Wednesday, February 8, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 1

It has been a busy day. I arrived in Salt Lake City last night late, after a 5 hour flight. That was after a busy few days where my mother-in-law passed away last week and we had her funeral Monday afternoon. It was a hard week for everyone involved.

Today was day 1 for RootsTech 2017. I was up before 6:00 am making my way to the convention center. The weather has been nice with temperatures in the 40's, so the walk wasn't bad. The major event for today was the Innovator Showdown. So, here is a rundown of some of the sessions I attended.

9:00 - Steve Rockwood, President & CEO of FamilySearch talked about innovators needing to focus on all levels of customers, from beginning researchers to experts. He presented on how the new Discovery Experience on the first floor of the Family History Library draws many people in with a cool experience which then leads them to the other floors where they begin to do research on their families. He talked about how the internet and other new technologies are opening family history to the masses and even demonstrated how Alexa can provide family history information. If you don't know what Alexa is, it is a device that responds to voice commands and answers you back based on information it discovers on the internet. He asked Alexa, "Alexa, anything interesting in my family tree today?" and Alexa responded by providing some information on a couple ancestors who died on that day. He also asked everyone to check if they were related to him by looking up his father, Trulon Van Rockwood (FamliySearch PID#KW88-46X). I put that PID number into the FamilySearch app on my phone and discovered that my wife is a direct descendant of his 9th great grandmother, Mary Rose Croshaw (PID#LKC2-YBF).

Liz Wiseman, author of "Rookie Smarts" presented next. Her talk was on how many tech innovators were inexperienced rookies who didn't know what couldn't be done. She asked us to think about our rookie experiences and how we handled challenges then. As rookies, many of us would seek out networks of people that we could learn from, we asked questions, volunteered for "opportunities", and acted outside our comfort zones. As experts, many of us now make assumptions that we already know the answer, stay within prescribed boundaries, see what we want to see, and miss the gorilla in the room. We need to step back and throw out the rule book, make an attempt to start fresh, leave the mode of giving answers and begin to ask questions again, question what we "know", seek out less experienced individuals, and take new challenges to put yourself back on the bottom of the learning curve. The more challenging the task, the more satisfying it is to complete. Don't get caught in the rut of doing routine assignments because low challenge equals low satisfaction. I totally relate to that last part. I have switched jobs frequently in order to put myself back on the bottom of the learning curve and to perform challenging new things. I do get bored quickly with a standard routine.

10:15 - Craig Bott hosted a panel on Industry Trends and Outlooks. There were representatives from FamilySearch, FindMyPast, JRNL and TagGenes discussing how innovation can change the genealogy environment. Today, many of the new innovations focus around using the data, sharing it and documenting events. This is resulting in multiple ways to use the data but few new ways to gather the information. There is lots of room for innovation in genealogy and the market is huge, genealogy is second, behind only gardening, as a hobby. So how do we engage the larger market? We need to lower barriers, build on existing content and engage people where they are at. Innovators need to differentiate, build products people want, not reinvent the wheel, and show that sharing is caring. TapGenes has innovated by using DNA tests to interpret medical histories and is now working on life planning applications based on your DNA. FamilySearch is working on advanced OCR and handwriting recognition, natural language processing to understand the context of words in records, and neural network and machine learning so computers can improve the accuracy of their record searches. They are also looking at new ways to gather records by determining the risk these records face through natural disasters, political turmoil, poor archiving processes, etc. Another innovation they are investigating is how to share data between sites by removing boundaries between companies. This will cut down on duplication of efforts and allow users to select their favorite platform.

12:30 - The Innovators Showdown presented the top 10 innovators. They included Qroma Tag, JoyFlips, Cuzins, Crowd Sourced Indexing (CSI), Kindex, Rootsfinder, Champollion 2.0, Emberall, DoubleMatchTriangulator, and OldNews USA.

Qroma Tag is an app that allows users to provide custom metadata for photographs. The program can be found at

JoyFlips is an app that connects photos to family history. It allows you to scan and share photos, and provide searchable text by speaking into the app.

Cuzins is an app which links you to your famous relatives. The intent is to introduce young users to genealogy by showing which celebrities they are related to.

Crowd Sourced Indexing is a web based tool that manages indexing project for groups. It allows groups to scan their collections and develop an indexing project based on those records.

Kindex was one of my favorites. This program allows families to produce their own searchable archive of family records in the cloud. Their program can be found at

Rootsfinder integrates with various online genealogy databases to make your searches easier and more productive. It also allows for data to be shared on social media. This program can be found at

Champollion 2.0 is a desktop application that can clean up digitized records and makes it easier to transcribe documents.

Emberall is a smartphone app that helps you tell anyone's story. The app provides the user with a set of questions and organized video clips of the answers to produce a story of the person's life.

DoubleMatchTriangulator helps you analyze your DNA matches and shows how various people are related. It can be found at

OldNews USA is also a phone app. This app helps you research newspapers by suggesting papers that are most likely to have information based on your search information. Users can save clips to their phone or as pdf documents. The app also works with Google Maps to located newspapers near where your ancestors lived.

There were several additional sessions that I attended today, but I am tired and will try to get some sleep before tomorrow. I may write more about the other sessions later. Remember, you can watch some of these sessions streamed live or as archive videos on

No comments: