Saturday, February 11, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 3

RootsTech has been great so far and today was no different (except the weather turned rainy and cold).

The General Session this morning started with Ben Bennet from FindMyPast talking about their new collections. In 2016, FindMyPast released the beginning of the US Marriage Record Collection. Their goal is to provide more than 100  million marriage records with over 450 million indexed names. That would be the largest collection of US marriage records for any site available today. Currently, they have over 70 million records available for search and expect the remainder to be released in the next couple months. Additionally, FindMyPast has acquired Twile. Twile is a tool that allows you to visualize your family history timeline. Twile recently came out with a family infographic using your data from FamilySearch.

My Family Infographic from Twile

What else does FindMyPast have in store for 2017? During the FindMyPast lunch they announced one of the most important releases in 2017 will be their partnership with the Catholic Church for the release of the Catholic Heritage Archive. The Catholic records for Ireland (7.6 million records) were released first with Scotland and the UK following soon. The US Catholic records will be released by archdiocese. The first US archdiocese, Philadelphia was released today. Several others, including Baltimore, New York, and Cincinnati will be released later this year. I am looking forward to the Cincinnati release since it will hopefully have many of my Ohio ancestors.

LeVar Burton, Geordi LeForge from Star Trek TNG, gave a very emotional talk to open the conference today. He emphasized the importance of having good role models as we grow up. He talked about his mother and how she, as a single mother raising children, worked to better herself by being the first person in her family to get a college degree and by working several jobs to make sure they had what they needed to succeed. LeVar also discussed his role in Roots and how the mini-series changed the way we see ourselves. At the end of his presentation, FamilySearch presented him with his family history and talked about some of the significant finds they discovered. LeVar was deeply touched by the stories they presented and there wasn't a dry eye in the convention center.

I also attended a question and answer session with the senior executives from FamilySearch where we learned about the direction FamilySearch is headed. I asked them if they were considering being able to include DNA results in their system. They said that was something they were investigating. Another thing that they mentioned was that they were taking a conservative approach to privacy issues and that their stance on this was beyond what the other companies had as policies. Some records are not being released because of the potential for privacy issues and they are looking at ways to handle living people in the system, to make it more useful without exposing private information to the world. Their customer support continues to be one of the best in the world with over 2,000 support missionaries handling over 1 million requests during 2016.

FamilySearch is concentrating on increasing their records availability. They are prioritizing their content acquisition to include high risk and vitally important records but have the ability to loan out smaller capture kits to groups so they can digitize their own collections. FamilySearch is focusing on developing partnerships to assist them in records acquisitions and are looking at some nontraditional partners to help develop some areas like their recipe collection. So, how quickly are the records being digitized? Well, about 50% of the vault records are now complete. They expect the remaining records to be complete in only a couple years and as new digitizing technology becomes available they will be able to increase the speed at which they release records. They are working on better OCR and AI technology so that computers will be able to index more records. Using these improved technologies they were able to index 26 million obituaries last year without the need for indexers. This allows the indexers to focus on more difficult records. Additionally, they are working on new partnerships with newspapers to include their collections.

The FamilySearch user base is expanding from the predominantly English speaking regions to more Latin American users but the hinting is still focused on English records. They also have seen a 40% increase in the use by youth, including Primary age children (under 12 years old).

All of these advancements will provide new resources for us to research our family histories and learn more about each and every one of our ancestors.

And, to finish off the day, MyHeritage had their After Party. This is a great opportunity for us to network and discuss various things. And just in case you thought genealogists were boring old ladies, that would be wrong. One of the most popular activities at the party was the karaoke stage. The music ranged from 80's rock to rap. Everyone had a great time.

They announced the dates for RootsTech 2018 as February 28 - March 3. That is a little later than usual and will probably require some other local conferences to rearrange their schedules but I don't plan on missing it.

One more day of RootsTech 2017 left and then I can head home and get some sleep.

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