Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Welcome Back! A Return From RootsTech 2016

Hello everyone, I bet you thought I was gone. It has been awhile since my last post on this blog, almost four and a half years. If you were following me you know that I started another blog focusing on family history biographies (ourancestories.blogspot.com), was more active in several discussion boards trying to help people with their research, and I switched jobs. The new job took up a lot of my time and still does, but I have decided to focus more time on my writing on both blogs. What made me decide to get back to writing? Well, part of it was due to RootsTech 2016. I finally made the commitment to attend RootsTech and it was a great experience. While I was there I talked to several other Geneabloggers and many other researchers. I realized that people had actually been reading my posts and they were appreciative of the help that I had given them over the years. Also, the diverse vendors and speaker topics that were at RootsTech will provide me with a wealth of information to write about, so please check back occasionally to see what new information I have come up with.

For my return to blogging, I decided to write a bit about my experience at RootsTech and hopefully encourage researchers to take part in conferences, whether they be local, state, national, or international. They are a great opportunity where you can make the contacts and learn new ideas to enhance your research.

RootsTech was February 3 thru 6 this year, mid-winter in Salt Lake and cold enough for a Florida boy to need to buy a new jacket (the warmest clothes we have down in the Sunshine State). According to the registrations there were over 26,000 people registered from all 50 states and 31 countries, and 360 exhibitors. The opening events included a variety of speakers. One of my favorite speakers was Paula Madison who spoke on her research which led to her producing a documentary film titled Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China. This was the story of a broken family from Jamaica and her journey to discover her Chinese roots in and African family. Stan Ellsworth, from BYUtv's American Ride, also provided a great talk. Many of the speakers had heart touching stories about their families and what they had learned during their voyage of discovery of their family stories.

We learned that the demographic of genealogy is changing. There were over 7,000 conference attendees under the age of 18. FamilySearch has seen a 482% increase in use by teenagers. Facebook, Instagram, and Chatbooks are quickly becoming the focal points of genealogy for many.

An overarching topic of discussion during the conference was storytelling. Many of the exhibitors were demonstrating products to assist in writing journals, producing memory books and photo albums, archiving your old film media, and providing creative ways to present these in digital format for the next generations to appreciate. Story Corps was also there with their StoryBooth, recording family interviews and stories. Storytelling is a passion of mine and many of those involved in family history. In the old days, stories were passed through the generations to teach lessons and provide a feeling of place and time for your ancestors. However, over the last century we have lost much of the storytelling. It has been said that memories can be lost within three generations. It is our duty as the historians to keep those stories alive. There is an old Russian proverb that says "You live as long as you are remembered." I also like Dr. Suess' message from The Lorax - "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." I take that to heart, both in my writing and in my view of the world around us. I do care a whole awful lot and I hope that the work I do expresses that and provides the incentive for others to care and preserve their memories and our world for those who come after us.

One thing about storytelling is that it is a passion. In order to tell a big story, you need to start with the small story. You don't need all of the details. Stories can start from pulling on the small strings of knowledge and seeing where it leads you. When I write, I do it as a stream of thought with no idea how it will end. I just let the ideas flow. You can probably tell that by my ramblings. Families that tell family stories have been shown to have better emotional well being and are happier. Is that because they have a better sense of place, that stories bring people together, that they see themselves as part of a larger whole? I don't know for sure but I think belonging is an important part of it. One of the speakers said the following, "Everybody dies, but not everybody lives. Find a way through your stories to allow them to live forever." I find that a very deep thought and an inspiration to my work.

Many of the larger companies, such as FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast announced new initiatives to bring more records to researchers. FamilySearch stated that 2.5 million names are added to FamilyTree and 8 million records are attached to individuals each month. There are currently 1.1 billion names in the FamilyTree. Considering that there are currently over 7 billion people alive today and there have been an estimated 108 billion people who ever lived we still have a ways to go. Also, FamilySearch currently has a total of 615 million source documents online for us to research and there are 318 teams working around the world to bring new records online. For me, one of the greatest announcements was that Ancestry will be adding 100 million new German records to their collection in the next year. This includes 14 million civil registry records from 1,300 city archives. They will also be working closely with FamilySearch to provide over 19 million German church records spanning the time from 1500-1985. FindMyPast announced that they will be working to provide a comprehensive US marriage collection, covering 2,800 US counties with 100 million records. Currently they have 33 million marriage records available to search for free until February 14, Valentine's Day.

The variety of speakers at this conference allowed everyone, no matter their skill level, to choose their interests. Most of the time I was attending talks by the major companies to see what they are planning to role out over the next year. I also attended several talks on German genealogy records and a couple on research techniques. I learned quite a bit from these talks. Now, let me vent a little here - people, you are not the only one attending these talks. There were several occurrences where people answered their phones during the presentations, or worse yet, they just ignored the ringing phone while the speaker was talking. One person sitting next to me let her phone ring several times during the presentation and never attempted to turn it off. Also, it is ok to take a picture of a slide as a note but there were people who video recorded entire talks or took photos of every single slide in a presentation. Not only is that impolite, it is an infringement of copyright. We should be respectful of the work these people put into their presentations.

Will I return to RootsTech next year? I can only hope that I am able. This was a great event, not everything was perfect, but there is so much there that even the experienced researcher can learn something. I hope you enjoyed my return to blogging and please return to see what I will talk about next.

1 comment:

Becky Jamison said...

Your recap is quite thorough and interesting Miles. I'm going to share it. Thank you for returning to your blogging. I'll be a regular reader. This is how I "met" you in the first place. It was wonderful to meet you in person and share the stories. And as you, I hope to attend again next year. Thanks so much!