, more men than women created quite the demand – second, women had little to no rights, and for protection/financial stability/survival, they needed a husband.
After Elizabeth and Arthur married in 1758, they have four more children. Arthur is listed in the Todd family history as “Major” Arthur McFarland. I have not been able to find record of this military service, but since he was born in 1720 and died in 1780, I’m guessing it’s not for service in the American Revolution. If it was for an earlier war, such as French and Indian, I’d have to keep digging. With a person of property during the Revolution, one naturally questions allegiance, and I’m happy to say that I found Arthur listed in the Philadelphia “Supply Tax” rolls for the year he died. This type of tax was taken from those who were supporting the cause of the Revolution.
Elizabeth died May 21st, 1790, and she is buried alongside her second husband, Arthur McFarland in the Providence Presbyterian Church graveyard outside Philadelphia.
So, in light of these details, does this jibe with the details of the teapot itself? Does it look like a teapot made in 1758? One clue that was included in the family note referenced “Lowestoft.” This type of teapot was made in England at the time, but I feel this label is inaccurate. One of my favorite tools for learning how to visually understand porcelain terminology and teapot construction is the museum website. Places like the MET and the Victoria and Albert Museum allow you to search their collections with terms you’ve come across. These are going to be wonderful experts in the matter, even over antiques dealers who might have good intentions, but lack sufficient expertise to get the variances correct. After all, no one is an expert in everything.
At the end of the day, Lowestoft examples appear to have a slightly different shape, domed lid, and different decoration. This porcelain does fit into the small, rounded Chinese Export examples….but I’m no expert….just collecting and learning as I go. As for 1758, yeah, it fits OK there too. Other examples of this construction fit that time frame. Also, the imperfections, firing flaws, bottom look (sans mark), strainer area, handle attachment, and glaze embellishments fit with the period.
One other thing I love about this teapot is its very old repair. Somewhere along the timeline, the lid was broken in half. Due to its strong family connection, they had it repaired instead of tossing it altogether. This unsightly staple repair is typical of the 19th century, and produces another layer of charm to this storied teapot.
Moral of the story: Always look inside those teapots when heirloom hunting or antiquing. I adore teapots with stories or provenance tucked inside. This is not my only teapot with family information, but it is the only one I have that came complete with its own genealogy!
Happy hunting, y’all!
As the Holiday Season draws to a close, we need to be looking forward to RootsTech, 2020! As a RootsTech Ambassador, it was my privilege to pick the winner of my RootsTech full pass giveaway contest. On Christmas Day, my family and I drove up to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to announce my winner – The full video can be seen on Instagram or Twitter. Drum roll, please – the lucky winner was Kathy Webb! Even though the winner was chosen at random, Kathy’s favorite genealogy find of 2019 was pretty cool – She discovered that her great grandmother was a sheriff in Arkansas! I’d love to know more about that story!
I would like to thank all of those who entered my contest via the three options (blog, Twitter, Instagram)! We had a total of 29 entries with some really great stories. Be sure to go read the comments of the last post to be inspired for 2020. From immigration stories, to DNA cousins, to connecting back to the land of our heritage, the entries were really amazing, and worth the read. Also, thanks to RootsTech for providing these passes for the Ambassadors to give away – there are still some contests running out there for the next couple of days – so if you didn’t win, and want another chance – be sure visit the Conference Keeper site for the links.
Now that we are less than two months away from RootsTech 2020, here are the latest updates: The 2020 app is now live – and we’ve heard the schedule has been finalized – so time to get exploring and setting up your schedule for each day. Another keynote speaker has been announced – Emmitt Smith, Former Dallas Cowboys player, and NFL Hall of Famer.
These next two months are going to fly by – and I can’t wait to see everyone in SLC. Be watchful for more announcements as they are released in the coming weeks!
See you soon and Happy New Year!
To kick off the Holiday season, I am hosting a RootsTech Christmas Contest – starting now! You could win a full four-day pass to RootsTech 2020 – with the lucky winner being announced on Christmas Day! If you’re already sold on entering, please scroll down to the contest instructions to proceed.
Latest RootsTech News:
If you haven’t already noticed, RootsTech 2020 is fast approaching. And with the Holidays coming up, it will be here before we know it! After watching the Highlights from RootsTech London just a month ago, here are some things you should keep in mind:
1: The free recorded sessions are still up on the main RootsTech site – as are sessions from RootsTech past. Did you know you can still watch some sessions from RootsTech, all the way back to 2015?! You can find these videos in the video archive section. That’s a whole lot of learning going on!
2: Swag Alert – they debuted a new swag bag for attendees this year. RootsTech London attendees received a pink backpack – and for RootsTech 2020, we’ll be getting blue backpacks!
3: The first keynote speaker of the 2020 line-up has been announced: Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer, David Hume Kennerly – with more great speakers to be announced soon!
4: Even if you can’t make the conference in person, be sure to check out the premium pass options for a deeper roster of virtual sessions.
5: Reminder: 2020 is the 10th anniversary bash – if you’ve been waiting for a good time to attend RootsTech – your waiting is over – this is the one you cannot miss!
6: If you can’t make the full conference, there is a special discount going on right now that cuts the single day registration fee in half! The code when registering is GENFRIEND and is good through December 9th.
In order to win, you simply have to comment on this post, or on the corresponding posts in Twitter or Instagram – Telling me about your favorite genealogy find of 2019. Only one entry per reader, please! Each comment will be entered into a drawing with the winner selected on Christmas Day. Meaning, your deadline for entry is December 24th – all day, even up until midnight.
What You Could Win:
A full 4-day pass to RootsTech 2020 (on-site in Salt Lake City), held February 26-29, 2020 – a $299 value! Don’t worry, if you’ve already registered, winning this contest would get you a full refund of your purchase price.
Pass includes the following: • Over 300 classes • Keynote / General sessions • Expo Hall • Evening events. It does NOT include any travel costs, paid lunches, virtual pass, or paid labs.
Good Luck, Everyone!
Now that we’ve had some healthy frosts, tis the season for cemetery traipsing! Earlier this month, my mother and I were out and about, touring a couple of favorite family resting places in Northern Kentucky – and while doing so, I was reminded of some atrocious cemetery habits or conditions that grate on my nerves. Scroll through the list below to see if you can relate to any of these horror film worthy atrocities – and at the end, feel free to comment with your own cemetery pet peeves.
The military foot stone:
Let me preface this statement with a reminder that this is NOT anti-military. I come from a long line of military men, stretching from the revolution, to 1812, WWI, WWII, and the recent engagements in the Middle East. My father is a retired Lt. Colonel, as was my grandfather, and I have a new General cousin – so let’s just say, military service is in our blood, and we are very proud of this fact. However…..I am totally against the military foot stones. I really hadn’t paid much attention to these, until they encroached upon my great grandparents’ plot.
For decades, their stone was lovely and picturesque, sitting on a hillside overlooking a wooded valley – but now, we can’t take a picture of their stone without also capturing this military footstone which has been placed right up against theirs! Not only do I think they are actually encroaching on our legal family plot, but they are an eyesore, and will prove to be confusing as time passes. In most cases, this type of additional footer is placed about a foot away from the next headstone in line – but not so in this county – those who are installing them are choosing to abutt the stones right up against headstones, and I find it to be disrespectful of the neighbors. Recognizing military service is very important – but I think it best to do so on the headstone – this foot stone nonsense is a HUGE pet peeve of mine.
Leaning trees – going, going, gone:
Cemetery maintenance is a tough gig – I don’t envy anyone with this job. But maintenance is not just about mowing the lawn. It is necessary to look up and assess whether there are threats from above. As I have visited my 3rd great grandparents’ gravesite (1st generation immigrants from Germany), it is becoming harder and hard to snap a clear picture. Why? Because the neighboring pine tree is sinking lower and lower. It will fall one day, and when it does, it will take their beautiful obelisk with it. I need to contact the Church to have them remove this tree – but I shouldn’t have to – maintenance should include surrounding assessment – to make sure the stones are safe. It will be much cheaper to take the tree down than to restore a 19th century marble obelisk.
Homemade Efforts to Read Headstones:
This one made me gasp when I spotted it from across the cemetery driveway. The carvings have not been worn away, and are, in fact, quite deep. The only obstacle to reading the names is the type of granite that was chosen – a flecked, light gray stone that does make the names harder to read. The family’s attempt to rectify this situation? Paint!
While descendants can care for a headstone as they wish – please have a care and do your homework. You are probably not the only descendant out there that will need to view this stone someday. Applying paint or other substances to a gravestone can harm the stone instead of helping any readability issue. Before attempting ANY cleaning or restoration, please consult a professional or at least research this subject thoroughly prior to employing any method!
Despite the solid structure of gravestones, many fall over due to setting and settling issues. What happens after they fall is up to the living. Unfortunately, the options used here serve as examples of what NOT to do:
Bad, but yet, readable – In this case, the cemetery decided to move all of the fallen stones into one area to help with mowing. Moved from their original location = bad. Placed face up so we can read them = good – sort of – I can only imagine the water and ice settling into the crevices will crumble the stones faster as water was designed to run down the sides, not take up residence regularly.
In one of my favorite little cemeteries, I have unearthed crumbled stones right under the sod to record who lies beneath. Not long after my archaeological efforts to record the deceased, someone decided to move the leaning and fallen stones to the nearby fencerow because they got in the way of mowing. Fast forward a few years later, and they decided to clean out the fencerow by tearing down the entire fence with accompanying trees. What solution did they choose? They piled all of the stones on a wooden pallet in the middle of the cemetery. Oh the humanity – I have no words. Not only are they too heavy for anyone to look through them, but now over time, the pile is sinking further still, crumbling under the weight of the other stones.
Removing Heritage Plants:
When wandering through the cemetery, pay close attention to any shrubs, trees, bulbs, or perennials planted on your ancestors’ graves. If the specimen looks like old growth, it may have been planted near the time of their death, or within a few years to a decade after. Why? In my family, it was just a method of dressing up the grave. Instead of bringing flowers to place on the grave periodically, which would wilt and blow away in the wind, we preferred live perennials or spring bulbs to bloom every year. Also, sometimes the plant chosen was from the deceased’s own garden or homestead – a favorite they tended for many years. What better choice than planting a piece of home on the loved one’s grave?
If you identify an older growth planting, take a pic. There are several apps out there that can help with identifying the plant in order to purchase a version for your own garden. However, in many parts of the country, the ones who get ignored and suffer due to lack of care are antique roses. The concept of “rose rustling” is actually a noble one – performing a service of care to the rose through deadwood pruning, and then leaving with a few clippings of new growth to propagate future plants. The reason we go to this trouble is because after generations of deadwood overgrowth in the central part of the bush, the friction and crowding can invite disease, eventually killing off the antique variety. Don’t misunderstand – antique varieties of rose bushes are the most hardy and prolific of any rose variant – but decades of neglect can harm them or kill them off.
These antique varieties are living echoes of migration – carried by our ancestors as they traveled west – usually planting a piece of their former home at their new destination. And the age of these varieties? Nothing to sneeze at – some rare varieties go back to the 1500s, but more commonly the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.
CAUTION: Stealing from cemeteries is ILLEGAL – so do not go traipsing through the cemeteries looking for rare varieties to harvest for fun. The best option is to tend your own family plot and no more – or – organize a local group to properly tend the plant life in the cemetery, with a few clippings being generated to sell at a sale for cemetery upkeep. The possibilities are endless, and a cemetery maintenance plan should tend to more than just cleaning the stones and clearing out brush. This type of clearing can remove the wrong, and potentially historically priceless things. Please be careful!
So – my pet peeve here? The above hyper-cleaning of cemetery areas. So many times I have witnessed beautiful heritage growths just eliminated by those who want to make mowing easier, or just “clean up” the overall cemetery as a local good deed. For many, I know their hearts are in the right place, but in reality, this is an all too common horrific practice. When many of our cemeteries were developed – especially those from the 19th century – their intent was to create a mourning garden. A place of peace and reflection that was designed with pastoral aesthetics in mind. Nature in all of its glory, with blossoms and trees comforting those who mourn the dearly departed. When we go in and strip them clean in an attempt to clear out the brush, we throw the baby out with the bath water. Please stop this – pay a local horticulturist to assess the cemetery prior to any clean-up effort. They can identify older plant specimens, and advise on how best to prune and clean up while maintaining the original garden design.
Now, my fellow taphophiles – What are your biggest cemetery pet peeves?
Until next time,
As we close out September, it’s time to take a look at the RootsTech 2020 countdown – and we’re down to 5 months! At this stage in the lead-up, if you’re planning on attending, registration is now open – and early bird pricing ends October 11th! Also, the conference hotels are filling up fast, so be sure to make your reservations ASAP!
I hope to see many of you there in 2020 as it’s the 10th anniversary celebration, which should be the best RootsTech yet. As both a speaker and ambassador this year, I would love to meet my readers and share the festivities with you all. Due to the roles I have for 2020, be on the look-out for an opportunity to win a full conference registration by commenting on a future blog post.
As most of you know, RootsTech London will be taking place in late October – but after that edition is over, there will be many more RootsTech SLC announcements released – so stay tuned!
As you can probably tell, I’m addicted to books, and have been all of my life. Yes, I do take advantage of e-book offerings from my public library, as well as request e-journal articles via Interlibrary Loan – but I still enjoy the feel of picking up a book. And yet, with the shift to online databases and digitization, I sometimes have to remind my staff and patrons that the books on our shelves contain many things not found online. Here are just a few features that a genealogist may find useful:
- Family and local histories that were only published in very small runs – sometimes, only a few of these titles exist worldwide – but still firmly under copyright protection.
- Land record/plat studies – again, usually only published in short runs, but amazing work that can help you map out your ancestor’s land.
- Personal memoirs – either for one person, or a collection of local memories – again, usually published in a small run, and still under copyright.
- Record transcription collections – so, why not go look at the original? The original may no longer exist due to disaster, or illegible writing/ink.
- Subject bibliographies – these collections can help with identifying extant records and repositories.
- Atlases – getting a birds-eye view of migration routes or the local community of your focus.
I have a confession to make – I recognize the seasoned genealogists who come into my library on a regular basis – and I stalk the resources they use. These are not the genealogists that run to Ancestry the moment they settle in for research – nope – they usually grab a cart and load up on books. Regardless of the fact that I have been researching genealogy for decades, I believe it is vital to maintain a learning spirit. Understanding that as we follow different research paths with each new project, we continue to develop our skills with each new resource we use. We could all research for millennia and not fully know about all of the resources out there. But by examining the pile of books these genealogists are using, I have been introduced to wonderful resources that I may have never discovered without a bit of genealogist stalking. And this is a lesson I often give my staff – When you are back in the stacks reshelving, pay attention to what you are putting away. Is this something that could be useful to your research in the future? Is this something that may be useful to another patron who asks for this type of information? We are fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful resources, and even shelving should be an act of learning.
Information Seeking Behavior:
How we seek information is vitally important to our rate of research success. After all, even the GPS requires a “reasonably exhaustive search” when formulating a genealogical conclusion. And just to be clear, a reasonably exhaustive search cannot be completed online only. Some of you may argue that there are enough primary sources in digital format that removes the need to seek anything further. Well, someday, that may be true, but statistically, in 2019, that’s just not feasible. While digitization has multiplied electronic resources at an enormous rate, there are still billions of records that have not been digitized, nor will they be in the near future. And I’m not even including archival collections in that number. The staff numbers alone will not support digitizing complete archival collections – at least not in our lifetime, unless resource and technology catch up to the weight of the task. Also, don’t forget that copyright will always be an obstacle to digitization unless strict access standards are applied. And by ignoring these digitization limitation facts, your information seeking behavior will fall flat in the success department.
Genealogy Book of the Day:
Calling all bibliophile genealogists! As we post our favorite family photos, recipes, ephemera – we rarely post about our favorite genealogy books. Of course, “favorite” is a misleading word. It would be better to say “favorite at the moment”. Because the project we are currently focused on guides our research path – often introducing us to new or forgotten research gems. So…be watching my social media feeds (Twitter/Instagram) for those moments when I discover a great genealogy or history book worthy of sharing. I will use the hashtag #genealogybookoftheday or #historybookoftheday to alert followers to a new discovery, or rediscovered favorite. Feel free to join along as this is not a daily prompt, so you don’t need to feel any pressure about scrambling to find a book each day. But think about your favorites and share them periodically to remind us all about the wonderful print resources available. As you post, just explain why this is your current favorite, and what you learned by using this resource. What is it about this book that makes your genealogy glitter sparkle?
Psssst….RootsTech is back, Y’all…in a BIG way – so spread the word! Not that it was ever really gone – but the bad reports from last year had me worried. Despite my inclination to be a wordy blogger – I must admit I am almost speechless where RootsTech 2019 is concerned. This year’s conference surpassed my grandest expectations – and I can safely declare that this was (by far) the best one I’ve experienced yet.
To be clear, there was never a point when I could not get into a class, nor felt overwhelmed by crowds, nor had to stand in line for anything – except at the concession stand for lunch one day – which is to be expected, and even that was only about 10 minutes. The attendance totals have been in for about a week, and the general conference numbers hit over the 15,000 mark (with over 23K for Family Day) – signaling a rousing success, as usual.
For those of you who did not get to attend this year, here are a few changes that I think made a significant impact:
- Conference badges by mail: This meant many of us walked into the Salt Palace ready to hit sessions, instead of standing in line to pick up packets. Lanyards, badge cases, and conference bags were in multiple places throughout the Palace, making pick-up a breeze.
- Spreading out – By placing check-in over on the far side of the Salt Palace, along with a few of the sessions, there was more breathing room. Heading over in that area brought back memories from the early years when RootsTech was only on the north side of the Palace. Look how far it has grown!
- No badge scanning, except for lunches and labs. No session lines, and no one chased you out if your next session was in the same room.
- Opening sessions at 11am – Some folks grumbled about this, but not me – I loved this change! This allowed folks to wonder over there to find a seat in their own good time – instead of everyone running over to find a seat first thing in the morning. I am not a morning person, and getting to the 8am sessions is hard enough – but with a half hour to get over there after the earlier morning sessions, I didn’t feel rushed. Besides, once the lights go dark and you’re enjoying the festivities, you have no idea what time it is. Plus, after the program is over, folks are in a festive mood, and enjoy talking with each other – they can go to lunch, hit the exhibit hall, engage with fellow attendees, or plan for the afternoon sessions – instead of rushing off to the next session. This change also means the livestream opening sessions were hitting the central/eastern time zones around lunch time – making contiguous enjoyment (and social media engagement) more possible.
- Easy to identify, helpful staff – perfect number ratio of helpers to attendees. If I needed help, they were always just a few steps away – and very attentive.
- Great signage! Vertical and horizontal signage everywhere – even under your feet!
One of RootsTech’s greatest strengths has been the electric atmosphere of inspiration that builds each year and leaves you with the impression that you serve a great purpose – and that with the right knowledge, skills, and tools, you can achieve your genealogy goals. Obviously, the inspirational opening sessions always provide highlights, and become some of the best memories of the conference. And the sessions are amazing! But here are a few others:
The Find Relatives at RootsTech Game – If you had ever entered even a small amount of generational information in the Family Search Family Tree, you were connected to the cousin three ring circus. But what a hoot it was! As the conference grew, there were over 9,000 people participating, and I matched as a cousin to over 2,500 of them – including David Rencher and Crista Cowan! One of the funniest moments was when I connected to a local Kentucky genealogist whom I’ve known for years, and live within 10 miles of, and who comes to RootsTech every year – Here we are – our cousin selfie! :
The SLVGS Board trying to wrangle new members at the Unconferencing Table – It was so much fun to work with these dedicated folks whom I’ve only met previously as virtual avatars. We connected with several potential new members at the Unconferencing area.:
Giving My Presentation on Consumable Genealogy – Such a great engaged crowd – they seemed to really have fun with the examples of packaging genealogy bites into consumable portions for print or social media. My largest crowd ever, at about 400 – and the tech staff/room monitors were wonderful. This was my second time speaking at RootsTech, and it was a fantastic experience, as usual!:
The Discovery Zone Heritage Toys (Also in the library) – These toys were also active if you participate in the Family Search Family Tree – I felt like a kid again with all of these cool discovery tools. Sometimes, it’s very revealing to step back and look at your family data to see the worldwide connections. My only gripe, was that I spent a couple of hours playing in the library Discovery Center with the same toys, and my fun elements produced that day were never emailed to me – huge bummer! I was only sent the location images.:
The DNA Learning Center – Introductory DNA sessions to help with this topic: Always crowded, with loads of mini-sessions, various speakers, with helpful videos and knowledgeable staff.
The RootsTech Store: I LOVE swag! And even when it’s not free swag – I am very willing to purchase more! It was a nice open store, easy to shop with so many cool options! My suggestion for next year – Please produce a sweatshirt or hoodie! It’s cold in SLC in late February! I would have snapped that up! Hey, RootsTech officials – you might want to create an online store of RootsTech swag – I’d seriously send my family members there to fill up my Christmas wish list!
The Demo Theater: Smaller than previous years, and hidden towards the back – but always crowded. I always learn a lot in this space while I’m taking a breather in a very comfortable environment. They also have door prizes, BTW.
The Ancestry Photo Booth – and their wonderful cookies!: Confession: At first, I kinda rolled my eyes at this – but then thought, hey, I’m kinda dressed up and I had a new find to share, so I gave it a try. The result, in this glamorous backdrop, was pretty awesome! They not only sent me the digital image they took with their beautiful professional camera, but also a lovely print to take with me – topped off with an amazingly tasty cookie! Well played, Ancestry! Well played!
Meeting up with genie friends, as usual: I always love meeting old and new friends!
Added Bonus: Researching in the library!: We flew in a few days early to research for hours and hours – and I regret nothing!! Always a fantastic time – and so much brought back to add to my tree. Some serious brick walls damaged in that library! I’m still processing all that I brought home.
Hiccups – I didn’t encounter too many hiccups this year – and have declared this to be the best RootsTech yet – but if pressed, Id have to identify the following as my least favorite elements:
Unconferencing Sessions: I had not been to RootsTech in a few years, and my memory of the Unconferencing area was drastically different than I encountered this year. Gone were the small curtained off areas where you could talk to a group or even present something on the provided board, or diagram ideas. This concept has now been relegated to 8 tables crammed into the space of about two booth footprints. Really didn’t like this shrinkage, and while I did see groups using it – it was also placed in the very back of the exhibit hall instead of in the front where it used to be. Most people I talked to never found its location, and with very little signage – I would say this looks like the last year for the Unconferencing area – as I’m pretty sure we were witnessing the death knell. Some of the presenters mentioned their disappointment with the size and location in our Facebook group – but also complained about the name – saying it was unfriendly, and not appealing. Perhaps it could be resurrected as something slightly different? Break-out sessions perhaps? Obviously, the large exhibitors enjoy great success with their own areas of demos and discussions – so the concept is not a bad one. But it would be nice to have a more tailored area for folks to discuss genealogy issues – or meet up with speakers after their sessions, or programmers to discuss concepts with users (as was its initial purpose.) Conversely, I also understand usage and statistics – if people weren’t using them in the previous years, I can understand the reduction.
Access and Preservation Track on Wednesday: While this was a nice set of small, targeted sessions, I think many people misunderstood its purpose. As a librarian with special collections/archival training, I was going to attend this, no matter the purpose – but after squeezing in to the last couple of seats at 8am, and then watching the attendance bleed out like a trauma victim – until there was only about a third of them left – was a red flag that most people didn’t understand the intended focus. As a whole – I would say this was RootsTech’s version of “Librarians Day” – or “Digital Archivist’s Day” – etc. Which makes all of this more intriguing. With the huge crowd coming in to learn about “Access and Preservation” – regular folks who were not information professionals – doesn’t that indicate that the general genealogy crowd is very interested in preservation and access – for their own collections? Perhaps? Or were they wanting to learn more about the efforts being made to place more unique material online? Or did they want to learn more about digitization best practices? This is an area RootsTech should investigate. It sure caught my attention when thinking about this after the event.
Demo Stage: Thank heavens it hasn’t changed too much – but again, it’s been shrunk, and placed in the back, instead of being a focal point of festivity for the Exhibit Hall. Gone is the soda fountain bar and popcorn – and gone is the concept of walking around and hearing some of what was being demoed. I’m guessing that was the problem. As the Exhibitors have adopted their own demo areas and engagement clusters with microphone and large screens, their sound would be in competition with the Demo Stage instructors, and that would not be pleasant for the big sponsors. At least the comfy chairs and couches were still there – along with some really nice door prizes for those who sat through the individual demos.
Daily Sheets: They announced that there would be daily handouts with the general session info, as well as a list of the most popular classes that day. Ummm, first of all, I never found any of these sheets, until I stumbled upon a small pile on the very last day for Family Day. To be fair, I didn’t look super hard for them during the regular conference days. However, I’m not sure about plucking out a handful of sessions to highlight as “popular”. That could go one of two ways – either it drives a ton of people to these sessions, resulting in overcrowding, or it drives people away since they want to avoid the large crowds if possible. Plus, as a speaker, the speaker liaisons, kept trying to avoid giving us room capacity and info on popular sessions because they said they didn’t want to make other speakers feel less worthy by identifying popular sessions based on topic, speaker and/or room size. But then each day, they were highlighting popular sessions to hand out to everyone. Since we all have the app and the conference booklet outlining the offerings of each day – I don’t think they need these daily sheets – and I’m sure they could save a little money in printing.
RootsTech is not really over – you have several options to take in more of this conference over the next several months: Watch the canned livestream videos; Download the Syllabus Material; Explore the Exhibitor List – and prepare to watch more when the international version of RootsTech premiers in London in October!
This type of experience is unparalleled, and should be experienced in person at least once. Obviously, for continued inspiration and exposure to the most current genealogy tech tools, it is encouraged to attend as frequently as possible. However, as a tech conference, RootsTech has ensured that there are multiple remote methods for attending virtually. Not only can you sit at home and watch several of the videos for free, but this year they also offered a virtual pass that allowed you to enjoy 18 sessions from the comfort of your own home. Coupled with the exhibit hall list for traversing via websites at your leisure, and syllabus material you can download, #notatrootstech folks have a buffet of learning opportunities available.
BTW, Next year is RootsTech’s 10th anniversary! Theme: The Story of You! Make plans to attend – I’m sure this will be a grand and unforgettable party!
For those of you new to RootsTech, I am going to outline some of my favorite bits of advice to get the most of out this conference.
So buckle up, Buttercup – it’s time to dive into RootsTech 2019!
- Adjust Your Expectations: This is NOT NGS or FGS – this is RootsTech. It will be a different experience overall, and many of the sessions will be different. Some would say, not different enough, which is a good point – but go in with your eyes wide open, and your expector antenna set to tech overload! In other words, go with the flow and have fun with the offerings – you will learn new things, and come away with renewed inspiration. This is the pep rally of genealogy, and its message is family, connections, and inspiration. The energy alone is worth the trip.
- Use the App!! So much information in one little space – this is how you get to the syllabus material, schedule your session attendance, learn more about speakers/vendors, and keep updated on conference announcements. And don’t forget – they really want you to rate the sessions you attend through the app – it helps with next year’s planning, and determines whether your speaker receives any bonuses based on your rating. As a bonus, you can also make friends in the app, and learn about great places to eat.
- Introvert Alert: This is the largest genealogy conference on the continent – so it will be crowded – really crowded. Pace yourself, try to make some new friends, and go take a break if you need to – like, in the big comfy demo stage chairs, with some popcorn, and a soda. There are some places to break away and take a breather – and if necessary, sneak back to the hotel for a nap.
- So Many Sessions, So Little Time: You may not get to attend every session you have your heart set on – as I said above, it is crowded, and while they plan as best as they can for attendance numbers per room, some may hit capacity, and you may be forced to move to another session. This is where the app can be a lifesaver! As you review the session descriptions, and pick (star) your favs, be sure to pick a few per time slot. The app lets you pick more than one per hour for your personal schedule. It will warn you that you’ve picked more than one, but if you can pick your top three each hour, you will be able to attend the alternates at a moments notice, instead of scrolling through everything while the seats continue to fill up.
- Make the Exhibit Hall a Top Priority! This is by far the largest exhibit hall you will encounter in genealogy conference land – so many new companies and tools, tips on how to use your favorite tech tools, and demos all day long! It is so important to examine the exhibit hall map as closely as you do the session list. Besides, the hub of the RootsTech party is in the exhibit hall – with an energy that does not sleep. BTW, for those of you attending a virtual pass, or staying home to watch a few of the live streaming, the exhibit hall is always open to you virtually. Take the exhibitor list, and visit all of their websites to tour their products or offerings = another great way to be a part of the action!
- Don’t Forget the Unconferencing Sessions in the Exhibit Hall! I have mentioned thisaspect of RootsTech in the past, and some have given me a side eye, because they didn’t know what I was talking about – which is such a shame! From the very first year, these unconferencing sessions were implemented to encourage conversations – tech, genealogy, or both – programmers, genealogists, or hopefully both – all in rooms/booths they could schedule to talk about anything in the industry they wanted to cover. And this tradition has not wavered. In fact, this is one of my favorite things to do at RootsTech. The unconferencing sessions are along the North side of the Expo Hall. I will be hosting a session as a follow-up to my class on Consumable Genealogy – giving a live demo on using Canva and Pixabay – and there will be a couple of chat sessions about Genealogy in Second Life, hosted by the Second Life Virtual Genealogical Society – so be sure to check in at the unconferencing boards to plan out your participation.
- THE Place to Bring Out Your Social Media ‘A’ Game! With all of the of the great tools at your fingertips, now is the time to hashtag it and post it – or storyboard it. You will connect with attendees and those attending from home. #rootstech #notatrootstech
- Don’t Over Do It. You cannot experience everything there is to offer, and it’s important to understand your own limitations. So prioritize your time within reason – and if you get overwhelmed, head over to the library for some research – they are open until 9pm just about every evening – and you won’t want to miss the opportunity of researching in the nation’s most comprehensive genealogy library.
- The Common Sense Stuff: As with any conference, this is a marathon, not a sprint – you need to stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, dress in layers, eat healthy, and wear your walking shoes. I noticed from the most recent ‘behind the scenes’ video – a tour of the Salt Palace – that the on-site check-in is on the opposite end of the building – back where the very first conference took place. In other words – seriously – wear comfortable shoes!!!
Smile, have fun, be nice, and soak up the energy that will inspire long after we get home to digest all we have learned.